Today's Syria Protests
"Hundreds of thousands of Syrians across the country took to the streets on Friday, defying a brutal crackdown by security forces and demanding the end of President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
"Armed forces loyal to the government opened fire on protesters in several towns and cities, killing four of them, residents and antigovernment activists said. Another protester died Friday from wounds sustained this month in the central city of Hama.
"Friday’s demonstrations, under the slogan of unity, came a week after a wave of sectarian bloodshed in Homs, Syria’s third-largest city, claimed the lives of at least two dozen people. The violence signaled a dangerous turn in the four-month popular uprising against Mr. Assad, who has been in power since 2000.
"'We are all one, not Arabs, not Kurds, not Muslims, not Christians, not Alawites, not Druze. We all want freedom,' shouted protesters in Dara’a, an impoverished town in southwestern Syria where the protests first began after teenagers there were detained for scrawling antigovernment graffiti on a wall.
"The protesters have insisted that their movement is peaceful, and they are careful to portray it as free of any sectarian leanings. They have also said the government is trying to instigate strife among Syria’s religiously mixed society. Although most Syrians are Sunni Muslims, there are a number of sizable religious and ethnic minorities, and Mr. Assad and his ruling clan belong to the minority Alawite sect."
During the 1920's, the French tried to divide Syria into a bunch of sectarian states, of which Lebanon was arguably one. Their hope that this would prevent a united Syrian opposition failed. I don't know enough about Syrian history to be able to trace whether that has been an ongoing trend through the country's 20th century history, but similar hopes on the part of the Assad regime could be at work today. Another point is that in country's where government funding is dispensed through patronage networks, those closest to the regime, which means the Alawite regions from which the current rulers sprung, benefit disproportionately and don't want the gravy train to stop. Something similar happened in Iraq after Saddam Hussein.