/sear"ee euh/, n.
1. Official name, Syrian Arab Republic. a republic in SW Asia at the E end of the Mediterranean. 16,137,899; 71,227 sq. mi. (184,478 sq. km). Cap.: Damascus.
2. a territory mandated to France in 1922, including the present republics of Syria and Lebanon (Latakia and Jebel ed Druz were incorporated into Syria 1942): the French mandatory powers were nominally terminated as of January 1, 1944.
3. an ancient country in W Asia, including the present Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and adjacent areas: a part of the Roman Empire 64 B.C.-A.D. 636.

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Introduction Syria
Background: Following the breakup of the Ottoman Empire during World War I, Syria was administered by the French until independence in 1946. In the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Syria lost the Golan Heights to Israel. Since 1976, Syrian troops have been stationed in Lebanon, ostensibly in a peacekeeping capacity. In recent years, Syria and Israel have held occasional peace talks over the return of the Golan Heights. Geography Syria -
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 note: includes 1,295 sq km of Israeli-occupied territory water: 1,130 sq km land: 184,050 sq km
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: contiguous zone: 41 NM territorial sea: 35 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: 25.96% permanent crops: 4.08% other: 69.96% (1998 est.)
Irrigated land: 12,130 sq km (1998 est.)
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 party to: Biodiversity, Climate
agreements: Change, Desertification, Hazardous Wastes, Nuclear Test Ban, 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 2001 est.) People Syria
Population: 17,155,814 (July 2002 est.) 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 (August 2001 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 39.3% (male 3,467,267; female 3,264,639) 15-64 years: 57.5% (male 5,052,841; female 4,817,662) 65 years and over: 3.2% (male 267,803; female 285,602) (2002 est.)
Population growth rate: 2.5% (2002 est.)
Birth rate: 30.11 births/1,000 population (2002 est.)
Death rate: 5.12 deaths/1,000 population (2002 est.)
Net migration rate: 0 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2002 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: 0.94 male(s)/ female total population: 1.05 male(s)/ female (2002 est.)
Infant mortality rate: 32.73 deaths/1,000 live births (2002 est.) Life expectancy at birth: total population: 69.08 years female: 70.32 years (2002 est.) male: 67.9 years
Total fertility rate: 3.84 children born/woman (2002 est.) HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate: 0.01% (1999 est.) HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/ NA
HIV/AIDS - deaths: NA
Nationality: noun: Syrian(s) adjective: Syrian
Ethnic groups: Arab 90.3%, Kurds, Armenians, and other 9.7%
Religions: Sunni Muslim 74%, Alawite, Druze, and other Muslim sects 16%, Christian (various sects) 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: 70.8% male: 85.7% female: 55.8% (1997 est.) Government Syria
Country name: conventional long form: Syrian Arab Republic conventional short form: Syria local short form: Suriyah former: United Arab Republic (with Egypt) local long form: Al Jumhuriyah al Arabiyah as Suriyah
Government type: republic under military regime since March 1963
Capital: Damascus 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 Islamic law and civil law system; special religious courts; 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 Presidents Abd al-Halim ibn Said KHADDAM (since 11 March 1984) and Muhammad Zuhayr MASHARIQA (since 11 March 1984) head of government: Prime Minister Muhammad Mustafa MIRU (since 13 March 2000), Deputy Prime Ministers Lt. Gen. Mustafa TALAS (since 11 March 1984), Farouk al-SHARA (since 13 December 2001), Dr. Muhammad al- HUSAYN (since 13 December 2001) cabinet: Council of Ministers appointed by the president elections: president elected by popular vote for a seven-year term; referendum/election last held 10 July 2000 - after the death of President Hafez al-ASAD, father of Bashar al-ASAD - (next to be held NA 2007); vice presidents appointed by the president; prime minister and deputy prime ministers appointed by the president note: Hafiz al-ASAD died on 10 June 2000; on 20 June 2000, the Ba'th Party nominated Bashar al-ASAD for president and presented his name to the People's Council on 25 June 2000 election results: Bashar al-ASAD elected president; percent of vote - Bashar al-ASAD 97.29%
Legislative branch: unicameral People's Council or Majlis al-shaab (250 seats; members elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms) election results: percent of vote by party - NPF 67%, independents 33%; seats by party - NPF 167, independents 83; note - the constitution guarantees that the Ba'th Party (part of the NPF alliance) receives one-half of the seats elections: last held 30 November- 1 December 1998 (next to be held NA 2002)
Judicial branch: Supreme Constitutional Court (justices are appointed for four- year terms by the president); High Judicial Council; Court of Cassation; State Security Courts Political parties and leaders: National Progressive Front or NPF (includes the Ba'th Party, ASU, Arab Socialist Party, Socialist Unionist Democratic Party, ASP, SCP) [President Bashar al-ASAD, chairman]; Arab Socialist Renaissance (Ba'th) Party (governing party) [President Bashar al-ASAD, secretary general]; Syrian Arab Socialist Party or ASP [Safwan KOUDSI]; Syrian Communist Party or SCP [Yusuf FAYSAL]; Syrian Social National Party [Jubran URAYJI] Political pressure groups and conservative religious leaders;
leaders: Muslim Brotherhood (operates in exile in Jordan and Yemen); non- Ba'th parties have little effective political influence International organization AFESD, AL, AMF, CAEU, CCC, ESCWA,
participation: FAO, G-24, G-77, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC, ICRM, IDA, IDB, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, Interpol, IOC, ISO, ITU, NAM, OAPEC, OIC, UN, UN Security Council (temporary), UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, UNRWA, UPU, WFTU, WHO, WMO, WToO Diplomatic representation in the US: chief of mission: Ambassador Rustum al-ZU'BI chancery: 2215 Wyoming Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008 FAX: [1] (202) 234-9548 telephone: [1] (202) 232-6313 Diplomatic representation from the chief of mission: Ambassador
US: Theodore H. KATTOUF embassy: Abou Roumaneh, Al-Mansur Street, No. 2, Damascus mailing address: P. O. Box 29, Damascus telephone: [963] (11) 333-1342 FAX: [963] (11) 331-9678
Flag description: three equal horizontal bands of red (top), white, and black, with two small green five-pointed stars in a horizontal line centered in the white band; similar to the flag of Yemen, which has a plain white band, and of Iraq, which has three green stars (plus an Arabic inscription) in a horizontal line centered in the white band; also similar to the flag of Egypt, which has a heraldic eagle centered in the white band Economy Syria -
Economy - overview: Syria's predominantly statist economy has been growing slower than its 2.5% annual population growth rate, causing a persistent decline in per capita GDP. President Bashar AL-ASAD has made little progress on the economic front after one year in office, but does appear willing to permit a gradual strengthening of the private sector. His most obvious accomplishment to this end was the recent passage of legislation allowing private banks to operate in Syria, although a private banking sector will take years and further government cooperation to develop. ASAD's recent cabinet reshuffle may improve his chances of implementing further growth-oriented policies, although external factors such as the international war on terrorism, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and downturn in oil prices could weaken the foreign investment and government revenues Syria needs to flourish. A long-run economic constraint is the pressure on water supplies caused by rapid population growth, industrial expansion, and increased water pollution.
GDP: purchasing power parity - $54.2 billion (2001 est.)
GDP - real growth rate: 2% (2001 est.)
GDP - per capita: purchasing power parity - $3,200 (2001 est.) GDP - composition by sector: agriculture: 27% industry: 23% services: 50% (2000 est.) Population below poverty line: 15%-25% Household income or consumption by lowest 10%: NA%
percentage share: highest 10%: NA% Inflation rate (consumer prices): 0.3% (2001 est.)
Labor force: 4.7 million (1998 est.) Labor force - by occupation: agriculture 40%, industry 20%, services 40% (1996 est.)
Unemployment rate: 20% (2000 est.)
Budget: revenues: $5 billion expenditures: $7 billion, including capital expenditures of $NA (2001 est.)
Industries: petroleum, textiles, food processing, beverages, tobacco, phosphate rock mining Industrial production growth rate: NA% Electricity - production: 19.7 billion kWh (2000) Electricity - production by source: fossil fuel: 64.47% hydro: 35.53% other: 0% (2000) nuclear: 0% Electricity - consumption: 17.671 billion kWh (2000)
Electricity - exports: 650 million kWh (2000)
Electricity - imports: 0 kWh (2000)
Agriculture - products: wheat, barley, cotton, lentils, chickpeas, olives, sugar beets; beef, mutton, eggs, poultry, milk
Exports: $5 billion (f.o.b., 2001 est.)
Exports - commodities: crude oil 68%, textiles 7%, fruits and vegetables 6%, raw cotton 4% (1998 est.)
Exports - partners: Germany 27%, Italy 12%, France 10%, Turkey 10%, Saudi Arabia 7% (2000 est.)
Imports: $4 billion (f.o.b., 2001 est.)
Imports - commodities: machinery and transport equipment 21%, food and livestock 18%, metal and metal products 15%, chemicals and chemical products 10% (2000 est.)
Imports - partners: Italy 9%, Germany 7%, France 5%, Lebanon 5%, China 4%, South Korea 4%, Turkey 4%, US 4% (2000 est.)
Debt - external: $22 billion (2001 est.) Economic aid - recipient: $199 million (1997 est.)
Currency: Syrian pound (SYP)
Currency code: SYP
Exchange rates: Syrian pounds per US dollar - 51 (December 2001), 46 (2000), 46 (1998), 41.9 (January 1997)
Fiscal year: calendar year Communications Syria Telephones - main lines in use: 1.313 million (1997) Telephones - mobile cellular: NA
Telephone system: general assessment: fair system currently undergoing significant improvement and digital upgrades, including fiber-optic technology domestic: coaxial cable and microwave radio relay network international: satellite earth stations - 1 Intelsat (Indian Ocean) and 1 Intersputnik (Atlantic Ocean region); 1 submarine cable; 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 Service Providers (ISPs): 1 (2000)
Internet users: 32,000 (2001) Transportation Syria
Railways: total: 2,750 km standard gauge: 2,423 km 1.435- m gauge note: rail link between Syria and Iraq replaced in 2000 (2001) narrow gauge: 327 km 1.050-m gauge
Highways: total: 41,451 km paved: 9,575 km (including 877 km of expressways) unpaved: 31,876 km (1997)
Waterways: 870 km (minimal economic importance)
Pipelines: crude oil 1,304 km; petroleum products 515 km
Ports and harbors: Baniyas, Jablah, Latakia, Tartus
Merchant marine: total: 143 ships (1,000 GRT or over) totaling 482,985 GRT/702,590 DWT note: includes some foreign-owned ships registered here as a flag of convenience: Egypt 1, Greece 2, Italy 1, Lebanon 10 (2002 est.) ships by type: bulk 12, cargo 126, livestock carrier 4, roll on/roll off 1
Airports: 99 (2001) Airports - with paved runways: total: 24 over 3,047 m: 5 2,438 to 3,047 m: 16 under 914 m: 1 (2001) 914 to 1,523 m: 2 Airports - with unpaved runways: total: 75 1,524 to 2,437 m: 2 914 to 1,523 m: 11 under 914 m: 62 (2001)
Heliports: 2 (2001) Military Syria
Military branches: Syrian Arab Army, Syrian Arab Navy, Syrian Arab Air Force (includes Air Defense Forces), Police and Security Force Military manpower - military age: 19 years of age (2002 est.) Military manpower - availability: males age 15-49: 4,550,496 (2002 est.) Military manpower - fit for military males age 15-49: 2,539,342 (2002
service: est.) Military manpower - reaching males: 200,859 (2002 est.)
military age annually: Military expenditures - dollar $921 million (FY00 est.); note -
figure: based on official budget data that may understate actual spending Military expenditures - percent of 5.9% (FY98)
GDP: Transnational Issues Syria Disputes - international: Golan Heights is Israeli-occupied; dispute with upstream riparian Turkey over Turkish water development plans for the Tigris and Euphrates rivers; Syrian troops in northern, central, and eastern Lebanon since October 1976; Turkey is quick to rebuff any perceived Syrian claim to Hatay province
Illicit drugs: a transit point for opiates and hashish bound for regional and Western markets

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officially Syrian Arab Republic

Country, Middle East, along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea.

Area: 71,498 sq mi (185,180 sq km). Population (2002 est.): 17,156,000. Capital: Damascus. Arabs are the main ethnic group, and Kurds are the largest minority. Languages: Arabic (official), French, Kurdish, Armenian, English. Religions: Islam (Sunnite, ʽAlawiyyah), Druze, Christianity. Currency: Syrian pound. Syria consists of a coastal zone with abundant water supplies, a mountain zone that includes the Anti-Lebanon Mountains, and a portion of the Syrian Desert. The Euphrates River is its most important water source and only navigable river. It has a mixed economy based on agriculture, trade, and mining and manufacturing. Crops include cotton, cereals, fruits, tobacco, and livestock. The main mineral resources are petroleum, natural gas, and iron ore; manufactures include textiles, cement, and shoes. Syria is a republic with one legislative house; its head of state and of government is the president, who by law must be a Muslim. The legal system is based largely on Islamic law. The area that now comprises Syria has been inhabited for several thousand years. From the 3rd millennium BC, it was under the control variously of Sumerians, Akkadians, Amorites, Egyptians, Hittites, Assyrians, and Babylonians. In the 6th century BC it became part of the Persian Achaemenian Empire, which fell to Alexander the Great in 330 BC. Seleucid rulers governed it (301–с 164 BC); then Parthians and Nabataean Arabs divided the region. It flourished as a Roman province (64 BC–AD 300) and as part of the Byzantine Empire (300–634), until Arab Muslims invaded and established control. Thereafter the region was ruled by various Muslim dynasties. It came under the Ottoman Empire in 1516, which held it, except for brief periods, until the British invaded in World War I (1914–18). After the war it became a French mandate; it achieved independence in 1944. It united with Egypt in the United Arab Republic (1958–61). During the Six-Day War (1967), it lost the Golan Heights to Israel. Syrian troops frequently clashed with Israeli forces in Lebanon during the 1980s and '90s. Hāfiz al-Assad's long regime was marked also by antagonism toward Syria's neighbours Turkey and Iraq.

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▪ 2009

185,180 sq km (71,498 sq mi)
(2008 est.): 19,514,000 (excluding 1,400,000 Iraqi refugees)
Head of state and government:
President Bashar al-Assad, assisted by Prime Minister Muhammad Naji al-Otari

      As 2008 opened, Syria's security services arrested prominent dissidents and critics of the Baʿth Party-led regime. Among the detainees were the leaders of the Damascus Declaration for Democratic National Change, including the former parliamentarian Riad Seif and a number of Kurdish and Assyrian activists. One influential Kurdish figure, ʿUsman Sulaiman, died in the hospital shortly after being released from detention in mid-February. On March 20 a crowd celebrating the Kurdish new year in Al-Qamishli skirmished with police, and three deaths resulted. Reports of unrest among Islamist and Kurdish inmates at Saidnaya prison outside the capital surfaced in early April. Three months later violence erupted at the facility, and two dozen prisoners were killed when guards stormed the cell blocks.

      A car bombing in Damascus on February 12 killed ʿImad Mughniyyah, a key commander in the military wing of the Lebanese Islamist organization Hezbollah. One of Syria's most powerful military officers, Gen. Muhammad Sulaiman, was mysteriously assassinated on August 1. General Sulaiman's ties to both Pres. Bashar al-Assad and Hezbollah, his purported rivalry with Gen. ʿAsif Shawkat, and intimations of an aborted coup d'état precipitated a variety of rumours surrounding his death. Equally puzzling was a September 27 car bomb that killed more than a dozen people at the crossroads leading to the mausoleum of Sayyidah Zainab south of the capital. Because the explosion took place outside the headquarters of one of the security services, some speculated that it represented an attack on a senior commander at the site. Others linked the bombing to the Shiʿite pilgrims who frequented the district, particularly from Iran. Government officials contended that Islamist militants based in Tripoli, Leb., had supplied the vehicle in which the bomb was placed, and large numbers of troops were subsequently deployed along the Lebanese border.

      At the end of March, Syria hosted the first Arab summit meeting to convene in the country in six decades. Rising friction with Saudi Arabia set the stage for the proceedings. Saudi officials blamed Syria for the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri and suspected that Damascus was allowing Saudi fighters to cross the border into Iraq. Tensions escalated when the foreign ministers of Syria, Iran, Oman, and Qatar held confidential talks three weeks before the meeting amid reports that President Assad planned to invite Pres. Mahmud Ahmadinejad of Iran to join the summit. In the end the king of Saudi Arabia stayed home, as did the king of Jordan and the presidents of Egypt and Yemen. Iran's foreign minister attended as an observer.

      President Assad traveled to India in mid-June. A month later he met with French Pres. Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris and promised to set up a Syrian embassy in Beirut and to help defuse the ongoing crisis over Iran's nuclear research program. In mid-September a Syrian ambassador was appointed to Iraq for the first time in more than two decades.

Fred H. Lawson

▪ 2008

185,180 sq km (71,498 sq mi)
(2007 est.): 19,048,000 (excluding 1,400,000 Iraqi refugees)
Head of state and government:
President Bashar al-Assad, assisted by Prime Minister Muhammad Naji al-Otari

 Parliamentary elections held in Syria in April 2007 sparked violent protests in Al-Raqqa, Al-Hasakah, and Homs after local officials attempted to rig the balloting in favour of pro-regime candidates. Nine Kurdish parties boycotted the proceedings and charged that the authorities were encouraging voters to support lists of nominally independent Kurdish candidates in an effort to undercut the opposition. In the end the 10 parties of the ruling National Progressive Front won 172 of the 250 seats, 3 more than in the 2003 elections. The People's Assembly then nominated Pres. Bashar al-Assad for a second seven-year term. In a May referendum nearly 98% of voters approved the nomination.

      Electoral stasis accompanied gradual change in the domestic economy. The Ministry of Finance announced in January that publicly traded treasury bonds would be introduced to augment revenue and stabilize banking. This announcement followed a substantial tax cut for private companies. President Assad issued a decree in October that awarded all state employees and military personnel a 50% salary bonus.

      On September 28 a prominent figure in Syria's Islamist movement, Sheikh Mahmoud Qul Aghasi, known as Abu al-Qaʾqa, was assassinated. He had urged his followers, who called themselves the Strange Ones of Syria, to fight against U.S. intervention in the Muslim world. Rumours immediately circulated that he had been killed on orders from the U.S. CIA, although some pointed to radical Islamists incensed by his calls for collaboration with existing Arab governments and reconciliation between Sunnis and Shiʿites.

      Syria's relations with Israel and Saudi Arabia steadily deteriorated. In February an elite Israeli unit carried out exercises in the Golan Heights for the first time in five years. Three months later Syrian officials told Egyptian journalists that “Syria wants the Golan back, whether peacefully or through a war.” Iranian Pres. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reportedly pledged $1 billion to purchase upgraded fighter-bombers, tanks, and military helicopters during a July visit to Damascus. On September 6, Israeli warplanes bombed a remote site outside Dair al-Zur. Some observers claimed that the strike was designed to test Syria's air-defense system; others suggested that it was a warning to Iran; and still others argued that it destroyed a secret facility for the production or storage of chemical agents or nuclear material. The commander of the UN Disengagement Observer Force warned in late September that Israel was engaged in a dangerous troop buildup along the Golan front.

      Tensions between Syria and Saudi Arabia appeared to be diminishing in March when President Assad conferred with Saudi King Abdullah at an Arab summit in Riyadh. Saudi officials hinted a month later, however, that Damascus had supported a militant Islamist cell that was planning to attack oil installations and military bases across the kingdom. In August Saudi Arabia refused to attend a Syrian-sponsored conference on Iraqi security. Efforts by Qatar to mediate bore little fruit and precipitated a rupture in Qatari-Saudi relations.

Fred H. Lawson

▪ 2007

185,180 sq km (71,498 sq mi)
(2006 est.): 18,542,000 (excluding 800,000 Iraqi refugees in late 2006)
Head of state and government:
President Bashar al-Assad, assisted by Prime Minister Muhammad Naji al-Otari

      Foreign affairs dominated Syria's agenda throughout 2006. Pres. Bashar al-Assad opened the year by warning that the country confronted “an integrated project” on the part of outside actors to weaken Syria and leave the Middle East vulnerable to Israeli hegemony. Syria's preeminent position in Lebanon, which had been severely undermined by the withdrawal of Syrian military and security forces in April 2005, steadily deteriorated—to the benefit of Iran and its primary Lebanese client, Hezbollah. In an attempt to counteract the expansion of Iranian influence, Damascus increased material and moral support for a collection of radical Palestinian organizations operating in southern and eastern Lebanon. Guerrillas associated with one of these organizations, Fatah Uprising, clashed in May with Lebanese troops along the Lebanon-Syria border. In the wake of this skirmish, the chief of Syrian military intelligence, Gen. Asaf Shawkat, conferred with commanders of the armed wing of Hezbollah to develop a coordinated response to the Lebanese government's efforts to impose tighter restrictions on militia activities.

