Accountability within Reach? International Community Digs in on Syria
In Depth Analysis
Accountability within Reach? International Community Digs in on Syria
The anniversary of the Syrian uprising, often reckoned from 15 March 2011, witnessed myriad preliminary steps from the international community that signal emerging priorities as the deadlocked conflict drags on. Last week’s Syria Update examined the state of the aid response and how development and humanitarian approaches should adapt to hard realities in the country (see: Syria Update 15 March 2011). This week, we delve into trends shaping the policy and political space around Syria, as the armed conflict remains — for now — stubbornly frozen. Two diverging trends exist in the international community’s approach to Damascus. On the one hand are a growing number of accountability measures, including political pressure, legal challenges, and economic sanctions. These are approaches led by the U.S. and Europe that primarily aim to hold the Government of Syria to account, and they are gaining speed, even though significant questions over efficacy remain unanswered. These approaches are set against a nascent effort led by Russia to usher the Government of Syria through a period of international censure and cement Moscow’s own interests in the country while growing its diplomatic profile in the wider region.
Whole of Syria Update
Criminal prosecutions and broader accountability initiatives are perhaps the only aspect of Western approaches to Syria that have fundamentally changed in recent years. They therefore represent an important evolution, albeit a small one. They are also severely constrained. As with previous efforts to use international forums to effect positive change in Syria, accountability measures will have a substantial impact only if the international community can — simply put — make the system work. That will be a challenge. The steady erosion of the UN-authorised crossborder system is a testament to the uphill battle awaiting such efforts, important though they may be as a safeguard of norms. That said, those now advocating accountability processes, such as the investigation into Syria’s powerful First Lady Asma al-Assad, must be prepared for the possibility that their reach will exceed their grasp. The same is true for current political and economic approaches to Syria that double-down on familiar tactics, and have yet to demonstrate the capacity for bringing about desired change.
The state of play
All told, the Government of Syria is no closer to finishing the military conflict on its terms today than it was one year ago (see: Syria Update 16 March 2020). At that time, the Government of Syria had considerable momentum. Following months of intense bombardment of the opposition-held northwest, by mid-March 2020, the Syrian Government had succeeded in recapturing major cities in Idleb and Hama governorates and regaining control of the vital M5 Highway (see: Syria Update 10 February 2020). Perhaps equally important, the Government of Syria was coasting on the updraft of intensifying efforts by regional political actors to normalise relations — a trend made all the more pertinent by the rise of anti-refugee and counter-terror discourse. However, its military, economic, and political ambitions have since been stunted by the de facto ceasefire in Idleb (the most durable such agreement of the conflict), the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ravages of severe economic deterioration, and the implementation of the Caesar sanctions. Nonetheless, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad faces little realistic pressure to step down, despite the stalemate.
Many international actors continue to view al-Assad’s ultimate removal from power as the fundamental precondition for re-engagement with Damascus. That is a political preference. Mitigating the adverse or unintended impacts of any policy to pressure al-Assad — such as stifling economic sanctions, resource denial, and diplomatic isolation — will be a strategic, humanitarian, and moral imperative (see: Syria Update 22 June 2020). Localisation and support to Syrian civil society are but two avenues for the aid response to continue effective and necessary aid implementation in Government-held Syria, which will be necessary to head off further state collapse, refugee exodus, and the regional export of violence from Syria (see: Syria Update 15 March 2011). The international community has yet to clearly articulate a realistic theory of change or identify the levers to actually oust al-Assad in the long term. That said, on this anniversary of the uprising, Western governments laid out a three-pronged approach to the Syrian Government in the medium term along political, legal, and economic fronts.
Politically: Disavowing the presidential election
Anti-Assad discourse gained new momentum after multiple states affirmed the necessity of a political transition in Syria based on the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254, forswearing recognition of presidential election results under the current circumstances.
- On 10 March, the European Parliament drafted a Joint Motion for a Resolution (2021/2576(RSP)) consisting of 44 articles, including: support for the democratic aspiration of the Syrian people; support for UNSC Resolution 2254 and the constitutional reform process; the release of 130,000 detainees in Government of Syria prisons; renewal of the cross-border authorisation under UNSC Resolution 2533; the maintenance of sanctions on individuals and entities involved in the repression in Syria; support for principled humanitarian assistance without normalising relations with the Assad regime and without directly or indirectly investing in Syria’s reconstruction before the implementation of a credible political process. The motion emphasised that the International Criminal Court (ICC) should remain the primary jurisdiction for international justice for crimes of genocide.
