The Syrian uprising began in March 2011 with anti-government protests in provincial areas that later spread throughout the country. Although the protests began in March 2011, the battle for power or internal control in Syria is not a fresh issue; rather it dates back to 1947 when Michel Aflaq along with Salah-al-Din al-Bitar founded the Baath party in Syria. The years following this saw military coups by people such as Adib al-Shishakhli, who was ousted by Army officers again who returned the civilian government to power. Then in 1958 Syria along with Egypt joined the United Arab Republic (UAR). Egyptian president at that time Gamal Abdel Nasser instructed the disbanding of Syrian political parties, which was disappointment to the Baath party that had campaigned for a union. After a period of 3 years, in September 1961, dissatisfaction because of the Egyptian authority of the UAR prompted a handful of Syrian army officers to control power in Damascus and disband the Union. In a similar army coup in March 1963 a Baathist cabinet was appointed and Amin Al-Hafez was selected as the president.
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This was not the end of internal strife which saw Salah Jadid lead a coup against the civilian Baathist leadership, by overthrowing the then president Amin Al-Hafez and arresting prominent figures like Salah Al-Din Al-Bitar and Michel Aflaq. Meanwhile, this also coincides with at the rise of Hafez Al-Assad who becomes the defence minister. In June 1967 Syria, Jordan and Egypt wage war against Israel which resulted in the destruction of much of the Syrian forces. In a crippling post war state, Hafez Al-Assad overthrew President Nur Al-Din Al-Atasi and imprisoned Salah Jadid who was responsible for the coup and gets elected as President for a term of seven years in a plebiscite in 1971.
Two years after Hafez Al-Assad came in power, in 1973 riots breaks out when Hafez Al-Assad dropped one of the constitutional requirements that the President must be a Muslim and was accused of heading an atheist regime, which caused uproar in Syria however the uproar were easily suppressed by the army. In 1980 Muslim brotherhood tried to assassinate Assad. In the same year war broke out between Iraq and Iran in which Syria backed Iran because of bitterness between Iraqi Baathists and the Baathists in Syria. In February 1982 two years after the failed assassination of Hafez, Muslim Brotherhood started an uprising in the city of Hama; but once again the military suppressed the riots. In February 1987 Hafez Al-Assad’s brother had been promoted to the post of vice-president by 1984 as well.
In June 2000 Hafez Al-Assad died and his second son Bashar Al-Assad succeeded him. After assuming power Bashar Al-Assad orders the release of political prisoners, Syrian troops evacuate Beirut and redeploy in other parts of Lebanon and it appeared as if he might lead the country to a different road. But, later in the same year President Bashar Al-Assad detained MP’s and pro-reform activists, arrests continued, punctuated by occasional amnesties over the following years. The clashes of March 2004, between members of the Kurds the minority sect in Syria, the police and the Arabs in the north-east, left at least 25 dead. Moreover, in May 2004 US imposed economic sanctions on Syria over the allegation of supporting terrorism and failure to keep check on militants who were entering Iraq, which dealt a serious blow to the Syrian economy. In the backdrop of this continued internal strife, regional wars and regional interventionism, and international sanctions we see the roots of the political and economic problems Syria is facing today. All of this becomes multiplied many a fold because of the tyrant regime of Bashar Al-Assad that is in place (BBC news, 20 Nov 2012).