      Damascus also took steps to strengthen ties to Tehran and Moscow. The defense ministers of Syria and Iran signed a new mutual defense pact in June. Four months later the two governments announced plans to construct an industrial city outside the Syrian town of Homs to house a wide range of Iranian-funded joint projects. The Syria-Iran defense agreement coincided with reports of an arrangement that authorized the Russian Black Sea Fleet to use the Syrian ports of Latakia and Tartus. To protect Russian warships operating in the area, antimissile batteries were to be installed at both ports. Closer ties between Syria and Russia complemented Russian moves to establish working relations with the Palestinian radical movement Hamas; its victory in the January elections for the representative council of the Palestinian Authority was applauded by Syrian officials. (See Israel: Sidebar.)

      Syria condemned Israel's large-scale incursion into southern Lebanon in mid-July and threatened to intervene if Israeli forces advanced toward Syrian territory. Tens of thousands of refugees poured across the border to escape the fighting, and a large number of them were welcomed into private homes. Attempts by Syrian diplomats to persuade the United States to put pressure on Israel to end the fighting elicited no response. As the situation started to cool off, President Assad on July 31 addressed the Syrian armed forces, urging them to exert themselves to the fullest extent in defense of the people of Lebanon and Palestine. The fiery rhetoric of the speech stood in sharp contrast to the moderation that the regime had exhibited at the height of the crisis. In early August it was reported that during an emergency meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Beirut, Syria's foreign minister had suggested that Arab oil-producing countries cut off oil supplies to world markets; he was rebuked by his Saudi and Libyan counterparts. Relations with Saudi Arabia continued to sour at year's end.

      On the home front, cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad published in a Danish newspaper sparked violent demonstrations in early February outside the Danish, Norwegian, and French embassies. These protests were followed in quick succession by a march in front of the Council of Ministers building by workers in public-sector poultry companies and by a rally in front of the president's office by 40 of the 81 judges who had been abruptly dismissed in October 2005. Sunni militants attacked the state television studio in June and the United States embassy in September. Foreign Minister Faruq al-Sharaʾ was promoted to vice president in February and succeeded by Walid al-Muʿallim. In March, Najah al-Attar was appointed a vice president and became the first woman and first non-Baʿth Party member to hold the post.

Fred H. Lawson

▪ 2006

185,180 sq km (71,498 sq mi)
(2005 est.): 17,794,000
Head of state and government:
President Bashar al-Assad, assisted by Prime Minister Muhammad Naji al-Otari

      Syria's leaders reeled from setback after setback during 2005. The most important reverse surrounded the assassination on February 14 in Beirut of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri (Hariri, Rafiq Bahaa Edine al- ). (See Obituaries.) Accusations that Syrian agents were involved in the bombing that killed him were quickly voiced by Lebanese and U.S. leaders, despite Damascus's immediate and unequivocal condemnation of the killing. Syrian labourers in Sidon and the Baʿth Party office in Beirut were attacked the following day in retaliation. U.S. Pres. George W. Bush reiterated the call for Syria to pull its forces out of Lebanon. Syria responded by moving its troops to the eastern edge of Al-Biqaʿ valley. As February ended, some 25,000 Lebanese demonstrated at Hariri's grave site, and the pro-Syrian government in Lebanon collapsed. Saudi and Egyptian leaders then joined in lobbying Damascus for a full withdrawal, while the UN issued a provisional report charging that Syria “bears primary responsibility for the political tension that preceded the assassination.” In late March, Foreign Minister Faruq al-Sharʾ promised the Security Council that all Syrian forces would be out of Lebanon before that country's parliamentary elections in May. The last Syrian soldiers left Lebanese territory on April 26.

      Tensions steadily escalated between Beirut and Damascus. Syrian border guards harassed Lebanese commercial vehicles; Lebanese police carried out raids against suspected smugglers in disputed border districts; and Syrian patrol boats seized Lebanese fishing vessels in contested waters north of Tripoli, Lebanon. In these circumstances a UN commission headed by Detlev Mehlis started to collect evidence and testimony regarding the Hariri assassination. As the investigation proceeded, the two countries resumed discussions over border demarcation and the supply of Syrian natural gas to Lebanese electricity plants. The Mehlis report, released in late October, implicated senior Syrian intelligence officers in the assassination. A second UN commission then charged that Syrian agents remained active in Lebanese affairs. At the end of October, Lebanese troops took up positions around training camps of Syrian-sponsored Palestinian guerrillas in Al-Biqaʿ valley.

      Meanwhile, relations with Washington went from bad to worse. Heightened Syrian efforts to reduce the flow of insurgents and supplies into Iraq elicited only disdain from U.S. officials. Washington gave Damascus little credit for turning over to authorities in Baghdad 30 high-ranking Iraqi Baʿthists in late February. The U.S. joined Britain and France in sponsoring a Security Council resolution at the end of October that demanded greater Syrian cooperation with subsequent inquiries into the Hariri affair. Only firm opposition from Russia and China prevented the new resolution from including sanctions should Damascus hesitate or continue to support militant Palestinian and Lebanese organizations.

      On the domestic front, Pres. Bashar al-Assad dismissed Gen. Hasan Khalil as chief of military intelligence in the wake of the Hariri assassination and appointed his brother-in-law, Gen. Asaf Shawkat, to the post. The long-postponed 10th Regional Congress of the Baʿth Party that took place in early June adopted minor reforms and occasioned the resignation of longtime Vice Pres. ʿAbd al-Halim Khaddam. Two weeks before the publication of the Mehlis report, Minister of the Interior Ghazi Kanʾan was found dead, apparently by his own hand. As commander of Syrian intelligence in Lebanon, General Kanʾan had supervised Lebanese affairs from 1982 to 2002.

Fred H. Lawson

▪ 2005

185,180 sq km (71,498 sq mi)
(2004 est.): 18,017,000
Head of state and government:
President Bashar al-Assad, assisted by Prime Minister Muhammad Naji al-Otari

      Syria's leaders faced a succession of major challenges during 2004. As the year opened, more than 1,000 prominent intellectuals signed and circulated a petition that called for an end to martial law, the release of all prisoners of conscience, and the repatriation of exiled activists. Just before the petition was to be presented to the authorities, violence erupted at an association football (soccer) match in Al-Qamishli between Kurdish spectators, who reportedly displayed a Kurdish flag and pictures of U.S. Pres. George W. Bush, and a group of fans from outside the district who taunted the home crowd by chanting slogans in praise of Saddam Hussein and waving banners that bore his portrait. When residents of the city attacked the interlopers, police shot into the crowd, killing a dozen Kurds.

      Rioting spread quickly through Kurdish communities across the northeast, leaving behind burnt-out government offices and looted shops. Rumours that the whole incident had been set up by the security services to justify the state of emergency prompted a demonstration by a coalition of human rights groups in front of the People's Assembly in Damascus. Confrontations between protesters and police followed in Aleppo, Ras al-ʿAin, and ʿAfrin; some 1,200 Kurds were arrested before the disorder subsided. At the end of April, a dozen bombs were detonated simultaneously in the capital. Proponents of greater political liberalization, including advisers close to Pres. Bashar al-Assad, voiced exasperation that the situation had become so volatile, and in June the president expressed a desire to renew efforts to reform the Baʿth Party-led political system. Nevertheless, the government reiterated the ban on political activities by all unlicensed organizations. A month earlier longtime Minister of Defense Mustafa Tlas had stepped down. An officer who had gained notoriety for his toughness in imposing order in Lebanon, Gen. Ghazi Kanʾan, took over as minister of the interior in October.

      Syrian overtures to Israel at the start of the year elicited no response and collapsed when Israeli troops skirmished with Palestinian and Lebanese-based Hezbollah guerrillas along the Syrian-Lebanese-Israeli border in March. Two months later Israeli agents who had infiltrated Syria to assassinate a leader of the radical Islamist Hamas were discovered and arrested. In September a senior Hamas commander was killed by a car bomb in Damascus.

      Relations between Damascus and Washington remained almost as tense. In May the U.S. imposed sanctions against Syria that included an embargo on most trade and a ban on transactions with the commercial bank of Syria. U.S. forces in Iraq took up positions on the Syrian border in August and deployed drone aircraft to keep track of movement across the frontier. U.S. officials then shepherded a resolution through the UN Security Council that demanded the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon and the disarming of Lebanese militias. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell welcomed the evacuation of Syrian military encampments around Beirut in September; he then met Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq al-Sharʾ at the UN to discuss ways to coordinate patrols along the Syrian-Iraqi border.

Fred H. Lawson

▪ 2004

185,180 sq km (71,498 sq mi)
(2003 est.): 17,586,000
Head of state and government:
President Bashar al-Assad, assisted by Prime Ministers Muhammad Mustafa Mero and, from September 10, Muhammad Naji al-Otari

      Parliamentary elections in March 2003 brought 178 new faces to Syria's 250-member People's Assembly. Among the winners were four representatives of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, a longtime rival of the ruling Baʾth Party, and seven prominent businessmen who ran as independents. All 167 candidates put forward by the Front were elected, including 135 from the Baʾth Party. Most significant was the large number of seats (125) captured by delegates under the age of 50. Five parties banned by the government urged their supporters to boycott the elections. The Yekiti Party, which had a constituency that consisted primarily of Kurds in the northeastern provinces, also boycotted the voting.

      The U.S.-led war in Iraq beginning in mid-March disrupted Syria's extensive, but largely illicit, commercial relations with Iraq and deprived Syrian companies of preferential markets for a wide range of consumer goods. More important, it cut off the flow of some 200,000 bbl per day of Iraqi crude oil through the pipeline linking Kirkuk, Iraq, to Syria's Mediterranean port of Banyas. This supply line had provided Damascus with handsome transit fees while enabling Syria to export its own oil at prevailing world prices and divert Iraqi supplies for domestic use. Faced with the prospect of a sharp economic downturn, the government issued licenses to set up four private radio stations, two private universities, and the first three private banks since the nationalizations of 1963. Nevertheless, after persistent harassment by the authorities, Syria's only private newspaper shut down in May. When it failed to resume publication after three months, its license was revoked according to the provisions of the Press Law.

      Damascus openly opposed the U.S.-led military operations in Iraq, and Vice Pres. ʿAbd al-Halim Khaddam, Pres. Bashar al-Assad, and the country's grand mufti, Sheikh Ahmad Kaftaru, strongly denounced the action. Such statements soured relations with Washington, and U.S. officials repeatedly charged that Syria was permitting combatants and military supplies to cross into Iraq. In mid-June U.S. forces attacked a convoy of Iraqi vehicles inside Syrian territory, wounding a half dozen border guards and killing as many as 80 civilians. President Assad castigated U.S. policy in Iraq at the summit of the Organization of the Islamic Conference in mid-October, yet later that same day Syria voted in favour of a UN Security Council resolution that endorsed Washington's efforts to stabilize the country. On December 12 U.S. Pres. George W. Bush signed a bill that imposed economic sanctions on Syria because of its support of terrorism, occupation of Lebanon, development of weapons of mass destruction, and trade in military and economic commodities with Iraq.

      Meanwhile, tensions steadily escalated with Israel. In early January Israeli forces opened fire on Syrian troops in the demilitarized zone along the Golan border. On October 5, Israeli warplanes bombed a site on the outskirts of Damascus that was suspected of housing guerrillas of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine—General Command. The attack represented the first violation by either side of the Second Disengagement Agreement, signed by the two governments in 1974.

Fred H. Lawson

▪ 2003

185,180 sq km (71,498 sq mi)
(2002 est.): 17,156,000
Head of state and government:
President Bashar al-Assad, assisted by Prime Minister Muhammad Mustafa Mero

      Spontaneous popular demonstrations in defense of Palestinian rights became a regular occurrence in Damascus in the spring of 2002. Such protests reflected not only the public's antipathy toward Israeli policies in the occupied territories but also growing impatience over the glacial pace of political and economic reform inside Syria. Ostensibly pro-Palestinian marches soon exhibited the symbols and slogans of a wide range of organizations excluded from the Baʿth Party-dominated National Progressive Front. Dissidents took advantage of the rallies to distribute handbills that urged the authorities to release political detainees, end martial law, and relax restrictions on permissible debate. The potentially subversive character of the demonstrations became clear in mid-April when a crowd of protesters gathered outside the State Security Court to cheer the historic leader of the Syrian Communist Party Political Bureau, Riyad al-Turk, as he emerged from his trial for treason.

      Meanwhile, allies of Pres. Bashar al-Assad continued to purge the top levels of the armed forces and security services. Moves to replace long-serving commanders with younger officers loyal to the new president were facilitated by the promulgation of guidelines requiring all military officers to retire at age 60. The minister of the interior ordered the immediate resignation of a number of senior figures in the political and military intelligence apparatus in July and promoted other high-ranking commanders to advisory posts in the state bureaucracy. These moves complemented efforts to fight pervasive corruption in the civilian administration. The director-general of the state-run Commercial Bank of Syria was taken into custody in March after squandering some $5 million in risky investments; the head of Syrian Airlines was dismissed the same month. Dozens of mid-level government bureaucrats were dismissed on charges of mismanagement and misconduct throughout the spring and summer. The anticorruption campaign redoubled after a structurally defective and overburdened dam across the Orontes River north of Hama burst in early June, inundating the rich farmlands of the Ghab. (See Disasters.)

      Syria served on the UN Security Council, but its term brought only unpalatable choices. Syria's representative abstained from voting on a March resolution that for the first time referred explicitly to a Palestinian state and walked out before the vote on an April resolution that demanded the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Palestinian-administered towns in the West Bank. Despite Damascus's long-standing opposition to U.S. military intervention in the region, Syria voted in favour of the U.S.-sponsored resolution on Iraq passed by the UN Security Council on November 8. Syria, the only Arab nation on the Security Council, originally opposed the resolution, which allowed chemical and biological weapons inspectors unfettered access to all Iraqi sites. It agreed to endorse the measure only after language was added to the resolution preventing the immediate use of force if Iraq failed to comply. The U.S. government had credited Syria with forwarding information that enabled it to thwart an al-Qaeda attack on U.S. military personnel in April. At the same time, Syrian troops undertook the delicate task of restraining, but tolerating, Hezbollah operations against Israel's continued occupation of the disputed border between Lebanon and the Golan Heights.

Fred H. Lawson

▪ 2002

185,180 sq km (71,498 sq mi)
(2001 est.): 16,729,000
Head of state and government:
President Bashar al-Assad, assisted by Prime Minister Muhammad Mustafa Mero

      Political discussion groups blossomed throughout Syria as 2001 opened. In mid-January the reform movement published a Basic Document that called for a return to “constitutional legitimacy” and the rule of law. Immediately after this manifesto appeared, leftist reformers organized a Gathering for Democracy and Unity to encourage public debate and promote competitive parties. Influential liberals responded by forming the Social Peace Movement, committed to orderly dialogue between the regime and its critics and to opening the political arena to previously excluded viewpoints, especially those of the younger generation. At the end of January, however, the minister of information warned that “any talk that undermines the unity of society is a threat to society as a whole” and equated the spread of Western conceptions of civil society with “neocolonialism.”

      Attacks on the reform movement by senior government officials and the state-run media escalated in February, and discussion forums were ordered to clear their agendas, speaker lists, and participants with the authorities in advance. By late summer outspoken dissidents were being accused of insulting the honour of the nation. The historic leader of the Syrian Communist Party, Riyad at-Turk, was arrested after he publicly criticized the Baʿth Party's economic policies and Syria's involvement in Lebanon. Prominent liberal activists were rounded up by the security services during September.

      Economic and diplomatic relations with Iraq steadily improved during the year. An agreement to phase out tariffs on trade between the two countries was signed in January, and some 150,000 bbl of oil per day flowed through the long-abandoned pipeline linking northern Iraq to the docks at Baniyas. Rapprochement with Iraq accompanied heightened tensions with Israel. On April 16 and July 1, following Hezbollah operations against Israeli forces on the Golan Heights front, Israeli warplanes bombed Syrian military positions in eastern Lebanon.

      Prime Minister Muhammad Mustafa Mero led a delegation of state officials and businesspeople to Baghdad, Iraq, in mid-August. The trip resulted in a mutual defense pact, along with treaties to expand bilateral commercial and technical exchanges. On September 10 the interior ministers of Syria and Turkey pledged to coordinate efforts to combat organized crime and terrorism. Foreign Minister Farouk ash-Sharaʾ expressed regret over the attacks in the U.S. the next day, but he urged those set on eliminating international terrorism to focus their attention on Israeli policy toward the Palestinians and neighbouring states. In December the cabinet resigned, and Pres. Bashar al-Assad asked the prime minister to form a new government that could handle economic reform.

      Pres. Bashar al-Assad announced on January 2 that the previous day he had married Asma Akhras, who was born in Syria and educated in the U.K. In May the couple traveled to Spain in Assad's first trip to Europe since being named president in July 2000.

Fred H. Lawson

▪ 2001

185,180 sq km (71,498 sq mi)
(2000 est.): 16,306,000
Head of state and government:
Presidents Gen. Hafez al-Assad, ʿAbd al-Halim Khaddam (acting) from June 10, and, from July 17, Bashar al-Assad, assisted by Prime Ministers Mahmud az-Zuʿbi and, from March 13, Muhammad Mustafa Mero

      Pres. Hafez al-Assad died unexpectedly on June 10, 2000, after having ruled Syria since November 1970. (See Obituaries (Assad, Hafez al- ).) Within hours of his death, the People's Assembly revised the country's constitution to lower the minimum age for the presidency from 40 to 34, the age of the former president's oldest surviving son, Bashar al-Assad. (See Biographies (Assad, Bashar al- ).) Meanwhile, state security forces mobilized a number of popular demonstrations in the larger cities and towns that combined expressions of grief over the former president's death with protestations of loyalty to his presumptive heir.

      On June 27 the People's Assembly nominated Bashar al-Assad to be the sole candidate for election to the presidency. The balloting was carried out on July 10, with Bashar receiving 97% of the total vote. In his inaugural address on July 17, the new president reiterated the government's refusal to relinquish any part of the Golan Heights region to Israel, demanded that the United States act as an honest broker in Arab-Israeli peace talks, pledged to continue the anticorruption campaign that he had supervised over the preceding two years, and affirmed his commitment to a form of “democracy appropriate to Syria, that takes its roots from its history and respects its society.” He proposed no major changes in the country's political system.

      Three months before the transition, Prime Minister Mahmud az-Zuʿbi resigned in the face of charges that he had embezzled public moneys. His successor, Muhammad Mustafa Mero, was championed by Bashar al-Assad, who told reporters that “changes are more necessary than ever in sectors such as the economy, information, education, and technology.” Discreet criticism of the Baʿth regime soon began to appear in the state-run press. On July 15 an influential Damascus daily attacked a government official for claiming that poverty was nonexistent in Syria. At the end of September, 99 intellectuals, artists, and academics published an open letter to the president in a Beirut, Lebanon, newspaper, calling on him to grant citizens greater political freedom.

      Negotiations with Israel remained suspended. President Assad traveled to Cairo on October 1 to discuss the future of the Arab-Israeli peace process and other regional issues. The meeting was overshadowed, however, by the fighting that erupted between Palestinians and Israelis on September 29. The president returned to Cairo for the emergency Arab summit that convened on October 21 and gave a speech that sharply condemned Israel. Meanwhile, on October 8, for the first time since 1990, a Syrian cargo plane landed in Baghdad, Iraq; it carried a delegation of senior officials, along with food and medicine.

      In November President Assad signed an amnesty that set free 600 of the estimated 1,500 political prisoners in Syria. The amnesty marked the 30th anniversary of the revolution that brought Assad's late father to power.

