International / News / November 7, 2012

Students, professors offer insight on Syrian conflict and Assad regime

Since March 2011, in reaction to the capture and torture of a group of teenagers who painted revolutionary slogans on the walls of their school, a civil war has been growing in Syria.

Both a march in protest of the arrests and the funeral for these teenagers were fired upon by security officers, killing four in the march and one at the funeral. Since then, there has been a mass civil war between the minority and majority groups to overthrow the dictatorship of Syria.

“Another way to think about it — as opposed to thinking of Syria as controlled by the Alawite minority — is to think of Syria as being controlled by a family dictatorship that’s now in its second generation,” Professor of Political Science Karen Kampwirth said.

Bashar al-Assad’s family has controlled Syria since the 1970s. Assad’s older brother had been groomed to be the dictator while he was in Europe being educated, but after a fatal car accident, Bashar became the next in line. Many people believed he would be a reformist leader due to his education and understanding of other countries, but they were soon proven wrong.

“Up until the rise of the Assads, [the Alawites] had been a very impoverished, disempowered minority,” Kampwirth said. “They have done very well under the Assads. They are terrified at the thought of the fall of the dictatorship because they’re terrified at what the very angry majority will do to them. And it’s actually not only the Alawites — the Assads are Alawites — but it’s other religious minorities too.”

The fighting in Syria becomes increasingly violent with every day that passes, and many nations have been putting pressure on the Syrian government to step down. The majority of this pressure has come from sanctions that were put into place and agreed upon by many nations including the U.S.

This has forced Syria into debt by not only forbidding the country to export oil and stopping tourism ,which are main sources of income for the country, but by freezing the government’s money as well. Currently, the value of their currency has crashed and unemployment has increased, while access to essential items such as food and healthcare has decreased. Activists estimate the death toll to be over 36,000 but this number fluctuates drastically based on the source.

The current administration believes that the sanctions they have put on the country will be enough of an impact to cripple Assad and force him to step down. They also believe the rebel leadership should change to become better organized and supported so Assad can be defeated. GOP candidate Mitt Romney agrees with this but believes that the U.S. needs to find rebels that can be trusted and supply them with arms to improve their chances against the Assad regime.

Greg Noth ’12, who spent part of his junior year abroad in Oman, expressed support for the cautious approach pursued by the Obama Administration.

“I think it would be a mistake for us to give rebels heavier weaponry because we don’t really know who they are, and there’s very little centralization or wider coordination between rebel groups across the country, plus, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey are already providing arms,” Noth said. “I hope the U.S. learned its lesson about providing unknown groups with weapons in the 1980s in Afghanistan, when we armed what eventually became al-Qaeda.”

This conflict has received a lot of media attention, but why?

“Israel has always been trying to consolidate its borders and so with the Arab Spring … they don’t have to worry that Syria might come again as a nation-state attacking Israel,” senior Kyle Cruz, who studied abroad in Israel, said. “With that said, there is also the issue of, now that it’s destabilized, the borders are less secure … however Israel is really good with its borders.”

Senior Rup Sarkar said, “People should definitely be trying to pay attention to this, because the U.S. is making a conservative effort to do something positive in Syria or to have their presence known in Syria. And it’s an important issue … especially if we want to live in a world where we have good relations with each other.”


Note: Kyle Cruz is a copy editor for The Knox Student

Serafine George

Tags:  alawite assad bashar civil war kampwirth syria syrian conflict

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