Current Situation in Syria

What is currently happening in Syria?

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: Obama Puts Airstrikes on Hold

UNRWA Humanitarian Distributions in Yarmouk
Handout/Getty Images News/Getty Images

A chemical attack outside Damascus on August 21 brought the US on the brink of a military intervention in Syria, but Barack Obama pulled back at the last moment after Russia offered to broker a deal under which Syria would hand over its stockpile of chemical weapons. Most observers interpreted this turn-about as a major diplomatic triumph for Russia, raising questions over Moscow’s influence in the wider Middle East.

But the military balance on the ground remains unchanged, with the regime and the rebels locked in a slow-moving conflict using conventional weapons, inexorably reducing all of Syria into a pile of dust.

International Response: Failure of Diplomacy

Kofi Annan, UN-Arab League Peace Envoy for Syria. Getty Images

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

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma al-Assad. Salah Malkawi/Getty Images

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

Syrian anti-government protesters
Syrian anti-government protesters in town on Binish, Idlib province, August 2012. Courtesy of

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.

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Manfreda, Primoz. "Current Situation in Syria." ThoughtCo, Aug. 4, 2017, Manfreda, Primoz. (2017, August 4). Current Situation in Syria. Retrieved from Manfreda, Primoz. "Current Situation in Syria." ThoughtCo. (accessed January 17, 2018).