Fred H. Lawson

▪ 2000

185,180 sq km (71,498 sq mi)
(1999 est.): 15,727,000
Head of state and government:
President Gen. Hafez al-Assad, assisted by Prime Minister Mahmud az-Zuʿbi

      Pres. Hafez al-Assad began 1999 by accepting the nomination of the People's Assembly for a fifth term in office, which was ratified by plebiscite in February in which Assad received 99.98% of the vote. The balloting was briefly delayed by the death of Jordan's King Hussein (see Obituaries (Hussein )), at whose funeral Assad put in a surprise appearance. Hussein's successor, King Abdullah (see Biographies (Abdullah II )), traveled to Damascus in April, telling reporters that the trip was designed to turn “a new page in relations between the two countries,” which had remained frosty since the 1994 Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty. The visit set the stage for intense discussions concerning water sharing, prompted by Israel's announcement that it would not honour its obligations to supply Jordan with water in the face of severe drought throughout the region.

      President Assad greeted the election of Ehud Barak as prime minister of Israel (see Biographies (Barak, Ehud )) by remarking that he was a man worthy of trust. The president journeyed to Moscow in July, where he joined Russian Pres. Boris Yeltsin in stating that the new Israeli leadership offered “specific opportunities for constructive efforts toward a comprehensive peace.” Syria's ambassador to the U.S. then observed that no more than a few months would be required for completing negotiations between the two sides, because “70%” of an agreement had been achieved before talks broke down in March 1996. Syria's Foreign Minister Farouk ash-Shara reiterated this message, adding that Syrian-Israeli relations would be “like peace between any two countries with common borders” as soon as a deal was concluded. Syrian Vice Pres. ʿAbd al-Halim Khaddam subsequently told the leaders of four radical Palestinian organizations based in Damascus “to drop armed struggle and form political parties and work on social issues.”

      By early August, however, Syrian officials were starting to complain that the Barak government was dragging its heels. Syria bristled at Israeli suggestions that the two leaders meet prior to an agreement regarding the permanent disposition of Syria's Golan Heights region, which had been under Israeli military occupation since 1967. In response to Israel's insistence that former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin made no commitment to withdraw from this strategically important territory, Syrian newspapers called on Israel to pull its troops back to the line that had separated the two countries' armed forces on June 4, 1967, which would give Syria direct access to Lake Tiberias. In December Shara met in Washington, D.C., with Barak to resume peace talks that had been stalled for four years.

      In September security forces detained some 1,000 supporters of the president's brother, Rifʿat al-Assad, and then raided his compound in Latakia and destroyed the extensive port and warehouse facilities there. The operations were widely interpreted as an effort to undercut potential rivals of the president's son, Bashshar, who told a Lebanese newspaper in February that “if the party command or the rank and file call on my services to fill a certain position, I will not say no. I am ready.”

Fred H. Lawson

▪ 1999

      Area: 185,180 sq km (71,498 sq mi)

      Population (1998 est.): 15,335,000

      Capital: Damascus

      Head of state and government: President Gen. Hafez al-Assad, assisted by Prime Minister Mahmud Zubi

      Syria reacted to the blossoming strategic partnership between Israel and Turkey during 1998 by cultivating closer ties with Iraq and strengthening its own military establishment. The minister of health traveled to Baghdad at the end of March in the first official visit to Iraq by a Syrian Cabinet minister in two decades. A month later the two governments inaugurated a duty-free zone along their common border to encourage bilateral trade. July witnessed the signing of an agreement to reopen the pipeline linking the oil fields of northern Iraq to the Syrian terminus at Baniyas on the Mediterranean Sea; the line had been shut down since 1982. In the wake of a visit to Damascus by the Iraqi minister of commerce, Syrian officials announced plans to increase exports of sugar, medicine, soap, and other staples to Iraq. The two governments also began rehabilitating the trade centres located in one another's capitals that had stood abandoned since the late 1970s.

      Meanwhile, Syrian commanders took steps to build up the armed forces. In May the government signed a deal with Russia worth some $400 million to supply the air force with sophisticated S-300 missile defense batteries, the same weapons that Moscow had agreed to sell the Greek government in Cyprus in January 1997. The deal complemented an earlier agreement to equip the Syrian army with some 1,000 Russian-made laser-guided antitank missiles. Russia's ambassador in Damascus called such contracts a way to "help maintain stability in the Middle East" and told reporters that Syrian units had taken part in military exercises inside Russia at the end of 1997.

      In early July Syria's long-serving chief of staff, Gen. Hikmat Shihabi, announced his retirement. He was immediately succeeded by the former deputy chief of staff, Gen. !Ali Aslan, a hero of the 1973 war with Israel. At the same time, the head of intelligence, Maj. Gen. Bashir an-Najjar, was dismissed and replaced by Maj. Gen. Mahmud ash-Shaqqa, the commander of Syria's expeditionary force in the Persian Gulf during the 1990-91 war. Knowledgeable observers speculated that these changes in command reflected the leadership's intention to reinvigorate the armed forces in the face of persistent Israeli operations in southern Lebanon and sporadic attacks against Syrian workers by dissident Lebanese militias.

      It was under these circumstances that Pres. Hafez al-Assad flew to Paris on July 16 for three days of talks with French Pres. Jacques Chirac. The Syrian leader carefully avoided endorsing a proposal championed by Chirac to convene a new Middle East peace conference under European auspices, although the two presidents did sign protocols that rescheduled Syria's outstanding debts to France and set up procedures governing French investment in Syria.

      In elections for the national legislature in December President al-Assad's National Progressive Front coalition won all of the 167 seats it contested. The remaining 83 seats were taken by nominally independent candidates.

      On July 24 Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz told a rally commemorating the 1939 transfer to Turkey of the former Syrian district surrounding the port of Iskandarun that "those who have their eyes fixed on Turkish territory" should harbour no illusions that they might ever gain control over "even a square centimetre of the territory of this country." He went on to charge that Syria had stepped up its support for the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in an attempt to seize the province.


▪ 1998

      Area: 185,180 sq km (71,498 sq mi)

      Population (1997 est.): 15,009,000

      Capital: Damascus

      Head of state and government: President Gen. Hafez al-Assad, assisted by Prime Minister Mahmoud Zuabi

      Syria assumed a more active role in Middle Eastern affairs in 1997 than it had played in recent years. Confronted with a steadily strengthening strategic partnership between Israel and Turkey, Syria took steps to construct a countervailing alliance by improving relations with Iraq, strengthening ties with Iran, and collaborating more closely with Saudi Arabia.

      Reconciling with Iraq served as the linchpin of Syria's new regional diplomacy. In mid-May a trade delegation led by the head of the country's chambers of commerce traveled to Baghdad to discuss ways in which Syria might supply Iraq with food, soap, and medicine in exchange for oil. The border between the two nations, which had been closed for more than 15 years, was formally reopened at the beginning of June. Vice Pres. ˋAbd al-Halim ibn Said Khaddam subsequently welcomed a delegation representing Iraq's chambers of commerce to Damascus, noting that Syria's overtures to Iraq had been undertaken as a response to persistent Turkish efforts to seize control of Kurdish areas in northern Iraq. Syrian officials enlarged and upgraded harbour facilities in Latakia and Tartus in anticipation of heightened activity at those two ports once trade with Iraq revived. Meanwhile, Minister of Foreign Affairs Farouk ash-Shara toured capitals of Persian Gulf nations to assure the leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council states that his government's budding rapprochement with Iraq would conform to the principles laid down in the 1991 Damascus Declaration, which had called for the establishment of an Arab force as part of a security and economic plan for the region in the aftermath of the Gulf War.

      At the same time, Syria moved to solidify its ties to Iran, even as it took steps to mediate between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Akbar Velayati visited Syria in early July to discuss the future of Persian Gulf security, and Syrian diplomats in Tehran arranged for a Saudi minister of state to confer with Iran's Pres. Hojatolislam Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. At the end of July, Syria's Pres. Hafez al-Assad undertook a rare official visit to Tehran to bid farewell to Rafsanjani and offer congratulations to his successor, President-elect Mohammed Khatami. Several of Syria's senior military commanders accompanied President Assad on the trip, ostensibly to discuss ways to improve "strategic regional cooperation and coordination" with their Iranian counterparts.

      At the end of June, Syrian officials invited the eight signatories of the Damascus Declaration to Latakia for talks concerning the creation of an Arab common market. The stimulus for the conference was the growing likelihood that Israeli goods and investment capital would penetrate the regional economy as Israel normalized its relations with Jordan, Morocco, Qatar, and Oman. In the wake of the meeting, Syrian leaders took the lead in publicly criticizing the U.S.-sponsored Middle Eastern economic summit that was planned to convene in Qatar at the end of November. Damascus argued that taking part in a multilateral conference attended by Israeli leaders would convince the government of Benjamin Netanyahu that it could enjoy the economic rewards of peace without resolving the major issues that continued to divide Israel from Syria and Lebanon. The potential for Syrian-Israeli conflict escalated in late August when Israel announced that it planned to build a dam across the Yarmuk River at a point on the Syrian side of the pre-1967 boundary. Damascus immediately charged that the proposal "proves that Netanyahu does not want peace and wants only to escalate tensions in the region."

      At home, Syrian authorities launched a highly publicized campaign to eradicate corruption in public-sector enterprises. Credit for directing the campaign was given to the president's son, Bashar.


▪ 1997

      A republic of southwestern Asia, Syria is situated on the Mediterranean Sea. Area: 185,180 sq km (71,498 sq mi). Pop. (1996 est.): 14,798,000. Cap.: Damascus. Monetary unit: Syrian pound, with (Oct. 11, 1996) a par value (official rate) of LS 11.22 to U.S. $1 (LS 17.67 = £1 sterling) and a "primary trade" rate of LS 41.95 to U.S. $1 (LS 66.08 = £1 sterling). President in 1996, Gen. Hafez al-Assad; prime minister, Mahmoud Zuabi.

      As 1996 began, Syria resumed peace talks with Israel. Two rounds of discussions between the Syrian and Israeli representatives took place in January, raising hopes that a breakthrough might be achieved on the issues of greatest concern to both sides: the final disposition of Syrian territory seized by Israel in June 1967 and the allocation of regional water resources. Syria hinted that the talks constituted a "golden chance" for peace but insisted that all land under Syrian control as of June 4, 1967, be returned before a peace agreement could be proposed. Israeli officials countered that several demilitarized zones along the shores of Lake Tiberias lay outside Syria's borders on that date, and the permanent status of those areas was open to negotiation. Talks collapsed when both parties refused to compromise.

      Attacks on Israeli troops in southern Lebanon, followed by rocket strikes against the town of Qiryat Shemona within Israel, persuaded Israel to launch a large-scale military incursion into Lebanon in early April. As Israeli forces pounded Lebanese targets, Israel demanded that Syria publicly denounce terrorism as a means to pursue political objectives. The Syrian government refused to do so, and its uncompromising posture eventually persuaded France and the United States to give Syria a pivotal role in the international committee charged with monitoring the cease-fire that ended the fighting.

      Buoyed by his success in handling the crisis, Pres. Hafez al-Assad traveled to Cairo to confer with his Egyptian counterpart. Assad told reporters there that Syria had "a feeling that things are not going ahead in a positive direction. That is why we need to remain vigilant so that we do not drop our guard and get taken for fools." To protect their forces from further Israeli offensives, Syrian commanders redeployed some 12,000 of their 35,000 troops in Lebanon to reinforced positions inside Syria. Even though the U.S. ambassador to Lebanon stated that the redeployment was "not alarming," the move prompted a barrage of Israeli warnings that it posed a threat to the Israeli-occupied Golan region.

      Syria's relations with Turkey steadily deteriorated in 1996. Damascus announced in January that it would allow only 10% of the waters of the Orontes River to cross into the Turkish province of Hatay. Turkish authorities then announced that they would interrupt the flow of the Euphrates River so that repairs could be made to the Ataturk Dam. Syria and Iraq tried to work out a joint response to Turkey in regard to water issues, but the two nations could do little but submit their grievances to a summit of the Arab League. Syria also warned foreign engineering and construction companies that they faced lawsuits and boycotts if they continued to work on projects inside Turkey.

      On a more positive note, Syria's economic prospects continued to improve. The nation began the year burdened by nonmilitary external debts totaling about $6 billion. The World Bank refused to consider requests for loans until $400 million of outstanding interest had been repaid, and $240 million from the European Investment Bank remained frozen pending the settlement of arrears to European governments. In the spring, however, the European Union authorized the disbursement of $2.5 million to fund social programs, and the European Commission subsequently provided $22 million to upgrade municipal administration.

      (FRED H. LAWSON)

▪ 1996

      A republic of southwestern Asia, Syria is on the Mediterranean Sea. Area: 185,180 sq km (71,498 sq mi). Pop. (1995 est.): 14,313,000. Cap.: Damascus. Monetary unit: Syrian pound, with (Oct. 6, 1995) a par value (official rate) of LS 11.22 to U.S. $1 (LS 17.74 = £1 sterling) and a "primary trade" rate of LS 41.95 to U.S. $1 (LS 66.32 = £1 sterling). President in 1995, Gen. Hafez al-Assad; prime minister, Mahmoud Zuabi.

      Despite persistent speculation that Syria and Israel were on the verge of concluding an agreement regarding the future of the Golan Heights, Syria remained adamant throughout 1995 that Israel had to promise to return not only all of the territory it occupied in June 1967 but also several disputed enclaves around Lake Tiberias before it would normalize relations with the Jewish state. At the beginning of April, Syrian officials proposed that demilitarized zones of equal size be established on both sides of the pre-1967 border. An Israeli spokesperson dismissed the proposal on the grounds that the western zone would stretch "halfway to Haifa." When the United States in mid-May vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israel for confiscating Palestinian lands outside Jerusalem, Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk ash-Shara told reporters that the U.S. had abandoned its role as an honest broker and thus could not be expected to police any agreement concerning the Golan.

      Syria and Israel came closest to compromise at the end of June, when the Syrian chief of staff, Lieut. Gen. Hikmat ash-Shihabi, met his Israeli counterpart in Washington, D.C., to discuss mutually acceptable security arrangements along the Golan front. The generals provisionally agreed that Israel would dismantle its network of forward listening posts and depend instead upon surveillance aircraft to provide the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) with tactical intelligence. As soon as the two chiefs of staff returned home, however, Israel announced that it planned to maintain a military presence inside the Golan indefinitely. The Israeli government's outright rejection of the bargain that had been hammered out by its own senior military commander convinced Syria that there was little to be gained from continuing negotiations. As a result, Syrian officials adopted a much less flexible posture toward both Israeli representatives and U.S. mediators.

      Relations between Syria and Israel deteriorated further when in mid-October Hezbollah guerrillas ambushed an Israeli armoured column in southern Lebanon, killing six Israeli soldiers, and then raided a fortified outpost garrisoned by the Israeli-sponsored South Lebanon Army. Israel's foreign minister, Shimon Peres, quickly blamed Syrian forces for allowing such operations to take place. Peres told a radio audience on October 15 that Syria had an obligation to prevent the conflict in Lebanon from escalating. These sentiments were echoed by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (see OBITUARIES (Rabin, Yitzhak )), while other Israeli officials warned that the IDF would retaliate against both Hezbollah and its supporters at times and places of their own choosing. For its part, Syria denied that forces under Syrian control had anything to do with the attacks and suggested that festering resentment over the prolongation of Israel's "aggressive policy" toward Lebanon led inhabitants of southern villages to take up arms against the IDF and its Lebanese clients. Following the assassination of Rabin in November, Syrian Pres. Hafez al-Assad continued the hard-line stance toward Israel. Still, Syria was feeling somewhat isolated among the Arab states, and there was a perception that now was the time for talks with the Israelis. Assad agreed to resume the dialogue, and Syrian officials began a week of preparatory meetings with Israel in the U.S. on December 31.

      Meanwhile, the Syrian leadership moved to consolidate ties to Egypt and the Arab Gulf states. In April Syria joined Egypt in arguing that the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty should not be renewed until Israel agreed to sign the pact. When Hussein Kamil al-Majid, a high-ranking Iraqi official, defected to Jordan at the beginning of August, Assad flew to Cairo to confer personally with Egyptian Pres. Hosni Mubarak. Assad told reporters following the meeting that the defector was not "as big as the media have made him out to be," and there was virtually no chance that the Iraqi regime would collapse anytime soon. The two presidents took the occasion to reiterate their common opposition to outside interference in the domestic politics of Iraq.

      Inside Syria itself, officials promulgated measures designed to encourage the expansion of private enterprise. Such key industries as electricity generation, cotton ginning, sugar refining, cement production, and pharmaceuticals manufacturing were opened to private investors. The government at the beginning of April rescinded its long-standing ban on the possession and use of credit cards issued by overseas banks. (FRED H. LAWSON)

▪ 1995

      A republic of southwestern Asia, Syria is on the Mediterranean Sea. Area: 185,180 sq km (71,498 sq mi). Pop. (1994 est.): 13,853,000. Cap.: Damascus. Monetary unit: Syrian pound, with (Oct. 7, 1994) a par value (official rate) of LS 11.22 to U.S. $1 (LS 17.85 = £1 sterling) and a nonessential rate of LS 23 to U.S. $1 (LS 36.58 = £ 1 sterling). President in 1994, Gen. Hafez al-Assad; prime minister, Mahmoud Zuabi.

      Although Syria remained aloof in 1994 from the mainstream moves toward peace with Israel, signs did emerge that Pres. Hafez al-Assad's aides were prepared to discuss mutual security arrangements with the Israelis at the highest levels. Nonetheless, neither side held out great hopes for an early breakthrough, largely because little progress had been made toward filling Syrian demands for a complete Israeli withdrawal from the occupied Golan Heights or Israel's insistence on early normalization of relations. Israel, however, appeared to be offering a three-year timetable for complete withdrawal amid indications that Egypt was urging Syria to adopt for the Golan Heights an arrangement similar to that which Egypt had accepted from Israel over the Sinai.

      On January 16 President Assad met Pres. Bill Clinton in Geneva in what was only the fourth meeting between Assad and a U.S. president since 1970. Clinton followed up with a second meeting with Assad in Damascus on October 27, the first time in 20 years a U.S. president had traveled to the Syrian capital. Neither meeting resulted in breakthroughs, however.

      Throughout most of 1994 Syria declined to negotiate directly with Israel in protest against the killing of at least 29 Palestinians by an Israeli gunman at Hebron in late February. In September, however, Foreign Minister Farouk ash-Shara gave his first-ever interview to Israeli television, and in Washington, D.C., in December an unnamed Syrian general joined Israeli and Syrian diplomats and the Israeli chief of staff, Lieut. Gen. Ehud Barak, for talks. In October the jamming of Jordanian television was abandoned by the Syrian government, an apparent sign that the Syrians regarded the peace process as unstoppable.

      A number of tangible benefits, nevertheless, accrued to Syria from the general move toward peace. On November 28, for example, apparently as a reward for not obstructing peace talks, the European Union lifted its eight-year embargo on sales of weapons by its member states to Syria. The move drew protests from Israel.

      President Assad was forced to pay close attention to domestic political issues in 1994. On January 21 his eldest son, Basel al-Assad, who had been thought of as a possible successor, was killed at the age of 33 when his automobile, which he apparently was driving at a high rate of speed, crashed in thick fog near the Damascus airport. Assad, who had ruled Syria since taking power in a coup in 1970, seemed keen to groom Basel for high office, but his hopes for a smooth succession appeared dashed at his son's death. Basel had been head of the presidential security force and had been able to make some inroads against institutionalized corruption in the country. With Assad's estranged brother Rifaat, nominally vice president, apparently out of contention, attention switched to Assad's second son, Bashar, aged 28, as a likely successor to his father. A further shock for the elite was the sacking of special forces commander Brig. Gen. Ali Haider on allegations of drug trafficking and his replacement by the Persian Gulf war veteran Gen. Ali Habib.

      The general election held on August 24-25 resulted in a victory for the ruling National Progressive Front and its allies, but with a low turnout of only 49% of the electorate. A Ba'thist, 'Abd al-Qadir Qaddoura, was elected speaker of the parliament, one-third of whose members were directly elected. The government budget, approved on June 8, provided for a 17.2% increase in spending to LS 144 billion. On November 14 Prime Minister Mahmoud Zuabi promised the new parliament that his government would introduce a program of economic reforms to implement changes to the banking system, unify exchange rates, and establish an export investment bank.

