Maneuvering the Syrian Crisis Away from International Solutions
- updated: December 30, 2023
The current Syrian government is heavily influenced by Russia, particularly in significant sectors of the Syrian army and the Ministry of Defense. Simultaneously, Iran exercises its dominance over the Syrian government at various levels, possibly to a similar or greater extent. This dominance aims to control the remaining resources to ensure the repayment of Iranian debts incurred by the Syrian regime. Iranian and Russian interventions have played a decisive role in maintaining the regime’s official authority in Syria and controlling key aspects of the Syrian economy, including the energy and fuel sectors.
The current authoritarian movements reflect slow responses to redistributing some central authorities, previously held by Bashar al-Assad, gradually shifting towards a pro-Iran Prime Minister’s leadership. This prime ministership becomes the effective overseer of implementing the mechanisms of joint Iranian-Syrian cooperation within the framework of dominance and control. These responses have materialised notably with the issuance of the People’s Council decree on the seizure of movable and immovable assets under a judicial order, the majority of which belong to regime opponents. These steps widely open the door to the confiscation of these assets, representing a strategic shift in asset and resource management methodology.
The decree empowers the Prime Minister to allocate a portion of seized funds to any public entity based on the request of the relevant minister. Decisions regarding this allocation are made by the Prime Minister, based on proposals from the ministers of finance, agriculture, and agricultural reform. A specific system includes rules for managing seized and unseized funds, including their investment, ownership transfer, and allocation.
Some government-supporting economic experts, including the Minister of Finance in Hussein Arnous’s government, promote these laws claiming they “aim to ensure public benefit and contribute to securing the functioning of state public facilities.” However, how can public benefit be achieved by seizing the private property of citizens, whether legally or illegally residing outside the country? These properties have their rightful owners, and seizing them under any pretext constitutes a violation of human rights guaranteed by international laws.
Furthermore, the decree includes funds and assets belonging to accused, detained, forcibly disappeared, absent, or individuals sentenced in absentia, placing them under the investment of the regime’s government. The abolishment of the “Ministry of Presidential Affairs” and its replacement with the “General Secretariat of the Presidency” opens the door to a kind of change. This secretariat, subordinate to the presidency, is tasked with providing services that assist the president in performing his duties and responsibilities. The General Secretariat manages administrative, financial, and legal matters in the presidency, overseen by a secretary-general. Mansour Azzam, the former minister of the presidency, has been appointed as the secretary-general of the secretariat.
These changes coincided with the meeting of the Central Committee of the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party, chaired by the party’s Secretary-General, Bashar al-Assad. During the meeting, he called for the election of a new committee and leadership for branches and the people to align with the new phase the country is going through. The general atmosphere and changes implemented by the regime, whether in form or some tools that led Syria after 2011, even included changes and integration in the security branches according to the Russian plan for leadership changes in Syria, as reported by the “Voice of the Capital” website.
This aligns with the Central Committee meeting of the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party, led by the party’s Secretary-General, Bashar al-Assad. He called for the election of a new committee and leadership for branches and the people to suit the new phase in the country’s life. The general atmosphere and changes implemented by the regime in form and some tools of the previous phase that led Syria after 2011 also included changes and integration in the security branches, according to the Russian plan for leadership changes in Syria, as reported by the “Voice of the Capital” website.
The regime’s steps of change, portrayed as progressing towards what is required, actually maintain Mansour Azzam in the new position, indicating a change in form with the same old personalities but with new names, designations, and structures. This affirms that there is no fundamental change in these steps, but rather a rearrangement, shifting responsibilities within the same system, not transitioning to a new system as claimed. The distribution of highly centralized powers, once held in one hand, is now within the framework of a single palace with multiple offices and its respective directorates. For the first time in Syria’s history, a part of the presidency’s duties is transferred to the new General Secretariat, while retaining the same individuals.
