In Depth

What next for Syria?

Uncertain future for war-torn nation amid power vacuum and economic crisis

With the demise of Islamic State in Syria, the ever-imminent withdrawal of US troops from the region and President Assad’s tightening grip on power, attention has turned to what the future holds for the war-torn country.

Despite the victory of the regime in Syria’s most populous parts, “there is little sign of normality” returning in much of the nation, says The Times.

Deepening poverty and deprivation “are undermining the regime’s apparent military victory”, adds the Financial Times. Although few dare to criticise the authoritarian regime, “gas shortages this winter sparked discontent and some Syrians quietly question why their economic situation is worsening”, the newspaper adds.

So what happens next in Syria and who will be in the driving seat?

What’s changed?

The imminent demise of Isis, as well as Assad’s creeping victory over the rebels in other parts of the country, “is reshuffling Syria’s allegiances and great power interests”, says The Times.

For the past four years, the West has viewed the country through the lens of its war against Isis. But now with the terrorist group seemingly defeated, Trump’s decision to pull American troops out of Syria has caused a chain reaction, with tensions high between Turkey and the Syrian Kurds.

And while Assad’s allies – Russia and Iran – swung the military battle decisively in his favour, “they are not committing resources to resuscitate the country”, says the FT.

This has led to something of a power vacuum with the region’s major players vying to rehabilitate the Assad regime. The UAE and Bahrain announced in January the reopening of their closed embassies in Damascus, says Al Jazeera, while Egypt has urged Syria to rejoin the Arab League ahead of an upcoming summit at the end of March.

Turkey and Iran are both racing to fill the vacuum caused by Trump’s withdrawal decision. Iran already has power brokers in place in suburbs of Damascus and Ghouta while Trump is reported by CNN to have recently told the Turkish President Erdogan: “OK, it's all yours. We are done.”

So who will be involved in the country’s reconstruction?

The West looks unlikely to involve itself in the reconstruction, paving the way for other countries to take centre stage.

The US refuses to invest in an Assad-led reconstruction process until Damascus expels Iran’s military presence from southern Syria, something it has so far been unwilling to do.

While the EU is less concerned about Iranian influence in Syria than the US, “concerns about retaliatory US punitive measures and a consensus around the need to isolate Assad for his conduct during the Syrian civil war will also likely prevent European assistance to Damascus’s rebuilding initiatives”, says international relations expert Samuel Ramani for the Turkish Anadolu Agency.

Therefore the West’s reluctance to provide economic assistance to an Assad-led Syrian government has led to increased speculation about China’s potential to assist in the Syrian reconstruction process.

More than 200 Chinese companies, the majority state-owned, attended the 60th Damascus International Trade Fair in September 2018. Here, China announced numerous deals including the construction of steel and power plants, car manufacturing and hospital development.

In addition to China providing military support for the Syrian army – in contrast to Western support for the resistance forces – Beijing also vetoed proposals tabled at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to impose sanctions on Syria. By keeping Assad in power, Beijing “will maintain its primary access to the abundant investment opportunities central to the impending reconstruction”, says The Diplomat’s Nicholas Lyall.

What happens next then?

The immediate losers are Syria’s Kurds, whose “dream of creating an autonomous region in Syria looks imperilled”, says The Economist, while the biggest winner remains Assad.

The dealmaker, though, will be Russian President Vladimir Putin, says The Times. Russia’s jets now dominate Syria’s airspace and it has strong ties with all the main actors, including Israel and Gulf States. Russia’s “readiness to stand by even its most repulsive allies makes it seem, to Sunni Arab leaders, more reliable than America”, says The Economist.

In the long term, it appears the Syrian people will once again lose out. The country’s former second city, Aleppo, “reveals the magnitude of mending Syria’s economy”, says the FT. It could take six years of continuous work just to clear 14.9 million tonnes of debris in Aleppo alone, estimates the World Bank.

Europe itself “was rebuilt after the Second World War through the Marshall Plan”, writes The Independent’s Ahmed Aboudouh.

This is not happening now, “simply because Syria is not Europe”, meaning the Syrian people “will never receive the Marshall rescue plan they need”, he concludes.

Recommended

Russian roulette for McDonald’s, Unilever and Renault
The flagship McDonald's on Pushkin Square in Moscow
The latest on . . .

Russian roulette for McDonald’s, Unilever and Renault

Inside Cairo’s City of the Dead
The tombs of the Caliphs in el-Arafa necropolis
In Depth

Inside Cairo’s City of the Dead

‘The great inflation swindle’
Today's newspaper front pages
Today’s newspapers

‘The great inflation swindle’

Women ‘benefit more from hugs than men’
Two women hugging
Tall Tales

Women ‘benefit more from hugs than men’

Popular articles

The mysterious Russian oligarch deaths
Vladimir Putin has previously deployed ‘extreme measures’ to crush opposition
Why we’re talking about . . .

The mysterious Russian oligarch deaths

Is Vladimir Putin seriously ill?
Vladimir Putin
Why we’re talking about . . .

Is Vladimir Putin seriously ill?

Depp v. Heard: what the latest battle has revealed
Amber Heard
In Depth

Depp v. Heard: what the latest battle has revealed

The Week Footer Banner