It’s comforting to picture President Bashar al-Assad as aSyrian Muammar Gaddafi, being kept in power only by military aidfrom Iran and Russia, diplomatic cover from Moscow and Beijing andthe alleged “fecklessness” of the Obama Administration. Comforting, but wrong. Iran, Russia and China may be helping keep Assad in power, but soare whole communities of Syrians who see their own fates tied upwith that of the regime. That’s why after 15 months of openrebellion and sanctions, the regime remains cohesive, its coresecurity units intact and committed to the bloody suppression ofthe rebellion. Cleanroom Paper
The tenacity and scale of the rebellion may havestretched the capacity of those security forces, and the regime isunable to rely on conscript regular army units to do its dirtywork. As a result, Assad’s forces have resorted to armingvillage-level irregulars, the shabiha , to do some of the nastiest work. Reports suggest it was shabihaforces from neighboring villages that carried out much of thevicious, close-quarters massacre of more than 100 people, including49 children, last week in Houla. ( VIDEO: A Syrian Soldier Claims to Have Witnessed Atrocities ) The shabiha and, indeed, the regime’s core securityforces are drawn from the Alawite minority; their victims aremostly Sunni. Anti Static Safety Shoes
They are killing their neighbors not out of personalloyalty to Assad, but fear of what a future without his regimewould hold. The Alawites, a quasi-Shiite sect that comprisesaround 12% of the population, was a long-suffering minorityelevated during the French colonial era into a loyalist militarycaste as a counterweight to Sunni and Christian Arab nationalists.When Assad’s father, Hafez al-Assad, seized and consolidatedpower, the Alawites were the prime beneficiaries. They monopolizethe ranks of the bureaucratic and security elite, enjoying astature not unlike the position of the minority Sunnis in the Iraqof Saddam Hussein. The frenzy with which many Alawites have been ready to bludgeonopponents of the regime reflects the success of Assad in presentinghimself as their protector, and perhaps also the failure of theopposition thus far to appeal to the regime’s traditionalbase. Sectarian civil war may even have been a path chosen by Assad when the rebellion first began in the belief that it tiedhis regime’s fate to those of its core constituencies andpotentially also made him indispensable to restoring the peace.(Slobodan Milosevic employed a similar tactic in theBalkans.) Until communities that remain firmly in theregime’s camp can be convinced that their lives andlivelihoods are not imperiled by the rebellion, Assad will have aposse. China Disposable Face masks
Plus, foreign powers may be reluctant to commit toparticipating in a conflict that looks more like Bosnia than Libya. Next: What About Ousting Assad, But Not His Regime?.