Before the civil war, the Syrian population was made up of nearly 23 million people and had registered a significant growth compared to the 1990s (12 million residents). The growth rate was high (3.26% between 2005 and 2010), as was the fertility rate (equal to 2.9 children per woman in 2010). Furthermore, more than 50% of the population was under the age of 22.
Most of the population is Arab, there is also a large Kurdish minority (about 10%) and Turkmen, Assyrian and Armenian minorities. Syrian Kurds were not entitled to Syrian citizen status until 2011, when President Assad granted them citizenship. Until the beginning of the civil conflict Syria hosted one of the largest refugee communities in the world, made up, according to UNHCR estimates, of half a million Palestinians and more than a million Iraqis.
The Alawites, a minority current of Shiite Islam to which the family of President Assad adheres, constitute only 14% of the population, but have so far held the levers of national politics. The majority of the population is Sunni Muslim (72%). There are large minorities of Christians (12%) and Druze (3%). The Constitution guarantees religious freedom, which is generally respected, but provides that the president must be a Muslim. Those belonging to political-religious movements of Islamic inspiration, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, were considered outlaws even before the civil conflict.
Although the various ethnic groups and religious communities of the country traditionally lived in specific areas – or in certain neighborhoods of large cities – since independence there has been a notable amalgamation between the different groups, especially within the large urban centers. The civil conflict which broke out in 2011 – which at the end of 2015 caused over 250,000 confirmed victims – however, prompted about a quarter of the population to flee within the same national territory. The phenomenon of ‘internal refugees’ has been characterized by the emptying of neighborhoods and areas inhabited by minorities, whose members have often preferred to find shelter in areas where their community is majority. Finally, some 4.5 million refugees are expatriates, mainly to refugee camps in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. While previously the number of refugees headed to Europe was relatively marginal, since 2015, the significant increase in departures from Syria and Turkey’s decision to allow refugees to continue their journey to Europe have led to the influx of about one million people to European countries. Most of them have been absorbed by Germany, whose government in September 2015 said it was suspending the Dublin Agreement and automatically accepting asylum applications from Syrian refugees.
The literacy rate is quite high (85.1%), especially for young people (more than 90% for both men and women). Gender inequality in education was shrinking: the proportion of girls enrolled in primary school compared to boys had risen from 90.3% in 2004 to 95.6% in 2009. The civil war has turned everything upside down. According to the report ‘Syria Crisis: Education interrupted’, promoted by Unicef and published in December 2013, since 2011 about 3 million children have stopped going to school because of the fighting and this has canceled the achievements of the previous decade.
From 1963 to 2011, a legislative decree was in force in Syria that imposed a state of emergency in the presence of a threat to the integrity of the state. This allowed the government to make arbitrary arrests of political opponents, human rights activists and journalists. The decree was then revoked during the riots that began in 2011, in an attempt to meet the demands of the demonstrators.
The Constitution theoretically guarantees freedom of expression and of the press, which, however, were very limited even before the worsening of the civil war. A 2001 law prohibits disclosing information on matters of national security and national unity, under penalty of high penalties. In 2014, internet users – a means increasingly used by journalists, but also controlled by the government – were 28.1%. The network represented one of the most efficient vehicles of communication and organization for protesters during the 2011 riots and among rebel fighting groups after the militarization of the uprising. For Syria democracy and rights, please check homeagerly.com.