Syria

Introduction Following the breakup of the Ottoman Empire during World War I, France administered Syria until its independence in 1946. The country lacked political stability, however, and experienced a series of military coups during its first decades. Syria united with Egypt in February 1958 to form the United Arab Republic. In September 1961, the two entities separated, and the Syrian Arab Republic was reestablished. In November 1970, Hafiz al-ASAD, a member of the Socialist Ba'th Party and the minority Alawite sect, seized power in a bloodless coup and brought political stability to the country. In the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Syria lost the Golan Heights to Israel. During the 1990s, Syria and Israel held occasional peace talks over its return. Following the death of President al-ASAD, his son, Bashar al-ASAD, was approved as president by popular referendum in July 2000. Syrian troops - stationed in Lebanon since 1976 in an ostensible peacekeeping role - were withdrawn in April 2005. During the July-August 2006 conflict between Israel and Hizballah, Syria placed its military forces on alert but did not intervene directly on behalf of its ally Hizballah.
History

Eblan civilization

Around the excavated city of Ebla in northern Syria, discovered in 1975, a great Semitic empire spread from the Red Sea north to Turkey and east to Mesopotamia from 2500 to 2400 BC Ebla appears to have been founded around 3000 BC, and gradually built its empire through trade with the cities of Sumer and Akkad, as well as with peoples to the northwest. Gifts from Pharaohs, found during excavations, confirm Ebla's contact with Egypt. Scholars believe the language of Ebla to be among the oldest known written Semitic languages, designated as Paleo-Canaanite. However, more recent classifications of the Eblaite language has shown that it was an East Semitic language, closely related to the Akkadian language. The Eblan civilization was likely conquered by Sargon of Akkad around 2260 BC; the city was restored, as the nation of the Amorites, a few centuries later, and flourished through the early second millennium BC until conquered by the Hittites.

Antiquity and early Christian era

During the second millennium BC, Syria was occupied successively by Canaanites, Phoenicians, and Arameans as part of the general disruptions and exchanges associated with the Sea Peoples. The Phoenicians settled along the coast of Palestine, as well as in the west (Lebanon), which was already known for its towering cedars. Egyptians, Sumerians, Assyrians, Babylonians and Hittites variously occupied the strategic ground of Syria during this period; the land between their various empires being marsh. Eventually, the Persians took Syria as part of their hegemony of Southwest Asia; this dominion was transferred to the Ancient Macedonians after Alexander the Great's conquests and the Seleucid Empire. The capital of this Empire (founded in 312BC) was situated at Antioch, modern day Antakya just inside the Turkish border. But the Seleucid Empire was essentially just one long slow period of decline, and Pompey the Great captured Antioch in 64BC, turning Syria into a Roman province. Thus control of this region passed to the Romans and then the Byzantines.

In the Roman Empire period, the city of Antioch was the third largest city in the empire after Rome and Alexandria. With estimated population of 500,000 at its peak, Antioch was one of the major centres of trade and industry in the ancient world. The population of Syria during the heyday of the empire was probably not exceeded again until the 19th century. Syria's large and prosperous population made Syria one of the most important of the Roman provinces, particularly during the 2nd and 3rd centuries (A.D.). The Roman Emperor Alexander Severus, who was emperor from 222 to 235, was Syrian. His cousin Elagabalus, who was emperor from 218 to 222, was also Syrian and his family held hereditary rights to the high priesthood of the sun god El-Gabal at Emesa (modern Homs) in Syria. Another Roman emperor who was a Syrian was Marcus Julius Philippus, emperor from 244 to 249.

Syria is significant in the history of Christianity; Saul of Tarsus was converted on the Road to Damascus, thereafter being known as the Apostle Paul, and established the first organized Christian Church at Antioch in ancient Syria, from which he left on many of his missionary journeys.(Acts 9:1-43 )

Islamic era

By AD 640, Syria was conquered by the Rashidun army led by Khaled ibn al-Walid, resulting in the area becoming part of the Islamic empire. In the mid-7th century, the Umayyad dynasty, then rulers of the empire, placed the capital of the empire in Damascus. Syria was divided into four districts: Damascus, Hims, Palestine and Jordan. The Islamic empire stretched from Spain and Morocco to India and parts of Central Asia, thus Syria prospered economically, being the capital of the empire. Early Ummayad rulers such as Abd al-Malik and al-Walid constructed several splendid palaces and mosques throughout Syria, particularly in Damascus, Aleppo and Hims. There was great toleration of Christians in this era and several held governmental posts. The country's power dramatically declined during later Ummayad rule; mainly due to the totalitarianism and corruption spread among the empire's leaderships, conflict between its general staff, and the successive revolutions by the oppressed and miserable groups. As one Ummayad chieftain responded to a question about the reasons of the decline of their empire: "Rather visiting what needed to be visited, we were more interested in the pleasure and enjoyment of life; we oppressed our people until they gave up and sought relief from us, [...] we trusted our ministers who favoured their own interests and kept secrets from us, and we unhurriedly rewarded our soldiers that we lost their obedience to our enemies.” Ummayad dynasty was then overthrown by the Abbasid dynasty in 750, who moved the capital of empire to Baghdad. Arabic — made official under Ummayad rule — became the dominant language, replacing Greek and Aramaic in the Abbasid era. In 887, the Egypt-based Tulunids annexed Syria from the Abbasids, and were later replaced by the Hamdanids originating in Aleppo founded by Sayf al-Daula.

