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Syria and the Revolution Essay

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Updated: Jul 3rd, 2019


The Arab wave of unrest began in Tunisia in December 2010, and led to the ousting of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, who had ruled the country for 23 years. The revolution in this small North African country was characterized by demonstrations and riots, which were quelled violently by the police and other state security agencies (Barnard and Cowell 2).

However, the protestors relentlessly pursued their course and on 14th January 2011, 28 days after, the president resigned and fled to Saudi Arabia. This revolution was replicated in Egypt on 25th January 2011 and on February 11 2011; Hosni Mubarak resigned, ending his 30 years reign over the country.

The wave of Arab revolution hit Syria on 15th march 2011 (Barnard and Cowell 2). It all started in a small southern city, whose residents held street protests after students who had displayed anti-government graffiti were tortured.

The government used extreme force on the protestors and the demonstrations spread rapidly to various other parts of the country. The confrontations between protestors and government security agencies have left several people dead and injured and are threatening to escalate into a civil war.

President Bashar al-Assad and members of his family continue holding onto power despite the international and internal pressure to end violence against civilians and allow political change (Barnard and Cowell 2)

Background Information on Revolution

Syria has a population of about 21 million people and is under the authoritarian rule headed by President Bashar al-Assad. The constitution authorizes supremacy of leaders from the Ba’ath Party in the society and state institutions (Sharp 1).

Party members and President Assad’s family dominate the three arms of the government. Syria has had a state of emergency since 1963, which grants security agencies enormous power of suppressing any opposition (Sharp 1).

The political and socio-economic conditions in Syria have led to deep discontent with the status quo that has contributed to the high inflation and unemployment rates, minimum political freedom, suppressive security forces and rampant corruption.

Although protests started in a smaller marginalized town, their intensity has been more in larger cities of Aleppo and Damascus. This is a clear indication that people in larger towns are more opposed to Assad’s regime as they experience the problems mentioned above firsthand (Sharp 2).

Key Players in the Revolution

Opposition Groups and Demonstrators

Most demonstrators are politically conversant and frustrated males between the ages of 20 to 40 years (Ecoi.Net par. 4). Although the Syrian opposition groups have become more organized during the revolution, they still remain largely divided over leadership, coordination, tactics and strategy.

The Local Coordinating Councils present in many regions, played a vital role during the protest stage of the revolution as it linked activists from all over the country using informal networks (Sharp 3).

Armed activists from Syria and other neighboring countries joined in the foray, as the unrest moved to greater heights of confrontations and violence. Some of the major opposition groups currently involved in the conflict are discussed below;

  1. The Free Syrian Army (FSA)-This group is made up of dissident military officers and personnel who defected from the government. They are armed and mainly attack government troops. The group is made up of individual security personnel, who defied orders to ruthlessly attack civilian protestors. Earlier this year, the FSA swore to put more effort in dealing with government troops that were using excessive force on civilians. FSA threatened to attack more military security centers, because they were used by the government in attacking and suppressing the Syrian people (Sharp 3).
  2. The Syrian National Council (SNC) – This group that was formed in October 2011 in Turkey is made up of external activists. The group wants the government to call off the crackdown on protestors and protect civilians (Sharp 3).
  3. The National Coordination Commission of the Forces of Democratic Change (NCC) – This is an alliance of leftist groups based in Syria and Kurdish activists. The group is against any civilian protection that involves external militaries and is willing to dialogue with the government, as long ruthless attacks on protestors cease (Sharp 3).

These oppositions groups justify that they have resulted into using force to repress the excessive violent tactics used by the government security agencies to quell the riots. Assad’s regime has condemned attacks on the police and military forces by these opposition groups that have been termed as terrorist groups.

The ethnic divisions in Syria further complicate the conflict since the county’s elite and Assad’s family belong to the minority Alawite faction, in this largely Sunni country (Sharp 4).

Government Forces

Assad’s regime has dealt ruthlessly with popular protests and opposition. Security forces and the military have been used in suppressing peaceful protests across the country. The Shabbiha or the Alawite civilian militia has been used by Assad’s regime to mete out violence on innocent civilians.

One year since the revolution began; the government forces have continued to viciously crash any opposition (Sharp 5). In March 2012, the government unleashed bloody attacks on insurgents’ strongholds of Idlib and Homs.

According to United Nations, more than 9,000 Syrians have lost their lives and thousands have been displaced since March 2011, when the unrest began (Sharp 5).

Assad’s Reaction to the Revolution

President al-Assad announced some reforms as a result of criticism from international communities and growing protests. He also gave amnesty to various groups of prisoners and some were freed.

