Security Studies Program Seminar

How to Understand Syrian Politics: One Historian's View

Dr. Philip Khoury, Professor of History, MIT

September 29, 2004


Many key ideas and trends in modern Middle East originated in Syria

Pull of Arabism faced competition from other forces: degree of contact with west, rural/urban/Bedouin split, religious minorities, coastal vs. interior regions. All of these things have made it difficult to establish a national identity.

World War 2 set in motion most of the significant transformations in Syria's 20th century history

Hafaz al Asad

How much of Syrian policy was him, and how much connected to underlying institutions?

As powerful as he was, there were limits on Asad's power

Bashar al Asad

Does Bashar remain beholden to the old guard, or has he broken free? He hasn't been able to build up his own governing team yet. The old guard is still the one that's in charge, although he is making some changes. He knows that Syria's economy needs to be modernized, and he wants to temper the authoritarianism that characterized his father's rule.

Possible sources of opposition

Relationship with the United States

What does Bashar want?

Rapporteur: Caitlan Talmadge

return to seminar summaries, Fall 2004