Sections of the coastline of Syria were briefly held by Frankish overlords during the Crusades of the 12th century, and were known as the Crusader state of the Principality of Antioch. The area was also threatened by Shiite extremists known as Assassins (Hashshashin). In 1260, the Mongols arrived, led by Hulegu with an army 100,000 strong, destroying cities and irrigation works. Aleppo fell in January 1260, and Damascus in March, but then Hulegu needed to break off his attack to return to China to deal with a succession dispute. The command of the remaining Mongol troops was placed under Kitbugha, a Christian Mongol. A few months later, the Mamluks arrived with an army from Egypt, and defeated the Mongols in the Battle of Ayn Jalut, in Galilee. The Mamluk leader, Baybars, made his capitals in Cairo and Damascus, linked by a mail service that traveled by both horses and carrier pigeons. When Baybars died, his successor was overthrown, and power was taken by a Turk named Qalawun. In the meantime, an emir named Sunqur al-Ashqar had tried to declare himself ruler of Damascus, but he was defeated by Qalawun on 21 June 1280, and fled to northern Syria. Al-Ashqar, who had married a Mongol woman, appealed for help from the Mongols, and in 1281, they arrived with an army of 50,000 Mongols, and 30,000 Armenian, Georgian, and Turkish auxiliaries, along with Al-Ashqar's rebel force. The Mongols of the Ilkhanate took the city, but Qalawun arrived with a Mamluk force, persuaded Al-Ashqar to switch sides and join him, and they fought against the Mongols on 29 October 1281, in the Second Battle of Homs, a close battle which resulted in the death of the majority of the combatants, but was finally won by the Mamluks.

In 1400, Timur Lenk, or Tamerlane, invaded Syria, sacked Aleppo and captured Damascus after defeating the Mamluk army. The city's inhabitants were massacred, except for the artisans, who were deported to Samarkand. It was during the conquests of Timur that the indigenous Christian population of Syria began to suffer under greater persecutions.

By the end of the 15th century, the discovery of a sea route from Europe to the Far East ended the need for an overland trade route through Syria. Shattered by the Mongols, Syria was easily absorbed into the Ottoman Empire from the 16th through 20th centuries, and found itself largely apart from, and ignored by, world affairs. see also Ottoman Syria

Ottoman era

Fighting on the side of Germany during World War I, plans by the Entente powers to dissolve this great Ottoman territory could now begin. Two allied diplomats (Frenchman François Georges-Picot and Briton Mark Sykes) secretly agreed, long before the end of the war, how to split the Ottoman Empire into several zones of influence. The Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 set the fate of modern Southwest Asia for the coming century; providing France with the northern zone (Syria, with later the upcoming Lebanon), and the United Kingdom with the southern one (Jordan, Iraq and later, after renegotiations in 1917, Palestine - 'to secure daily transportation of troops from Haifa to Baghdad' - agreement n° 7). The two territories were only separated with a straight border line from Jordan to Iran. But early discoveries of oil in the region of Mosul just before to end of the war led to yet another negotiation with France in 1918 to cede this region to 'Zone B', or the British zone of influence. The borders between the 'Zone A' and 'Zone B' have not changed from 1918 to this date. Since 1920, the two sides have been recognized internationally under mandate of the League of Nations by the two dominant countries; France and the United Kingdom.

French Mandate

The National Bloc signing the Franco-Syrian Treaty of Independence in Paris in 1936. From left to right: Saadallah al-Jabiri, Jamil Mardam Bey, Hashim al-Atassi (signing), and French Prime Minister Léon Blum.

In 1920, an independent Arab Kingdom of Syria was established under Faisal I of the Hashemite family, who later became the King of Iraq. However, his rule over Syria ended after only a few months, following the clash between his Syrian Arab forces and regular French forces at the Battle of Maysalun. French troops occupied Syria later that year after the San Remo conference proposed that the League of Nations put Syria under a French mandate. Syria and France negotiated a treaty of independence in September 1936, and Hashim al-Atassi, who was Prime Minister under King Faisal's brief reign, was the first president to be elected under a new constitution, effectively the first incarnation of the modern republic of Syria. However, the treaty never came into force because the French Legislature refused to ratify it. With the fall of France in 1940 during World War II, Syria came under the control of the Vichy Government until the British and Free French occupied the country in July 1941. A famous singer of the time, Asmahan, assisted the British and free French forces by using her fame to convince the Syrians to allow the forces in without a fight (see Wikipedia reference to Asmahan). Syria proclaimed its independence again in 1941 but it wasn't until 1 January 1944 that it was recognised as an independent republic. Continuing pressure from Syrian nationalist groups and British pressure forced the French to evacuate their troops in April 1946, leaving the country in the hands of a republican government that had been formed during the mandate.

Instability and foreign relations: independence to 1967

Although rapid economic development followed the declaration of independence, Syrian politics from independence through the late 1960s were marked by upheaval. Between 1946 and 1956, Syria had 20 different cabinets and drafted four separate constitutions. In 1948, Syria was involved in the Arab-Israeli War, aligning with the other local Arab nations who were attempting to prevent the establishment of Israel. The Syrian army was pressed out of most of the Israel area, but fortified their strongholds on the Golan Heights and managed to keep their old borders and some additional territory (this was converted into "supposed" demilitarized zones under UN supervision, but then gradually lost to Israel in the inter-war years; the status of these territories have proved a stumbling-block for Syrian-Israeli negotiations).

The humiliating defeat suffered by the army was one of several trigger factors for Col. Husni al-Za'im's seizure of power in 1949, in what has been described as the first military coup d'état of the Arab world. This was soon followed by a new coup, by Col. Sami al-Hinnawi, who was then himself quickly deposed by Col. Adib Shishakli, all within the same year. After exercising influence behind the scenes for some time, dominating the ravaged parliamentary scene, Shishakli launched a second coup in 1951, entrenching his rule and eventually abolishing multipartyism altogether. Only when president Shishakli was himself overthrown in a 1954 coup, was the parliamentary system restored, but it was fundamentally undermined by continued political maneuvering supported by competing factions in the military. By this time, civilian politics had been largely gutted of meaning, and power was increasingly concentrated in the military and security establishment, which had now proven itself to be the only force capable of seizing and - perhaps - keeping power. Parliamentary institutions remained weak and ineffectual, dominated by competing parties representing the landowning elites and various Sunni urban notables, while economy and politics were mismanaged, and little done to better the role of Syria's peasant majority. This, as well as the influence of Nasserism and other anti-colonial ideologies, created fertile ground for various Arab nationalist, Syrian nationalist and socialist movements, who represented disaffected elements of society, notably including the religious minorities, and demanded radical reform.