      The Arab boycott of Israel, which was headquartered in Damascus and whose main supporter was the Syrian government, appeared to be crumbling in 1994. The six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) decided in October to abandon the secondary and tertiary aspects of the boycott, thereby agreeing to do business with foreign companies that dealt with Israel as well as the Arab states. The April and October council meetings of the boycott members were canceled through lack of a quorum. Foreign ministers of the eight Damascus Declaration countries, the GCC plus Egypt and Syria, met in January and agreed to increase political and economic cooperation, but few tangible benefits emerged. (JOHN WHELAN)

▪ 1994

      A republic of southwestern Asia, Syria is on the Mediterranean Sea. Area: 185,180 sq km (71,498 sq mi). Pop. (1993 est.): 13,398,000. Cap.: Damascus. Monetary unit: Syrian pound, with (Oct. 4, 1993) a par value (essential rate) of LS 11.22 to U.S. $1 (LS 17.05 = £1 sterling) and a nonessential rate of LS 21.50 to U.S. $1 (LS 32.68 = £ 1 sterling). President in 1993, Gen. Hafez al-Assad; prime minister, Mahmoud Zuabi.

       Syria retained reservations about the Israeli-Palestinian accords concluded in September 1993. Pres. Hafez al-Assad agreed to withhold any active opposition to the plans to allow limited self-rule for the Palestinians in parts of the occupied territories but rejected lifting the Arab boycott of Israel. On September 20 Assad was quoted as saying that the only winner from the Israeli-Palestinian agreement was Israel, but six days later at a meeting with Pres. Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, he modified his position. In December he agreed to resume peace talks in early 1994. After Assad promised to help trace seven Israeli soldiers missing in Lebanon since the 1980s, the U.S. announced that it would relax sanctions against Syria.

      An extraordinary meeting of the Arab League took place in Damascus at the end of July after Israel attacked southern Lebanon on July 25. Despite the cease-fire agreed on July 31, Assad met the central command of the National Progressive Front on August 5 for a briefing on the security situation. It was the first time the president had convened the ruling party's politburo since the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. On May 11 Assad approved the 1993 budget with a total expenditure of LS 123,020,000,000, up from LS 93,040,000,000 in 1992.

      On May 20, after a meeting in Qatar, a new mandate was agreed for the Damascus Declaration alliance of Egypt, Syria, and the six conservative Gulf Cooperation Council states, comprising Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates. It was agreed that cooperation would focus on economic assistance rather than on mutual defense. Some $6.5 billion had been subscribed by the Gulf states to fund the agreement.

      On April 29 the Arab Boycott of Israel biannual meeting took place in Damascus and announced a ban on a company from Bulgaria and the former Yugoslavia. The meeting was a sign of Syria's continued hostility to Israel despite the peace process. On February 12 the European Parliament voted to reject the European Community's fourth financial protocol 1992-96 with Syria for ECU 148 million because of continued concerns over Syria's human rights record.

      Syria maintained close ties with Iran as a counterbalance to its hostility to Iraq. On January 3-5 Vice Pres. 'Abd al-Halim ibn Said Khaddam took part in a meeting in Tehran of the joint Iranian-Syrian Higher Committee. Two weeks later Turkish Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel visited Damascus, and the two governments said a joint agreement on shared water resources would be concluded by the end of 1993—the first time a date had been announced. Assad gave an assurance that Syria would not allow Turkish Kurdish Workers' Party guerrillas to operate from its territory. Turkey, Iran, and Syria held a foreign ministers meeting in Damascus in February and agreed that they would work to preserve the territorial integrity of Iraq.

      On August 18 Syria and Lebanon formally agreed to establish a permanent secretariat for the Higher Council, which had been constituted under a bilateral treaty signed between the two governments in May 1991. A month later the two countries signed four accords on economic cooperation. Syria continued to have a vital influence on the internal political affairs of its neighbour—on August 26 the Syrian vice president's backing for the government of Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri in Lebanon was crucial to its survival after a sharp internal crisis.

      In April and May the government stepped up its campaign against the underground drug industry in Syria. In April the People's Council passed legislation calling for the death penalty for drug dealers and smugglers. In late March a public execution was staged of five men convicted in al-Hasakah of having set fire to a jail, killing 57 inmates.

      Former interior minister Muhammad Rabah at-Tawil died in May less than a year after his release from prison. Tawil was arrested after Assad seized control of the government in 1970 and served 22 years in detention. Seventeen other senior Ba'th Party officials and civil servants and 50 other individuals were still in prison. (JOHN WHELAN)

* * *

Syria, flag of   country located on the east coast of the Mediterranean Sea in southwestern Asia. Its area includes territory in the Golan Heights that has been occupied by Israel since 1967. The present area does not coincide with ancient Syria, which was the strip of fertile land lying between the eastern Mediterranean coast and the desert of northern Arabia. The capital is Damascus (Dimashq), on the Baradā River, situated in an oasis at the foot of Mount Qāsiyūn.

      After Syria gained its independence in 1946, political life in the country was highly unstable, owing in large measure to intense friction between the country's social, religious, and political groups. In 1970 Syria came under the authoritarian rule of Pres. Ḥafiz al-Assad (Assad, Ḥafiz al-), whose foremost goals included achieving national security and domestic stability and recovering the Syrian territory lost to Israel in 1967. Assad committed his country to an enormous arms buildup, which put severe strains on the national budget, leaving little for development. After Assad's death in 2000, his son Bashar al-Assad (Assad, Bashar al-) became president.

 Syria is bounded by Turkey to the north, by Iraq to the east and southeast, by Jordan to the south, and by Lebanon and Israel to the southwest.

       Syria has a relatively short coastline, which stretches for about 110 miles (180 km) along the Mediterranean Sea between the countries of Turkey and Lebanon. Sandy bays dent the shore, alternating with rocky headlands and low cliffs. North of Ṭarṭūs, the narrow coastal strip is interrupted by spurs of the northwestern Al-Anṣariyyah Mountains immediately to the east. It then widens into the ʿAkkār Plain, which continues south across the Lebanon border.

      The Al-Anṣariyyah mountain range borders the coastal plain and runs from north to south. The mountains have an average width of 20 miles (32 km), and their average height declines from 3,000 feet (900 metres) in the north to 2,000 feet in the south. Their highest point, at 5,125 feet (1,562 metres), occurs east of Latakia. Directly to the east of the mountains is the Ghāb Depression, a 40-mile (64-km) longitudinal trench that contains the valley of the Orontes River (Nahr Al-ʿĀṣī).

      The Anti-Lebanon Mountains (Jabal Al-Sharqī) mark Syria's border with Lebanon. The main ridge rises to a maximum height of 8,625 feet (2,629 metres) near Al-Nabk, while the mean height is between 6,000 and 7,000 feet (1,800 to 2,100 metres). Mount Hermon (Hermon, Mount) (Jabal Al-Shaykh (Hermon, Mount)), Syria's highest point, rises to 9,232 feet (2,814 metres).

      Smaller mountains are scattered about the country. Among these are Mount Al-Durūz (Durūz, Mount al-), which rises to an elevation of some 5,900 feet (1,800 metres) in the extreme south, and the Abū Rujmayn and Bishrī Mountains, which stretch northeastward across the central part of the country.

      The undulating plains occupying the rest of the country are known as the Syrian Desert. In general their elevation lies between 980 and 1,640 feet (300 and 500 metres); they are seldom less than 820 feet (250 metres) above sea level. The area is not a sand desert but comprises rock and gravel steppe; a mountainous region in the south-central area is known as Al-Ḥamād.

 The Euphrates River is the most important water source and the only navigable river in Syria. It originates in Turkey and flows southeastward across the eastern part of Syria (see Tigris-Euphrates river system). The Euphrates Dam, constructed on the river at Ṭabaqah, was completed in the 1970s. The reservoir behind the dam, Lake Al-Asad, began to fill in 1973.

      The Orontes (Orontes River) is the principal river of the mountainous region. It rises in Lebanon, flows northward through the mountains and the Ghāb Depression, and enters the Mediterranean near Antioch, Turkey. The Yarmūk River, a tributary of the Jordan River, drains the Jabal Al-Durūz and Ḥawrān regions and forms part of the border with Jordan in the southwest.

      Scattered lakes are found in Syria. The largest is Al-Jabbūl, a seasonal saline lake that permanently covers a minimum area of about 60 square miles (155 square km) southeast of Aleppo. Other major salt lakes are Jayrūd to the northeast of Damascus and Khātūniyyah to the northeast of Al-Ḥasakah (Ḥasakah, Al-). Lake Muzayrīb, a small body of fresh water, is located northwest of Darʿā; the larger Lake Qaṭṭīnah (Lake Ḥimṣ), a reservoir, is west of Ḥimṣ.

      Most of the country's drainage flows underground. On the surface, impervious rocks—consisting of clay, marl (clay, sand, or silt), and greensand—cover a relatively small area. Porous rocks cover about half of the country and are mainly sandstone or chalk. Highly porous rocks consist of basalt and limestone. Water penetrates the porous rocks, forming underground springs, rivers, or subterranean water sheets close to the surface. Although the springs are profuse, the water sheets are quickly exhausted and may turn saline in areas of low precipitation.

      Because of aridity, vegetation plays only a secondary role in soil composition. With the exception of the black soil in the northeastern region of Al-Jazīrah, soils are deficient in phosphorus and organic matter. The most common soils are various clays and loams (mixtures of clay, sand, and silt). Some are calcareous (chalky); others, especially in the area of the Euphrates valley, contain gypsum. Alluvial soils occur mainly in the valleys of the Euphrates and its tributaries and in the Ghāb Depression.

Abdul-Rahman Hamidé

Temperature and precipitation
      The coast and the western mountains have a Mediterranean climate with a long dry season from May to October. In the extreme northwest there is some light summer rain. On the coast summers are hot, with mean daily maximum temperatures in the low to mid-80s F (upper 20s C), while the mild winters have daily mean minimum temperatures reaching the low 50s F (low 10s C). Only above about 5,000 feet (1,500 metres) are the summers relatively cool. Inland the climate becomes arid, with colder winters and hotter summers. Maximum temperatures in Damascus and Aleppo average in the 90s F (mid-30s C) in summer, while temperatures reach average lows in the mid-30s to low 40s F (1 to 4 °C) in winter. In the desert, at Tadmur (Palmyra) and Dayr al-Zawr, maximum temperatures in the summer reach averages in the upper 90s to low 100s F (upper 30s to low 40s C), with extremes in the 110s F (mid- to upper 40s C). Snow may occur in winter away from the coast, and frosts are common.

      The coast and western mountains receive 30 to 40 inches (760 to 1000 mm) of precipitation annually. Annual precipitation decreases rapidly eastward: the steppe receives 10 to 20 inches (250 to 500 mm), Mount Al-Durūz receives more than 8 inches (200 mm), and the desert area of Al-Ḥamād receives less than 5 inches (130 mm). Precipitation is variable from year to year, particularly in the spring and autumn months.

Charles Gordon Smith

The winds
      In winter the prevailing winds blow from the east, the north, and the west. In summer the prevailing winds are either northerly or westerly. During the summer the coastal region is subject to westerly winds during the day and easterly ones at night. Once or twice a year sand-bearing winds, or khamsin, raise a wall of dust some 5,000 feet (1,500 metres) high, which darkens the sky.

Plant and animal life
      Yew, lime, and fir trees grow on the mountain slopes. The date palm is found in the Euphrates valley. In both coastal and inland regions, plants include grains, olive trees, grapevines, apricot trees, oaks, and poplars. Lemon and orange trees grow along the coast. Garigue, a degenerate Mediterranean scrub, and maquis, a thick scrubby underbrush, cover many slopes.

      Forests make up only a very small percentage of the country's total area and are primarily found in the mountains, especially in the Al-Anṣariyyah Mountains. Glossy-leaved and thorny drought-resistant shrubs such as myrtle, boxwood, turpentine, broom, arbutus, and wild olive abound to the south. Excessive exploitation of the forests for their wood has largely turned them into scrub. A reforestation project has been undertaken in the mountains north of Latakia, however, and some forests are protected by the government. Commercially important forest plants include sumac, which is used as a spice, wild pistachio, which is important for its oil-rich fruit, laurel, which is used in the production of cosmetics, and mulberry, whose leaves are fed to silkworms. Pine tree branches are used for smoking tobacco leaves. Other useful plants are winter vegetables such as khubbayzah, a kind of spinach; ʿakkūb, a flowering plant; and truffles. Licorice is widely exploited for its root, which is used in the pharmaceutical industry.

      The steppe is characterized by the absence of natural tree cover, except for some sparsely distributed hawthorns. All other trees—such as those in the orchards of Damascus and Aleppo and along the banks of the Orontes and Euphrates rivers—are cultivated.

      For a brief period before June, the land is covered with a variety of flowering and grassy plants. Under the implacable sun of June, however, the plants soon wither, casting off their seeds onto the dry ground.

      Wild animal life is sparse. Wolves, hyenas, foxes, badgers, wild boar, and jackals can still be found in remote areas. Deer, bears, squirrels, and such small carnivores as martens and polecats are also found, while desert animals include gazelles and jerboas (nocturnal jumping rodents). Vipers, lizards, and chameleons are common in the desert. Eagles, buzzards, kites, and falcons frequent the mountains. Harmful insects include mosquitoes, sandflies, grasshoppers, and occasionally locusts.

      The mule is the beast of burden in the mountains, and the camel on the steppe. Other domesticated animals include horses, donkeys, cattle, sheep, goats, and chickens. Bees also are kept.

People (Syria)

Ethnic and linguistic groups
      The Syrian people evolved from several origins over a long period of time. The Greek and Roman ethnic influence was negligible in comparison with that of the Semitic peoples of Arabia and Mesopotamia—Aramaeans (Aramaean), Assyrians (Assyria), Chaldeans (Chaldea), and Canaanites (Canaan). Later the Turks, like the Greeks and Romans before them, influenced political and economic structures but failed to produce any noticeable change in the dominant Arab character of the Syrian people.

      There is a rough correspondence between ethnic and linguistic groupings, although some ethnic groups have been partially assimilated by the Arab majority, which includes the country's Bedouin population. A Kurdish (Kurd) minority also resides in Syria; much of the Kurdish population is Arabic-speaking and largely resides in the country's northeast. The country's Armenian population may be divided into two groups—the early settlers, who have been more or less Arabized, and the later immigrants, who arrived after World War I and retained their identity and language. The Turkmen intermingle freely with the Kurds and Arabs, but they have lost none of their ethnic identity in some northern villages. Syriac-speaking Assyrians who immigrated to Syria from Iraq as refugees in the 1930s quickly assimilated, owing to intermarriage and migration to the cities.

      The great majority of the population speaks Arabic (Arabic language). Other languages spoken in Syria include Kurdish (Kurdish language), spoken in the extreme northeast and northwest; Armenian (Armenian language), spoken in Aleppo and other major cities; and Turkish (Turkish language), spoken in villages east of the Euphrates and along the border with Turkey. Adyghian, a Kabardian (Kabardian language) (Circassian) language, is also spoken by a minority of the population (see Caucasian languages: Abkhazo-Adyghian languages (Caucasian languages)). English and French are understood, particularly in urban centres and among the educated.

 The overwhelming majority of the population are Muslims (Islāmic world); Sunni Muslims account for about three-fourths of Syria's Muslim population and are in the majority everywhere in the country except in the southern Al-Suwaydāʾ (Suwaydāʾ, Al-) muḥāfaẓah (governorate) and the Latakia governorate in the north. The ʿAlawites (Alawiteʿ) (a Shīʿite subsect) are the next largest group, and most live in the Latakia governorate or in the governorates of Ḥimṣ and Ḥamāh. Most of the country's Druze population lives in Al-Suwaydāʾ governorate, and the rest in Damascus, Aleppo, and Al-Qunayṭirah (Qunayṭirah, Al-).

      Christians (Christianity) constitute about one-tenth of the Syrian population. They are divided into several churches, which include Greek Orthodox (Greek Orthodox Church), Greek Catholic (Greek Catholic church), Syrian Orthodox, Armenian Catholic (Armenian Catholic Church), Armenian Apostolic (Armenian Apostolic Church) (Orthodox), Syrian Catholic (Syrian Catholic Church), Maronite (Maronite church), Protestant (Protestant Heritage), Nestorian, Latin, and Chaldean (Chaldean rite). There is also a very small Jewish (Judaism) population, the remainder of what once had been a flourishing community before being subjected to limitations on travel, employment, and other restrictions imposed by the Syrian government. Following international pressure on Syria to allow them to leave the country, much of the Jewish population chose to emigrate in the late 20th century; many chose to settle in New York City.

Settlement patterns
Traditional regions
      Syria's four traditional regions are the coastal strip, the mountains, the cultivated steppe, and the desert steppe. On the coast the fertile alluvial plains are intensively cultivated in both summer and winter. The region is the site of Syria's two principal ports of Latakia (Al-Lādhiqiyyah) and Ṭarṭūs.

      The area around the northwestern Al-Anṣariyyah Mountains is the only densely forested region. It is the ancient stronghold of the Nuṣayrīs, or ʿAlawites (Alawiteʿ), who form a sect of Shīʿite Islam. The economic resources of the mountains are too meagre to meet the needs of the ever-growing population; as a result there is migration to the Ghāb Depression and coastal towns.

      The cultivated steppe region constitutes the principal wheat zone; agriculture is intensively pursued along the banks of the rivers. Some of Syria's most important cities—Damascus, Aleppo, Ḥimṣ (Homs), Ḥamāh, and Al-Qāmishlī—are situated there.

      The arid desert steppe country is the natural domain of the nomads and seminomads. Sheep graze until the beginning of summer, when water becomes scarce, after which the shepherds lead their flocks either westward into the cultivated steppe or to the hills. The area once contained oases that served as caravan towns on the trade route joining Mesopotamia (Mesopotamia, history of) and the Indian Ocean with the countries of the Mediterranean. The most famous of these towns is Palmyra (Tadmur), at the northern edge of the Syrian Desert. The most important feature of the region is the Euphrates River.

Rural settlement
      In areas of traditional rural settlement, the choice of a village site is usually determined by the availability of water. Some of the villages in the Al-Anṣariyyah Mountains, however, have given priority to the requirements of defense and fortification. Village dwellings stand close together, and village streets are extremely narrow. Usually, there is a small central common overlooked by a minaret (a tall tower attached to a mosque from which the populace is called to prayer). There are usually a few small shops containing articles manufactured in the cities or towns.

      In rural areas, work takes place according to the seasonal rhythm of agriculture. Women generally share in much of the agricultural labour. Agricultural machinery, introduced on a large scale after World War II, caused unemployment and drove many villagers to the cities.

      Attempts to restrict the Bedouin took place during Ottoman rule and were later taken up again by the French, who had initially encouraged Bedouin self-government. These efforts continued after Syrian independence in the 1940s, and in 1958 the land of the bādiyah (Syrian Desert)—which accounted for some four-fifths of Syrian territory—was nationalized, and tribal holdings were no longer recognized by the state. Pasturelands were ruined and vast quantities of sheep and camels were lost in the massive drought of 1958–61, which devastated many Syrian Bedouin. Many were forced to seek employment in the urban centres, and some did not return to their pastoral lifestyle after the drought was over. Others, however, became partners with urban merchants who sponsored the restocking of their flocks. With the activation of state-sponsored programs, pastoral activity was revived, albeit in a new form: subsidized fodder and government-drilled wells were used in the nourishment of the herds; migration became increasingly individualized; and pastoral endeavours grew more market-oriented.

Urban settlement
      Ten centuries of Greek and Roman rule left an urban mark still visible in the towns of Latakia, Tadmur, and Buṣrā al-Shām (ancient Bostra). The urban tradition of Islam appears in such cities as Damascus and Aleppo. The continuation of old commercial and religious interests enabled the cities to maintain their economic and cultural supremacy under the four centuries of Ottoman (Ottoman Empire) rule. Following a period of rapid urbanization in the 1950s and '60s, rural-to-urban migration abated somewhat. Nevertheless, disparities between rural and urban areas, albeit reduced on several fronts, persisted into the 21st century and contributed to Syrians' continued movement from rural to urban areas.

 The national capital and the largest city in Syria is Damascus, situated in the southeast on the banks of the Baradā River. It is not only the national headquarters of government and the diplomatic community but also the main centre of education, culture, and industry. In addition, it serves as a marketing hub for central Syria and produces traditional handicraft products such as brocades, engraved wood, gold and silver ornaments, and carpets. It is well served by transport facilities and public utilities.

 Located between the Orontes (Orontes River) and Euphrates rivers, Aleppo is a trade and light-industry centre. The city is well served by roads and railroads and is surrounded by an area that specializes in the production of sheep for market in Damascus and other countries. The Mediterranean port of Latakia is surrounded by a rich agricultural region and contains some industry. Because of its seaside location, the city is a major tourist centre.

