Following the 8-month armed conflict and the immediate withdrawal of international forces, Libya was left to function on its own, filled with weaponry, small arms and the devastation of a large scale civil war.310 The National Transitional Council, after 10 more months of control over the ‘liberated’ state, left the power to the elected General National Congress in August 2012.311 The most significant problem faced by the new government of Libya was around 1.700 groups of militia emerging from the rebellion against Gaddafi.312
The disarmament of these groups has been a great concern. Recently the militia blocked government functioning at the highest level when the Prime Minister Ali Zeidan was kidnapped and held hostage for a few hours in October 2013.313 The militia previously seized government building in order to pass a law banning Gaddafi-era officials from serving.314
Since there are many different militia groups in different areas of the country with different backgrounds and agendas, some of them integrated to the governmental system, it is not possible to determine a single cause of the on-going power struggle in Libya.315 However it is clear that the Libyan central government does not have the authority or the means to control all of the groups316 and the recent abduction of the prime minister is proof.317 The powerless state of the government is mainly due to the fact that following Gaddafi’s fall, law enforcement mechanisms, such as the police force could not be re-established.318 Since the government cannot achieve it on its own, it relies on the militant groups for maintaining local security.319
Militia in the East blocked the government oil facilities and some international trade ports for the duration of a month, costing the oil-dependent Libya an estimated $130 million.320 Following the violent overthrow of the 40-year-old dictators, some local groups want recognition and position for their losses, some groups have Islamist agendas, some are said to have connections with al Qaida and groups in Benghazi where the protests started, state their pre-revolution marginalization did not change.321
On a more international note, there have been reports that Gaddafi’s arsenal is being smuggled out of the country to conflicted areas close by, such as Mali, the Gaza strip and even Syria.322 This is an indication of the instability throughout the country as the problems relating to proliferation, not only affect the fragile dynamics of post-revolution Libya, but the entire region in the aftermath of the ‘Spring’.
a. From the independence to the United Arab Republic
Syria gained independence in 1946 from France. Following the independence, its economy grew fast. However, Syria suffered from political instability until the late 1960s.323 Two years after the declaration of independence, Syria got involved in the Arab-Israeli War against the lately-founded State of Israel, which ended up with the signing of an armistice agreement with Israel in July 1949 as the last Arab country.324
Three years after gaining independence, the democratic rule ended with a US-supported325 military coup led by Hussni al-Zaimy. This was the beginning of a “coup loop”, as two coups followed the first one within a couple of months, first by Sami al-Hinnawi326 -colleague of al-Zaimy-, then by Adib al-Shishakli.327 The last coup undermined civilian rule and resulted in 1951 in the complete seizure of power of al-Shishakli. He ruled the country until 1954 and then was removed from the presidency by another coup.328
After the fall of al-Shishakli, the civilian rule was restored but it was to face instability again, generated from abroad. The fall of Al-Shishakli’s supported political manoeuvring among competing groups, which led Arab nationalists and socialists to come to power.
From 1946 –the independence- to 1956, within ten years, the state had twenty different cabinets and drafted four different constitutions, which reflects the abovementioned political instability.329
Martial law was declared in Syria during the Suez Crisis of 1956, following the Israeli invasion of the Sinai Peninsula and the intervention of the British and French troops. In November 1956, Syria signed a pact with USSR, with which Syria provided a footing for communist influence within the government, in exchange for military equipment.330 This advancement increased the Turkish security concerns regarding the South-eastern borders of Turkey and especially Iskenderun, a former land of Syria, with a possibility for an attempt to retake the land.331 During this high-tension period, communists gained more power over the Syrian government and military and the heated debates within the United Nations were the only effective solution to the threat of war.332
The everlasting instability in Syrian politics proceeded after the coup staged in 1954. The similarity of Syrian and Egyptian policies and more importantly the wave of Pan-Arabism paved the way towards Syria and Egypt forming a union.333334 On February 1, 1958, presidents of Syria and Egypt announced the creation of the United Arab Republic.
