Emile Hokayem’s analysis of Syria’s descent from a peaceful uprising to a brutal civil war provides key insight into the myriad groups and interests involved in a conflict that will profoundly shape the Levant.
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  • Introduction

    Regardless of the fate of the House of Assad, Syria as the world has known it for the last four decades no longer exists. The unfolding and still very uncertain outcome of the uprising that started in March 2011 has put an end to over 40 years of stability under authoritarian rule. It has also unleashed powerful and antagonistic indigenous forces and dynamics that already contend to control and shape...
  • Chapter One: The decay of the Syrian state

    Besides legitimacy derived from a nationalistic, confrontational and ostensibly pan-Arab foreign policy that appealed to Arab audiences, Bashar al-Assad was believed to enjoy substantive personal popularity, though measuring it in a closed and controlled society like Syria’s was always a near-impossible task.  Hafez picked his son Bashar as his successor after the death of his older son Bassel in 1994 in a car accident. Many Syrians found relief in the smooth...
  • Chapter Two: The uprising and the regime

    In just a year, the Syrian uprising evolved from a largely peaceful and organic revolution into a full-scale sectarian civil war. New and complex dynamics have been created as forms of secular and peaceful protests have receded and given rise to a multitude of actors with divergent motivations and objectives.  The mobilisation of the largely apolitical Syrian society happened gradually and with much hesitation. While repressed and controlled, it was not...
  • Chapter Three: The rise of the opposition

    Prior to the uprising, Syria’s traditional opposition appeared fragmented and dejected. It comprised ageing Islamist, liberal, leftist and nationalist figures and factions that had struggled to maintain a public profile, coalesce and mount a significant challenge to the Assad regime. While several opposition groups operated in exile, notably the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), many oppositionists remained in Syria. Outmanoeuvred by Assad and disconnected from the grievances and outlook of Syria’s youth...
  • Chapter Four: The regional struggle over Syria

    On the eve of the Syrian uprising, the Assad regime was confident and assertive, having weathered considerable regional challenges. Its position had markedly improved after years of isolation, pressure and uncertainty. Relations with regional rivals had ameliorated at no apparent cost to its posture and strategic choices, and compared to other Arab leaders, Assad’s popularity ranked second only to that of Hassan Nasrallah, Hizbullah’s charismatic leader. Assad’s position had reached its...
  • Chapter Five: Syria in the international context

    The outbreak of the Syrian revolution followed, and was undoubtedly inspired by, momentous events across the region. The Arab uprisings that swept Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain and Yemen from December 2010 had already shaken long-held assumptions about the stability and resilience of authoritarian regimes, sending confused Arab and non-Arab policymakers scrambling for adequate responses. Both the region’s political culture and order seemed on the verge of upheaval.  Even then, initial international...
  • Conclusion

    As Syria descends into a multifaceted and intensifying civil war, any medium-term prognosis needs to consider the extent of political and sectarian factionalism, humanitarian dislocation, societal cohesion, state capability and foreign meddling. As of early 2013, however, reliable data and information about each of these factors remains sorely lacking, while political dynamics are fluid. Consequently, it is impossible to make a firm prediction about the situation in Syria, and where...

Emile Hokayem is Senior Fellow for Regional Security at IISS-Middle East.

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