Syria and Lebanon, 1943-1975

by Philip Khoury
published in MER134

In their final years under French rule, Syria and Lebanon entered into an unprecedented cooperation in order to free themselves from France. The liberal nationalist regimes in Damascus and Beirut reinforced one another’s demands for complete political independence without first having to sign treaties with France. Support for their position came from Britain, the United States and, in 1945, from the newly founded Arab League. The Syrian nationalists appeared to have reconciled themselves to the integrity and sovereignty of a greater Lebanon, as established by the French in 1920, although after independence Damascus refused to establish formal diplomatic relations with Beirut.

Syria in Lebanon

by William Harris
published in MER134

Preeminent influence in Lebanon, both on the central government and between the various factions, is critical for Syria from defensive and offensive strategic perspectives, whatever one considers Syria’s role to be in the pan-Arab arena or in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

From the defensive perspective, Lebanon covers the entire western flank of southern Syria, offering immediate access to the Damascus and Homs regions. Since Lebanon’s descent into chaos beginning in 1975, Syria has been particularly concerned about three contingencies:

Cadres, Guns and Money

The Eighth Regional Congress of the Syrian Baath

by Yahya Sadowski
published in MER134

Hafiz al-Asad marched into the Palace of the People in Damascus on the evening of January 6, 1985 to convene the eighth regional congress of the Baath Party. The standing ovation which greeted his entrance was immediately broadcast to the most remote corners of Syria by a platoon of television cameras.

The Syrian Crisis in Jordan

by Matthew Hall | published June 24, 2013

An hour and a quarter north of Amman the rural highway rolls through the remote desert hamlet of Zaatari without slowing. The town’s lone intersection is too sleepy to need a stop sign.

How to Help Syria Now

by Chris Toensing | published May 29, 2013

The appalling civil war in Syria is well into its third year. With upwards of 70,000 dead, countless numbers maimed and injured, and millions of refugees, there are recurrent calls for the United States to “do something” to end the mayhem. That “something” is usually defined as military intervention -- imposing a no-fly zone, arming the rebels, even sending the Marines.

The Obama administration should have the wisdom to resist these calls. There are other “somethings” that have a better chance of doing good.

Syria's Disabled Future

by Edward Thomas | published May 14, 2013

Jamal is not yet a teenager. His school closed in 2011, soon after the Syrian revolution turned into an armed conflict, and his father found him a factory job. One day in 2012 as he returned from work there was a battle going on in the main street near his home. Jamal immediately started carrying wounded children smaller than he is to shelter in a mosque. Then Syrian army reinforcements arrived, clearing the streets with gunfire and hitting Jamal in the spine. The youngsters who took him to the hospital advised him to say that “terrorists” had caused his injury. But Jamal did not want to lie -- he told the doctors that a soldier had fired the bullet. The doctors told him to shut up and say it was the terrorists. But they treated him anyway.

Testimony of a Syrian Censor

"Journalists in Syria are an extinct species"

published in MER149

He does not wish to be identified because he believes that the long arm of the Syrian government will reach him anywhere in the world. Take his word for it, he said, he knew them better than anyone else. He ought to; he was once a censor in the ministry of information. He is also a writer and journalist who would like to continue as such.


Censorship as we know it now in Syria began with the first coup d’état in 1947 which was led by Husni al-Zaim, and which was followed by a series of coups. With each new coup, censorship increased and was further tightened. By the time of the last coup, led by Hafiz al-Asad in 1970, the whole state structure was transformed into one large intelligence and censorship apparatus.

The Syrian Heartbreak

by Peter Harling , Sarah Birke | published April 16, 2013

There was a distinctive sense of national pride in Syria. It flowed from the confidence of a civilization dating back to the times of the earliest alphabets and visible in the country’s wealth of archaeological sites, including some of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. It came from the depth of local culture. It stemmed from the music of Syrian Arabic, the elegance of Syrian manners, the finesse of Syrian cuisine and the sincerity of Syrian hospitality. It proceeded from modern geopolitics, too, as Damascus carved out for itself a role bigger and bolder than its scarce resources should have allowed.

Sivan, Radical Islam; Kepel, Muslim Extremism in Egypt

by Michael Gilsenan
published in MER151

Emmanuel Sivan, Radical Islam: Medieval Theology and Modern Politics (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1985.)

Gilles Kepel, Muslim Extremism in Egypt: The Prophet and Pharoah (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1985.) Translated from the French by Jon Rothschild.


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The Many Roles of Turkey in the Syrian Crisis

by Aslı Ilgıt , Rochelle Davis | published January 28, 2013

On October 4, 2012, the Turkish Grand National Assembly approved a motion, by a vote of 320 to 129, authorizing deployment of the armed forces in “foreign countries,” essentially where and when the government saw fit. It was an expansive, vague-sounding mandate, but in fact there was only one target: Syria.