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Syrian Arab Republic

Hamidiya market, Damascus, Syria. Photo: LOUAI BESHARA / AFP

Syria (official name: Syrian Arab Republic) is a state located on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean in the southwest of Asia. Syria includes lands in Golan Heights which have been occupied by Israel since 1967. It is bordered by Turkey on the north, Iraq on both east and southeast, Jordan on the south and Israel and Lebanon on the southwest. According to the CIA’s website, Syrian lands account for 187,437 km2, of which 1,295 km2 are occupied by Israel.

The capital Damascus is located on the southwest corner of the country, on the foot of Mount Qasioun. Damascus goes by many names and titles; it is “The Pearl of the East”, Capital of the Holy Book of the Arameans and Capital of the Umayyad State during Islamic Era. Many scholars believe that Damascus is the most ancient inhabited city in the world.

After its independence in 1946, Syria has suffered a long period of political instability. It was attributed to the severe dispute between social, religious, and political groups in the country. In 1970, Syria came under the rule of President Hafez al-Assad, who aimed to achieve national security, internal stability, and restoration of the Syrian lands occupied by Israel in 1967.

Map of Syria. Photo: Fanack

He committed the country to purchase a massive amount of weapons, which put severe pressures on the national budget, leaving only so little space for development. After his death, his Son “Bashar al-Assad” became president. Despite taking some early steps towards political reformation, Bashar continued on his father’s authoritarian course eventually. He utilized the powerful military and security forces to oppress political opposition. The oppressed internal tensions eventually led to the Syrian Civil War in 2011.

The population is estimated at 19.4 million according to the CIA in 2020. However, the World Population Review official website estimates the population at 17.4 million in 2020.

In terms of ethnic allocation, eastern Arabs account for 90% of the total population. Kurds account for 2 million in Syria, while Turkmens account for 0.75 to 1.5 million.

Arabic is the official language, and there are some other languages used in Syria, such as Kurdish, Armenian, Aramaic, Circassian, French, and English.

Muslims account for 87% of the total population (74% Sunni and 13% Alawites, Isma’ilis, and Shiites), while Christians account for 10% of the total population (Orthodox, Papal, and Nestorian). Druze account for 3% and the remaining include some Jews living in Damascus and Aleppo.

The Syrian Lira is the local currency. Natural resources include oil, phosphates, chromium and manganese ores, asphalt, iron ore, rock salt, marble, gypsum, and hydroelectric power.

In military terms, Syria ranked 55th out of 138 countries in the Global Firepower Index of 2020.

Syria is considered among the most dangerous areas in the world to journalists due to the country’s current circumstances. Syria ranked 174th out of 180 counties in the index of “Reporters without Borders” report for freedom of journalism of 2020.

In the aftermath of the 2011 uprising, the Syrian government took a chain of legislative measures to improve the media’s freedom and to calm the populace. The 2011 law banned the monopolization of media platforms and prohibited “arresting, questioning or searching journalists”. The Syrian constitution that was established in 2012 granted “freedom of press, printing, publishing, and media platforms, and their independence according to the law”. Despite all of that, these laws were restricted through the current legislations of the government and the new initiatives aiming to oppress the opposition. For instance; the 2012 Anti-Terrorism Act that allowed the detention of journalists based on vague accusations like “promoting terrorist activities”.

The development of social media platforms and citizen press allowed Syrians a portion of freedom of expression. Besides, these new platforms played a critical role in transferring information during the 2011 uprising against al-Assad’s regime.

Among the prominent faces of the opposition; the Syrian politician Riad al-Turk, the businessman Ghassan Aboud, and the controversial Mufti Ahmad Badr al-Din Hassoun. .

The Syrian Arab Federation of Football manages the national team and the premier league. Despite that the Syrian national team didn’t qualify for the world cup at all, Syrian’s passion for football is undeniable. The Syrian team qualified 6 times for the AFC Asian Cup. Women’s participation in sport has increased. Ghada Shouaa won the first and last Golden Medal for Syria in the 1996 Summer Olympics.

Other sports that are well watched in Syria include basketball, tennis, and swimming. The Syrian basketball national team won the Pan Arab Tournament in 1992 and reached the semi-finals of the 2001 Asian cup tournament in Shanghai.

The coast and the western mountains have a Mediterranean climate with a long dry season from May to October. In the extreme northwest there is some light summer rain. On the coast, summer is hot, while it’s mild to cold during winter in inland. In desert areas such as Palmyra and Deir ez-Zor, the maximum summer temperatures range between 30 and 40 degrees Celsius. Snowfall may occur in winter away from the coast, and frost is formed in some areas.

Syria has a relatively short coastal line, extending to 110 miles (180 km) along the Mediterranean between Turkey and Lebanon. The sandy bays of the beach alternate with rock heads and low slopes.

The Ansariyya Mountains lay on the border of the coastal plain and extend from north to south. The mountains’ average width is 20 miles (32 km), while their average height ranges from 3000ft (900m) in the north to 2000ft in the south. The highest point of these mounts lay east of Latakia.

The most popular tourist attractions are ancient Damascus, the Umayyad Mosque, Aleppo Citadel, the ruins of Palmyra, and Arwad Island.

Driving vehicles is right sided, similar to the same state in the rest of the MENA countries. Time zone for Syria is (GMT+3). The international dialing code is +963.

Further Reading

Page with a chronological overview of the country file articles published on the Chronicle website.
Syria has recently been in a crisis, which holds a lot of historic fluctuations and incidents. Ruled by al-Ba’ath Party and al-Assad family for more than half a century, this country was the center of the Umayyad caliphate. More...
Fanack offers an overview of basic facts and figures concerning Syria's political leadership, geography, population and economy.
Fanack provides an overview of Syria's geography, including its state borders, local climate, and natural resources.
Fanack provides an overview of the governance and politics of Syria, with an overview of its different branches of government and governance challenges.
The concept of human rights has become a well-known and widely accepted term to use. An overview of human rights in Syria.
The World Bank has classified Syria's economy as having a lower middle income level within the region Middle East & North Africa. Syria's economy is essentially state-run, although it has remained partly private, as for exampl...
Faces of Syria have names, we hear about them but do not get the entire picture. Get to know these influential people in Fanack’s ‘Faces’ section.
Fanack provides an overview of Syria's population, including the areas of habitation, ethnic and religious groups and socio-economic composition.
Three quarters of the Syrians are Sunnis. Within the Syrian population there are also Christian, Alawite, Druze and Ismaili minorities. For centuries, the various religious and ethnic communities lived separately from each other, ...

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