For three months now protesters have been demonstrating against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. The result is an estimated 1300 people, dead as well as thousands of prisoners and refugees. But it is not that clear cut. Assad has his supporters, and they too have been out on the streets.
But just who’s who in this struggle? Is there an undeclared civil war waging between the majority Sunni Muslim community and the minority Alawite rulers, who’re Shi’ite?
Neighbouring countries, especially Turkey, want to avoid the possible extension of this sectarian faultline.
Euronews has been speaking to Ali Yeral. He is President of the Civil Alevi Society. Alevis are similar to the Syrian Alawites.
“If the problem gets worse and it does turn into a sectarian war the all the countries around like Turkey, Iraq, and Lebanon will surely be affected by these problems. These events have a large influence, whether its positive or negative.”
The contagion has already spread to Lebanon since the weekend. At the end of a demonstration in support of anti-Assad protesters, a dozen people died in clashes between Sunnis, and Alawites, who support the Assad regime.
In Syria, the ruling Alawites account for only 10% of the population.
There’s also a small Christian community.
But Sunni Muslims hold the majority by a long way at 75%.
In Turkey, as in Syria, Sunnis are the largest group.
In Lebanon Muslims are in the majority. Alawites there make up just a small proportion of Shi’ites, but were influential under the Syrian occupation.
Having come to power in a coup in 1970, Hafez al-Assad, Bashar’s father, recruited Alwawites into key positions of influence in Syria, especially in the military. That inequality of power goes on to this day.
What has changed forty years on is perceptions, the way in which people, notably the Sunni majority see the distribution of power and how it affects their lives.
Under Bashar al-Assad things are more polarised. Sunnis are largely rural dwellers but they see the wealth is concentrated in cities and in the hands of what they perceive as a privileged minority bourgeousie.
The villages near the border may be feeling the full force of the Syrian army, but many are wondering if the real battle for power is still to come, between Alawites, and Sunnis.