“You can’t make war in the Middle East without Egypt, and you can’t make peace without Syria” -Henry Kissinger
Syria captured the attention of the world stage along with international powers as the Syrian Civil War continues to rage on with no end in sight. The duration of the war can be easily described as a power struggle between Assad, the Syrian President, and the Rebel factions. In the mix, there’s ISIS carving out a caliphate in the region and waging war on the West. To top it all off, the United States and its allies have different objectives in the region, complicating alliances. Despite the recent noise surrounding the conflict, Syria has been in political turmoil ever since the country’s conception which ultimately, lead to Syria’s downfall and possibly its demise.
Syria never really had a democracy, despite their attempts at forming a democratic government in the past. Syria became a part of the Ottoman Empire in 1516, and as such the region was governed by a series of sultans rather than democratically elected officials. However, when the Ottoman Empire collapsed during World War I in 1918, the region was left to fend for themselves and soon after France took over the country. As a colony of France, once again Syrians never had the opportunity to exercise basic democratic rights. When France left the region in 1946 as a part of the decolonization movement, Syria was essentially left to fend for itself. No constitution, no government and no sense of direction. The country was left in complete political turmoil between those who believed in democracy and those who wanted to go back to the warm arms of the familiar sultanate. When Syria did form a constitution in 1950, the political will to truly follow through with that constitution was minimal. Democracy was a completely foreign concept to many Syrians at the time and as such democratic rights were rarely practiced. So nobody really blinked an eye when an emergency law was placed on Syria, overriding all citizens of their constitutional rights. This ultimately allowed the government to take dictatorial control over domestic affairs and soon, human rights violations became the norm in Syria.
This unsettling precedent allowed current Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad to curb on basic human rights. From curbing free speech to imprisoning any dissenters, Assad showed no mercy. He would rather be feared than loved, employing Machiavellian ideals in order to govern. In 2006, Assad expanded Syria’s use of travel bans to foreign countries, limiting mobility within the average Syrian. In terms of electoral rights, there is only one legal political party in the region, the Ba’ath Party, and all other political parties are deemed illegal. Despite these serious human rights violations, the desire to rebel peaked when Assad isolated Syrians from the outside world. In 2007, a law was passed in Syria requiring all comments from chat forums to be posted publicly. This allowed for the government to essentially cyber-stalk it’s own citizens and attack those who publicly admitted their disdain for Assad on these chat forums. Additionally, in 2008 Assad blocked social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube. As a result, citizens were prevented from contacting the outside world and they were unable to express their disdain for the Assad regime. This isolation from the outside world, from different opinions and views, fueled the desire for basic freedoms and human rights in Syria. In other words, the lack of democracy and political will in the region was more so a catalyst. Isolation is the spark.
So what happens next? Syria rebels. They go to the streets and demand Assad’s resignation. He refused, fired against his own civilians, beginning the bloodbath. Eventually, his own soldiers refused to fire and defected from the Syrian army, forming the Free Syrian Army. Better known as The Rebels. It didn’t take long for the country to fall into the depths of civil war, but it will take decades for the country to develop whenever the war ends.
Syria’s lack of democracy allowed for all of these human rights violations to take place, which eventually resulted in a broken, angry populous attempting to gain the most basic freedoms from a tyrant. However, it was the indifference towards democracy and constitutional rights that allowed for the country to completely veer off course from a first world or even a second world country. It took extreme isolation from the outside world for Syrians to realize the importance of democratic rights, and consequently, stand up for them. But by then, it was much too late. Our pampered Syrian prince, Bashar al-Assad, got much too comfortable living a life of luxury at the expense of his own people and as such, he is not willing to go down without a fight.