Bonus – Syrian Civil War

Bonus – Syrian Civil War

Show Notes

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What Caused The Syrian Civil War?

Three things led to the current Syrian Civil War

  • Minority Alawite leadership which was very repressive
  • Economic factors
  • Arab Spring

Minority Alawite Rule in Syria

  • Let’s start with WWI; the Ottoman Empire joined the Central Powers with Germany and Austria-Hungary
  • The Central Powers lost and the Ottoman Empire fell apart. Much of its territory came under the control of the British and French
  • By WWII, the French were beginning to lose their grip on these territories;
  • The French tried to manipulate Syrian power structure by giving certain minorities control over parts of the government
  • The French made sure to give the Alawites disproportionate representation in the military
  • After Syrian independence, the country went through several political upheavals and crises
  • Much of this instability was due to US meddling which pushed Syria closer to the Soviet Union
  • By the 1960’s the Syrian branch of the Ba’ath party controlled Syrian politics.
  • Syria’s defeat in the Six-Day War, poor economy, participation in the Black September fiasco led to split within the Ba’ath party
  • Hafez Al-Assad was the Ba’ath party secretary general, and also Syria’s defense minister
  • In 1970 Al-Assad led a coup that overthrew the rival Ba’ath leadership. Al-Assad imprisoned Jadid, the Syrian leader who died there in 1993
  • Hafez Al-Assad declared himself the leader of the Ba’ath party and the President of Syria.
  • No other political parties were allowed, and thus Al-Assad was the ruler of Syria and would remain so until his death in 2000
  • The strange thing is, Hafez Al-Assad was an Alawite, a religious minority in Syria
  • Alawiyyah consider themselves Shiite, though most Shiites consider Alawites extremists; their love of Ali goes even further than most Shiites
  • Alawiyyah have a trinitarian belief where Ali, Prophet Muhammad, and Salman al-Farisi are considered divine
  • Alawites borrow a lot from Arab Christian beliefs; Alawites are a combination of Shiites and Christianity
  • Alawites make up barely 10% of Syrian population and are considered disbelievers by most Sunni Muslims and despised by most Shiites
  • In most situations, there’s no way an Alawite would have taken over the nation; but French forced integration in the military allowed it
  • Also the poor leadership from Sunni rulers and the constant turmoil in Syrian politics made it easier
    Once in power, Al-Assad promoted other Alawites to high positions of power in the security and intelligence parts of government
  • This created an elitist class of Alawites in Syria with high government status and control over much of the economy and infrastructure
  • At first most Syrians were okay with Al-Assad because of the failures of previous Syrian governments
    Al-Assad gave his rivals a chance to make amends and prove their loyalty to his rule; those that accepted were rewarded with their life, freedom, and some authority.
  • Those that weren’t were usually, exiled or imprisoned.
  • However, by the late 1970’s the Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni organization, began a rebellion against his leadership
  • The Muslim Brotherhood was brutally defeated by Al-Assad’s forces, and killing thousands of Syrian civilians.
  • Most brutal was the Hama Massacre in 1982 which ended the uprising but led to at least 10000 casualties
  • This uprising led to Al-Assad becoming more dictatorial hard-lined in his rule
  • Al-Assad began having health problems in the mid 80’s and by the mid 90’s was barely able to run the government.
  • Hafez Al-Assad died in 2000 and his son Bashar Al-Assad became the next President/King of Syria
  • By now the Alawites controlled most of the government apparatus. But still, the majority Sunni population resent their repressive rule.