- On 15 March, the EU’s High Representative issued a parallel statement reaffirming that an end to the conflict should entail the end of repression, the release of detainees, and the full implementation of UNSC Resolution 2254. The statement calls for accountability for all human rights violations, and it demands the renewal of the cross-border resolution.
- On 15 March, the U.S., UK, France, Germany, and Italy issued a joint statement calling the Government of Syria and its allies to engage seriously in the political process and allow humanitarian assistance to reach communities in need. The statement refuses to recognise the results of the upcoming presidential election as legitimate, emphasising that no normalisation with the Syrian Government will take place.
- On 15 March, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, stated that the upcoming Syrian presidential election does not meet the criteria laid out in UNSC Resolution 2254. The U.S. Embassy in Turkey called on the Government of Syria to allow uninterrupted and unimpeded aid and on the international community to reauthorise the UN cross-border access resolution.
- On 15 March, the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs asserted that neither Germany nor its European partners will normalise relations with Syria, nor will they support reconstruction of the country before viable and sustainable political transformation takes place.
Legally: Prosecuting war crimes
In parallel to the political statements made by many Western countries, intensifying efforts have been made by several governments and Syrian NGOs to initiate parallel tracks for accountability. Generally, the avenues for real prosecution are limited, but they broadly fall into two categories.
First, prosecutions pursued in other countries — such as Germany and France — against Syrians residing in those countries and accused of involvement in human rights violations and war crimes. Most recently, on 13 March, the Metropolitan Police in the UK opened a preliminary investigation into allegations that First Lady Asma al-Assad has incited terrorist acts in Syria. The prosecution may lead the first lady being stripped of British citizenship.
Second, efforts on the international level to hold the Assad regime to account; these appear more complicated, not least because Syria is not a party to the Rome Statute, which established the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC, therefore, has no jurisdiction over crimes in Syria. There are some who argue that the ICC is viable as a venue for a preliminary examination concerning the alleged deportation of Syrians to Jordan, given that actionable crimes occurred in the latter country, which is a party to the ICC treaty. Meanwhile, a parallel track through the UNSC is blocked by Russia. However, two paths have been recently proposed in order to overcome this blockage. On 12 March, Canada and the Netherlands announced they will take steps to hold the Syrian Governmemnt accountable for violations of the UN Convention Against Torture.
Economically: Re-upping sanctions, holding the line on reconstruction
In terms of economics — the sphere with which the international community has been most actively engaged in Syria — a continuation of existing policy has been signalled for the coming year. Current policy is based on two main pillars, namely sanctions and the withholding of reconstruction assistance. De-legitimising the Syrian Government on the political level and criminalising interactions with it will further shrink the window for financial assistance to Government-controlled areas. Moreover, humanitarian spending is likely to expand at the expense of reconstruction or rehabilitation projects in Syria. Economic sanctions are likely to be maintained if not expanded over the next year. On 15 March, for instance, the UK announced a new round of sanctions on figures such as Faysal Mekdad, the minister of foreign affairs, presidential advisor Luna al-Shibl, and Major General Ziad Saleh.
Russian diplomacy looking for alternatives
Running headlong into such initiatives is a competing path, which is being pushed primarily by Russia. On 11 March, Russia, Turkey, and Qatar announced the formation of a dialogue track to run parallel with the Astana talks, seemingly prioritising humanitarian assistance and delegating to Arab countries (including Qatar) a greater share of responsibility for engaging Syria. This followed meetings between Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov and his counterparts in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that focused on Syria’s return to the Arab League. Amid the economic collapse in Syria and the international reluctance for political normalisation, Russian foreign policy in Syria may shift toward intensifying cooperation with Arab countries such as Gulf states, Lebanon, and Egypt, in order to press the international community to lift sanctions, promote refugee return, and break the political isolation of the Government of Syria.
