Owen Bennett Jones looks at Syria's Alawis, the secretive Shia sect to which President Assad belongs. Who are the Alawis, and why are many fearful of a post-Assad future?
The government of President Assad of Syria is under threat. So too is the secretive Shia sect known as the Alawis - or Alawites - to which he and many of the governing party and security officials belong.
Hostility towards the minority Alawi population is such that one leading commentator predicts they are likely to be the victims of the world's next genocide.
Presenter Owen Bennett Jones investigates the Alawis' origins, history and culture and asks how these once marginalised people came to power in a Sunni majority state.
He discovers that for many their fortunes changed fifty years ago when the Baath party seized power in a coup d'etat. Alawis were dominant among the army officers who took control. They set about modernising the country and rolling out a secular agenda.
Now, as Syria's revolution has morphed into a civil war, many Alawis believe their only choice is to kill or be killed.
Are the majority of Alawis right to be convinced that the Assad regime is all that stands between them and a return to second-class status, or worse? If the opposition wins in Syria, are warnings about pogroms against the Alawis alarmist, or inevitable?
Presenter: Owen Bennett Jones
Producer: Damian Quinn.