Often portrayed as the bastion of Arabism, Syria has long played a leading role in the political and social affairs of the Middle East. A 2019 estimate suggest that it is home 18.5 million people amongst whom there are multiple ethnic and religious identities but has been dominated by secularist Ba’ath ideology and military rule since the 1960s. Ruled by the Assad family since 1971, first Hafez then Bashar, members of the Alawite sect of Islam, the majority of the Syrian population are Sunni.
In 2011, the country was rocked by nationwide protests in the wake of the Arab Uprisings. In response, protests turned violent and sought to topple the Assad regime. Fearing a popular protest drawing on people across the political spectrum, the regime embarked on a process of sectarianization in pursuit of regime survival. The ensuing conflict that engulfed the state opened the door for regional and international actors to intervene in the conflict, most notably Iran, Russia, the USA, and Saudi Arabia. The protracted war drew on sectarian narratives to form alliances and securitize sect-based actors. The continuation of conflict altered power dynamics in the region, caused a major refugee crisis, and challenged mainstream ideologies.