Undoing of Ba’athism: The Syrian Conundrum
The Syrian uprising to dethrone the autocratic ruler tested the mettle of both Assad and the rebels, but evidently, worst sufferers were neither but the innocent unarmed civilians.
The Syrian crisis can’t be attributed to a binary of sectarianism but religious demography conjugated with lack of freedom and economic woes which drove resentment of the Syrian government, the hard-handed crackdown on protesters rankled the public.
It all started when a boy of age 13 was killed after having been brutally tortured for making graffiti in support of Arab Spring along with 14 more boys that toppled the rulers in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen. The demonstrations and protests, in the beginning, were mostly non-sectarian but the armed struggle surfaced the starker sectarian division, with Sunni making the majority and the establishment being dominated by Alawites (a sect which is contested between Shias and Sunnis) of which Assad is a member. The involvement of international actors taking advantage of the hostile demography further drifted the regime into the mayhem of its own people, thereby intensifying polarization and biases thus limiting the scope for so-called “Unified Arab State” as envisioned by pioneers of Ba’athism like Michel Aflaq, Zaki al-Arsuzi and salah-ud-din Bitar.
Reasons for unrest:
The principles on which the Syrian Baath party that espoused Ba’athism is based were strictly secular and proposed for a merger of the state-led economy with pan Arab nationalism, but due to successive defeats of Baathist leaders against Israel, crippled economic structures and the subsequent Iranian revolution grounded the Baathist utopia into dust. The concentration of power in few hands with dashed hopes of reform, one party system left few channels for political dissent, with no peaceful transition of power since the 1950s, the popular uprising was inevitable.
The reforms in an economic hybrid model with a socialistic vision that opened the doors for private investment favoured none but the aristocrats with politically biased inclination, thereby infuriating the lower middle class. Global warming is yet another attribute that aggravated the 2011s uprising, severe droughts from 2007-2010 plagued the Syrian economy causing migration of nearly 1.5 million from the countryside to cities, exacerbating poverty and social unrest. State violence that killed over 465,000 Syrians, injured over a million and displaced nearly half of Syria’s prewar population (12 million) was a brunt doomed to fail the regime. The advocacy of vanguardism over progressivism in the absence of political pluralism in the states inflicted with wars consolidate the power in limited hands and pave way for anarchism as happened with Saddam Hussain’s Iraq and results only in the authoritarian debacle. The monopoly of Alawite’s rule in the Sunni dominated state has also added to the tension in the religiously mixed area (eg; city of Homs) though it wasn’t the driving force for the Arab uprisings.
International and Regional Actors:
The governments of Iran, Iraq and Lebanon based Hezbollah rendered their support to Assad while as countries like Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia supported the Anti-Assad’s rebels.
The US being critical of the Assad regime initially began a covert programme to support and train the rebels but later on, due to the murky nature of the war reduced its support to various rebel groups.
Russia is the biggest supporter of Assad’s regime rendered its support in every dimension including military equipment supplies and even vetoed (along with China at UNSC) the western backed resolutions on Syria.
Free Syrian Army (FSA): A loose conglomerate of armed brigades formed in 2011 by defectors from Syrian army backed by several international players including Turkey, US and several Gulf countries. It now has a limited presence in the Northwestern parts of the country.
Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL /ISIS): It emerged as the most powerful opposing army in 2014 after its defection from Al Qaeda. It quickly rose to the prominence and controlled more areas than Syrian government itself. However, due to the common understanding between various international actors – the group has been almost dissipated now in Syria.
Hezbollah: It is a proxy militia backed by Iran renders its support to Assad.
Syrian democratic force (SDF): It’s the U.S. backed Kurdish militia which fought against both ISIS and regime as well. It aspires an independent Kurdish state.
Implications of the civil war:
As per World Bank’s report, 7% of housing stock was completely destroyed and 20% partially damaged as of early 2017. From 2011 until the end of 2016, the cumulative loss in gross GDP has been estimated at $226 billion, about four times the Syrian GDP in 2010.Loss of human capital as it is estimated nearly 465,000 people have died in the conflict.
All in all, this painful transition is tearing Syria apart. Given the conflicting interests of rival powers, any tangible solution to the problem seems nowhere in sight.
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