Analysis – Syria faces slide into sectarian mayhem
The popular upheaval in Syria is growing bolder and the cracks in the establishment are getting deeper — yet there is a long and bloody road ahead if protesters are to unseat President Bashar al-Assad and end his family’s 40 years in power. The price of stalemate is rising daily: sectarian mayhem, a growing protest movement and a faltering economy, with no sign that Bashar and his minority Alawite clan are considering an exit strategy after four decades in power.
Yet so far, there is no sign of a tipping point that would assure success for protesters, as in Tunisia and Egypt, where millions took to the streets to topple autocratic leaders. But sectarian killings in the city of Homs last month may be a foretaste for a country with an ethnic and religious mix and a long history of repression by the Alawite-led security forces.
The Alawite sect, an off-shoot of Shi’ite Islam, is a minority in Syria, which has a Sunni Muslim majority, as well as smaller numbers of Druze, Christians and non-Arab Kurds. A group of Alawite men, including four security men, went missing on July 14. The bodies of four of them were found killed. Some Alawites from their neighbourood in Homs took to the streets, torched and destroyed shops belonging to Sunnis.
The danger of sectarian strife is real, analysts say. It might even appeal to the authorities — and some of their opponents — as a way to break the deadlock. But it carries high risks for the Assad dynasty, as well as the opposition.
(Photo: Women hold placards as they demand the freedom and release of prisoners in Zabadani in this undated still image taken from amateur video uploaded on August 9, 2011 and made available to Reuters August 10, 2011/Social media website via Reuters TV)