As it is currently September, and BMUN is taking place in December, it would be quite difficult to write an up to date briefing paper for you on this issue, so I’ve done a brief timeline showing the roots and history of the crisis. Keep reading the newspaper, and be as up to date on current developments as possible ahead of the conference. We are looking forward to seeing all your solutions.
The history of the issue:
- 1918 At the conclusion of the First World War, British and Arab forces capture Damascus, ending 400 years of Ottoman (Turkish) control.
- 1920 Syria and Lebanon are placed under French control at an international meeting of the post-WW1 Allied Supreme Council, held in San Remo in Italy. The League of Nations authorises Syria-Lebanon to be ruled under a French mandate, and puts Palestine under British control.
- 1922 French authorities divide Syria into three regions, with separate areas for the Alawis on the coast and the Druze in the south.
- 1940 After France is occupied by Germany in the Second World War, Syria comes under the control of the Axis powers. After the end of WW2, French troops re-take control but withdraw in 1947. Michel Aflaq and Salah-al-Din al-Bitar found the Arab Socialist Baath Party.
- 1949 – 1966 A series of military coups and political instability
- 1966 Salah Jadid leads an internal coup against the civilian Baath leadership, arresting Salah al-Din al-Bitar and Michel Aflaq. Hafez al-Assad becomes defence minister.
- 1967 Israeli forces seize the Golan Heights from Syria and destroy much of its air force in the Six Day War with Egypt, Jordan and Syria.
- 1970 Hafez al-Assad seizes power and the following year is elected as president for a seven-year term.
- 1973 Syria and Egypt go to war with Israel but fail to retake the Golan Heights. The following year they sign a disengagement agreement with Israel.
- 1980 After the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Muslim groups instigate uprisings and riots in Aleppo, Homs and Hama. Assad begins to stress Syria’s adherence to Islam.
- 1982 Further riots in the city of Hama, led by the Muslim Brotherhood. Assad uses the army to brutally suppress the revolt – human rights organisations accuse it of killing tens of thousands of civilians.
- 1982 – 1987 After Israel invades Lebanon, Syrian army becomes embroiled in ongoing factional fighting, moving into Beirut to enforce a ceasefire in 1987.
- 1990 After Iraq invades Kuwait Syria supports US invasion of Iraq. This leads to improved relations with Egypt and the US.
- 1994 Assad’s son Basil, thought likely to succeed his father, is killed in a car accident.
- 2000 Assad dies and is succeeded by his second son, Bashar Al-Assad.
- 2001 Assad orders detention of MPs and pro-reform activists, maintaining the authoritarian grip of his father.
- 2002 – 2005 Relations with US sour – Syria is included on a list of states that make-up an “axis of evil”. Syria denies US allegations that it is developing chemical weapons. US imposes economic sanctions. Syria withdraws its forces from Lebanon following the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri in Beirut.
- 2007 Israel bombs a nuclear facility under construction in Northern Syria. In 2011 Syria is reported to the UN Security Council over its alleged continued covert nuclear reactor programme at the site.
- 2008 – 2010 Diplomatic relations improve with Lebanon, Europe and the US until May 2010 when the US renews sanctions against Syria, saying that it supports terrorist groups, seeks weapons of mass destruction and has provided Lebanon’s Hezbollah with Scud missiles in violation of UN resolutions.
- March 2011 Protests in Damascus and the southern city of Deraa demand the release of political prisoners. Security forces shoot a number of people dead in Deraa, triggering days of violent unrest that steadily spread nationwide over the following months.
- May 2011 Army tanks enter Deraa, Banyas, Homs and suburbs of Damascus in an effort to crush anti-regime protests. In June the government says that 120 members of the security forces have been killed in the northwestern town of Jisr al-Shughour. Troops besiege the town and more than 10,000 people flee to Turkey. President Assad pledges to start a “national dialogue” on reform.
- October 2011 Opposition Syrian National Council is formed in exile and Free Syrian Army starts attacks on targets in Syria. Russia and China veto UN resolution condemning Syria.
- July 2012 Widespread violence continues and UN discussions remain deadlocked. Free Syria Army blows up three security chiefs in Damascus and seizes Aleppo in the north.
- August 2012 Syrian Prime Minister Riad Hijab defects. US President Obama warns that use of chemical weapons would tilt the US towards intervention.
- March 2013 Conflict continues and millions of people have been displaced. International donors pledge more than $1.5bn (£950m) to help refugees. Syrian warplanes bomb the northern city of Raqqa after rebels seize control. US and Britain pledge non-military aid to rebels, and Britain and France propose lifting European Union arms embargo.
- August 2013 Government forces regain control of regions, including parts of Damascus. Rebels and Western governments accuse pro-Assad forces of using chemical weapons in an attack that killed more than 300 people near Damascus. The Syrian government blames the rebels.
- September 2013 Assad agrees to hand over chemical weapons.
The history of the issue:
Although Islamic tensions have been present for centuries, it is only as recently as the 1990’s that this has spread in the form of terrorism to Africa. Most of the terrorist activity focuses on the Northern region of Africa, where there are most Muslim populations (see map below). The terrorists have often entered already politically weak states, and exploited local conflicts for their own ends. The terrorists typically aim to impose the strict Muslim Sharia law on the area.
Here is a link to a map showing the prevalence of Islam in Africa.
Below is a summary of some of the main terrorist groups operating in Africa:
Al-Qaeda: a militant terrorist organisation, founded by Osama Bin-Laden in 1989. The group originated in Pakistan and Afghanistan, however it operates globally (they were responsible for the 2001 bombings of the twin towers in New York) and recently their activity has spread into Iraq, Syria and North Africa. Osama Bin-Laden was based in Sudan for some time, and with the EIJ (Egyptian Islamic Jihad) Al-Qaeda was responsible for bombing the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. Al-Quaeda’s main aim is to impose the radical Sunni Muslim interpretation of Sharia Law. They believe that the killing of civilians is religiously sanctioned, and are prepared to attack Shia Muslims as well as those of other faiths.
Boko Haram: a jihadist group based in the North-East of Nigeria, extending into Niger and Cameroon. They are fighting to establish Sharia Law. In order to achieve their aims they have focused attacks on authority and infrastructure, including Christian Churches and Schools. It is unknown how strongly Boko Haram are linked to Al-Qaeda.
Ansaru: an offshoot of Boko Haram, also based in North-East Nigeria but also active in Mali. This group are less radical, and have pledged that they won’t kill innocent non-Muslims, except in self-defence. However, they have undertaken kidnappings and executed the hostages.
AQIM (Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb): [The Maghreb is the regions of North-West Africa.] One of the main aims of the AQIM is to overthrow the Algerian government in order to establish an Islamic State. They are suspected of having links with Al-Shabaab (see below).
MOJWA (The Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa): This group broke away from the AQIM in mid-2011, aiming to spread Jihad in a larger part of West Africa, including Mali. This group is ethnically black African, in contrast to the AQIM who are predominantly Arab/Algerian.
Al-Shabaab: (means ‘The Boys’). A militant Islamist group based in Somalia, Al-Shabaab aims to impose their very strict Sharia Law on the region. Closely associated with Al-Qaeda, they receive support from Islamic terrorist groups in Yemen. Al Shabaab is opposed by the ASWJ (Ahlu Sunna Waljama’a (means ‘The Majority’)). This is a para-military group of Sufi Muslims who oppose strict Sharia law, and the harsh capital punishments that come with it, such as limb removal.