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Why hasn't Syria's civil war ended?

Updated on June 7, 2014
More than 1.4 million refugees are children. Many are vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation in unfamiliar and overcrowded refugee camps.
More than 1.4 million refugees are children. Many are vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation in unfamiliar and overcrowded refugee camps. | Source

As of May 2014, Syria's civil war has led to

  • an exodus of almost 3 million Syrian refugees

  • more than 160,000 dead.

The Syria crisis started when protest first broke out in March 2011 to peacefully demand for the release of political prisoners and the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad.

Many saw the uprising as part of the Arab Spring and it was widely predicted that the demise of Assad's regime was imminent within 18 months.

Three years on, peaceful protests have turned into an armed rebellion.

A negiotated settlement between the opposition rebel groups and the Assad regime is now dead in the water.

And a military victory by the rebel groups seems like a pipe dream.

In fact, Assad's regime has recently acquired key opposition strongholds. Assad is now preparing to have himself re-elected for another seven-year term in this 3rd June election.

Why hasn't Syria's crisis ended? Why is Assad's regime unexpectedly durable?

Members of the Free Syrian Army, a rebel movement aiming to depose President Bashar al-assad
Members of the Free Syrian Army, a rebel movement aiming to depose President Bashar al-assad | Source

Fragmented Opposition

Syria's opposition forces, the country's primary hope for democracy, are actually quite fractured with many members having separate interests.

There are as many as 1,000 groups commanding an estimated 100,000 fighters. Some members are from The Free Syrian Army ("FSA"), which comprised of many secular ex-military forces and Sunni Muslims. Others are part of the Al-Nusra Front which is affiliated to al-Qaeda.

However, the secular moderates are outnumbered by the jihadists in the radical Muslim groups, whose brutal tactics have caused widespread concern and triggered rebel infighting. In addition, the diversity of interests and ties to terrorist organizations make other country's decision to support the opposition forces a more complicated choice.

Syria is not a vast country with huge areas where rebels can retreat, strategise and resupply.
Syria is not a vast country with huge areas where rebels can retreat, strategise and resupply. | Source

Geography matters

The geography of Syria makes it even more challenging for rebel to achieve any military success against the Syrian government.

Unlike Libya or Egypt, Syria is not a vast country with huge areas where rebels can retreat, strategize and resupply. Syria is ten times smaller than Libya but have a population that is three times higher.

As the result, the opposition rebel groups have not been able to control significant parts of the country for a long period of time.

Most of the Syrians reside in the two cities, Damascus and Aleppo. However, both of the cities remain tightly controlled under Assad's iron-fisted regime. Sporadic and guerrilla attacks do occur, but the government troops simply resume control thereafter.

A Proxy War

Unlike the uprisings in Egypt and Libya, the major and regional powers were split on whether to support the Assad's regime or the opposition rebel groups.

Saudi Arabia and Al-Nusra Front have been the main supporters of the opposition. The United States supports the opposition with non-lethal aid (food and medical aid).

On the other hand, Iran and Russia have both maintained strong ties to the Assad regime.

Were the major powers to intervene, it would quickly become a proxy struggle. And that would lead to an even prolong the civil war, immensely increasing the number of civilian casualties.

Most military leaders have remained loyal to Assad, knowing that they would be massacred in the post-Assad crisis.
Most military leaders have remained loyal to Assad, knowing that they would be massacred in the post-Assad crisis. | Source

Low Level Dissent

The low-level dissent and unity amongst the army, intelligence services or business community have also largely contributed to the success of the regime.

The Assad family members are Alawitesite sect that represents only 12% of Syrians, and the key military and intelligence posts belong to Alawites.

These leaders remain fervently loyal to Assad's regime, knowing that in a post-Assad Syria, they would be massacred in the ethnic cleansing of the Alawites.

