Civil war in Syria: the battered country

Status: 03/15/2021 4:49 a.m.

Hundreds of thousands dead, even more injured, millions of refugees: ten years after the start of the uprising in Syria, the country is devastated and divided, and the ruler Assad remains in office. The prospects are bleak.

From Carsten Kühntopp,
ARD-Studio Kairo

In February 2011 there was an uproar in some Arab countries. People take to the streets for their dignity, for freedom and democracy. Teenagers in Deraa, in southern Syria, have an idea. At night they spray a few slogans on the school wall: “Down with the President!” and “You are next, doctor!” – This is also aimed at head of state Bashar al-Assad, who is a doctor by training.

Carsten Kühntopp

Carsten Kühntopp
ARD-Studio Kairo

The young people go into hiding, then the secret service catches them, interrogates them, tortures them, tortures them, one of them tells the Aljazeera broadcaster years later:

They treated us like chickens. They put a pole on the wall and hung us up there. They turned on the water and gave us electric shocks everywhere. We’d hang on the wall for a whole day sometimes, our feet barely touching the ground. Until we confessed.

The family and friends protest

Fathers, relatives, friends take to the streets and shout: “We want our children back.” Security forces open fire on the demonstrators and people are killed. The protests are spreading like wildfire across the country.

Assad makes no serious attempt to reach out to the people. Middle East journalist Sam Dagher says that was a strategy. When Assad’s troops opened fire on the protesters in Deraa, the plan was to kill a few people so that the Syrians could go home – out of fear.

Lessons from Insurrection in Other States

Assad observes how other oppressed regimes behave. His lesson: whoever gives in has lost.

After a few months, the character of the protests changes. In July 2011, deserted officers formed the “Free Syrian Army”. Assad opponents are increasingly using violence themselves.

The Syria expert Volker Perthes looks back: Very quickly, forces from the radical, Islamist, terrorist opposition jumped on the bandwagon of the initially bourgeois, peaceful protests and tried to militarize these protests and the uprising.

Decisive for the war: Russia’s intervention

In September 2015, the Russian air force intervened in the conflict. That is decisive for the war. Assad’s troops can push back the insurgents. They are also supplied with weapons and ammunition by the USA, but they cannot do anything against Assad’s air superiority.

Ten years after the beginning of the conflict, Syria has split into four zones of influence by international powers. The economy is in free fall, people are impoverished, many are starving. Dareen Khalifa of the think tank “Crisis Group” says the lives of the people in the government areas are through the “unwanted consequences of Western sanctions” have become tougher. “But the sanctions are not the main reason for this. In reality, the war and decades of corruption have devastated the economy.”

No prospect of change

Assad survived and is still in power. In a few weeks he will stage a presidential election. Dareen Khalifa doesn’t think anything will change anytime soon. She doubts that the Syrians will mobilize against Assad again. “The conflict has completely exhausted the Syrians. The people know how brutal the regime is. And they see no chances for regime change or for reforms.”

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