Post-WW I, Syria became a French colony. It remained so until April 1946. Eight military coups followed. In 1970, Hafez al-Assad gained control. Until his death, he led Syria's Ba'ath Party. In July 2000, his son, Bashar, became Syria's president. He's a London-trained ophthalmologist turned politician.
The nation's agricultural sector generates around 25% of its national income. Wheat and cotton are principle crops. Oil is also produced and exported. In 2010, GDP growth was 3.2%. Per capita income was $4,800.
Russia and Syria have longstanding economic and strategic ties. Russian expertise and technology helped build Syrian infrastructure.
It's also responsible for dozens of industrial facilities. It includes about one-third of its electrical power capacity, another third of its oil-related operations, and help building the Euphrates dam.
Maritime interests are important. Linking Latakia, Syria with Novorossiysk, Russia on the Black Sea facilitates cargo shipments. Gazprom has oil and gas development operations.
Both countries have nuclear energy ties. They also cooperate on other commercial, scientific, military, and environmental issues.
Syria is secular. Its population numbers around 22.5 million. About 90% are Muslims. Most others are Christians. Significant investment goes for education. It's prioritized. It's largely free. Most schools are state-run. Private college charge modest fees.
Free healthcare and subsidized housing are provided. In 2006, IMF structural adjustment mandates compromised them. Conflict conditions since March 2011 affects all government services.