Arab Spring in Syria

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The Arab Spring was a series of popular pro-democracy uprisings that enveloped several largely Muslim countries. The events began in the spring of 2011. However, the political and social impact of these popular uprisings remains significant today. The term “Spring” refers to the Revolutions of 1848 also known as the “People’s spring” when political upheavals swept Europe. Ever since spring has been used to describe movements toward democracy. Western media began popularizing the term “Arab Spring”. After successful uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt presidents, it also gave hope to Syrian pro-democracy activists.

The movement starts in March 2011 when a peaceful protest erupted in Syria after 15 boys were detained and tortured for writing graffiti in support of the Arab Spring. One of the boys, a 13-year-old, was killed after having been brutally tortured. The Syrian government, led by President Bashar al-Assad, responded to the protests by killing hundreds of demonstrators and imprisoning many more. The event caused the situation to develop into a full-blown civil war.

Mass Protesters also demand reforms, the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad, allowing political parties, equal rights for Kurds, and broad political freedoms, such as freedom of the press, speech and assembly.

In July 2011, defectors from the military announced the formation of the Free Syrian Army, a rebel group aiming to overthrow the government, and Syria began to slide into war. The Free Syrian Army (FSA) is a loose conglomeration of armed brigades which is backed by the United States, Turkey, and several Gulf countries. While the protests in 2011 were mostly non-sectarian, the armed conflict surfaced starker sectarian divisions. Most Syrians are Sunni Muslims, but Syria’s security establishment has long been dominated by members of the Alawi sect, of which Assad is a member.

In Syrian crises there are domestic as well as foreign factors involves. Mainly four main groups are fighting first the Syrian armed forces and its allies which include Iran, Russia and especially the Lebanese Hezbollah secondly Kurds then ISIS and the four groups are Syrian rebels which are supported by the US, Gulf states, Turkey, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

According to the reports, the USA intelligence Agency CIA trained nearly 10,000 rebels. As in the crises, the main conflict is regarding sectarian Shia and Sunni. Assad regimes get support from Shia states as well as a Shia militant organization but on the other side Al-Qaida the Sunni militarized organization backed by the Sunni Gulf States. The Islamic Republic of Iran has also done amazing efforts to keep the president Bashar al- Assad in power. Iran has provided significant support for the Syrian government in the civil war which includes financial, technical, and logistical as well as the training of the troops. As the main reason for supporting the Assad regime by Iran is to counter the US and Saudi Arabia.

Foreign backing and open intervention have played a big role in Syria’s war. Russia entered the conflict in 2015 and has been the Assad government’s main ally since then. Since 2016, Turkish troops have launched several operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) near its borders, as well as against Kurdish groups armed by the United States. The US has armed anti-Assad rebel groups and led an international coalition bombing ISIL targets since 2014. Israel carried out air raids inside Syria, reportedly targeting Hezbollah and pro-government fighters and facilities. The first time Syrian air defences shot down an Israeli warplane was in February 2018.

The USA has repeatedly stated its opposition to the Assad government backed by Russia but has not involved itself as deeply. Former US President Barack Obama had warned that the use of chemical weapons in Syria was a “red line” that would prompt military intervention. In April 2017, the US carried its first direct military action against Assad’s forces, launching 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian air force base from which US officials believe a chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun had been launched.

One year later, on April 14, despite Russian warnings, the US launched an attack together with France and the UK, at “chemical weapon sites”. In 2013, the CIA began a covert programme to arm, fund and train rebel groups opposing Assad, but the programme was later shut down after it was revealed that the CIA had spent $500m but only trained 60 fighters.

In September 2015, Russia launched a bombing campaign against what is referred to as “terrorist groups” in Syria, which included ISIL as well as anti-Assad rebel groups backed by the USA. Russia has also deployed military advisers to shore up Assad’s defences. At the UN Security Council, Russia and China have repeatedly vetoed Western-backed resolutions on Syria. In December 2018, President Trump announced a decision to withdraw the roughly two thousand U.S. troops remaining in Syria. On January 16, 2019, an attack in Manbij claimed by the self-proclaimed Islamic State killed at least nineteen people, including four Americans. Prior to that attack, only two Americans had been killed in action in Syria since the U.S.-led campaign began.

The U.S.-led international coalition continues to carry out military strikes against the Islamic State and provides support to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and internal security forces. The pullout of U.S. troops has increased uncertainty around the role of other external parties to the conflict including Iran, Israel, Russia, and Turkey as well as the future of internal actors. 

On the other side, Peace negotiations have been ongoing between the Syrian government and the opposition to achieve a military ceasefire and political transition in Syria, but the main sticking point has been the fate of Assad. The first round of UN-facilitated talks between the Syrian government and opposition delegates took place in Geneva, Switzerland in June 2012. The latest round of talks in December 2017 failed amid a tit-for-tat between the Syrian government and opposition delegates over statements about the future role of Assad in a transitional government.

In May 2017, Russia, Iran and Turkey called for the setup of four de-escalation zones in Syria, over which Syrian and Russian fighter jets were not expected to fly. In January 2018, Russia sponsored talks over the future of Syria in the Black Sea city of Sochi, but the opposition block boycotted the conference, claiming it was an attempt to undercut the UN effort to broker a deal.

In a few Arab countries, this movement promotes and brings democracy, freedom but on the other side it also takes towards the civil war. Syria is one of the worst-case for the Arab spring as it leads towards the worst humanitarian crisis. The Syrian refugee crisis is the largest refugee and displacement crisis of our time, affecting about 17.6 million people and spilling into surrounding countries.

Since the war officially began March 15, 2011, families have suffered under a brutal conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands of people, torn the nation apart, and set back the standard of living by decades. About 5.6 million Syrians are refugees, and another 6.2 million people are displaced within Syria. Nearly 12 million people in Syria need humanitarian assistance. At least half of the people affected by the Syrian refugee crisis are children.

According to the United Nations (UN), more than five million Syrians have had to leave the country. Many have gone to neighbouring countries, like Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey or Iraq. More than six million more people have tried to find safety elsewhere in Syria. Turkey is the largest host country of registered refugees with over 3.6 million Syrian refugees living in the country. In February 2020 About 900,000 people in northwest Syria have fled further north, toward the Turkey border, since conflict increased in December 2019.

Many are living in extreme cold and out-of-doors as school and hospitals are targeted with bombardment. The only possible solution to end the war is through a political solution in which influential states can take its part by doing negotiation rather than taking sides in the war.

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Raja Furqan Ahmed
About Raja Furqan Ahmed 2 Articles
The writer is a student of International Relations and Freelance journalist currently based in Islamabad, Pakistan. He can be reached at [email protected]

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