Syria’s Sunnis and the Regime’s Resilience
May 28, 2015
Syria’s calamitous civil war is now in its fourth year. Amid the rising body count and destruction, there is little clarity about the viability of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s Ba’athist regime even as the numerous violent insurgent organizations that seek to topple his administration receive ample attention. Social media has enabled observers to scrutinize the armed opposition in almost real-time via their public declarations, battlefield operations, and propaganda.
In contrast, comparatively little attention has been paid to the causes of the regime’s resilience. It recently has suffered a string of territorial setbacks, including the loss of Idlib’s provincial capital and other territories to radical Islamist advances led by al-Qa`ida’s Syrian affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra (Support Front) and aligned insurgents operating under the Jaish al-Fatah (Army of Conquest) banner.
These losses follow the Islamic State’s capture of Al-Raqqa Province in 2014 and other parts of eastern Syria, and the seizure of Busra al-Sham and Nassib in Syria’s southern Deraa Province by insurgents in March and April, respectively.
A cascade of economic troubles and suggestions of growing attrition within the ranks of the Syrian military have also taken their toll.
Some observers see these developments as signs of the Ba’athist regime’s impending collapse but that is an overreach. Despite the losses, the regime is estimated to retain control of around half of Syrian territory and up to three quarters of the country’s population. It also continues to contest areas that have fallen out of its reach.
There is a web of factors contributing to the regime’s remarkable resilience. Its willingness to employ brutal, scorched-earth military tactics without regard for civilian life and the support—political, economic, military, and moral—that it receives from foreign actors led by Iran, Lebanese Hezbollah, Russia, and Iraq have helped it survive. The inherent disunity of the ranks of the armed opposition, whose most formidable elements are a collection of rival and intersecting radical Islamist currents that include al-Qa`ida-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra and its offshoots such as the Islamic State, has also helped the Ba’athist regime hang on.
Still, these elements do not completely explain its ability to endure. The regime’s notable cohort of Alawite leaders and the support that it draws from many Alawites and other ethnic and religious minorities as a bulwark against the majority Sunni population that has spearheaded the revolt is also cited as a key factor for its durability. Little has been said, however, of the Ba’athist regime’s support among Syria’s majority Sunni population.
This article will examine the role of Syria’s Sunnis in helping to sustain the Ba’athist regime. It finds that while much of the conventional thinking behind the regime’s resilience is valid, a broader explanation is needed. This more expansive approach also considers the regime’s ability to draw on segments of the Sunni majority that actively support, tolerate, or remain otherwise invested in its survival and which has proved, despite its embattled position, to be vital to its survival.
The “Alawite Regime”
Syria’s demographic composition is a recurring theme in the civil war. The Ba’athist regime and its entrenched power structures are frequently defined through a binary of minoritarian and majoritarian power dynamics. In this reading, an Alawite-Arab clan, led by the heir to the late family patriarch former president Hafez al-Assad, the extended family of relatives, and associates rules over a majority Sunni populace and a mosaic of other ethnic and religious minorities. Sunnis make up between 70 and 80 percent of the total population. The al-Assads, according to this view, act on behalf of the Alawite minority that makes up between 8 and 12 percent of the total population. This perspective is encapsulated in references to an Alawite regime, a label that ascribes it with an outwardly apparent Alawite identity and agenda.
This portrayal of the regime misrepresents the complexity of Syria’s brand of authoritarianism. It also obfuscates the mechanics of its inner workings, centers of authority, and sources of support. Taken together, these elements transcend religion and ethnicity to encompass identities and affinities such as class and social structure, as well as urban-rural cleavages. The prominence of Alawites in Syrian politics and society is not in question. The elevation of Alawites and their eventual assimilation into the corridors of power and over representation in ranking positions in the Ba’athist bureaucracy and security apparatus is well documented.
The history of tensions between the Alawite minority and Sunni majority is a recurring theme in assessments of the current conflict. The Alawites, a historically marginalized community that occupied a subservient role in Syrian society in relation to the Sunni majority, hailed from Syria’s impoverished rural hinterlands along the coast and in the mountainous northwest. Their empowerment through military service during the French Mandate and later through Ba’athist activism was met with great trepidation by much of the Sunni population. This was especially true for its most conservative segments, in particular the largely Sunni landowning and urban merchant classes that dominated the economy. They viewed Alawites as culturally backward and the secularism, socialism, and nationalism promulgated by Ba’athist ideology as anathema to their worldview and a threat to their economic interests. Nevertheless, the regime eventually cultivated new networks of support among the very communities that it had sidelined, particularly, the powerful Sunni merchant classes centered in cities such as Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, and Hama. It also lifted up rural-based Alawite and other minority business interests, solidifying a powerful base of businessmen and other influential notables with a vested stake in regime survival. In doing so, the Ba’athist regime manufactured an unspoken compact that balanced Alawite and other minority interests with those of an influential segment of the Sunni majority.
