Assad holds Syria army despite Sunni-Alawite divide

April 6, 2011 17:56

AMMAN - Senior Syrian army ranks are packed with loyal members of President Bashar Assad's Alawite minority, reducing any prospect of military pressure on him to stand aside if protests grow, military experts say.

Unlike the armies in Tunisia and Egypt, whose refusal to confront non-violent demonstrations spelled the demise of their autocratic rulers, the fate of many senior Syrian military officers is closely tied to that of Assad.

Although some officers from the Sunni Muslim majority have been promoted to senior ranks, Sunni influence has been weakened and Assad's brother Maher controls key military units packed with Alawite soldiers.

"It will take an extraordinary amount of people power to defeat a regime this deeply entrenched. This is not Tunisia," said W. Andrew Terrill, research professor of national security affairs at the US Army War college.

"The regime has been careful about placing Alawite loyalists in all key positions within the military so that the regime can defeat any effort to overthrow it. Some Sunni officers have risen to very high ranks but have very little power to command troops," Terrill said from Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania.

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