POPULATION22,530,746 (July 2012 est.)
GDP PER CAPITA$5,100 (2011 est.)
RELIGIONSSunni Muslim (Islam - official) 74%, other Muslim (includes Alawite, Druze) 16%, Christian (various denominations) 10%, Jewish (tiny communities in Damascus, Al Qamishli, and Aleppo)
ALSO IN MIDDLE EAST, NORTH AFRICA, AND THE CAUCASUSAlgeria
AT THE CENTER
Syria has been a center of political, cultural, and religious influences for millennia. It hosted the earliest organized Christian church at Antioch, and Damascus became the capital of the Umayyad Caliphate in the 7th century. Contemporary Syria retains much of its religious diversity, with substantial numbers of Christians, a small Jewish community, and a prominent Alawite Shi'a minority coexisting with its majority Sunni population. Under the Ba'ath Party, Syrians have very limited civil and political freedoms, and religious communities operate under significant state surveillance. Nevertheless, religious minorities have been generally supportive of the Ba'ath regime, due in part to its secular character. President Hafez al-Assad (1970-2000) dealt harshly with religious dissent, most notably crushing the Muslim Brotherhood-led revolt in Hama in 1982. His son, Bashar al-Assad, came to power promising reform but stalled in its delivery, and he has faced dramatic challenges to his rule as part of the region-wide wave of protests in 2011 known as the Arab Spring.