Interestingly, the prominent role of Alawites has not translated into special privileges for the group in general. This is the case even as most of them continue to side with the Ba’athists. Alawites have been subjected to the repression, poverty, and disenfranchisement experienced by most Syrians under Ba’athist rule.
Regime elites, including members of the al-Assad clan, have been known to regularly intermarry across confessional lines in an apparent attempt to widen their patronage and client networks in politics, business, and the security apparatus as well as in more traditional spheres of communal, clan, and tribal affairs. This has helped cultivate a new elite whose loyalties transcend religion and other primordial factors in favor of a shared commitment to the Ba’athist regime. The over representation of Alawites in positions of influence in the political, military, and security apparatus today is largely the result of the legacy of the French Mandate and former Syrian president Hafez al-Assad’s attempt to build a cadre of trusted loyalists bound by family, kinship, clan, and tribal ties rather than any sense of Alawite solidarity.
The Sunni Factor
While resentment among Syrians toward the Ba’athist regime may transcend religious affiliation and ideology, the Syrian opposition, especially its armed current, is a Sunni enterprise. The sectarian motivations that are driving large segments of the opposition to the Ba’athist regime cannot be understated.
The influence of radical Sunni Islamist currents, including extremist Salafists who conceive their campaign as part of a greater sectarian struggle to topple a heretical government, is hugely important within the wider opposition. Salafist militants, for example, perceive Alawites as unbelievers and the Ba’athist administration as an appendage of archenemies Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah. At the same time, notable segments of Syria’s Sunni majority remain supportive of the Ba’athists for any number of reasons. The nature of authoritarian regimes makes it difficult to gauge feelings of approval (or opposition). Nevertheless, it is important to consider the various gradations of support that the present regime continues to draw from this critical segment of Syrian society.
Sunnis (and others) who harbor genuine misgivings toward the government may still feel more threatened by the armed opposition. These feelings are likely to have crystallized given the prevalence of radical Sunni Islamist currents within the insurgents. These sentiments are reflected in numerous segments of Syria’s Sunnis. They are most apparent, however, among urban Sunnis, including the middle- and upper-class strata and, in particular, the business and merchant classes that were cultivated by the Ba’athist regime over many years. The armed opposition has singled out a number of powerful Sunni businessmen for their purported roles in helping to sustain the Ba’athists, including the organization of irregular militias; and the smuggling of hard currency, arms, and critical goods.
Class-based dynamics have also shaped negative perceptions of the opposition among the many Sunnis who remain loyal to the current regime. The perception of the opposition as a rural-based movement led by religiously conservative, poor, and unsophisticated villagers has alienated wide segments of urban Sunnis, who have little in common socially with their co-religionists.
The strong Sunni presence in Syria’s military and security apparatus has also been overlooked. Much of the Ba’athist military and security apparatus is commanded by Alawite officers who are bound by relations to family, kin, clan, or tribe. Many elite squads and sections are led directly by al-Assad’s relatives. Nonetheless, Sunnis and, more specifically, Sunni Arabs, continue to make up the majority of the regular army’s rank-and-file membership.
Estimates indicate that Sunnis account for between 60 and 65 percent of the regular army. Despite mass defections by thousands of mostly Sunni conscripts and mid-level officers and growing reports of recruitment problems, Sunnis continue to be well represented in Syria’s security institutions in various capacities, including leadership and other specialized roles. This is the case even as the reasons behind their continued service—and that of other Syrians—may vary.
The participation of auxiliary elements such as Lebanese Hezbollah and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force in Syria in both kinetic and advisory capacities, combined with the presence of Shi’a militia formations from Iraq, and other Shi’a volunteers from as far away as Afghanistan has strengthened the Ba’athist regime.
At the same time, Sunni participation likely mitigated against a catastrophic collapse of the Ba’athist military. Indeed, Sunni participation has not been lost on the opposition.
Nevertheless, there are reports that Sunnis are sometimes assigned to less sensitive positions and have otherwise become the subject of increased attention by commanders. In a manner characteristic of autocratic regimes, the Syrian army and other sections of the security apparatus remain highly politicized institutions.