During the Suez Crisis of 1956, after the invasion of the Sinai Peninsula by Israeli troops, and the intervention of British and French troops, martial law was declared in Syria. The November 1956 attacks on Iraqi pipelines were in retaliation for Iraq's acceptance into the Baghdad Pact. In early 1957 Iraq advised Egypt and Syria against a conceivable takeover of Jordan.

In November 1956 Syria signed a pact with the Soviet Union, providing a foothold for Communist influence within the government in exchange for planes, tanks, and other military equipment being sent to Syria. With this increase in the strength of Syrian military technology worried Turkey, as it seemed feasible that Syria might attempt to retake Iskenderun, a matter of dispute between Syria and Turkey. On the other hand, Syria and the U.S.S.R. accused Turkey of massing its troops at the Syrian border. During this standoff, Communists gained more control over the Syrian government and military. Only heated debates in the United Nations (of which Syria was an original member) lessened the threat of war.

Syria's political instability during the years after the 1954 coup, the parallelism of Syrian and Egyptian policies, and the appeal of Egyptian President Gamal Abdal Nasser's leadership in the wake of the Suez crisis created support in Syria for union with Egypt. On 1 February 1958, Syrian president Shukri al-Quwatli and Nasser announced the merging of the two countries, creating the United Arab Republic, and all Syrian political parties, as well as the Communists therein, ceased overt activities.

The union was not a success, however. Following a military coup on 28 September 1961, Syria seceded, reestablishing itself as the Syrian Arab Republic. Instability characterized the next 18 months, with various coups culminating on 8 March 1963, in the installation by leftist Syrian Army officers of the National Council of the Revolutionary Command (NCRC), a group of military and civilian officials who assumed control of all executive and legislative authority. The takeover was engineered by members of the Arab Socialist Resurrection Party (Baath Party), which had been active in Syria and other Arab countries since the late 1940s. The new cabinet was dominated by Baath members.

The Baath takeover in Syria followed a Baath coup in Iraq the previous month. The new Syrian Government explored the possibility of federation with Egypt and with Baath-controlled Iraq. An agreement was concluded in Cairo on 17 April 1963, for a referendum on unity to be held in September 1963. However, serious disagreements among the parties soon developed, and the tripartite federation failed to materialize. Thereafter, the Baath government in Syria and Iraq began to work for bilateral unity. These plans foundered in November 1963, when the Baath government in Iraq was overthrown. In May 1964, President Amin Hafiz of the NCRC promulgated a provisional constitution providing for a National Council of the Revolution (NCR), an appointed legislature composed of representatives of mass organizations—labour, peasant, and professional unions—a presidential council, in which executive power was vested, and a cabinet. On 23 February 1966, a group of army officers carried out a successful, intra-party coup, imprisoned President Hafiz, dissolved the cabinet and the NCR, abrogated the provisional constitution, and designated a regionalist, civilian Baath government on 1 March. The coup leaders described it as a "rectification" of Baath Party principles.

Six Day War and Aftermath

The new government generally aligned itself with the hawkish Nasser in intra-Arab conflicts over how hard of a line to take against Israel. When Nasser closed the Gulf of Aqaba to Eilat-bound ships, the Baath government supported the Egyptian leader, amassed troops in the strategic Golan Heights to defend itself against Israeli shellings into Syria. According to the UN office in Jerusalem from 1955 until 1967 65 of the 69 border flare-ups between Syria and Israel were caused and started by Israel. The New York Times reported in 1997 that “Moshe Dayan, the celebrated commander who, a Defense Minister in 1967, gave the order to conquer the Golan…[said] many of the firefights with the Syrians were deliberately provoked by Israel, and the kibbutz residents who pressed the government to take the Golan Heights did so less for security than for their farmland.” After Israel launched a preemptive strike on Egypt to begin the June 1967 war, Syria joined the battle against Israel as well. In the final days of the war, after having captured the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip from Egypt, as well as the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem from Jordan, Israel turned its attention to Syria, capturing the entire Golan Heights in under 48 hours.

Conflict developed between an extremist military wing and a more moderate civilian wing of the Baath Party. The 1970 retreat of Syrian forces sent to aid the PLO during the "Black September" hostilities with Jordan reflected this political disagreement within the ruling Baath leadership. By 13 November 1970, Minister of Defense Hafez al-Assad was solidly established as the strongman of the government, when he effected a bloodless military coup ("The Corrective Movement").

Baath Party rule under Hafez al-Assad, 1970–2000

Upon assuming power, Hafez al-Assad moved quickly to create an organizational infrastructure for his government and to consolidate control. The Provisional Regional Command of Assad's Arab Baath Socialist Party nominated a 173-member legislature, the People's Council, in which the Baath Party took 87 seats. The remaining seats were divided among "popular organizations" and other minor parties. In March 1971, the party held its regional congress and elected a new 21-member Regional Command headed by Assad. In the same month, a national referendum was held to confirm Assad as President for a 7-year term. In March 1972, to broaden the base of his government, Assad formed the National Progressive Front, a coalition of parties led by the Baath Party, and elections were held to establish local councils in each of Syria's 14 governorates. In March 1973, a new Syrian constitution went into effect followed shortly thereafter by parliamentary elections for the People's Council, the first such elections since 1962.

On 6 October 1973, Syria and Egypt began the Yom Kippur War by staging a surprise attack against Israel (Arabs call it the "Ramadan War" or "October War" because Syria and Egypt attacked during Ramadan in the month of October). But despite the element of surprise, the Israeli army had recovered, pushed the Syrian army out of the Golan and invaded into Syrian territory beyond the 1967 border. As a result, Israel continued to occupy the Golan Heights as part of the Israeli-occupied territories.

