macrohistory & world report

Syrian Arab Republic

Map of Syria

Syria (capital Damascus) and neighbor states

President Assad

Bashar al-Assad, a trained ophthalmologist, married to an educated English woman of Syrian descent. He accepted with enthusiasm the dictatorial rule of his father.

World Factbook as of October 2014: "Despite modest economic growth and reform prior to the outbreak of unrest, Syria's economy continues to deteriorate amid the ongoing conflict that began in 2011. The economy further contracted in 2013 because of international sanctions, widespread infrastructure damage, reduced domestic consumption and production, and sharply rising inflation. The government has struggled to address the effects of economic decline, which include dwindling foreign exchange reserves, rising budget and trade deficits, and the decreasing value of the Syrian pound."

March 31, 2011: Lahcen Achy of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut descibes growing desiccation contributing to a 25% decline in Syria's agricultural output, with people leaving for the city and the poverty rate in Syria's urban southern region doubling during the previous five years. He writes also of cumbersome bureaucratic procedures, a lack of transparent regulations and widespread corruption. He writes of income inequality in Syria increasing in the previous decade. Arcy describes Syria's economic challenges as "feeding the population's growing anger."

Economic growth rate:
2011: -2.3%
2010: 3.2%

Unemployment rate
2013: 17.8%
2012: 18%
2011: 8.1%
2010: 8.3%
2009: 9.2%

Exports "crude oil, petroleum products, fruits and vegetables, cotton fiber, clothing, meat and live animals, wheat."

Oil production
2010: 401,000 barrels per day (Ranks 34th in the world). Consumes roughly 73% of what it produces.


Syria is listed by the World Factbook as having an estimated minus 9.73 growth rath for 2014.

July 2014: 17,951,639

Birth rate and deaths per 1,000 population, estimated for 2014
Births 22.7, deaths 6.51 (lower rate than the US, which is 8.15 per thousand. Syria has a low percentage of people over 55, which accounts for its low death rate. Sixty-five and older are 3.9% of the population compared to 13.9% for the United States. According to Syria's numbers the killing can go on indefinitely or until lacking aid from Iran the Syrian economy collapses completely. No, I take this back, economies are people interacting with people and never collapse completely.

Wikipedia: "The number of fatalities in the conflict, according to the Syrian opposition website Syrian Martyrs, is 114,466, updated to 31 August 2014."

Living in an urban area
2010: 56%, up from 54% in 2008

Ethnic groups (year unknown)
Arabs 90.3%; Kurds, Armenians, and others 9.7%

Sunni Muslim 74%, Alawite, Druze, and other Muslim sects 16%, Christians 10%, a few Jews in Damascus, Al Qamisli and Aleppo.


South of Turkey. West of Iraq. 193 kilometers of coastline along the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. Equivalent to 430 by 430 kilometers. Mostly desert.


The Syrian government has been described as a hereditary dictatorship. It is a one-party state – the Baath Party.

There is a parliament, the People's Council, Majlis al-Shaab, 280 seats, chosen by popular vote for four-year terms. Parliament is controlled by the Baath Party, Syria's only leagal political party.

Capital: Damascus. 

Recent History

World Factbook: "Following World War I, France acquired a mandate over the northern portion of the former Ottoman Empire province of Syria. The French administered the area as Syria until granting it independence in 1946. The new country lacked political stability, however, and experienced a series of military coups during its first decades."

Since 1967, all schools, colleges, and universities have been under close government supervision by the Baath Party. Bashar's father was leader of the Baath Party.

July 2000, Bashar al-Assad, following the death of his father, is chosen President by national referendum. He ran unopposed.

Aug 2001, The Damascus Spring ends. Bashar al-Assad had promised reforms. Prominent intellectuals in the "Manifesto of the 99" had called for the cancellation of the state of emergency, the abolition of martial law and special courts, the release of all political prisoners, and the right to form political parties and civil organisations. Bashar's brother, Maher, has persuaded his brother to crack down. The "Damascus Spring" comes to an end with the arrest of Mamun al Homsi, a legislator representing Damascus, after he launches a hunger strike in opposition to corruption.

May 2006: Judging from quotes in an article in the New Yorker, by Lawrence Wright, Syria has a huge army of secret police, "a complete absence of legal protections,"  and one "can go to jail for thirty-five years and nobody will ask about you."

2006-11 During these years, writes Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, as much as 60 percent of Syria land suffered "one of the worst droughts and most severe set of crop failures in its history. " He adds that the UN reported that t more than 800,000 people had their "livelihoods wiped out by these droughts, and many were forced to move to the cities to find work." Writing in April 2012, Friedman goes on to say suggest there were social dislocations that contributed to the unrest in Syria and that the US should be interested in mitigating environmental threats where we can.

March 25 2011. When political upheaval erupted in Tunisia and Egypt earlier this year, a few teenagers in Syria spray-painted slogans that the police didn't like. These youths were treated brutally, and this sparked some expressions of discontent, which were also handled with brutality. The government was making matters worse for itself and making what Hannah Arendt wrote seemingly true: that a government weakens itself by using violence against its own people. The killing of one demonstrator was followed by larger demonstrations and more deaths, culminating in today's massive demonstrations across Syria, with security forces again firing on demonstrators, creating more martyrs for the uprising.

On the side of the government are people who benefit economically from patronage with the Baath Party – a so-called socialist party – and there are families of people in civil service, the military and security forces.

March 31, 2011: Lahcen Achy, a resident scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, suggests that economic challenges are contributing to a growing anger among Syrians. He writes that Syria's "poverty rate remains high, with one out of every three Syrians living below the poverty line, and social and regional inequalities are increasing. The social contract that prevailed in the 1980s and 1990s – in which the state guaranteed jobs to college graduates and offered free public services and cheap food for its population – no longer holds."

April 19, 2011: Assad announces that Syria is ending emergency rule.

April 22, 2011: Syrian security forces fire bullets and tear gas at tens of thousands of protesters across the country. At least 75 people are killed on the bloodiest day of the uprising.

May 2, 2011: Last week hundreds of members of the ruling Baath Party resigned. The Baath party was weakened before this, while "business deals and corruption took over" as a means by Bashar Assad to consolidate power. "It's very much about family solidarity, not anymore just about maintaining Alawite rule," said the Syrian dissident, Ammar Abdulhamid. He adds,."Power is totally concentrated in the hands of the family." Assad's British born wife, Asma, as first lady has "caused tension within the Assad family, particularly with the president's sister Boushra and his mother Anisseh, who cared little about public relations."

August 18, 2011: President Barack Obama calls for Assad to resign. He orders an executive order freezing all Syrian government assets in the US.

November 7, 2011: In Homs, Syrian troops kick in doors and arrest people after nearly one week of aggression against army defectors and protesters.

November 27, 2011: The Arab League approves sanctions against Syria.

February. 4, 2012: Russia and China veto a UN resolution that backed calls for Assad's resignation as president of Syria.

Feb 6, 2012: The US closes its embassy in Syria.

Copyright © 2009-2013 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.