At the same time, Sunnis are known to have participated in the Popular Committee detachments that preceded the summer 2012 establishment of the National Defense Force (NDF) paramilitary. As an auxiliary to the regular military and security apparatus, the NDF has emerged as a critical component of the Ba’athist military machine. The administration is also reported to be leveraging the NDF as a way to co-opt or otherwise neutralize disenchanted insurgent elements.
Participation in the NDF, in lieu of conscription in the regular Syrian army—a prospect that has become increasingly unpopular—also appears to be a way to ensure that Syrians remain loyal to the Ba’athist regime or otherwise neutral.
Sunnis, for example, are well represented in NDF units based in Aleppo and elsewhere. Sunnis have also continued to play a prominent role in other sections of Syria’s vast security apparatus.
The Ba’athist’s mobilization of shabiha (ghosts), irregular militia formations that were used to quell displays of popular dissent and perform other acts of repression, has seen notable traction among Sunnis. The participation of the predominantly Sunni Berri clan, a prominent criminal organization based in Aleppo that has close ties to the regime, in the recruitment and deployment of shabiha gangs is an example. 
The role and influence of Sunni Arab tribes in the ongoing conflict remain topics of close scrutiny. Syria’s traditional tribal heartlands along the borders with Jordan, Iraq, and Turkey have emerged as bastions for the different ideological currents represented within the armed opposition. Yet the Bagarra tribe, which contains both Sunni and Shi’a members, has remained largely loyal to the al-Assad government.
The Ba’athist regime has also bolstered the NDF’s ranks with loyal Sunni Arab tribesmen who act as crucial proxies for the regime to different degrees in provinces as diverse as Al-Raqqah, Al-Hassakah, Dara’a, and Deir al-Zour.
While it is difficult to gauge in quantitative or otherwise precise terms, observers should more carefully weigh the possibility that it is the Ba’athist regime’s support base within the Sunni majority, however narrow and limited it may be relative to the wider community, that has ensured its survival until now.
The regime’s ability to draw on segments of Syria’s Sunni majority in the face of an intensifying insurrection rooted in the wider Sunni population has far reaching implications that go beyond President al-Assad’s ability to remain in power. Regardless of the outcome, the web of entrenched interests within the Sunni population that remain loyal to, or otherwise invested in the survival of the current regime will have to renegotiate their status in what is likely to be a treacherous political climate. In this context, the deep rifts that have emerged between different segments of the Sunni majority will constitute a new set of political fault lines.
Consequently, it is likely that significant segments of the regime’s Sunni constituency will remain supportive of the regime for fear of a more dangerous outcome, including a protracted civil war that persists well beyond al-Assad’s tenure. Meanwhile, the regime will continue to exploit the ingrained divides within the Sunni majority in an attempt to preserve its position at all costs.
Chris Zambelis is a Senior Analyst focusing on the Middle East for Helios Global, Inc., a risk management group based in the Washington, D.C. area. The opinions expressed here are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the position of Helios Global, Inc.
 Liz Sly, “Assad’s Hold on Power Looks Shakier Than Ever as Rebels Advance in Syria,” Washington Post, April 26, 2015.
 Martin Armstrong, “Islamic State Strengthens Control in Syria,” Al-Jazeera [Doha], August 27, 2014.
 Donna Abu-Nasr and Dana Khraiche, “Assad Reminds Syrians Who is Leader After Military Setbacks,” Bloomberg, May 6, 2015.
 Frederick Deknatel, “Syria’s Assad Looks Weaker as Currency Slides and Army Fractures, “World Politics Review, May 4, 2015.
 For example, Fabrice Balanche estimates that the Ba’athist regime may control between 55 and 72 percent of the Syrian population. See Aron Lund, “The Political Geography of Syria’s Civil War: An Interview with Fabrice Balanche,” Syria in Crisis (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace), January 30, 2015. Joshua Landis estimates that the Ba’athist regime can claim dominion over around 65 percent of the Syrian population. See Aaron David Miller, “Is Bashar al-Assad Finished, For Real, This Time, Again?,” Foreign Policy, May 1, 2015.
