Syria (Arab Republic)
Following World War I, France acquired a mandate over the
portion of the former Ottoman Empire province of Syria. The French
administered the area as Syria until granting it independence in 1946.
The new country lacked political stability, however, and experienced a
series of military coups during its first decades. Syria united with
Egypt in February 1958 to form the United Arab Republic. In September
1961, the two entities separated, and the Syrian Arab Republic was
reestablished. In November 1970, Hafiz al-ASAD, a member of the
socialist Ba’th Party and the minority Alawi sect, seized power in a
bloodless coup and brought political stability to the country. In the
1967 Arab-Israeli War, Syria lost the Golan Heights to Israel. During
the 1990s, Syria and Israel held occasional peace talks over its
return. Following the death of President al-ASAD, his son, Bashar
al-ASAD, was approved as president by popular referendum in July 2000.
Syrian troops – stationed in Lebanon since 1976 in an ostensible
peacekeeping role – were withdrawn in April 2005. During the
July-August 2006 conflict between Israel and Hizballah, Syria placed
its military forces on alert but did not intervene directly on behalf
of its ally Hizballah. In May 2007 Bashar al-ASAD’s second term as
president was approved by popular referendum. Influenced by major
uprisings that began elsewhere in the region, antigovernment protests
broke out in the southern province of Dar’a in March 2011 with
protesters calling for the repeal of the restrictive Emergency Law
allowing arrests without charge, the legalization of political parties,
and the removal of corrupt local officials. Since then demonstrations
and unrest have spread to nearly every city in Syria, but the size and
intensity of protests have fluctuated over time. The government
responded to unrest with a mix of concessions – including the repeal of
the Emergency Law and approving new laws permitting new political
parties and liberalizing local and national elections – and force.
However, the government’s response has failed to meet opposition
demands for ASAD to step down, and the government’s ongoing security
operations to quell unrest and widespread armed opposition activity
have led to extended violent clashes between government forces and
oppositionists. International pressure on the ASAD regime has
intensified since late 2011 as the Arab League, EU, Turkey, and the
United States have expanded economic sanctions against the regime.
Lakhdar BRAHIMI, current Joint Special Representative of the United
Nations and the League of Arab States on the Syrian crisis, in October
2012 began meeting with regional heads of state to assist in brokering
a cease-fire. In December 2012, the National Coalition of Syrian
Revolution and Opposition Forces was recognized by more than 130
countries as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people.
Unrest persists in 2013,and the death toll among Syrian government
forces, Opposition Forces, and civilians has topped 60,000.
Location – Middle East, bordering the Mediterranean Sea,
between Lebanon and Turkey