Erik Moberg ©:




Syria has a population of 26 millions of which 92.2 %, 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 the US, with its new president Donald Trump, has intervened on the rebel side, and Turkey, in an operation called “operation Olive Branch” has attacked the Kurds in the Kurdish areas in Syria along the country’s northern frontier This has added to the complexity since two NATO countries are now taking part, one on the one side and the other on the other.


Now, when this is written, in July 2018, the war is still going on even if Assad and his allies have got the upper hand. We do not, however, 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. And this is what triggered the enormous migration.


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