Search

band annie's Weblog

I have a parallel blog in French at http://anniebannie.net

Category

Syria

Creating a New Syria: Property, Dispossession, and Regime Survival

 — by Erwin van Veen

bulldozers removing barriers from a road in the town of Harasta, east of the capital Damascus, Syria, Saturday, March. 24, 2018, where thousands of opposition fighters and members of their families are expected to use to head to northern Syria. The planned departure toward northern Syria comes a day after an agreement was reached between Faylaq al-Rahman and the Russians to evacuate the second of three pockets held by opposition fighters in eastern Ghouta. (SANA via AP) Hafez Hafiz al-Assad Asad

Bulldozers remove barriers from a road in Harasta, east of Damascus (SANA via AP)

 

By Erwin van Veen

While all eyes were fixed on the US-led military response to the alleged chemical attack in East Ghouta, a little-noted event occurred that could potentially have a much greater impact on Syria’s future. About 10 days ago, President Assad’s regime passed Law no. 10. The law foresees the creation of local administrative units in each district of regime-held territory that will be in charge of reconstruction efforts. All Syrians will be required to register their private properties with these units by providing proof of ownership, in person or through legal representatives. This must be done within roughly the next two months. The risk of noncompliance is that the Syrian state will take possession of the unregistered properties.

With half the Syrian population displaced and many property transfers prior to 2011 having been done informally, this will be a mission impossible for many. Depending on the implementation and enforcement of the law, its most likely consequence is that the Syrian state will acquire a substantial amount of property in the near future—land, buildings, and other immovable assets—within the territories it currently controls. The real implication here is twofold. Most importantly, President Assad’s regime will lay its hands on the assets it needs to finance the country’s reconstruction and reestablish its power base, preserving its long-term viability and independence. Moreover, it will dispossess hundreds of thousands of Syrians—possibly millions—who escaped the fighting or forced recruitment. Law no. 10 is a Faustian masterstroke—both in its injustice and its ingenuity.

The background is this: The World Bank has estimated the tab for reconstructing Syria at upwards of USD $200 billion. The Syrian regime has been broke for some time, kept financially afloat by the Iranian Central Bank and assorted Lebanese banks. Russia and Iran have neither the will nor the funds to finance Syria’s reconstruction. The Gulf countries, United States, and European Union have made it clear that likewise they will not carry Syria’s reconstruction without a “meaningful political transition”—a reference to their desire for real political concessions in the future governance of Syria. Most who are familiar with the conflict expect such a transition to happen when hell freezes over.

And yet, reconstructing Syria is essential to President Assad’s regime. This is not because it cares about restoring basic services like healthcare and housing to a decent level, or about the return of Syrian refugees. Figures like Syrian Major General Issam Zahreddin (since killed in battle) made it abundantly clear some time ago that returning refugees should not count on a warm welcome.

No. Rather, reconstruction is essential to the regime’s survival because it must reward the networks of businessmen, military, and militia leaders that helped it win the war. Reconstruction is also vital to the regime’s autonomy because it must re-establish its powerbase and independence vis-à-vis its international backers who will expect the future loyalty of a faithful Syrian ally when this conflict is over. Iran, for example, is already working to establish a long-term social, religious, and military presence in the country.

The imperatives of regime survival and autonomy mean that its reconstruction logic will echo its warfighting logic: indiscriminate punishment of disloyalty to impose fear, selective co-optation, and deal-making with opposition groups where this offers a low-cost solution on regime terms and safeguards core regime interests. Initial urban reconstruction efforts of the regime in Damascus, Homs, and Aleppo, on the basis of Decree 66 (2012), already show how the regime uses high-end property developments to generate funds and reward loyalists through forcible dispossession below market rates, as well as the use of regime-linked real estate and construction companies. The nationalization of property enabled by the closely-related Law no. 10 will take this approach to a new level.