In early 1976, the Lebanese civil war was going poorly for the Maronite Christians. Syria sent 40,000 troops into the country to prevent them from being overrun, but soon became embroiled in the Lebanese Civil War, beginning the 30 year Syrian occupation of Lebanon. Many crimes in Lebanon were associated to the Syrians forces and intelligences: Kamal Jumblat, Bachir Gemayel, Moufti Hassan Khaled, Rene Mouawad,... Over the following 15 years of civil war, Syria fought both for control over Lebanon, and as an attempt to undermine Israel in southern Lebanon, through extensive use of Lebanese allies as proxy fighters. Many see the Syrian Army's presence in Lebanon as an occupation, especially following the end of the civil war in 1990, after the Syrian-sponsored Taif Agreement. Syria then remained in Lebanon until 2005, exerting a heavy-handed influence over Lebanese politics, that was deeply resented by many.

About one million Syrian workers came into Lebanon after the war ended to find jobs in the reconstruction of the country.[28] Syrian workers were preferred over Palestinian and Lebanese workers because they could be paid lower wages, but some have argued that the Syrian government's encouragement of citizens entering its small and militarily dominated neighbor in search of work, was in fact an attempt at Syrian colonization of Lebanon. Now, the economies of Syria and Lebanon are completely interdependent. In 1994, under pressure from Damascus, the Lebanese government controversially granted citizenship to over 200,000 Syrian residents in the country., (For more on these issues, see Demographics of Lebanon)

The authoritarian government was not without its critics, though open dissent was repressed. A serious challenge arose in the late 1970s, however, from fundamentalist Sunni Muslims, who reject the basic values of the secular Baath program and object to rule by the Alawis, whom they consider heretical. From 1976 until its suppression in 1982, the arch-conservative Muslim Brotherhood led an armed insurgency against the government. In response to an attempted uprising by the brotherhood in February 1982, the government crushed the fundamentalist opposition centered in the city of Hama, leveling parts of the city with artillery fire and causing between 10.000 and 25.000 of dead and wounded, mostly civilians (see Hama massacre). Since then, public manifestations of anti-government activity have been very limited.

Syria's 1990 participation in the U.S.-led multinational coalition aligned against Saddam Hussein marked a dramatic watershed in Syria's relations both with other Arab states and with the Western world. Syria participated in the multilateral Southwest Asia Peace Conference in Madrid in October 1991, and during the 1990s engaged in direct, face-to-face negotiations with Israel. These negotiations failed, and there have been no further direct Syrian-Israeli talks since President Hafiz al-Assad's meeting with then President Bill Clinton in Geneva in March 2000.

21st century

Hafiz al-Assad died on 10 June 2000, after 30 years in power. Immediately following al-Assad's death, the Parliament amended the constitution, reducing the mandatory minimum age of the President from 40 to 34. This allowed his son, Bashar al-Assad, to become legally eligible for nomination by the ruling Baath party. On 10 July 2000, Bashar al-Assad was elected President by referendum in which he ran unopposed, garnering 97.29% of the vote, according to Syrian Government statistics. He was inaugurated into office on 17 July 2000 for a 7-year term. He is married to Asma al-Assad, an activist herself and advocate of reforms.

Billboard with portrait of Assad and the text God protects Syria on the old city wall of Damascus 2006.

Under Bashar al-Assad hundreds of political prisoners were released and a steps were taken towards easing media restrictions. However, Bashar al-Assad has made it clear that his priority is economic rather than political reform.

On 5 October 2003, Israel bombed a site near Damascus, charging it was a terrorist training facility for members of Islamic Jihad. The raid was in retaliation for the bombing of a restaurant in the Israeli town of Haifa that killed 19. Islamic Jihad said the camp was not in use; Syria said the attack was on a civilian area.

The German Chancellor said that the attack "cannot be accepted" and the French Foreign Ministry said "The Israeli operation… constituted an unacceptable violation of international law and sovereignty rules." The Spanish UN Ambassador Inocencio Arias called it an attack of "extreme gravity" and "a clear violation of international law." However, the United States moved closer to imposing sanctions on Syria, following the adoption of the Syria Accountability Act by the House of Representatives International Relations committee. Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah, all included in what the EU and the U.S view as terrorist groups, all take refuge and enjoy strong relationships with the Syrian government.

Syrian Kurds protest in Brussels, Geneva, in Germany at the US and UK embassies and in Turkey, against violence in north-east Syria starting Friday, 12 March, and reportedly extending over the weekend resulting in several deaths, according to reports. The Kurds allege the Syrian government encouraged and armed the attackers. Signs of rioting were seen in the towns of Qameshli and Hassakeh.

On 6 September 2007, Israeli jet fighters carried out an air strike in the Deir ez-Zor Governorate, known as Operation Orchard, on a target claimed to be a nuclear reactor under construction by North Korean technicians. Reportedly a number of the technicians were killed.

2008 Israeli Peace Talks

In April, 2008, President Assad told a Qatari newspaper that Syria and Israel had been discussing a peace treaty for a year, with Turkey as a go-between. This was confirmed in May, 2008, by a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. As well as a peace treaty, the future of the Golan Heights is being discussed. President Assad was quoted in the The Guardian as telling the Qatari paper:
...there would be no direct negotiations with Israel until a new US president takes office. The US was the only party qualified to sponsor any direct talks, [President Assad] told the paper, but added that the Bush administration "does not have the vision or will for the peace process. It does not have anything."