The union did not last for a long time due to economic difficulties and political clashes335 and collapsed in practice with Syria seceding from the union. The seceding occurred in the wake of the coup and then Syria was re-established as the Syrian Arab Republic.336 The political instability shaped the following 1.5 years with several coups reaching its highest level on March 8, 1963. With the coup in 1963, which resulted in the seizure of power by the Military Committee of the Syrian Regional Branch of the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party, the National Council for the Revolutionary Command (NCRC), composed of 12 Ba'thists and eight Nasserists and Independents, was founded to rule the country. However, the Military Committee, to ensure a complete command of power, made the decisions on the agenda of NCRC before its meetings.337
b. First Ba’athist government
The Syrian coup in 1963 took place in the next month of the Ba’ath coup in Iraq, which led to a consideration of the possibility of a federation with Egypt, as in the failed attempt of the United Arab Republic, and Iraq controlled by the Ba’ath. An agreement was adopted in Cairo on April 17, 1963, for a referendum on the question of the tripartite union to be held in September 1963. However, due to serious conflicts in the policies of the parties, the plan for a tripartite federation was laid aside and the new governments in Syria and Iraq, both occupied by the Ba’aths, started to work on the opportunities of a bipartite union, until the overthrow of the government in Iraq in November 1963.338
In May 1964, President Amin Hafiz of the NCRC promulgated a provisional constitution, establishing a National Council of the Revolution (NCR), a legislature with appointed members from mass organisations –such as labour unions-, a presidential council with vested executive power and a cabinet.339
c. Second Ba’athist government
On February 23, 1966, a group of military officers staged an intra-party coup in Syria. The putschists340 imprisoned the ousted President Hafiz, dissolved the cabinet and the National Council of the Revolution and finally revoked the provisional constitution. On March 1, a regionalist and civilian Ba’ath government was formed. The coup was described by its leaders as a "rectification" of Ba'ath Party principles.341
With the Six Day War, taking control of the Golan Heights from Syria, Israel weakened the radical socialist government formed by the 1966 coup.342 In 1970, Syria catastrophically intervened with a great amount of troops, equivalent to a regiment, to the Trans-Jordanians during the Jordanian Civil War, also called as Black September. Syria claimed the attack to be on behalf of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation.343 Jordanian counter attack resulted to the detriment of the Syrian side and hence Syrian forces retreated. With the swift fall-back of Syria and due to the strength of the Jordanian side, the Palestinians agreed to ceasefire and the hostilities ended in a meeting of the Arab League in Cairo.344
The Syrian retreat led to a conflict in the Ba’ath Party between an extremist military wing and a moderate civilian wing.
d. Baath Party under Hafez al-Assad
In November, 1970, after having observed a power struggle between Salah Jadid and Hafez al-Assad, a bloodless military coup –Syrian Corrective Revolution– was staged, led by the Defence Minister Hafez al-Assad. Having the civilian party leadership ousted and the presidential seat assumed by Hafez al-Assad, he began his term of office with efforts to create an organisational infrastructure for his government and hence to consolidate control.345 Therefore, the 173-seated People’s Council was gathered. The Ba’ath Party had 87 seats in the Council, while the other seats were divided among minor parties and “popular organisations”.346 In March 1971, Assad’s presidency was confirmed for a 7-year term by a national referendum. To broaden the base of his rule, Assad formed the National Progressive Front in March 1972, a coalition of parties led by the Ba’ath Party, and local councils for Syria’s 14 governorates were established with elections. In March 1973, a new constitution went into force, which was shortly followed by the second parliamentary elections for the People’s Council.347
On October 6, 1973, which happened to be the holy Yom Kippur holiday of Jews and the Ramadan holiday of Muslims at the same time, Syria and Egypt staged a surprise attack to the Israeli-occupied territories, namely the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights, which started the Yom Kippur War.348 The element of surprise did not change the result that Egypt and Syria lost their initial gains in a warfare of three weeks and the Israeli occupation continued.
In early 1976, Syria was given two mandates to intervene in Lebanon: the first was given by the Lebanese President Elias Sarkis due to the disadvantageous proceeding of the Lebanese Civil War for the Maronite Christians, while the second was given by the Arab League.349 First, the Syrian troops were involved to prevent the Christians from being overrun, but then it turned to the beginning of the 30-year-long Syrian presence in Lebanon. During the following 15 years of the Lebanese Civil War, which ended with the Taif Agreement, Syria struggled both for maintaining control over Lebanon and for undermining Israel in the southern parts of Lebanon, through the Lebanese forces as proxy powers. Claimed to be an occupation, Syrian presence in Lebanon lasted until 2005, with a heavy-handed influence over Lebanese politics.350
It is also claimed that the abovementioned Syrian presence was an act of colonisation.351 This claim is based on the fact that about a million Syrian workers, who are more preferable over Palestinian Arabs and Lebanese workers due to their demand for lower wages, moved to Lebanon to search for jobs with the encouragement of the Syrian government. Furthermore, the Lebanese government granted citizenship to over 200 hundred Syrian residents in the country with a Syrian pressure.352
Despite the ever-increasing power of the authoritarian regime, fundamentalist Sunni Muslims rejected the fundamental values of the secular Ba’ath rule and objected to be ruled by the Alawites, whom they consider heretical. The ultraconservative Muslim Brotherhood led an armed insurgency against the Ba’ath government from 1976 to 1982, when the fundamentalist opposition was crushed by the government, causing thousands of dead and wounded.353 This led to a serious decrease in anti-government protests during the rest of Hafez al-Assad’s term of office.
