Academic journal article Insight Turkey

The Role of the Military in Syrian Politics and the 2011 Uprising

Academic journal article Insight Turkey

The Role of the Military in Syrian Politics and the 2011 Uprising

Article excerpt

The "Arab Spring" and the Rise of the Military in Middle East Politics

One of the most controversial issues in the Middle East in modern times is the relation between politics and the military of a regional country. Civil-military relations have developed in a different and more complex form in the Middle East than they have in democratic countries due to the fact that the states in the region have been ruled through authoritarian means, and have experienced their modernization processes through their militaries; the mechanisms of their political administrations have been shaped through their militaries, but they still have failed to establish a military regime.

Milan Svolik, examining government changes under authoritarian rules between 1945 and 2002 in 316 cases, shows why the civil-military relation is crucially important in such regimes. According to Svolik, among the 303 leaders who lost power in the period, only 32 were removed by popular uprising and another 30 stepped down under public pressure to democratize. Twenty more leaders lost power through an assassination that was not part of a coup or a popular uprising, whereas 16 were removed by foreign intervention. The remaining 205 dictators were removed by government insiders, such as other government members or members of the military or security forces, i.e. as a coup detat. (1) This pattern is quite valid for the Middle Eastern countries.

Since the establishment of the countries in the Middle East, civil-military relations have been quite complex in nature; therefore, the two areas have become quite transitive. In such a picture, it is difficult to say that the balance is maintained between the two. Civilian-military relations became a pressing subject at issue again in late 2010 with the sparkle of protests that began in Tunisia and rapidly spilled over to other regional countries. The evolution of civil-military relations since the independence of the countries in the Middle East may be considered in three periods. (2) The first one, which continued until the late 1970s, is the period of military coups, which are defined as "the infiltration of a small but critical segment of the state apparatus (military), which is then used to displace the government from its control of the remainder." (3)

As seen in Table 1, a total of 55 coups were attempted between 1949 and 1978. Military powers in the Middle East differ in their ways of using power, its effects, and the ruling typology. (5) Regardless of their numbers and scopes, military coups are arguably the most critical determining factor in government changes in the Middle East. Therefore, when we consider this situation from the viewpoint of political leaders, as Feaver puts, "the need to have protection by the military may bring with it the need to have protection from the military." (5)

The second period covers the time frame from 1979 until 2010, in which the civil-military relations were on a steady base and military interventions rarely occurred. In the three decades following 1980, successful coups numbered 17. (6) According to Beeri, this period of relative political stability was achieved when elements toppled a government by a coup "took measures to prevent the same mechanism from being used against themselves." (7) Although this mechanism works differently in every country, it basically follows the same processes and lays the ground for the continuation of military tutelage in different forms within a country. It is possible to talk about a power balance between the military and political forces. In a sense, the military uses mechanisms of suppression and force against an opposition, when necessary; therefore, contributes to the longevity of the ruling order, (8) and the political rulers, in return, clear the way for the military in the spheres of economy and politics. Such a form of relationship is not an indication of a sensitive balance between the two elements; to the contrary, as Cook says, the military rises in a position of "ruling but not governing. …

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