Manchester Historian

Student newspaper for the University of Manchester's History Department

Wednesday 22nd November 2017 | Manchester, UK

Syria and the West

Throughout the course of history, relations in the Middle East have been tense – Syria is no different in this respect. Today Syria is in the midst of civil war and its civilians are being subjected to displacement, Sharia Law and most infamously chemical weapons. It is tempting to blame these atrocities on the people that hold power in the region, but how far can the West be blamed?

In more recent times the US has played a key role in supporting Israel and protecting it from surrounding nations, which has been seen to amplify tensions in the area. But can European powers be completely void of blame?

After the treaty of Versailles and fall of the Ottoman Empire, a committee, made up of British and French representatives, was set up to decide how to divide Syria and the surrounding areas. As a result Emir Feisal was crowned king of Syria ‘in its natural boundaries.’ These boundaries contained a number of different ethnicities including the two that have shaped Syria, as we know it today: the Sunni Arabs and the Alawites.

Many of the tensions between the Sunni Arabs and the Alawites came from how the West treated the different factions. The Sunni Arabs were the most opposed to French rule. Consequentially the French were seen to look preferentially towards the Alawites to help keep their rule in the region. As a result, after World War II there was huge anti-French sentiment from the Sunni Arabs.

As the French had used many Alawites to secure their rule, many had been promoted to top military positions and therefore had control over a large majority of the army.

Western control had not only brought two very different factions under one flag but more importantly for the region, they had promoted a hierarchy creating resentment among the Sunni Arabs.

As soon as the French withdrew from the region the Ba’ath Party took over and quickly ignored the needs of those living in rural areas – mainly Alawites. The result of this was the party did not have the support of the army. This resulted in many military coups that culminated in Hafez al-Assad coming to power.

The Assad family has ruled ever since with an iron fist, especially over Sunnis, whilst at the same time slowly distancing itself from the Western powers which were seen by many Sunnis as supporting the Assad rise to power.

The West has since consistently provided the Assad family with the means to maintain their tyranny by selling them weapons, including the chemical weapons that are allegedly being used by Assad today. The West has played an active part in Syria’s growth in order to try to stabilise the region, but as we can see it has arguable caused, and undoubtedly failed to hold off, the inevitable: conflict, death and destruction.

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