A Regime Built to Last

Bashar al-Assad inherited the state of Syria from his father Hafez al-Assad in the year 2000. Hafez had been in power for 30 years, which may not seem like a very long time- but it is actually by far the most stable regime to hold control in Syria since the state was liberated from France in 1946. In the period between its liberation and Hafez al-Assad’s rise to power, the state underwent 10 coups- the first of which was actually sponsored by the United States in an effort to control “prime real estate upon which to wage the Cold War” against the Soviet Union. How is it that the Assad regime has maintained this impressive stability, especially considering their religious sectarian differences with 75% of the Syrian (Sunni) population? The Alawite sect, to which Hafez and Bashar belong, comprises only 11% of the Syrian population, and yet the Assad regime has managed to stay in power for over 40 years. According to James Gelvin, a professor at UCLA, the regime has made itself “coup proof” in a three step process very similar to the former Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq. First, “coup critical positions”, such as the commander of the presidential guard, are given to trusted family members and members of the Alawite religious sect. Second, they employ what is referred to as the “military-mercantile complex” where they reward and protect the Sunni business class who obtain wealth through kick backs and “black marketeering”. In this way, they obtain their loyalty even over their own religious sect (as demonstrated in the 1982 Muslim Brotherhood uprising in Hama, where the Sunni business class sided with the Alawite regime over their own religious sect). The third aspect of “coup proofing” consists of overlapping the ashbah security force with the regular military. It seems that the regime is crumbling under this year’s opposition, but reflecting on the history of just how far the regime will go to maintain power (in 1982 10,000-20,000 civillians were killed in the Muslim Brotherhood uprisings) it’s hard to say if this coup will actually succeed- and if it does, will it be able to maintain stability for long?

1 comment for “A Regime Built to Last

  1. Anuj Kapoor
    October 3, 2011 at 10:08 am

    Thanks again for another informative background and deeper context for the events taking place in Syria. Here’s an article that might help you think further about where and how Asad’s regime may be vulnerable or, at least, one of the tactics the opposition is using, “Hactivism” (from Al-Jazeera)


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