News / Middle East

Syrian Military Loyal So Far

Image made from amateur video released by Ugarit News and accessed via AP TV News on Aug. 8, 2011, shows members of the Syrian military standing near the body of man in the northern Syrian province of Idlib Sunday Aug. 7, 2011. (Contents and date cannot b
Image made from amateur video released by Ugarit News and accessed via AP TV News on Aug. 8, 2011, shows members of the Syrian military standing near the body of man in the northern Syrian province of Idlib Sunday Aug. 7, 2011. (Contents and date cannot b

The Syrian government is defying international criticism of its crackdown on a popular uprising, relying on its armed forces to suppress political dissent. Unlike its counterparts during similar unrest in Egypt and Tunisia, Syria's military has given few signs of breaking with the ruling elite.

Security forces that moved into yet more Syrian towns this week have shown little hesitation in opening fire on civilian areas. President Bashar al-Assad says the troops are acting out of national duty to counter what he calls outlaws, an interpretation of events rejected even by his allies.  

Despite the ferocity with which the operations are being carried out, opposition to the crackdown is likely among at least some of the military's rank and file. Most foot soldiers are from Syria's Sunni majority, long-dominated by the Assad family's Alawite minority.  

They are also closer in social and economic terms to the victims of the crackdown than they are to the nation's rulers, with some coming from the very neighborhoods they must now attack. Their officers, however, are disproportionately Alawite.   

Mourners carry the body of a person during a funeral ceremony in the city of Homs, Syria, in this image made from amateur video released by Ugarit News, August 2, 2011
Mourners carry the body of a person during a funeral ceremony in the city of Homs, Syria, in this image made from amateur video released by Ugarit News, August 2, 2011

And according to human rights groups, commanders are willing to use brutal measures to ensure orders are carried out. Witnesses say soldiers who have refused to open fire on civilians have themselves been shot and killed.    

A few have managed to escape.  

One of the dozens of deserters who have turned up in Lebanon called on others in the Syrian army to reject the government's commands.   

But such well-publicized defections are limited.

"The army in Syria is composed of one million and a half. You cannot talk about 20 cases here and 50 cases there," said Haytham Manna, who is with the Arab Commission for Human Rights.   

So far no brigade, let alone a division, has turned against the government. Part of the cohesion can be attributed to the command structure. Key positions in the security apparatus are held by relatives of President Assad, including his brother Maher and brother-in-law Assaf Chawkat.    

It is a style of family rule seen in Libya and Yemen, where similar uprisings have also been met with force. Perhaps more importantly, power is divided under a complex system devised by former President Hafez al-Assad, Bashar's father, to decrease the chance of an internal coup.   

This has tied security forces far closer to the leadership than, say, in Egypt or Tunisia. In both those nations, the military proved an institution unto itself, and its support of the protest movements was key to the uprisings' success.  

Nadim Shehadeh, a political analyst at Chatham House, says if Syria's political and military leaders were to fall, they would likely fall together.      

"I think what you will find is a crumbling of the whole structure because the inner circle are people that are very tight together," said Shehadeh. "But they are also afraid of any defections or any internal coup. So, if anyone is suspected of being capable of such a defection, he would be dead already."  

But human rights monitor Manna believes its not too late for the military to act independently.

"The most important thing is a position from the military apparatus as a whole," said Manna.

Manna argues that the military might be deterred by the prospect of a civil war.   

But as the military operations continue, hopes of avoiding a broader conflict are fading.

Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs