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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, Ajami explains how an irresistible force clashed with an immovable object: the regime versus people who conquered fear to challenge a despot of unspeakable cruelt 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, Ajami explains how an irresistible force clashed with an immovable object: the regime versus people who conquered fear to challenge a despot of unspeakable cruelty.


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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, Ajami explains how an irresistible force clashed with an immovable object: the regime versus people who conquered fear to challenge a despot of unspeakable cruelt 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, Ajami explains how an irresistible force clashed with an immovable object: the regime versus people who conquered fear to challenge a despot of unspeakable cruelty.

30 review for The Syrian Rebellion

  1. 5 out of 5

    Fahed

    I think the book came out too soon. It seemed more like a large op-ed than an actual scholarly work. There are no footnotes included. Those who are interested in modern political history of Syria and the role of minorities should opt for a different book. The book covers the first year of the uprising and the factors that triggered it, before things became bloody after the spring of 2012. There were several minor inaccurate facts throughout the book. For example, Ajami states that Sulaiman Al-As I think the book came out too soon. It seemed more like a large op-ed than an actual scholarly work. There are no footnotes included. Those who are interested in modern political history of Syria and the role of minorities should opt for a different book. The book covers the first year of the uprising and the factors that triggered it, before things became bloody after the spring of 2012. There were several minor inaccurate facts throughout the book. For example, Ajami states that Sulaiman Al-Assad, who sent a letter to the French requesting independence of the Syrian coast, was Hafez Assad's father as opposed to his grandfather. Also Amal Hanano who is mentioned in the last chapter of the book is a pseudonym, and not the granddaughter of Ibrahim Hanano, the leader of the Syrian 1925 revolt in North Syria. Also Ajami states that Saleh al-Ali, an Alawitte sheikh from the Syrian coast, fought the French for further autonomy, and not for Syrian unity, without providing any evidence or sources (Saleh al-Ali was a known nationalist). Nevertheless, the book is an easy read for those without any background on Syria and are interested in attaining a basic understanding on the triggering factors and the events on in the first year of the uprising.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Fred Rose

    First off, the author has a strong bias in who he thinks is in the wrong here, so take some of what he says with a grain of salt. But having said that, this is a fairly readable summary of the history and background of the current rebellion. This situation is much more complex than the other Arab Spring countries, an obvious, and probably accurate, analogy is Yugoslovia when it broke up in the early 90s. There are centuries-old conflicts in Syria between the various factions of Sunni, Shia, Alaw First off, the author has a strong bias in who he thinks is in the wrong here, so take some of what he says with a grain of salt. But having said that, this is a fairly readable summary of the history and background of the current rebellion. This situation is much more complex than the other Arab Spring countries, an obvious, and probably accurate, analogy is Yugoslovia when it broke up in the early 90s. There are centuries-old conflicts in Syria between the various factions of Sunni, Shia, Alawites, Druze, etc. These also impact the intrusion of outside parties like Iran (Iran does not want the Sunnis to gain power). So worth reading to understand, as much as possible, what is going on in Syria. Unfortunately it does not come across as anything that will end soon, or well.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Samira Manzur

    The author definitely has a bias. HOWEVER, provides an informative timeline and facets of the Syrian conflict that have resulted in the ongoing civil war.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Michael Connolly

    France carved Lebanon out of Syria. They created a country for the Maronite Christians of Mount Lebanon. The French included Tripoli as part of Lebanon, but it had few Maronite Christians and perhaps should have remained as part of Syria. The French also excised Alexandretta and Antioch from Syria and gave them to Turkey. Jordan was also carved out of Syria, but by the British, rather than the French. Syria is important to Russia, because Russia has a naval base in Tartus, Syria. The 4 main citi France carved Lebanon out of Syria. They created a country for the Maronite Christians of Mount Lebanon. The French included Tripoli as part of Lebanon, but it had few Maronite Christians and perhaps should have remained as part of Syria. The French also excised Alexandretta and Antioch from Syria and gave them to Turkey. Jordan was also carved out of Syria, but by the British, rather than the French. Syria is important to Russia, because Russia has a naval base in Tartus, Syria. The 4 main cities of Syria are: Damascus, Aleppo, Homs and Hama. Syria has traditionally been Sunni, but has included many minorities: Druze, Ismailis, Kurds, Christians, and Alawis. The Alawis are a Muslim sect, nominally Shia, but even farther away from orthodox Sunni Islam. They have historically been a poor people, a minority in Syria, and under the thumb of Sunni rulers. This changed when the Baath Party took control of Syria, and when the Alawi Hafez al-Assad became dictator of Syria forty years ago. The poor Alawi peasants joined the military out if economic necessity. The rich and urban Sunnis were able to avoid military service, and this lead to their downfall, because the Alawis took control of the military, and eventually the country. But the Alawis have had only modest gains during the rule of Hafez al-Assad. He did appoint many Alawis to positions of power, in order to protect himself. But Assad did little to help the poor Alawis. Assad also allowed the Sunnis to play a major role in his government, and the family courts continued to follow Sunni law. The Sunnis and the Christians dominate the private sector. The Syrians see Lebanon as part of a greater Syria and believe they have the right to be involved in its affairs. In 1977 the Syrians assassinated the Druze leader Kamal Jumblatt. In February 2005 the Syrians assassinated the Sunni politician Rafik Hariri. Later that year, the Syrians assassinated the Greek Orthodox journalists Samir Kassir and Gebran Tueni, who had been critical of Syria. In 2000 Hafez al-Assad died, and power passed to his son, Bashar Assad. The Arab Spring of 2011 encouraged many Syrians to rebel against the new dictator, who had failed to bring liberal reforms to Syria. The Syrian rebels are rural, poor, and religiously observant, rather than secular. The Syrian military killed many peaceful protesters. The Assad regime's soldiers were ordered to kill unarmed civilians under threat of being killed themselves. The Syrian rebels are mostly Sunni, so they are supported by foreign Sunnis, such as the Saudis and the Muslim brotherhood. The rebels are opposed by Shia leaders, such as Prime Minister Maliki of Iraq. Syrian Christians fear that regime change would lead to the persecution of Christians, as had occurred in Iraq and Egypt. The Arab League has sent in 50 monitors as observers, but has taken only limited measures against the Assad regime.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Tamara

    Not quite what I was hoping for, in that it's mostly focused on the current (well, as of a year ago) conflict rather than the background. Very much a first draft of history. Still, the early chapters help give an overview of who-against-who and the basic beats of 20th century Syrian history and geopolitics. Kind of weirdly, to my mind, Ajami often dips into a sort of melodramatic speaking-to-posterity tone (complete with poetically mixed up tenses - "history moved with velocity nowadays. This dyn Not quite what I was hoping for, in that it's mostly focused on the current (well, as of a year ago) conflict rather than the background. Very much a first draft of history. Still, the early chapters help give an overview of who-against-who and the basic beats of 20th century Syrian history and geopolitics. Kind of weirdly, to my mind, Ajami often dips into a sort of melodramatic speaking-to-posterity tone (complete with poetically mixed up tenses - "history moved with velocity nowadays. This dynastic inheritance in Syria was not destined to survive the second generation.*") like he's narrating a goddamned play. This wore out its welcome pretty fast. Anyway, further reading definitely required. *Who said Ibn Khaldun and didn't get any?

  6. 4 out of 5

    Yas

    not exactly fresh on content but beautifully written and includes the writers interesting perspective on a number of things related to Syria's history and how it ties to the 2011 uprising. Its only in the tenth chapter where the author engages some of the oppositional figures and not just narrate his views though readings of the media and history-political books on Syria. not exactly fresh on content but beautifully written and includes the writers interesting perspective on a number of things related to Syria's history and how it ties to the 2011 uprising. Its only in the tenth chapter where the author engages some of the oppositional figures and not just narrate his views though readings of the media and history-political books on Syria.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Murtaza

    Ajami is a neocon dirt bag but also a thoughtful and eloquent writer. This is a short book but every page is filled with beautiful prose and engrossing snapshots of Syria; brief enough to be finished in a few short sittings. Worthwhile read.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Sam Schulman