Such initiatives are unlikely to yield significant results as long as Western sanctions and political pressure mean the cost of engagement outweighs the benefits. As a result, status quo maintenance is possible, yet it is important to recall that political stalemate in Syria does not mean stagnation of conditions on the ground. Although conditions may remain frozen on the diplomatic level, the upheaval facing ordinary Syrians is all but guaranteed to worsen.
Whole Of Syria Review
New Lows for the Syrian Pound
Basic items become increasingly inaccessible as economic reform drifts beyond reach
Damascus: The Syrian pound has hit a new low: 4,600 SYP to the dollar as of 18 March. In lieu of any sustainable solution to Syria’s economic woes, the Government of Syria instituted a set of decrees to increase teachers’ salaries and provide a one-time stipend to all past and present state employees. Per the decrees, teachers’ hourly wage will be increased to a maximum of 600 SYP (approx. 13 cents USD) per hour and state employees will receive a one-time stipend to offset economic pressure of 40,000 SYP for retired employees and 50,000 SYP (approx. 9 USD) for current employees. For comparison, a kilogram of tomatoes sold for around 12,000 SYP in Damascus as of writing, according to local sources. In parallel, on 15 March, the Ministry of Domestic Trade and Consumer Protection raised the price of fuel and gas cylinders. Ninety octane fuel will still be available through smart cards for subsidised products; however, the subsidised and unsubsidised prices have both been set at 750 SYP per liter, effectively signaling the an end to the fuel subsidy by pushing consumers toward unsubsidised fuel that can be obtained more easily. The price of 95 octane fuel now stands at 2,000 SYP per liter, and gas cylinders used for cooking and heating now cost 3,850 SYP.
A neighbouring collapse and a reminiscent response
Increasing salaries and raising the consumer price of subsidised fuel are responses to Syria’s worsening fiscal crisis, which continues to erode the value of salaries and increase the sticker price of consumer goods. Nonetheless, fiscal reform seems increasingly out of reach. The Government is likely to continue enacting piecemeal responses, including one-time fiscal stimulus to state employees, but substantive reform is not expected. Drastic changes that would have a significant impact for consumers — for instance, decriminalising the holding of dollars — would have its own knock-on effects on the exchange rate, including by prompting a flight to dollars that would collapse the pound’s value at a time when purchasing power is shrinking.
Syria’s currency crisis is, as always, inextricably linked to regional economic upheaval, particularly the fiscal turmoil in neighboring Lebanon (see: Two Countries, One Crisis: The Impact of Lebanon’s Upheaval on Syria). The Lebanese lira (LBP) traded at new lows last week, reaching 15,000 LBP to the dollar. The repercussions were palpable throughout Lebanon. Shops shuttered to wait for the exchange rate to stabilise, while pharmacies and truckers transporting goods from Beirut port went on strike. Protesters blocked roads and demonstrated throughout Lebanon. Like authorities across the border in Syria, the Lebanese government has eschewed substantive reform, choosing instead to tackle the crisis superficially, including by cracking down on money changers while holding tight to an increasingly unrealistic official exchange rate.
The bottoming out of Lebanon’s economy fuels concerns about the scapegoating of marginalised populations by Lebanon’s political elite and frustrated residents alike. Political commentary on Syrian refugees’ drain on the local economy are once again in focus and reports of Syrians and domestic workers being skipped over for subsidised food items circulated on social media in the past week.
Such concerns are pertinent for aid response actors targeting Syrian refugees in Lebanon. On 17 March, the UN, the EU, and the World Bank reached a verbal agreement with Lebanon’s finance minister to provide cash assistance to Lebanon’s most marginalised communities in the form of fresh USD (i.e. dollars entering the nation’s beleaguered financial system from abroad, which are free of stringent capital controls applied to local deposits that are now effectively trapped in Lebanese banks), as opposed to payments in LBP at a rate set by the government. While the details are still being confirmed, such a move could stabilise the financial standing of Syrian refugees who have been among the worst hit by Lebanon’s economic crisis. However, such an approach should be managed with extreme caution; a stark divide between communities holding dollars and those still languishing with LBP could spark tensions along any one of Lebanon’s many dividing lines. In the long term, it will be important for the Syria response to find more substantive ways to address economic turmoil in Lebanon and Syria together, given the deep linkages that connect the contexts.
