Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Civil War in Syria

The upheaval in Syria began in March 2011 as a rebellion, but there is no doubt that the rebellion has morphed into a civil war.

When we think about a state we are referring to an entity that controls its territory, is recognized internationally and has a monopoly on the use of legitimate force.  In a civil war the state no longer controls all or most of its territories, and its use of force is challenged by organized, armed groups (tribes, ethnic or religious groups, or other substate actors) that often employ violence to challenge the state’s legitimacy and control.  When the state, as in Syria, uses egregiously excessive violence against its own citizens and when its opponents are supported by very large segments of the population, very legitimacy of the state becomes problematic internationally.  This is what has happened in Syria.

Keep in mind that the state may continue to function in a civil war, but only as a shadow of former self.  Thus, during the Lebanese civil war that continued for fifteen years, the state largely lost control of its territory, but componetns of the state continued to function: the Ministry of Education continued to administer annual baccalaureate exams, except for one year; the police functioned in some locales; the Central Bank remained viable; and even the Ministry of Defense, which excercised few military functions outside of its headquaters at Yarze, still operated an intelligence network, provided logistical support to rival factions of hte army, and even selected officers for prestigious training courses in France and the U.S.

Thus, vestiges of the state may continue to function in Syria and the current regime may cling to power, but there is no mistaking that Syria is ensnared in a civil war. 

Civil wars end.  When the war ended in Lebanon in a stalemate there were some adjustments of the political formula that defined the regime, but post civil war Lebanon does not look too unalike pre-civil war Lebanon in key respects, particularly the sectarian division of power.  As in Lebanon, if the enemies of the regime fail to vanquish the ‘Alawi dominated region, the end of the Syrian war may fall well short of the idealistic future that many Syrian may dream about.

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