Arab spring has played a major role in the initiating the civil war that has engulfed Syria and in fact the Syrian conflict is considered as a part of the movements towards democratization in Arab states. The Arab spring started in 2010 when protest broke out in the Middle East as a result of which long-time regimes in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt were brought to an end. The protests in these countries were a spark of hope to be free from tyrant regimes which ignited in other countries of Middle East like Yemen and Bahrain and continued their spread to include Syria as well. Although all these states saw protests and internal conflict as part of the transformation, none of these countries got involved into a full-fledged civil war as was the case with Syria. This was due to a combination of various factors that led Syria down the path of conflict rather than peaceful transformation. (Corydon Ireland, 30 Nov 2012)
Roots of Conflicts in Syria
Every event has at least one main cause which gives birth to that event such is the case with Syria. While the Arab Spring provided the spark, there are number of factors that resulted in Syria getting to such a dire state. The Syrian crisis did not start over night as said before it has been going on for over a number of years. These chequered histories combined by the factors listed below are the driving forces behind unrest in Syria:
Domestic and regional causes:
1. Political repression
President Bashar Al-Assad assumed power in the year 2000 after the death of his father Hafez who had ruled Syria since 1970. After assuming the power Assad quickly destroyed all hopes of reform, as power remained concentrated in the ruling family, and the one-party system left few channels for political opposition. With no peaceful transfer of power since the 1950s, the only way to bring about changes was through military coup or an all-out civil war. (Primoz Manfreda)
2. Discredited ideology
Syrian Baath party is regarded as the founder of “Arab socialism”, an ideological current that merged state-led economy with Pan-Arab nationalism. However, by 2000 the Baathist ideology was reduced to an empty shell, discredited by lost wars with Israel and a crippled economy. Upon taking power, Assad tried to modernize the regime invoking the Chinese model of economic reform, but time and other factors was running against him. There was also a lack of vision on his part in realizing that certain aspects of the Chinese model could not be applied to Syria because of regional and cultural context. (Primoz Manfreda)
3. Uneven economy
Cautious reform of the leftovers of socialism opened the door to private investment, triggering an explosion of consumerism among the urban upper-middle classes. However, privatization has favored families with personal links to Assad, leaving provincial Syria, later the hotbed of the uprising, seething with anger as living costs soared and jobs remained scarce. This disparity in the economy furthered the high resentment present within the local population against the regime. (Primoz Manfreda)
Drought was one of the major reasons behind the crippled economy and thus contributed to the uprising. A persistent drought has devastated farming communities in north-eastern Syria, affecting more than a million people since 2008. Tens of thousands of impoverished farmer families flocked into rapidly expanding urban slums. Their anger at the lack of government help was further fuelled by the new pretentious wealth of the rich that they saw and increased feelings of marginalization and powerlessness. (Primoz Manfreda)
5. Population growth
Syria’s rapidly growing young population was always going to be a demographic time bomb waiting to explode. Rapid growing population meant that there were even fewer jobs and more people we left unemployed. High unemployment rate leads to resentment amongst the people which is also a contributing factor in any uprising. (Primoz Manfreda)
6. New media
Although the state media is tightly controlled, the proliferation of satellite TV, mobile phones and the internet after 2000 meant that any government attempt to insulate the youth from the outside world was doomed to fail. The exposure of the mass society to ideas of modernity, transformation and internal freedom were always going to catch on. Moreover, the use of the new media was critical to the activist networks that underpin the uprising in Syria in particular and the movement of Arab Spring in general. (Primoz Manfreda)
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The much thrown around phrase that Syria is seething with corruption is an understatement of sorts. Whether it’s a license to open a small shop or a car registration, well-placed payments are the way to go in Syria. For those without the money and good contacts, it’s a powerful grievance against the state. Ironically, the system is corrupt to such an extent that even anti-Assad rebels buy weapons from the government forces, and families bribe the authorities to release relatives that have been detained during the uprising. (Primoz Manfreda)
8. State violence
Syria’s vast intelligence services, the infamous mukhabarat, penetrate all spheres of society. The fear of the state is one of the reasons why so many Syrians simply take the regime as a fact of life. But the outrage over the brutal response of the security forces to the outbreak of peaceful protest in spring 2011, documented and spread all across through social media, helped generate the snowball effect as thousands across Syria joined the uprising. The more people were killed, the more protests it led to. (Primoz Manfreda)
9. Minority rule
Syria is a majority Sunni Muslim country but the top positions in the security apparatus are in the hands of the Alawites, a Shiite religious minority to which the Assad family belongs. A significant part of the Sunnis still resent the fact that so much power is monopolized by a handful of Alawi families. While sectarian differences by themselves may not be the driving force of the Syrian uprising, the combination of a majority Sunni protest movement and an Alawi-dominated military has added to the tension in religiously mixed areas, such as the city of Homs. (Primoz Manfreda)
10. Tunisia effect
Last but not least, the wall of fear in Syria would not have been broken at this particular time had it not been for Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian street-vendor whose self-immolation in December 2010 triggered a wave of anti-government uprisings across the Middle East. Watching the fall of Tunisian and Egyptian regimes in early 2011, made millions in Syria aware that change was possible for the first time in decades. (Primoz Manfreda).
International Community Interests:
International community has also played an important role in sparking the fire in Syria. Since Syria like other Middle East countries is an oil rich country it has caught the attention of both the west and the east. United States and other Western countries like United Kingdom are as keener on getting their hands on the Syrian oil facilities as much as Russia or China or any other state for that matter. Secondly being the neighbour of Israel, Syria plays a strategic role for Russia and China in keeping the western influence in check since most of its neighbours are United States influenced countries.
