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

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal year 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.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More