Assad is losing his troops

Over the course of the Syrian civil war, religious minorities have proved instrumental to the resilience of the regime, which used the support of Alawites, Christians and Druze to bolster its claims of legitimacy inside and outside the country. While that remains true today, Druze seem to be pushing for a different reality than the one Assad imposed on minorities for his own survival. Depending on how the regime manages the situation, a mass Druze abandonment of the regime could prove pivotal in the how the war progresses from here.

The discontent in Sweida began in earnest during the sham presidential “election” held June 2014, when the regime sought to bolster its domestic support by cajoling minority groups to rally on its behalf. Clerics marched from the Ain al-Zaman shrine, one of the Druze’s most revered places of worship, to protest against the use of Druze religious imagery to promote Assad. The clerics asked for the sacking of the military security chief in the province and proclaimed that Druze represented only their sect and should not be labelled as backers of the regime.

Conditions only grew worse late last month when when locals in Sweida bridled at the arrests of young Druze to force them to serve in the military. Small-scale clashes with the security forces also took place in December in several towns over forced conscription. Last week, Assad issued a desperate plea for young Druze to defend their province from rebel attacks. The decree also stipulated that those who join the army from Sweida would not be required to serve outside their areas—a remarkable compromise from Damascus, which has rarely caved to popular demand.