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

    US, Somalia Launch New Chapter in Relations

    US sends first ambassador to Somalia in 25 years; diplomatic presence and forces pulled out in 1993, after 18 US soldiers were killed when militiamen shot down military helicopter

    Brexit Vote Ripples Across South Asia

    Experts say exit is likely to have far-reaching economic, political and social implications for a region with deep historic ties to Britain

    Russian Military Tests Readiness With Snap Inspections

    Some observers see surprise drill as tit-for-tat response to NATO’s recent multinational military exercises in Baltic region

    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.
    Testing Bamboo as Building Materiali
    X
    June 27, 2016 9:06 PM
    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video New York Pride March A Celebration of Life, Mourning of Loss

    At this year’s march in New York marking the end of pride week, a record-breaking crowd of LGBT activists and allies marched down Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, in what will be long remembered as a powerful display of solidarity and remembrance for the 49 victims killed two weeks ago in an Orlando gay nightclub.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapides’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora