The Arab Spring protests that took place in March 2011 culminated into a Syrian civil war which is yet to be resolved. The initially peaceful demonstrations supporting President Bashar al-Assad’s resignation quickly turned violent as the government attempted to forcefully suppress the unrest. In response, the opposition also took up arms, marking the beginnings of the civil turmoil that continues primarily for two reasons: multiparty involvement and foreign intervention.
The civil war began as an attempt to overthrow President Assad. At the time, it involved two parties: the rebel groups and the Syrian government under President Assad’s order. As the war progressed, however, more factions were introduced, expanding its participation to include four distinct parties: Assad and the Syrian government, the rebels, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) – otherwise known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Syria (ISIS). Each group is motivated by its own interests which complicates and extends the war. Assad intends to stay in power whereas the rebels aim to overthrow him. The SDF wants to create a democratic and secular Syria whereas ISIS desires an ethnic cleansing. This collection of conflicting interests results in a complex network of interaction between the different factions. President Assad and ISIS are fighting against all factions, whereas the rebels and SDF are primarily fighting Assad and ISIS. Ideological differences and multifaceted interactions increases uncertainty and perpetuates the war.
Foreign intervention also fuels the unrest. This is attributed to disagreements between countries on who to support in the war. In this instance, Iran and Egypt stand against the rebels who are supported by Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. The problem is exacerbated by discrepancy among the five permanent members of the Security Council: the United States, France and United Kingdom support the rebels whereas Russia and China support the current regime. Foreign intervention has transformed the civil war into a proxy war fueled by foreign resources. Therefore, with the constant influx of machinery and aid, the war drags on.
In the midst of conflict, the United States elected its new President. After taking office in January 2017, President Donald Trump comments that he “will absolutely do safe zones in Syria” for Syrian refugees. President Trump’s remark was met with wide criticism. For instance, Joe Stork, from the Human Rights Watch, argues that “there is no indication these so-called safe zones will actually be safe for civilians.” Moreover, the idea was rejected by President Assad. President Trump also decided not to send a US representative to the 2017 Geneva peace talks to reach a political resolution for the war. He has, however, expressed his intentions to collaborate with Russia in air-striking ISIS factions. In comparison with Obama’s administration, Trump seems less willing to take an active role in the crisis – focusing more on ISIS than the conflict between the rebels and President Assad.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that, as of February 2017, there are nearly 5 million Syrian refugees. The mass exodus has placed a burden not only in nearby countries such as Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey but also in Europe where approximately 10% of refugees have fled. This is not including the 6.5 million civilians who have been displaced within the country itself. At this point, the world can only hope that numbers will stop rising with an end to the six-year-old war.
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