Home

Erik Moberg ©:

5. Syria

 

Our next country, Syria, has a population of 26 millions. Most of its inhabitants, or 92 %, are Muslims. And among the non-Muslims, the Christians are important. Among the Muslims some 80-85 % are estimated to be Sunnis and the rest Shiites. Within these main groups there are however further, important divisions. In particular, there is, within the Shiites, the Alawite sect to which the president Bashar Assad belongs.

 

In 1970 the present president’s father, Hafez Assad, brought his family to power in a bloodless coup. The regime was utterly repressive–including a secret and omnipresent military intelligence service and torture against those causing trouble. In 1982 a Muslim Brotherhood revolt against Hafez Assad in the city of Hama was crushed, probably leaving some 25 000 dead. Then, in 2000, Bashar Assad, his son and an ophthalmologist, inherited the presidency. At first, as a result of the power transfer, the repression seemed to ease. Syria was, in spite of its very heterogeneous population, a rather peaceful, or even sleepy, state. It was also quite stable, and its stability was appreciated by, among others, its neighbors including Israel. This stability also meant that the average educational level of its population was quite high; many Syrians were high level professionals.

 

But so, and suddenly, as a result of the Arab Spring in 2011, everything changed. Revolts started as protests against the imprisoning of a group of teen agers having used graffiti for denouncing local government and corruption. Thus, and as in other Arab states, what was primarily wanted was less corruption and more freedom. Bashar Assad’s reaction was however utterly brutal and the situation soon developed into a full-scale civil war. This war gradually and increasingly became a religious conflict with Sunnis on the rebel side and Shiites on Assad’s side. Furthermore the rebel side became more and more split and conflict-ridden within itself, in particular after the entrance of IS in 2013 on that side. External powers have also intervened on both sides: Iran, the major Shiite nation, on Assad’s side for favoring the Shiite cause, and Russia, also supporting Assad, for geopolitical reasons–above all access to the Syrian Mediterranean coast is important for Russia. Furthermore some Western powers are supporting some fractions on the rebel side. Finally, the presence of Kurdish areas in Syria, along the country’s northern frontier, adds to the complexities. When this is written in the beginning of March 2017 the war is still going on and there is no end in sight.

 

We do not have to go further into the details of all of this. The conclusions are, for our purposes, quite clear. The conflict, or rather the horrible civil war, in Syria is basically an internal Muslim conflict triggered by the Arab Spring. Before that the country was quite stable, and after that the conditions have become horrible. This is also indicated by the figures in table 1 (the table will be found in the first part of this series dated February 1). Even if they have risen continually from 2008 to 2015, the rise after 2011 is much sharper than the rise before. And Syria’s figure for 2015 is indeed by far the highest for all countries. Furthermore we see that the sharp emigration rise came earlier in Syria than in Afghanistan and Iraq. In Syria there was a great expansion from 2011 to 2012 and that expansion became still stronger in the following years. In Afghanistan and Iraq the expansion did not start until 2014.

 

Thus, and that may be the most important conclusion so far, the Arab Spring, which  did not play any role at all in Afghanistan and Iraq, was of fundamental importance in Syria.

 

Table 2 puts some extra light on Syria’s exceptional situation. In that table all nations from table 1 (except Georgia, Russia, Sri Lanka and Turkey for reasons already given) are included. We thus see that the relation between the highest and the lowest number of asylum seekers in the years 2008-2015 is far higher for Syria than for any other country. And we also see that the number of asylum seekers in 2015, as a percentage of the total population, even if not the highest, still is quite high.

 

Table 2: More about the asylum seekers and their countries of origin

 

 

 

Populations in millions

Asylum seekers 2015 as a percentage of the total population

Relation between the highest and the lowest number of asylum seekers in the years 2008-2015

Afghanistan

32

0,6

16,5

Iraq

32

0,4

11,6

Syria

24

1,6

81,2

Pakistan

192

0,0

5,2

Iran

80

0,0

4,7

Nigeria

174

0,0

3,5

Somalia

9,6

0,2

1,5

Eritrea

5,4

0,9

5,8

Kosovo

1,8

4,1

6,8

Albania

3,2

2,2

56,8

Serbia

7,1

0,4

4,8

Macedonia

2,1

0,8

17,3

 

– * –