First, every indicator suggests the despot of Damascus no longer has one-third of the population behind him. The Assad father and son had relied on an unusual collection of minorities with interconnected political and economic self-interests. The political math added up large chunks of Alawites (12 percent), Christians (10 percent), Kurds (9 percent,) plus business elites, the corrupt who were bought, and civil servants in a bloated bureaucracy who were loyal (or apolitical) in exchange for jobs.

The numbers were important as much for security as for politics in a country without any real rights. They ensured Assad could recruit security forces with motives worth putting their lives on the line for him.

But the critical quota has been dwindling since the summer, as the regime’s crackdown has grown ever more bloodthirsty and rebels have seized territory. A growing number of Alawites, an offshoot sect of Shiite Islam to which the Assad family belongs, are alarmed enough to distance themselves from the ruling clan.