Three Arab states surround Israel: Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. Each country possesses its own unique physical and cultural geography. Syria is an ancient land with a long history of empires and peoples.
Syria is at the center of the Middle East’s geopolitical issues. Syria gained independence from the French Mandate in 1946. After a few years in a United Arab Republic with Egypt, Syria returned to its own republic. In 1970 Hafiz al-Assad, of the Alawite minority (an offshoot branch of Shia Islam making up about 10 percent of the Syrian population), took over leadership in a coup. In a 1967 war, Syria lost the Golan Heights to Israel. The Golan remains a point of conflict in negotiations between Syria and Israel.
Hafiz al-Assad served as the leader of Syria for twenty-nine years without being democratically elected to the office. His son Bashar took over after Hafiz died in 2000. The Alawite sect held power using military control. Syria has been accused of influencing Lebanon militarily and supporting the anti-Israel groups headquartered there.
The Syrian government strictly controls the economy. There is high unemployment. Water rights for the region are an issue.
Syria has experienced protests and demonstrations, with citizens expressing dissatisfaction with the government because of the lack of democratic reforms, high unemployment, and the loss of civil rights when the government declared a state of emergency in 1963. Hundreds have been killed in violent clashes between the people and government security forces.
The Syrian leaders rule for decades without democratic reforms or widespread personal freedoms for citizens. The Assad regime holds total control over a large military and comprehensive control over political and economic activities.
Syria’s neighbors, the US government, and various European nations have all imposed sanctions and denounced Syria and the Assad regime.