Samer Foz to Open Syria’s Largest Sugar Factory Amid Short Supply
Reinforcing the alliance between the regime and loyalist businessmen
Hasayaa, Homs Governorate: On March 8 2021, the pro-Government trade publication Industry News reported that the MENA Company sugar refinery in Homs will begin operating in April. Construction of the refinery began in 2018, one year after the enterprise was announced by Syrian businessman Samer Foz. The facility will reportedly process imported raw sugar, outputting 1 million tonnes of refined white sugar annually. The refinery will employ 400 workers and engineers according to the Homs Chamber of Industry.
Syria’s bitter sugar battles
The Syrian sugar industry is a microcosm of the cronyism and elite capture that define the country’s war economy, while the destruction of sugar beet value chains is emblematic of the ruptures that have rent agricultural and rural livelihoods in Syria and have left the population bereft of a now-imported staple that could be produced domestically. Sugar beets were once among the key outputs of the Syrian agricultural industry, with a production reaching as high as 1.8 million tonnes per year, before dropping to 10,000 tonnes by 2018 and 2019 — due to supply challenges, conflict conditions, and issues related to the Government of Syria’s role as the single buyer of beet crops (see: Syria Update 1-7 August 2019). In early 2020, the Syrian cabinet announced the suspension of sugar beet planting for a period of two years, declaring the crop economically nonviable. In September 2020, however, it enacted a plan for the planting of sugar beet beginning in 2021 across an area of at least 6,700 hectares.
Plans concerning the industry raise eyebrows because raw and refined sugar are among the nation’s most costly imports. The reason for the flip-flopping of Syria’s sugar beet planting strategy is not clear. The sugar beet crop has been a focus of union-based labour protest in Syria, although such efforts have seemingly had little success staving off the worst outcomes, as embodied by the previous halt to sugar beet planting (see: Syria Update 22-28 August 2019). Of Syria’s six state-owned sugar refineries, only one, Homs Sugar Company, is currently operational, though it recently suspended work, citing shortages of raw sugar. Among the three private-sector refineries is the Middle East Sugar Refinery (MESR), which has an annual capacity of 600,000 tonnes and was founded in 2008 by Tarif al-Akhras, the uncle of Asma al-Assad. Al-Akhras made previous bids to corner the sugar beet market in Syria, although he is reportedly among the prominent business elites who have been under severe pressure from the Syrian Government since 2019.
Factors such as the hobbling of the public sector and the underperformance of existing private-sector competitors may explain why Foz, arguably the most formidable of Syria’s new business elites, has entered the field. Foz’s ambition to step into the sugar market is also emblematic of the intertwining of state and industry in Syria. Local media report that one of Foz’s partners in the refinery is Mohammed Labib al-Ikhwan, the chairman of the Homs Chamber of Industry and a well-known businessperson. Meanwhile, ordinary Syrians have been left to face a significant burden due to ineptitude on an industrial scale. Facing sugar shortages, the Government of Syria has rationed consumption through the Smart Card system, limiting the allowance to 1 kg per month for each individual, although shortages have persisted. Earlier this month, the Ministry of Health launched the “One Week Without Sugar Challenge” campaign, aimed at reducing sugar consumption. The Syrian street has responded by mocking the initiative, characterising it not as a health initiative, but as a necessity brought on by acute shortages — resulting, in no small part, from inept mismanagement of the sector.
New Military Escalation, Release of Detainees in Dar’a Governorate
4th Division members killed in violent clashes
Mzeireb, Dar’a Governorate: On 16 March, local and media sources reported that more than nine fighters of the 4th Division were killed as a result of violent clashes with local fighters in western Dar’a. Media sources indicated that renewed clashes broke out around Mzeireb when the 4th division attempted to raid the house of Abu Tariq al-Subihi, one of the six men the Syrian Government seeks to exile to northern Syria (see: Syria Update 15 February 2021). Local sources report that unknown groups ambushed a vehicle carrying fighters between positions in western Dar’a, although these reports have not been substantiated. Well-placed local sources said nine 4th Division soldiers were killed, while dubious social media accounts claimed there were as many as 20 deaths among fighters, most of them reconciled former opposition members from Dar’a and the Damascus countryside, as well as 4th Division officers. In reaction to the clashes, a meeting was convened between the Western Central Committee and the 4th Division in Dar’a city to reduce the tension and military escalation in western Dar’a.
