In March 2011 Syria’s government, led by Pres. Bashar al-Assad, faced an unprecedented challenge to its authority when pro-democracy protests erupted throughout the country. Protesters demanded an end to the authoritarian practices of the Assad regime, in place since Assad’s father, Ḥafiz al-Assad, became president in 1971. The Syrian government used violence to suppress demonstrations, making extensive use of police, military, and paramilitary forces. Amateur footage and eyewitness accounts, the primary sources of information in a country largely closed to foreign journalists, showed the Syrian security forces beating and killing protesters and firing indiscriminately into crowds. Opposition militias began to form in 2011, and by 2016 the conflict had expanded into a full-fledged civil war. In this special feature, Britannica provides a guide to the civil war and explores the historical and geographic context of the conflict.