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Publication of Adopt a Revolution: Reconstructing Syria: Risks and side effects Strategies, actors and interests

 

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To read the document, follow this link: [PDF]Reconstructing Syria: Risks and side effects Strategies, actors and interests

SUMMARY

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.

  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.]

INTRODUCTION

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

[Endnotes:]

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.]

 

Content

SUMMARY

INTRODUCTION

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