 Sammy Ketz, “Syria Army Pushes Toward Jisr al-Shughur Seeking Morale Boost,” Agence France Presse, May 11, 2015. Also see Christopher Kozak, “An Army in All Corners: Assad’s Campaign Strategy in Syria,” Institute for the Study of War, Middle East Security Report 26, April 2015. At the same time, recent reports suggest that the regime may be limiting its engagement to areas it deems most strategically important, including major cities in central western Syria such as Damascus, Homs, and Hama, the coastal northwest, and the territories adjacent to its border with Lebanon. This would result in the de facto partition of the country, as the regime would, in essence, concede territories under the sway of the Islamic State, Jabhat al-Nusra, and other armed opposition factions. See Sammy Ketz, “Syrian regime ‘to accept de facto’ partition of country,” Agence France-Presse, May 24, 2015.
 Joshua Landis, “The Syrian Uprising of 2011: Why the Assad Regime is Likely to Survive to 2013,” Middle East Policy Council, 19:1, Spring (2012).
 Syria’s Sunni majority population can be further demarcated along ethnic lines. It is generally accepted that Arabs account for approximately between 60 and 65 percent of Syria’s Sunni population while Kurds and Turkmen account for about ten and three percent of the remaining population, respectively. Syria is also home to small community of Sunni Circassians, Christian, Druze, and Shi’a Arabs. Armenians, and Assyrians are also among the balance.
 Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, “The Dangerous Illusion of an Alawite Regime,” Boston Review, June 11, 2013.
 A wide body of multidisciplinary research has shed light on the characteristics of the Ba’athist regime from different perspectives. See Hanna Batatu, Syria’s Peasantry, the Descendants of Its Lesser Rural Notables, and Their Politics (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1999), Steven Heydemann, Authoritarianism in Syria: Institutions and Social Conflict, 1946-1970 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999), Volker Perthes, The Political Economy of Syria Under Asad (London, I.B. Tauris Publishers, 1995), Nikolaos Van Dam, The Struggle for Power in Syria: Politics and Society Under Asad and the Ba’th Party (London, I.B. Tauris Publishers, 1996), Patrick Seale, Asad: The Struggle for the Middle East (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1988), Flynt Leverett, Inheriting Syria: Bashar’s Trial By Fire. (Washington, D.C., Brookings Institution Press, 2005), Lisa Wedeen, Ambiguities of Domination: Politics, Rhetoric, and Symbols in Contemporary Syria (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1999), David W. Lesch, The New Lion of Damascus: Bashar al-Asad and Modern Syria (New Haven, Yale University Press, 2005), Bassam Haddad, Business Networks in Syria: The Political Economy of Authoritarian Resilience (Stanford, Stanford University Press, 2012).
 For an overview of the ascent of Alawites in public and military sectors orchestrated by France during the French Mandate, see Hanna Batatu, Syria’s Peasantry, the Descendants of Its Lesser Rural Notables, and Their Politics, pp. 155–158, Patrick Seale, Asad: The Struggle for the Middle East, pp 14-23, Nikolaos Van Dam, The Struggle for Power in Syria: Politics and Society Under Asad and the Ba’th Party, pp 26-27, Nazih N. Ayubi, Over-Stating the Arab State: Politics and Society in the Middle East (London, I.B. Tauris Publishers, 1999), pp 90-91, Ayse Tekdal Fildis, “Roots of Alawite-Sunni Rivalry in Syria,” Middle East Policy Council, 19:2, Summer (2012): Ayse Tekdal Fildis, “The Troubles in Syria: Spawned by French Divide and Rule,” Middle East Policy Council, 18: 4, Winter (2011).
 Nir Rosen, “Assad’s Alawites: Guardians of the Throne,” Al-Jazeera [Doha], October 10, 2011.
 Hanna Batatu, “Syria’s Muslim Brethren,” Middle East Report, 12:110, November/December (1982): Sabrina Mervin, “Syria’s Alawites,” Le Monde Diplomatique [Paris], January 2013.
 Lisa Wedeen, Ambiguities of Domination: Politics, Rhetoric, and Symbols in Contemporary Syria (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1999), p 8.
 Bassam Haddad, “The Syrian Regime’s Business Backbone,” Middle East Report, 42:262, Spring (2012). For a more thorough treatment of the nexus between business networks in Syria and the Ba’athist regime, see Bassam Haddad, Business Networks in Syria: The Political Economy of Authoritarian Resilience (Stanford, Stanford University Press, 2012). Incidentally, segments of the Sunni merchant classes and other conservative segments of society that were most affected by the Ba’athist regime’s social and economic policies would lend their support to the violent insurgency launched by the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood between 1976 and 1982 that led to the destruction wrought on Hama. The business networks cultivated by the Ba’athist regime would remain largely loyal during this period of crisis. For more background, see Nikolaos Van Dam, The Struggle for Power in Syria: Politics and Society Under Asad and the Ba’th Party, pp 105-110, Fred Lawson, “Social Bases for the Hama Revolt,” Middle East Report, 12:110, November/December (1982), Hanna Batatu, “Syria’s Muslim Brethren,” Middle East Report,12:110, November/December (1982).
