Syria Modern History

By | January 30, 2023

Syria is a country located in Western Asia. With the capital city of Damascus, Syria has a population of 17,500,669 based on a recent census from COUNTRYAAH. The time after World War II became unstable and the unrest in the region had major repercussions on Syrian domestic policy. When the state of Israel was proclaimed in 1948, Syria along with other Arab countries attacked. Disappointment over the Arab side’s defeat in the war was to some extent behind the three coups that took place in Syria in 1949. More coups followed in the 1950s, which led to Syria’s policy to a large extent dominated by the military.

In the early 1950s, the economy reached a bottom position when the Customs Union with Lebanon disbanded and an important trade route was thereby closed. The economic problems led to increased dissatisfaction in all classes of society. Different governments succeeded. In the mid-1950s, the left parties began to receive increased support in public opinion, especially the Arab Nationalist and Socialist Baath Party and the Communist Party. Radical politicians gradually came to occupy more posts, and a number of agreements were concluded with the Soviet Union and other communist countries.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: List of most commonly used acronyms containing Syria. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.

In 1958, Egypt and Syria formed the United Arab Republic, which would be a first step towards a larger Arab community. However, the Union became only three years old. Dissatisfaction with Egypt’s dominant role provoked a new coup and the union was dissolved. The civilian government that took office after the coup was also short-lived. Check best-medical-schools for more information about Syria.

A new military coup in March 1963 brought the Baath Party to power. After, among other things, rejecting a new coup attempt, the Baath Party began to nationalize banks and industries. A redistribution of land was carried out, which shattered the foundations of the old ruling elite of businessmen and landowners. Almost all leading Baathist militants came from the countryside, unlike the wealthy Sunni Muslim city families that had previously ruled Syria. A large part of the Baathist militias were Alawites (see Population) and the influence of the religious minorities increased greatly during this period, leading to protests from Sunni Muslims who were neglected.

In 1967, growing tensions between the Arab states and Israel triggered an Israeli attack on several Arab countries. Syria lost the strategically important Golan Heights in what came to be called the Six Day War.

Hafiz al-Assad to power

After internal party disputes in the 1960s, a more pragmatic bankruptcy within the Baath Party took power in a coup in the fall of 1970. The leader was Defense Minister Hafiz al-Assad, who was elected president the following year. Over the next few years, he placed friends and relatives, many of whom, like himself, Alawites, on most important items within the security apparatus.

Assad pursued a less purely socialist policy than its representatives and gave the private sector a little more room. Foreign policy involved close cooperation with the Soviet Union, at the same time that Assad repaired the broken relations with important Western countries. Relations with other Arab states also improved. In 1971, Syria together with Egypt and Libya formed a short-lived federation.

Despite a certain softening of domestic politics, the Baath Party and security services maintained strong control over society. In order to broaden the government’s base, in 1972 Assad founded the National Progressive Front consisting of the Baath Party and some small nationalist and socialist parties. Thereafter, Syria was formally ruled by the Front, but real power was still with the Baath Party and, above all, with the President himself. In 1973, the country gained its first permanent constitution in many years, which established the constitution of the Baath Party’s government and the almost unrestricted power of the president.

In October 1973, Syria, along with Egypt, attacked Israel in an attempt to recapture lost territories in the 1967 war. At the start of the so-called October war, Syrian and Egyptian forces reached success, but the Israelis went counter-offensive and took new ground. In ceasefire negotiations organized by the United States, Syria regained some of the Golan Heights and the war was described in Syrian media as a victory.

Growth is increasing

To try to attract foreign investors, Assad chose to liberalize the economy to a limited degree. Confidence in Syria’s economy increased, and growth reached new heights in the second half of the 1970s. At the same time, Syria received increased financial support from oil-rich Arab countries after the October war, which strengthened the budget but also led to wastage, inefficiency and inflation. During the second half of the 1970s, the economic upturn had stopped, prices rose and conditions began to deteriorate. In 1976, Assad also ordered a very unpopular intervention in Lebanon’s civil war (see Foreign Policy and Defense), which immediately became another heavy financial burden.

In 1978, Assad was elected president for the second time, in a referendum where he was once again the only candidate. Increasing dissatisfaction with the deteriorating economic conditions and growing corruption and with the political dominance of the Alawites had triggered armed attacks by Islamist groups. Assad’s security services cracked down on both the armed movements and peaceful oppositionists with a very hard hand. A spiral of violence began, which continued into the early 1980s.

