Syria’s long civil war

Glenn Robinson writes: The first year and a half in the current round of Syria’s long civil war took as many lives as the three-week orgy of violence in the city of Hama that ended the last round in 1982. In both cases, some 25,000 to 30,000 people were killed, and in both cases, the root issues and the competing sides have been the same: a minoritybased regime, allied with other minorities along with privileged elements from the majority population, ruling over a poor and often dysfunctional state that does not tolerate dissenters.

The last round in the Syrian civil war began after the regime of Hafez al-Assad in 1976 intervened in Lebanon’s civil war. While that intervention had broad regional and international support, it was far more controversial at home. For Syrian forces to come to the aid of Lebanon’s Christians — who were on the verge of defeat at the hands of Muslim forces — was seen by pious Sunni Muslims in Syria as proof positive of the heretical nature of the Assad regime, a regime dominated by Alawites, an offshoot of Islamic Shiism.

The resulting low-intensity civil war, instigated by the Muslim Brotherhood and fueled by forces that had given rise to the rapid growth of Islamist politics throughout the Middle East in the 1970s, continued in Syria for six years. Assassinations, attacks on Alawite military cadets, the mass murder of Muslim Brotherhood prisoners, and ultimately a crippling commercial strike brought the Assad government to the brink of collapse.

To ensure the survival of his regime, Hafez al-Assad cut a political deal with his bitter rivals, the Sunni bourgeoisie, heirs of the notable class that had dominated Syrian politics for centuries. This alliance between Alawite military power and Sunni (and Christian) economic muscle gave Assad the political cover he needed to launch an assault on Hama, the stronghold of Muslim Brotherhood power in Syria. By leveling much of the city with a relentless artillery barrage, Assad drove the Muslim Brotherhood underground, thereby winning the first round of Syria’s long civil war. [Continue reading...]

(H/t Joshua Landis)

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