Geography Location: Middle East, bordering the Mediterranean Sea, between Lebanon and Turkey
Geographic coordinates: 35 00 N, 38 00 E
Map references: Middle East
Area: total: 185,180 sq km
land: 184,050 sq km
water: 1,130 sq km
note: includes 1,295 sq km of Israeli-occupied territory
Area - comparative: slightly larger than North Dakota
Land boundaries: total: 2,253 km
border countries: Iraq 605 km, Israel 76 km, Jordan 375 km, Lebanon 375 km, Turkey 822 km
Coastline: 193 km
Maritime claims: territorial sea: 12 nm
contiguous zone: 24 nm
Climate: mostly desert; hot, dry, sunny summers (June to August) and mild, rainy winters (December to February) along coast; cold weather with snow or sleet periodically in Damascus
Terrain: primarily semiarid and desert plateau; narrow coastal plain; mountains in west
Elevation extremes: lowest point: unnamed location near Lake Tiberias -200 m
highest point: Mount Hermon 2,814 m
Natural resources: petroleum, phosphates, chrome and manganese ores, asphalt, iron ore, rock salt, marble, gypsum, hydropower
Land use: arable land: 24.8%
permanent crops: 4.47%
other: 70.73% (2005)
Irrigated land: 13,330 sq km (2003)
Total renewable water resources: 46.1 cu km (1997)
Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural): total: 19.95 cu km/yr (3%/2%/95%)
per capita: 1,048 cu m/yr (2000)
Natural hazards: dust storms, sandstorms
Environment - current issues: deforestation; overgrazing; soil erosion; desertification; water pollution from raw sewage and petroleum refining wastes; inadequate potable water
Environment - international agreements: party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Wetlands
signed, but not ratified: Environmental Modification
Geography - note: there are 42 Israeli settlements and civilian land use sites in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights (August 2005 est.)
Politics

Syria has the following executive branches of government: the president, two vice presidents, prime minister, Council of Ministers (cabinet). Syria's legislative branch is the unicameral People's Council.

Syria's judicial branches include the Supreme Constitutional Court, the High Judicial Council, the Court of Cassation, and the State Security Courts. Islamic jurisprudence is a main source of legislation and Syria's judicial system has elements of Ottoman, French, and Islamic laws. Syria has three levels of courts: courts of first instance, courts of appeals, and the constitutional court, the highest tribunal. Religious courts handle questions of personal and family law.

Political parties: the Arab Socialist Resurrection (Baath) Party (Baath Party) is the dominant party, Arab Socialist Movement, Arab Socialist Union, Syrian Communist Party, Arab Socialist Union, Democratic Socialist Unionist Party, and around 15 minor tolerated political parties and 14 existant kurdish political parties which are, in fact, illegal.

Suffrage: Universal at the age of 18.

Constitution and Government

Syria's constitution was adopted 13 March 1971. It vests the Baath Party with leadership functions in the state and society. The president is approved by referendum for a 7-year term. The president also serves as Secretary General of the Baath Party and leader of the National Progressive Front. The National Progressive Front is a coalition of 10 political parties authorized by the government.

The constitution requires the president to be a Muslim, but does not make Islam the state religion. The constitution gives the president the right to appoint ministers, to declare war and state of emergency, to issue laws (which, except in the case of emergency, require ratification by the People's Council), to declare amnesty, to amend the constitution, and to appoint civil servants and military personnel. The president of Syria is President Al-Assad since the year 2000.

Emergency Law

Since 1963 the Emergency Law has been in effect, effectively suspending most constitutional protections for Syrians. Syrian governments have justified the state of emergency in the light of the continuing war with Israel and the threats posed by terrorists. Syrian citizens approve the President in a referendum. Syria does not hold multi-party elections for the legislature.

