There has been a lot of discussion about Syria in recent news. But what is it all about?
The protests in the Middle East, which have become known as the “Arab Spring” have resulted in the demise of authoritarian regimes across the region. While tyrants in Egypt and Libya have been toppled, Syria continues to be plagued by extensive political upheaval. Syrian protestors seek the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad’s Ba’athist government, whose response to the crisis has resulted in a humanitarian and sectarian conflict that threatens to plunge Syria into civil war.
Bashar al-Assad’s father, Hafez al-Assad, served as Syria’s defense minister before seizing power in 1970. Following his rise to power, he established his Ba’ath Party as the only legitimate political entity in Syria. The recent violence perpetrated by the Assad regime is not without precedent. In 1982, Syria battled an Islamic insurgency that threatened the stability of Assad’s rule. To stifle the insurgency, Assad ordered an attack against the city of Hama leaving tens of thousands of civilians dead. Much of the resentment that lead, not only to the Islamic insurgencies during the 1980s, but to the current crisis, stems from the Assad family’s consolidation of power in the hands of Syria’s Alawite—a sect of Shiite Islam—minority at the expense of the country’s Sunni Muslim majority.
Following widespread demonstrations that began in March of 2011, Bashar al-Assad’s government has moved quickly to suppress these protests. The Syrian government has besieged the cities of Homs, Hama, Daraa, Idlib, Aleppo, Rif Dimashq, and Latakia. The city of Homs, which has received extensive media coverage, is surrounded by government forces and is subject to sustained artillery bombardment, attacks by mechanized infantry supported by heavy armor, and shortages of food, water, and medical supplies. According to the United Nations, over 7,000 people have been killed as a result of the government’s attempt to suppress the uprising.
Foreign intervention in Syria has been largely ineffective and at worst, obstructionist. The Arab League—which has since suspended Syria’s membership—was unsuccessful in mitigating the intensity of government attacks. A U.N. Resolution condemning Assad’s conduct and requesting that he resign was vetoed by Russia and China in the U.N. Security Council. Following the failure of this resolution at the U.N., the Syrian military has increased the ferocity and brutality of their crackdown, especially in the city of Homs. Financing from Iran has also contributed to Syria’s ability to resist tough U.N. sanctions aimed at isolating and hampering the regime’s military operations.
By: Aaron Dresher
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