Throughout history, there have been documented accounts of terrorism and civil uprising in various nations around the world. While some of these situations have occurred due to violation of various human rights, others have been as a result of poor leadership and managerial skills by leaders of these nations. In the past two decades, cases of terrorism acts and civil instabilities have increased rapidly.
This can be attributed to radical teachings and a need for change by the perpetrators. Countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt and Libya have in the recent past experienced civil unrest as citizens set out to fight for a more just and democratic regime.
Syria has also followed suit and for two decades, the nation’s citizenry has witnessed unimaginable atrocities at the hands of greedy and callous leaders. This paper shall set out to explore the situation in Syria. To this end, a brief history detailing the circumstances that led to the situation shall be discussed and viable recommendations on how best the situation can be resolved provided.
The Syrian situation: a brief overview
The middle-east has for a long period been in a state of unrest. As mentioned earlier, this has been attributed to poor political systems, policies and cultural practices that limit people’s ability to enjoy their rights. While proponents of these dictatorial tendencies argue that such factors guarantee cooperation and foster peaceful coexistence, documented evidence proves otherwise as can be cited from the Syrian conflict.
Machiavelli (1961), states that the ongoing Syrian uprising is a part of a conflict that has been in Syria for a long period of time. Its cause can be traced as far back as in the early 1960’s. According to Yaniv (1986), Syria was in a state of emergency from 1963 to 2011. As a result of this declaration, the constitutional protection of the Syrian citizenry was suspended.
The Syrian government attributed this state of emergency to the fact that Syria was at war with Israel (Yaniv, 1986). Since then, Syria has been ruled by the secular Ba’ath party which took over during the Ba’athist overthrow in 1963. As a safe measure, the party ensured that Syrian citizen had limited powers in regard to presidential election.
To this end, Syrian citizens could only approve a president through referendum and multi-party elections were not allowed for this legislature (Kalmamaz, 2011). The Ba’ath party has effectively managed to maintain control over Syria despite various internal power changes such as the 1966 coup and the Syrian Correctional Revolution that took place in 1970 (Kalmamaz, 2011).
After this revolution, the situation only got worse as president Hafez al-Assad banned all opposition parties and candidates in a bid to promote conformity. However, this move only led to more uprising by Islamic insurgents that reached a climax in 1982.
According to Ofra and Sherko (2009), president Hafez al-Assad in turn carried out a “scorched earth policy” against Hama (a small town occupied by the Sunni Muslims community suspected of fueling the uprising). This move led to the Hama Massacre in which tens of thousands of people died including a large number of civilians who were caught up by the intense operation (Kalmamaz, 2011).
Similarly, president Hafez al-Assad’s succession sparked more conflict in Syria leading to the Latakia incident that took place in 1999. The violent protests and armed clashes were as a result of a pre-existing feud between president Hafez al-Assad and his brother Rifaat (Ofra & Sherko, 2009). This incident erupted when a police crack-down in Rafaat’s compound met some resistance from Rafaat’s supporters.
According to sources, the protests that followed led to the death of hundreds of people and many more were injured (Yaniv, 1986). After his death a year later, president Hafez al-Assad was succeeded by his son Bashar al-Assad after a constitutional amendment that lowered the presidential age requirement from 40 years to 34 years (Bashar al-Assad’s age at the time). Bashar al-Assad was seen as a beckon of hope and reforms in a nation that had suffered great injustices over the years.
2000 to 2001 marked a period in Syrian history in which political and social debates took place in a bid to instigate change. Political and social forums were held in which like-minded people criticized the Syrian government. Since then, more opposition activities have emerged despite the government’s attempt to quell the uprising through arrests of prominent political and social activists.
Causes of the Syrian conflict
Smith (2011) argues that unemployment and disenfranchisement of the Syrian youth has been a main contributor to the Syrian conflict. Results from a study conducted by the Dubai School of Government’s Wolfensohn Center for Development in 2007 indicated that the participation of the Syrian youth in the labor market was relatively lower (0.66%) than worldwide standard (0.79%).
In addition, the overall unemployment rate of Syrian youth was six times higher than that of older adults (Mora & wiktorowicz, 2003). This means that many youths were exposed to radical teachings and more vulnerable to violent activities. Similarly, reports of deteriorated living and lack of government support in regard to subsidization of basic goods and agricultural development have contributed to the sad state of affairs in Syria.
Human rights violations
According to Halabi (2009), Syria has been criticized for its lack of adequate human right policies and violation of the existing ones. The emergency rule that has been in place since 1963 gives the Syrian security forces the powers to arrest and detain citizens. This has led to the emergence of numerous protests and conflicts as people try to defend their right to freedom. Similarly, the fact that Syria is governed by one party and has no place for free and fair elections does not help make the situation better.
In addition, Yaniv (1986), states that Syrian authorities have on numerous occasions been accused of harassing and imprisoning human right, political and social activists. On the same note, Syrian citizen’s right to association, assembly and expression are strictly controlled by authorities and the minority tribes as well as women face constant and increasing discrimination from their more popular counterparts.
