Adopt-a-Revolution, Alhakam Shaar, Dr. Salam Said, half the population is displaced, informal settlements, Iran, Jihad Yazigi, Joseph Daher, prioritizing business interests over people, reconstruction, Russia, Syria, two-thirds live in extreme poverty
To read the document, follow this link: [PDF]Reconstructing Syria: Risks and side effects Strategies, actors and interests
1 The reconstruction plans of the al-Assad regime largely ignore the needs of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees. The regime’s reconstruction strategy does not address the most pressing needs of over 10 million Syrian IDPs and refugees. Instead it caters mostly to the economic interests of the regime itself and its allies.
2 Current Syrian legislation obstructs the return of IDPs and refugees, and legalizes the deprivation of rights of residents of informal settlements. A series of tailor-made laws have made it legal to deprive inhabitants of informal settlements of their rights. This includes the restriction of housing, land and property rights through Decree 66, Law No. 10, the restriction of basic rights under the counterterrorism law, and the legal bases for public-private co-investments. These laws also serve the interests of regime cronies and regime-loyal forces. The process of demographic engineering in former opposition-held territories, which has already begun, driven by campaigns of forced displacement and the evictions of original residents, is being cemented by these laws. They considerably discourage and obstruct refugees from returning to Syria. Funding reconstruction under the umbrella of the Syrian state threatens to reinforce this policy.
3 Under the current circumstances, reconstruction would further strengthen the dictatorship and its nepotism, as well as fuel new conflicts. Current housing, land and property rights are a key driving factor for future conflicts in Syria, and are expected to considerably increase the existing and massive social inequalities in Syrian society that were major motivating factors at the start of the Syrian uprising in 2011.
4 Instead of providing reconstruction assistance to the country, the allies of the Syrian regime are plundering the country’s natural resources. Iran and Russia in particular are hardly contributing towards a base for future reconstruction. Rather they are plundering the country’s few resources. One example is the Russian-Syrian agreement on the use of phosphate resources, which assures a Russian company 70 percent of all the phosphate extracted while the Syrian government will get only 30 percent. Such agreements jeopardize the prospect of economic stabilization in Syria, as potential tax and foreign exchange earnings are compromised.
5 Reconstruction fails as a means of political pressure on the Syrian regime. So far, the al-Assad regime has attempted in vain to force European states to fund Syria’s reconstruction by using the repatriation of Syrian refugees from Europe as a “bait”. At the same time, Western states have not been very successful in making financial pledges for reconstruction conditional, attempting to use them as a foreign policy tool to aid political change in Syria. This is due to the fact that the military victories of the al-Assad regime and its allies have reduced what little pressure there was on the Syrian regime to commit to reforms or a political transition. Its current reconstruction strategy illustrates how the promise of reconstruction funds cannot be used to pressure for substantial change within the Syrian regime.
6 No reconstruction without peace. Experiences from other conflicts show that reconstruction only makes sense after armed conflicts have ended – that is, when all hostilities have ceased and a peace agreement is signed. Syria still has a long way to go in this respect, as no notable progress has been made with the Geneva peace process. Before committing to any reconstruction aid, there must be a political solution to the conflict in Syria.
7 Reconstruction aid must be tailored to the needs of those affected and involve Syrian civil society. If reconstruction is to lay the foundation for the return of IDPs and refugees to their home country, their needs must be assessed and their participation in the reconstruction process ensured. In addition to material needs and assuring legal rights regarding housing, land and property rights are maintained, other obstacles to return must also be eliminated, such as, for example, establishing effective protection against potential state persecution. This is why Syrian civil society and the diaspora should be involved in reconstruction planning by Germany or the European Union at an early stage.
[Source: Reconstructing Syria: Risks and side effects Strategies, actors and interests, pp. 4 – 5.]