 A Correspondent in Damascus, “Syria’s Alawites Torn Between Regime, Opposition,” Al-Monitor, August 19, 2013.
 The reasons behind Alawite support for the Ba’athist regime are often framed in a sense of communal affinity shared with Al-Assad. In reality, the reasons behind Alawite support for the Ba’athist regime are diverse. For example, in light of the prevalence of extremist Islamist currents within the armed opposition, including hard-line Salafist elements that continue to single out Alawites as heretics and apostates, many Alawites support the Ba’athist regime for the sake of their own survival. See Aziz Nakash, “The Alawite Dilemma in Homs: Survival, Solidarity, and the Making of a Community,” Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Department for Middle East and North Africa, March 2013, Lauren Williams, “Syria’s Alawites Not Deserting Assad Yet, Despite Crackdown,” Middle East Eye, September 11, 2014
 Hanna Batatu, Syria’s Peasantry, the Descendants of Its Lesser Rural Notables, and Their Politics, pp 226-230.
 Yahya Sadowski, “The Evolution of Political Identity in Syria,” in Identity and Foreign Policy in the Middle East, (eds) Shibley Telhami and Michael Barnett (Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 2002), pp 145-147. Bashar al-Assad’s marriage to the British-born and-raised Asma al-Akhras, the daughter of a prominent Sunni family from Homs, is often described as another example of the strengthening ties between the Ba’athist political and military elite and Syria’s influential Sunni business class. See I. Briscoe,F. Janssen, & R. Smits, “Stability and Economic Recovery After Assad: Key Steps for Syria’s Post-Conflict Transition,” Clingendael-Netherlands Institute for International Affairs, No. 2, (November 2012).
 Hanna Batatu, “Some Observations on the Social Roots of Syria’s Ruling, Military Group and the Causes for its Dominance,” Middle East Journal, 35:3 (Summer 1981): pp. 331-334. This legacy is apparent in the current Ba’athist hierarchy inherited by Bashar al-Assad, especially the military and security services, where members of the al-Assad clan figure prominently in leadership positions. For example, Bashar’s brother Maher al-Assad commands elite units such as the Republican Guard and the army’s Fourth Armored Division. The role of family networks also extends to the economic sector. Rami Makhlouf, Bashar’s maternal cousin, widely reputed as Syria’s richest man, heads a number of strategic business concerns that span the telecommunications, banking, real estate, tourism, and media sectors. The late Hafez al-Assad’s rule has weighed heavily on his successor, especially in earlier considerations of Bashar al-Assad’s potential as a reformer following his assumption of power in 2000. See Flynt Leverett, Inheriting Syria: Bashar’s Trial By Fire, (Washington, D.C., Brookings Institution Press, 2005), pp. 22-56.
 It is important to point out that the Syrian opposition, while overwhelmingly Sunni in its composition and by now dominated by various radical Islamist currents, did at one point reflect a more diverse coalition, especially in the early stages of the uprising prior to its eventual militarization. Moreover, segments of the Alawite community, long regarded as a monolithic bloc of support for the Ba’athist regime, has reflected divergent allegiances and objectives with respect to both the regime and the opposition. See Oula Abdulhamid Alrifai, “Not Alright With Syria’s Alawites: Growing Resentment Splits Assad’s Power Base,” Foreign Affairs, December 3, 2014.
 Guido Steinberg, “Sunni vs. Shi’a: Opposition Fueled By Power Politics,” German Institute for International and Security Affairs, August 13, 2013.
 Michael Pizzy and Nuha Shabaan, “Sunnis Fill Rebel Ranks, but Also Prop Up Assad Regime,” USA Today, August 2, 2013.
 For example, some observers have posited that the incumbent regime is more popular than is commonly accepted. See Musa al-Gharbi, “Syria Contextualized: The Numbers Game,” Middle East Policy, 20:1 Spring (2013).
 Sam Dagher, “Asad’s Not-So-Secret Weapon: Loyal Syrian Businessmen,” Wall Street Journal, March 24, 2013.
