Leadership and Democracy LabWestern Social Science

Syria After 2011: Spillovers and Actors

Post-2011 Syria: An Overview of the Complexities Regarding Sub-state Actors and Spillover

This article has been produced by the efforts of the following members:

I. Jamie Arabi – Student Researcher for the Syrian Risk Assessment Team

Since its independence from France in 1946, Syria has played an imperative role in the politics of its neighbors, as well as the Middle Eastern region as a whole. Due to the dozens of political events from uniting with Nasser’s Egypt, to the occupation of Lebanon from 1976 up until 2005, Syria has undergone, and continues to undergo, much conflict. The peoples of Syria consist of Kurds, Armenians, Assyrians, Christians, Druze, Alawite Shia, and Sunnis, which has contributed to the political and social instability that is seen in Syria–as well as other countries like Lebanon–today. The current Syrian Civil War, which was a result of the momentum brought about by the 2008 Arab Spring (amongst several lesser factors), will be the focus of this overview.

President Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian military, the Free Syrian Army, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Hezbollah, the Kurdish Workers’ Party, the Hazzm Movement, the Mujahedeen, the Ba’ath Brigades, al-Qaeda, and the Muslim Brotherhood are only a few of the sub-state insurgency groups and political actors which have been involved in the conflict since 2011. These sub-state actors are not, however, neatly organized within a small number of coalition forces, rather, many of them fight alongside one or two other insurgency groups or alone–which accounts for the sub-skirmishes had between smaller groups within the greater Civil War.  For example, there is regular conflict between different rebel groups such as the ongoing clashes between ISIL and the Free Syrian Army and between Ghuraba al-Sham and the al-Nusra Front. This is a general demonstration of the complexity of the ongoing Syrian conflict. 

The complex dynamics between sub-state actors illustrates the need for researchers and scholars on the issue to avoid oversimplifying the conflict as a dichotomous state-rebel generalization, or simply categorizing the actors into two or three main coalitions. 

The Conflict is not confined to Syria, but has had tremendous spillover in Lebanon, Turkey, Israel, Jordan, and Iraq.  Al-Assad’s military, using both conventional and chemical weapons on the citizens of Syria, ISIL’s persecution of non-Sunni Muslims, as well as the general conflict, has led to millions of refuge-seeking citizens to leave the country. According to the Syrian Regional Refugee Response branch of the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), 1.13 million refugees have fled to Lebanon alone. Funding for those seeking refuge in Lebanon is upwards $1.5 billion. Of these refugees, a mere 650 were able to obtain permits to work legally within the country. Amongst other socio-economic problems, the Syrian conflict has led to a doubling of the Lebanese unemployment rate to 20 percent. Some claim that it is not the rising cost of living in Lebanon that is worrying and upsetting the Lebanese, but the uncertainty which the Syrian conflict is disseminating within the country. Lebanon’s infrastructure is barely able to handle the over one million refugees that have been taken in within the last one or two years, and so, the future of the stability of Lebanon is worrisome for many.

The human rights of Syrians are not only an issue within the country, but for neighboring countries like Jordan.  Human Rights Watch has documented the rising amount of individuals subject to refoulement, which is prohibited by international customary law.  In fact, Jordan declared (unofficially) a non-admittance policy in January of 2013, claiming that “Jordan is not a place to solve Israel’s policies–as Jordan’s Prime Minister, Abdullah Ensour, advocates Syrian Palestinians to return to their homes in Israel and Palestine. This has also been the case in neighboring Lebanon.  Both states claim that the influx of refugees could lead to instability.  Thus, it is evident that the Syrian crisis has had, and continues to have significant implications in the region.