Syria: Minority Rules

December 15, 2011

Political Theory


The story sounds all too familiar. An oppressive Arab regime is losing its influence, and the citizens start yearning for freedom and equality as they begin to revolt. World Leaders support the revolution and spend weeks debating whether to step in or not as thousands die, mostly civilians. The current government stands that it has done nothing wrong and passes blame to outside sources as they fight to keep their control.

I am not describing the situation in Egypt this past winter, nor am I giving an overview of the revolution in Libya this past summer. I just described to you the current situation in Syria, just the latest in a string of revolutionary demonstrations and protests occurring across the Atlantic in what is being called the ‘Arab Spring’.

The story sounds all too familiar. An oppressive Arab regime is losing its influence, and the citizens start yearning for freedom and equality as they begin to revolt. World Leaders support the revolution and spend weeks debating whether to step in or not as thousands die, mostly civilians. The current government stands that it has done nothing wrong and passes blame to outside sources as they fight to keep their control.

I am not describing the situation in Egypt this past winter, nor am I giving an overview of the revolution in Libya this past summer. I just described to you the current situation in Syria, just the latest in a string of revolutionary demonstrations and protests occurring across the Atlantic in what is being called the ‘Arab Spring’.

For those of you unfamiliar with the situation, here is a quick recap: Syria has been subject to ongoing protests since March of this year by groups of people calling for a change to the Syrian government. The current Syrian government and its president Bashar al-Assad are all part of the Ba’ath political party. Many of the protests are occurring because the Ba’ath political party is made up of a religious group called the ‘Alawis’ which only gained power rather recently in 1970. These Alawis only make up about 11% of the population but their leader has nearly unlimited power and he uses it to greatly exploit the citizens in other religious groups such as the Sunnis who make up about 74% of the Syrian population. There have been clashes between protesters and the Syrian government throughout with violence continually escalating to the current situation of near civil war that has already claimed over 5,000 lives, many of them women and children.

One can easily see where the unrest stems from since we have seen it so many times before. A country that does not have a legitimate democratic system for people to enact a change and constantly has the ruling minority exploiting the rest of the population seems like a pretty irritating situation to say the least.  I pose this question to the reader: Will all situations like this inevitably end with the majority revolting? Is it possible to have a system with guaranteed power for the ruling minority without it ending in revolt? Is it almost human nature for the ruling minority to exploit the majority? Do these minority rulers have a social contract with their citizens to do what is best for the majority at all times?

I insist that a revolution is inevitable if two conditions are met: first there is a ruling minority, and secondly the ruling party makes it impossible for the public to peacefully kick them out of office. I believe when these conditions are met that eventually the rulers will exploit people outside of their circle, no matter how many good rulers there could maybe be in the ruling party, eventually someone will start the exploitation since there is no fear of public backlash. In America we have constant presidency approval polls and a system where the president can be impeached at any moment if he does something wrong.

In a system where you know you are going to be ruling until you are either dead or almost dead, what motivation is there to do the right thing if it benefits those close to you? Whenever the ruler’s social contract is lost this exploitation starts, big or small, the majority of citizens will start to be irked and they will eventually revolt. We have seen it many times before, with America’s own revolution after being exploited by the British government, a similar situation with India’s revolution earlier this century, and again with Egypt and Libya this year to name a few examples.

How would someone like Edmund Burke feel about this? Burke is quoted as saying “I put my foot in the tracks of my forefathers, where I can neither wander nor stumble,” and was a conservative who promoted the status quo. Al-Assad’s father got the Ba’ath party in power in 1970 and ruled until he died in 2000 and Bashar al-Assad has ruled since. Would Burke support keeping a tyrannical minority in power since he would see them as having the best ability to lead? Or are situations like this an exception to his way of thinking? I cannot say one way or the other I just know that the people of Syria would not support his way of thinking.

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