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Assad is Here to Stay

Author: Mona Yacoubian

Affiliation: U.S. Institute of Peace

Organization/Publisher: Foreign Affairs

Date/Place: January 25, 2022/USA

Type of Literature: Analysis

Word Count: 1527

Link: https://fam.ag/3voK5lj

Keywords: Bashar Assad, Syria, US, Middle East, KSA, UAE, Egypt, Accountability, and Aid 

Brief: 

Assad “is here to stay”, as Syria is stuck in a “violent, protracted stalemate” where “Assad continues to act with impunity”. The author argues that in light of Assad increasingly breaking his isolation, the US should focus on two fronts: Ease Syria’s humanitarian crisis, and raise accountability efforts. The author outlines a regional trajectory of normalizing relations with Assad. In their attempt to curb Iran’s influence in Syria, Gulf countries have moved to normalize relations with Assad. In 2018, the UAE reopened the Syrian embassy, and a visit by UAE’s foreign minister to Damascus occurred in 2021. Other Gulf countries followed suit – most notably are two meetings between KSA’s intelligence chief and his Damascus counterpart, where the former visited Damascus. In the Levant, the deteriorating socioeconomic conditions have pushed Jordan and Iraq to reopen their borders with Damascus, while the US has sponsored an agreement to deliver electricity from Jordan and gas from Egypt to Lebanon through Syria. Further, Egypt is pushing for readmitting Syria to the Arab League ahead of its summit this March; Syria is set to host the conference for the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries in 2024.  Assad, then, is returning to the regional fold as the recent developments in the Middle East suggest. However, one meaningful pursuit the US should seek is accountability. Syria not being a member of the ICC and Russia’s and China’s veto powers make both the ICC and the Security Council unfeasible options. However, two breakthroughs have recently happened in Germany under the universal jurisdiction principle: Syria’s former military officer Anwar Raslan’s life sentence for crimes against humanity, and the conviction of a former Assad security police officer of crimes against humanity in 2021. The article stresses that those efforts must be accompanied by greater documentation of Assad’s human rights violations, which is a foundation for any accountability and justice endeavor. Lastly, the article stresses that the US should increase its humanitarian aid to Syrian civilians in Syria and abroad. This involves mitigating the hostility and resentment Syrians are facing in their host countries, highlighting their plight, renewing the mandate of Security Council Resolution 2585 to deliver relief aids to rebel-held areas, and addressing the forcible return attempts taking place in a number of countries such as Denmark. While Assad is here to stay, the article concludes that the US should focus on accountability and humanitarian aid to ease the suffering of Syrians.  

Critical Commentary:

The author takes a realistic approach to address the situation in Syria with Assad remaining in power. She focuses on the US and details two endeavors that need more attention and effort, but ignores the fallout of such action on the credibility and potency of international instruments, with the re-embracing of a regime whose crimes have been well-documented. Domestically, the situation in Syria is far from sustainable, where even if acknowledging that Assad is “here to stay”, the volatile reality must be addressed urgently.  

By: Hamza Emir, CIGA Research Assistant

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