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What's New in the Syrian Scene?

What's New in the Syrian Scene?

Friday, 15 May, 2020 - 11:45

The coronavirus and its implications and the increasingly deteriorating state of the economy, which is making it even harder to stay alive, are not the only new issues preoccupying Syrians. Indeed, an interlinked chain of events and phenomena have imposed themselves on the scene.

First, the ruling elites' disagreements and contentions have come out into the open, with Rami Makhlouf making repeated appearances on social media, pleading, begging, warning and threatening, violating the regime's custom that had consistently kept internal disagreements secrets and veined internal unity and cohesion with its ranks.

Thus, it was difficult to know the truth of what had been happening or verify any news regarding the world of the closed, demagogical, mysterious and oppressive regime. Resorting to the raising of questions about events, in an attempt to decipher its causes and understand what had been going on was commonplace.

What motives compelled Rami Makhlouf, who knows the dangers that this move poses to sectarian cohesion and the prestige and reputation of the regime as well as anyone, to appear, today, on the media and publicly discuss his problem?! What caused the rupture in his relationship with the leadership of the regime, and who closed the direct channels of communication between them? Is it truly a dispute over the payment of a sum, perhaps not a drop in the bucket of the wealth of both parties. Maybe it is an attempt to present himself as an alternative, or is it an attempt to preemptively to jump ship, leaving the boat of a regime that is now threatened with drowning before it sinks, as the viability of its president remaining in power and his ability to reproduce the pillars of power have come under question?

Who benefits from pushing things so far, exposing the regime's dirty laundry of authoritarian corruption, and waging a campaign of arrests that targeted the most prominent managers in Makhlouf’s companies and seizing their assets? Did external parties encourage this with secret intentions, clandestine objectives, one of which may be exerting force on the leadership of the regime into submission and to make concessions that he had refrained from making, or is it more accurate to see these developments as part of a conflict between Russia and Iran over control of the state’s institutions and the country's resources?!

However, even with the variety of these questions and their answers, we can be certain of several things. The crisis boiling up within the regime is deep, and it has limited room for maneuver; the regime’s components have lost much of their trust in one another and are unable to mend minor quarrels and prevent them from blowing up in the way that they did recently. We can also be certain of the regime's extreme underestimation of human beings and its contempt for their intelligence and feelings when the thieves who stole their wealth and immersed themselves in corruption, killed and destroyed, make cheap gains from their hunger, poverty, and sacrifices.

Second, the regime has given the green light for responding to what are considered defamatory and offensive messages delivered by Moscow, elucidated by the degrading manner in which the Syrian president is engaged with, whether in the invitations to Moscow or the visits of the Russian president or his representative to Damascus. The last of these was the Russian media’s reporting on the regime leadership’s squander and corruption and his inability to expand his support base to guarantee his success in the next election, including deliberate leaks of his weak position in some private political discussions. These are signs of Moscow's declining confidence in him as its silence in the face of talk that his replacement is imminent and that the regimes and state institutions will be restructured.

Indeed, in light of the political and security configurations of the Syrian regime, no one can take the initiative of criticizing an allied foreign power without the encouragement of the regime, or at least some of its pillars, to say nothing of the criticisms of the veteran leader of security apparatuses like Bahij Sulieman or a member of the people’s assembly like Khaled Abdo! How are we to read the fact that the attacks have gone as far as expressing preferences for the role played by Iran and praising it while downplaying the major role in saving the regime played by Moscow, or when the fate of the Russian president is made contingent on the will and decision of the head of the Syrian regime.

However, and regardless of the naivety of these criticisms, the door is likely to be opened to a wave of implications, like most probable of which is the maturing of a decisive Russian position that moving the Syrian president aside is necessary to garner the support of international and regional faction who want and are to cooperate to put the Syrian house in order and take part in its reconstruction. Perhaps this option is not waning but is being postponed for some time because of the different factions’ preoccupation with their costly confrontations of the coronavirus pandemic.

Third, the Israelis are escalating their hostility to the presence of Tehran and its militias in Syria, with its defense minister stating Tel Aviv’s goal, today, is not to curtail Iran’s re positioning in Syria, but rather to move sharply to expel it, and this is reflected in the increased frequency of the bombardment of sites affiliated with Tehran, even in corners of country furthest from Israel.

While one of the reasons for Israel's escalation is its growing fear of Iran’s rulers and its militias targeting strategic and critical sites in Tel Aviv, another reason could be its explicit support for Russia’s role in Syria, with its strikes meant to allow Moscow to unilaterally manage the conflict there and decide on instilling new leadership that is less tied to Tehran, since everyone knows that Iran’s influence in Syria is linked to the regime and its leadership’s persistence. Others believe that cooperating with and supplementing the US policy to weaken Iran and force it into submission through joint action is behind the escalation, not only by strengthening sanctions and creating internal problems, but mainly by clipping its regional claws. In this reading, the decision to kill Qasim Soleimani and betting that Iran’s expulsion from Syria will weaken its influence in Iraq and Lebanon, is linked to the remarkable hostility to Tehran's tutelage and vassals demonstrated in the two countries' revolutions.

The coming days and weeks may reveal more details of the developments in Syria and their reasons and implications. However, there is no doubt that they have aggravated people’s anxieties and fears over the fate awaiting a nation that its masters had destroyed, killing and displacing its children, over a future that has become hostage to external will. Most worrying are the consequences that will be faced if this ruling clique maintains its grip, with its inability to alleviate the worsening crises and garner support for the initiation of reconstruction, its insistence on draining what remains of society’s power, drawing the worst forms of siege and isolation and the culminating of the cycle of destruction that began since its seizure of power!

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