 Michael Pizzy and Nuha Shabaan, “Under Sectarian Surface, Sunni Backing Props Up Assad Regime,” Syria Direct, June 20, 2013.
 David Kilcullen and Nate Rosenblatt, “The Rise of Syria’s Urban Poor: Why the War for Syria’s Future Will Be Fought Over The Country’s New Urban Villages,” PRISM, National Defense University, Center for Complex Operations, Vol. 4, Syria Supplemental, (2014): pp. 33-41.
 Vicken Cheterian, “The Syrian War is More Than Sectarian,” Al-Hayat, May 17, 2015.
 Maya Gebeily, “Pro-Regime Syrians Back Army but Dodge Draft,” Agence France Presse, April 20, 2015.
 For example, many Sunnis and others within the military and security apparatus may be unconvinced of the armed opposition’s capacity to prevail, hence their decision to side with what they believe to be the strongest actor on the ground. See Michael Pizzi and Nuha Shabaan, “Sunni vs. Sunni: Pro-Revolution Sunnis Lament Assad Backers,” Syria Direct, June 21, 2013.
 Amal Saad, “From Classic to Post-Resistance: On Hezbollah’s Transformation,” Al-Akhbar [Beirut], February 13, 2015.
 Nabih Bulos, “Commander’s Death in Syria Points to Iranian Role in Civil War,” Los Angeles Times, June 1, 2014
 Aymenn Jawaad Al-Tamimi, “The Return of Iraqi Shi’I Militias to Syria,” Middle East Institute, March 16, 2015.
 Farahmand Alipour, “Iranian Doc Follows Afghan Fighters in Syria,” Al-Monitor, May 4, 2015.
 This view is encapsulated in the following observation by an opposition activist: “We all know that most of the security forces shooting at us and killing us are Sunnis, not Alawites, this is not about sect” See Phil Sands, “Sectarianism Casts Shadow Over Syria’s Uprising,” National [Abu Dhabi], June 21, 2012. Also see Yahya Alous, “Sunnis Against Sunnis,” Syrian Observer, April 8, 2015.
 Zenobie, “How Syria Works,” Le Monde Diplomatique, Paris, October 4, 2011.
 Ibid. and Michael Pizzi and Nuha Shabaan, “Sunni vs. Sunni: Pro-Revolution Sunnis Lament Assad Backers,” Syria Direct, June 21, 2013.
 For more on the role of informal militias in irregular warfare, including their propensity for engaging in criminality and human rights abuses, see Stathis N. Kalyvas, The Logic of Violence in Civil War, (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2006), pp 107-110.
 Syrian Observer, “We Defected from FSA Over Siege, Despair: Al-Anfal Commander,” March 24, 2015.
 Ghaith Abdel Aziz, “With Assad’s Troops Stretched, Fighters Join NDF for Salary and Stability,” Syria Deeply, October 8, 2014.
 Edward Dark, “Pro-Regime Sunni Fighters in Aleppo Defy Sectarian Narrative,” Al-Monitor, March 14, 2014.
 Agence France-Presse, “Syria Rebels Condemn Reported Executions,” August 3, 2012. The shabiha networks mobilized during the current conflict have their origins in a network of organized criminals. For more on the origins of the shabiha, see Yasin al-Haj Salih, “The Syrian Shabiha and Their State: Statehood and Participation,” Kalamon Magazine, March 3, 2014, Winter Edition, No. 5.
 Dawn Chatty, “Syria’s Bedouin Enter the Fray: How Tribes Could Keep Syria Together,” Foreign Affairs, November 13, 2013, Nicholas A. Heras and Carole A. O’Leary, “The Tribal Factor in Syria’s Rebellion: A Survey of Armed Tribal Groups in Syria,” Terrorism Monitor (Jamestown Foundation), 11:13.
 Haian Dukhan, “Tribes and Tribalism in the Syrian Revolution,” Open Democracy, December 19, 2012, Haian Dukhan, “Tribes and Tribalism in the Syrian Uprising,” Syrian Studies, 6:2 , Nicholas A. Heras, “Shaykh Muhammad al-Faris: Assad’s Man in Qamishli,” Militant Leadership Monitor Briefs (Jamestown Foundation), 6:3. There are also reports of fluctuating loyalties among Syria’s major tribes with respect to the Ba’athist regime and various armed opposition currents, including the Islamic State. See Aron Lund, “What’s Behind the Kurdish-Arab Clashes in East Syria?,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, January 23, 2015.