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ICC Note:
Syria’s civil war has gone on for more than two years and claimed more than 100,000 lives. While the West has expressed concerns about the violence there have been very little concrete solutions offered. Religious minorities in Syria are caught between supporting Bashar al-Assad and his harsh authoritarianism and the mostly Sunni rebel forces that have become increasingly infiltrated by Islamic extremists. Minorities have been forced largely to take no role or support Assad out of fear of what would follow. By ensuring their protection the West can significantly alter the dynamics and perhaps push the two sides to find a political solution.
By Thorsten Janus and Helle Malmvig
7/25/2013 Syria (CS Monitor) – Though Syria’s civil war rages on, Western leaders may have the power to help end the bloody conflict. And it’s not by arming the rebels.
Instead, Western countries – in cooperation with regional powers like the Arab League – should work to offer meaningful security reassurances to the minorities now supporting the Assad regime. This will undermine Bashar al-Assad’s base, move the country toward a political resolution to the conflict, and help ensure an inclusive post-Assad society. Without safety guarantees, Syria’s minorities are unlikely to shift support away from Mr. Assad. The promise of an international peacekeeping force, possibly headed by NATO and backed by the Arab League, could achieve that goal.
When Syria’s conflict began, it looked political: A repressive regime was fighting to preserve its power and privileges. The opposition was fighting to end them. As 2012 wore on, however, the conflict looked increasingly sectarian: Communities of ordinary Alawites were targeted by Sunni Arab rebels, and a number of Alawite, Christian, and other minority-based militias started supporting the Alawite-based regime.
However, the main reason Syria’s minorities tend to support the regime is not their loyalty to Assad or hatred of Sunnis but their legitimate fear of the alternative. This is not surprising, given the historical discrimination and ostracism of Alawites under Sunni regimes before a 1970 coup brought Assad’s father to power, and the ruthlessness and sectarian tendencies displayed by Sunni rebels.
Of course, the United States and leading European governments are aware of this concern, and have long pushed the Syrian opposition to give meaningful assurances to the Alawites and Christians. The western-backed Syrian National Coalition (SNC) has promised full equality to minorities in a future Syria. This has been applauded by Western leaders, who are eager to avoid a repetition of the sectarianism that raged in Iraq from 2003-2006.

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