country profile - SYRIA
Background: Following World War I, France acquired a mandate over the northern portion of the former Ottoman Empire province of Syria. The French administered the area as Syria until granting it independence in 1946. The new country lacked political stability and experienced a series of military coups. Syria united with Egypt in February 1958 to form the United Arab Republic. In September 1961, the two entities separated, and the Syrian Arab Republic was reestablished. In the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Syria lost the Golan Heights region to Israel. During the 1990s, Syria and Israel held occasional peace talks over its return. In November 1970, Hafiz al-ASAD, a member of the socialist Ba'th Party and the minority Alawi sect, seized power in a bloodless coup and brought political stability to the country. Following the death of President al-ASAD, his son, Bashar al-ASAD, was approved as president by popular referendum in July 2000. Syrian troops - stationed in Lebanon since 1976 in an ostensible peacekeeping role - were withdrawn in April 2005. During the July-August 2006 conflict between Israel and Hizballah, Syria placed its military forces on alert but did not intervene directly on behalf of its ally Hizballah. In May 2007, Bashar al-ASAD's second term as president was approved by popular referendum.
Influenced by major uprisings that began elsewhere in the region, antigovernment protests broke out in the southern province of Dar'a in March 2011 with protesters calling for the repeal of the restrictive Emergency Law allowing arrests without charge, the legalization of political parties, and the removal of corrupt local officials. Since then, demonstrations and violent unrest spread to nearly every city in Syria with the size and intensity of protests fluctuating. The government responded to unrest with a mix of concessions - including the repeal of the Emergency Law, new laws permitting new political parties, and liberalizing local and national elections - and military force. However, the government's response has failed to meet opposition demands for ASAD's resignation, and the government's ongoing violence to quell unrest and widespread armed opposition activity has led to extended clashes between government forces and oppositionists. International pressure on the ASAD regime has intensified since late 2011, as the Arab League, EU, Turkey, and the US expanded economic sanctions against the regime. In December 2012, the Syrian National Coalition, was recognized by more than 130 countries as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people. Peace talks between the Coalition and Syrian regime at the UN-sponsored Geneva II conference in 2014 failed to produce a resolution of the conflict. Unrest continues in Syria, and according to a January 2015 UN estimate, the death toll among Syrian Government forces, opposition forces, and civilians had reached 220,000. So far, the conflict has displaced 11.6 million people, including 7.6 million people internally, making the situation in Syria the largest humanitarian crisis worldwide.
geography  
Location: Middle East, bordering the Mediterranean Sea, between Lebanon and Turkey
Area: total: 185,180 sq km
land: 183,630 sq km
water: 1,550 sq km
note: includes 1,295 sq km of Israeli-occupied territory
Land boundaries: total: 2,363 km
border countries (5): Iraq 599 km, Israel 83 km, Jordan 379 km, Lebanon 403 km, Turkey 899 km
Coastline: 193 km
Climate: mostly desert; hot, dry, sunny summers (June to August) and mild, rainy winters (December to February) along coast; cold weather with snow or sleet periodically in Damascus
Natural resources: petroleum, phosphates, chrome and manganese ores, asphalt, iron ore, rock salt, marble, gypsum, hydropower
people  
Population: 17,064,854 (July 2014 est.)
note: approximately 18,900 Israeli settlers live in the Golan Heights (2012) (July 2015 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 32.49% (male 2,841,760/female 2,701,998)
15-24 years: 19.85% (male 1,713,286/female 1,673,560)
25-54 years: 38.57% (male 3,283,267/female 3,298,387)
55-64 years: 5.07% (male 427,655/female 438,105)
65 years and over: 4.02% (male 309,947/female 376,889) (2015 est.)
Median age: total: 23.8 years
male: 23.3 years
female: 24.1 years (2015 est.)
Population growth rate: -0.16% (2015 est.)
Birth rate: 22.17 births/1,000 population (2015 est.)
Death rate: 4 deaths/1,000 population (2015 est.)