Dictatorial tendencies by Syrian leaders
Waltz (1959), states that conflict arises from human imperfection. In his book, the author states that human beings have a tendency of letting their passion and beliefs come in the way of logical thinking.
He continues by stating that as a result, people end up in conflict instead of cooperating (Waltz, 1959). The Syrian leaders provide a good example of this claim as has been evidenced by recent events in Syria. The presidents use violence to protect their interests instead of listening to the cries of the citizens or resolving inherent issues through dialogue.
Similarly, according to Waltz (1959), anarchy emanates from a lack of automatic harmony. The author claims that states have the power to use force in order to promote cooperation or attain their goals. He further asserts that the choice to use or not to use force greatly determines the policies implemented by a given state.
Syria’s decision to use force to quell oppositions has played a pivotal role in the violence experienced therein. For example, the Hama massacre, the Latakia incidence and the succession of president Hafez al-Assad were as a result of policies emanating from the use of force. However, they did not yield the expected results, but instead, instigated more violence and uprising among the Syrian populace.
Greed and corruption
Political corruption is a common place in all nations. Surprisingly, people who participate in corruption are well aware of the fact that it damages the very fabric of society. Hinnebusch (1983) asserts that corruption undercuts the value of democracy and the effectiveness of rules, laws and policies that govern a nation. Corruption leads to unequal distribution of political, social and economic power within a given nation.
As a result, it leads to social, economic and political instabilities as people try to use their influence to gain more resources at the expense of others. In regard to Syria, greed for power and corruption has to a large extent contributed to the conflicts being experienced there. Leaders use corruption to gain and maintain power, control the majority and control the security forces in Syria. This has contributed to the conflict and chaos experienced by the Syrians.
Ethnic Issue in Syria
Syria, like many other middle eastern nations has been led by political leaders who manipulate the populace in order to consolidate their power has been plagued by manipulation by political leaders so as to consolidate their power over other ethnic groups.
Devika and Varghese (2011, p. 16) theorize, “While not everyone [in an ethnic group] may be mobilized as an active fighter for his or her group, hardly anyone ever fights for the opposing ethnic group.” Ethnic divisions in Syria’s politics continue to be evident despite major protests by members from the minority groups.
Evidently, the regimes that have ruled Syria have proven to be predatory in nature and have taken a winner-takes-all” policy, in which the predominant ethnic groups dominate all aspects of the Syrian government. For example, the president’s close family members occupy key seats in the current government including those in the military and security forces. The fact that these public officials do not enjoy much support from the public has contributed to conflict in Syria.
Similarly, Devika and Varghese (2011) assert that the Kurds who comprise of Turkmen and Christian populations take opposing views on some pivotal issues that affect Syria. For example, the Kurdish community in Syria support secularism and have on numerous occasions advocated for the separation of religion from the state. On the other hand, the Sunni (the largest ethnic group in Syria) fundamentalists support the implementation of sharia laws on Syria.
According to the primordialist approach, “ethnicity as a collective identity is so deeply rooted in historical experience that is should properly be treated as a given in human relations” (Michael, 2006, p. 6). Considering that Syria has had a long account of oppression along ethnic lines, it is unlikely that these oppressive tendencies will fade.
While having a national identity is pivotal to the Syrian politics, government and populace, no concession has been made on what the Syrian identity should be. This can be evidenced from the internal conflicts in which the Sunnis insist on an Arab identity while the shia and the Kurds oppose such traditional views (Yaniv, 1986).
In addition, while some of the Sunnis and the Shias envision a Syria founded on Arab-Islamic values, the Kurds advocate for a secular Syria. As such, the only solution to these ethnical problems is a concession that considers all the opposing views. Lack of a comprehensive resolution to this ethnical issue only guarantees an escalation in the sectarian/ethnical oriented politics that cripple Syria.
Devika and Varghese (2011) propose a radical approach to this problem. In their book, they argue that placing a “National Unity Dictator” is the only viable way of bringing the uprisings down. They define this leader as a person who is willing to suspend the constitution and use whatever means necessary to quell the chaos that emanates from uprisings and insurgencies led by misguided individuals.
According to, Devika and Varghese (2011), this leader has to be a nationalist and would be placed between ethnic and religious factions in order to promote cohesion between these groups. Despite the fact that this I a viable approach, it is highly unlikely that the desired change would occur rapidly. This is attributed to the fact that neither the Sunnis nor the Kurds would likely be willing to relinquish their gains in order to benefit the others.
Yaniv (1986) states that ethnic conflicts cannot be avoided since people have different perspectives based on their beliefs and practices. As such, despite the fact that ethnical and sectarian ideologies cripple the efforts of a unified Syria, there is a possibility that a new political system can be established to facilitate unification in Syria.
However, the new political system should work across ethnic lines by ensuring that all ethnic groups in Syria are adequately represented in the government. In so doing, Syria will have effectively eliminated divisions and violence propagated by the need to fight for the few resources that are available. Adequate representation of all ethnic groups would mean that elected members would fight for equal distribution of available resources thereby reducing the need for conflict.
