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THE MUSINGS OF A TRADITIONAL SOUTHERN DEMOCRAT

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Sid in his law office where he sits when meeting with clients. Observant eyes will notice the statuette of one of Sid's favorite Democrats.

Friday, July 10, 2015

After Backing Regime, Syrian Minorities Face Peril - Islamic State, Nusra Front threaten groups tied to President Bashar al-Assad

From The Wall Street Journal:

ISTANBUL—Ever since the Syrian revolution began in 2011, President Bashar al-Assad tried to cast it as a religious conflict with radical Sunni Islam in which he would wear the mantle of protector of the country’s numerous minorities.

The plan has worked to a great degree, with Mr. Assad’s own Alawite community as well as Shiites, Christians, Druse and, initially, even the Kurds, backing him against a predominantly Sunni rebellion that has become progressively more bloody and sectarian.

But now, as the regime is reeling under attack by the murderous Islamic State militants in the east and a rebel coalition that includes the al Qaeda affiliate Nusra Front in the north, these minorities face the growing danger of being wiped out alongside Mr. Assad.

“As bad as things have been in Syria, they could get a whole lot worse,” warned Ryan Crocker, former U.S. ambassador to Damascus and dean of the Bush School of Government at Texas A&M University.

Massacres of Alawites, in particular, are one such scenario, he said.

Out of Syria’s 18 million people, Sunnis account for about 74%, according to the Central Intelligence Agency. Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, plus much smaller Shiite communities allied with them represent about 13%, Christians roughly 10%, and the Druse, who follow a separate religion with roots in Islam, are some 3%.

The Alawites and the Christians played a major role in the Baath Arab Socialist Party that seized power in a 1963 coup. President Hafez al-Assad ousted another Alawite strongman in an internal Baath power struggle. He and his successor and son Bashar have ruled Syria for the past 45 years, ruthlessly suppressing Sunni Islamists and creating a security establishment dominated by fellow Alawites.

“The majority of the minorities have either supported Assad or opposed the revolution,” said Ghassan el-Yassin, a prominent Syrian activist from Aleppo who was imprisoned in the early stages of the uprising. “The system of governance since 1963 was the rule of the minorities, and they want to preserve their privileges.”

For many Alawites in particular, it is now a more existential struggle. Many fear their entire community—already suffering heavy casualties as part of Mr. Assad’s army and pro-government militias—could be exterminated if the war is lost.

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