“More to the point, it was precisely constructed to pit a minority group, the Shiite Alawites, against the majority, Sunni Arabs, with the Christians and the Druze and Kurds (also Sunnis) as side-shows. Exactly the same divide-and-rule principle applied to the way the Brits constructed Iraq. But there they used the Sunni minority to control the Shiite majority, with the poor Kurds as side-kicks again.”
This is half-truths amounting to lies.
It didnt take the French or anyone else to pit the Shia Alawites against the Sunni Arabs or to have the Alawites thinking of the Druze and the Christians as side-shows to any Sunni-Alawite contest.
Sunni always dominated, in numbers and in positions within any Syrian administration because they did dominate in numbers - through the Ottoman period and through the period of rule by the French. The Druze were anything but a side-show. The first major revolt against the French rule of the Mandate of Syria was led by a Druze leader (not an Alawite and not a Sunni), Sultan al-Atrash. The Alawites and the Christians, in Syria proper, were neither much socially or politically rejected or held-back under either the Ottomans or the French (outside of the general lesser status of non-Muslims, though in the Alawites case there were always varying opinions how Muslim, or not, they were/are). [Though in what we now call Lebanon, the Sunni, Shia, Druze & Christian social and political divide and contentions were, historically throughout the Islamic era and afterward, a situation where each tried to use the favor (to their own advantage) of the powers that be and those powers used those divisions to their advantage as well.] The strength of Alawites specically arose in Syria by and through Syrian politics post-independence from France, due first to social customs of favoritism to ones clan and family and some Alawites prominence in the political party (secular-Leftist party the Baathists), and strengthened later after the 1st attempted Islamist uprising by the Muslim Brotherhood (much like the present one) and the Sunni dominance of the Muslim Brotherhood leaving the Assad clan ultra security conscience about where it could and could not find people for positions of trust.
The greater reality is NOT that it kept the Sunnis under control, it kept the Sunni Islamists under control. Sunnis who had no religious issue with the secular-minded Baathist party and governments established by it were not enjoined to the Muslim Brotherhood led revolt as their lives were not disturbed in a general way nor was their religious practice disturbed by the Syrian government.
However, outside of those things, on a social, academic, economic and religious level Syria has been very secular, does not make Islam the state religion, does not advance or retard any general religious expression; and unlike our friends (ike the Saudis) is possibly one of the least fundamentalist Muslim-dominant societies in the Middle East.
“Exactly the same divide-and-rule principle applied to the way the Brits constructed Iraq. But there they used the Sunni minority to control the Shiite majority, with the poor Kurds as side-kicks again.”
In Iraq, the Brits did not create or invent the situation of Sunni rule over a population that was majority Shia in Mesopotaemia (Iraq), it had been that way for centurties, and it had been that way off and on before the Ottomans. The Brits more or less accepted that situation, not invent it.
I've never understood the divide-and-rule idea. Hiring persecuted minorities (typically by the majority) who want to cooperate with you seems to be common sense. There's no division involved - they were divided in the first place, and typically for good reason, with rivers of blood in the historical ledger.