On the floating of the Assad regime

Fayez Sara
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Talk of floating the Assad regime by restoring bilateral relations or normalizing Syria’s relations with regional and international institutions and organizations is on the rise. In the last decade, these relations had been rocked by the regime’s crimes against the Syrian people, which led to the freezing or severance of relations, particularly with Arab, American, and European states.

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This talk of floating the regime is coupled with measures and steps in that direction. Many Arab governments reopened their embassies in Damascus, and news abound of Arab and foreign officials holding security meetings with regime officials, visiting Damascus, and meeting with Assad and regime leaders. Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Miqdad also met with nine Arab foreign ministers on the margins of the latest UN General Assembly in New York, which many observers deemed to be an indicator of endeavors to float the Assad regime and validate the normalization of ties with it.

Such talk and procedures themselves are not a novelty: they have been ongoing for years. The novelty lies in two factors. The first is the seemingly escalating statements of this kind, especially by media outlets close to the regime and its allies, as well as Miqdad’s meetings with nine Arab foreign ministers. The second is some observers’ understanding of the US position on the Assad regime. Despite insisting that it will not normalize or restore ties with the regime, the US has yet to prevent such normalization by other states. Some even went as far as saying that the US position vis-à-vis the Syrian regime is on the cusp of a significant shift that may lead to restoring bilateral relations within one year or so.
The aforementioned observations are surely insightful, and we also cannot but notice Russia’s efforts to float the regime at the Arab and international levels. Still, what’s happening is far from being a floating of the regime and a normalization of ties in the sense of restoring them to their status pre-March 2011. We need to look at the facts and givens, which lie beneath the answer to a pressing question: what purpose could there be in floating the regime and normalizing relations with it?

The Assad regime has firmly upheld the same policies and opinions it had declared when the conflict erupted in and around Syria in 2011.

Despite the catastrophic repercussions of its crimes on Syria and the whole world, the regime insists on proclaiming victory with the support of its Russian and Iranian allies and maintains that they will finish what they started.

The Assad regime runs a torn political entity, the real control over which is split between several regional and international powers that rely on local proxies. There’s the United States, which controls northeastern Syria along with the Global Coalition and the Syrian Democratic Forces, its “local tool.” Then there’s Turkey, which directly controls part of northern Syria, aided by armed groups and its Hayat Tahrir al-Sham allies. Finally, there’s Russia and Iran, which hide behind the excuse of legitimate presence in Syria, although the authority that sanctioned this presence of theirs has long lost all its legitimacy.

The entire Syrian entity has been destroyed and its human and financial resources have fallen apart. Today, Syrians residing in Syria account for a little more than half of the population and are scattered across regions controlled either by the regime or by de-facto forces. Most of them are seeking a way out given the unprecedented levels of deterioration across all sectors, and things are only going downhill, with forecasts predicting the renewal of war in the northwest and its likelihood in the northeast. Meanwhile, Syrian refugees in neighboring countries are inching ever closer to the level of deterioration of their compatriots back home. Of the 5 million Syrians scattered across neighboring countries, thousands in Lebanon are suffering from the decay of living and security conditions in the country; thousands of others in Jordan are living on limited resources and livelihoods; and nearly 4 million in Turkey are struggling to make ends meet and, more importantly, facing growing racism.

In terms of financial capacities, Syria today is a country in ruins. Dozens of cities and villages have seen half of their buildings and markets decimated. Most of the country’s infrastructure, be it roads, power grids, or water and sanitation grids, is either out of service or providing minimal services due to their destruction, negligence, and lack of maintenance. Production and service activities are nearly frozen, as evident in the lack of production in sectors for which Syria was once was famous, like cotton, wheat, olives, and citrus; and in the country’s resources, such as oil, gas, and phosphates, which de-facto forces have split between themselves. For its part, the Assad regime facilitated the granting of investment concessions to Iran and Russia over the country’s oil and phosphate reservoirs and its two outlets to the sea in Latakia and Tartus.

Syria has lost the capacities and expertise that could develop the country and help it overcome the repercussions of the war waged by the regime, its allies, and extremist groups against Syrians. But it also lost those capacities and expertise in essential, day-to-day sectors, like administration, healthcare, education, housing, and transport. Syria will need massive capacities and many years to fix the damage in all these areas.

Indicators of Syria’s collapse abound. The country now fares worst on global rankings and has become a failed state, governed only by force, be it Iranian and Russian occupation forces, or the regime’s military and security forces, which have merely become militias and gangs operating under Iranian or Russian umbrellas.

In the light of all the above, talk of floating the Assad regime and procedures indicating such a trend lose their common meaning. Instead, a new, different meaning is suggested, one that’s based on the futility of the idea of floating the regime and rehabilitating it for inclusion in the international community. At best, the idea rather resonates with what former US State Secretary Henry Kissinger said about the efforts he exerted in the Middle East after the 1973 Arab-Israeli war: what’s needed is not achieving peace, but talking about it. He knew very well that peace between Israelis and Arabs is far-fetched; indeed, here we are, nearly half a century later, testifying to the veracity of his words.

If there are people who believe floating the Assad regime and bringing it back to the arms of the international community is possible, let them enlighten us on what it is that may lure these states into openness to Syria once again.

This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.

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