5. The Syrian Civil War – 4,800,000 People Displaced
Bashar al-Assad has held power in Syria as the head of the Ba’ath Party since the death of his father in 2000. The emergence of the Arab Spring revolutions, beginning in late 2010, has since posed a challenge to his leadership and plunged the country into civil war. In December 2010 Mohamed Bouazizi doused himself in gasoline and set himself on fire to protest police brutality in Tunisia. This action precipitated widespread popular demonstrations in Tunisia which, in less than a month, would succeed in unseating the corrupt Tunisian regime non-violently.
From Tunisia, the demonstrations spread to the rest of the Middle East. Egypt followed the Tunisian model, removing President Hosni Mubarak after eighteen days of peaceful demonstrations in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. In Libya the demonstrations turned violent, sparking a civil war that resulted in victory for the rebels and the death of Muammar Gaddafi. Similarly, in Syria crowds of protesters took to the streets calling for Assad’s ouster, but a massacre of protesters in June 2011 marked the shift towards civil war in Syria as well.
The initial armed opposition to Assad’s regime came from the Free Syrian Army based around the city of Aleppo, but since the war began other interest groups have entered the fray as well. The Syrian Democratic Forces, made up of Kurds in the north of the country, fight for their autonomy. The al-Nusra Front, affiliated with al-Qaeda, wages jihad to build an Islamic state in Syria, and ISIS claims to have established a Caliphate by brutal means. Violence against civilians from all sides has produced an exodus of 4,800,000 people from the country, with an additional 6,000,000 internally displaced.