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Chapter 11: The Syrian Conflict (Introduction to Middle East Politics)

The Syrian uprisings started in 2011 and led to civil war that continues until today in 2019, and has been the cause of one of the worst humanitarian disasters of the century.

Syria turned into a warzone for Islamic militant groups like ISIS and regional and global powers.

To understand the roots of this conflict, we must go back in time. The father of Bashar El Assad, Syria’s current present, was Hafez El Assad, and he was the president of Syria until his death in 2000. After the Ba’ath coup in 1963, and particularly after the 1976 invasion of Lebanon, the Syrian Brotherhood, that was resistant to military backed regimes in the 1950’s and 1950’s, escalated.

Syria invaded Lebanon to fight the Palestinian movement and the Muslim movements that were on the Palestinian side. This caused the Syrian Brotherhood to confront the regime. In 1982, the Syrian military found radical elements in Hama, and conflict erupted. The Syrian Brotherhood called for a nationwide rebellion against Assad.

The regime deployed 12,000 troops, tanks, artillery, special forces, and the air force to lay siege to the city. The Syrian army embarked on a three-week bombing campaign that destroyed Hama. The Brotherhood could not survive the attack. Between 10,000 to 40,000 people died.

This fractured the opposition to Assad for decades, until his death in 2000.

Power transferred to his Bashar al Assad in the late 1990’s. At first, he allowed the opposition for space for discussion in salons (muntadayat), and this was greeted with optimism. But in 2001, the regime shut down these discussion groups. The raising and thwarting of hope caused sharper opposition internally and externally.

The prime minister of Lebanon, Rafik al Hariri, was assassinated in February 2005. This came right after the US invasion of Iraq. Many fingers were pointed at Syria. In Lebanon, president Emile Lahoud, backed by Syria, was going to be given an extension to his rule. Hariri was about to mobilize the opposition to the government in March in the parliamentary elections.

The assassination isolated Syria internationally, something the US has long wanted, since designating Syria a sponsor of terrorism in Lebanon and Palestine.

The STL (Special Tribunal for Lebanon) would intervene to determine who was responsible. 4 members of Hezbollah were implicated, and since they were a close ally to Syria, initial suspicions were confirmed. Syria’s relationship with Turkey deteriorated after 2005 and they were isolated by the Gulf states. This put a lot of stress in Syria’s economy.

Syria became more reliant on Iran, itself the subject of sanctions due to its nuclear efforts, and its allies in Lebanon and Russia.

When unrest spread in Tunisia in 2010, Syria was feeling the pressure. But this pressure mainly came from opposition groups that were deeply divided. The armed protests started in 2011, but the regime held power, partly because of how fragmented the opposition was. And the opposition could not be completely defeated, because of their fragmentation.

By mid-2016, over half the Syrian population, 12 million, were displaced or killed because of the war.

An Introduction to Middle East PoliticsChapter 11: The Syrian Conflict (Introduction to Middle East Politics) 1

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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