Net migration rate -19.79 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2015 est.)
Sex ratio: at birth: 1.06 male(s)/female
0-14 years: 1.05 male(s)/female
15-24 years: 1.02 male(s)/female
25-54 years: 1 male(s)/female
55-64 years: 0.98 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.82 male(s)/female
total population: 1.01 male(s)/female (2015 est.)
Nationality: noun: Syrian(s)
adjective: Syrian
Ethnic groups: Arab 90.3%, Kurds, Armenians, and other 9.7%
Religions: Muslim 87% (official; includes Sunni 74% and Alawi, Ismaili, and Shia 13%), Christian (includes Orthodox, Uniate, and Nestorian) 10% (includes Orthodox, Uniate, and Nestorian), Druze 3%, Jewish (few remaining in Damascus and Aleppo)
Languages: Arabic (official), Kurdish, Armenian, Aramaic, Circassian (widely understood); French, English (somewhat understood)
Literacy: definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 86.4%
male: 91.7%
female: 81% (2015 est.)
government  
Country name: conventional long form: Syrian Arab Republic
conventional short form: Syria
local long form: Al Jumhuriyah al Arabiyah as Suriyah
local short form: Suriyah
former: United Arab Republic (with Egypt)
Government type: republic under an authoritarian military-dominated regime
Capital: name: Damascus
geographic coordinates: 33 30 N, 36 18 E
time difference: UTC+2 (7 hours ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time)
daylight saving time: +1hr, begins 1 April; ends 30 September
Administrative divisions: 14 provinces (muhafazat, singular - muhafazah); Al Hasakah, Al Ladhiqiyah (Latakia), Al Qunaytirah, Ar Raqqah, As Suwayda', Dar'a, Dayr az Zawr, Dimashq, Halab, Hamah, Hims, Idlib, Rif Dimashq (Damascus), Tartus
Independence: 17 April 1946 (from League of Nations mandate under French administration)
National holiday: Independence Day, 17 April (1946)
Legal system: mixed legal system of civil and Islamic law (for family courts)
Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal
Executive branch: chief of state: President Bashar al-ASAD (since 17 July 2000); Vice President Farouk al-SHARA (since 21 February 2006); Vice President Najah al-ATTAR (since 23 March 2006)
head of government: Prime Minister Wael al-HALQI (since 9 August 2012); Deputy Prime Ministers Fahd Jasim al-FURAYJ, Lt. Gen. Walid al-MUALEM
cabinet: Council of Ministers appointed by the president
elections/appointments: president directly elected by simple majority popular vote for a 7-year term (eligible for a second term); election last held on 3 June 2014 (next to be held in June 2021); the president appoints the vice presidents, prime minister, and deputy prime ministers
election results: Bashar al-ASAD approved as president; percent of vote - Bashar al-ASAD (Ba'th Party) 88.7%, Hassan al-NOURI (independent) 4.3%, Maher HAJJER (independent) 3.2%, other/invalid 3.8%
Legislative branch: unicameral People's Assembly or Majlis al-Shaab (250 seats; members directly elected in multi-seat constituencies by proportional representation vote to serve 4-year terms)
elections: last held on 7 May 2012 (next to be held in 2016)
election results: percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - NA
Judicial branch: highest court(s): Court of Cassation (organized into civil, criminal, religious, and military divisions, each with 3 judges); Supreme Constitutional Court (consists of 4 members)
judge selection and term of office: Court of Cassation judges appointed by the Supreme Judicial Council or SJC, a judicial management body headed by the minister of justice with 7 members including the national president; judge tenure NA; Supreme Constitutional Court judges nominated by the president and appointed by the SJC; judges appointed for 4-year renewable terms
subordinate courts: courts of first instance; magistrates' courts; religious and military courts; Economic Security Court
Political parties and leaders: legal parties: National Progressive Front or NPF [President Bashar al-ASAD, Dr. Suleiman QADDAH] (includes Arab Socialist Renaissance (Ba'th) Party [President Bashar al-ASAD]
