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Research Report

Between brutality and fragmentation: Options for addressing the Syrian civil war

Erwin van Veen
Iba Abdo
Copyright Date: Jul. 1, 2014
Published by: Clingendael Institute
Pages: 44
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Table of Contents

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  1. (pp. 8-9)

    There was a time when the Syrian conflict represented the hopeful beginning of yet another popular uprising that seemed to spell the inevitable end of an autocratic regime. The rallying cry of ‘Dignity, Work, Liberty and Citizenship’ echoed from the streets of Cairo, Tunis and Benghazi through the streets of Damascus with renewed vigour. Now, years later, the sounds that are heard most often are those of barrel bombs, sniper bullets and collapsing buildings. The glow of civil resistance and revolutionary passion has been dimmed by the dust of destruction and tarnished by the brutality of the fighting. Gritty endurance...

  2. (pp. 10-21)

    This section provides a stylised overview of the evolution of the Syrian civil war. It starts with an overview of the three shifts that characterise its transformation from its early beginnings until today: from peaceful protest to violence, from violence to brutality and from moderately to radically religious. It continues with an analysis of the main international and regional relations in which the conflict has become entangled. Finally, it closes with a brief assessment of the fragmented and stalemated nature of the current battlefield. Together, these elements set the scene for the policy options discussed in section 3.⁹

    From early...

  3. (pp. 22-36)

    The preceding section analysed how the dynamics of the Syrian civil war have increased its complexity, arguably to a point where policy options that can bring an end to the fighting in the short term no longer exist. These dynamics include: the brutal and radical overtones that the fighting has acquired; the international deadlock on the terms for dealing with the conflict – unhelpfully reduced to the question of whether Assad should remain or stay; Western prevarication over the recognition that negotiations are currently a dead end; and proxy-type support from around the region for a gamut of more and...

  4. (pp. 37-38)

    While the Gulf monarchies with their wealth and legitimacy-enhancing alliances with religious authority weathered the Arab Spring fairly well, Syria demonstrated the greater vulnerability of the quasi-secular autocracies of the Arab world to social unrest in the face of political exclusion and economic marginalisation.144 Since their peaceful beginnings, Syria’s early protests have transformed into a violent, fragmented and protracted civil war with strong elements of a regional conflict by proxy. Thousands continue to die and millions to flee as concerted intervention remains blocked by international tensions, mistrusts and divergent interests.

    The rapid intensification and expansion of violence in a society...