The past four years of civil war have been difficult for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but he was confident of one thing - the silence and tacit support of the Druze community.

The Druze are a tiny group in Syria - about 700,000 people in a country with a pre-war population of 24 million. A religious minority, the Druze community has tended to back Assad, fearing that life under the rebels, who are mostly Sunni Muslims, could be worse

Recently, the Druze have been defying Assad's government. Their resistance has been most evident with many members refusing compulsory military service. Also, Druze spiritual leaders are becoming more vocal in criticizing the embattled president and have been urging their community to adopt a neutral stance in the conflict.

Analysts see the changing attitude of the Druze as a significant socio-political change. Assad himself belongs to a minority Muslim group, the Alawites, in the majorly Sunni Muslim Syria. Religious minorities have been an important part of Assad's base, with many of their members serving in the military and government-run paramilitary groups. "What the Druze are showing is that groups that have been in the regime's orbit are feeling they're on their own in this war, that they can't rely on the government," said Andrew Tabler, a Middle East expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, to The Washington Post.

The disillusionment of the Druze has increased over the past year as the war has taken a growing toll on their population. The Druze have been critical of the government's campaign to shore up the army - which has included large-scale mobilizations of reservists and mass arrests of draft-dodgers. Many Druze have refused military service, reports Pakistan Defence.

The government has been dealing with the opposition with Assad issued a decree guaranteeing that if Druze men from Sweida joined the military, they would have to serve only in the province, which has been mostly peaceful.

Wahid al-Balous, a Druze spiritual leader, however, rebuffed the president's offer, saying in a speech that military service is "strictly forbidden for young men."

Meanwhile Druze leaders are urging community members to remain neutral in an effort to signal to the rebels that they are not their enemies while also not alienating the government said Malek Abou al-Kheir, a Druze journalist from southern Syria who is critical of the government.

But such declarations may not save the Druze if extremists from the Islamic State or Jabhat al-Nusra - Syria's al-Qaeda affiliate - seize their ancestral lands. Both groups condemn the Druze as apostates.