People Population: 19,747,586
note: in addition, about 40,000 people live in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights - 20,000 Arabs (18,000 Druze and 2,000 Alawites) and about 20,000 Israeli settlers (July 2008 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 36.2% (male 3,679,473/female 3,467,096)
15-64 years: 60.5% (male 6,119,459/female 5,822,376)
65 years and over: 3.3% (male 310,838/female 348,344) (2008 est.)
Median age: total: 21.4 years
male: 21.3 years
female: 21.5 years (2008 est.)
Population growth rate: 2.189% (2008 est.)
Birth rate: 26.57 births/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Death rate: 4.68 deaths/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Net migration rate: NA (2008 est.)
Sex ratio: at birth: 1.06 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.06 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 1.05 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.89 male(s)/female
total population: 1.05 male(s)/female (2008 est.)
Infant mortality rate: total: 26.78 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 27.04 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 26.52 deaths/1,000 live births (2008 est.)
Life expectancy at birth: total population: 70.9 years
male: 69.53 years
female: 72.35 years (2008 est.)
Total fertility rate: 3.21 children born/woman (2008 est.)
HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate: less than 0.1% (2001 est.)
HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS: fewer than 500 (2003 est.)
HIV/AIDS - deaths: fewer than 200 (2003 est.)
Nationality: noun: Syrian(s)
adjective: Syrian
Ethnic groups: Arab 90.3%, Kurds, Armenians, and other 9.7%
Religions: Sunni Muslim 74%, other Muslim (includes Alawite, Druze) 16%, Christian (various denominations) 10%, Jewish (tiny communities in Damascus, Al Qamishli, and Aleppo)
Languages: Arabic (official); Kurdish, Armenian, Aramaic, Circassian widely understood; French, English somewhat understood
Literacy: definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 79.6%
male: 86%
female: 73.6% (2004 census)
Education expenditures: 3.9% of GDP (1999)
Government Country name: conventional long form: Syrian Arab Republic
conventional short form: Syria
local long form: Al Jumhuriyah al Arabiyah as Suriyah
local short form: Suriyah
former: United Arab Republic (with Egypt)
Government type: republic under an authoritarian military-dominated regime
Capital: name: Damascus
geographic coordinates: 33 30 N, 36 18 E
time difference: UTC+2 (7 hours ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time)
daylight saving time: +1hr, begins 1 April; ends 30 September
Administrative divisions: 14 provinces (muhafazat, singular - muhafazah); Al Hasakah, Al Ladhiqiyah, Al Qunaytirah, Ar Raqqah, As Suwayda', Dar'a, Dayr az Zawr, Dimashq, Halab, Hamah, Hims, Idlib, Rif Dimashq, Tartus
Independence: 17 April 1946 (from League of Nations mandate under French administration)
National holiday: Independence Day, 17 April (1946)
Constitution: 13 March 1973
Legal system: based on a combination of French and Ottoman civil law; Islamic law is used in the family court system; has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction
Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal
Executive branch: chief of state: President Bashar al-ASAD (since 17 July 2000); Vice President Farouk al-SHARA (since 11 February 2006) oversees foreign policy; Vice President Najah al-ATTAR (since 23 March 2006) oversees cultural policy
head of government: Prime Minister Muhammad Naji al-UTRI (since 10 September 2003); Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Abdallah al-DARDARI (since 14 June 2005)
cabinet: Council of Ministers appointed by the president
elections: president approved by popular referendum for a second seven-year term (no term limits); referendum last held on 27 May 2007 (next to be held in May 2014); the president appoints the vice presidents, prime minister, and deputy prime ministers
election results: Bashar al-ASAD approved as president; percent of vote - Bashar al-ASAD 97.6%
Legislative branch: unicameral People's Council or Majlis al-Shaab (250 seats; members elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms)
elections: last held on 22-23 April 2007 (next to be held in 2011)
election results: percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - NPF 172, independents 78
Judicial branch: Supreme Judicial Council (appoints and dismisses judges; headed by the president); national level - Supreme Constitutional Court (adjudicates electoral disputes and rules on constitutionality of laws and decrees; justices appointed for four-year terms by the President); Court of Cassation; Appeals Courts (Appeals Courts represent an intermediate level between the Court of Cassation and local level courts); local level - Magistrate Courts; Courts of First Instance; Juvenile Courts; Customs Courts; specialized courts - Economic Security Courts (hear cases related to economic crimes); Supreme State Security Court (hear cases related to national security); Personal Status Courts (religious; hear cases related to marriage and divorce)
Political parties and leaders: legal parties: National Progressive Front or NPF [President Bashar al-ASAD, Dr. Suleiman QADDAH] (includes Arab Socialist Renaissance (Ba'th) Party [President Bashar al-ASAD]; Socialist Unionist Democratic Party [Fadlallah Nasr Al-DIN]; Syrian Arab Socialist Union or ASU [Safwan QUDSI]; Syrian Communist Party (two branches) [Wissal Farha BAKDASH, Yusuf Rashid FAYSAL]; Syrian Social Nationalist Party [Ali QANSU]; Unionist Socialist Party [Fayez ISMAIL])
opposition parties not legally recognized:: Arab Democratic Socialist Union Party [Hasan Abdul AZIM]; Arab Socialist Movement; Democratic Ba'th Party [Ibrahim MAHKOS]; People's Democratic Party [Riad al TURK]; Revolutionary Workers' Party [Abdul Hafeez al HAFEZ]
Kurdish parties (considered illegal): Kurdish Democratic Front [Abdul Hamid DARWISH] (includes four parties); Kurdish Coordination [Abdul Hakim BASHAR] (includes Azadi Party [Kheirudin MURAD], Future Party [Masha'l TAMMO], Yekity Party [Hasam SALE])
other parties: Nahda Party [Abdul Aziz al MISLET]; Syrian Democratic Party [Mustafa QALAAJI]
Political pressure groups and leaders: Damascus Declaration National Council [Riyad SEIF, secretary general] (a broad alliance of opposition groups and individuals including: Committee for Revival of Civil Society [Michel KILO, Riyad SEIF], Communist Action Party [Fateh JAMOUS], Kurdish Democratic Alliance, Kurdish Democratic Front, Liberal Nationalists' Movement, National Democratic Front, National Democratic Rally, and Syrian Human Rights Society or HRAS [Fawed FAWUZ]); National Salvation Front (alliance between former Vice President Abd al-Halim KHADDAM, the SMB, and other small opposition groups); Syrian Muslim Brotherhood or SMB [Sadr al-Din al-BAYANUNI] (operates in exile in London; endorsed the Damascus Declaration, but is not an official member)
International organization participation: ABEDA, AFESD, AMF, CAEU, FAO, G-24, G-77, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC, ICCt (signatory), ICRM, IDA, IDB, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, Interpol, IOC, IPU, ISO, ITSO, ITU, LAS, MIGA, NAM, OAPEC, OIC, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, UNRWA, UNWTO, UPU, WCO, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO
Diplomatic representation in the US: chief of mission: Ambassador Imad MUSTAFA
chancery: 2215 Wyoming Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008
telephone: [1] (202) 232-6313
FAX: [1] (202) 234-9548
Diplomatic representation from the US: chief of mission: Ambassador (vacant); Charge d'Affaires Maura CONNELLY
embassy: Abou Roumaneh, Al-Mansour Street, No. 2, Damascus
mailing address: P. O. Box 29, Damascus
telephone: [963] (11) 3391-4444
FAX: [963] (11) 3391-3999
Flag description: three equal horizontal bands of red (top), white, and black, colors associated with the Arab Liberation flag; two small, green, five-pointed stars in a horizontal line centered in the white band; former flag of the United Arab Republic where the two stars represented the constituent states of Syria and Egypt; similar to the flag of Yemen, which has a plain white band, Iraq, which has an Arabic inscription centered in the white band, and that of Egypt, which has a gold Eagle of Saladin centered in the white band; the current design dates to 1980
Culture

The scribes of the city of Ugarit created a cuneiform alphabet in the fourteenth century BCE. The alphabet was written in the familiar order we use today.

Archaeologists have discovered extensive writings and evidence of a culture rivaling those of Mesopotamia and Egypt in and around the ancient city of Ebla. Later Syrian scholars and artists contributed to Hellenistic and Roman thought and culture. Cicero was a pupil of Antiochus of Ascalon at Athens; and the writings of Posidonius of Apamea influenced Livy and Plutarch.

Philip Hitti claimed, "the scholars consider Syria as the teacher for the human characteristics," and Andrea Parrout writes, "each civilized person in the world should admit that he has two home countries: the one he was born in, and Syria."

Syria is a traditional society with a long cultural history. Importance is placed on family, religion, education and self discipline and respect. The Syrian's taste for the traditional arts is expressed in dances such as the al-Samah, the Dabkeh in all their variations and the sword dance. Marriage ceremonies and the birth of children are occasions for the lively demonstration of folk customs.

Traditional Houses of the Old Cities in Damascus, Aleppo and the other Syrian cities are preserved and traditionally the living quarters are arranged around one or more courtyards, typically with a fountain in the middle supplied by spring water, and decorated with citrus trees, grape vines, and flowers.