Socialist Unionist Democratic Party [Fadlallah Nasr al-DIN]
Syrian Arab Socialist Union or ASU [Safwan al-QUDSI]
Syrian Communist Party (two branches) [Wissal Farha BAKDASH, Yusuf Rashid FAYSAL]
Syrian Social Nationalist Party [As'ad HARDAN]
Unionist Socialist Party [Fayez ISMAIL])
Kurdish parties (considered illegal): Kurdish Azadi Party
Kurdish Democratic Accord Party (al Wifaq)
Kurdish Democratic Party (al Parti-Ibrahim wing)
Kurdish Democratic Party (al Parti-Mustafa wing)
Kurdish Democratic Party in Syria or KDP-S
Kurdish Democratic Patriotic/National Party
Kurdish Democratic Progressive Party or KDPP-Darwish
Kurdish Democratic Progressive Party or KDPP-Muhammad
Kurdish Democratic Union Party or PYD [Salih Muslim MOHAMMAD]
Kurdish Democratic Unity Party
Kurdish Democratic Yekiti Party
Kurdish Future Party or KFP
Kurdish Future Party [Rezan HASSAN]
Kurdish Left Party
Kurdish Yekiti (Union) Party
Syrian Kurdish Democratic Party
other: Syrian Democratic Party [Mustafa QALAAJI]
Political pressure groups and leaders: Free Syrian Army
Syrian Muslim Brotherhood or SMB [Muhammad Riyad al-SHAQFAH] (operates in exile in London)
Syrian Opposition Coalition or National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces [al-Asi- al-JARBAL]
note: there are also hundreds of local groups that organize protests and stage armed attacks
International organization participation: ABEDA, AFESD, AMF, CAEU, FAO, G-24, G-77, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC (national committees), ICRM, IDA, IDB, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, Interpol, IOC, IPU, ISO, ITSO, ITU, LAS, MIGA, NAM, OAPEC, OIC, OPCW, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, UNRWA, UNWTO, UPU, WCO, WFTU (NGOs), WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTO (observer)
Flag description: three equal horizontal bands of red (top), white, and black, colors associated with the Arab Liberation flag; two small, green, five-pointed stars in a horizontal line centered in the white band; former flag of the United Arab Republic where the two stars represented the constituent states of Syria and Egypt; similar to the flag of Yemen, which has a plain white band, Iraq, which has an Arabic inscription centered in the white band, and that of Egypt, which has a gold Eagle of Saladin centered in the white band; the current design dates to 1980
communications  
Telephones - fixed lines: total subscriptions: 3.99 million
subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 22 (2014 est.)
Telephones - mobile cellular: total: 15.6 million
subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 87 (2014 est.)
Telephone system: general assessment: fair system currently undergoing significant improvement and digital upgrades, including fiber-optic technology and expansion of the network to rural areas; the armed insurgency that began in 2011 has led to major disruptions to the network and has caused telephone and Internet outages throughout the country
domestic: the number of fixed-line connections has increased markedly since 2000; mobile-cellular service growing with telephone subscribership nearly 60 per 100 persons in 2011
international: country code - 963; submarine cable connection to Egypt, Lebanon, and Cyprus; satellite earth stations - 1 Intelsat (Indian Ocean) and 1 Intersputnik (Atlantic Ocean region); coaxial cable and microwave radio relay to Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey; participant in Medarabtel (2011)
Broadcast media: state-run TV and radio broadcast networks; state operates 2 TV networks and a satellite channel; roughly two-thirds of Syrian homes have a satellite dish providing access to foreign TV broadcasts; 3 state-run radio channels; first private radio station launched in 2005; private radio broadcasters prohibited from transmitting news or political content (2007)
Internet country code: .sy
Internet hosts: 416 (2012)
Internet users: total: 4.8 million
percent of population: 26.7% (2014 est.)