  Ḥimṣ is located in the midst of a fertile plain east of the Orontes River. It is a hub of the country's road and railway systems. Ḥamāh, to the northeast of Ḥimṣ, is bisected by the Orontes River. It contains irrigated orchards and is an agricultural trade centre. There is also some light industry. In 1982 the Syrian armed forces leveled the downtown area when they crushed a local rising against the government.

Demographic trends
      Syria's population is growing at a rate somewhat higher than the world average. The country's birth rate is higher than that of most neighbouring countries and is also higher than the world average. Life expectancy in Syria, while lower than in most neighbouring countries, is slightly higher than the world average. At the beginning of the 21st century, Syria's population was on the whole quite young, with more than one-third of Syrians under age 15 and almost another one-third under 30.

 Only about half the country's land can support population, and about half the population is concentrated in the country's urban centres. The desert steppe, which has the country's lowest population density, is inhabited largely by Bedouins and oasis dwellers. Population density varies considerably in the rest of the country and is highest in the northwest and southwest and in the northeast. It is also fairly high along the banks of the major rivers.

 Regional conflict has affected migration patterns in the country. Much of the population of the Golan Heights was expelled to other parts of Syria after Israel took control of the region in 1967; many, along with their descendants, continue to be internally displaced. After the creation of Israel and the first of the Arab-Israeli wars, some 80,000 Palestinian Arabs found refuge in Syria in 1948, a population that is estimated to have since expanded to number more than 400,000. Likewise, with the outbreak of the Iraq War in 2003, Syria absorbed more than one million Iraqi refugees.

      The process of socialist transformation under the Baʿth Party and, less rigorously, under Pres. Ḥafiz al-Assad has been the cause of much social, political, and economic turmoil and has led to emigration among the wealthy and among some religious minorities. Increasing numbers of workers and professionals have been leaving the country since the 1950s for other Arab countries, the United States, and western Europe. This movement has caused an alarming drain on the Syrian workforce.

       socialism became the official economic policy in 1963. Since then the trend has been toward socialist transformation and industrialization. In commerce, state control is mainly restricted to foreign-exchange operations. Small private businesses and cooperatives are still in operation, and the retail trade is still part of the private sector, despite competition from consumer cooperatives in the large cities. The government controls the most vital sectors of the country's economy and regulates private business. The state operates the oil refineries, the large electricity plants, the railways, and various manufacturing plants.

      The government encourages private savings by paying higher rates of interest on deposits and by guaranteeing investment by citizens of other Arab countries. There are severe restrictions on all luxury imports. At the same time, strenuous efforts are made to mobilize economic potential, combat underemployment, and discourage emigration. Despite modest steps toward privatization since 1990, the Syrian government has been largely hesitant to pursue economic liberalization, wary of its potential to endanger political stability.

Agriculture, forestry, and fishing
      Agriculture constitutes an important source of income. It provides work for about one-fourth of the population, including a significant proportion of townspeople. Wheat is the most important food crop, although its production is constantly subject to great fluctuations in rainfall; sugar beet production is also significant. Barley, corn (maize), and millet are the other important grains. Cotton is the largest and most reliable export crop. Lentils are a major domestic food, but they also are exported. Other fruits and vegetables include tomatoes, potatoes, melons, and onions. Olives, grapes, and apples are grown at high altitudes, while citrus fruits are cultivated along the coast. High-grade tobacco is grown in the area around Latakia. Raising livestock, including sheep, cattle, camels, and poultry, is also an important agricultural activity.

      Forests make up a very small percentage of the country's total area. Most of the country's timber has to be imported. Syria's small number of fishermen use small and medium-size boats. The annual fish catch includes sardines, tuna, groupers, tunny, and both red and gray mullet.

Resources and power
      Syria's principal limestone quarries are located north and west of Damascus, especially near the city of Aleppo, which itself is built of limestone. Basalt, used for road pavement, is quarried in areas such as those near Ḥimṣ and Aleppo. Marl is used in the cement industry; the main quarries are in the vicinity of Damascus and Aleppo and at Al-Rastan. Phosphate ore is mined in areas near Palmyra, and rock salt is extracted from the mid-Euphrates region. Asphalt and gypsum are also mined, and table salt is produced from the salt lakes. Syria has scattered reserves of chrome and manganese.

      Petroleum in commercial quantities was first discovered in the northeast in 1956. Among the most important oil fields are those of Suwaydiyyah, Qaratshūk, and Rumaylān, near Dayr al–Zawr. The fields are a natural extension of the Iraqi fields of Mosul and Kirkūk. Petroleum became Syria's leading natural resource and chief export after 1974; production peaked in the mid-1990s, however, before beginning a steady decline. Natural gas was discovered at the field of Jbessa in 1940. Since that time natural gas production in Syria has expanded to form an important energy export; in addition, some of the country's oil-fired power stations have been converted to run on natural gas, freeing more Syrian petroleum for export.

      Raw phosphates were discovered in 1962; some of the richest beds are located at Khunayfis, Ghadīr al-Jamal, and Wadi Al-Rakhim. Iron ore is found in the Zabadānī region. Asphalt has been found northeast of Latakia and west of Dayr al-Zawr.

      Syria's primary source of power is derived from local oil supplies, and domestic natural gas reserves are becoming an increasingly important resource as well. Electricity is largely generated by thermal stations fired by natural gas or oil. With the exception of the Euphrates River, rivers flowing through Syria produce only small amounts of hydroelectric power. There are small hydroelectric stations, such as those on the Orontes and Baradā rivers, and a larger hydroelectric development at the Euphrates Dam at Ṭabaqah (inaugurated in 1978). However, insufficient dam maintenance, coupled with Turkish usage upstream and unpredictable precipitation, have decreased productivity.

      Owing in part to the increasing industrialization initiatives of the late 20th century, Syria's electricity supply struggled to meet demand. In the early 21st century, several new thermal power stations were completed, largely alleviating shortages. In light of increasing demand, further expansion of the infrastructure continued to be needed, though Syria was able to export electricity to some of its neighbours, including Iraq and Lebanon.

      Wool, cotton, and nylon textiles are Syria's most important manufactures, and mills are mainly in Aleppo, Damascus, Ḥimṣ, and Ḥamāh; natural silk is also produced. Also of importance are the technical engineering industries, most of which are located in Damascus. Chemical and industrial engineering products include cement; glass panes, bottles, and utensils; pharmaceuticals; plywood; and batteries.

      The food-processing industry produces salt, vegetable oils, cotton cake, canned fruit and vegetables, tobacco, and a variety of dairy products. Other industries include the preparation of superphosphates and urea and petroleum refining.

      Most of the traditional handmade manufactures—damask steel, swords and blades, brass and copper work, wood engravings, gold and silver ornaments, mother-of-pearl inlays, silk brocades—have decreased since the introduction of industrial processing.

      The Central Bank of Syria issues the national currency, the Syrian pound, and exercises control over all other banks that operate in the country. The Commercial Bank of Syria finances trade, markets agricultural products, and carries out foreign-exchange operations. The Real Estate Bank finances the building industry and carries out all ordinary banking operations. An industrial development bank finances the private industrial sector, while an agricultural bank extends loans to farmers and agricultural cooperatives. The Popular Credit Bank makes loans to small manufacturers, artisans, and production cooperatives. There is a nationalized insurance company. Since 2000 a number of small private banks have been established as part of the gradual approach toward liberal economic reform.

      During the Cold War, Syria was offered financial and technical assistance free or at minimum interest rates from socialist countries such as China, Bulgaria, and the Soviet Union (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics), and it has continued to receive aid at favourable conditions from China into the 21st century. At the end of the 20th century, Syria received substantial sums from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait for its support in the Persian Gulf War (1990–91); aid with more-stringent conditions has been sought from France and other Western countries.

      Syria has an unfavourable balance of trade, a deficit that is offset by revenues from tourism, transit trade returns, foreign aid, and earnings of Syrians overseas. Goods from the European Union (EU), China, and Turkey account for the bulk of Syria's imports. Major import items include industrial and agricultural machinery, motor vehicles and accessories, drugs, food, and fabric. The EU consumes a significant proportion of Syrian exports, which include petroleum, phosphates, ginned cotton, cotton seeds, barley, lentils, cotton and woolen fabrics, dried fruit, vegetables, skins, and raw wool. Other major purchasers of exports include the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia. Foreign trade is regulated by the state.

      Syria's service sector contributes heavily to the country's overall income, and at the beginning of the 21st century the sector employed about half of the country's workforce. Syria attracts tourism with a rich treasure trove of historical attractions that includes ancient and Classical ruins, Muslim and Christian religious sites, and Crusader (Crusades) and medieval Islamic architecture; some of these have been designated UNESCO World Heritage sites (World Heritage site). Most tourists come from Arab countries, Iran, and Turkey, attracted to Syria's relatively mild summer climate and popular entertainment. A much smaller proportion of tourists come from Europe and the United States. Privatization of the tourism sector stimulated growth in revenues during the 1990s. Since the early 2000s, privatization in the areas of real estate, insurance, and trade has played a greater role in stimulating growth.

Labour and taxation
      The General Federation of Workers was founded in 1938 and has grown tremendously in power and scope. Composed only of industrial employees, it is represented on industrial boards and is responsible for a wide range of social services. There is also a federation for artisans and vocational workers, and there are associations for the professions and a General Federation of Farmers. Trade unions are obliged to organize under the Baʿth (Baʿth Party)-controlled General Federation of Trade Unions.

      Labour legislation establishes minimum-wage limits, prohibits child labour, and organizes relations between workers and employers. But economic and social conditions as well as the extent of unemployment make rigorous enforcement impractical. Employees in heavy industry receive the highest industrial wages, textile workers the lowest. State employees have more job security. The major portion of the average salary is generally spent on housing and food.

      Tax income accounts for more than one-third of governmental revenue. Indirect taxes, which produce the most tax revenue, are levied on industrial products, customs, exports, and state domains. Direct taxes are levied on wages, circulating capital, livestock, and the transfer of property.

      Syria's road network is the chief means of transporting goods and passengers. Major roads include the highway between Damascus and Aleppo and the road between Damascus and Baghdad.

      Syria's railways are well developed. A northern line runs northeastward from Aleppo into Turkey and then east along the border to Al-Qāmishlī, where it crosses the northeastern extremity of Syria en route to Baghdad. The Hejaz Railway runs from Damascus to Amman, and another runs from Aleppo to Tripoli. Aleppo and Damascus are also linked by rail. Smaller lines run between Ḥimṣ and Rīyāq (Lebanon) and between Beirut and Damascus. A railway also runs from Latakia to Aleppo, Al-Ḥasakah (passing by the Euphrates Dam), and Al-Qāmishlī. Another line extends northwest from Aleppo to the Turkish border at Maydān Ikbiz. From Ḥimṣ a line runs west to the port of Ṭarṭūs, and a line also runs east to the phosphate mines near Tadmur, opening up the desert interior to the Mediterranean.

      The country's chief ports, Latakia and Ṭarṭūs, were built after independence. Latakia has two main jetties, as well as wharves and warehouses. Port commerce was dampened by the closure of the Syrian border with Iraq in the early 1980s, although with the border's reopening in the late 1990s, shipments to Iraq as part of the United Nations (UN) oil for food program boosted the Syrian shipping industry.

      Syria has international airports at Damascus and Aleppo, and several domestic airports are located throughout the country, including those at Al-Qāmishlī, Latakia, Dayr al-Zawr, and Tadmur. International services connect Syria with Arab, other Asian, and European countries. Domestic and international services are provided by Syrian Arab Airlines.

Government and society

Constitutional framework
      The constitution of 1973 declares that Syria constitutes an integral part of the Arab homeland, that all legislative power lies with the people, and that freedom of expression and equality before the law are guaranteed. However, the enforcement of these principles has not been thorough; especially from the late 1970s, constitutionally guaranteed rights were increasingly suppressed under Pres. Ḥafiz al-Assad (Assad, Ḥafiz al-)'s rule.

      The regional (Syrian) leadership of the Arab Socialist Baʿth (Renaissance) Party elects the head of state, who must be a Muslim, and appoints the cabinet, which exercises legislative as well as executive powers. Legislative power is vested in the People's Council, members of which are elected by popular vote to four-year terms. The Baʿth Party is constitutionally guaranteed an absolute majority.

Local government
      Syria is divided into governorates (one of which, Damascus, is a governorate-level city), manāṭiq (districts), and nawāḥī (subdistricts). The governors, or muḥāfiẓūn, enjoy some power within their administrative divisions, but local government is centralized and is dependent upon the minister of the interior in the national government.

      The principles of Syrian law and equity derive basically from Islamic jurisprudence and secondarily from the French civil code. Summary courts try civil, commercial, and penal cases. The headquarters of each administrative district has a First Instance Court for criminal cases. The capital city of each governorate also has a court of appeal. Damascus houses a high court of appeal and a constitutional court, as well as a military tribunal and the mufti's court for the maintenance of Islamic law. Various non-Muslim sects each have their own courts with jurisdiction over personal-status cases.

Political process
      Most authority is wielded by the ruling Arab Socialist Baʿth Party. Since its foundation in the 1940s, the party has undergone radical internal changes as a result of successive coups d'état and internal power struggles. The party has branch organizations in many Arab countries, each headed by its own regional leadership. The organs of administration are the National Command, the Regional Command, and the People's Council; the latter operates as a legislature. The supreme national leadership is composed of representatives from each regional branch, who are elected by their own party congresses. The regional leadership for Syria is the highest authority in the country but is subordinate to the national leadership. Actual power resides in the presidency. All political parties are officially linked together as the National Progressive Front, which is dominated by the Baʿth Party.

      Although Syria has universal adult suffrage, elections are generally not held by international observers as free and fair. Women are able to participate in the political system and have held a number of positions, and in the early 21st century almost one-eighth of the members of parliament were women. The ʿAlawites, one of Syria's religious minorities, have dominated Syrian politics since the 1960s.

      Military service is compulsory for all adult males; college students receive deferments. Military service provides general and technical—as well as military—education and training. The army is the largest contingent of Syria's armed forces and is responsible for defense, public works, road construction, and public health. There is also an air force, a small navy, and reserve units for all three branches. Palestinian Arab guerrilla organizations operate from Syria and have training facilities there.

Health and welfare
      Most endemic diseases in Syria have been eliminated. Health facilities include state and private hospitals and sanatoriums, as well as hospitals and outpatient clinics of the armed forces. There are also a number of public and private outpatient clinics, as well as maternal and child-care, antituberculosis, malaria eradication, and rural health centres. Child mortality is caused mostly by measles and diseases of the digestive and respiratory systems. Tuberculosis and trachoma are widespread, particularly among the Bedouin, peasants, and residents of poorer urban areas.

      Health conditions and sanitation in the cities, towns, and larger villages are generally satisfactory. Running water is supplied to almost all houses, buildings, and public places. Each municipality maintains its streets and collects refuse regularly. Although the government has offered incentives for doctors to serve rural areas, medical services are unevenly distributed, with the majority of doctors concentrated in the large cities.

      The Ministry of Social Welfare and Labour is empowered to find work for, and distribute cash allowances to, the unemployed. The ministry also encourages such youth activities as athletics, scouting, literacy campaigns, and the organization of cooperatives. The government gives substantial grants to private welfare societies.

      The high birth rate in Syria has caused family lands to be broken up into ever smaller lots and has reduced the standard of living of many rural inhabitants.

      The old houses in Damascus are built of soft unbaked bricks, wood, and stone. Contemporary buildings are built of concrete, while hewn stone is reserved for official buildings, mosques, and churches.

      The pace of change from an agricultural to an industrial economy, and the accompanying migration to the cities, led to an acute shortage of housing. Aggravating the shortage, young adult males migrating from rural areas to the cities are increasingly breaking with tradition by leaving their parental homes for their own. The Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs undertakes the construction of blocks of low-income flats in the cities.

      About four-fifths of the Syrian population is literate.Schooling, which begins at age six, is divided into six years of compulsory primary, three years of lower secondary, and three years of upper secondary education. Lower and upper secondary schools provide general (which prepares for university entrance) or vocational curricula. Secondary schools are open to all elementary students who wish to continue their education. Within this framework, increased attention is being given to technical education. The University of Damascus, founded in 1923, is the country's oldest university. Other universities include the University of Aleppo (1960), Tishrīn University (1971) in Latakia, and Al-Baʿth University (1979) in Ḥimṣ. All levels of education have been expanded substantially since 1963.

Cultural life
      Contemporary Syrian culture blends Arab, Mediterranean, and European elements. Syrians are keenly interested in international politics and culture, which many follow through national radio and television programs as well as those broadcast from other Middle Eastern countries and from Europe. The Ministry of Culture and National Guidance has been active in directing and promoting the nation's cultural life. An important objective has been the affirmation of the Arab national character in the face of foreign cultural influences.

Daily life and social customs
      The family is the heart of Syrian social life. Frequent visits and exchanges of invitations for meals among family members are integral to daily living. Although formally arranged marriages are becoming less frequent, parents ordinarily wield decisive authority in approving or rejecting a match. Marriage to members of one's religion are the norm; Muslim men may marry non-Muslim women, although the reverse is prohibited; interdenominational marriages among Christians are legal but require permission from both denominations. Neighbourly relations and friendships among members of different religions are common in Syrian cities.

      A visible expression of Syria's cultural eclecticism is demonstrated in its range of clothing styles: while some women choose the latest European fashions, others are completely veiled; older men in traditional black baggy trousers contrast with youths sporting Western styles.

      Syrian Muslims observe the major religious holidays of Ramadan (Ramaḍān), Īd al-Fiṭrʿ (“Festival of Breaking Fast,” marking the end of Ramadan) and Īd al-Aḍḥāʿ (“Festival of the Sacrifice,” marking the culmination of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca). Syrian Christians freely celebrate the holidays of the Christian tradition, including Christmas and Easter.

      Syrian cuisine makes use of a wide range of ingredients and styles of preparation; lemon, garlic, onions, and spices are often featured prominently. Kibbeh—ball-shaped or flat diamond-cut bulgur (cracked wheat) shells filled with ground beef or lamb, spices, and pine nuts—are enjoyed, oftentimes served with yogurt. Grapevine leaves are stuffed with spiced mixtures of lamb or beef and rice and simmered with lemon juice; variants also exist using cabbage leaves and a lemon-tomato broth. Meat pies and spinach pies are also enjoyed, and fruits, vegetables, and grains are staples in Syrian dishes. Flat bread, cheeses, salads, and olives are often a fixture of the mazzah (mezes), a spread of smaller dishes served together. Syrian pastries, some of which require substantial skill to prepare, are of a wide variety.

The arts
      The artistic representation of animal or human life is proscribed by Islam, and until World War I public figurative art in Syria was restricted to geometric, vegetative, and animal designs as manifest in the arts of arabesque and calligraphy, which adorn most palaces and mosques. Following World War I, drawing was taught in the schools, and talented artists began to emerge. Sculpture is mainly confined to decorations hewn in white marble. Damascus is particularly famous for this type of sculpture, and beautiful examples of it can be seen in its palaces and public buildings.

      Short-story writing and poetry have flourished, as in the widely read works of Nizār Qabbānī (Qabbānī, Nizār) and ʿAlī Aḥmad Saʿīd (Adonis) (“Adonis”). The country's leading playwright, Saʿdallah Wannus (1941–97) has an international reputation for his politically forthright productions. The National Theatre and other theatrical and folk-dance companies give regular performances. In the realm of popular television, theatre, and cinema, Durayd Lahham's comic figure Ghawwar, a sort of “wise fool,” enjoys a popular following throughout the Arab world. Syrians produce and listen to styles of popular music shared by much of the Arab world. Renowned Syrian musical artists include singer and ūdʿ-player Farid al-Atrash and his sister Amal, known as Asmahan, who was a popular singer and actor.

Cultural institutions
      National folk traditions have been emphasized by the state, which has established a museum for national folk traditions in Damascus. The capital also contains the National Museum and separate museums for agriculture and military history. Archaeological museums are located in Aleppo and at major sites. There are numerous libraries throughout Syria; Al-Assad National Library, al-Ẓāhiriyyah, and the library associated with the University of Damascus are among the country's most important.

      The Ministry of Culture has established an Arab institute of music and has made available numerous courses in the figurative and applied arts, as well as centres for teaching the domestic arts. The Arabic Language Academy in Damascus, founded in 1919, is the oldest such academy in the Arab world.

