After the initiation of independent governance, Syria’s police and internal security have entered progressive organization and positional changes, which reflects the conditions of in-demand security for the different governance (Lawson, 1996 p. 317). In Syrian systems of government, the state’s military and police forces are important with regard to defending the country and ensuring that government policies are appropriately observed (Dana, 2003 p. 276).
In authoritarian systems, however, the role of the coercive apparatus extends into the political realm much more prominently. Apart from direct military interventions in the form of coups, the police perform an important political role in terms of supporting and even intervening to protect authoritarian regimes (Hopwood, 1999 p. 523). In the absence of such support, it would be virtually impossible for an authoritarian regime to maintain its power (Zalkin and Simon, 2004 p. 32).
The most widely known intelligence—gathering and internal security organization was the National Security Directorate, employing about 25000 police personnel (Lawson, 1996 p. 317). Gaining and maintaining the support of the coercive apparatus entails the constant flow of state patronage, as well as strategic alliances within the highest levels of the security-apparatus hierarchy (Ma’Oz, 1999 p. 238). The degree to which such controlling strategies assist in securing the support of the coercive apparatus is aptly reflected in the case of contemporary Syria (Dana, 2003 p.
278). During the 1960s, the civil police forces were believed to have been used extensively to combat internal security threats to the government, but during the 1970s and 1980s, these forces assumed a more conventional civil police role; nevertheless, the police continued to receive training in such functions as crowd and riot control (Ma’Oz, 1999 p. 239). The 1985 statistics, the most recent statistics available in early 1987, cited 187,944 convictions of Syrian nationals in penal cases.
Nearly three-fourths of these convictions were for crimes and contraventions neither mentioned in the penal code nor further identified. Of the other convictions, the largest category was for crimes against religion and family. Other frequent crimes were acts endangering or causing loss of life, robbery, insolence, and crimes against public security (Watson, 2003 p. 98). A rapid increase in crimes against religion and family was the only trend discernible in the data for the 1970—85 period (Dana, 2003 p.
287). The figures for the number of convictions in nineteen other classifications of crime remained stable (Lawson, 1996 p. 316). Accounts of crimes committed in Syria published in Western publications were limited to crimes against state security, such as assassinations and bombings, and to such crimes as bribery and embezzlement as exposed by the Committee for the Investigation of Illegal Profits (Campbell, 1999).
The latter committee was set up by the government in September 1977 to investigate a reported growth in corruption by government officials and business leaders. Corrupt behavior on the part of police and intelligence personnel was also tolerated by the regime (Ghazzal, 2007). As a result, the coercive apparatus in Syria safeguarded the Asad regime for more than thirty years and suppressed no less than three major anti-regime uprisings (1973, 1980, and 1982).