Syria, officially the Syrian Arab Republic, is a country in Western Asia, bordering Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea to the West, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan to the south, and Israel to the southwest.
In English, the name Syria was formerly synonymous with the Levant, known in Arabic as Sham, while the modern state encompasses the sites of several ancient kingdoms and empires, including the Eblan civilization of the third millennium BC. In the Islamic era, its capital city, Damascus, the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, was the seat of the Umayyad Caliphate, and a provincial capital of the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt.
The population of Syria is 74% Sunni, 12% Alawi, 10% Christian, and 3% Druze. Combined, some 90% of the Syrian population is Muslim, while the other 10% is Christian, which includes mainly Arab Christians but also Assyrians and Armenians. Major ethnic minorities in Syria include Kurds (9%), Assyrians, Armenians, Turkmens and Circassians. The majority of the population is Arab (90%).
The modern Syrian state was established after the First World War as a French mandate, and represented the largest Arab state to emerge from the formerly Ottoman-ruled Arab Levant. It gained independence in April 1946, as a parliamentary republic. The post-independence period was tumultuous, and a large number of military coups and coup attempts shook the country in the period 1949–1971. Between 1958 and 1961, Syria entered a brief union with Egypt, which was terminated by a military coup in Syria. Syria was under Emergency Law from 1963 to 2011, effectively suspending most constitutional protections for citizens, and its system of government is considered to be non-democratic. Bashar al-Assad has been president since 2000 and was preceded by his father Hafez al-Assad, who was in office from 1971.
Since 2011, the Syrian government has faced massive protests as part of the Arab Spring, has been suspended from the Arab League and has faced widespread criticism for its crackdown on protestors. The Friends of Syria Group, a collection of Arab and Western governments opposed to the Assad government, recognized the Syrian National Council as "a legitimate representative" of Syrians protesting against the government.
Syria lies between latitudes 32° and 38° N, and longitudes 35° and 43° E. It consists mostly of arid plateau, although the northwest part of the country bordering the Mediterranean is fairly green. The Northeast of the country "Al Jazira" and the South "Hawran" are important agricultural areas. The Euphrates, Syria's most important river, crosses the country in the east. It is considered to be one of the fifteen states that comprise the so-called "Cradle of civilization".
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