The wave of protest engendered by a fortuitous event in Tunisia (2010), after having brought down the Tunisian regime, soon caused the fall of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, then that of the Yemeni regime. The West, by getting rid of Muammar Gaddafi, stirred up lasting local and regional chaos. Lastly, more discretely, Saudi Arabia dispatched troops to consolidate the established order in Bahrain, where the Shia majority was protesting against the dictatorship of the Sunni minority.
The protest wave reached Syria in late 2011 with peaceful demonstrations in Daraa, at the Jordanian border. The Alawite minority (thirteen percent of the population) in power chose to engage in a showdown with the Sunni Arabs, who were two-thirds of the total population. The regime, in power for two generations (it had repressed an Islamist protest movement in Hama in 1982) relied on Christians (ten percent of the population) of various observances and on a large part of the Sunni bourgeoisie, which benefitted from the stability of the regime.
Otherwise, the country was made up of Druze (three percent), whom the Sunnis did not like at all, and of Kurds (ten percent) along the Turkish border, who under Hafez al-Assad, Bashar’s father, had been partly deported to make room for Arabs. Several hundred thousand Kurds had no official documentation. The Kurds traditionally occupy the Al-Jazira Province (they are many in Aleppo). Although Muslim and Sunni, they have suffered decades of repression in Turkey, Syria, and Iraq (and to a lesser extent in Iran), never defended as Muslims but always ostracized as Kurds.