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Conflict Report: Syria’s Backstory

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Many have heard the news or read headlines about the ongoing violence that has plagued Syria in the past two years, however the nature of the struggle is one which is often overlooked. With the rise of the “Arab Spring” many nations in the Middle East decided to pursue the option of democracy over seemingly totalitarian regimes, Syria was no exception to this fact. In many of these countries the uprisings of civilians, mostly through protests and peaceful demonstrations were sufficient enough to force regime change among the unpopularity of the current regimes. The fate for Syrians however has become much more complex and chaotic due to a number of factors stemming back all the way to the Cold War and the country’s relations with Russia.

The Syrian civil war began as an uprising of protests among the civilians in the country who wished to see an end to the dictator like presidency of Bashar Hafez al-Assad. Although labeled as the president of the country, Assad succeeded this role from his father who ruled the country for nearly 30 years prior to his death in June of 2000. The question that many often ponder is: how can a nation be labeled as a “dictatorship” when it has an elected President ruling the nation? The answer is more evident than one may initially suspect. In many nations across the world dictators assume the title of President in the hopes of showing their country abides by the peoples’ will thus helping to secure the legitimacy of the current regime. The reality in many of these instances are that elections often go unopposed either through government manipulation of poles, censorship of voting rights or by blatantly killing or threatening any opposition party to the point that no one is willing to challenge the current regime in an election.

The Rise of the Arab Spring

The Arab Spring began as a series of public protests against rulers in a number of nations throughout Northern Africa and the Middle East at the end of 2010. Although many of these began and ended as peaceful protests and demonstrations with the purpose of forcing out the rulers that impose dictatorship like regimes onto their people, some of these demonstrations eventually turned into skirmishes or all out wars with the goal of regime change. The Arab Spring is thought to have come about due to years of forced tyranny and the inability of civilians to enjoy the fruits of western technologies and luxuries that are suppressed by fearful rulers who seek to control media and news within their sovereignty.

This revolution of change in the Middle East was largely the stimulus for the current headlines broadcasting around the world about the conflict occurring in Syria. Although the United Nations did participate in the intervention of many of these revolutions, such as what occurred in Libya and to a lesser extent Egypt, many wonder why there has been no UN intervention in the case of Syria. Syria is seen by many as the forgotten country of the Arab Spring as turmoil still plagues its civilian population.

The Cold War Connection

Is the lack of intervention a sign that the world simply doesn’t care about the plight of the Syrian people? This is a far stretch from the truth of the complex situation which ties back to relations between the United States and the USSR from the Cold War era. The drawn out conflict between the Syrian opposition forces and the Syrian Army is rooted in old rivalries between super powers and capitalist goals to maintain business relations between the current Syrian regime and Russia over arms dealings. Syria is the largest buyer of arms and military merchandise from Russia who is largely responsible for impeding any intervention from the outside world in this conflict.

In 2012 amid the threat of economic sanctions from the UN Security Council, Russia promised its ally to veto any sanctions debated against the Syrian government and continues to supply arms to Assad’s regime. Aside from their arms agreement which is estimated at about a $4 billion annual contract, Russia is also involved in infrastructure, tourism and energy assets in Syria including a $12 million contract to explore additional oil fields near the Iraq border. With the close involvement of Russia in their economic and political policies, it is likely that any military intervention in the conflict will not be possible in the near future leaving Syria to resolve its own civil conflict internally.

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