Similarly, the Syrian government should consider loosening its policies on free market and direct foreign investments. As has been elaborated in this paper, socioeconomic factors have played a key role in fueling the crisis in Syria. Changing these policies would enable Syrians to market their produces more freely and create the much needed job opportunities from foreign investments.
According to Halabi (2009), there is a very close relationship between poverty and instabilities/conflicts. As such, by providing more avenues through which the youth in Syria can earn a living and better their lives, the government will be a step closer to realizing their goal of quelling the conflicts that hinder the country’s development.
In addition, by expanding the tax base, the government will be able to subsidize the basic goods and afford the expenses that emanate from military expenditure. The fact that there are fewer military and security personnel to promote peace in Syria has also led to the establishment and development of various sects that cause chaos in Syria.
As such, by developing and promoting economic growth, the Syrian government will be better placed to recruit the security forces needed to maintain and uphold peace. Also, Halabi (2009) suggests that promoting education in Syria will enable the country to nurture a generation that is more knowledgeable and have the ability to instigate positive change on the political, social and economical fronts.
On the same note, the government should consider adopting a democratic approach of leading. As mentioned earlier, violating human rights has led to various uprisings in different nations. As such, the Syrian government should take a hint from fallen regimes in countries such as Libya, Iraq and others. Dictatorship does not work as effectively in an era whereby people are more informed of their rights.
As such, multi-parties should be tabled and Syrian citizens should be allowed to vote for their president. Kalmamaz (2011) asserts that democracy gives citizens a sense of belonging and unity. However, the more you force people to follow your ideologies, the higher the chances that they will revolt against you and what you represent. As such, these political changes may go a long way in ensuring that Syria recovers from its issues.
On the same note, the Syrian government should accept that it has an imminent leadership and peace problem and solicit help from other countries. From the look of things, Syria may not recover from these issues unless some outside interventions are made. Astorino-Courtois and Trusty (2000), state that not all western ideologies are harmful especially those relating to peace.
As such, if the Syrian government is dedicated to promoting peace and stability in Syria, they should welcome outside help. In so doing, Syria will be a step closer to eliminating the conflicts that have brought it to the brink of destruction. Recent revolutions in different Arab countries indicate that the Arab communities are rooting for change.
In addition, they show that Arab communities are more willing to set aside their differences with the west so as to safeguard the future of their people who for a long time have been subjected to unimaginable atrocities by leaders who advance their interests at the expense of their people. Syria should not let the situation reach the point of no return; the government should consider implementing change to how things are done.
This paper set out to explore the Syrian conflict. To that end, a brief overview of the situation has been provided and factors that have led to the conflicts addressed.
Possible solutions to the problem have also been provided. From the discussion herein, it has been argued that the Syrian population has suffered greatly due to manipulation by political leaders who use their power to protect their own interests at the expense of their people.
It has also been argued that change and concession needs to be promoted if Syria is to avert more bloodshed. Similarly, it has been noted that the leaders have for a long time used sectarian animosity to advance their own interests. This has led to the development of a country that is more divided than ever and with the threat of more violence from a population that is desperate for change.
However, the reality is not all bleak and if the recommendations mentioned herein are implemented, Syria may recover from the nightmare that has characterized the nation. If the goal for peace is to be achieved, there is dire need to address the institutional and representational imbalances that have contributed to the ethnical, political and economical divisions in Syria. Until this I done, Syria will continue to drown in its own blood.
Astorino-Courtois, A., & Trusty, B. (2000). Degrees of Difficulty: The Effect of Israeli Policy Shifts on Syrian Peace Decisions. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 44(3): 359-377.
Devika, J., & Varghese, V. (2011). To Survive or To Flourish? Minority Rights and Syrian Christian Community Assertions in Twentieth-century Travancore/Kerala. History and Sociology of South Asia, 5(2): 103-128.
Halabi, Y. (2009). Protracted Conflict, Existential Threat and Economic Development. International Studies, 46(3): 319-348.
Hinnebusch, R. (1983). Party Activists in Syria and Egypt: Political Participation in Authoritarian Modernizing States. International Political Science Review, 4(1): 84-93.
Kalmamaz, M. (2011). Horizons for the Syrian Revolution. Anarcho-Syndicalist Review 4(56): 26.
Machiavelli, N. (1961). The Prince. (G. Bull, Trans.) London: Penguin.
Michael, P. (2006). A switch in time: a new strategy for America in Iraq. USA: Brooking Institute Press.
Mora, F., & wiktorowicz. (2003). Economic Reform and the Military: China, Cuba, and Syria in Comparative Perspective. International Journal of Comparative Sociology, 44(2): 87-128.
Ofra, B., & Sherko, K. (2009). Elections in Kurdistan: A model Democracy or a Return to Factionalism? Retrieved 01 Nov, 2011 from: http://www.aftau.org/site/DocServer/TAUNotesJuly192009.pdf?docID=7801
Smith, L. (2011). The Strong Horse: Power, Politics and the Clash of Arab Civilizations. New York: Anchor.
Waltz, K. (1959). Man, the State and War. New York: Columbia University Press.
Yaniv, A. (1986). Syria under Assad: domestic constraints and regional risks. New York: Taylor & Francis.