Professor Discusses Ever-Evolving Challenges in Syria

The School of Social Sciences hosted a talk last Thursday about the ever-evolving and increasingly overlooked ongoing Syrian conflict.

Bassam Haddad, director of the George Mason University’s Middle East Studies Program, was invited to discuss the conflict’s dynamics and the groups involved. Haddad has recently published “The Political Economy of Syria: Realities and Challenges” and has been to several other schools in California to talk about the conditions Syrians are currently facing.

“It has become so many different things. It started off as an uprising and now it’s a number of things,” Haddad said.

In 2011, a series of protests sparked against the Syrian government, calling for the removal of Syrian President Bashar Hafez al-Assad’s from office. The protests were part of the Arab Spring, a wave of demonstrations, protests and riots demonstrating civil resistance against governments in the Arab world. In Syria, the protests were violently suppressed and quickly escalated into a full-scale civil war, with various groups forming in opposition to government forces.

The conflict has resulted in over 3 million Syrian refugees, with a casualties nearing 200,000, according to United Nations statistics. However, according to Haddad’s analysis, the conflict is difficult to understand from just looking at numbers.

“It’s a little bit confusing. As I usually say, if you’re confused when reading, listening and thinking about Syria, it means that you’re paying attention. If you feel that you have it all down and you know what’s going on, then you should be alarmed.”

Haddad doesn’t see a conclusion to the fighting arising soon.

He covered the dynamics of the uprising, saying that there is a recent surge of resistance in the area.

“I used to say all uprisings are complex, but the Syrian uprising possesses added complexity and the problem is that by now, it seems like an understatement. It is difficult to address the Syrian uprising as one setting.”

Haddad explained that much of the crucial information on the civil war was not being covered by mainstream and even local news, which skew in favor of more sensationalized stories rather than covering the essence of the conflict. The nature of coverage, which focuses on the military and fighting aspects, according to Haddad, arises out of a drive for viewership and ratings.

“The context matters. Northern Syria is different from southern Syria, central Syria, western Syria. That leaves a kind of confusion, even among reporters on the ground who feel that because they’re underground they know more,” Haddad said.

“That’s true but they know more based on where they’re at.”

The struggle to remove the Syrian regime is a narrative that’s shared among local activism groups, but Haddad pointed out that they do not necessarily get along and, in some instances, are actually fighting one another.

He explained that while the Free Syrian Army exists, it has no concrete structure due to the lack of a hierarchy with clear leadership.

“The Free Syrian Army is now discussed more and more as the non-Islamist, non-extremist, the moderate face of the opposition.”

However this may not be the case as the group has little in the form of a unifying ideology and Haddad revealed that many use the name of the Free Syrian Army but are in fact just using the name and are not part of the organization.

Haddas also focused on the Islamic Front, a coalition of at least seven Islamist groups. Haddad clarified that although the group itself Islamist in nature, most of its fighters are do not necessarily identify the same way. He emphasized that the Islamic Front is the most numerous and powerful opposition force due to the various groups coming together.

However, with the emergence of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the Islamic Front is losing influence, with its fighters migrating to ISIL.

Contrasting the militaristic groups involved in the conflict, Haddad also discussed the Local Coordination Committees of Syria.

“These are a group of young men and women. It doesn’t matter whether they are secular or not, but for the most part they are, Haddad said.

“These groups have been the launching pad for the Syrian uprising whether on social media but also in real life.”

The LCC has been crucial in the uprisings, but Haddad said that their voices, initially very powerful, have become less influential as the conflict drags on.

“They are doing so much of the work that nobody cares to document or talk about.”

The LCC was formed in 2011 by men and women who used social media as a platform to share information. This group is different in that is is composed of the younger generation who take part in peaceful protest.

“The reason we don’t hear about the LCC very much is because their efforts have been drowned out by the sound of the barrel, by the guns, the bombs, the militarization of the uprising.”