President Bashar al-Assad, dictator of Syria, at first wavered between force and hints of reform. But in April, just days after lifting the country’s decades-old state of emergency, he launched the first of what became a series of withering crackdowns, sending tanks into restive cities as security forces opened fire on demonstrators.
Neither the violence nor Mr. Assad’s offers of political reform, rejected as shams by protest leaders, brought an end to the unrest. Similarly, the protesters have not been able to withstand direct assault by the military’s armored forces.
The conflict is complicated by Syria’s ethnic divisions. The Assads and much of the nation’s elite, especially the military, belong to the Alawite sect, a small minority in a mostly Sunni country.Syria’s crackdown has been condemned internationally, as President Assad, a British-trained doctor, who had seem inherited iron-handed regime dictator from his father, Hafez al-Assad.