    More enlightenment, information and beautiful writing on each pase of this slender book than in most books on the middle east. Ajami, who is a Shia from Lebanon, leaves the reader understanding the place of the religious and ethnic minorities in Syria/Lebanon, the history of their relations from Ottoman times, through French rule, and to the Assad dynasty; the relationship of Syria and Lebanon since 1982, the status of the regime vis a vis its minorities - not just the Alawites and Christians, b More enlightenment, information and beautiful writing on each pase of this slender book than in most books on the middle east. Ajami, who is a Shia from Lebanon, leaves the reader understanding the place of the religious and ethnic minorities in Syria/Lebanon, the history of their relations from Ottoman times, through French rule, and to the Assad dynasty; the relationship of Syria and Lebanon since 1982, the status of the regime vis a vis its minorities - not just the Alawites and Christians, but Sunni and Shia; the place of the threat and promise of the west and the US, the nature of the Ba'ath - all in an almost day-by-day account of the uprsing from April 2011 to about February 2012, and a brief update going forward until this (2012) April. I am (my ex-wives tell me) a pretty well-informed guy on the middle east and pretty well read, but I learned something new on every page, and from the whole a way of looking not only at Syria but at the whole Levant unlike anything else on offer. His emphasis is on the sectarian dimension of the war, the bloody history between the Alawis and the Muslim Brotherhood of 1979-82, the role of the Sunni centralists in creating the Syrian state, and their confidence that the minorities, - the Christians, the Alawis, the Druse and the Shia - would fall into line, - and yet the civilized state that the Sunnis had created pre-Assad. He looks over the border at the renascent Shia Arabs of US-liberated Iraq, and their distrust of the fundamentalist Sunnis whom they assume dominate the rebellion; the suicidal intervention of Lebanon's Maronite leadership on the side of Assad, and the central place of Damascus at the faultline between Shia and Sunni Arab since 680 AD, and today, where Al Jazeera urges on the rebels, while Shia Arabs remember how the TV station was no friend to the Shia of Iraq while they were being slaughtered by jihadists 2004-2006. I have admired Ajami since the pre-Gulf War days, and since I wait upon his columns I have noticed that he has been relatively silent in print on the Syria uprising and the post 2011 development in Egypt (if you're reading this, you probably know more than I did about his views on Syria, since he's a frequent talking head, but I never see talking head shows). This book is obviously the explanation for the silence, and its wisdom and beauty is well worth the wait. It's written more contemporaneously with events - takes the form, at times, of a journal - but that makes Ajami's perspective all the more valuable. It makes me wish he lived at my house. He offers no solutions, and however pessimistic you may be now, (writing on July 7, 2012), reading it will not lessen your pessimism. But Ajami writes with deep feeling and not a bit of cheap cynicism or saving distance from what is going on. Stop, read, mourn for Syria, and then go on with your life.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Eapen Chacko

    Ajami tells the complicated tale of how Hafez al Assad, father of the current President Bashar al Assad, came to power through eliminating rivals and buying the allegiance of the military and the silence of other potentially influential groups. Ruling for almost thirty years, Hafez had one one goal in the year 2000, and that was for his son to succeed him, which he did. Portrayed as a modern, Western educated physician who was worldly and sophisticated, Bashar's reign has been even more explicit Ajami tells the complicated tale of how Hafez al Assad, father of the current President Bashar al Assad, came to power through eliminating rivals and buying the allegiance of the military and the silence of other potentially influential groups. Ruling for almost thirty years, Hafez had one one goal in the year 2000, and that was for his son to succeed him, which he did. Portrayed as a modern, Western educated physician who was worldly and sophisticated, Bashar's reign has been even more explicitly violent against any form of dissent, using tactics like starving towns and cities of water and food. The author weaves the tapestry of how complex the international stage is in Syria. Although many large powers like Iran, China, and Russia have their hooks into Syria, others like Hezbollah and Saudi Arabia also try to influence President Assad, but he is like an orchestra conductor. Ultimately, the score that is played is his, which means that he will likely remain in power, no matter how much his people have to suffer. Unlike most foreign policy books, there is no magical policy prescription at the end. Western intervention, or arming the "Syrian rebels" would, reading this story, be a total disaster and would inevitably fuel the already strong anti-American, anti-Western, anti-modernism which helps keeps regimes in place in the Middle East. Good reading, but not a happy story.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jeffrey Franklin Barken

