Below are a few resources focusing on the causes and consequences of the ongoing (hopefully soon to be recent) civil war in Syria. (‘War and Conflict’ in relation to development is part of the A Level Sociology Global Development topic).
The causes of the civil war in Syria
This Guardian video does a reasonable job of explaining some of the causes of the Syrian Civil War in five minutes. NB it has its critics – see below!
The trigger event which caused the Civil War in Syria was when 1000s of people took the street in January 2011 to demand political reforms (e.g. elections) inspired by ‘The Arab Spring ‘ – a wave of violent and non-violent protests which had swept across many North African and Middle Eastern Countries in December – January 2012.
The protesters were protesting about the brutal rule of dictator president Assad who had ruled Syria in the interests of a relatively small elite since the year 2000, when he took over from his father, who had ruled the country since the 1970s, having modernised it while brutally repressing any dissent.
Assad’s response to the protests was to violently repress the initially non-violent protests by shooting over a hundred demonstrators. Over the coming months some of these armed themselves and formed small groups of rebels – the ensuing conflict between Assad’s security forces and the rebels resulted in 60 000 deaths in the first 18 months of the conflict.
The root of the conflict can be further traced back to the after math of World War I when France and Britain established the boarders of the Middle Eastern Countries, lumping many different ethnic groups and religions into Syria. The ethnic/ religious breakdown of Syria’s population is approximately 12% Alawites (President Assad’s ethnic group),8% Christians, 3% Shiites, and 74% Sunnis.
NB – The video has an equal amount of likes and dislikes – with many of the commentators pointing to the fact that the video misses out the role of the USA in causing conflict all across the middle east – commentators argue that the US has a long history of arming rebel groups in the Middle East as part of its foreign policy to deliberately destabilise the region.
Who is Fighting Who and Why?
This second video by VOX starts off by pointing out that the war in Syria is a mess, with four main groups involved:
- The Assad/ government forces, backed by Russia and Iran,
- The Rebels, backed by the Saudis, Turkey and the USA,
- The Kurds, also backed by the USA
- ISIS, which established a ‘Caliphate’ in an area which spread across the Syria-Iraq border.
This video focuses more on how the conflict has develop and points to the important fact that Syria has now become a ‘Proxy War’ in which other nation states are effectively fighting each other by funding different factions within the conflict, but without being directly involved themselves.
By 2013 money and troops were being funneled to the rebels by Sunni Muslims (e.g. the Saudis) While Iran (Shia Muslims) funneled money and troops to Assad.
In late 2013, the USA stepped into the war when Obama signed a secret deal for the CIA to train and equip the rebels.
In February 2014 ISIS emerges – which focuses on fighting the rebels and the Kurds, not Assad, and the US now has an ongoing dilemma which confuses matters and possibly prevents the US from taking effective action – who is it’s real enemy – ISIS or Assad?
Up until this time, Assad was losing ground to both the rebels and ISIS until September 2015 when Russia stepped in by bombing US backed rebels, and to date (December 2016) it seems like Assad is likely to defeat the rebel forces.
NB – As with the previous video, this also has its critics, so as with all sources, be skeptical of the validity!
Causes of the Civil War in Syria – A Summary
To my mind, for the purposes of A level Sociology you can simplify the causes of this conflict thus:
- Nasty bad men (dictators) in the middle east don’t allow people to vote and oppress anyone who opposes them.
- People in many middle eastern countries want the right to vote and basically governments who don’t abuse their human rights.
- They use social media to organise and publicise protests – which spread all over the middle east and quickly to Syria
- The nasty dictator, Assad, wants to cling onto power so he kills hundreds of the protesters
- Other nations have a role to play in perpetuating the crisis – Russia and Iran by funding Assad and the USA by funding the rebels.
- NB – Don’t fall into the trap of seeing the USA as backing the ‘good guys’ and supporting democracy versus the bad Russians and crazy Muslims who want to keep the evil dictator Assad in place because that’s in their economic/ ideological interests – the USA has a history of backing ‘evil dictators’ itself, when they support US interests at least.
- You could further trace all of these problems back to the ethnic and religious divide/ tensions in Syria, which in turn was at least partially created by the French and British when they invented the country by drawing up artificial boarders after World War I.