International Relations Theories – Analysis of Syrian Conflict
International relations are a necessity for any country to survive in this modern competitive world. Any country that is isolated from the world cannot survive this immense competition of survival on its own. However, even within the interaction between states the rule of survival of the fittest still applies yet no State is free from the impact of dynamics around the world on its own situation. Similarly any internal situation in a country does have an impact on its relations with the whole world for example the Syrian crisis is a hot topic for the entire world. Moreover we see that because of the suffering and the situation within, Syria is isolated, it does not have good relations with almost all the countries especially the western countries and Israel. Different people view the dynamics of international relations through diverse paradigms. Although the causes of Syrian uprising can be viewed through any of these frameworks, in my view the following major theoretical frames of international relations define the Syrian crisis in a more relevant manner
Syrian crisis-Realist view
The picture of realism theory can be perfectly seen to be at work; since according to realism “it is people’s own interest is the principle driving force behind their competitive relations with each other. They do not desire to be dictated rather want to do what they wish and they do not want to be taken advantage of by anybody.” [Robert Jackson and George Sorensen; (2010), page 59]. In Syria’s situation people are rebelling against the government because it is dictating people and taking away their freedom to do anything they wish and captivating them in their own interest. These actions of people to liberate themselves from the tyranny of the Al-Assad’s government clearly indicates that they want what realist think is in the human nature and the conflict supports the idea and assumption of realists that conflicts are ultimately resolved by war or conflict. Moreover, under realism interests define relationships and alliances and this can be clearly seen in the manner of support for Syria. Russian interests in exporting arms as well as the Russia-China interesting in diluting the influence of other big powers in the region has not only brought them together but is also reflected in their tacit support of the Al-Assad regime. The situation also supports the idea that the progress in international politics is comparable to that in the domestic life for example Syria is not only facing internal political problems but also external because of political instability within the country; as a result of which the country is at a standstill.
Syrian crisis-Constructivist view
In social theory constructivists emphasize the social construction of reality. Constructivists view that Human relations, including international relations, consist of thought and ideas and not essentially of material conditions or forces (Robert Jackson and George Sorensen; (2010), page 162). Social constructivism definitely sheds light on the Syrian crisis because this theory explains a significant part of the social organization of the country in a historical and social context and its impact on the society of the country and its impact on international relations. The society of Syria has been always been kept under tight control during the French times, even after Syria liberated from the French the army took power of the state and ruled over the society. Dictatorship has always been there in Syria and democracy has not been promoted hence even the most capable people have been kept suppressed and the society has always remained the same throughout after liberation. Media has been kept under strict control by the dictators. The people have always fought for power so power battles have been going on in Syria. Due to lack of existence of democracy people did not have the right to say or do anything. Ideas of women and voice have been ignored by the ones in power all in all society has been kept primitive by government by force, in line with its policy to stay in power by any means necessary. Because of the power hunger dictators the society has suffered a lot and was isolated from world. With the wave of new social movements in the Arab world the Syrian people also realized that they could have a state and a way of life that they want for themselves and they do not have to abide by the historical notions of power and social organization. Thus it leads to the possibility of constructing their own method of governance, social organization and economy fuelling ideas of change that have eventually contributed to the current state of conflict.
As we have seen in the above discussion about the problems that Syria is facing it is more of a government problem than the society as a whole. Because of the continuous tyranny of the government over a long period of time, people now forced to stand up for themselves against their brutal government in order to live peacefully in Syria. The catalyst that gave people of Syria the courage to rise up against the government is the Arab Spring. Today people of Syria are willing to pay any price for the revolution to succeed and overthrow Bashar Al-Assad and his government. Since the start of conflict, even though thousands of people have been killed, the people still stand headstrong in order to achieve their objective. As far as the theory of international relations is concerned most of the time more than one theory explains and supports situations like Syria. I have chosen Realistic theory because it helps understand the very nature of human power relations and secondly I have chosen Constructivism because it helps understand the importance of society and the role it plays in the building of relationships amongst people within the country and with all other countries of the world. International relations can be thought of as being dependent on five things; freedom, security, welfare, order and justice. However if we look closely at Syria not even one of these criteria are met; all the more reason Syria needs to realise which path it is taking and where it would lead to. A constant internal struggle influenced by the regional and global environment is what will ensue unless a dramatic change is brought around.
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