Syria’s relations with the Arab states and the Western World marked a dramatic change in the last 10 years of Hafez al-Assad’s term, after Syrian participation in the US-led coalition against Saddam Hussein.354 Syria attended the Madrid Conference of 1991, convened by USA and USSR to start a peace process involving Israel, the Palestinians, Lebanon and Jordan along with Syria. Then Syria had face-to-face negotiations with Israel which failed to reach a result.355
Following the Council elections in 1998, violent protests and armed clashes took place in Latakia and were generated by the long-running feud between Hafez al-Assad and his younger brother Rifaat, who attempted to stage a coup in 1984 but was eventually expelled from the country. Opposition sources claimed that the clashes resulted in hundreds dead and wounded.356
Hafez al-Assad died on June 10, 2000, by a heart attack, after a rule of 30 years.
e. Bashar al-Assad
Following the death of Hafez al-Assad, the People’s Council amended the constitution so that the required minimum age for the presidency be 34 instead of 40, which allowed Hafez’s son, Bashar al-Assad, to be eligible for the nomination by the Ba’ath party.357 On July 10, 2010, Bashar al-Assad receiving 97.29% of the total votes in the elections was elected the new President.358
From the death of Hafez al-Assad in July 2000 to August 2001, an intense debate on political and social issues took place in the Syrian politics –Damascus Spring–, with numerous political forums emerging and having groups of like-minded people meet in private houses to debate the abovementioned issues.359 The most famous forums were the Riad Seif Forum and the Jamal al-Atassi Forum. Bashar al-Assad, able to speak English and French and married a British-origin woman, was said to have “inspired hopes for reform”. However, the Damascus Spring was concluded in August 2001 with the imprisonment of ten leading activists who had called for democratic elections and civil disobedience.360
II. International and internal tensions in the rule of Bashar al-Assad
On October 5, 2003, Israel bombed a site near Damascus, claiming “the site was a terrorist training facility for members of Islamic Jihad361”, which is contradicted by the Islamic Jihad claiming the site was not in use, and the Syrian government claiming the site was on a civilian area.362 This bombing was condemned by European governments and considered as “a violation of international law and sovereignty rules”.
The US Congress adopted the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act in December 2003, to stop alleged Syrian support for terrorism; end Syrian presence and domination in Lebanon; stop Syria’s alleged development of weapons of mass destruction; attempt to block Syria’s illegal oil import from Iraq and end illegal shipping of military items to anti-US forces in Iraq through international sanctions.363
The riots occurred in al-Qamishli in 2004 was a catastrophe for an increase in ethnic tensions.364 According to Kurdish sources and Amnesty International, several people participated in the protests were arrested and nine people were killed.365366 In June 2005, thousands of Kurds demonstrated in the same city to protest the assassination of Sheikh Khaznawi, a Kurdish cleric.367 As a result, a policeman died and four Kurds were injured. In October 2005, the Damascus Declaration was publicised, prepared by leading opposition figures and led by Michel Kilo –a Syrian Christian writer and a human rights activist-. The Declaration criticised the Syrian government to be “authoritarian, totalitarian, and cliquish” and to be the main reason of the current crisis. It further called for the implementation of a democratic regime.368
On September 6, 2007, a Syrian military facility was bombed with no claim of taking responsibility. Syria accused Israel for the bombing; Israel in response claimed the indicated site to be a nuclear facility with a military purpose, which was denied by Syrian authorities.369
In late 2008, US Special Operations Forces carried out an attack to the Syrian territory from Iraq. The attack was called “criminal and terrorist”, claiming all the casualties were civilians, by the Syrian government. Meanwhile, the target was alleged to be a network of fighters from foreign origins who travel to Iraq via Syria to join Iraqi insurgency against the US-led coalition in Iraq and the Iraqi government.370
III. The Structure of the Opposition371
Throughout the process, the civil war in Syria has slowly changed in content more or less becoming an international conflict with the participation of multi-national actors and involvement of international factors therein. This concluded as a slight variation in the opposition profile with a comparatively minor change in the image of the regime.