  A number of Syria's archaeological and historic features have been recognized by UNESCO as World Heritage sites; these include the ancient cities of Damascus, Aleppo, and Bostra, the site of Palmyra, and the Crusader-period fortresses of Krak des Chevaliers (“Castle of the Knights”) and Qalʿat Salāḥ al-Din (“Fortress of Saladin”).

Sports and recreation
      Football (soccer) is the country's most popular sport, and Syrians closely follow both Arab and European matches broadcast on national television. Weight lifting, judo, and karate are popular in the cities, and health clubs and gyms are becoming increasingly common in the capital. There are stadiums in Damascus, Aleppo, and Latakia, where occasional sporting events are held. The government-run Institute for Sports Education is in charge of organizing these sporting events, and the General Union of Sports, which is also funded by the government, promotes sports in rural areas to underprivileged children. Syria first competed in the 1948 Games in London and later won its first medal in men's heavyweight freestyle wrestling at the 1984 Olympic Games.

      In addition to sporting activities, other leisure activities include frequent family outings to favourite picnic spots by streams or to mountain resorts.

Media and publishing
      The majority of Syria's publishing industry is concentrated in Damascus. Magazines and journals are run mostly by official or semiofficial bodies. Daily, weekly, and fortnightly newspapers are published, and all newspapers are subject to government restrictions. Leading dailies include Tishrīn, Al-Baʿth, and the government publication Al-Thawrah. The Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) is the country's official, state-run news bureau.

      Radio and television broadcasting in Syria is overseen by the Directorate-General of Radio and Television. Syrian radio broadcasting began in 1945 and grew to become a powerful rival of the local press. Radio broadcasts are mainly in Arabic but also in English, French, Turkish, Russian, Hebrew, and German, and they reach almost every Syrian home. The country's first private radio station, Al-Madina FM, was launched in 2005.

      The Syrian Television Service, which was established in 1960, reaches a large audience throughout the country. Television broadcasting includes educational and cultural programs, drama, music, news, and sports. Syrian television series are becoming increasingly popular throughout the Arab world. Government control once shaped and limited the public's perception of current events, but, as satellite dishes became more common, Syrians gained access to a broader selection of Middle Eastern and European programming.

Abdul-Rahman Hamidé William L. Ochsenwald David Dean Commins

      The earliest prehistoric remains of human habitation found in Syria and Palestine (stone implements, with bones of elephants and horses) are of the Middle Paleolithic Period. In the next stage are remains of rhinoceroses and of men who are classified as intermediate between Neanderthal and modern types. The Mesolithic Period is best represented by the Natufian culture, which is spread along, and some distance behind, the coast of the Levant. The Natufians supported life by fishing, hunting, and gathering the grains that, in their wild state, were indigenous to the country. This condition was gradually superseded by the domestication of animals, the cultivation of crops, and the production of pottery. Excavations at Mureybet in Syria have revealed a settlement where the inhabitants made pottery and cultivated einkorn, a single-grained wheat, as early as the 9th millennium BCE. Metallurgy, particularly the production of bronze (an alloy of copper and tin), appeared after the mid-4th millennium BCE. The first cities emerged shortly thereafter.

Early history
      History begins with the invention of writing, which took place in southern Babylonia perhaps about 3000 BCE, the script being an original picture character that developed later into cuneiform. Modern research, however, suggests that clay tokens found at numerous ancient Middle Eastern sites from as early as 8000 BCE may have been used as an archaic recording system and ultimately led to the invention of writing.

      By the mid-3rd millennium BCE, various Semitic peoples had migrated into Syria-Palestine and Babylonia. Knowledge of this period has been enormously enhanced by the excavations at Tall Mardīkh (ancient Ebla), south of Aleppo. The palace has yielded more than 17,000 inscribed clay tablets, dated to about 2600–2500 BCE, which detail the social, religious, economic, and political life of this thriving and powerful Syrian kingdom. The language of Ebla has been identified as Northwest Semitic.

      About 2320 BCE Lugalzaggisi (Lugalzagesi), the Sumerian ruler of Erech (Uruk), boasted of an empire that stretched to the Mediterranean (Mediterranean Sea). It was short-lived; he was defeated by the Semite Sargon of Akkad, who became the greatest conqueror and most famous name in Babylonian history. Sargon led his armies up the Euphrates to the “cedar mountain” (the Amanus) and beyond. Ebla was destroyed either by Sargon at this time or perhaps by his grandson, Naram-sin (c. 2275 BCE), and the region of Syria became part of the Akkadian empire. But the dynasty of Akkad was soon overthrown as its centre and superseded by the dynasties first of Guti and then of Ur.

      Nothing certain is known about the authority (if any) that the kings of Ur exercised in Syria, so far away from their capital. The end of their dynasty, however, was brought about chiefly by the pressure of a new Semitic migration from Syria, this time of the Amorites (Amorite) (i.e., the westerners), as they were called in Babylonia. Between about 2000 and 1800 BCE they covered both Syria and Mesopotamia (Mesopotamia, history of) with a multitude of small principalities and cities, mostly governed by rulers bearing some name characteristic of the Semitic dialect that the Amorites spoke. The period of Amorite ascendancy is vividly mirrored in the Mari Letters, a great archive of royal correspondence found at the site of Mari, near the modern frontier with Iraq. Among the principal figures mentioned are the celebrated lawgiver Hammurabi of Babylon (himself an Amorite) and a king of Aleppo, part of whose kingdom was the city of Alalakh, on the Orontes near what was later Antioch. Around 1600 BCE northern Syria, including the cities of Alalakh, Aleppo, and Ebla in its Amorite phase, suffered destruction at the hands of the aggressive Hittite kings, Hattusilis I or Mursilis I, from central Anatolia.

      Earlier, in the 18th century BCE, a movement of people from Syria had begun in the opposite direction. This resulted in the Hyksos infiltration and eventual seizure (c. 1674 BCE) of regal authority in northern Egypt (Egypt, ancient), which was subject to this foreign domination for 108 years. The mixed multitude of the Hyksos certainly included Hurrians (Hurrian), who, not being Aryans (Aryan) themselves, were under the rule and influence of Aryans and learned from them the use of light chariots and horses in warfare, which they introduced into Egypt, Syria, and Mesopotamia. The Hurrians established the kingdom of Mitanni, with its centre east of the Euphrates, and this was for long the dominant power in Syria, reaching its height in the 15th century BCE. Documentary evidence for the Mitanni period comes from excavations made in the 1970s at Tall Hadidi (ancient Azu), at the edge of Lake Al-Assad.

      But other nations were growing at the same time, and in the 14th century Syria was the arena in which at least four great competitors contended. The Hurrians were first in possession, and they maintained friendly relations with Egypt, which, after expelling the Hyksos, had established a vast sphere of influence in Palestine and Syria under the kings of the 18th dynasty. Third of the powers disputing Syria in the 14th century were the Hittites (Hittite), who finally, under their greatest warrior, Suppiluliumas (Suppiluliumas I) (c. 1350 BCE), not only defeated the kingdom of Mitanni but established a firm dominion of their own in northern Syria with its principal centres at Aleppo and Carchemish. Fourth was the rising kingdom of Assyria, which became a serious contender in the reign of Ashur-uballit I.

      This was the period of the Amarna Letters, which vividly illustrate the decline of Egyptian influence in Syria (especially under Akhenaton), the distress or duplicity of local governors, and the rivalry of the aforesaid powers. Egyptians and Hittites continued their struggle into the 13th century; the Battle of Kadesh (c. 1290 BCE) led to a treaty maintaining equal balance. Assyria had already swept away the remains of Mitanni but itself soon fell into decline, and the Hittites were not long afterward driven from their centre in Asia Minor by the migration of “peoples of the sea,” western invaders from the isles of the Aegean and from Europe. The dislocation of peoples at this time apparently also led to the migration into northern Syria of a related Indo-European group from Anatolia, the so-called Neo-Hittites. They established a number of principalities, and the area became known as “Hatti-land.”

      As early as the 14th century various documents mention the Akhlame, who were forerunners of another vast movement of Semitic tribes called, generically, Aramaeans (Aramaean). By the end of the 13th century these had covered with their small and loose principalities the whole of central and northern Syria. The Assyrians (Assyria), however, were able to guard their homeland from this penetration, and henceforth much of the warfare of Assyrian kings was aimed at the Aramaean states of Syria. At about the same time as the Aramaean invasion, the exodus of Israelite tribes from Egypt was proceeding. As the Israelites toward the end of the 11th century established a kingdom centred upon Jerusalem, the Aramaeans set up their principal kingdom at Damascus; the wars between kings of Judah or of Israel and kings of Aram make up much of Old Testament history.

      But the most formidable enemies of the Aramaeans and often of the Hebrews were the great military kings of the Assyrians. In the 9th and 8th centuries BCE the Assyrian empire was established over the west. At the Battle of Karkar in 853 BCE, Shalmaneser III of Assyria was opposed by Bar-Hadad I (Hebrew Ben-hadad I; throne name Hadadezer; Akkadian Adad-idri) of Damascus, Ahab of Israel, and 12 vassal monarchs. In 732 Damascus, the Syrian capital, was at length captured by Tiglath-pileser III. But campaigns against the Aramaeans and Neo-Hittites of northern Syria had to be undertaken by the Assyrians until almost the end of the Assyrian empire. Culturally, the most important achievement of the Aramaeans was the bringing of the alphabet into general use for public and private business.

      Before the close of the 8th century BCE a massive southward movement of people, partly of Aryan descent, began from the north and west. Pressure of this movement upon the Assyrian dominions and homeland became ever more severe, and it deeply affected Syria also. In the 7th century there came the invasion of the Cimmerians (Cimmerian), followed by the Scythians (Scythian). To these and to the Medes (Mede) Assyria finally succumbed with the fall of Nineveh in 612 BCE. Nebuchadrezzar (Nebuchadrezzar II) II, crown prince of Babylon, finally defeated the attempted rescue of Assyria by Necho II, king of Egypt, and annihilated his army at Carchemish in 605 BCE. In 597 he captured Jerusalem and carried its people into exile. Thereafter, Syria was for half a century under the rule of Nebuchadrezzar's successors on the throne of Babylon.

      But another and greater power, the Persians (Achaemenian Dynasty), then came to the fore. Under the leadership of Cyrus (Cyrus II) II they extended their conquests into Asia Minor and then came to a final collision with Babylon, which Cyrus occupied in 539 BCE. He sent back the exiled Jewish community to Jerusalem, encouraging them to rebuild their Temple. In Darius I's great organization of the Persian dominions, Syria, with Palestine and Cyprus, was the fifth satrapy, bearing the name of “Across the River” (i.e., the Euphrates), with tribute fixed at 350 talents of silver. Damascus and the Phoenician (Phoenicia) cities were still the chief centres of Syria under the Persians, and in Sidon was the core of the Phoenician revolt against Artaxerxes III, which ended with the destruction of that city in 345 BCE. But by this time, the end of the Persian domination was at hand, and the Macedonians (Macedonia) under Alexander the Great were about to bring the whole Middle East under Greek rule and influence.

      Alexander invaded Asia Minor in 334 BCE, and his victory over the Persians at Issus (Issus, Battle of) in 333 was followed by the capture and enslavement of Tyre and Gaza. With the Battle of Gaugamela (Gaugamela, Battle of) and the destruction of Persepolis, the downfall of Persia was complete.

Cyril John Gadd William L. Ochsenwald

Hellenistic and Roman periods
      After Alexander's death in 323 BCE his marshals contended for control of the country until, after the Battle of Ipsus (Ipsus, Battle of) (301), Seleucus I Nicator gained the northern part and Ptolemy I (Ptolemy I Soter) Soter gained the southern (Coele Syria). This partition between the Seleucids (Seleucid kingdom) and the Ptolemies was maintained for 100 years. Their administrative methods varied. In the south the Ptolemies respected the existing autonomous cities, imposed a bureaucratic system on the rest of the country, and established no colonies. The Seleucids divided the north into four satrapies and founded many cities and military colonies—among them Antioch, Seleucia Pieria, Apamea, and Laodicea—drawing on European settlers. Republics replaced kings in the Phoenician coastal cities of Tyre (274 BCE), Sidon, Byblos, and Aradus. Further political and cultural changes followed.

      In 200 BCE (or perhaps as late as 198) Antiochus III (the Great) defeated Ptolemy V Epiphanes at Panium and secured control of southern Syria, where he introduced the satrapal system. His subsequent defeat by the Romans at magnesia (December 190 or January 189), however, resulted in the loss of both his territory in Asia Minor and his prestige, thereby fundamentally weakening the Seleucid empire, which ceased to be a Mediterranean power. Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175–163) stimulated the spread of Greek culture and political ideas in Syria by a policy of urbanization; increased city organization and municipal autonomy involved greater decentralization of his kingdom. His attempted Hellenization of the Jews is well known.

      Under the Seleucid kings, with rival claimants to the throne and constant civil war, Syria disintegrated. In the north the Seleucids controlled little more than the areas of Antioch and Damascus. Southern Syria was partitioned by three tribal dynasties: the Ituraeans, the Jews, and the Nabateans. The country was seized later by Tigranes II The Great of Armenia (83); he ruled until his defeat by Pompey (Pompey the Great), who ended years of anarchy by making Syria a Roman province (64–63).

Roman provincial organization
      Pompey in the main accepted the status quo, but he reestablished a number of cities and reduced the kingdom of Judaea; 10 cities of the interior formed a league, the Decapolis. The native client kingdoms of Commagene, Ituraea, Judaea, and Nabataea (Nabataean) were henceforth subjected to Roman (ancient Rome) Syria. Parthian (Parthia) invasions were thrown back in 51–50 and 40–39 BCE, and Mark Antony (Antony, Mark)'s extensive territorial gifts to Cleopatra (including Ituraea, Damascus, and Coele Syria) involved only temporary adjustments.

 Under the early empire, Syria, which stretched northeast to the upper Euphrates and, until 73 CE, included eastern Cilicia, became one of the most important provinces. Its governor, a consular legate, generally commanded four legions until 70 CE. Administrative changes followed, as Rome gradually annexed the client kingdoms. Ituraea was incorporated (i.e., its territories were assigned to neighbouring cities) partly in 24 BCE, partly about 93 CE. Judaea became a separate province in 6 CE, governed by procurators (apart from the short-lived control by Herod Agrippa I, 41–44 CE), until the destruction of Jerusalem in 70. Then the governor was a praetorian legate in command of a legion; next, under Hadrian, he was a consular with two legions, and the province was named Syria Palaestina. Commagene was annexed permanently by Vespasian in 72. The caravan city of Palmyra came under Roman control, possibly during Tiberius's reign. Finally, Nabataea was made the province of Arabia in 105, governed by a praetorian legate with one legion.

 Syria itself was later divided by Septimius Severus (Severus, Septimius) into two provinces—Syria Coele in the north with two legions and Syria Phoenice with one. By the beginning of the 5th century it was subdivided into at least five provinces. The frontiers of Syria were guarded by a fortified limes system, which was thoroughly reorganized by Diocletian and his successors (particularly against cavalry attacks) and which endured until the Arab conquest; much knowledge of this system of “defense in depth” has been obtained with the aid of aerial photography.

Economy and culture
      Syria's economic prosperity depended on its natural products (including wine, olives, vegetables, fruits, and nuts), on its industries (including purple dyeing, glassmaking at Sidon, linen and wool weaving, and metalwork), and on its control and organization of trade passing by caravan from the east to the Mediterranean through such centres as Palmyra, Damascus, Bostra, and Petra. Syria remained essentially rural. The urban upper and middle classes might be Hellenized, but the lower classes still spoke Aramaic (Aramaic language) and other Semitic dialects. Roman influences were naturally weaker than Greek, though the army at first helped the spread of Romanization.

      The splendour of Syrian culture is seen in the magnificence of the cities (Antioch, ranking among the greatest cities of the empire, was the residence of the governor and later of the comes Orientis, who governed the diocese of the East). This splendour is also evident in their schools of rhetoric, law, and medicine; in their art; in their literature and philosophy; and in the variety of their religions, both pagan and Christian (Christianity).

      During the three centuries Syria was administered from Constantinople (see Istanbul: Constantinople (Istanbul)), its cultural and economic life remained active. Government became more bureaucratic, but it was efficient. In the 4th century, during the campaigns of Constantine I and Julian against Persia, Syria had again become a base of operations and at times endured Persian invasion. The Persian threat subsided during the 5th century, but it blazed up again in the 6th, when Arabs also added to the danger. The Persian Khosrow I captured Antioch itself (540); and in 573 the Persians were back again. The invasion of Khosrow II, which began in 606, was later rolled back by the victories of Heraclius, but the peace of 628 brought no tranquillity to Syria.

Howard Hayes Scullard William L. Ochsenwald

Medieval period
      In the first half of the 7th century, Syria was absorbed into the Caliphate. Arab Muslim forces had appeared on the southern border even before the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632, but the real invasion took place in 633–634, with Khālid ibn al-Walīd as its most important leader. In 635 Damascus surrendered, its inhabitants being promised security for their lives, property, and churches, on payment of a poll tax. A counterattack by the emperor Heraclius was defeated at the Battle of the Yarmūk River in 636; by 640 the conquest was virtually complete.

      The new rulers divided Syria into four districts (junds): Damascus, Ḥimṣ, Jordan, and Palestine (to which a fifth, Qinnasrīn, was later added). The Arab garrisons were kept apart in camps, and life went on much as before. Conversion to Islam (Islām) had scarcely begun, apart from Arab tribes already settled in Syria; except for the tribe of Ghassān, these all became Muslim. Christians and Jews were treated with toleration, and Nestorian and Jacobite (Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch) Christians had better treatment than they had under Byzantium. The Byzantine form of administration remained, but the new Muslim tax system was introduced. From 639 the governor of Syria was Muʿawiyah (Muʿāwiyah I) of the Meccan house of the Umayyads. He used the country as a base for expeditions against the Byzantine Empire, for this purpose building the first Muslim navy in the Mediterranean. When civil war broke out in the Muslim empire, as a result of the murder of ʿUthmān (Uthmān ibn ʿAffānʿ) and the nomination of Alīʿ as caliph, Syria stood firm behind Muʿawiyah, who extended his authority over neighbouring provinces and was proclaimed caliph in 660. He was the first of the Umayyad line, which ruled the empire, with Syria as its core and Damascus its capital, for almost a century.

The Umayyads (Umayyad Dynasty)
 The early Umayyad period was one of strength and expansion. The army, mainly Arab and largely Syrian, extended the frontiers of Islam. It carried the war against Byzantium into Asia Minor and besieged Constantinople; eastward it penetrated into Khorasan (Khorāsān), Turkistan, and northwestern India; and, spreading along the northern coast of Africa, it occupied much of Spain. This vast empire was given a regular administration that gradually acquired an Arab Muslim character. Syrians played an important part in it, and the country profited from the wealth pouring from the rich provinces to the empire's centre. The caliphs built splendid palaces and the first great monuments of Muslim religious architecture: the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and the Great Mosque of Damascus (Damascus, Great Mosque of), constructed by the Umayyads. The religious sciences of Islam began to develop, while Christian culture still flourished. Except under Umar IIʿ Christians were treated with favour, and there were Christian officials at court.

      Under the later Umayyads the strength of the central government declined. There were factions and feuds inside the ruling group: the Arabs of Iraq resented the domination of Syria; the non-Arab converts to Islam (mawālī) resented the social gap between them and the Arabs; and devout Muslims regarded the Umayyads as too worldly in their lives and policies. After the defeat and death of ʿAlī's son Ḥusayn (Ḥusayn ibn ʿAlī, al-) at the Battle of Karbalāʾ (Karbalāʾ, Battle of) in 680, sentiment in favour of the family of ʿAlī was still strong. The later Umayyads could not control these discontents. Their rule was finally overthrown and the family virtually destroyed by the new ʿAbbāsid (Abbāsid Dynastyʿ) Caliphate in 750. Among these it was ʿAbd al-Raḥmān (Abd al-Raḥmān Iʿ), a member of the ruling family, who survived the assault and fled westward to reestablish the Umayyads in Al-Andalus (see Spain: Muslim Spain (Spain)).

The ʿAbbāsids (Abbāsid Dynastyʿ)
      The end of the Umayyad dynasty meant a shift in power from Syria to Iraq. Syria became a dependent province of the Caliphate. Its loyalty was suspect, for Umayyad sentiment lingered on, and the last pro-Umayyad revolt was not crushed until 905. The Christian population was treated with less favour; discriminatory legislation was applied to it under some caliphs, and the process of conversion to Islam went on. Closely connected with it was the gradual adoption of Arabic in place of Greek and Aramaic, although the latter survived in a few villages.