The opposition was channeled primarily through Sunni Muslim organizations, but criticism also came from intellectual groups and professional associations, which in the spring of 1980 formed a loose alliance with demands for free elections and an end to the exception laws. The Muslim Brotherhood (see Political system), which sought an Islamic state, was behind much of the violence against the regime. The opposition was greatest in cities where the traditional Sunni elite dominated, and was supported by Iraq and Jordan, among others. In February 1982, the Muslim Brotherhood led a multi-week revolt in Hama that was brutally defeated by government troops. Information on the number of people killed varies greatly, but an often cited figure is around 10,000.

The rebellion in Hama was followed by a new confrontation with Israel, which in the summer of 1982 entered Lebanon to expel the Palestinians from there and at the same time attacked Syria’s military installations in the Lebanese Bekaa Valley. Hafiz al-Assad became seriously ill in 1983. A brother of the president then tried to seize power, but Hafiz al-Assad recovered and sent his brother abroad. Syria was also hit by an economic downturn in the 1980s, partly as a result of falling oil prices and a three-year drought. Most times were difficult for most Syrians, while the regime’s supporters retained their benefits and the corruption persisted. Inflation was soaring. The difficulties during the 1980s led to Assad’s rule hardening and security services becoming more influential.

Syria’s decision to join the UN alliance in the Kuwait War 1990-1991 became a turning point for the country’s economy. Oil prices rose sharply during the war and, thanks to the aid, Syria received new loans and assistance from western countries as well as from Saudi Arabia and the other states around the Persian Gulf.

Gentle reforms

When communism in Central Europe and the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989-1991, hopes of reform were also raised in Syria. In the early 1990s, cautious economic reforms were initiated, but political power was not disrupted. Instead, Assad made sure to secure improved relations with the Western world by accepting peace talks with Israel and cooperating with the United States in the Iraq war in 1991. This led Syria to secure more aid from the rich states around the Gulf of Pes. The start of the country’s own oil production also helped to take the country through the crisis years.

During the years 1991–1995, Syria had an average growth of 7 percent per year, partly due to good harvests, but by the end of the decade, growth had halved. In 1999, the economy shrank due to low oil prices and severe drought.

In the same year, Hafiz al-Assad was elected president for a fifth seven-year term. Because of his almost absolute power, it was long thought that one of his sons would be appointed as successor. Elder son Basil died in a traffic accident in 1994, which led to the second oldest Bashar being called home from medical studies in London, was given a military education and was eventually allowed to take over parts of Syria’s foreign policy. With the help of the father, a younger generation, expected to be loyal to the son, was given several important positions in the armed forces, intelligence agencies and a reorganized government. In June 2000, the president died after a heart attack.

Although the dictatorship of Hafiz al-Assad had created greater domestic political stability, the period was marked by severe repression against all who were considered to threaten the regime. The pace of economic reform had stopped, even though the economy was now inefficient and out of date and many Syrians were suffering from the increasingly difficult conditions. The enmity with Israel and the instability in the region made it more difficult for al-Assad to relieve control of the economy and politics, but it could also be used as an excuse for not having to abolish the exception laws and implement political reforms. In addition, the government’s abuses in the 1980s intensified the unrest among many religious minorities so that Sunni Muslim groups could demand revenge if the Alawite Assad family was overthrown. It was forbidden to talk about religious tensions in Syria,

Bashar al-Assad takes office

Following Hafiz al-Assad’s death in June 2000, a constitutional amendment was introduced that lowered the minimum age for a president from 40 to 34 years, the age of Bashar al-Assad. The Baath Party leadership appointed Bashar as presidential candidate, and one month after his father’s death, he was elected president with 97 percent of the vote in a referendum. He had already been promoted to commander-in-chief and party leader.

The new president aroused hopes of political and economic reform. The atmosphere became more open; Opponents in exile dared to return, many others were released from prison, and advocates for civil rights became more active. Reform friends were formed to form informal networks and associations to discuss economic, social and political problems. But the so-called Damascus Spring was interrupted in 2001, when several well-known reform friends were imprisoned.

During the 2000s, Syria’s relations with the Western world and several powerful Arab countries deteriorated – especially after the Palestinian uprising against Israel in 2001, the Iraq war in 2003 and the assassination of opposition leader Rafiq al-Hariri in Lebanon in the spring of 2005. The assassination of Hariri put Syria under strong pressure from the UN and the Western powers, who suspected that Syria and its allies in Lebanon were behind the attack. The Syrian troops that have been in Lebanon since 1976 were forced to leave the country in the spring of 2005. In May 2007, the Security Council decided to create an international court for the Hariri assassination (see Lebanon: Modern History).

