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The Syrian Rebellion 1st Edition

4.2 out of 5 stars 33 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0817915049
ISBN-10: 0817915044
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Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap

When the Arab Spring exploded across the Middle East, it was no surprise that the eruption in Syria came after the upheavals in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, and Bahrain. The Syrians had taken their time, knowing that they were in for a particularly grim and bloody struggle. But four decades of a brutal dictatorship under the Assad dynasty could not crush their spirit-people were done with the Assad tyranny and ready to pay the ultimate price. The dictatorship alternated savage violence with promises of reform, but the barrier of fear had been broken; its horrific deeds only strengthened the resolve of those who wanted done with that cruel regime.

In The Syrian Rebellion, Fouad Ajami offers a detailed historical perspective on the current rebellion in Syria. Focusing on the similarities and differences in skills between former dictator Hafez al-Assad and his successor son, Bashar, he tells how Syria has overcome decades of repression, numerous coups, and other hardships to arrive at its current state of affairs: a people poised to throw off the yoke of oppression and move forward.

In 1994 Hafez Assad's oldest son, Bassel, whom he had been grooming for succession, was killed in a car accident. Hafez then settled on his other son Bashar, an eye doctor, as his successor. Syrians hoped for the best, thinking that perhaps this gangly youth, with a stint in London behind him, would grant them the freedoms denied by his father. They were wrong. When the political hurricane known as the Arab Spring hit the region, Bashar al-Assad proclaimed his country's immunity to the troubles. He was wrong. As Ajami explains, Bashar, the accidental inheritor of his father's political realm, now had his own war. He had stepped out of his father's shadow only to merge with it. But the house that Hafez Assad built, some four decades ago, is not destined to last.

From the Back Cover


Arabs are firm believers in nasab, inherited merit passed on from father to son, a nobility of the blood. So what mattered when a rebellion broke out in Syria in 2011 was the insight into the similarities and the differences between Hafez al-Assad and his son Bashar. The father had rigged the succession, with fear completing the trick. Although the people fervently hoped that Bashar would open up the prison that Syria had become under his father, it was not to be.

In The Syrian Rebellion, Middle East expert Fouad Ajami explains how an irresistible force clashed with an immovable object: the regime versus a people who conquered fear to challenge a despot of unspeakable cruelty. Offering a detailed historical perspective, he shows how, for four long decades, the Assad dynasty, the intelligence barons, and the brigade commanders had grown accustomed to a culture of quiescence and silence. But Syrians did not want to be ruled by Bashar's children the way they had been ruled by Bashar and their parents had been by Bashar's father. This book tells how a proud people came to demand something more than a despotic regime of dictatorship and plunder.

Fouad Ajami is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the co-chair of the Herbert and Jane Dwight Working Group on Islamism and the International Order.


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Product Details

  • Series: Herbert and Jane Dwight Working Group on Islamism and the International Order
  • Hardcover: 260 pages
  • Publisher: Hoover Institution Press; 1st edition (May 1, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0817915044
  • ISBN-13: 978-0817915049
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #505,436 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Douglas T. Hawes on September 6, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The author admits to a bias for the rebellion and appears to write as a Shia or one from a Shia family. I don't feel his bias or religious background were a problem in his interpretation of what has and is happening in Syria. But, be aware that the Shias are a minor player in the Islamic dominated structure of Syria. The Alawis may be an even smaller minor player when looking at population size but their control of the country up till now has been strong. It is basicly a Sunni country with Alawis control. The Assads have, according to the author, controlled the country by playing one religion against another. The influence and actions of the various religious groups dominate the book. After reading the book you are left with the feeling that the future for this country looks bleak regardless of who wins this rebellion.
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Format: Hardcover
There is a known story about a man that finds a magic lamp, from which a genie comes out ready to grant him a single wish. The man asks for a bridge from San Francisco to Hawaii. The genie tries to reason with him regarding the structural problems, maintenance, etc. The man relents and then asks for peace in the Middle East, to which the genie responds: "Let's review your first wish. How many lanes do you need in it?"
Ajami is not the genie, but he tells this story a lot better and in great detail.

Nobody can doubt Ajami's impeccable credentials when reading this still evolving conflict. But to cut to the chase, I'll quote a very candid admission in the afterword, where he states: "To state the obvious, I did not hide my sympathies in this book." And to state the obvious, his sympathies don't rest with the Assad dynasty or the Alawites, for that matter.

The book is easy to read and engaging, although he sometimes dwells on too many details. Statements made by Assad and others, banners seen on demonstrations, etc.

There is a very interesting analysis on the fragmentation of Syria, which curiously had a lot to do with geography: People from the mountains as opposed to urbanites. Obviously, religion and sub-religion is as usual the eternal ingredient of dispute.

Ajami explains how the Alawites came to power. Syrians saw the military as a vocation of the uneducated, the people of the mountain, a title Alawites didn't mind bearing. This position eventually became the decisive factor to power. Of course, the political skills and machinations of Hafez Assad (Bashar's father) are and have always been a material of admiration and a decisive factor as well that brought the Alawites to power for over 40 years.
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Format: Hardcover
Professor Ajami ( born in Lebanon, in a Shia Muslim family of Iranian origin) has presented an honest, non-biased elucidation of a complex conflict within a multi-ethnic country. His frank description of the different ethnic and religious participants in the turmoil that now grips Syria, including the Assad dynasty, is a good primer to begin to understand the genesis of the hostilities.
The tyrannical grip and brutality of the minority Alawites, a sect of Shia Muslims, is described without any whitewash or apology. The work is presented with impartiality and even handedness, even though a reader with an innate bias might perceive favoritism to one group or another.
I congratulate Professor Ajami on tackling this difficult and volatile issue and presenting it to interested reader in a concise, but not simplistic, way.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Fouad Ajami is an American of Syrian and Lebanese descent. He is an ideal analyst for a troubled ancient area. The trouble dates from 1919 when diplomats drew lines in the desert on a geographer's map, creating the modern nations of Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq from pieces of the Ottoman Empire.

It is no surprise to Ajami that viable self-government eludes those nations. He knows the Alawite minority rules the Sunni majority by military coup. He knows there are a dozen other minority sects, including Christians and Kurds. He knows Iraq's Shia-Sunni-Kurd triangle, and Lebanon's Shia-Sunni-Maronite triangle. He knows Syria's Alawite leaders attack Lebanon with covetous eyes on weakened pieces they would like to pick up.

Ajami explains the meaning of Alawite in Syria, at length. Newspapers briefly say Alawites are a Shiite variety, which suggests Sunni-Alawite in Syria would resemble Sunni-Shiite in Iraq. It doesn't. Ajami gives Alawite history in Syria, in which they were poor, isolated, and scorned for strange beliefs. Since the Alawite coup 50 years ago, they have been settling scores by discriminatory laws, practices, prices, and jobs. For me it explains why Alawite leaders attacked protesting Hama in 1982, and why they now appear willing, possibly eager, to attack protesting Syrians as they have since protests began in 2011. It also explains why Alawite leaders attack rich Sunni and Maronite Lebanon.

Ajami makes it clear that pieces are unlikely to be picked up separately in Lebanon and Syria. He knows the tribal pieces that will need to be picked up after what he knows will be an inevitable breakup. It isn't clear to Ajami, or any others I have read, how all those pieces can be picked up.
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