Emile Hokayem’s analysis of Syria’s descent into brutal civil war provides a key insight into the myriad groups and interests involved in a conflict profoundly reshaping the Levant.

As an upbeat and peaceful uprising quickly and brutally descended into a zero-sum civil war, Syria crumbled from a regional player into an arena in which a multitude of local and foreign actors compete. The volatile regional fault lines that run through Syria have ruptured during this conflict, and the course of events in this fragile yet strategically significant country will profoundly shape the future of the Levant. 

Emile Hokayem’s first-hand experience and sober analysis provide up-to-date insight into the myriad opposition groups, the conflicting external interests and the murky calculations of the Assad regime. Tracking the seeds of dissent that laid the groundwork for rebellion, he looks at how Syria’s largely apolitical society mobilised and at the unpredictable dynamics that have been unleashed as the protest movement has radicalised and militarised. In the face of such profound challenges to its four decades of authoritarian rule, Hokayem also assesses the continued resilience of a regime that has escalated beyond the point of return.

‘A well-argued, informative account of the Syrian conflict by an expert who has tracked the crisis every step of the way. An important read for those interested in understanding the evolution of the revolt and the dire prospects for Syria’s future.’
Roula Khalaf, Middle East Editor of the Financial Times

This book offers the most timely and sophisticated analysis of the tragic war in Syria. Its author is one of the most subtle and perceptive observers of the Syrian political scene and relies in his arguments and presentation on primary sources, fieldwork and in-person interviews with a whole range of actors from Syria and the region. You will not find a better work on both the history and current dynamics of this conflict.’
Bernard Haykel, Professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University

Emile Hokayem provides deep insight into the complexities of Syrian society and the demise of a strong state, and, most usefully, walks the reader through the maze of conflicting agendas and interests of the regional players. It is an authoritative account of the most dynamic and difficult period of modern Syrian history. Hokayem’s work will be a valued tool for regional security studies, as Syria’s tragedy is likely to drive the agenda for regional analysis in the years ahead.’
Ellen Laipson, President and CEO of the Stimson Center and Director of their Middle East/Southwest Asia program

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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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