The main combatant force of the opposition is the Free Syrian Army which has been reportedly active since the 29th of July, 2011.372 It was mostly formed by the military personnel who defected from the regime’s military to join the rebellion. In the beginning of the upheaval, it adopted the tactics of guerrilla warfare, but by the time with its increasing power and influence, it has started to occupy cities, towns and villages in some critical regions within Syrian territories. The FSA has been alleged with war crimes and crimes against humanity for several times, which caused its credibility to be questioned by the world community373 like kidnapping, torture and execution as some components of the opposition publish on the internet.374 The situation is summarized by the words of Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director of Human Rights Watch in her open letter to the leaders of the Syrian opposition: “The Syrian government’s brutal tactics cannot justify abuses by armed opposition groups. Opposition leaders should make it clear to their followers that they must not torture, kidnap or execute under any circumstances.375 Its relations and collaboration with radical Islamists and jihadists like Ahrar al Sham, al Tawhid Brigade and al Nusra Front have manifested suspicion on its reliability.376 Yet, FSA represents the main fighting power and the only officially-regarded military recourse to be supported by the countries in attention.377 The FSA officially gives political support to the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces.378 Furthermore, the Syrian National Council (SNC) was founded on August 23, 2011 with the contribution of mostly the Muslim Brothers-oriented politicians, several dissidents and other parts of the opposition centres of Syria, who fled the country, being located in Istanbul, Turkey. Even though the SNC expressed its concerns regarding the militarization of the movement, it has been generally supporting the armed activity against the regime. Post-revolutionary Libya became the first country to recognize the SNC as the only authority of Syria, while the USA, the UK and France recognized it as the only official representative of Syrian people alongside with several UN members. On 11th of November, 2012 the SNC agreed to be part of a rather umbrella organization with other opposition units involved, forming up the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces.379 The recently formed coalition has a council consisting of 63 members in total and 22 members from the SNC.
Its stated goals were:
1. Preserving national sovereignty and independence of decisions
2. Preserving geographic unity
3. Preserving the people's unity
4. Emphasising a political transition can only begin after "Bashar al-Assad and the symbols of his regime are brought down", and "those responsible for the spilling of Syrian blood are brought to trial"
5. Emphasising the importance of establishing a civil, pluralistic and democratic state.380
The Free Syrian Army also supports the National Coalition as most of the opposition381, while the jihadist fractions fighting in Syria aiming to found an Islamic state unanimously rejected the recognition of the coalition.382 Further, the organization named Friends of Syria, with its 130 delegates from different countries declared that they recognized the coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people on 12 December 2012.383 More than a hundred government delegates, including from the US, France, Britain and the Gulf countries, have gathered in the Moroccan city of Marrakesh to unveil measures to support the newly formed Syrian group.384 Some particular powers like China and Russia refrained from this recognition progress.385 The USA386, the UK387, Turkey388, Spain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait , and the UAE389 recognized the coalition as the sole legitimate representative of Syrian people, as France took a further step recognizing the organization as the future interim government of Syria.390 The remaining member states of Friends of Syria accepted the terms of recognizing the coalition as a legitimate representative with the Assad regime as well.
Another prominent actor within the civil war is the PYD which represents the armed wing of the Kurdish presence in the northern part of the country. It is considered as a terrorist organization by Turkey, USA, NATO and European Union due to its affiliation with PKK. The main argument of the party is having autonomy under the banner of a democratic Syria, even if the will of independence is also mentioned. Yet, its political stance is slightly complicated due to its ideological and armed collisions with both the FSA and the regime.”
IV. Political Islam in Syria391
“When Bashar al Assad became the Head of State on 17 July 2000, hopes of the reformers were high. Assad put forward a policy of development and modernization in Syria. For instance, more than 600 political prisoners were released in October 2000. The Islamist question and its political implications for Syria have become especially remarkable since the fall of Baghdad in 2003392.These developments enabled the creation of a national platform which brought together secularists and conservatives.
Recently, in contravention of the repression on the Muslim Brotherhood under the United Arab Republic with Egypt (1958-61393), there had been no major clashes with the state. However tensions increased following the military coup of 1963, when the Baath party took power. In 1964, clashes took place around the Sultan mosque in Hama, and were followed by a series of arrests. In 1967, the Muslim Brothers organized demonstrations, following the publication of an article in an army journal considered to be blasphemous394. At the beginning of 1973, the Brothers also showed their discontent with the newly-published constitution which made no reference to Islam; following this wave of unrest, a reference was introduced as had been expected.395
The political tension led to an armed rebellion by Sunni Islamists in 1976 to last until 1982, centring in Hama and Aleppo in the north of the country. The insurgency was suppressed by the series of actions which were called the “Hama Massacre” in February, 1982.396
Since the roots of the current opposition are also composed of the elements of radical Islamist movement in a serious percentage, the international community started to take the fact into consideration while specifying policies over Syrian issues including both parties. For instance, Russia expressed her concerns for the threat of a possible radical Islam take-over in Syria, reminding the examples in Iraq and Libya397. On 1 November 2012, US Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton mentioned that they would not let the radical Islamists “hijack” the revolutionary process in Syria.398399”