What is Aleppo?

by Marilou Long on September 20, 2016

in Geopolitical,Recommended Reading

George Friedman, the founder of Geopolitical Futures, is also a guest editor for Mauldin Economics.  His recent post on their website titled “Why Syria Matters to You” is a very good historical explanation of what is going on in Syria right now.  From the linked article:

The current regime was founded by Hafez al-Assad, an air force general, in a military coup. He was an Alawite, part of the Shiite sect of Islam. He was also a secularist. Gamal Abdel Nasser, an Egyptian military officer, had staged a coup in Egypt in 1952 and wanted to create a state based on three principles: secularism, socialism, and Pan-Arabism. His vision was the creation not of a caliphate, but of a secular, socialist, unified Arab world, based on military rule. Many regimes were patterned on this, including Assad’s regime in Syria.

But ideology aside, Assad represented the Alawite faction, and what he created was a state built around his faction. Other factions were excluded, oppressed, and not infrequently, killed. However, Alawites are only around 12% of the Syrian population, which was why he relied heavily on the minorities (Christians, mainstream Shiites, Ismailis, Kurds, and Druze) that together constitute 40% of the population. More important, he also relied on many Sunnis. Even today, the regime is alive because a lot of Sunnis have not rebelled against the state. Nevertheless, Assad kept Syria from fragmenting by suppressing any challenge to him. After he died, his son, Bashar al-Assad, kept running the family business. 

The Arab Spring in 2011 generated a challenge to his regime. The problem was that the opposition was deeply split. They spent as much time fighting each other as they spent fighting Assad. Democracy had little to do with it. The Alawite-Sunni split had a great deal to do with it. But the Assad regime had a lot of support.

One of the misunderstandings of US foreign policy has been that tyrants rule only through the threat of violence. That is true, but in order to have a credible threat of violence, you have to have people who are prepared to carry that violence out. And they need to be loyal to you, or they may turn the violence against you. Tyrants do not live alone in isolated palaces. If they did, they wouldn’t live very long.

The Alawites had done extremely well under the Assads. They dominated the military, trade, smuggling, and internal business. They were hated by many Sunnis, especially the more religiously inclined. The Alawites knew that if Assad fell, their position would collapse, and they would become the target. They, therefore, had to resist the uprising, and since they controlled the military, they believed they would not be defeated. Assad was not going to be overthrown by a wildly fragmented and poorly armed and trained opposition. 

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