MADRID – The feeling is growing stronger by the day that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime is approaching a tipping point. Kofi Annan, the United Nations and Arab League special envoy, has abandoned as hopeless his efforts to implement an internationally agreed six-point plan to end the violence. Now the international community must think seriously about how to minimize the dangers inherent in Syria’s domestic turmoil.
Lack of agreement within the UN Security Council has prolonged the conflict and contributed to changing its nature. What began as a popular uprising inspired by the demands of the Arab Spring has taken on increasingly sectarian and radical tones. This reflects loss of hope in international support, while making it more difficult to achieve a negotiated solution.
In particular, there is a growing danger of Sunni retaliation against the Alawite minority, which comprises 12% of the population, but controls the government, the economy, and the army. The Alawites, who overcame second-class citizenship only when Assad’s Baath party came to power in 1963, now believe that their very survival is linked to that of the regime.
If the Syrian opposition does not take the Alawites’ concerns seriously, the country could be wracked by years of civil war, worse than the conflict that devastated Lebanon from 1975 to 1990.