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The longstanding problems in the Arab countries that have suffered from the repercussions of authoritarian rule culminated in popular protests. The process of protests and riots started in December 2010. The popular protests resulted in changes in office in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya whereas in Syria the regime remained in power despite strong popular uprising and ongoing civil war.
Syria’s war has been the most complex conflict to emerge from the 2011 Arab uprisings, at least twice in the spring of 2013 and in mid 2015. The Assad regime almost collapsed. Its comeback is attributable largely to outside players. The war has evolved through five phases that, along the way, have embroiled foreign figures and militias often on different sides from dozens of countries, regional governments, and global powers.
Phase-I: Protests against Authoritarian regime
The first phase was ignited by protests in early 2011.The phase wasinspired by the Arab Spring uprisings across the Middle East, Syrian adolescents in southern Daraa where anti-regime graffiti on public walls. They were arrested, held for days and tortured, in turn prompting local demonstrations that called for their release.
Phase-II: Hezbollah and IRGC deployed fighters
The second phase witnessed the onset of an armed insurgency and Syria’s descent into full-scale civil war. By 2012, an array of poorly organized opposition groups had formed rebel brigades, many armed by the foreign patrons. They seized key cities in the north, including parts of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city. As the government lost territory in 2013, Lebanon’s Hezbollah openly deployed its fighters and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) dispatched military advisors to prop up the Assad government.
Phase-III: Rise of ISIS
The third phase was marked by the rise of ISIS and other hardline Islamist groups that tapped local sympathizers as well as foreign fighters. In 2014, the creation of the Islamic State caliphate claimed roughly a third of Syrian territory, with Raqqa as its capital. They generated a different set of flash points and frontlines. It also prompted direct U.S. military intervention.
Phase-IV: Russia entered in Syria
The fourth phase, in 2015 and 2016, featured growing Russian military intervention, especially airpower, against moderate rebel factions. Russia deployed some of its most sophisticated weaponry and air defense systems. The roles of Hezbollah and Iran deepened too in Assad led civil war broke Syria.
Phase V: Assad regime fought back
During the fifth phase, the Assad regime retook territory and consolidated its control over most of the country. By the end of 2016, it had retaken major cities, including Aleppo, as well as areas across Syria’s strategic western spine. In 2017, it knit together patches of the countryside to cement the restoration of government power. It recaptured strategic suburbs surrounding Damascus in mid 2018. It seized the city as well as most of southwest Syria by the summer of 2018.
The failure of diplomacy
Each of these phases’ shows the failed efforts at diplomacy, initially led by the United Nations and backed by the United States. But the negotiations, in Geneva, repeatedly deadlocked. In 2017, Russia launched a separate initiative, with Iran and Turkey as partners, that included negotiations in Astana, the Kazakh capital, and Sochi in Russia.
Erupting in the heart of the Levant, Syria’s war had a rippling impact throughout the Middle East; it also reverberated deep into Europe. It sparked the largest humanitarian crisis since the end of World War II only surpassed in 2018 by Yemen’s war. Millions of refugees poured into Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and even Iraq and Egypt as well as several European countries, where the refugee crisis redefined the political landscape.
At home, more than half of Syria’s population was displaced and dependent on humanitarian aid for daily subsistence. Destruction of homes, schools, businesses, hospitals, roads and infrastructure was estimated in the hundreds of billions of dollars.
A new born Salafi Jihadist ideology
Yet, although ISIS has largely been defeated in Syria, the oppressive regime of long-time dictator Bashar al Assad remains in power in the country. The rise of a new generation of jihadists who have espoused a more virulent Salafi-jihadist ideology and focused on seizing territory and creating their own states is still worrisome.