Middle East

The area we know today as Syria can trace mankind back at least to 2,500 BC. Originally the area was occupied by the Canaanites, Phoenicians and Arameans as well as the Egyptians, Babylonians and Hittites.

The Romans came to Syria in 64 BC which became a province until 636 AD when it fell to the Umayyad Empire. The area changed hands to the Abbasids and then to the Ottomans who held it from the 16th Century until 1922.

Following World War 1 and the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, in 1920 the Arab Kingdom of Syria was created by the Allies, run by King Faisal and under French mandate. The French continued to run the region, but in 1925 unrest started and in September 1936 a treaty of independence was signed. The Syrians elected their first prime minister Hashim al-Atassi, but then the French reneged and remained in control over the government.

It was only as World War 2 progressed that French control weakened and in April 1946 French troops left and a republic was formed.

Although it was now independent, Syria suffered from political instability and on 8th March 1963 a coup installed the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party. An Emergency Law came in to force the same year and it was only rescinded on 21st April 2011.

On 13th November 1970 a second intra-party coup took place (known as the Syrian Corrective Revolution) to purge the left from the party and subsequently installing Hafez al-Assad as leader.

Hafez al-Assad became president on 22 February 1971 and he remained in office until his death in 2000.

It is widely believed that Syria is a one party state run by the Ba’ath Party. That is not strictly true; in 1972 Hafez al-Assad formed the National Progressive Front which allowed for a number of minor political parties to be active. The National Progressive Front is entitled to at least 167 of the 250 seats in parliament. The constitution gives the president sweeping powers.

The Ba’ath Party has been remarkably consistent in the number of seats it has won. Between 1977 and 1986 when there were 195 seats in the Parliament of Syria the party won 127 seats in 1981, 130 seats in 1986 and 134 seats in 1990. When the number of seats in the parliament rose to its current number, 250 seats, the party has consistently taken either 134 or 135 seats in the last five elections.

In 2000, following the death of his father, Bashar al-Assad was elected unopposed as the new president with 99.7% of the vote.

On 26th January 2011 the Arab Spring came to Syria with demonstrations breaking out in Daraa in the south of the country. The demonstrations spread quickly and the situation has increasingly escalated to something close to civil war. On 26th February 2012 a constitutional referendum was held to propose democratic multi-party elections. Turnout was around 57% and 89% voted for change. A general election was held on 7th May incorporating the changes but with a backdrop of civil unrest and the armed forces attacking major cities.

The civil war continued to spread and was complicated by the emergence of a third front with Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). By 2016 the Russians had become involved on the side of the Syrian government, an alliance led by the United States was bombing ISIL but wanted Bashar al-Assad out.

By early 2016 more than 250,000 people had been killed, 7.6 million were internally displaced and 4 million were refugees in neighbouring countries.

The President is approved by popular referendum for a seven-year term with no term limits.

The People’s Council is a unicameral chamber with 250 members. There are 15 multi-seat constituencies from which members are elected for a four year term. The National Progressive Front is guaranteed around two thirds of the seats through the constitution. (This information may change following the 7th May election)

The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2016 places Syria at 173rd out of 176 countries with a CPI 2016 score of 13 (where 100 is least corrupt).