Additionally, local and media sources reported that, on 16 March, Government forces released 44 detainees in Dar’a Governorate. The release came after the agreement between the Central Committee and the Security Committee (see: Syria Update 8 March 2021). According to local sources, most of those released were arrested after the fragile reconciliation agreement in 2018. Local and media sources also indicated that, on 18 March, hundreds of people joined demonstrations in Dar’a al-Balad, Hrak, Jasem, Tafas and Elmaa to commemorate the anniversary of the Syrian uprising.
Pessimism over stability in Dar’a Governorate
It is difficult to predict the extent to which the limited stability in Dar’a Governorate will continue in the foreseeable future, particularly given the pervasive belief that Islamic State (IS) is making gains in southern Syria. Moreover, the latest clashes and protests follow less than one month after a major military escalation and the expansion of the 4th Division’s presence in western Dar’a (see: Syria Update 15 February 2021). Continuing security chaos and military attacks will leave the environment fragile. As yet, the Syrian Government has failed to bring about a rapprochement with the fractured community in southern Syria, despite new rounds of individual reconciliations and its attempts to attract civilians by providing services. These services have not lived up to the people’s needs. The trust gap between the local community in Dar’a and the Syrian Government is therefore growing.
Meanwhile, both sides have incentives to capitalise on the increase in rumours concerning IS in southern Syria (See: Syria Update 25 January 2021). For the Syrian Government, attacks on its forces that are linked (credibly or otherwise) to IS furnish a pretext that can be used to support a more heavy-handed approach to the south. Locally, among the Central Committee and opposition sympathisers in the south, such attacks are viewed as a pressure release valve drawing attention away from the former armed opposition. Amid the continuing tension between the reconciled armed opposition and the Syrian Government, international aid actors will have to consider that the threat of mistrust among all parties, the competing agendas of local and regional players, and the possibility of an IS resurgence will make southern Syria a challenging environment as the conflict enters its second decade.
Water Crisis in Northeast Syria as the Water Level of the Euphrates Drops
Irrigation and power generation challenges are knock-on effects
Euphrates River Basin: Local and media sources report that the water level of the Euphrates River has drastically dropped over the last several months, as challenges around irrigation, water and sanitation, and power generation grow more pressing. Due to the marked decrease in the water level since March and the resulting decrease in hydropower, communities in eastern Deir-ez-Zor, including Hajin, have resorted to emergency measures, bringing in six electrical transformers to power irrigation systems that are needed for rural agriculture. Local sources indicate that Turkey has gradually restricted the water flow into Syria from the Euphrates River over the past three years — a charge that is commonly repeated throughout northeast Syria. The sources state that despite a Syrian-Turkish water-sharing agreement, the volume of water flowing into Syria via the Euphrates has been a fraction of the amounts agreed.
Water shortages inevitably affect agriculture, rural livelihoods, and — ultimately — social stability, making this a key issue that spans borders in eastern Syria, southeast Turkey, and Iraq. The Euphrates River is an essential lifeline that binds the populations of all three border regions. The Self-Administration has routinely accused Turkey of stanching the water supply in a bid to undercut northeast Syria. Previously, Turkey has exerted pressure by cutting off the water supply at Alok water station in Hasakeh Governorate (see: Syria Update 30 March 2020). For its part, Turkey points to low rainfall and minimal snowpack, conditions which have been blamed for water issues inside Turkey as well. For aid actors operating in eastern Syria, implications for crops, basic services such as water and electricity, and livelihoods are obvious concerns. Also important is the fact that inadequate water supply, particularly in predominantly Arab tribal areas, such as Deir-ez-Zor, will raise the pressure on the Self-Administration. The water-sharing challenges introduce the risk that popular anger will turn toward governing authorities in northeast Syria. Such pressures threaten to undermine already fragile social stability, given the pre-existing tensions and the lack of a cohesive, shared vision for the region. As summer nears, the water wars will grow only more pressing.
