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Ideological, Socioeconomic And Political Factors Of The Syrian Civil War

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The ongoing Syrian civil war, which began on March 15, 2011, has become a prime example of modern-day proxy wars. This civil war expanded into a proxy war due to Russia’s and Iran’s aim to keep their ally, President Bashar al-Assad in power countering the interests and influences of the USA, Israel, and their allies. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia and Gulf States have provided funds and weapons in the conflict between the Sunni and Shiite muslims largely to battle Iranian influence. The conflict has resulted in 367,965 documented deaths as of December 2018. Furthermore, the UN has estimated 3 million Syrians have sought refuge in neighboring countries unleashing a regional crisis. Clashing ideologies, socioeconomic status, and political alliances have all played prominent roles in this war. The competing ideologies are authoritarianism against democracy. The socioeconomic factors are the combination of a poor economy and the disproportionate advantages of the Alawite minority. The political (and military) elements are the most relevant to the proxy nature of this war; Russia aims to keep it air and naval bases in the Middle East, Iran aims to spread its regional influence, and Israel and its allies aim to maintain their buffer against Iran.

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Ideological differences were a leading cause of the civil war. For years, the Syrian government has been tyrannical and corrupt with prevalent censorship and surveillance, restrictions of private economic and democratic rights, and callous violence against “suspected opponents”. The Syrian government has additionally been accused of amplifying tension between the Sunni-Muslim majority and the Alawite sect which Assad belongs to. After decades of suppression of the Sunni population and elevation of the Alawite minority economically, sectarian violence developed gradually. The Syrian civil war was a natural progression of the Arab Spring, which started in Tunisia on December 17, 2010 where Mohamed Bouazizi self-immolated as an act of protest against the totalitarian government. His death sparked a regional outcry, that expanded to several other Arab nations. In Syria, the majority of protesters were part of the Sunni-Muslim majority.

Socioeconomic issues have been prevalent for decades, and have caused the development of rage amongst Syrian society. Prior to the Arab Spring, Syria experienced the worst drought in its modern history from 2006 to 2010. Many farmers were impoverished and 1.5 million rural residents had to flee to city suburbs. Most government policies only benefited the bourgeoisie of Syria, and corruption was intolerably widespread. Most Syrians protesters were outraged that long-promised economic and political reforms failed to provide employment and private economic opportunities, whilst hopes for the future withered. By 2011, the utter exasperation of Syrian society “surpassed their fear”, and was “at its peak” when a group of students was arrested and tortured for anti-regime graffiti. Hundreds of thousands of people peacefully protested and advocated for democracy and ending corruption, but security forces responded brutally including firing on demonstrators. This provoked more widespread protests including utilizing arms against security forces, leading to the civil war.

This civil war quickly also became a proxy war. Global and regional powers have military in Syria or have been supplying funds and weapons to proxy troops amongst the combatting sides. Despite the US claim that they have “very little to do with Syria other than destroying ISIS” they have shown their interest in maintaining influence in the Middle East against Russia’s and Iran’s while supporting a more democratic regime. The Gulf States support the US since they aim to limit Iran and protect the Sunni populations. Turkey allies with the US, but intends to keep the Syrian Kurds weak instead aiding the Free Syrian Army, whilst the US predominantly supports Kurds in battle. Russia, in contrast, aims to maintain its influence the Middle East, keep its naval and air bases in Syria, and sustain the Assad regime. Iran also supports Assad providing military aid and intelligence, since it too intends to expand Iranian influence and weaken Israel.

In conclusion, the combination of ideological differences, unresolved socioeconomic issues and political alliances further heightened existing tension and violence in Syria and involved many Western countries and led to a devastating proxy war. Although many of these issues were prevalent in Syrian society prior to the civil war, the Arab Spring unleashed fury in many nations including Syria. It is imperative that all individuals are aware of ongoing crises that involve environmental, societal and economic aspects they can have global consequences. Additionally, it is important to learn from past and ongoing conflicts and recognize conditions that lead to conflict. As has been stated, “those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” Similar to the causes of World War I, President Obama had forewarned that not being involved in the Syrian crisis may threaten Middle Eastern allies and promised to defend them. The reaction of Russia shows concerning parallels to the events of 1914.

To work towards resolving the civl war, rebel militias and the Syrian army must consider a brokered ceasefire to relieve Syrian civilians devestated by the war. Further, if investigations are carried out into the use of chemical weapons, they should be done under the UN. This could limit partiality and the ability of the key nations to impose their interests. It is vital leaders of both oppositions to negotiate for a federated partition in Syria; like the arguably successful Balkans and Sudan civil wars. Creating semi-autonomous regions along the current lines of control may allow successful negotiations for a ceasefire and a basis for a negotiated settlement. Alawites could continue to hold power under Assad while also allowing Sunni autonomy. While there will be no winners, in rebuilding Syria, it is crucial that the international community cooperate to recover from this humanitarian and geopolitical catastrophe.

14 May 2021

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