From Civil Uprising to Sectarian Conflict in Syria 1

By Rather, Faisal Mohammad; Ali, Balal et al. | Quarterly Journal of Chinese Studies, Summer 2015 | Go to article overview

From Civil Uprising to Sectarian Conflict in Syria 1


Rather, Faisal Mohammad, Ali, Balal, Abbas, Shahnawaz, Quarterly Journal of Chinese Studies


THE BEGINNING

In 1970, when Hafez al-Assad came to power via a coup, it was the "seventh time" in the independent history of Syria that such a thing had happened ( Smith, 2012). With his assumption to power, Syria, which up to then was the most "coup-ridden state in the Arab world" (Büchs, 2009), would halt any further political instability. The striking feature of the coup, however, was that it brought a dictatorship headed by minority Alawite sect to power (Wikas, 2007) who were only ten percent of the Syrian population. Their presence in the army was relatively large because, being a minority, not many options in choosing professions were open to them and, "After Assad's coup in 1970, more Alawites were given top positions By 1977, Alawite officers held 18 of the 25 Syrian army commands" (Dockser, 1984)which gave the regime sway over everything in Syria with unquestionable authority.

Assad exercised his power with high handedness by curbing people ' s liberties, limiting their political freedoms and among his strongmen corruption went unchecked(Wakim, 2014). Opposition to the government became treason and dissenters were dealt with severity. In one such incident of opposition, the Syrian city of Hama became infamous as the place of Hama massacre( Wiedl, 2006), where al-Assad mercilessly crushed the Muslim opposition and massacred thousands of his own citizens(Said, 1995). The intensity of Assad's punishment was such that according to Amnesty International 10,000 to 25,000 Syrians were killed in that "merciless crackdown"(Friedman, 2001).

Nevertheless, it didn ' t matter whether the opposition came from the fundamentalists, secularists or the communists. Dissent of any kind was stamped out ruthlessly which earned Hafez al-Assad's Syria the name "republic of repression" (Wikas, 2007). Before his death, the ageing Assad wanted "his legacy to be steadfastness against concessions" (Perlmutter, 2000). Little less than eleven years after his death, when the regime headed by his son was confronted by a non-violent civil uprising demanding democracy, his son would go by his father's legacy of resoluteness rather than conceding to the demands of the people.

PRELUDE TO THE UPRISING

Continuing with its authoritarian conducts, the regime chose Bashar al-Assad following his father's death in an absolutist fashion(LUND, 2011) to lead the government in mid-2000. However, he quickly gained popularity by carrying out some long awaited reforms and connecting with the young generation which his father wasn't known for (LUND, 2011). Prior to the death of his elder brother, Basil al-Assad, who was to succeed his father, Bashar was based in London as an ophthalmologist (Eichensehr, 2001). He wasn't interested in politics and did not receive any military training (Eichensehr, 2001) but was recalled from Britain following his brother ' s death to be trained as his father ' s successor.

Soon, as he arrived in to the political arena, his actions started to speak for his dedication to rid Syria of corruptness which, long since, had contaminated it. Bashar made a promising start long before he had assumed the office of full authority. He undertook the task of tackling corruption within the regime by dismissing the corrupt from the government which included the former Prime Minister of Syria Mahmoud Zubi(Eichensehr, 2001). When he became the President, Syrians felt sanguine about their new leader, who impressed them with the commitment to modernize Syria. His assumption to power started to be seen as the beginning of a new chapter in the Syrian history marked by hope and enthusiasm among the people. During the Damascus spring of 2000, the secularists in Syria formed discussion groups calling for political reforms and criticized the regime openly(Wikas, 2007). The civil activism in Syria was visible among the people which had been missing before Bashar alAssad ' s assumption to power.

However, the optimism of people was short lived and with each passing year of his rule, nepotism, ambiguity and corruption started to revive. …

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