CRISIS IN SYRIA: How the most violent uprising of the Arab Spring could change the balance of power

in the Middle East
Excerpted from UpFront Magazine, April 2, 2012 Oil and natural gas data from the CIA Factbook Syria is a dictatorship, ruled by President Bashar al-Assad, who inherited power from his father who ruled for 30 years. The ruling family, military leadership and intelligence personnel are all Alawites, a minority Shiite Muslim group which makes up about 12% of Syria’s population. About 75% of Syrians are Sunni Muslims and they make up the majority of the opposition to the government. There are secret police and paid informants who track rebel movements and individuals fighting against the government. Syria’s closest ally is Iran. Iran funnels money and weapons through Syria to militant Muslim groups like Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad, which the U.S. considers terrorist organizations. If the current dictator al-Assad loses power, it would be a major defeat to Iran and a positive step for the U.S. and Israel because it would cut off a major supply line to terrorist groups. Many Middle Eastern countries citizens’ were protesting during March 2011, collectively this is called “The Arab Spring.” Syrian protests centered on the torture of students who had put up anti-government graffiti and demonstrations quickly spread across the country. The government responded with force by shooting demonstrators. In February, government troops surrounded part of the city of Homs, turning heavy weapons on apartment buildings and killing many civilians. The army would not allow food or medical supplies in or the wounded people to get out. Many civilians have crossed into Turkey to escape the fighting. It is not entirely clear who the opposition to the Syrian government is. U.S. officials are fearful that Al Qaeda is trying to “stir the pot” in this civil war to create more turmoil in the region. If the majority Sunni group wins power, the U.S. is fearful that they would pursue revenge killings and attacks on minorities which would include the Alawite Shiites and Christians supportive of Assad’s regime. Syria is crossed by oil and natural gas pipelines. Ports on the Mediterranean Sea, Persian Gulf and cities in Iraq and Iran depend on getting these resources across desert areas so that they can be sold on world markets. Oil reserves here are in excess of 2.5 billion barrels and oil exports total 262,000 barrels per day. There are over 1,240 miles of pipeline. Natural gas reserves are approximately 240.7 billion cubic meters with 1,964 miles of pipelines to deliver this commodity to market. President Obama has called for Al-Assad to give up power, saying, “It’s time to stop the killing of Syrian citizens by their own government. The window for a peaceful transition is closing. It’s now more a question of what happens after he falls.”

Syrian President al-Assad

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