Syria - can someone explain what's happening?

(13 Posts)
Woodifer Thu 13-Dec-12 19:29:13

Can anyone explain what is happening in Syria - I am so ignorant of the situations (not even sure who Assad are, or what the Russians have to do with it).

Thanks

Woodifer Thu 13-Dec-12 19:31:07

Oh gosh Assad is the president! Not an organisation - D'Oh!

JessePinkman Thu 13-Dec-12 19:46:14

My understanding may be deeply flawed and incorrect.

I have read that the Syrian people are fed up of President Assad. He is University of London educated, he was going to be a dentist, but his older brother died. He is married to a woman who has Syrian parents but was raised in England and was a city trader, or account manager.

The rebel groups have links to the Taliban, which is why I suspect that there hasn't been an international intervention.

That and to replace a dictator with a democracy is hard when there has been no precedent. It is likely that less well educated, or internationally respected leaders will take over and it is rife for corruption.

There is a theory that it is an ideological war between the majority, the rebels, and the minority, the leaders. I read this to be like the argument for keeping Northen Ireland in the UK.

The Assad regime is cruel. When rebels rose up in one city all the electricity was cutt off, including that of hospitals that were using that electricity to run incubators and keep babies alive. Obviously amongst other things, but that was the story that upset me.

At the end of the day when there is a conflict like this there are men struggling for power whilst women and children suffer. Mrs Assad is believed to have left Syria with their children.

I am more than happy to be better informed on the situation.

GranToAirMissiles Thu 13-Dec-12 19:47:08

There has been an uprising. The rebel army has been able to gradually win more and more ground from Assad's forces, but there has been a stalemate for many months. The Russians have supported Assad, and thus prevented any UN intervention to try to protect the mass of the population who are caught in the middle of all the fighting and bombardment. The Russians have military bases in Syria, hence their support for the regime. However it looks as if they now think that Assad cannot win.

Okay, you may remember the big wave of popular uprisings in the Middle East last year -- starting in Tunisia, spreading to Egypt, and as part of which we had the war in Libya and the end of Qaddafi.

During all this, there were also popular and peaceful protests in Syria. As background: Syria is majority Arab and Sunni Muslim, but with large numbers of other ethnic/religious groups. One of these minority groups, the Alawites, has ruled Syria (brutally and corruptly) for decades. They have also been allied with Iran, have interfered constantly in Lebanon and have hosted a number of terrorist groups that operate in the region.

The president of Syria is Bashar Assad, he succeeded his father in office. His extended family and cronies run Syria and are massively corrupt and autocratic. There have been major human rights issues in Syria for a very long time. In particular, the security services use torture and have always cracked down hard on dissent. Assad's father, in 1982, killed an estimated 20,000 people in Hama after an uprising there.

So when the protests started last year, Assad cracked down on them harder and harder. People were arrested and tortured, tanks were sent into cities.

It has gotten worse and worse until earlier this year the international community tried to get peace negotiations and UN observation going, but that has not worked out at all.

The brutal crackdown has led the once peaceful protest movement to become a proper armed uprising, with many different groups of rebels, all supported by different actors.

Some of those rebels are jihadists (not Taliban Jesse but linked with Al Qaeda groups). They are very fierce fighters who want Syria to become an Islamic state. Many Syrian rebels, however, despise the jihadists and are only taking their help because they need it. Most of the rebels are local militias, the opposition is really not unified at all.

Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are openly supporting the rebel groups, while the US and European countries are providing various levels of aid and covert help. Iran is supporting Assad, and Russia and China are giving him political cover as well.

I could go on and on blush sorry but I guess that's the background. Does that make sense?

Woodifer Thu 13-Dec-12 20:26:19

Thanks everyone! Dreaming that is a particularly good summary. I don't mind if you go on.

I just went to look on Wikipedia (there is quite a long article on the Syrian Civil War - but it is quite densely detailed and a bit hard to take in).

Thanks smile

I'll just add that everyone is very worried about what comes next. Assad is doomed, it's just a matter of time (although unfortunately it could still take quite a bit of time). There are worries that he might use chemical weapons, but many people think he's not quite that crazy. There are rumours that some kind of exile deal is being worked out.

But who takes over? As I said, the opposition is already really at odds with each other, even in the face of a common enemy.

All the regional neighbours will be trying to get their faction into power and get more and more involved.

Right now there is a lot of sectarian killing and people worry that if Assad falls, all the Alawites in the country will be slaughtered.

There is a worry that the Kurds in Syria will try to create their own autonomous area.

It's a huge mess, and unfortunately it all has serious implications for what is also happening in Lebanon, Iran, the Gulf, Turkey, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is likely to be going on for a very long time.

And of course, it's the civilians who are suffering the most. What's happening to them is utterly barbaric.

Imagine purposefully bombing a playground full of children, to punish a town. It's just unimaginable.

ZebraInHiding Thu 13-Dec-12 20:55:01

Wow! Thanks for starting the thread op, and others for all the info provided. Very informative!

Dreaming, if you don't mind, could you onward give a quick synopsis of the uprisings last year, as background? I was confused then, but you have such a clear way of explaining things! (if the op doesn't mind, of course!)

ZebraInHiding Thu 13-Dec-12 20:55:29

That onward was meant to be please! Sorry!

Woodifer Thu 13-Dec-12 21:09:34

No zebra/dreaming that would be fab - I think I remember watching a documentary about the arab spring on the BBC(?)and just being appalled - there was a protest on a roundabout, and a hospital(where the government just opened fire) - I don't know what country these were in though.

Hey thanks smile

Gosh, I don't know where to start!

Let's see, before the uprisings, you had a situation in much of the Arab countries in the Middle East and North Africa where you had autocratic regimes that had been in power for many, many years. They were all massively corrupt, did not tolerate very much dissent, and engaged in many kinds of human rights abuses. (This varied a lot among countries of course.)

Many of them were supported to various degrees by the US and Europe, mostly in the interest of stability. Better to have in power a dictator who will help you go after jihadists and sell you oil, than any of the groups who might replace him.

At the same time, the populations in these countries were increasingly frustrated. There are lots and lots of young people with no jobs, no hope, no options. The people in the region not only had to deal with repression, they had to deal with poverty and lack of opportunity.

This frustration is a big reason why Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood received support from parts of the population. Many of these groups have strong social justice platforms.

The catalyst for the Arab uprisings happened in Tunisia -- it's the most amazing story really. A fruit vendor named Mohammed Bouazizi set himself on fire and died, in protest of the corruption and unfair treatment he was being subjected to by authorities. His act sparked demonstrations that led to the departure of the Tunisian president, and fed protests in Egypt -- the massive protest in Tahrir Square that led to the downfall of Mubarak there. And also, the unrest in Libya that eventually culminated in civil war and our intervention.

Unfortunately, the removal of autocrats doesn't solve the problem. In Egypt again now there are massive protests and unrest because of actions taken by the Muslim Brotherhood, which came to power in elections. Libya is still a mess. And of course, Syria is a nightmare.

So it's a very volatile time and we will have to see what happens.

The problems aren't just political though -- it's not just about who's in power. The problem is that the societies as a whole have been massively damaged by decades of corruption and repression. It's a whole system that needs to be reformed, it will take a long time, if ever.

I don't know if that answers anything, sorry if it's really general but it's so hard to be concise! (not that I'm being that concise, sorry...)

Woodifer -- that was probably Bahrain. There was some really serious unrest there but the regime cracked down on it and has stayed in power.

ZebraInHiding Thu 13-Dec-12 21:45:46

Thank you!

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