Syria, one of the oldest continuous inhabiting piece of human settlement in the Middle East, had been throbbing heart of various world empires throughout the history. Assyrians, Romans, Omayyads, Seljuks, Mamluks and Ottomans all had acknowledged its strategic geographical and political importance and strived to control over it.
Syria ushered in new era, after fall of once old mighty Ottoman Empire. After burying Sharif Hussain’s dream of an Arab empire, French conquered Syria. This Milestone event of History shaped the destiny of Syria like any other middle-eastern country. The country witnessed fierce anti-colonial struggle in 1925, War with Israel in 1948, 1964, 1966-67, and 1973. After facing turbulent phase of political instability, Syria got Hafez al Assad, who emerged as a strong Arab man, from the pan-Arab Secular Ba’athist Party, through military coup though. Later on, he ruled the country for next 30 year with Iron hand like any other ruthless dictator.
Killing, torture, heavy crackdown on opposition and dissident remained favourite tool of regime which was clearly reflected in Hama massacre of 1984, where 20,000-40,000 Muslim Brotherhood members were mercilessly slaughtered in a single stroke.
However the most horrific chapter of Syrian history started with advent of Arab spring in 2011. Country ushered in worst era of violent conflagration that dismembered the entire nation. What started as Peaceful protest movement against oppressive rule of Assad, morphed into Full fledge Civil war with sectarian overtones that plagued the entire Syria. Superpower’s and regional power’s intervention made situation from bad to worst. Violence has taken myriad forms, from organised military repression to extremist jihadi violence. Unprecedented level of atrocity and brutality is being committed from both side, ranging from bombardment of civilian residence, Hospitals, to use of banned chemical weapons. Plight of newly born child to dead bodies in the graveyard is the same.
Majority of media houses across the globe trying to show this violent civil war through sectarian lenses. They present shia-Sunni conflict is in the centre of this civil war, which is cocktail of lies and gross dissimulation of facts, on the other hand, they are undermining the socio-economical causes, geopolitics and power struggle of the region.
Subliminally, millions are falling prey to this version of story as our intellect and reason fails to see beyond media indoctrinated myth. But the fact is that economy has been always playing important role in any popular uprising, from French revolution, American revolution, Russian revolution to any contemporary uprisings or revolution and Syria is not the exception.
Conflict arises from practical grievances of socio economical condition, rather than imagined differences of theology.
Economy played most crucial role in raising discontentment among Syrian masses. Floundering economy, deteriorated agricultural industry, mismanagement of continuous famines that affected millions of Syrians during 2006-10, failure of government to provide job opportunities for increasing population, infuriated the rural masses who were previously backbone of Ba’athist regime.
Rampant corruption and nepotism in government job sectors as well as in economic liberalization policy caused discontentment among urban middle class too. There was no hope left among them, and they saw regime change as only recourse to end their sufferings. Arab spring acted as spark to already charged political scenario of Syria.
Fault in economic liberalization policy: Bassar ul Assad’s economic reforms created more problem than it had solved. Economic reforms proved beneficial to urban middle class only. Rural areas and working classes felt neglected, who had been traditional supporter of Ba’ath party. Major portion of country’s resources was spent on cities’ infrastructure. All these measures played significant role in creating sense of dissatisfaction among rural masses. Hence, rural masses were first to joint revolution against regime.
Grievances of Urban classes: As a consequence of rampant nepotism, small group of loyalist who were closely associated with the Assad regime, derived all benefit of economic liberalization. These handful of business groups by the virtue of their close link and family ties with regime, harvested maximum benefit and huge wealth. Assad’s maternal cousin Rami Makhlouf established holding companies that connected major businessman to most of the country’s large project from telecommunication network to oil production etc., belonging to his circle become pre-requisite to obtain state contract, obtaining bank licence or get import permit. He became much hated business figure, an epitome of nepotism.
All these policies created deep resentment among urban masses which outpoured in the form of anti-regime protest.
Demographic change, Unemployment and famine: Another incident that sculptured the fate of nation was extra ordinary population explosion. Continuous famine in country side further exacerbated the already floundering Syrian economy. Government failed to keep balance between job opportunities and increasing population.
‘Syria’s high birth rates until the mid 1990’s (55% of population was under 24 in 2010)(1) and raising unemployed required the creation of as many as 3,000,000 jobs per day. ‘Drought hit the country in 2006, affecting the livelihoods of nearly 1.5 million Syrians and leading to displacement of a similar.’
Ironically, state had no role in both the natural phenomenon, yet its drastic consequences proved fatal for the survival of the regime.
Western sanctions: Syria had strained relations with western powers and she had to pay heavy price for being in the anti-US camp. Western sanctions played significant role in eroding Syrian economy. Restrictions was imposed on access of good, services and capital. Oil production, one of the major source of foreign revenue generation, too was hampered by western sanction and technological backwardness. During 1996, Syria was producing 60,000 barrel per day, which fell down to 30,000 barrel per day in 2011. This was major blow to already crumbling economy of Syria.
Hence, it’s the economic as well as social cause which led to the discontentment among masses. All these festering grievances, resentment against regime culminated into widespread national protest. Assad tried to supress the popular movement with brute force, which radicalise and militarise the once peaceful movement. It was only after the unprecedented crackdown of regime on protestors, it took violent form with sectarian overtones. Sectarian conflict was never the reason of uprising, but it is consequence of ongoing civil war. Giving sectarian colour to popular uprising of the common masses would be gross injustice. Media must introspect themselves.