Syrian economy

  • Unlike many Arab nations, Syria does not have a strong petroleum sector. It does produce some oil, but not the billions of barrels like SA, Iran, and Kuwait
  • Most of it’s economy relies on agriculture, tourism, and retail
  • The US led war in Iraq beginning in 2003 led to millions of refugees fleeing to Syria
  • Another strain was a severe drought beginning in 2006 that hurt Syria’s agriculture sector.
  • This led millions of Syrians to leave the countryside and move to the cities looking for work
  • So now a lot of angry, young refugees and farmers were living in Syria’s major cities with no work and a repressive minority government
  • Final factor was the Arab Spring which began with the suicide of Mohammed Bouazizi in Tunisia in December 2010
  • Tunisia’s economy which was historically pretty good, was struggling. Bouazizi was only 26 and had to provide for a family of 8 on his own.
  • He did so by selling vegetables from a cart in the Tunisian city Sidi Bouzid
  • Apparently he did not have the proper paperwork and a female police officer confiscated his vegetable cart. Then she reportedly slapped and insulted him
  • Bouzazis went to the government headquarters of that area to get his property back but no one paid him any attention
  • In anger, he poured gasoline on himself and set himself on fire
  • This led to peaceful protests from young Tunisians against the government’s negligence and corruption
  • The government responded by attacking these protestors which led to even more protests, now becoming violent and demanding the resignation of the Tunisian president
  • By January 2011, President Zine El Abidine had fled to Saudi Arabia
  • The surprising success of the Tunisian revolution broadcast around the world via Facebook and YouTube, sparked similar protests throughout the Arab world, most famous including: Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Syria.
  • Egypt, Libya, and Yemen all have their governments overthrown.
  • The Syrian protests began in March 2011.
  • As usual they began peacefully, but overreaction by the government led to escalation of the unrest
  • The police attacked protestors with water cannons, tear gas, and eventually really bullets.
  • This led to more protests and increasing violence from the protestors and the government cracking down even harder.
  • This cycle continued for several weeks until in April the government began to announce changes in its policies and to loosen some of its repressive measures
  • This didn’t do much to stop the protests and Al-Assad’s forces became more heavy-handed in their crackdown.
  • There were sweeping arrests of journalists, activists, and anyone else deemed to be against the government.
  • Dozens of students were arrested and tortured in secret prisons
  • The protestors gradually changed into opposition fighters as they obtained arms and increased their demands; they not only wanted changes in government policies, they
    wanted to change the government
  • The army sent in tanks and armed personnel to control the protests but none of it worked
  • Things got really bad when in July 2011, 7 Syrian officers defected from the military, and joined the opposition. They stated they couldn’t accept firing on unarmed civilians
  • The government responded with the Ramadan Massacre in late July 2011
  • Throughout this time, many Syrian fighters expected the US or NATO or the UN to intervene like they did in Libya which ultimately led to the death of Mouammar Qadaffi
  • But that didn’t happen. Many still wonder why considering Bashar Al-Assad killed many more civilians than Qadaffi did
  • The conflict spiraled out of control
  • Over the past five years, the conflict has continued to escalate and grow worse and worse every year
  • At this time, there doesn’t seem to be any way for Bashar Al-Assad to rule over a unified Syria
  • He has lost all credibility with the rest of the world; he’s only able to stay afloat because of support from Russia
  • He still controls about 40% of the country, but that includes most of the major cities and population centers. So 66% of the population lives in areas controlled by the government
  • He would have to physically crussh all opposing parties and then purge all remaining dissident factions from the country; that seems unlikely at this point
  • The opposition is in even worse shape; mostly because there are so many of them
  • Most of the opposition is Sunni; Al-Assad does get support from Hezbollah which is mostly Shiite.
  • The main opposition is the Syrian Arab Republic; group contains the various military, political, and intellectual groups that opposed Al-Assad. These are mostly Sunni, but also secular
  • This is the group the West would like to see take control; they have received recognition from the US and France along with lots of financial and political support
  • Another group is Jaishul Fatah, Army of Conquest. This a coalition of Islamic military groups that wants to establish an Islamic government; they’ve received support from Saudi and Turkey
  • Things were complicated even further when ISIS began to infiltrate parts of Syria in 2013
  • Even though Jaishul Fatah and the SAR are ideologically different, they do work together to fight against Al-Assad and ISIS
  • US has sent airstrikes against Isis but won’t attack Al-Assad’s forces; most likely because he’s backed by Russia.
  • Essentially 3 sides: Al-Assad, SAR and Jaishul Fatah, and Isis
  • The war had led to almost half a million casualties and 2 million refugees
  • There have been attempts at peace talks, but they haven’t gone much further than talks and promises. The fighting still continues.
  • Perhaps the only thing that will end the war is if Al-Assad resigns or is overthrown.

Show Notes

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2 Responses to Bonus – Syrian Civil War

  1. Assalamu Alaykum. Thanks for another great episode! I just wanted to suggest a possible interesting bonus episode. Might you do an episode on the history of the Muslim Brotherhood. They came up during this episode and as you know have played a major role in the latter parts of the Egyptian Arab Spring. Just thought it might make for an interesting bonus episode. I’ve always wondered about their history and development over the years. I just wanted to suggest that in case you needed an idea for a future bonus episode. Anyway, thanks for your hard work and keep up the good work. I’ve already given you five stars on ITunes and I’ll donate to the Patrion page every now and then Insha Allah. Look forward to the next episode!

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