Outside of larger city areas such as Damascus, Aleppo or Homs, residential areas are often clustered in smaller villages. The buildings themselves are often quite old (perhaps a few hundred years old), passed down to family members over several generations. Residential construction of rough concrete and blockwork is usually unpainted, and the palette of a Syrian village is therefore simple tones of grays and browns.

Syrians have contributed to Arabic literature and music and have a proud tradition of oral and written poetry. Syrian writers, many of whom immigrated to Egypt, played a crucial role in the nahda or Arab literary and cultural revival of the nineteenth century. Prominent contemporary Syrian writers include, among others, Adonis, Muhammad Maghout, Haidar Haidar, Ghada al-Samman, Nizar Qabbani and Zakariyya Tamer.

There was a private sector presence in the Syrian cinema industry until the end of the 1970s, but private investment has since preferred the more lucrative television serial business. Syrian soap operas, in a variety of styles (all melodramatic, however), have considerable market penetration throughout the eastern Arab world.

Syrian food mostly consists of Southern Mediterranean, Greek, and Southwest Asian dishes. Some Syrian dishes also evolved from Turkish and French cooking. Dishes like shish kebab, stuffed zucchini, yabra' (stuffed grape leaves, the word yapra' derıves from the Turkish word 'yaprak' meaning leaf), shawarma, and falafel are very popular in Syria as the food there is diverse in taste and type. Restaurants are usually open (food is served outdoors)