From the 9th to the 12th century
      As the ʿAbbāsid Caliphate disintegrated in its turn, Syria drifted out of the sphere of influence of Baghdad. In 877 it was annexed by the Ṭūlūnid Dynasty of Egypt, and this began a political connection that was to last with intervals for more than six centuries. In northern Syria the Ṭūlūnids were succeeded by a local Arab dynasty, the Ḥamdānids (Ḥamdānid Dynasty) of Aleppo, founded by Sayf al-Dawlah (944–967); they engaged in war with Byzantium, in which their early successes were followed by the Greek recovery of Antioch (969). In central and southern Syria another Egyptian dynasty, the Ikhshīdids (Ikhshīdids Dynasty), established themselves (941–969); their successors, the Fāṭimid (Fāṭimid Dynasty) caliphs of Cairo, later absorbed the whole country.

      In spite of political disturbances, the 10th and 11th centuries were a period of flourishing culture. Around the court of the Ḥamdānids lived some of the greatest Arabic writers: the poets al-Mutanabbī (Mutanabbī, al-) and al-Maʿarrī (Maʿarrī, al-), the philosopher al-Fārābī (Fārābī, al-), and the anthologist Abū al-Faraj al-Iṣbāhanī (Abū al-Faraj al-Iṣbahānī). It was a period of ferment in Islamic thought, when the challenge to Sunni (Sunnite) Islam from Shīʿism (Shīʿite) and its offshoots reached its height. The Fāṭimids were themselves Shīʿites. At the end of the 10th century Syria was threatened by the Qarmatians (Qarmatian), adherents of an extreme form of Shīʿism who had established a state in the Persian Gulf. The danger was beaten back, but it returned as an esoteric doctrine spread by the Ismāʿīlīs (Ismāʿīlīte) from their centre at Salamiyyah in northern Syria.

      In the second half of the 11th century Syria fell into the hands of the Seljuq Turks, who had established a sultanate in Asia Minor. They occupied Aleppo and then Damascus. But after the death of the sultan Malik-Shāh in 1092 the Seljuq empire fell to pieces, and between 1098 and 1124 the Crusaders (Crusades) occupied Antioch, Jerusalem, Al-Karak (Karak, Al-) in Transjordan, and the coast.

      The Crusaders organized their conquests into four states owing allegiance to the king of Jerusalem. Their situation was precarious. The Crusaders were always a minority in their states, and they never penetrated far into the interior. They could maintain their position only so long as the Muslim states surrounding were weak and divided. Zangī, the Turkish ruler of Mosul, occupied Aleppo in 1128 and recovered Edessa from the Crusaders in 1144. His son Nūr al-Dīn united inner Syria and annexed Egypt. After his death his kingdom was rebuilt and strengthened by his viceroy in Egypt, Saladin, who ended the Fāṭimid Caliphate, created a strong kingdom of Egypt and Syria, and defeated the Crusaders at the great Battle of Ḥaṭṭīn (Ḥaṭṭīn, Battle of) (1187). He recovered all Palestine and most of the inland strongholds of the Crusaders. Soon afterward, however, the Third Crusade recaptured part of the coast.

The Ayyūbids (Ayyūbid dynasty) and Mamlūks
      After Saladin's death his kingdom was split up among members of his family, the Ayyūbids (Ayyūbid dynasty), who established principalities in Aleppo, Ḥamāh, Ḥimṣ, Damascus, Baʿlabakk (Baalbek (Baalbeck)), and Transjordan and ruled them until 1260. The period of Nūr al-Dīn, Saladin, and their successors was of great importance. Owing largely to the establishment of Italian trading centres on the coast and better security, economic life recovered and Syria reached a level of prosperity such as it had not enjoyed for centuries. The Ayyūbid rulers stimulated culture and architecture. Following the Seljuqs, they created a new land system based on the grant of rights over land in return for military service. They were champions of Sunni Islam against the Shīʿite sects that had gained ground in the previous era. They built colleges of a new type, the madrasah, as centres of learning. Their efforts to stamp out Shīʿite sects were not completely successful. The Nizārīs (Assassins (Assassin)), a subsect of the Ismāʿīlīs, kept their strongholds in the mountains and had some political importance.

      Although strong internally, the state was still in danger from the Bedouin tribes of the desert and from the Mongols, who invaded Syria for the first time in 1260 and sacked Aleppo. They were driven back not by the local rulers but by a new Egyptian military power, the Mamlūks (Mamlūk), a self-perpetuating elite of slaves and freedmen, mainly of Turkish and Circassian origin, who had replaced the Ayyūbids as rulers of Egypt in 1250. In 1260 they defeated the Mongols at the Battle of ʿAyn Jālūt (Ayn Jālūt, Battle ofʿ) in Palestine; the victorious Mamlūk general, Baybars I, made himself sultan of a reunited kingdom of Syria and Egypt, which he ruled until his death in 1277. This state continued to exist for more than two centuries. In 1291 it won back Acre (Akkoʿ) and other coastal towns from the Crusaders, who were expelled; and a few years later it took the last Crusading stronghold, the island of Ruad (Arwād (Arwād, Jazīrat)). The Mamlūks reorganized the Ayyūbid principalities as six provinces, of which Damascus was the largest and most important. Political power was in the hands of the Mamlūk elite, who held land in virtual ownership in return for military service in the cavalry. But there was a local element in the government, the civil servants being drawn mainly from Syrian Arab families with their tradition of religious learning.

      Like the Ayyūbids, the Mamlūks favoured Sunni Islam. Religious culture flourished and produced a number of great scholars, such as the Ḥanbalī (Ḥanābilah) jurist Ibn Taymiyyah. For religious and political reasons, the Mamlūks dealt severely with the religious minorities living in the coastal mountain ranges: Druze, Maronite (Maronite church) Christians, Ismāʿīlīs, and ʿAlawites (Alawiteʿ) (or Nuṣayrīs; adherents of another creed derived from Shīʿism and living in the Al-Anṣariyyah Mountains). One of the principal reasons for this severity was the Mamlūks' fear that these minorities might cooperate with the Crusaders, should they attempt to return.

      In the early Mamlūk period, Syria remained prosperous; the rulers constructed public works, and Venetian merchants carried on their coastal trade. But in 1401 came a blow to economic life: a new Mongol invader, Timur (Tamerlane), sacked Aleppo and Damascus. His empire did not long survive his death in 1405, but the damage had been done. The cities had been burned, a large part of their population killed, and many craftsmen taken away to Central Asia.

Ottoman period
Ottoman (Ottoman Empire) government, 16th–17th centuries
      Throughout the 15th century, Mamlūk Syria continued to decline, while a new power was growing to the north, that of the Ottoman Turkish sultanate in Asia Minor. Having occupied Constantinople and the Balkans, it began to look southward. In 1516 Sultan Selim I defeated the Mamlūks in the Battle of Marj Dābiq and occupied the whole of Syria that year and Egypt the next. Although parts of Syria enjoyed some local autonomy, the area as a whole remained for 400 years an integral section of the Ottoman Empire. It was divided into provinces, each under a governor: Damascus, Aleppo, and later Tripoli and Ṣaydā, or Sidon, of which the administrative centre was later moved to Acre. Damascus, the largest, had special importance as the place from which the pilgrimage to Mecca was organized every year. The governor of Damascus led the pilgrimage when possible, and most of the revenues of the province were earmarked for its expenses.

      The tax system continued in principle to be that of Muslim law—a land tax, a poll tax on Christians and Jews, and customs duties. But the Ottomans, like their predecessors, gave the right to collect and keep the land tax in return for military service. Later this system was allowed to decay, and tax collection was turned over to tax farmers (mültezim), who became in the course of time nearly a landowning class. The official religious hierarchy of judges, jurisconsults, and preachers served as an intermediary between government and subjects, as did guild masters and the heads of the local mystical orders (Sufis (Ṣūfism)).

      Within this framework of law, order, and taxation, the local communities were left to regulate their own lives. In the desert, the Bedouin tribes were controlled to some extent by gifts, the encouragement of factions, and occasional military expeditions but otherwise were not interfered with. The ʿAlawites and the Ismāʿīlīs dwelling in the Al-Anṣariyyah Mountains were watched by the Ottoman governors, but they were not interfered with so long as they paid their taxes. In the Jabal Al-Durūz region, south of Damascus, there grew up an autonomous community of Druze farmers who did not pay taxes to the Ottoman authorities. The authority of the Christian patriarchs over their communities was recognized. In the corps of ʿulamāʾ (ulama) (learned Muslims holding government appointments) most positions except the highest were held by members of local families having a tradition of religious learning. They continued to be, as under the Mamlūks, spokesmen and leaders of the Muslim citizens.

      The early Ottoman governors paid much attention to agriculture, and their fiscal system was designed to encourage it. In parts of Syria it flourished during the 16th and 17th centuries, and, apart from cereals for local consumption, cotton and silk were produced for export. Aleppo and Damascus not only were important centres of handicrafts but also served as market towns for the desert and countryside and as stages on the desert routes to the Persian Gulf and Persia. Aleppo also was an important centre of trade with Europe; French and English merchants had largely replaced Italian ones, and there grew up also a class of Syrian Christian and Jewish merchants who developed contacts with Egypt, Italy, and France.

      Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries the position of the Christians improved. Catholic missions, protected by France, enlarged the Catholic communities of both Latin and Eastern rites, founded schools, and spread knowledge of European languages. Colleges in Rome produced an educated priesthood, and the Christian communities in Aleppo and Lebanon brought forth scholars. Muslim Arab culture of the time produced the theologian Abd al-Ghanī al-Nābulusīʿ, as well as Ibrāhīm al-Ḥalabī (Ḥalabī, al-), a systematic jurist.

Decline of Ottoman authority
      In spite of widespread unrest in the early 17th century, Ottoman rule was in general stable and effective until the end of that century. After that it declined rapidly, in Syria as elsewhere. Control by the central government weakened; the standard of administration sank; and the Janissaries (Janissary) (the elite troops of the sultan) lost their discipline and became a menace to order. The result was a shrinkage of agricultural production, as the villages suffered from the depredations of soldiery and tax collectors and from Bedouin incursions. This was a period of activity in the Syrian desert, and Bedouin tribes, moving northwest from Arabia, extended their control far into the settled land. In the towns there was also a decline. The desert routes were unsafe, and the European merchant colonies were shrinking. But there was still a vigorous commercial life; the standard of craftsmanship was high, and the great tradition of Islamic architecture was continued under the patronage of provincial dignitaries and governors.

      Ottoman authority did reassert itself to some extent, but in a new form. For most of the 18th century, Damascus was ruled by governors belonging to the ʿAẓm family, loyal to the sultan but with more independence than earlier sultans would have allowed. They controlled the Janissaries, kept back the Bedouin, maintained security, and sometimes extended their authority to other provinces. In the province of Sidon, power was held on similar terms by a ruthless and able Bosnian governor, Aḥmad al-Jazzār (1775–1804), and his group of Mamlūks. Such rulers raised their own armies, but this involved additional taxation and further depressed the condition of the peasants. Agriculture flourished in the hilly districts, which were virtually beyond Ottoman control, free from Bedouin attacks, and overseen by strong local rulers who protected agriculture and made Acre a prosperous centre of trade.

      At the beginning of the 19th century, Syria had some islands of prosperity: Aleppo and Damascus (each with roughly 100,000 inhabitants), Mount Lebanon, and certain other secluded districts. In general, however, the country was in decay, the small towns subsisting on local trade and the villagers receding in face of the Bedouin. The Ottoman hold on the country was at its weakest. In Damascus and Aleppo the governors were scarcely able to control the population of city or countryside. The prince of Lebanon, Bashīr II (Bashīr Shihāb II) (1788–1840), who had been installed by al-Jazzār and remained quiet while al-Jazzār was alive, gradually extended his control over districts beyond Lebanon. In 1810 the Wahhābīs (Wahhābī) from central Arabia threatened Damascus.

Egyptian domination
      In 1831 the ruler of Egypt, Muḥammad ʿAlī, sent his son Ibrāhīm (Ibrahim Pasha) Pasha at the head of his modern army into Palestine. Helped by Bashīr and other local leaders, Ibrāhīm conquered the country and advanced into Asia Minor. He ruled Syria for almost 10 years. The whole country was controlled from Damascus. There and in the provincial centres the governors were Egyptians, but they were assisted by councils representing the population. In political matters Ibrāhīm relied largely on Bashīr. New taxes were introduced and strictly collected, agriculture was encouraged, and the Bedouin pushed back. After an abortive attempt to introduce trade monopolies, Ibrāhīm encouraged European traders by maintaining better security. The Christian and Jewish populations were treated with consideration.

      After a time, Ibrāhīm's rule became unpopular because his taxes were heavy and because he tried to disarm and conscript the population. The European powers (except France) also objected to Egyptian rule in Syria because it was a threat to the Ottoman Empire, the weakness or disintegration of which might cause a European crisis. In 1839 war broke out between Muḥammad ʿAlī and his suzerain, the sultan. Ibrāhīm defeated the Ottoman army, but in 1840 the European powers intervened. After an ultimatum, a British, Ottoman, and Austrian force landed on the Syrian coast; the British encouraged a local insurrection, and the Egyptians were forced to withdraw from Syria, which reverted to the sultan's government.

Ottoman rule restored
      The next 20 years were a period of mounting crises. Lebanon became the scene of a struggle for power between Druzes (Druze) and Maronites (Maronite church), with undertones of social conflict. In Syria an attempt was made to apply the new Ottoman administrative system. But the new system of taxation and conscription caused unrest. This situation was worsened by the growth of European influence; the Muslim majority became aware of Ottoman vulnerability to European aggression, and the connection of France with the Catholics and of Russia with the Orthodox both encouraged the minorities to hope for a more favourable position and focused on them the hostility of their Muslim compatriots. There was also economic unrest. European goods flooded the market and replaced some of the products of local craftsmen. This diminished the prosperity of the artisan class, largely Muslim, but increased that of the import merchants, mainly Christians and Jews.

      The tension thus generated burst forth in 1860 when a civil war of Druzes and Maronites in Lebanon touched off a massacre of Christians by Muslims in Damascus. The Ottoman government sent a special commissioner to punish the guilty and suppress disorder, and to firmly establish Istanbul's authority. France sent an expeditionary force, and a European commission discussed the future of the country, coming to the conclusion that Lebanon (the mountain itself but not the coastal towns) should be an autonomous district (mutaṣarrifiyyah) but that no change should be made in Syria.

      From then until the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Syria continued to be governed as a group of Ottoman provinces. From 1888 there were three: Damascus, Aleppo, and Beirut. The new administrative and legal system was more carefully applied, and a new type of educated official gradually raised its standards. The introduction of railways and telegraphs made possible a stricter control. A French-built railway linked Beirut and Damascus, with a later extension running north to Aleppo, and in 1908 the Hejaz Railway was opened to take pilgrims from Damascus to Medina. Railways and better security encouraged agriculture. Aleppo (population about 200,000) and Damascus (250,000) both had a flourishing trade, but the crafts declined, and the desert routes suffered from the opening of the Suez Canal.

      In the cities there was a considerable change in social life. The upper and middle classes adopted the clothes and social customs of western Europe, and Western-style schools flourished. In 1866 the American Protestant Mission opened in Beirut the Syrian Protestant College (later the American University of Beirut (Beirut, American University of)), and in 1881 the French Jesuits opened the Université Saint-Joseph in the same town. The Ottoman government opened schools, and young men of the great Arab families of the towns began to attend the higher schools in Constantinople and to go on to civil or military service.

      Under Sultan Abdülhamid II (1876–1909) the Muslim Arabs of Syria were reasonably content. Syrian Arabs played a leading part at the sultan's court and Abdülhamid lavished patronage on Sufi orders. His emphasis on Islamic solidarity fostered obedience to the sultan as a religious duty. There also appeared a dissident current of Salafi Islamic reform allied to the Ottoman constitutional movement. The Salafis favoured a return to pristine Islam as a way to purify ritual and allow flexible adaptation to modern political and technological advances.

      After the Young Turk (Young Turks) revolution of 1908, relations between Arabs and Turks grew worse. Power fell into the hands of a Turkish military group whose policy stimulated the growth of opposition. Arab nationalist and Syrian patriotic feeling became more conscious, and political parties, both open and secret, were organized by Syrians in Cairo, Constantinople, and Paris, as well as in Syria itself.

      When the Ottoman Empire entered World War I in 1914, Syria became a military base. In 1915 an Ottoman army under German command attacked the British position on the Suez Canal, and from 1916 a British and imperial force based in Egypt, with a French contingent, undertook the invasion of Palestine. By the end of 1917 Gen. Sir Edmund (later Field Marshal Viscount) Allenby (Allenby, Edmund Henry Hynman Allenby, 1st Viscount) had occupied Jerusalem, and by November 1918 his troops had taken Syria. Most Christians and Jews welcomed the occupation; among the Muslims a large proportion had remained loyal to the empire, as being all that was left of the political independence of Islam, but the nationalist societies had made common cause with the ruler of the Hejaz, Sharīf Ḥusayn (Ḥusayn ibn ʿAlī), forming an alliance with Britain against their Turkish suzerain. An Arab army under the command of Ḥusayn's son Fayṣal (Fayṣal I) was formed in the Hejaz, with Syrian and other Arab officers and British help led by T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence, T E). It took part, under Allenby's general command, in the Syrian campaign helping to capture Damascus.

      When the war ended, Allenby installed an Arab military administration, under Fayṣal, in Damascus and the interior. The French took over the coast, with Beirut as their centre, and the British took over Palestine. There followed several unsettled years while the fate of Syria was being decided. During the war the British government had made promises, to Ḥusayn and other Arab leaders, that the Arabs would be independent in those countries that they helped to liberate, subject to certain reservations, the precise extent of which has never been clear. Then, in November 1918, Britain and France declared their intention of establishing in Syria and Iraq “national governments drawing their authority from the initiative and free choice of the native populations.”

      By the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, France was to be free to establish its administration in Lebanon and on the coast and to provide advice and assistance to whatever regime existed in the interior. In March 1920 a Syrian Congress meeting in Damascus elected Fayṣal king of a united Syria including Palestine; but in April the Allied Conference of San Remo (San Remo, Conference of) decided that both should be placed under the new mandate system and that France should have the mandate for Syria.

The French mandate
      In June 1920 a French ultimatum demanding Syrian recognition of the mandate was followed by a French occupation and the expulsion in July of Fayṣal. In July 1922 the League of Nations (Nations, League of) approved the texts of the French Mandate for Syria and Lebanon. Lebanon had already, in August 1920, been declared a separate state, with the addition of Beirut, Tripoli, and certain other districts, to the prewar autonomous province. Politically, “Syria” henceforth acquired a narrower meaning; it referred to what was left of geographical Syria once Transjordan, Lebanon, and Palestine had been detached from it.

      The mandate placed on France the responsibility of creating and controlling an administration, of developing the resources of the country, and of preparing it for self-government. A number of local governments were set up: one for the Al-Anṣariyyah Mountains region, where the majority belonged to the ʿAlawite sect, one for the Jabal al-Durūz region, where most of the inhabitants were Druzes, and eventually one for the rest of Syria, with its capital at Damascus.

      The French mandatory administration carried out much constructive work. Roads were built; town planning was carried out and urban amenities were improved; land tenure was reformed in some districts; and agriculture was encouraged, particularly in the fertile Al-Jazīrah. The University of Damascus was established, with its teaching being mainly in Arabic.

      It was more difficult to prepare Syria for self-government because of the difference between French and Syrian conceptions of what was implied. Most French officials and statesmen thought in terms of a long period of control. Further, they did not wish to hand over power to the Muslim majority in a way that might persuade their Christian protégés that they were giving up France's traditional policy of protecting the Christians of the Levant. In Syria, many members of the minorities and a smaller proportion of the majority wanted the French to remain as a help in constructing a modern society and government. The greater part of the urban population, however, and in particular the educated elite, wanted Syria to be independent and to include Lebanon, Palestine, and Transjordan, if possible, and certainly the Druze and ʿAlawite districts.

      The first crisis in Franco-Syrian relations came in 1925, when a revolt in Jabal Al-Durūz, sparked by local grievances, led to an alliance between the Druze rebels and the nationalists of Damascus, newly organized in the People's Party. For a time the rebels controlled much of the countryside. In October 1925, bands entered the city of Damascus itself, and this led to a two-day bombardment by the French (see Druze revolt). The revolt did not subside completely until 1927, but even before the end of 1925 the French had started a policy of conciliation. In 1928 elections were held for a Constituent Assembly. The nationalists won the election and took office in a new government. The assembly drafted a constitution, but their draft was not wholly acceptable to the high commissioner, because it spoke of the unity of geographical Syria and did not explicitly safeguard the French position of control.

