Fayez Sara

Four Factors Making Things Worse in Syria

No one following developments in Syria disagrees that the situation has deteriorated to an unprecedented degree. Most observers believe the decline is accelerating, further exacerbating the situation in Syria, thereby prolonging the conflict, deepening the obstacles to resolving it, and raising the material and human costs, not only for Syria and Syrians but also for the region and beyond, as demonstrated over the course of the conflict in and over Syria.

The increasing costs of the Syrian conflict, both domestically and externally, are clearly reflected and entrenched by four phenomena that are growing and intensifying. The first is the deterioration of conditions across the country on every level, with daily life becoming hellish.

The second phenomenon is the ongoing wave of migration and requests for refuge of Syrians, which continues despite more than half of the population having already fled their country to escape death and war. Although they would prefer to remain, the war raging in some areas and the aggravation of its repercussions has forced them out.

The third phenomenon is that terrorism and its participants are broadening. New sectarian and ethnic religious groups that had not been on the list before are being added and more states are engaged in "state terrorism" through their role in the conflict in Syria. The fourth is the growing amount of international humanitarian aid required to meet the needs of the conflict’s victims, both in Syria and the countries they migrated to and took refuge in.

Amid the increasing deterioration of the situation in Syria, the first question we must ask concerns the factors pushing things in this direction. The reasons can be divided into domestic factors on the one hand and external causes on the other. They have become deeply ingrained in Syria and the lives of Syrians, making the future uncertain.

The first reason for this deterioration and decline can be seen in the weakness and laxity of the Syrians' position on addressing the state of affairs in their country and its future. That is clearly evident in the state and role of the Syrian elite, which has been fraught with weakness, hesitation, and confusion.

There has been a decline in the political and relief role that they had begun to play at the beginning of the revolution, and they no longer play a significant role in serving the public. Instead, their focus has shifted to personal and familial projects, at best. They pursue these initiatives to escape from current conditions and solve the pressing problems somehow.

The conditions of the political elite and their overall experiences reflect a negative state of affairs and their inability to fulfill their responsibility to manage all aspects of Syrians’ lives. This is true for the political formations affiliated with both the regime and the opposition, the parties somewhere in between, and those outside of this binary. None of them have the capacity to undertake an independent and creative initiative to prevent things from deteriorating beyond a certain point.

The second reason for this decline is Syria has become divided into three entities de facto: The first entity encompasses the areas controlled by the regime, which include the coast and the center, from Aleppo in the north to Daraa in the south. It is under the protection of Russia, Iran, and the militias affiliated with the latter, most notably Hezbollah from Lebanon and Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces factions. The second entity is the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, where the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) is primarily in control. It has ties with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and is supported by marginal political groups and populations. Together, they formed the Syrian Democratic Council and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) under the protection and support of the United States.

The third entity is the Turkish-controlled entity, which is split into three sections. One section is under direct Turkish control, as it has been since Turkish forces entered the area during their military operations against the SDF in recent years. The second section mainly consists of the rural regions of Aleppo and Idlib, administered by the Syrian Interim Government affiliated with the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, with armed groups belonging to the National Army present in the region. The third section in the Turkish-controlled zone is Idlib and its countryside. This section is managed by the Salvation Government affiliated with Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra); militias and institutions of the organization are concentrated there.

The de facto authorities administer their zones according to their whim, without the slightest coordination or consultation. Rather, the three entities are all hostile to one another. Their rule is founded on a contradictory blend of policies and laws from Assad's regime and new ones derived from jihadist Islamic fundamentalist thought, which becomes fanatical with Al-Qaeda, as represented by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. Another aspect can be attributed to the ideology of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), with its militias and its theory on democratic peoples and autonomous administration. All of this has entrenched differences in the lives Syrians lead in different parts of the country to the point where they have been rendered contradictory, making the future of residents in each area different from that of the others.

The second aspect of the continued deterioration and decline of conditions in Syria is regional and international. External factors are the third cause, and they have had an impact in two respects. First, it has sharpened international divisions. One faction has supported the regime, providing assistance that went beyond the usual limits of political, economic, and military/security support, directly engaging in combat and defense operations. On the other hand, most international and regional actors provided frail and ambivalent support and assistance to the Syrian people and their opposition. Often, these stances and interventions led to negative and catastrophic results, including silence about crimes and allowing them to pass, as well as leniency in imposing serious and effective sanctions on the regime figures behind these crimes. The worst impact of the major global actors’ positions on Syria is that it pushed Syria’s Arab and regional neighbors to retreat, as well as adjusting their advocacy for the Syrian cause, which has accelerated the deterioration of conditions in Syria.

Undoubtedly, another external factor constitutes the fourth reason for the aggravation of conditions in Syria. This factor is more significant than any of those that were mentioned previously. The Syrian question has been relegated to the margins of international concerns, placed in storage and on distant shelves. That has not only worsened conditions in Syria due to the lack of potential for a solution, which has become a pipe dream. It also gives those playing a role in Syria the sense that they are above having their actions scrutinized and being held accountable for the crimes they commit. This results in increased brutality, further aggravating the destruction in Syria and the suffering of Syrians, which has been snowballing.

Those who want to see the situation in Syria resolved, particularly regional, international, and Arab parties, desperately need to take an objective stance on the issue and re-evaluate it independently of other global crises and developments, which will continue. Prioritizing some issues over others is untenable, as their ramifications are equally significant, in terms of the suffering they engender and their catastrophic impact on the world, both for its populations and governments. This conclusion applies to Syria, where the war has been raging for a long time and led to catastrophic outcomes. It has the potential to give rise to more disasters for Syrians and many people around the world if it continues.