Assad’s foreign policy problems encouraged the opposition. In 2005, several opposition leaders signed the so-called Damascus Declaration, a call for political dialogue and reform. The government seemed worried about foreign reactions and left the group, although it was closely monitored. Former Foreign Minister and Deputy President Abd al-Halim Khaddam, close friend of Rafiq al-Hariri, went on a country escape in France during the year, accusing President Assad of taking part in the Hariri assassination. When the UN investigation was underway, Syrian Interior Minister Ghazi Kenaan was found dead, according to official information through suicide. He had been a military security officer in Lebanon for many years.

Strengthened position

In the following years, Syria’s position in the Middle East again improved as the United States sought Syria’s support to curb violence in Iraq and Assad once again strengthened its role in Lebanon, especially after a short Israeli-Lebanese war in the summer of 2006. At the end of 00- In the century, Assad reconnected with several of the states that broke with him because of the Iraq war or the Hariri assassination, like the United States and Saudi Arabia. Lebanese politicians who protested against Syria’s influence were then forced to travel to Damascus and publicly apologize.

As the threat to the government erupted, Assad began to hit harder on the small opposition movement that had been partially tolerated for a couple of years. The Damascus Declaration split during 2007-2008 after several leaders were jailed and others dropped out. Security services also increased the pressure on conservative Islamic groups, and seized both extremists with ties to al-Qaeda and peaceful ministers.

In the April 2007 parliamentary elections, the ruling Baath Party and its allies again won a majority of the vote. Shortly thereafter, Bashar al-Assad was appointed president for another term in office.

The following years were characterized by faster economic reform rates, with privatizations and cuts, not least because Syria began to face serious economic problems. Agriculture was suffering from droughts and the oil wells had begun.

The will to reform did not break through at the political level. The regime continued to persecute and imprison its critics. Assad was thus able to strengthen his position, while the opposition remained weak and deeply divided.

The Arab Spring

Inspired by the uprising against authoritarian rule in the Middle East and North Africa during the so-called Arab Spring of 2011, Syrians also began to demonstrate reforms. In the city of Daraa in the south, peaceful protest marches were held which were forcefully defeated by the government. This triggered solidarity demonstrations in other localities in the country. From April, the situation worsened and hundreds of civilians were killed as the regime deployed tanks and army soldiers against the protesters. Syria’s religious minorities mainly joined the government at the same time as Assad lost support within the Sunni Muslim majority, which led to growing religious polarization.

Despite continued violence and arrests on the part of the regime, many Syrians continued to demonstrate, especially in poor Sunni urban neighborhoods and in rural areas. Armed resistance against Assad began to gain momentum during the summer, especially after a group of Sunni desert deserters formed a militant group called the Free Syrian Army in July 2011.

In response to the acts of violence, the US and the EU in 2011 imposed arms embargo and personally targeted sanctions against Assad and his closest men, while US-allied states such as Qatar and Turkey began to support armed rebels inside Syria. In the summer of 2012, the battles reached the major cities of Damascus and Aleppo. At the same time, the government forces left the Kurdish-dominated areas in the north and instead focused on fighting rebel groups in other parts of the country. Islamist groups began to play a more significant role among the Sunni rebels, which remained divided.

The fighting worsened during the fall as the uprising grew and the government deployed heavier weapons, including artillery, helicopters and bombers.

Neighboring countries are withdrawn

In the spring of 2013, the conflict began to seriously spill over to neighboring countries. Shelling took place across the border with Turkey and Israel and Lebanon were plagued by fierce tensions between Sunni Muslims who supported the rebels and Shi’ites who supported Assad. The Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah militia went over the border on a large scale to support Assad’s forces, which changed the strength of relations along the Lebanese border to the government’s advantage.

In August 2013, the situation intensified when the regime was accused of using large-scale chemical weapons against rebel-controlled areas outside Damascus. The United States threatened with flight attacks, but was persuaded by Russia to allow the International Chemical Weapons Surveillance Agency (OPCW) to handle and destroy Syria’s nuclear weapons. Assad accepted the proposal, which was implemented in 2013 and 2014.

Turkey has continued to act for its interests, mainly through military offensive and threats to Kurdish-controlled areas in the north. Israel has also attacked Syrian targets. Both major powers Russia and the United States are engaged, Russia assists Assad while the United States supports the Kurdish forces in the north. Iran supports the Assad regime, even militarily. Lebanon and Jordan are not least affected by refugee flows from Syria. Political leaders from Syria have fled the country.

Syria Modern History