Max writes of fundamentally sectarian nature of the Syrian civil war:
The scale of suffering reflects the fact that the Syrian government, uniquely among countries swept up by the Arab Spring, represents not merely a corrupt and oppressive ruling clique. It baldly represents the interests of a small, fearful, well-armed, and organized sectarian minority, set against the wishes of a majority that has remained inchoate, politically divided, and powerless. The fact of this polarization, long elaborately disguised by hollow pageantries, has only become clear to many Syrians now that the underlying nature of the state has been exposed and the violence implicit in the country’s neocolonial power structure has been made dramatically explicit.
Sectarian because the regime thought of it in sectarian terms, and because part of the opposition has risen within the context of that sectarian framing (hence foreign jihadists financed by the monstrously sectarian Gulf regimes come to fight the Alawites as subset of Shias, etc.)
The government’s early charges that rebels were Sunni Muslim fanatics or al-Qaeda agents were equally spurious, but they have become similarly self- fulfilling. Syria’s intelligence services had a firm hold on the jihadist subculture before the uprising, having themselves sponsored jihadist radicals in Iraq, then later unleashed them to stir trouble in neighboring Lebanon. In the cynical world of the regime, the bearded radicals were simply another card for Syria to play, and so it has during the uprising. The state has worked overtime to sustain the notion that it faces an Islamist sectarian threat. Damascenes have often noted with wonder, for instance, that whereas ordinary antigovernment protests tend to be quickly and ruthlessly dispersed, demonstrators chanting such baldly sectarian slogans as “Christians to Beirut and Alawites to the tabout”—meaning “to the grave”—march unmolested. Opposition activists suspect that at least some bomb blasts attributed to jihadist cells have been instigated by the intelligence services themselves.