Economy Economy - overview: The Syrian economy grew by an estimated 3.3% in real terms in 2007 led by the petroleum and agricultural sectors, which together account for about one-half of GDP. Higher crude oil prices countered declining oil production and led to higher budgetary and export receipts. Damascus has implemented modest economic reforms in the past few years, including cutting lending interest rates, opening private banks, consolidating all of the multiple exchange rates, raising prices on some subsidized items, most notably gasoline and cement, and establishing the Damascus Stock Exchange - which is set to begin operations in 2009. In October 2007, for example, Damascus raised the price of subsidized gasoline by 20%, and may institute a rationing system in 2008. In addition, President ASAD signed legislative decrees to encourage corporate ownership reform, and to allow the Central Bank to issue Treasury bills and bonds for government debt. Nevertheless, the economy remains highly controlled by the government. Long-run economic constraints include declining oil production, high unemployment and inflation, rising budget deficits, and increasing pressure on water supplies caused by heavy use in agriculture, rapid population growth, industrial expansion, and water pollution.
GDP (purchasing power parity): $90.37 billion (2007 est.)
GDP (official exchange rate): $37.76 billion (2007 est.)
GDP - real growth rate: 4.3% (2007 est.)
GDP - per capita (PPP): $4,700 (2007 est.)
GDP - composition by sector: agriculture: 24%
industry: 27.9%
services: 48.2% (2007 est.)
Labor force: 5.462 million (2007 est.)
Labor force - by occupation: agriculture: 19.2%
industry: 14.5%
services: 66.3% (2006 est.)
Unemployment rate: 9% (2007 est.)
Population below poverty line: 11.9% (2006 est.)
Household income or consumption by percentage share: lowest 10%: NA%
highest 10%: NA%
Investment (gross fixed): 21.5% of GDP (2007 est.)
Budget: revenues: $8.393 billion
expenditures: $11.21 billion (2007 est.)
Fiscal year: calendar year
Public debt: 37.7% of GDP (2007 est.)
Inflation rate (consumer prices): 12.2% (2007 est.)
Commercial bank prime lending rate: 8% (31 December 2005)
Stock of money: $58.84 billion
note: This number reflects the greatly overvalued official exchange rate of 11.23 Syrian pounds per dollar. At the unofficial rate of 50 Syrian pounds per dollar, the stock of Syrian pounds would equal US$13.22 billion and Syria's velocity of money (the number of times money turns over in the course of a year) would be three, in line with the velocity of money for other countries in the region. (31 December 2006)
Stock of quasi money: $45.93 billion (31 December 2006)
Stock of domestic credit: $50.92 billion (31 December 2006)
Agriculture - products: wheat, barley, cotton, lentils, chickpeas, olives, sugar beets; beef, mutton, eggs, poultry, milk
Industries: petroleum, textiles, food processing, beverages, tobacco, phosphate rock mining, cement, oil seeds crushing, car assembly
Industrial production growth rate: 2.5% (2007 est.)
Electricity - production: 34.94 billion kWh (2007 est.)
Electricity - consumption: 34 billion kWh (2007 est.)
Electricity - exports: 986 million kWh (2006 est.)
Electricity - imports: 0 kWh (2007 est.)
Electricity - production by source: fossil fuel: 57.6%
hydro: 42.4%
nuclear: 0%
other: 0% (2001)
Oil - production: 433,200 bbl/day (2007 est.)
Oil - consumption: 261,000 bbl/day (2006 est.)
Oil - exports: 254,500 bbl/day (2005 est.)
Oil - imports: 160,000 bbl/day (2007 est.)
Oil - proved reserves: 2.5 billion bbl (1 January 2008 est.)
Natural gas - production: 7.8 billion cu m (2007 est.)
Natural gas - consumption: 4.4 billion cu m (2007 est.)
Natural gas - exports: NA cu m
Natural gas - imports: 0 cu m (2007 est.)
Natural gas - proved reserves: 240.7 billion cu m (1 January 2008 est.)
Current account balance: $908 million (2007 est.)
Exports: $11.14 billion f.o.b. (2007 est.)
Exports - commodities: crude oil, minerals, petroleum products, fruits and vegetables, cotton fiber, textiles, clothing, meat and live animals, wheat
Exports - partners: Iraq 30%, Lebanon 10%, Germany 9.7%, Italy 8%, Egypt 5.5%, Saudi Arabia 5.2%, France 4.9% (2007)
Imports: $10.5 billion f.o.b. (2007 est.)
Imports - commodities: machinery and transport equipment, electric power machinery, food and livestock, metal and metal products, chemicals and chemical products, plastics, yarn, paper
Imports - partners: Saudi Arabia 12%, China 8.7%, Egypt 6.2%, Italy 6%, UAE 5.9%, Ukraine 4.8%, Russia 4.8%, Germany 4.7%, Iran 4.3% (2007)
Economic aid - recipient: $213 million (2008 est.)
Reserves of foreign exchange and gold: $6.046 billion (31 December 2007 est.)
Debt - external: $6.633 billion (31 December 2007 est.)
Market value of publicly traded shares: $NA
Currency (code): Syrian pound (SYP)
Currency code: SYP
Exchange rates: Syrian pounds (SYP) per US dollar - 50.0085 (2007), 51.689 (2006), 50 (2005), 48.5 (2004), 52.8 (2003)
note: data for 2004-06 are the public sector rate; data for 2002-03 are the parallel market rate in 'Amman and Beirut; the official rate for repaying loans was 11.25 Syrian pounds per US dollars during 2004-06
Communications Telephones - main lines in use: 3.452 million (2007)
Telephones - mobile cellular: 6.7 million (2007)
Telephone system: general assessment: fair system currently undergoing significant improvement and digital upgrades, including fiber-optic technology
domestic: the number of fixed-line connections has increased markedly since 2000; mobile-cellular service growing rapidly and teledensity about 35 wireless telephones per 100 persons; coaxial cable and microwave radio relay network
international: country code - 963; submarine cable connection to Cyprus; satellite earth stations - 1 Intelsat (Indian Ocean) and 1 Intersputnik (Atlantic Ocean region); coaxial cable and microwave radio relay to Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey; participant in Medarabtel
Radio broadcast stations: AM 14, FM 2, shortwave 1 (1998)
Radios: 4.15 million (1997)
Television broadcast stations: 44 (plus 17 repeaters) (1995)
Televisions: 1.05 million (1997)
Internet country code: .sy
Internet hosts: 7,857 (2008)
Internet Service Providers (ISPs): 1 (2000)
Internet users: 3.47 million (2007)
Transportation Airports: 90 (2007)
Airports - with paved runways: total: 26
over 3,047 m: 6
2,438 to 3,047 m: 15
914 to 1,523 m: 3
under 914 m: 2 (2007)
Airports - with unpaved runways: total: 64
1,524 to 2,437 m: 1
914 to 1,523 m: 11
under 914 m: 52 (2007)
Heliports: 7 (2007)
Pipelines: gas 2,794 km; oil 2,000 km (2007)
Railways: total: 2,711 km
standard gauge: 2,460 km 1.435-m gauge
narrow gauge: 251 km 1.050-m gauge (2006)
Roadways: total: 97,401 km
paved: 19,490 km (includes 1,103 km of expressways)
unpaved: 77,911 km (2006)
Waterways: 900 km (not economically significant) (2005)
Merchant marine: total: 77
by type: bulk carrier 5, cargo 65, carrier 4, container 1, petroleum tanker 1, roll on/roll off 1
foreign-owned: 7 (Jordan 2, Lebanon 3, Romania 2)
registered in other countries: 196 (Barbados 1, Bolivia 2, Cambodia 48, Comoros 4, Cyprus 2, Dominica 2, Georgia 49, Hong Kong 1, North Korea 1, Lebanon 2, Libya 2, Malta 6, Moldova 1, Panama 32, Saint Kitts and Nevis 7, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines 13, Sierra Leone 18, Slovakia 2, Togo 2, unknown 1) (2008)
Ports and terminals: Latakia, Tartus
Military Military branches: Syrian Armed Forces: Syrian Arab Army, Syrian Arab Navy, Syrian Arab Air and Air Defense Forces (includes Air Defense Command) (2008)
Military service age and obligation: 18 years of age for compulsory military service; conscript service obligation - 30 months (18 months in the Syrian Arab Navy); women are not conscripted but may volunteer to serve (2004)
Manpower available for military service: males age 16-49: 5,251,875
females age 16-49: 4,966,367 (2008 est.)
Manpower fit for military service: males age 16-49: 4,242,401
females age 16-49: 4,218,648 (2008 est.)
Manpower reaching militarily significant age annually: male: 215,734
female: 203,106 (2008 est.)
Military expenditures: 5.9% of GDP (2005 est.)
Transnational Issues Disputes - international: Golan Heights is Israeli-occupied with the almost 1,000-strong UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) patrolling a buffer zone since 1964; lacking a treaty or other documentation describing the boundary, portions of the Lebanon-Syria boundary are unclear with several sections in dispute; since 2000, Lebanon has claimed Shaba'a farms in the Golan Heights; 2004 Agreement and pending demarcation settles border dispute with Jordan; approximately two million Iraqis have fled the conflict in Iraq with the majority taking refuge in Syria and Jordan
Refugees and internally displaced persons: refugees (country of origin): 1-1.4 million (Iraq); 522,100 (Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA))
IDPs: 305,000 (most displaced from Golan Heights during 1967 Arab-Israeli War) (2007)
Trafficking in persons: current situation: Syria is a destination and transit country for women and children trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor; a significant number of women and children in the large and expanding Iraqi refugee community in Syria are reportedly forced into commercial sexual exploitation by Iraqi gangs or, in some cases, their families; women from Indonesia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Ethiopia, and Sierra Leone are recruited for work in Syria as domestic servants, but some face conditions of involuntary servitude, including long hours, non-payment of wages, withholding of passports, restrictions on movement, threats, and physical or sexual abuse
tier rating: Tier 3 - Syria again failed to report any law enforcement efforts to punish trafficking offenses in 2007; in addition, the government did not offer protection services to victims of trafficking and may have arrested, prosecuted, or deported some victims for prostitution or immigration violations; Syria has not ratified the 2000 UN TIP Protocol (2008)
Illicit drugs: a transit point for opiates, hashish, and cocaine bound for regional and Western markets; weak anti-money-laundering controls and bank privatization may leave it vulnerable to money laundering