The Syrian uprising of 2011 and 2012 seems as simple as the Egyptian and Tunisian ones before it, however it is not just a battle for freedom and liberty as was the case in those countries, but of tribal and religious struggle as well. Syria is a country that has been ruled by a minority for a long time, like many other countries in the Arab world is constructed on the ancient method of divide and rule as was used by the British in their colonial days.
Assad is the son of the late Syrian president, who also was involved in bloody fight against the majority of Syrians who wanted to remove him from power, so it is not a big surprise that both father and son as mutually hated by most of their countrymen, however strange it might seem.
Assad belongs to the Alawite minority, who is well positioned in all the finest spots of Syrian society, military and civil authorities are made of mostly people who belong to that religious group, and like Saddam Hussain’s Iraq are expected to remain loyal to the regime whatever happens. Here we get to the first point that is critical to the understanding of the situation in Syria and, maybe, of its outcome.
For one to expect a peaceful transition of power from the Assad family to a democratic parliament or group of people is as unrealistic as to assume that the Iranians will separate state from religion. There can not be a peaceful transition because the minority Arab Sunni population holds so much grudge against (not only) the Assad family and the entire Alawite tribe that once power will move into new hands a bloodbath will instantly begin in the country.
Not only had Assad junior now ordered the mass killing of many Syrians, his father before him was responsible for the killing of tens of thousands, as well as the organized oppression of that entire Sunni population. One should realize that this is bad blood running for decades, if the Syrian Arab Sunnis could – they would massacre everyone who is Alawite and had any connection to power and money.
So Assad here plays a double rule, on the one hand he is called (by name only) the Syrian president, although he was not elected, is not popular and does not work for the good of the entire Syrian people, on the other hand Assad is expected and probably also intrinsically wired to protect his own clan and preserve the power his Alawite tribe needs in order to survive. It should be clear even to the most liberal of people that if Assad caves he might save his own family but the fate of his fellow Alawite clan members is dim.
To say it honestly, Assad can not leave power. Not for his own family’s sake, and not if he wants to physically survive. He saw and learned the lesson from the dead Libyan ruler Gaddafi, who knew he had to fight for his life, only Gaddafi did not have Shia brothers in the form of the Iranians, who were actually happy to see Gaddafi removed.
This brings us to the last piece of the puzzle, Iran is deeply involved in Syria, and this only makes sense because both Alawites and Iran are Shia muslims and regard their power over the Sunni world essential for the success of their religious mission. Iran makes a normal and peaceful solution of the Syrian situation impossible because it is more radical and more tilted towards control and power in the Sunni world than Assad is about his own clan.