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What is happening in Syria?

To understand this, it helps to go back in December 2010. When several Middle Eastern countries raised their voices in Paris and ousted their leaders in what has been called Arab Spring.

Image by diema from Pixabay 

In some countries (Egypt and Tunisia) the uprisings were quick and decisive. In some (Libya) the protests led to a short civil war. But Syria was a whole different picture.

Hafez al-Assad of Alawite community (representing only about 12% of the Syrian population) ruled Syria for 30 years. After his death, his son Bashar al-Assad assumed his power in 2000, thus became president of Syria.

At first, he signalled he would be a different kind of leader, but his honeymoon with his people didn't last long, at the Ist sight of dissent Assad tightened the restrictions to free speech, isolated the economy and made clear democracy wasn't in his plan.

After years of repression, the Arab Spring happened, and people of Syria like other Middle Eastern countries took to the streets to demand reforms. Which Assad answered with opening fire against demonstrators.

Any chance of peaceful resolution died with it, small groups of armed rebels started to appear almost immediately, even some Syrian troops defected military to join them and called themselves Free Syrian Army.

Other extremists from 'round region and the world started travelling to Syria to join rebels.
In respond, Assad released Jihadist prisoners to tinge the rebels with extremism (Salafi jihadism) to cut foreign backing. Al Qaeda formed a new branch in the region to boost terrorism, which it called Jabhat al-Nusra ( later changed to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham).

In Northern Syria, Kurds, who also rose from long-sought autonomy informally secede from Assad's rule, with force took control of the region, they call Rojava.

This is when the Syrian civil war became a proxy war, with conflict of global dimensions playing out within Syria.

Iran intervenes on Assad's behalf, supporting an old ally, sending daily cargo flights and hundreds of officers on the ground. But, more than that, it was about countering the influence of its regional rival Saudi Arabia, which backed rebels, sending regular supplies of weapons and money, mainly to counter Iran's influence, and spread its own influence across the region.

This divides the Middle East between mostly Sunni powers, generally supporting the rebels, and Shias, generally supporting Assad.

Then came Russia, backing Assad, its closest ally in the region, if he fell, Russia would lose its key foothold in the Middle East, and thus Tartus,  its only Mediterranean port.

In the year 2014 something happened that transforms the war.

An Al-Qaeda affiliate, based mostly in Iraq, breaks away from the group over the internal disagreement.

The group calls itself the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and it becomes Al-Qaeda's enemy. It basically fights all the group indiscriminately and carves out a mini-state, it calls its Caliphate(with rules so harsh even gulf states wondered). Seizes most of Iraq's territory, and grabbed the limelight.

This is when, the US, horrified by ISIS' atrocities and the mounting death toll begins bombing ISIS. The same year, Pentagon launched its own program to train rebels but will train only those who'll fight ISIS, not Assad.

Turkey starts bombing the Kurds in the North in Iraq and Turkey ( as it could inspire Turkish Kurds to do same), even as these Kurds are fighting ISIS in  Syria, but Turkey doesn't bomb ISIS.

This brings another conflict. The US sees ISIS as the main enemy, but Turkey-US' NATO ally in the region has other priority.

Russia intervenes again on Assad's behalf, sending a few dozen military aircraft to Russian base held in-country, and claims it is here to bomb ISIS, but in fact only ends up bombing anti-Assad rebels, including some backed by the US.


Assad with the help of Russia and Iran sponsored Lebanon based militant group Hezbollah, retakes the Syrian city of Aleppo, knocking the rebels out of their last remaining stronghold.

The US along with rebels assumes alliance with al -Nusra front, Islamists who used to be affiliated to Al-Qaeda, the sworn enemy of America, to fight ISIS.

Gulf states secretly finance ISIS, even though are widely known for funding rebels, who now are fighting ISIS.

And of course, Assad is sworn enemy of ISIS, while allegedly buying oil from the group.

Clearly, there's no like-minded proxy force on the ground in Syria, and with the outside fueling of each of the group, the end is not near insight.

Though the analysts believe Assad will fall eventually, this brings us to another civil war, led by the struggle for power in the region, even to fragmentation of the country.

No matter the outcome, whoever assumes power will inherit a country in shambles and a deeply divided population, and a challenge to fulfil the promises of Arab Spring.

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