The call for change and the election of a new Central Committee leadership for the ruling Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party is an invitation to transition from a state of party irresponsibility to activating the paralyzed Central Committee, which has expired except for corruption authority. Can the opportunistic authoritarian party transition to a (democratic-electoral) party?! This is the party that abolished Article 8 of the previous constitution stating it is the “leading party of the state and society.” However, in the political and operational life in Syria post-2011, this article remained intact in all government and political institutions until now. Can trust be placed in this party and its (old-new) leadership?
All of this is happening within the framework of an authoritarian patching of the regime, operating under the influence and control of “Iran and Russia.” The ministerial amendment decree is merely a continuation of messages from this regime, suggesting it has begun to change. It addresses the French government, and through it, the European Union, appointing Lameaa Youssef Shakour as Minister of Local Administration, replacing Hussein Makhlouf, who became the Minister of Water Resources, replacing Tammam Raad, who was not assigned any ministerial portfolio.
Shakour had been the regime’s ambassador to France since 2008, the daughter of Chief of Staff Yusuf Shakour during the October War in 1973. She enjoys the trust of the French government, which played a role in the Local Administration Law issued in 2011, enhancing decentralization in Syria. The Ministry of Local Administration oversees the implementation of this law. Does Shakour assuming the tasks of the Ministry of Local Administration send a message to the Democratic Syria leadership after its fourth conference and the election of a new political leadership?! Decentralization remains one of the key points of contention in the dialogue with the Democratic Syria leadership and other Syrians in northwestern Syria (Idlib and its countryside), currently in the south (Suwayda) with ongoing protests, close to the Jordanian border, and the Jordanian army’s operations to combat drug and Captagon smuggling.
The most important official message in this stage is the new responsibilities undertaken by the regime’s Prime Minister, Hussein Arnous. He attended the Abkhazian President’s reception, participated in the Climate Summit in the UAE, visited Tehran, and had official receptions and multiple political and economic meetings. These result in increased Iranian pressure on the Syrian government to settle its debts to Iran, and the establishment of more joint committees, especially the Financial Committee, which has made progress by opening an Iranian financial bank in the Syrian capital, expanding joint oil activities in maintaining the Homs refinery, after maintaining and operating turbines in several power stations in Aleppo, Mhardeh, and Baniyas.
In addition to these measures, there is the regime’s budget project for 2024, issued by the Syrian People’s Council statement on December 13, 2023. The general budget amounted to 35,500 billion Syrian pounds, distributed to 26,500 billion for current expenditures and 9,000 billion for investment expenditures. Meanwhile, the total deficit in the budget exceeded 9,404 billion pounds, less than the 2023 budget, which was 165,500 billion Syrian pounds. The central dollar exchange rate in 2022 was 3,015 pounds, equivalent to approximately 5.48 billion dollars. The 2024 budget, at a central dollar exchange rate of 12,600 pounds, is approximately 282 billion dollars, a decrease of 2.66 billion dollars and a percentage of 48%.
All of this reveals the slow and formal nature of the regime’s change, seeking to reproduce itself to satisfy its supporting and partnering countries, Russia and Iran. This is happening amidst its silence about events in Gaza. Can this be achieved in the face of the ongoing failure of the current (political-negotiating) solution based on the Geneva Statement of 2012 and UN Resolution 2254 of 2015? The inability of the Arab Initiative and the UN envoy Geir Pedersen to convene a new round of the Constitutional Committee in Oman continues, along with ongoing US and European sanctions and the lack of funding for the new budget, resulting in imposing more taxes and levies on the Syrian people.
In the Syrian Women’s Political Movement, we emphasize that there is no possibility for a political solution to the Syrian crisis except through a serious engagement in the political resolution, activating the Constitutional Committee and its meetings at its permanent headquarters in Geneva, away from the pressures of Russian and regime interests. It should relocate its meeting place, and open up the remaining paths for political settlement in accordance with relevant United Nations resolutions.
The regime’s actions circumventing these resolutions in its (regional-international) endeavor to reshape them, raises the question of whether the reshaping process aligns with a new Middle East trajectory post the Zionist war on the Gaza Strip. Is it a prelude to a transformative process in the region, including a political settlement in (Syria, Palestine, and Lebanon), viable and livable?
The Political Committee in the Syrian Women’s Political Movement