Marva, 12, and Mahar, 11, were both born with a disability caused by muscle atrophy. They are living in the Za’atari camp, Jordan as Syrian refugees.
Marva, 12, and Mahar, 11, were both born with a disability caused by muscle atrophy. They are living in the Za’atari camp, Jordan as Syrian refugees. | Source

The solution will be for all major and regional powers to accept the demise of Assad's regime and impose sanctions on his government. The opposition groups will need to unite together and detach itself from links with terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda.

An end to Syria's civil war?

The solution to end Syria's civil war would be for all major and regional powers to accept the fall of Assad's regime and assist in imposing sanctions on the Syrian government. The opposition groups will need to unite together and detach itself from links with terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda.

Without any support from other countries, the crippling sanctions imposed will starve Assad's regime of the resources and funds required to challenge the opposition rebel groups.

This will likely result in the Assad family brokering for a peace agreement. The armed conflict can then be replaced by a political solution to discuss the opposition demands and establish a transitional governing body based on mutual consent.

If the opposition succeeds in deposing Assad, the next priority will be the need to prevent a political choas and the ethnic cleansing of the Alawites and other miniorities in Syria.

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    • Frienderal profile image
      Author

      Frienderal 3 years ago from Singapore

      Thank you Carolyn! It means a lot to me to know that you are looking forward to my hubs :)

      It is true that the Syria crisis needs more media attention. Recently, the media has turned its spotlight on Ukraine's crisis and Boko Haram's abduction. These are equally relevant issues. But without media attention, Syria's chances of brokering a peace agreement will be dead in the water.

    • CarolynEmerick profile image

      Carolyn Emerick 3 years ago

      Issues like this are important to keep an eye on and shed light upon to bring awareness around the world. With the unrest and riots on neighboring Turkey, I wonder if they may break into civil war at some point... There is a growing Islamist movement there, and also many secularist and educated people who are dissatisfied with current leadership and concerned that Turkey could be one of the next to succumb to Sharia. Let's hope not! Thank you for this hub, looking forward to more articles on world issues!

    • Frienderal profile image
      Author

      Frienderal 3 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks HSchneider! I'm glad you find this hub informative. I do agree that any military intervention would be presumably due to Assad's failure to honour the chemical weapons disarmament agreement.

      What remains unclear is the aim of the military intervention. Is the goal simply to destroy chemical weapons and reinforce against its use? What if, without the use of chemical weapons, Assad's regime manages to acquire key opposition stronghold and countless of civilians are killed in the process? Can we say that the military intervention is a success?

      It is particularly heart-wrenching to see millions of civilians living as refugees and being separated from their families.

    • profile image

      Howard Schneider 3 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      There is very little appetite in the West or in the Middle East to substantially intervene in the Syrian civil war beyond lip service and minor sanctions. The only thing that might change this is if Syria fails to comply with the chemical weapons disarmament agreement. It is a sad state of affairs for the Syrian people. Excellent analysis, Frienderal.

    • Frienderal profile image
      Author

      Frienderal 3 years ago from Singapore

      I believe that the chances of military intervention from Western powers, particularly the United States, will be a pie in the sky.

      The Western powers understand that their military aid may lead to quality weapons falling into the hands of militant jihadists, and that hundreds of trained and battle-hardened opposition rebels will develop links with terrorist groups.

      Hence, the best bet is to ration non-military support to the armed rebels, giving them enough to prevent their collapse, but not to turn the tide decisively against the regime. It seems unlikely for the Syria conflict to end through military victories.

    • MG Singh profile image

      MG Singh 3 years ago from Singapore

      The Syrian crisis was engineered by the West after their plans in Libya and Iraq were initially successful, but now they realized that all they won was a Phyrric victory. Iraq and Libya is the hot bed of Islamic fundamentalism. They held off in Syria realizing that Assad's fall will lead to a Vacuum and Islamic forces will be in power. So fear of the unknown has stayed the West, but the genie unleashed by the west and the USA in particular is uncorked and so the civil is not ending. It wont for a long time.

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