From Without Water, Revolution by Thomas L. Friedman on The New York Times:
THIS Syrian disaster is like a superstorm. It’s what happens when an extreme weather event, the worst drought in Syria’s modern history, combines with a fast-growing population and a repressive and corrupt regime and unleashes extreme sectarian and religious passions, fueled by money from rival outside powers
“The drought did not cause Syria’s civil war”, said the Syrian economist Samir Aita, but, he added, the failure of the government to respond to the drought played a huge role in fueling the uprising. What happened, Aita explained, was that after Assad took over in 2000 he opened up the regulated agricultural sector in Syria for big farmers, many of them government cronies, to buy up land and drill as much water as they wanted, eventually severely diminishing the water table. This began driving small farmers off the land into towns, where they had to scrounge for work. […] “State and government was invented in this part of the world, in ancient Mesopotamia, precisely to manage irrigation and crop growing,” said Aita, “and Assad failed in that basic task.”
For more about the invention of government to manage irrigation and granaries see Ecowar the book pages 13-14.
The best jobs in Hasakah Province, Syria’s oil-producing region, were with the oil companies. But drought refugees, virtually all of whom were Sunni Muslims, could only dream of getting hired there. “Most of those jobs went to Alawites from Tartous and Latakia,” said Zakaria [Zakaria, teenager], referring to the minority sect to which President Assad belongs and which is concentrated in these coastal cities.
“We could accept the drought because it was from Allah,” said Abu Khalil [cotton farmer, smuggler and Free Syrian Army commander], “but we could not accept that the government would do nothing.” Before we parted, he pulled me aside to say that all that his men needed were anti-tank and antiaircraft weapons and they could finish Assad off. “Couldn’t Obama just let the Mafia send them to us?” he asked. “Don’t worry, we won’t use them against Israel.”
There is a preview of the book on the book website that includes page 13.