The 1st Session of IIAS West Asia and North Africa Lecture Series | Syria at War: Regime, Society and State During the Syrian Civil War

On the afternoon of April 20th, 2021, the 1st session of IIAS Middle East Lecture Series was launched online, with the theme of “Syria at War: Regime, Society and State During the Syrian Civil War”. The lecture was presented by Prof. Eyal Zisser, Vice Rector of Tel Aviv University and Professor of Contemporary History of the Middle East, and hosted by Mr. Yang Guang, a doctorate candidate in Middle East Studies at Institute for International and Area Studies, Tsinghua University (IIAS-THU).

At the beginning of the lecture, Prof. Eyal Zisser vividly illustrated and compared the differences between Syria before and during the war by playing a video showing the suburbs of Damascus, Syria, which left an intuitive impression of the cruelty of the Syrian war on every participant. He then pointed out that in the past decade of war, about 500,000 people died, 2 million were injured and 11 million became refugees. Rough statistics shows the war has destroyed 75% of Syria’s infrastructure and caused the loss of trillions of dollars.

Citing the research findings of Patrick Seale, a British journalist, Prof. Zisser analyzed the causes of the long-term unrest in Syria and pointed out that Syria has always been a weak state due to the lack of cohesion and strong dominance. Meanwhile, due to the numerous sects in Syria, the complicated history of ethnic sects has prevented Syria from growing into a modern nation-state in a short time.

Prof. Zisser also reviewed the root causes why Bashar al-Assad’s regime survived the Arab Spring and the years of civil war that followed, including Bashar’s advantage of younger age, the support of Syrian elites for his regime and the support of external forces.

After the lecture, Prof. Zisser had heated discussions with the audience and gave insightful answers to questions raised by the audience, including the changes of the security situation in Syria, the comparison between the Syrian crisis and coups in Asian countries and the differences between the Syrian army and the Egyptian army.

Prof. Eyal Zisser is the Vice Rector of Tel Aviv University and the holder of The Yona and Dina Ettinger Chair in Contemporary History of the Middle East. He received his PhD from Tel Aviv University. He was a visiting professor in Cornell University and a visiting research fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. His research interests include history and modern politics in Syria, Lebanon and Palestinian-Israeli Conflicts. His publications include Assad’s Syria at a Crossroads (Tel Aviv, 1999); Asad’s Legacy-Syria in Transition (New York, 2000); Lebanon: the Challenge of Independence (London, 2000); Faces of Syria (Tel Aviv, 2003); Commanding Syria, Bashsar al-Asad’s First years in Power (London, 2006); The Bleeding Cedar (Tel Aviv, 2009); and Syria: Protest, Revolution, Civil War (Tel Aviv, 2014).

Text by: Wang Zijing
Typesetting by: Wang Zijing
Reviewed by: Yang Guang & Zhang Yuan