Since the civil war in Syria began, half of all hospitals and a quarter of all housing there has been destroyed. Around two-thirds of Syrians live in extreme poverty, millions have no access to clean water, more than half of the population has been displaced, either internally or to other countries. And above all, one thing is clear: The Syrian people need help.1
It has been suggested that reconstruction in Syria could cost up to US$400 billion. That is a massive sum of money for a country whose economy has been almost completely destroyed by this conflict and whose foreign allies, Russia and Iran, don’t have anything close to that kind of funding. That is why Russia is using all the diplomatic channels at its disposal, as well as general publicity, to put pressure on Europe, and in particular Germany, to secure western aid to help rebuild the cities that were destroyed, in large part, by its own and the Syrian air force. The argument coming from Russia is that once Syria has been rebuilt, Europe can send the refugees it harbours – and which have caused it so much domestic political anxiety – back home.
All of which has European politicians contemplating one crucial question: How does one rebuild the ruined country, bring back hope and minimise need – which, after all, could also become the basis for further extremism – without simultaneously stabilising and supporting the al-Assad regime? At the end of the autumn of 2018, Germany emphasized once more that any financial support for Syrian reconstruction had to be conditional upon a political process that would eventually result in free and fair elections and an end to regime persecution of political dissidents.
Critics of the German position have described the conditions as inhumane and unrealistic. Given the stable ceasefire zones and the so-called reconciliation agreements that currently exist, the conflict is over, they argue. The reconstruction of Syria must commence immediately in a pragmatic way and without any political strings attached, in order to “save human lives”2, they say, and to facilitate the return home of displaced Syrians and Syrian refugees currently sheltering in neighbouring countries and in Europe. Reconstruction would support stabilisation in Syria and in the medium and long term, will also lead to peace there.
Are the al-Assad regime and its Russian and Iranian allies motivated primarily by humanitarian desires, as well as a wish for sustainable peace in Syria, when they put this kind of pressure on other nations? Would a less rigid European position – or maybe just a position that did not demand regime change in Syria – actually be in the best interests of the Syrian people, those who have been most impacted by war, pushed out of their homes and possibly lost everything? Is it true that the West is only setting these conditions in order to satisfy its own geopolitical interests? Or are there good, genuine political and economic reasons for attaching such conditions to Syrian reconstruction? And if so, what might these be?
This publication tries to answer those complex questions, by having Syrians dis-cuss them from a more academic angle, as well as from the point of view of Syrian civil society. More attention needs to be paid to such analyses from Syrians themselves, as they explain why the topic of reconstruction needs to be seen from a broader perspective and why the discussion must not be narrowed to just a few, selective talking points. But perhaps even more importantly than that, these essays and analyses show that reconstruction under current conditions is unlikely to lead to a peaceful future for the Syrian people. Instead it would only strengthen the regime-held imbalance of power and add to the deprivation of human rights in Syria, a deprivation that started when the regime reacted violently to peaceful anti-government protests on the street in 2011.
In a comprehensive article, Syrian-Swiss political scientist, Joseph Daher, takes a closer look at the strategic and political decisions the Syrian regime has made with regard to reconstruction. He documents in detail how the relevant legislative conditions and various development master plans for destroyed areas actually prioritise the interests of business people and militias who have proven their loyalty to Bashar al-Assad’s regime. New laws and decrees legalise the demolition of what may best be described as informal settlements, in which lower-income Syrians – a segment of the population that sympathised overwhelmingly with the opposition – lived, as well as sanctioning a complete upending of the social structure in many other locations. At least 30 percent of the total Syrian population, possibly as much as 50 percent, lived in these informal settlements.3 Many of them are now threatened with eviction without any kind of compensation, and this situation is even more of a threat for those residents who had to flee their homes altogether. Regime opponents, who can be convicted by the local anti-terrorism laws, are in danger of having real estate confiscated by the government. According to Daher, all this only reinforces existing nepotistic networks in Syria as well as the close connection between political and economic power, that was, and is, used to subjugate rebellious sectors of the local population. This means that those who were already poor in Syria are further disadvantaged, as their homes and property are taken from them. In this way, this kind of re-construction only exacerbates preexisting conflicts and the extreme differences in this already conflict-riven country.