      In May 1930 the high commissioner dissolved the assembly and enacted the constitution with certain changes. There followed unsuccessful negotiations for a Franco-Syrian treaty, but in 1936 the advent of the Popular Front government in France changed the situation. Negotiations took place with the nationalists, now organized in the National Bloc. A treaty was signed in September 1936. It provided for Syrian independence, Franco-Syrian consultation on foreign policy, French priority in advice and assistance, and the retention by France of two military bases. The Druze and ʿAlawite districts were to be incorporated into Syria but not Lebanon, with which France signed a similar treaty in November. A Parliament was elected; the leader of the Bloc, Hāshim al-ʿAtāsī (Atāsī, Hāshim al-ʿ), was chosen as president of the republic; and a nationalist government took office.

      The Syrian government ratified the treaty before the end of 1936, but France never did so. When Turkey put forward claims to Alexandretta, where Turks were the largest element in the mixed population, France found it advisable, for strategic reasons, to yield to its demands. In 1937 the district (later given the Turkish name of Hatay) was granted an autonomous status; in 1939 it was incorporated into Turkey.

      By the end of 1938 it was clear that the French government had no intention of ratifying the treaty. In July 1939 the president and government resigned, and the constitution was suspended.

World War II and independence
      In June 1940, after the Franco-German armistice, the French in Syria announced that they would cease hostilities against Germany and Italy and recognize the Vichy (Vichy France) government. Political uncertainty and the growing scarcity of goods and rising prices caused unrest, which was led by one of the prominent nationalists, Shukri al-Quwatli (Quwatli, Shukri al-). In May 1941 the Vichy government allowed German aircraft to land and refuel en route to Iraq, and in June, British, Commonwealth, and Free French forces invaded Syria. French troops resisted for a month, but Damascus was occupied on June 21, and hostilities ceased at midnight on July 11–12.

      From then until 1946, Syria was jointly occupied by British and French forces. At the moment of invasion, the Free French had proclaimed Syrian and Lebanese independence, and this was underwritten by the British government, which recognized French predominance in Syria and Lebanon, provided France carry out its promise of independence. In the interests of its Arab policy, Britain used its position of strength to persuade the Free French to carry out their undertaking. Elections held in 1943 resulted in a nationalist victory, and Shukri al-Quwatli (Quwatli, Shukri al-) became president of the republic.

      There followed two years of disagreement about the transfer of authority from the French administration to the Syrian and Lebanese governments. A crisis took place in 1945, when the French refusal to transfer control of the local armed forces led to disorders, culminating in a French bombardment of Damascus and British intervention. After long negotiations and discussion in the UN Security Council (Security Council, United Nations), agreement was reached on simultaneous British and French withdrawal from Syria and Lebanon. Withdrawal from Syria was completed by April 1946. Syria had already become a founder member of the UN (United Nations) and of the Arab League.

Albert Habib Hourani Verity Elizabeth Irvine William L. Ochsenwald David Dean Commins

Early years of independence
      The humiliating failure of the Arab intervention in Palestine against the newly created State of Israel in May 1948 brought serious discredit to the governments of the Arab countries involved, but nowhere more than in Syria.

      Fundamental to the Syrian problem was the ethnically, religiously, and socially heterogeneous nature of the emerging republic. The new state united the ʿAlawite and Druze territories, which had formerly enjoyed separate status, with the predominantly Sunni regions of Damascus, Ḥimṣ, Ḥamāh, and Aleppo. The ʿAlawites and Druzes formed compact communities in their respective regions. Throughout the country, and particularly in the cities, there were large communities of Christians.

      In addition to this religious heterogeneity, there was an equally important social heterogeneity; the population of Syria was composed of townspeople, peasants, and nomads, three groups with little in common. Economic differences added further complexity; in the cities the ostentatious wealth of the notables contrasted sharply with the poverty of the masses. Those same notables were also the owners of large agricultural estates on which the peasants were practically serfs. It was the Sunni landowning notables who led the resistance to the French. When Syria achieved independence, they took power and endeavoured to forge a unitary state. They proved unequal to the task.

      By 1949 the small but rising middle class, among which new social ideas were developing, and minorities, who resented the growing threat to their particularism, were increasingly opposed to the government. The rulers, having tasted power after so long a struggle for independence, refused those concessions that might have saved them. Moreover, they appeared to be more devoted to achieving Pan-Arab goals than to solving the problems closer to home. In the years immediately following World War II, Iraq and Saudi Arabia were making rival bids for Pan-Arab leadership. The ruling National Bloc in Syria readily divided into two new parties: a National Party headed by Shukri al-Quwatli, which represented the business interests of the Damascus notables and supported Saudi Arabia; and a resuscitated People's Party, which represented the interests of the Aleppo notables and supported Iraq. The socialist and secular Arab nationalist Baʿth Party was recruiting followers among students and army officers, winning support particularly among the ʿAlawite and other minorities that were strongly represented among the younger officers of the army.

The colonels
      The end of the short-lived civilian order in Syria came in March 1949, when Col. Husni al-Zaʿim overthrew the Quwatli government in a bloodless coup. Zaʿim was himself overthrown in August by Col. Sami al-Hinnawi. A third coup, led by Col. Adib al-Shishakli (Shishakli, Adib al-), followed in December; in November 1951 Shishakli removed his associates by a fourth coup.

      The military dictators of Syria were officers of no particular ideological commitment, and the regimes they led may be described as conservative. All ruled in association with veteran politicians. Among the politically minded army officers at the time, many were Pan-Arabist Baʿth Socialists. Opposing the Baʿth officers were officers of a radically different political persuasion, who followed the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP; the Parti Populaire Syrien), an authoritarian party devoted to the establishment of a Pan-Syrian national state.

      Shishakli was overthrown in February 1954 by a military coup led by Col. Faysal al-Atasi, and Parliament was restored. The SSNP forthwith lost its influence in Syrian politics and in the following year was suppressed in the army. From that time the Baʿthists in the army had no serious rival. Changes in agriculture took place in the 1950s, separate from the struggle for control of the state, and they had an important effect on the lives of many people. Capital-intensive cotton production grew rapidly in the newly planted lands of the northeast.

The union with Egypt, 1958–61
      The years that followed the overthrow of Shishakli in Syria saw the rise of Pres. Gamal Abdel Nasser (Nasser, Gamal Abdel) of Egypt to leadership of the Pan-Arab unity movement. The coalition regime in Syria turned more and more to Egypt for support and also established the first friendly contacts with the communist countries. In February 1958 Syria, under the leadership of the Baʿth Party, gave up its sovereignty to become, for the next three and a half years, the “Northern Province” of the United Arab Republic (U.A.R.), of which Nasser was president.

      The union of Syria with Egypt proved a bitter disappointment, for the Egyptians tended to treat the Syrians as subordinates. Tensions were heightened when drought damaged Syria's economy. In September 1961 a coup led by Syrian army officers reestablished Syria as an independent state.

Kamal Suleiman Salibi William Roe Polk William L. Ochsenwald

The “secessionist” regime, 1961–63
      The coup of 1961 paved the way for a return of the old class of notables to power as parliamentary elections were held. The “secessionist” regime, though civilian at the surface, was still under army control, and in the army the Baʿth was powerful. The regime made hardly any concessions to the socialism of the Baʿth and the pro-Nasser Pan-Arabists. The secessionist regime set out quickly to undo the socialist measures introduced under the union with Egypt (such as land reforms and the nationalization of large business enterprises), thus playing into the hands of the Baʿth. In March 1963 Baʿthist supporters in the army seized power.

Baʿthist Syria after 1963
Emergence and fracture of the Syrian Baʿth (Baʿth Party)
      A month before the Baʿth coup in Syria, the Iraqi branch of the party had seized power in Baghdad. A Baʿthist union between Syria and Iraq seemed imminent, but it was opposed by the pro-Nasser Arab unionists in Damascus and Baghdad. The Baʿth leaders of Iraq and Syria flew to Cairo for unity talks with President Nasser, but Nasser would agree to a union only on his own terms, and the talks failed. In Syria the pro-Nasser Arab unionists were expelled from the coalition, and an exclusively Baʿth regime was established.

      The Baʿthists in Syria were soon faced with a serious problem. Although their party in Syria was led by Syrians, it also promoted Pan-Arabism and had branches in Iraq, Lebanon, and Jordan. The continued subordination of the Syrian branch of the party to the Pan-Arab central committee gave non-Syrian Baʿthists a say in Syrian affairs. As a result, the Syrian Baʿthists established their own Pan-Arab central committee, thereby creating a deadly rivalry with the Iraqi Baʿthists, as each claimed to be the legitimate leader of the Pan-Arab nationalist cause.

      With Alawiteʿ military officers in control, the Syrian Baʿth Party crushed domestic opposition by setting up a police state and by appealing to the middle- and lower-class residents of small towns and villages, who had long resented the power of the politicians and large landowners in Damascus and Aleppo. Rivalry within the Baʿth Party led to a coup d'état in February 1966 that installed a faction headed by Col. Salah al-Jadid. The neo-Baʿth regime pursued more radical foreign and domestic policies. By 1969 the party was divided between a mostly civilian wing, led by Jadid, and a mostly military wing, led by Gen. Ḥafiz al-Assad (Assad, Ḥafiz al-). The latter seized power in November 1970 and was sworn in as president on March 14, 1971; he was subsequently reelected with no opposition on several occasions, including a referendum on Dec. 2, 1991.

      Baʿthist authoritarian rule enjoyed some popularity because it enacted policies that favoured economic development, land reform, promotion of education, strengthening of the military, and vehement opposition to Israel. As these policies took effect, nationalists, peasants, and workers came to support the Assad regime. In contrast to the chaos of political life from 1945 to 1963, Syria experienced remarkable stability based on the alliance between the Baʿth Party, the military, and the bureaucracy, which was led by the shrewd and tenacious President Assad and supported by a predominantly ʿAlawite network of officials and officers, many of whom repressed their opponents by harsh methods. The opponents of the Baʿth-military-ʿAlawite system were found especially among the Sunni majority of the population, in the cities outside Damascus, and inside merchant groups. Government troops in 1982 suppressed an uprising of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood in the city of Ḥamāh; the conflict left the city centre destroyed and thousands dead (estimates of civilian casualties range from 5,000 to 10,000).

Ideology and foreign policy to 1990
 Under Baʿth rule the country's foreign policy was driven by the Arab-Israeli (Arab-Israeli wars) dispute, which resulted in a number of Syrian military defeats. In the June War (Six-Day War) (1967), the Golan Heights of Syria came under Israeli occupation, and in the October War (Yom Kippur War) (1973), despite initial successes, Syria lost even more territory (see Arab-Israeli wars). Syria's Pan-Arab credentials and its alliance with the Soviet Union (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) were strained by Syria's support of non-Arab Iran against Iraq—motivated in part by the long-standing rivalry between the Iraqi and Syrian Baʿthists, competing goals for regional dominance, and personal animosity between Assad and Iraqi president Ṣaddām Ḥussein—during the Iran-Iraq War (1980–88).

      Syrian involvement in Lebanon also influenced its foreign policy. In 1976 Syria intervened militarily in the Lebanese civil war, leading to a brief but damaging clash with Israel in 1982; after 1985 Assad slowly reestablished limited Syrian control in Lebanon. Following the end of the Lebanese civil war in 1990, Syria and Lebanon signed a series of treaties that granted special privileges to Syria by establishing joint institutions in the fields of defense, foreign policy, and economic matters.

      Arab nationalism also played a major role in Syrian culture under the Baʿthists. Novels, poems, short stories, plays, and paintings often emphasized historical themes, the Palestinian problem, Socialist Realism, folk art, and opposition to foreign imperialism. The Baʿthist governments tried to bring these ideas to both the countryside and the cities through building cultural centres, sponsoring films, and promoting television and radio.

      Despite growing revenues from oil exports and increased irrigation resulting from the Euphrates Dam (completed in the mid-1970s), Syria's economy began to stagnate in the 1980s. Rapid population increase hindered economic growth, while the intensification of agriculture ran into natural barriers, such as the limited availability of fresh water and the high cost of desalination. Industrial development was slowed by bottlenecks in production. Inflation, government corruption, smuggling, foreign debts, a stifling bureaucracy, and only very limited success in encouraging private sector investments also posed severe economic problems, as did spending on the military and on the intervention in Lebanon. Assad hoped to overcome some of these economic difficulties by obtaining aid from the rich oil states of the Middle East. As the Soviet Union disintegrated, Syria turned to China for military supplies.

William L. Ochsenwald David Dean Commins

Foreign engagement and domestic change since 1990

      Syria condemned the Iraqi invasion and annexation of Kuwait in August 1990. More than 20,000 Syrian troops joined the UN-authorized coalition in Saudi Arabia, and Syrian forces helped liberate Kuwait from Iraq during the brief 1991 war.

      Syria participated in Arab-Israeli peace talks starting with the Madrid conference in October and November 1991 and intermittently engaged in direct negotiations with Israel throughout the 1990s over the return of the occupied Golan Heights and a possible peace accord between the two countries. Although the negotiations periodically showed promise, the climate of the discussion fluctuated considerably, and by the end of the decade, the dialogue between the two sides had garnered little success.

      Relations between Syria and Iraq unexpectedly warmed somewhat particularly following Assad's death in 2000. This sudden thaw was also attributed in part to Syria's insecurity over deteriorating relations with neighbouring Turkey, with whom Syria had engaged in numerous disputes over water rights and whose growing ties with Israel were seen as a threat. By 1998 ongoing Turkish accusations of Syrian support for the militant Kurdish nationalist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) had further destabilized Syrian-Turkish relations. Following an agreement reached between the two countries late that year, Syria forced PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan from the country and agreed upon the closure of PKK camps within Syria.

 In addition to a series of agreements of partnership and cooperation with Lebanon following the end of that country's civil war, Syria maintained a sizable contingent of armed forces on Lebanese soil. In the years that followed, however, Syria's ongoing presence in Lebanon grew increasingly untenable, particularly in the wake of the 2005 assassination of Lebanon's former prime minister, Rafiq al-Hariri (Hariri, Rafiq al-), who had fallen out with his country's pro-Syrian administration. International relations became strained amid popular Lebanese protests against Syria's presence and widespread suspicions of Syrian involvement in Hariri's death. Sharp international pressure was applied to the country to pull out of Lebanon, and by mid-2005 Syrian forces had withdrawn. The following year, suspicions persisted that the Assad administration had been directly involved in the Hariri assassination, a claim that was supported—though not confirmed—in 2006 by the initial findings of an ongoing UN investigation.

Domestic challenges
      Due to the country's earlier instability and record of military coups, throughout the 1990s the question of who would eventually succeed President Assad was a principal domestic concern. The prominent public posture assumed by Basil al-Assad, the president's eldest son, appeared to indicate his emergence as successor; however, following Basil's death in an automobile accident in 1994, Assad increasingly groomed his younger son, Bashar al-Assad (Assad, Bashar al-), who had been studying in London, to govern after him. Following Assad's death in 2000, Bashar succeeded his father in the presidency.

 With his election in 2000, high hopes lay with the younger Assad: citizens and international observers looked to the new president to maintain a degree of order and continuity, provide a level of political openness acceptable to the Syrian people, and carry on the campaign begun under his father of implementing government reform and rooting out deeply entrenched corruption. A historic visit by Pope John Paul II, improving relations with Iraq, and Assad's release of 600 political prisoners early in his term signaled the potential for significant change. Those seeking liberalization were soon bitterly disappointed, however; while some changes, such as economic-related measures, slowly showed progress, many other reforms failed to materialize. The 2001 detention of pro-reform activists and the dwindling period of tentative reform that had marked the brief political opening known as the “Damascus Spring” cut these hopes short. In 2007, amid an opposition boycott, Assad secured his second term in office. Critics denounced the elections, in which Assad ran unopposed and achieved just under 100 percent of votes cast, as a sham.

David Dean Commins

Additional Reading

Syria is discussed in its geographic context in Peter Mansfield, The Middle East: A Political and Economic Survey, 5th ed. (1980); W.B. Fisher, The Middle East: A Physical, Social, and Regional Geography, 7th ed. rev. (1978); and Pierre Birot and Jean Dresch, La Méditerranée et la Moyen-Orient, vol. 2, La Méditerranée orientale et le Moyen-Orient (1956).More-specific studies of the country itself are Thomas Collelo (ed.), Syria, a Country Study, 3rd ed. (1988); Jacques Weulersse, Paysans de Syrie et du Proche-Orient (1946); and Eugen Wirth, Syrien (1971). Andrea B. Rugh, Within the Circle: Parents and Children in an Arab Village (1997), studies family life in contemporary Syria.

Thomas Collelo (ed.), Syria, a Country Study, 3rd ed. (1988), includes a historical overview. Studies of Syria's ancient history are found in The Cambridge Ancient History (1923– ), especially volumes 1–4 and 6–7, some in later 2nd and 3rd editions; Lisa Cooper, Early Urbanism on the Syrian Euphrates (2006); Jacques Cauvin, Les Premiers villages de Syrie-Palestine du IXème au VIIème millénaire avant J.C. (1978); Paolo Matthiae, Ebla: An Empire Rediscovered (1980; originally published in Italian, 1977); J. Perrot, A. Kempinski, and M. Avi-Yonah, Syria-Palestine, 2 vol. (1979; originally published in French, 1978–80); Glanville Downey, A History of Antioch in Syria: From Seleucus to the Arab Conquest (1961); Jean-Paul Rey-Coquais, “Syrie romaine de Pompée à Dioclétien,” Journal of Roman Studies, 68:44–73 (1978); Hildegard Temporini (ed.), Aufstieg und Niedergang der romischen Welt, part 2, vol. 8 (1977), pp. 3–294; A.H.M. Jones, The Cities of the Eastern Roman Provinces, 2nd ed., rev. by M. Avi-Yonah (1971, reissued 1983), chapter 10; and F.M. Heichelheim, “Roman Syria,” in Tenney Frank (ed.), An Economic Survey of Ancient Rome, vol. 4 (1938, reprinted 1975), pp. 121–257.The medieval period is covered in such general histories as Philip K. Hitti, History of Syria, 2nd ed. (1957); and in the more-specialized works Hugh Kennedy, The Byzantine and Early Islamic Near East (2006); Paul M. Cobb, White Banners: Contention in ʿAbbāsid Syria, 750–880 (2001); and R. Stephen Humphreys, From Saladin to the Mongols: The Ayyubids of Damascus, 1193–1260 (1977). Ottoman Syria's early political history is outlined in detail in Abdul-Rahim Abu-Husayn, Provincial Leaderships in Syria, 1575–1650 (1985). Later periods are dealt with in James Grehan, Everyday Life & Consumer Culture in 18th-Century Damascus (2007); Karl K. Barbir, Ottoman Rule in Damascus, 1708–1758 (1980); and Abraham Marcus, The Middle East on the Eve of Modernity: Aleppo in the Eighteenth Century (1989).General studies concentrating on recent history include Derek Hopwood, Syria 1945–1986: Politics and Society (1988); A.L. Tibawi, A Modern History of Syria, Including Lebanon and Palestine (1969); and A.H. Hourani, Syria and Lebanon (1946, reprinted 1968).Particular aspects of modern history and politics are covered by Hanna Batatu, Syria's Peasantry, the Descendants of Its Lesser Rural Notables, and Their Politics (1999); Steven Heydemann, Authoritarianism in Syria: Institutions and Social Conflict, 1946–1970 (1999); James L. Gelvin, Divided Loyalties: Nationalism and Mass Politics in Syria at the Close of Empire (1998); Volker Perthes, The Political Economy of Syria Under Assad (1995); Raymond A. Hinnebusch, Authoritarian Power and State Formation in Ba'thist Syria: Army, Party, and Peasant (1990); Patrick Seale, Asad of Syria: The Struggle for the Middle East (1989); Philip S. Khoury, Syria and the French Mandate: The Politics of Arab Nationalism, 1920–1945 (1987); Lisa Wedeen, Ambiguities of Domination: Politics, Rhetoric, and Symbols in Contemporary Syria (1999), and Annabelle Böttcher, Official Sunni and Shiʿi Islam in Syria (2002).William L. Ochsenwald David Dean Commins

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Universalium. 2010.

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