Russian Oil Firm Granted Maritime Exploration Rights
Exploration and extraction rights granted to Capital
Tartous: On 16 March, media sources reported that the Syrian Ministry of Oil and Mineral Resources signed a deal with Capital, a Russian firm, giving it exclusive rights to maritime exploration off the Syrian coast and extraction if oil or gas is found. The deal reportedly concerns Block 1, off the coast of Tartous, which is adjacent to the as-yet ill-defined maritime border between Lebanon and Syria. The block is 2,259 square kilometers. Should commercially viable reserves be found, the deal states that the Russian firm will have exclusive rights to it for 25 years, with the option to extend for another five. The Syrian Government has been in discussion with Capital over Block 1 since 2020 or earlier.
Low risk, high reward (for the Kremlin)
The prospective deal between Russia and Syria for maritime oil exploration off the coast of Tartous is at least the fifth award for Syrian oil exploration to go to a Russian firm. The first such deal, for marine Block 2, was awarded to Russian firm Soyuzneftegaz in 2013, prompting observers at the time to link Russian diplomatic support for Syria during Geneva-track negotiations to economic benefits for the Kremlin. That said, previous deals have been little more than ink on paper. For example, in December 2019, Syria granted two Russian companies exploration rights on Syrian land; no move has been made to begin exploration, and oil production is years off, if it is feasible at all. More recently, Iran signed a deal for a block in Deir-ez-Zor which had — apparently — previously been contracted to Russia (see: Syria Update 11 May 2020). Again, no exploration is yet in the pipeline. That such deals have failed to come to fruition is evidence of the difficulty of hydrocarbon sector development in Syria, particularly when judged against the rosy projections of analysts, oil-sector players, and Syrian authorities, who have been looking ahead to Syria’s supposed post-conflict oil boom for nearly a decade.
Civil Registration: Diaspora and Refugees Can File Civil Records Abroad
The claim rebuts previous concerns over disenfranchisement of the diaspora
Damascus: On 16 March, media sources close to the Syrian Government, citing a source from the Civil Registration Directorate, stated that first-degree relatives of Syrians abroad are now able to register marriage, divorce, birth, and death records for their relatives who are outside the country — and can obtain official documents for those relatives. Reportedly, this authority is based on Article 22 of the Civil Status Law, according to which expatriates and, crucially, their families are allowed to file vital records for events taking place outside Syria. Accordingly, expatriates can send certification of vital incidents abroad to a relative or designated power of attorney inside Syria for registration with the Civil Status Directorate, without prior authentication by the Syrian embassy in the country where the event occurred.
HLP concerns have persisted
Clearing the track for Syrians abroad to more easily file vital records is an important step to mitigate HLP concerns, and it contradicts the tone set earlier this month by fears over changes to the Civil Status Law, including the possible invalidation of national ID cards held by Syrians who lack physical access to state institutions. Article 54 of the update stated that IDs are valid for a period of 10 years from their issuance (see: Syria Update 8 March 2021). Response to the law on Syrian social media was intense, prompting the Ministry of Interior to issue a clarification that current IDs will remain valid, while the ID expiry, the most troubling dimensions of Article 54, would not be applied due to the exceptional circumstances the country is facing.
Easing the registration burden for Syrians abroad is, implicitly, a politically significant symbol of the Syrian Government’s willingness to maintain some authority over these Syrians. While it is not yet clear that the system will be a major source of revenue, fiscal needs are deeply relevant to the Government of Syria and its network of state institutions abroad, which have increasingly capitalised on such services to the diaspora as a needed revenue stream. On a more practical level, the Syrian Government may also benefit from greater oversight of citizens abroad, particularly given that many do not register their foreign-born children in Syria. In addition, this civil-registry and document-obtainment option may help civil authorities track deaths, which result in inheritances and carry potential tax liabilities which the state is eager to maximise.
Open Source Annex
The Open Source Annex highlights key media reports, research, and primary documents that are not examined in the Syria Update. For a continuously updated collection of such records, searchable by geography, theme, and conflict actor, and curated to meet the needs of decision-makers, please see COAR’s comprehensive online search platform, Alexandrina, at the link below..
Note: These records are solely the responsibility of their creators. COAR does not necessarily endorse — or confirm — the viewpoints expressed by these sources.