transportation  
Airports: 90 (2013)
Airports - with paved runways: total: 29
over 3,047 m: 5
2,438 to 3,047 m: 16
914 to 1,523 m: 3
under 914 m: 5 (2013)
Airports - with unpaved runways: total: 61
1,524 to 2,437 m: 1
914 to 1,523 m: 12
under 914 m: 48 (2013)
Heliports: 6 (2013)
Pipelines: gas 3,170 km; oil 2,029 km (2013)
Railways: total: 2,052 km
standard gauge: 1,801 km 1.435-m gauge
narrow gauge: 251 km 1.050-m gauge (2014)
Roadways: total: 69,873 km
paved: 63,060 km
unpaved: 6,813 km (2010)
Waterways: 900 km (not economically significant) (2011)
Merchant marine: total: 19
by type: bulk carrier 4, cargo 14, carrier 1
registered in other countries: 166 (Barbados 1, Belize 4, Bolivia 4, Cambodia 22, Comoros 5, Dominica 4, Georgia 24, Lebanon 2, Liberia 1, Malta 4, Moldova 5, North Korea 4, Panama 34, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines 9, Sierra Leone 13, Tanzania 23, Togo 6, unknown 1) (2010)
Ports and terminals: major seaport(s): Baniyas, Latakia, Tartus
transnational issues  
Disputes - international: Golan Heights is Israeli-occupied with the almost 1,000-strong UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) patrolling a buffer zone since 1964; lacking a treaty or other documentation describing the boundary, portions of the Lebanon-Syria boundary are unclear with several sections in dispute; since 2000, Lebanon has claimed Shabaa farms in the Golan Heights; 2004 Agreement and pending demarcation settles border dispute with Jordan; approximately two million Iraqis have fled the conflict in Iraq with the majority taking refuge in Syria and Jordan
Refugees and internally displaced persons: refugees (country of origin): 526,744 (Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA)) (2014); undetermined (Iraq) (2015)
note: the ongoing civil war has created nearly 4.2 million Syrian refugees - dispersed in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey - as of October 2015
IDPs: 7,632,500 (ongoing civil war since 2011) (2015)
stateless persons: 160,000 (2014); note - Syria's stateless population is composed of Kurds and Palestinians; stateless persons are prevented from voting, owning land, holding certain jobs, receiving food subsidies or public healthcare, enrolling in public schools, or being legally married to Syrian citizens; in 1962, some 120,000 Syrian Kurds were stripped of their Syrian citizenship, rendering them and their descendants stateless; in 2011, the Syrian Government granted citizenship to thousands of Syrian Kurds as a means of appeasement; however, resolving the question of statelessness is not a priority given Syria's ongoing civil war
Trafficking in persons: current situation: due to Syria’s political uprising and violent unrest, hundreds of thousands of Syrians, foreign migrant workers, and refugees have fled the country and are vulnerable to human trafficking; the lack of security and inaccessibility of the majority of the country makes it impossible to conduct a thorough analysis of the scope and magnitude of Syria’s human trafficking situation; Syria is a source and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking; Syrian refugee women and girls are forced into exploitive marriages or prostitution in neighboring countries, while refugee children are forced into street begging domestically and abroad; the Syrian armed forces and opposition forces are using Syrian children in combat and support roles and as human shields
tier rating: Tier 3 - the government does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so; increasing violence undercut any law enforcement efforts in 2013; the government failed to protect and prevent children from recruitment by government forces and armed opposition groups; a new law passed in 2013 criminalizing the recruitment of children under 18 by armed forces was not enforced; authorities did not make efforts to investigate and punish trafficking offenders, including complicit government employees; no trafficking victims were identified or provided with protective services; the government did not attempt to inform the public about human trafficking or to provide anti-trafficking training to officials (2014)
Illicit drugs: a transit point for opiates, hashish, and cocaine bound for regional and Western markets; weak anti-money-laundering controls and bank privatization may leave it vulnerable to money laundering
Update: This page was last updated on 10 November 2015
Sources: CIA, The World Factbook, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/index.html