Syria 101: 4 attributes of Assad's authoritarian regime
President Bashar al-Assad, his family members, and many other Syrian government officials belong to the Alawite sect, which makes up about 12 percent of the country’s population, according to the US State Department. Leadership of both the Army and the security apparatus also belongs to Alawites.
The Alawites classify themselves a sect of Shiite Islam, although the religion has picked up some aspects of other traditions like Christianity and paganism, even celebrating holidays such as Christmas and Easter. Sunni Muslims – who make up 74 percent Syria’s population – consider the Alawites heretics and have long chafed under their dominance.