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.
Despite its promises, however, the SNC maintains that regime loyalists are to be purged, the Assad security forces dismantled, and the 2.5 million-member Baath party (of which Assad is head) dissolved. Such an agenda, along with the SNC’s lack of legitimacy within Syria and dominance by the Muslim Brotherhood rather than secular groups, undermine the credibility of the security guarantees it promises.
As a result, Christians and Alawites fear that in a post-Assad political order they will be objects of bloody revenge and political marginalization. Herein lies one of the main reasons for the prolonged and bloody character of Syria’s Arab Spring.
To pull away Assad’s support base will therefore demand more tangible reassurances to the minorities in Syria. These are to be granted by the Syrian opposition to be sure, but they must be backed by Western powers. The US and Europe should offer the minorities a robust security guarantee in the form of an international peacekeeping force.
The current Western course of unconditionally supporting the rebels and hoping they will respect the rules of democracy will not alleviate the minorities’ fears. Instead it may push them into a corner where they will use any means necessary, including perhaps chemical weapons, in order to survive.