In his essay, Syrian economics expert, Jihad Yazigi, shows exactly how Russia and Iran are dividing Syria’s meager natural resources between them, while barely adding to the economic stabilisation of the country. To do this, he analyses a number of investment agreements the two nations have made with Syria. Yazigi also points out that, up until very recently, other nations did not have a great deal of interest in Syria’s resources – most cooperation was on geopolitical terms rather than in business. This is because the country does not have a great deal of natural resources; there are hardly any energy sources or raw materials and the domestic consumer market is comparatively small. This observation puts paid to various conspiracy theories that suggest that the conflict has been all about the control of oil or gas pipelines.
Syrian economist, Salam Said, makes an important but often side-lined argument in her essay, in which she looks at Syrian reconstruction as a tool of foreign policy. The al-Assad regime and its Russian allies, and even the international donor community, have tried – unsuccessfully, it must be said – to use reconstruction as a substitute for the lack of political progress in Syria. Al-Assad and Russia are hoping to bring Syria back into the international fold by engaging other nations in reconstruction: Up until now, this plan has not worked. Attempts to make the return of Syrian refugees more palatable to Western nations, by associating any such return with reconstruction efforts, hasn’t helped either. Western nations have understood that they won’t be able to compel democratic reforms in Syria through reconstruction. Al-Assad and his allies are militarily superior and, according to Said, more political negotiations are necessary, before reconstruction can be discussed any further. Experience in post-conflict zones tells us that reconstruction will only succeed after the end of armed fighting, when combat operations have ended and a peace treaty has been signed. Syria is a long way from that: There has been no truly significant progress during negotiations in Geneva.
Additionally there is good cause to argue in favour of asking displaced Syrians inside the country, as well as those Syrians who have fled out of the country, under what conditions they would be prepared to return home. Some Syrian civil society organisations are trying to do this, as Alhakam Shaar explains, in his explanation of what The Aleppo Project, an initiative of which he is a co-founder, is doing. He sheds light on the al-Assad regime’s plans for reconstruction in Aleppo and how these hardly fulfill the needs of residents displaced from the city, and in particular eastern Aleppo.
All of this analysis indicates again that much of the current debate about Syria should not necessarily be narrowly focused on issues like new diplomatic initiatives, reconstruction, or when refugees can return home. Instead it should be directed at how best to bring about a sustainable and just peace to this country and its people – and what European actors can contribute to this effect.
However, due to its complexity, this question can not be answered conclusively in the present publication – if only because those parts of the country that are currently under the control of the al-Assad regime and the situation in other parts of Syria are not taken into consideration. The editors, hope at least to provide an impulse for a debate on reconstruction that is based on the interests of those who have lost everything in the Syrian conflict – and not one which is based on the interests of those who are responsible for the escalation and prolongation of this conflict.
Your Team from Adopt-a-Revolution
1 World Bank, “The Toll of War. The economic and social con-sequences of the conflict in Syria”, 10 July 2017, https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/syria/publication/the-toll-of-war-the-economic-and-social-consequences-of-the-conflict-in-syria (accessed on 15.11.2018).
2 Lutz Herden, „Front der Unerbittlichen“, in: Freitag 20.08.2018, https://www.freitag.de/autoren/lutz-herden/front-der-unerbittli-chen (accessed on 15.11.2018).
3 These figures are based on surveys by the Central Syrian Bureau of Statistics.
[Source: Reconstructing Syria: Risks and side effects Strategies, actors and interests, pp. 6 – 8.]
Dr. Joseph Daher — Reconstructing Syria: How the al-Assad regime is capitalizing on destruction (page: 09)
Jihad Yazigi — Reconstruction or Plunder? How Russia and Iran are dividing Syrian Resources (page: 20)
Dr. Salam Said — Reconstruction as a foreign policy tool (page: 25)
Alhakam Shaar — Reconstruction, but for whom? Embracing the role of Aleppo’s Displaced (page: 29)
Dispossessed and deprived: Three case studies of Syrians affected by the Syrian land and property rights (page: 33)
To read the document, follow this link: [PDF]Reconstructing Syria: Risks and side effects Strategies, actors and interests