Assad also passed orders permitting peaceful demonstrations under certain situations and allowed the legal registration of other political parties apart from Ba’ath. He also lifted the state of emergency that had been in place for 48 years. On December 19th 2011, Assad’s government opened a national dialogue aimed at creating a multiparty democracy.

However, opposition leaders in the country boycotted this event. Recently, Assad’s government called for a referendum on the new constitution on 26 February 2012 (Ecoi.Net par. 9). This new constitution stipulates that it will end Ba’ath party supremacy, but bestows most of the powers on Bashar al-Assad.

According to Syrian state television, 89 percent of Syrians supported the new constitution in the referendum. The West and opposition activists shunned these results, as they saw this as a new strategy by Asad to hold unto power.

Violation of Human Rights

During the revolution, numerous abuses of human rights have been witnessed. Apart from the extensive systematic attacks on the civilian population organized and executed by state security forces, deaths in custody have also been reported.

According to Amnesty International, 88 deaths have occurred in state custodies between April 1st and August 15th 2011. It is also estimated that not less than 190 people including children, have died while in custody (Ecoi.Net par. 10). Violation of human rights has also been witnessed in state hospitals where injured people are taken for treatment.

People injured during demonstrations have reportedly been physically and verbally abused by the medical staff and sometimes deprived of medical care. People taken to hospitals have also been detained and arrested by security forces (Ecoi.Net par. 13)

Vocal Syrian activists living abroad have not been spared either, as they are systematically harassed by embassy officials. Their families in Syria have been constantly harassed and intimidated by government authorities. The Syrian security has tortured and captured children during the one year of uprising.

Some children have been shot in the streets or at home, while others have been captured and kept in inhumane environments. Schools have been used as military barracks, bases, sniper posts or detention centers. (Ecoi.Net par.143)

International Response to Revolution

Although condemnation for Assad’s regime has been wide from all corners of the world, most external players have failed in their efforts to stop the bloodshed. The Arab League expelled Syria from its council after it violated a peace plan that pledged to allow peaceful protests by pulling out the army from the streets.

Assad’s government never honored the promise, but instead intensified the crack down on protesters. On 19th December 2011, the government agreed to fully cooperate with the Arab League by allowing an observer mission into the country (Ecoi.Net par. 15).

The leagues presence did not improve the situation, as the government forces continued meting out violence on protesters (Ecoi.Net par. 25). The Arab league also formulated a transition plan that was presented to the United Nations Security Council.

This plan was vetoed by China and Russia, who are permanent members of the Security Council. The international community opposing Assad’s regime can only undertake a collective action with the assistance of Syrian people, since the UN backed mandate failed.

The EU and the US as well as the Arab league placed economic sanctions on Syria. It also put an embargo on exportation of weapons to the country and banned it member states from purchasing oil from Syria. The EU also banned the delivery of bank notes to the central bank of Syria and prohibited the trade of precious metals and gold with the state (Ecoi.Net par. 21).

The EU also banned cargo flights from the country. The US has frozen all Syrian government assets that are within its jurisdiction and banned US residents from performing any transactions with blacklisted individuals within the Syrian government. Turkey and Arab league have also followed suit and banned any transactions with Assad’s government.

Assad’s government has found allies, with Russia sending a shipment of arms for the Syrian troops. Iran is another close ally that has sent cash, arms and advisors to Syria. It also assists Syria in exporting its oil abroad. Hezbollah from Lebanon has also declared its support for Assad’s regime.


President Assad is using the massive firepower to hold unto power and prevent the opposition from seizing power in any region. Assad’s strategy to hold on to power involves using ruthless crackdowns on opposition, thus preventing them from forming an effective, cohesive leadership. However, the protests threaten to escalate into a full civil war with tension already spilling over to other regions such as Jordan, turkey, Iraq and Lebanon (Barnard and Cowell 2).

The latest efforts to end the one year bloody revolution are through a plan formulated by Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary. The plan proposes six points that will be used in ending the violence in Syria.

These include; releasing prisoners, allowing journalists’ access, permitting free movement, withdrawing heavy troops and weapons from civilian centers and allowing humanitarian assistance. Assad has warmed up to this plan as well as the Arab League, which has dropped its initial demands for the president to step down (Siddique and Whitaker 10).

Works Cited

Barnard, Anne & Alan Cowell. “Syria.” The New York Times 29 March, 2012, late ed.: F1, F9.

. 2012. The 2011-2012 political unrest in Syria. Web.

Sharp, Jeremy. 2012. . PDF file. Web.

Siddique, Haroon & Brian Whitaker. “Syria Accepts Annan Peace Plan.” The Guardian 27 March 2012, early ed.: F10, F13.

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