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A Primer on Syria


Inspired by other Arab Spring movements, protests began against the brutal rule of Bashar al-Assad on Jan. 26. 2011. The ongoing protests escalated to an uprising in March 2011, with thousands taking to the streets in numerous cities to demand the ouster of Assad. The protests have been met with brutal government force, including tanks and sniper fire, with thousands killed. Here is a primer behind the headlines in Syria.

Bashar al-Assad

(Photo by Carlos Alvarez /Getty Images)
After being recalled from his ophthamology studies and moving quickly through the ranks, Assad became a staff colonel in the Syrian military in 1999. The presidency is his first major political role. He promised to enact reforms when he took power but those have not been realized, with human rights groups accusing Assad's regime of imprisoning, torturing and killing political opponents. State security is strongly intertwined with the presidency and loyal to the regime. He has described himself as anti-Israel and anti-West, has been criticized for his alliance with Iran, and is accused of meddling in Lebanon.

OPINION: Syria: Home of the Brave

Like with the rebellion against Moammar Gadhafi, there is no going back once you decide to take on a ruthless dictator like Bashar Assad. They may try to lure opponents back with the promise of reform, but no one doubts that mass arrests, torture, executions, or simply disappearances would follow. Dictators don't survive on the enduring love of their people, but on the control that they exert. And for years, those who have dared to dissent in Syria have not been treated kindly. The country has been under oppressive "emergency rule" since 1963, websites are censored and bloggers detained, political opponents and human-rights activists have been arrested, and there are no elections or political parties. Human-rights advocates have characterized the country's human-rights situation as one of the worst in the world.

Who are the Syrian opposition?

(Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Syrians have spilled out into the streets, risking their lives and sometimes paying with their in the process, to protest the tyrannical rule of Bashar al-Assad. But how is the opposition categorized and characterized, and is there enough organization to avoid a power vacuum if Assad is successfully ousted from office?

What the World is Saying About Syria Uprising

"Al-Assad is still the leader of Syria and the leaders of any country have the responsibility to listen to the aspirations of their respective peoples. ...Both sides should make their way to the negotiation table with a strong will, bravery, and political determination," said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Opposition Profile: Malath Aumran

Malath Aumran is the alias for Rami Nakhle, a Syrian pro-democracy activist who has waged a cyber campaign of dissent against the regime of Bashar Assad. After the Arab Spring protests spilled over into the Syrian uprisings of 2011, Malath Aumran has used Twitter and Facebook to keep the world abreast of the crackdown and continued demonstrations. Tweeting in English, the updates has filled a valuable void where media have not been allowed inside of Syria. Because of his activism, Aumran is under threat from the regime and continues his work from a safehouse in Lebanon.

The Arab League

The Arab League condemned Syria for its bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators and sent monitors into the country to observe the government's actions. Learn more about the League of Arab States.

Syria Protests Arab League Suspension

(Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
The Arab League suspended Syria and imposed sanctions over the crackdown that has killed thousands. Syria asked for an emergency meeting of the Arab League to discuss the response.

Syrian Forces Target Civilians Trying to Flee to Turkey

(Photo by Salah Malkawi/ Getty Images)
Protests continued in Syria despite continued government crackdowns, and the government violence was as shocking as ever despite international condemnation. Syrian security forces launched fresh raids against cities near the Turkish border with the intent of keeping demonstrators from escaping across the border.

Khaled Mashal

(Photo by Suhaib Salem - Pool/Getty Images)
What's the government in Damasacus like? For one, it's sheltering the exiled leader of Hamas. Mashal currently directs operations out of Damascus, Syria, and has been the highest-ranking members of Hamas since the 2004 death of Abdel Aziz Rantisi. Mashal has vowed that Hamas will not disarm, leaving intact a major barrier between any global acceptance of Hamas leadership in the Palestinian territories. There's no sign that he'll go to Gaza anytime soon for security reasons, hence his Damascus office means Syria will continue to be criticized for harboring terrorists.

Syria Profile

Settlement in Syria can be traced back to Neolithic communities in 10,000 B.C. It was occupied over the years by a number of groups, including the Phoenicians, Arameans, Egyptians, Sumerians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Hittites, Persians, Macedonians, Armenians and Romans. Syria was an Ottoman province after World War I, when France acquired a mandate over the territory and administered the region until granting the country independence in 1946.
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