Analyzing the domestic and international conflict in Syria: Are there any useful lessons from political science?

No. 16 – September 2013
Author: Jörg Michael Dostal
Language: English
 Syrian crisis
 Syrian statehood
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This article contributes to the discussion about opportunities for and barriers against political reform in the Syrian Arab Republic. The point of departure is the assumption that Syrian society and the Syrian state require domestically driven political reform in order to reach a more advanced stage of social and economic development. The basic assumption is that any serious debate about democratization from within Syria requires drawing up a balance sheet of the history of the modern Syrian state in order to learn new lessons to overcome undeniable shortcomings. At the same time, this mobilization of domestic reform forces is the only way forward as the alternative would be to accept the imposition of foreign agendas upon Syria. The subsequent argument is put forward in five sections. In the first section, relevant political science approaches analyzing the Syrian case from a domestic and global perspective are briefly discussed. The second section sketches the early political history of Syria between 1920 and 1970, and the third section explains how the regime led by Hafiz al- Assad was able to use the period after 1970 to consolidate Syrian statehood. Section four analyzes the period of the Presidency of Bashar al-Assad before the current crisis. Finally, section five discusses the most recent escalation of the Syrian domestic crisis. This section also scrutinizes the domestic political reform program as advanced by the Syrian government since April 2011 (essentially the new 2012 Syrian constitution and the new multi-party system). Finally, a conclusion sums up the theoretical and empirical argument.