Every day when I watch the news, there is always some unrest in middle east. If I try to understand it, there is too much information which gets overwhelming to grasp at once. Every time there is an atrocity like recent one in Aleppo, we learn about it, feel sorry for it for a day or two, and then forget about it.
This time I want to understand who/what/when and why… I had to start somewhere. I picked Syria. Not so long ago, I held the opinion “all muslims are our brothers and sisters.” However, it has never been so black and white… especially in Muslim World.
First of all Syrians do not want to leave their homes and many still hope to return some day. As per the book (Hope more powerful than sea), when Syrian civilians flee persecution they go to neighboring countries like Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon etc., but it’s not an open free entry… while these countries are fully aware of the unrest in the country, they do not let the people in at the border unless they pay a huge sum of money to the guards. If they cannot afford it they have to go back. They take a huge risk while trying to flee and now must take even more risk going back to their homes.
Post elections, one of the early executive orders signed by Mr. Trump was the Muslim ban. The ban listed seven countries, of which, Syrian refugees were banned indefinitely. There are about 13.5 million Syrian refugees of which 6 million refugees are internally displaced in Syria and about 4.8 million outside of Syria. I have always wanted to understand why people are fleeing Syria. I may not know all the reasons yet but one of the major reasons is their president Bashar–Al–Assad.
Bashar-Al-Assad, has been given the title of dictator. His regime is termed/described “brutal.” However, there are conflicting reports about him which makes it hard to conclude which side is right. There are some that claim he is a good president and that the opposition is promoting an agenda of regime change.
On June 26th 1990, Muslim brotherhood carried out an assassination attempt on then President Hafez-al-Assad by throwing grenade and firing machine guns as he waited for an African diplomat in the Guest Palace in Damascus. Hafez-al-Assad survived the attack. Ten days later, he passed a law stating, “Membership in Muslim brotherhood is a capital offence punishable by death.”
Later in Feb. 1982, opposition group sniper attacked Syrian soldiers. They destroyed police posts and homes of government officials. Thereafter, they declared the city of Hama to be liberated from Hafez-Al-Assad’s rule
To this uprising, Hafez-Al-Assad responded forcefully by sending 12,000 troops to besiege the city of Hama. Tanks surrounding Hama, shelled the city for three weeks. They executed as many as 1000 people. It was reported that soldiers killed a total of 40,000 people. It is regarded as one of deadliest massacre in Syrian history.
Assad family has ruled Syria for four decades. Hafez Al-Assad was born in a poor Alawite family. He joined the Ba’ath party as a student and later became a lieutenant in Syrian Airforce. Post Syrian independence in 1948, due to political instability, there were several military coups. He rose to ranks through these coups and gained mass popularity in domestic politics. By 1970, he became the prime minister of Syria. He then sought to what is referred to as the “corrective movement.”
To understand the current situation in syria, it is important to understand the demographic distribution in Syria. Sunni’s make up to 74% of mostly of Arab, Kurdish, and Turkish ethnicities. Shia’s make up to 13% and Druze which make up to 3% of the total population. Alawite’s are a predominant Shia group and Syria is a Sunni majority country.
Syrian constitution only allowed Muslims to become president. During the “corrective movement, “Hafez-al-Assad presented himself as a pious Muslim. Although an Alawite, he did everything from religious stand point to blend in and gain support of the Ulama – the educated Muslim class. He gave prominent positions to Sunni Muslims in his cabinet, showed strong opposition to Israel and by 1970, he was verified as an authentic Muslim by the Sunni Mufti of Damascus.
After gaining enough power, Assad now wanted to be the leader of the Ba’ath party and therefore he ordered the arrests of several incumbent party leaders and replaced them with his own supporters. With strong hold in the party, in 1971 he was nominated for presidency as the sole candidate and won the presidency unopposed by 99.6% vote. Assad now established a powerful, centralized presidential system with absolute authority in Syria.