Current Situation: Syrian Uprising
Syrian uprising began in March 2011 with anti-government protests in provincial areas. The government of President Bashar al-Assad responded with a bloody crackdown on initially peaceful gatherings, along with piecemeal concessions that stopped short of genuine political reform.
After almost a year and a half of unrest, the conflict between the regime and the opposition has escalated to a full-scale civil war. Army defectors formed armed groups that wage a guerrilla war on government forces. By mid-2012 the fighting has reached capital Damascus and commercial hub Aleppo, with growing numbers of senior army officers deserting Assad.
However, key army units remain loyal to the regime, and while Assad’s long-term survival chances don’t seem great, he is far from finished. A prolonged bloody civil war lies ahead, with possibly disastrous consequences for Syria’s multi-religious and multi-ethnic society.
Latest Developments: Opposition Strikes at the Heart of the Regime
By late 2012, the armed opposition achieved important gains in the fight against government troops. Rebels control large swaths of the countryside in the north and the east of the country, and roughly half of the northern city of Aleppo, Syria’s commercial capital. Rebels have a strong presence in the suburbs of the capital Damascus from where they launch regular attacks inside the city.
Opposition groups based abroad have little influence over these events. Islamist rebel groups, some apparently linked to Al Qaeda, are taking on a key role in the fight against Assad and have vowed to establish an Islamist state in Syria.
International Response: Failure of Diplomacy
Diplomatic efforts at a peaceful resolution of the crisis led by Kofi Annan have failed decisively, leading to Annan's resignation in August 2012. This is partly due to disagreements between Russia, Syria’s traditional ally, and the West. The US, long at odds with Syria over its links to Iran, has called on Assad to resign. Russia, which has substantial interests in Syria, has insisted that Syrians alone should decide the fate of their government.
In the absence of an international agreement on a common approach, Gulf Arab governments and Turkey are stepping up military and financial assistance for Syrian rebels. Meanwhile, Russia continues to back Assad’s regime with weapons and diplomatic support while Iran, Assad’s key regional ally, provides the regime with financial assistance.
Who is in Power in Syria
The Assad family has been in power in Syria since 1970, when army officer Hafez al-Assad (1930-1970) assumed the presidency in a military coup. In 2000, the torch was passed to Bashar al-Assad, who maintained the main characteristics of the Assad state: reliance on the ruling Baath Party, army and intelligence apparatus, and Syria’s leading business families.
Although Syria is nominally led by the Baath Party, real power rests in the hands of a narrow circle of Assad family members and a handful of security chiefs. A special place in the power structure is reserved for officers from Assad’s minority Alawite community, who dominate the security apparatus. Hence, most Alawites remain loyal to the regime and suspicious of the opposition, whose stronholds are in majority Sunni areas.
Syrian opposition is a diverse mix of exiled political groups, grassroots activists organizing protests inside Syria, and armed groups waging a guerilla war on the government forces.
Opposition activities in Syria have been effectively outlawed since the early 1960s, but there has been an explosion of political activity since the beginning of the Syrian uprising in March 2011.Go to Current Situation in the Middle East