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Rebuilding Security in Fragmented Societies: Syria

When the uprising against the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria began in March 2011, demonstrators pinned their hopes on the army’s defection from the regime. In this spirit, they organized a demonstration in May 2011, under the name “Homeland Protector Friday”, in order to honor the military and call on soldiers and officers to stand with the people. The institution, however, remained loyal to the regime. The project’s case study of Syria focuses on rebuilding the security institutions after the conflict, analyzing the “official” and the “deep” structures of the army and its relation with other security forces, in order to understand how decades of recruitment and appointment strategies have led to a security sector that fosters social and political turmoil. The research on Syria will explore four dimensions of the country’s security sector:

  1. The weight of history, and more precisely the over-representation of minorities in the military institution as a legacy of the French mandate in Syria after World War I. The French authorities, facing important opposition from the population, and especially the Sunnis, turned to violent measures that favored recruitment from minority groups and in particular clans and tribes that had not rebelled and demanded independence. The research investigates how this legacy reflected is in the army today.
  2. Recruitment and appointment strategies since the 1970s. The dynamic of sectarianism and Alawite favoritism within the security sector was reinforced under Hafez al-Assad, who put into place deliberate strategies designed to prevent the emergence of military elite contestation while bolstering the army’s sectarian composition. The project assesses how Hafez al-Assad used the sectarian element as a “coup-proofing” measure to prevent any contestation of his authority, and whether there were any changes to this strategy after Bashar’s arrival to power in 2000.
  3. The fragmentation of the security sector. Security agencies in Syria prior to the 2011 uprising were in competition with each other, and were dedicated to watching one another as much as the population. The case study examines the reorganization of the security sector and the defining of the missions of each institution as crucial element in the rebuilding process.
  4. The relationship between the army and the revolution. In light of the 2011 uprising, including Bashar al-Assad’s brutal response to protestors and the subsequent militarization of the movement, the army’s loyalty has been pinpointed as crucial to the regime’s survival throughout the conflict. The regime’s violent reaction towards the population led many soldiers to defect and create the oppositional Free Syrian Army; nonetheless, these defections have not resulted in the collapse of the institution. Given, the project seeks to understand in-depth the state of the security forces today.