Hinnebusch and Zintl's edited book attempts to explain both the outbreak of the Syrian revolution and the disintegration of the Syrian state. They and their authors focus on the first decade of Bashar al-Assad's rule in Syria, addressing the question of what went wrong following his assumption of power after his father Hafiz's death: Why did the reforms he sought to implement, with the aim of strengthening his regime and adapting it to changes both inside Syria and abroad, lead to precisely the opposite result?
The book's contributors present enlightening and in-depth discussions of various aspects of life in Syria and of the regime's policies from approximately 2000 to 2013. Despite this, the reader is left with a sense of missed opportunity, for the book does not offer any deep insights into the fissures that led to the revolution or the dissolution of the Syrian state and society. Instead, it deals with aspects that have no significance for the violent developments of recent years, such as questions about "volunteer campaigns and social stratification" among school children or Hamas's rhetoric and mobilization practices in Palestinian refugee camps in Syria.
How then to explain the Syrian state's collapse? The essence of the problem was the imposition of a severely flawed system, inherently contrary to human nature. At the heart of the regime stood the tiny Alawite community, a minority group that established its rule over the Sunni Arab majority. The ruling Assad dynasty managed to disguise and obscure this dimension for many years, leading many to claim that the issue was no longer of any significance.
Clearly there is little to expect from Hinnebusch, who was, for the last decades, one of the blind admirers, ready to defend and ignore any negative qualities of Assad's dynasty and Baathist Syria. In the same way, there were many who defended Stalin and the Communist Party in Russia in the 1920s and the 1940s as well as scholars who were surprised to find, in the late 1980s when the Soviet Union collapsed, that ethnic, national, and religious identities did matter.