In a coup d’état of 1970 Hafez el-Assad gained control over the Baath party and declared himself president up to his death in 2000 after which his son, Bashar Al-Assad took over. For the length of both regimes until 2012, did not support a multi-party democracy.
Declaring that it was at war with Israel, Syria was under emergency rule. This allowed for sweeping presidential powers and arrests without grounds among other human rights abuses, in the effort to quell discontent against existing regime.
The results of this political stance include the Hama massacre of 1982, which left between ten to forty thousand Syria Sunni Muslims dead.
Before the Arab Spring, unemployment was widespread among large portions of the youth because of non-productive economic policies.
In addition to this, Syria experienced a drought of astonishing proportions in 2008 especially in the northern regions; with effects including seventy percent of livestock and eighty percent of people living in these regions moving below the poverty line.
On January 4, 2011, death of Mohammed Bouazizi of Tunisia set of the beginning of Tunisian revolution and by March 15, 2011 protests against the incumbent leadership of Syria had begun.
The Syrian government clashed with protestors on the cusp of Syrian revolt. The excessive use of force by government agents led to soldiers defecting, who joined civilians in the process of arming themselves.
The Syrian movement has continued over a long time, unlike other revolutions of the Arab spring, where over 70,000 Syrians have met their premature deaths.
Alawite Muslims, a struggle for the status quo
Defense Minister Hazer al–Assad declared himself president of the country in 1970. Assad was an Alawite muslim, a Shiite sect that makes twelve percent of the Syrian population. Therefore, to protect himself from a rebellion, fellow Alawites were chosento populate the military.
This army make up has been a prime source of discord among Sunni masses and as a concession: Sunnis to joined the army, but only in the junior army ranks.
The dream of an all-inclusive democracy rose after the death of President Hazer al –Assad in 2000; that his son who became the next president at a relative age of 34 years, would herald a new era of democratic and financial freedom. At the time, he was quite powerful considering his wife being a British born and educated Sunni.
A relative phase of democratic space where people carried out political discussions within their homes with friends spread within the country. Furthermore, early on in his presidency, President Bashar Al-Assad announced moving changes to his government.
This did not see the light of day; reform implementation did not happen. Further disturbing Syrians President Bashar Al-Assad want to follow his father’s regime undemocratic policies.
Apart from maintaining undemocratic status quo, top military ranks went to his relatives such as, commands of an elite military unit to his brother and Deputy Undersecretary of Defense to his brother In law.
Given that military action in the Syrian Revolution had a targeted unrest in Syrian population with the exception of Alawite minority, defections within the military force by other ethnic groups has led to a predominantly Alawite military.
Arab-Sunni Muslims, a fight for change
Comprise sixty percent of Syrians, and have faced the greatest effect of the Assad family leadership. Hama massacre of 1982 in pre-dominantly Sunni, Hama town is a pointer to this fact, where over forty thousand Syrians died.
In addition to this, with the exception of some wealthy Sunni families that benefited from President Bashar Al-Assad economic policies, majority of Arab-Sunni Muslims have remained poor.
Revolt among youth, frustration with unemployment and lack of democracy in Sunni poor rural areas and city districts in comparison to the rest of Syria was greater. It is specifically these areas, which were early targets by Syrian army in the initial stages of the revolt.
Arab-Sunni Muslims build a large portion of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). This is a radical opposition faction comprised of close to forty thousand militants. It comprises of army defectors and civilians trained under the defectors.
The Free Syrian Army is a Sunni led military group fighting for the rights of Syrian population. Turkey apart from providing ammunition for the free Syrian army additionally allowed them to establish their military power headquarters in Turkey’s Hatay province.
In reality, the Syrian struggle is a quasi regional conflict between pro-Sunni and the pro-Alawite Assad government with Syria being the battleground.
The opposition movement, led by primarily by Arab-Sunni Muslims receives funds from Turkey and Saudi Arabia, pro-Sunni states; the Alawite led government receives supports from Qatar, on the other hand. Escalation of this Sunni-Alawite war has also spread to other neighboring states such as Lebanon.
Kurds, a fight for recognition
Kurds is an ethnic minority in Syria with a population of close to nine percent. This is a relative small population in comparison to Sunni numbers. It was an obstacle from receiving concessions from the Alawite Assad government prior to Arab Spring.
The reduced status of this minority group led to human right injustices such as discrimination, cultural and language rights denial.
Due to their classification as foreigners, Kurdish Syrians did not receive Syrian citizenship. With no protection by law, human rights violation by police or army could not be held under the law of the court. To appease the Kurds in the nature of Arab revolts, close to two hundred Kurds received citizenship.
In addition to this, Kurds were under-represented in Syrian National Council; hence, Kurdish Syrians didn’t classify themselves with fellow Syrian revolutionaries, settling for almost a truce with Assad government until cities with high Kurdish people joined the revolution.
Kurdish political parties coalesced to form the Kurdish National Council and together with the Kurdish national party they fought for the rights of Kurds in post revolution Syria. This involved use of militia in securing northern regions where Kurds free from government control.
From the start of the Syrian civil war, Kurds did not align with either Assad government or Arab revolutionaries of northern regions instead they sought for autonomy within a decentralized Syria.
It was a cause of disagreement among other Syrian revolutionaries; a betrayal of the struggle against Assad. This was until February 2013 when they entered into a peace agreement with northern Arab revolutionaries.