Syrian Uprising

Top ten reasons for the uprising in Syria

Why is there an uprising in Syria? Here are the top 10 root causes that fuel the crisis in Syria:

Political repression

Damascus Residents Await Baathist Reforms
Ghaith Abdul-Ahad / Stringer / Getty Images News / Getty Images
President Bashar al-Assad assumed power in 2000 after the death of his father Hafez who had ruled Syria since 1970. Assad quickly dashed hopes of reform, as power remained concentrated in the ruling family, and the one-party system left few channels for political dissent. With no peaceful transfer of power since the 1950s, change can seemingly happen only through a military coup or a popular uprising.

Discredited ideology

Syrian Baath party is regarded as the founder of "Arab socialism", an ideological current that merged state-led economy with Pan-Arab nationalism. However, by 2000 the Baathist ideology was reduced to an empty shell, discredited by lost wars with Israel and a crippled economy. Upon taking power, Assad tried to modernize the regime invoking the Chinese model of economic reform, but time was running against him.

Uneven economy

Cautious reform of the remnants of socialism opened the door to private investment, triggering an explosion of consumerism among the urban upper-middle classes. However, privatization has favored families with personal links to Assad, leaving provincial Syria, later the hotbed of the uprising, seething with anger as living costs soared and jobs remained scarce.


To make matters worse, a persistent drought has devastated farming communities in north-eastern Syria, affecting more than a million people since 2008. Tens of thousands of impoverished farmer families flocked into rapidly expanding urban slums, their anger at the lack of government help fueled by the new ostentatious wealth of the nouveau riche.

Population growth

Syria's rapidly growing young population is a demographic time bomb waiting to explode. How can the bloated, unproductive public sector and struggling private firms absorb a quarter of a million new arrivals to the job market every year?

New media

Although the state media is tightly controlled, the proliferation of satellite TV, mobile phones and the internet after 2000 meant that any government attempt to insulate the youth from the outside world was doomed to fail. The use of the new media is critical to the activist networks that underpin the uprising in Syria.


Whether it's a license to open a small shop or a car registration, well-placed payments make wonders in Syria. For those without the money and good contacts, it's a powerful grievance against the state. Ironically, the system is corrupt to the extent that anti-Assad rebels buy weapons from the government forces, and families bribe the authorities to release relatives that have been detained during the uprising.

State violence

Syria's vast intelligence services, the infamous mukhabarat, penetrate all spheres of society. The fear of the state is one of the reasons why so many Syrians simply take the regime as a fact of life. But the outrage over the brutal response of the security forces to the outbreak of peaceful protest in Spring 2011, documented on social media, helped generate the snowball effect as thousands across Syria joined the uprising. More funerals, more protest.

Minority rule

Syria is a majority Sunni Muslim country but the top positions in the security apparatus are in the hands of the Alawis, a Shiite religious minority to which the Assad family belongs. Most Syrians pride themselves on their tradition of religious tolerance, but many Sunnis still resent the fact that so much power is monopolized by a handful of Alawi families. While not a driving force of the Syrian uprising, the combination of a majority Sunni protest movement and an Alawi-dominated military has added to the tension in religiously mixed areas, such as the city of Homs.

Read more on the difference between Alawites and Sunnis

Tunisia effect

Last but not least, the wall of fear in Syria would not have been broken at this particular time had it not been for Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian street-vendor whose self-immolation in December 2010 triggered a wave of anti-government uprisings across the Middle East. Watching the fall of Tunisian and Egyptian regimes in early 2011, broadcast live on the satellite channel Al Jazeera, made millions in Syria aware that change was possible - for the first time in decades.

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