Bashar al-Assad has the backing of Russia to fight back the rebels but the economy is in tatters as UN sanctions have crippled the flow of money. Syrians are starving. A look at Syria on Assad’s 54th birthday.
Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad is not in a happy place politically and mentally as he turns 54 on 11 September. His unhappiness has nothing to do with the date coinciding with the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attack by Islamist radicals in the US, nor with the fact that the decade of war has killed 3.5 lakh Syrians.
Crippled economy, inaccessible oil fields:
The Syrian president said on Monday he wanted to expand business ties with Russia to help his country cope with new US sanctions on its already crippled economy that threaten to undermine military gains Damascus achieved with Moscow’s help, Reuters reported.
Assad met the Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in the Syrian capital Damascus. Lavrov told a news conference Syria needed international help to rebuild its economy.
Russia is helping Syria to fix its power plants but the oil output cannot resume as the fields were in areas outside government control.
Syria and Russia, whose military support since 2015 helped Damascus reverse gains by militants in an almost decade-long war, had said the two sides planned to boost trade ties and would review energy, mining and power projects.
How backing Assad is a Quid Pro Quo for Moscow:
Assad believes that with Moscow’s help, Damascus can hope to break the blockade of US sanctions.
Syria has pinned hopes on Russia while Western diplomats say Russia’s military involvement in Syria has secured Moscow major regional influence.
“Russia turned the tide for Assad and with the regime now facing its gravest challenges, Moscow is in a better position than any other time to further squeeze Assad,” said one Western diplomat who follows Syria told Reuters.
Although Assad has now regained most of the territory he had lost in the war, the economy is in tatters, leaving many Syrians in poverty as the currency has lost 80 per cent of its value.
Russia has criticized the new US sanctions that took effect in June under the so-called Caesar Act.
Washington says the sanctions, which penalize foreign firms dealing with Syrian regime entities, aim to cut revenue for Assad’s government and push him back into UN-led talks to end the conflict.
Assad’s native Alawites extremely upset with him:
Last Sunday, the Syrian President (Bashar al Assad) met with members of the Makhlouf family in al Qardaha, his ancestral village, reports TRTWorld.
This comes a day after the regime formally transferred the license to operate the country’s duty-free shops from the family’s most notorious tycoon, Rami, to his malleable brother, Ihab. Bashar inherited the reins of Syria from his father, Hafez. Bu times have now changed.
Nine years of gruelling war have fundamentally transformed Syrian society, and publicly appeasing the country’s richest dynasty is bound to agitate its citizens – over 85 per cent of whom now live in poverty.
Syria’s Alawite community – which has been appeased with power as a policy by Assad’s family – is likely to perceive these moves as yet another betrayal by the Syrian president.
Syrian Economy has melted & evaporated:
Syria’s economy has collapsed. Internal conflict, endemic corruption, and now Lebanon’s financial crisis – its currency is now worth a fraction of its pre-war value. Food shortages abound and state-subsidised bakeries, one of the last remaining safety nets, are thronged by crowds of starving people.
Fuel for the common man is in short supply. Unemployment stands at 50 per cent according to the United Nations’ study. Syrian society battles the menace of drug abuse, alcoholism, and psychological trauma. Meat and vegetables are virtually unaffordable. A single egg can be bought at the cost of 200 Syrian Pounds. Many families eat a mean of plain bread and chase it down with tea.
Syrians, now more than ever, now face a genuine risk of starvation. Meanwhile, severe power outages and water shortages have become the norm.
The elite own flashy cars, shop abroad:
In contrast, the Syrian elite retains its lavish lifestyle and ask the common Syrians to “remain steadfast in the face of an “international conspiracy.”
Facebook pages are flooded with indictments of the ruling class, posted by the angry and wronged commoners. References to the “thieves” that run the country – once a critique voiced cautiously at home – represents the new discursive norm.
High-profile Alawites, including individuals running pro-Assad sites, are often arrested for calling out corruption – especially when their comments go viral.
Death in war or COVID-19 wards:
Syrian soldiers demand discharge and public decries Assad’s moves where while he secures his throne, their sons return in coffins.
Add to this Syria’s widely underreported Covid-19 catastrophe. Doctors are forced to hide the real figures.
Should conditions persist, the Alawites – who have thrown their weight behind Assad and lost thousands of young men to the fight against rebels – may conclude that the possibility of slaughter by the rebels is as likely as the prospect of starvation and disease at the hands of the regime. This could cause a tectonic shift in their calculus and provoke an eruption.