As a contemporary and prominent topic, a panel event discussing the roots of the Syria crisis was always going to be well attended. In front of a packed lecture theatre, on October 6th 2015, Dr. Thomas Pierret, Dr. Manhal Alnasser, and Arek Dakessian presented their points of view on the causes and changing shapes of the crisis in Syria since the popular uprising in 2011, chaired by Dr Sarah Jane Cooper Knock. Each speaker brought their experiences as academics, practitioners and personal stories to the event.
Internal issues, not proxy war
Thomas began the discussion by raising the two prominent explanations for conflict in Syria: the first, which he subscribes to, that it was a domestic problem which became internationalised; and the second, that it was a proxy war from the outset. He argued that the conflict started with the popular uprising against Bashar al-Assad’s authoritarian regime, in which the power lies in family patronage networks rather than institutions. The immediately repressive state response, sectarian-social divides between police and protestors, and subsequent defections, all led to the formation of a crowdfunded armed movement against Assad, which was a well-established force before international actors became involved. Finally, he claimed that the regime is now compensating for its lack of manpower with increased firepower, and that this has led to mass displacement through the total destruction of rebel-held areas, especially cities.