    This is an excellent and concise overview of the nightmare situation in Syria. Ajami diligently tracks the path to crisis and civil war, focussing on the sectarian leaders who have defied the nationalist agenda of Bashar Assad and detailing the cruelty and total disregard for human life that has been employed by army loyalists and free Syria fighters alike in the crack down. Halfway through the book it becomes very clear that what differentiates Syria from the other Arab States that experienced This is an excellent and concise overview of the nightmare situation in Syria. Ajami diligently tracks the path to crisis and civil war, focussing on the sectarian leaders who have defied the nationalist agenda of Bashar Assad and detailing the cruelty and total disregard for human life that has been employed by army loyalists and free Syria fighters alike in the crack down. Halfway through the book it becomes very clear that what differentiates Syria from the other Arab States that experienced Arab Spring revolutions, is that the country has no sense of itself, and is historically fractured. The State building agenda of the Assad regime exists in contradiction to the ethnicities of its people.... The book follows the revolution up through 2012, and stops short of the chemical attacks this past fall. My only criticism is a reflection of the complexities of the situation. There are so many names and terms to remember that it's a bit hard to keep track of everyone, what differentiates their sect or view of Islam etc. I was also a bit disappointed that the book didn't go into greater depth exploring Syria's relationship to Russia, and their effort to block UN peace keeping resolutions. All in all, though, this is a fantastic read for anyone seeking background on the crisis....

  11. 4 out of 5

    charlie

    Riveting book explaining the subtleties of the current Syrian civil war plastered on the front pages today. I was expecting a cold, academic informative outline... But most satisfying was that the author is not writing as an emotionless journalist. The dynamics are explained clearly, but even more satisfying is the passion and emotions that infiltrate every chapter, every paragraph, every sentence. The author clearly admits he is approaching the subject with a strong view and uses the pain of fe Riveting book explaining the subtleties of the current Syrian civil war plastered on the front pages today. I was expecting a cold, academic informative outline... But most satisfying was that the author is not writing as an emotionless journalist. The dynamics are explained clearly, but even more satisfying is the passion and emotions that infiltrate every chapter, every paragraph, every sentence. The author clearly admits he is approaching the subject with a strong view and uses the pain of feelings to tell the story. This isn't history; it is a current event. He accomplishes both of his goals exquisitely. I now understand better the news stories, but I also felt and feel the passions of the players.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Christy

    Overall, this is an informative and readable book. Ajami's flowery prose occasionally confuses rather than clarifies, idioms are at times misused, and the lack of footnotes really bothers me in a scholarly work, but otherwise the layperson should find this to be a useful resource. The complex history of Syria is well described, along with its component ethnic groups. Ajami glosses over the significant role minorities have played in the revolution (though he does not quote many sources inside the Overall, this is an informative and readable book. Ajami's flowery prose occasionally confuses rather than clarifies, idioms are at times misused, and the lack of footnotes really bothers me in a scholarly work, but otherwise the layperson should find this to be a useful resource. The complex history of Syria is well described, along with its component ethnic groups. Ajami glosses over the significant role minorities have played in the revolution (though he does not quote many sources inside the pro-democracy movement so that could explain it), though he does accurately portray the regime's diversity, and the Assad family's use of sectarian differences to consolidate and retain power.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Firas

    The book's primary contribution is its meticulous documentation of the tectonic forces that are currently altering the political landscape of Syria and the Levant. For those who are close observers of modern Syria, its a good refresher on the main inflection points of the 18-month uprising against Bashar Al Asad. The most powerful insight offered by Ajami is when he reaches into his deep knowledge of Shia Islam to offer his perspective on the Allawite community's little-known theological believe The book's primary contribution is its meticulous documentation of the tectonic forces that are currently altering the political landscape of Syria and the Levant. For those who are close observers of modern Syria, its a good refresher on the main inflection points of the 18-month uprising against Bashar Al Asad. The most powerful insight offered by Ajami is when he reaches into his deep knowledge of Shia Islam to offer his perspective on the Allawite community's little-known theological believes. This can be found in the opening chapters of the book. Ajami's always colorful language makes itself present throughout the text and adds to the flavor.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Diane

