Syria’s Religious Minorities and the Assad Regime

From Al Jazeera, an interesting analysis of Syria’s religious minorities and their worries about the downfall of the Assad regime. Many Americans would be surprised to learn that Syria is a religiously diverse society. Sunni Muslims make up about two-thirds of the population, but there are sizable minority communities, Alawites (around 13%) and Christians (around 10%), mostly, but also Druze, Jews, and Yezidis. Most of the minorities are ethnically Arab, though not all — not, for example, Armenian and Assyrian Christians.

Minorities are concerned about the possible downfall of the Assad regime, not because they particularly admire Assad, but because his secular Ba’ath Party has provided a space for them in Syrian society. Many worry about what sort of religious government would replace Assad.  From the article:

“When I asked a Greek-Orthodox Christian Syrian man in Bab-Toma, Damascus, if he agreed with Assad’s socio-political policies he responded that he did not support Assad’s oppressive security apparatus, but under his rule he and his family were able to freely attend church mass each Sunday and celebrate Christian holidays like Christmas each year. He followed up by saying that he had no assurance that any other sect in Syria would protect the Syrian-Christian community.”

Naturally, the tacit support of minorities for the Assad regime has angered the Sunni opposition, and many worry there will be reprisals, perhaps even a religious civil war, if the regime falls. On the other hand, the article concludes, “if the Sunni majority is able to reassure the Alawites and the other minorities – who believe they need the regime’s protection – that they will not be subjected to acts of vengeance after Assad, their participation could significantly strengthen the revolution.” A worthwhile read. — MLM

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