Understanding the Impact of Sanctions on the Political Dynamics in Syria
What Does it Say?The paper argues that sanctions should be incorporated into a broader strategy for Syria. The conditions for lifting sanctions should be multi-layered rather than top down.
Reading Between the Lines:Sanctions are indeed causing more harm to civilians than to the ruling class, in part by stifling the economic recovery that is needed for Syria to transition from a conflict economy to a productive one.
Source: London School of Economics Language: English Date: January 2021
Banker, Princess, Warlord: The Many Lives of Asma Assad
What Does it Say? For years, Asma al-Assad was Bashar’s connection to Western countries that were loath to accept him. She appeared as part of his public image to much of the Western world, working on modernising Syria and proposing a scheme to turn Syria into a haven for the rich, like Dubai.
Reading Between the Lines:One of the biggest obstacles to Asma’s plans for Syria was Rami Makhlouf, who controlled much of Syria’s economy — until Asma succeeded in edging out Makhlouf and overtaking much of his business empire. Syria’s First Lady has been among the clearest beneficiaires of the conflict, and she will remain a fixture of the political and economic landscape for the foreseeable future.
Source: The Economist Language: English Date: 10 March 2021
Syria’s Armenian Community Resilient, but Faces Uncertain Future
What Does it Say?The article explores the resilience and post-conflict attitudes of the Armenian community in Aleppo and its drive to remain in and rebuild Syria.
Reading Between the Lines: The Armenian community faces an uncertain future, and in this sense is emblematic of the post-conflict communal tensions and instability that confront minority communities across Syria.
Source: Al-Monitor Language: English
Understanding Syria’s Enduring Crisis
What Does it Say?An article summarizing the state of knowledge production as Syria enters its 10th year of conflict.
Reading Between the Lines: While on the surface the conflict may seem stagnant, it is anything but. Economic and political issues arise on a frequent basis in Syria and, while these incidents may not be as obvious as military changes, they are just as important.
Source: European University Institute Language: English Date: 15 March2021
The Politics of Memory: Ten Years of War in Syria
What Does it Say? An article detailing the collective memory and politicisation of a seemingly straightforward, objective reality: the start of major protests in Syria, beginning with the large-scale protests in Dar’a on 18 March 2011.
Reading Between the Lines: Many in the international community mark 15 March 2011 — the date of peaceful protests in Aleppo and Damascus — as the start of the Syrian uprising, yet as this article notes, major protests began on 18 March. The debate is not merely pedantic; it is a reflection of systemic bias that has distorted analysis and policy concerning Syria for 10 years.
Source: The Century Foundation Language: English Date: 15 March 2021
Iran Is Trying to Convert Syria to Shiism
What Does it Say? The article explains that Iran is using the consequences of the Syrian conflict to convert Syrian Sunnis to Shiism.
Reading Between the Lines:The issue at focus is a real concern. There is conversion going on, and — in places such as Rural Damascus and Deir-ez-Zor — it has inflamed tensions. But such breathless reporting on Iranian influence in Syria essentially asks Western readers to be outraged that Iran has capitalised on the misery and lack of opportunity in Syria — which are, in part, the inevitable consequence of Western attempts to isolate Syria, leaving them with few alternatives.
Source: Foreign Policy Language: English Date: 15 March 2021
Why Won’t Russia Let Displaced Christians Return to their Homes in Northern Latakia?
What Does it Say?Many displaced Christians from the area are only allowed to return for short visits to collect belongings, not on a permanent basis.
Reading Between the Lines:HLP issues in Syria are exceedingly complicated. Although the reasons given by governing authorities for barring return is the unstable and conflict-prone state of the area, the real reason is not yet entirely clear.
Source: The Syria Report Language: English Date: 10 March 2021
The Wartime and Post-Conflict Syria project (WPCS) is funded by the European Union and implemented through a partnership between the European University Institute (Middle East Directions Programme) and the Center for Operational Analysis and Research (COAR). WPCS will provide operational and strategic analysis to policymakers and programmers concerning prospects, challenges, trends, and policy options with respect to a conflict and post-conflict Syria. WPCS also aims to stimulate new approaches and policy responses to the Syrian conflict through a regular dialogue between researchers, policymakers and donors, and implementers, as well as to build a new network of Syrian researchers that will contribute to research informing international policy and practice related to their country.
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