    Beautifully written history of Syria, with an emphasis on the rebellion that broke out in 2011. The author is at his best when he is providing background information on the origins of the Syrian regime. The story of the rebellion is written in a gripping manner, and probably at least somewhat accurate, but the author obviously has a strong bias in favor of the rebels. He also writes early in the conflict, so much of his information is dated and does not include the more recent reporting about th Beautifully written history of Syria, with an emphasis on the rebellion that broke out in 2011. The author is at his best when he is providing background information on the origins of the Syrian regime. The story of the rebellion is written in a gripping manner, and probably at least somewhat accurate, but the author obviously has a strong bias in favor of the rebels. He also writes early in the conflict, so much of his information is dated and does not include the more recent reporting about the conflict.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Raja

    A well written summary of the Syrian "rebellion" up until February 2012. I'm not sure why he chose the word "rebellion" as opposed to "revolution" which is used by media consistently - especially Arabic media. If he has a compelling reason, he doesn't explicitly state it in the book. With the exception of a few interesting quotes and insights, I wasn't moved by the work. In hindsight it is a great means for introducing the reader to the situation Syrians find themselves in today. A well written summary of the Syrian "rebellion" up until February 2012. I'm not sure why he chose the word "rebellion" as opposed to "revolution" which is used by media consistently - especially Arabic media. If he has a compelling reason, he doesn't explicitly state it in the book. With the exception of a few interesting quotes and insights, I wasn't moved by the work. In hindsight it is a great means for introducing the reader to the situation Syrians find themselves in today.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    Insightful, informative, dispassionate, very well written, and a wake up call of the agony, torture, and futility faced by Syrian people. The book covers the history, sects, animosities that brought this rebellion on. The Arab Spring was a lightning rod, but the Syrian experience stands on its own. I had a tear when I finished the book. May God find some mercy ..........

  17. 5 out of 5

    Frederic Jacobs

    I read a few books about Syria already but this one is my favorite so far. It clearly outlines how the rebellion came to be. I also really like Fouad's writing style that made it a real pleasure to read. I read a few books about Syria already but this one is my favorite so far. It clearly outlines how the rebellion came to be. I also really like Fouad's writing style that made it a real pleasure to read.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Carey

    Great background and insight into the current mess in Syria.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Chelsea

    read a bit more like a text book than I expect, but nonetheless, it was interesting and helped to understand today's growing conflict. read a bit more like a text book than I expect, but nonetheless, it was interesting and helped to understand today's growing conflict.

  20. 5 out of 5

    الهنوف فهد

    هذا الكتاب من الكتب التي أغلقتها قبل الانتهاء منه لم يعجبني

  21. 4 out of 5

    Corey Ely

    This has a good amount of history in it, explaining the background of the current situation m. Unfortunately, it was written too early. This only details the rebellion through early 2012.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Lexi

    Perceptive as always, Fouad Ajami shares his take on what triggered the Syrian rebellion. Already out-dated, it was still a decent socio-political look at the culture, customs, and context framing the recent uprising. Like Ajami usually does, the book does sort of float from idea to idea, it's not laid out in the chronological, linear way many of us would like, but Ajami's writing style is reminiscent of Arab works and is all the more enjoyable for that. A bit dense, but very informative and enj Perceptive as always, Fouad Ajami shares his take on what triggered the Syrian rebellion. Already out-dated, it was still a decent socio-political look at the culture, customs, and context framing the recent uprising. Like Ajami usually does, the book does sort of float from idea to idea, it's not laid out in the chronological, linear way many of us would like, but Ajami's writing style is reminiscent of Arab works and is all the more enjoyable for that. A bit dense, but very informative and enjoyable.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Aaron

  24. 5 out of 5

    Bryon

  25. 5 out of 5

    Steven Aiello

  26. 4 out of 5

    Mr P J Howeson

  27. 4 out of 5

    Noha

  28. 4 out of 5

    Russell

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jeff Mcintosh

  30. 4 out of 5

    Hala Atassi

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