Yet another reason to worry about Syria's civil war is the likelihood that it will intensify sectarian conflicts. A majority of Syrians are Sunni Muslims. A large minority are Shi'ite Muslims, and nearly ten percent of the country is Christian. The Assad clan belong to a small Shi'ite clan called the Allawites. To help it keep control, the Assad clan has extended privileges to Shi'ites and Christians, which insures their loyalty because they know they will lose out if the Sunnis take over.
Any dramatic change in Syria's leadership will likely bring Sunni Muslims into power -- they are, after all, the majority. One of the major questions about any new regime will be, how will it treat the minorities who had privileged positions under the old regime? So far, the signs are not very good. Kapil Komireddi in the Times:
As Saudi Arabian arms and money bolster the opposition, the 80,000 Christians who’ve been “cleansed” from their homes in Hamidiya and Bustan al-Diwan in Homs Province in March by the Free Syrian Army have gradually given up the prospect of ever returning home.
The rebels’ conduct has prompted at least some Sunnis who had supported the rebels and once-wavering Syrians to pledge renewed loyalty to Assad. Many who once regarded the regime as a kleptocracy now view it as the best guarantor of Syria’s endangered pluralism.
A Sunni shopkeeper in the impoverished suburb of Set Zaynab, which was partly destroyed in the clashes last week, no longer supports the rebellion. “I wanted Assad to go because he is corrupt,” he said. “But what happened here, what they did, it scared me. It made me angry. I cannot support the murder of my neighbors in the name of change. You cannot bring democracy by killing innocent people or by burning the shrines of Shiites. Syrians don’t do that. This is the work of the Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia,” he added, referring to the ultra conservative Sunni sect.
Repeated attempts by Free Syrian Army fighters to destroy a shrine to Sayyida Zeinab, the granddaughter of the Prophet Muhammad revered by Shiites, have not yet caused the area’s Sunni minority to flee — many Shiites here have refused to blame their Sunni neighbors for the rebels’ crimes. . . .
Most Syrians, regardless of their faith, want the power to change their government. But the armed groups that have seized control of the rebellion, now contaminated with Al Qaeda fighters and corrupted by Saudi money, have repelled many people.