An additional consequence of Law no. 10 is that it will enable large-scale demographic engineering by reallocating appropriated property to new owners. This will not necessarily be sectarian in nature as the majority of both Syrians and regime-loyalists are Sunni. Rather, it will create large loyalist urban centers to underpin the regime’s power base and limit the return of refugees, who are largely not perceived as supporters of President Assad.

In addition to remaking urban centers as areas of repopulated loyalist concentration, the strategy will probably also involve undoing the existence of impoverished Sunni-belts around Syria’s main cities from which so many rebels were recruited. Insofar as these poorer suburbs are currently depopulated due to rebel recruitment, casualties, and flight, the regime is likely to use Law No. 10 to appropriate the land (in many such areas, property rights were not well established even before the war) and to then prevent their resettlement if and when refugees return. Any Sunni populations that have not fled but are still living in such suburbs at present will also be at risk of forced displacement and dispossession commensurate with the extent of their perceived disloyalty to the regime. It is clear that the regime has no problem initiating displacement on a large scale when it suits regime interests. Dealing with the suburban belts in this fashion will remove a source of resistance against the regime once and for all.

Though these are the primary aspects of the strategy, Law no. 10 may very well additionally facilitate small-scale sectarian demographic engineering in a few strategic areas. The “four-town deal” that swapped the population of two Sunni villages with two Shi’i ones west of Damascus suggests that the Syrian-Lebanese border could be such an area. Incidentally, this particular deal was enabled by Qatar as the price for release of their captured royal hunting party in Iraq.

If the re-entrenchment of the Syrian regime was not already a sad enough finale, the emerging parallels with the plight of many Palestinians are uncanny and will constitute a further source of international concern. Not only is the relative size of the Syrian diaspora growing fast, but Law no. 10 may well have an effect similar to the Israeli Absentee Property Law, which effectively nationalized Palestinian lands whose owners had fled after November 1947. The Israeli/Palestinian problem still haunts the world’s conscience 70 years later, though apparently not enough to end its neglect and resolve the problem.

In 2017, Pearlman quotes Talia—a fleeing TV correspondent in Aleppo—regarding a sad but remarkably poignant moment: “I waited for the driver outside. I kissed the walls on the street, because I knew that I was never coming back to them.”

Law no. 10 just brought this scenario one step closer to reality.

___________________________________________________________________

Erwin van Veen is a senior research fellow at Clingendael, the Netherlands Institute of International Relations. Follow on Twitter.

Advertisements

Syria: ‘Absentees law’ could see millions of refugees lose lands

Legislation could allow government confiscate properties of displaced Syrians unless they prove ownership in 30 days.

by

An estimated 150,000 residents of Eastern Ghouta have evacuated to northern Syria [Reuters]
An estimated 150,000 residents of Eastern Ghouta have evacuated to northern Syria [Reuters]

As thousands of Syrians flee their homes in Eastern Ghouta to escape a fierce air and ground offensive led by pro-government forces, President Bashar al-Assad has introduced a new law which can potentially see the state confiscating the lands of millions of displaced people.

Law Number 10, introduced earlier this week, calls on Syrians to register their private properties with the Ministry of Local Administration within 30 days.

Titleholders must either provide proof of ownership documents themselves, or ensure a relative does so on their behalf. Otherwise, they face having to relinquish their properties to the state.

read on here

Behind AFP’s Syria coverage

Christian Chaise

Friday 16 March 2018
Nicosia — Every day, dozens of photos taken by stringers in Syria land at the photo editing desk in Nicosia, AFP’s headquarters for the Middle East and North Africa. Sometimes, we get hundreds. Like on March 13, when we got 350. It’s been like this for years.
On March 15, the Syrian conflict entered its eighth year. Since the beginning, AFP has been one of the very few international outlets to maintain constant on-the-ground coverage. To pull this off, we have a network of stringers that we built over the course of several years. This is probably unequalled among major foreign media outlets.

See full article and photos here

Rest in Peace Stephen Hawking

Rest in Peace Stephen Hawking, one of humanity’s brightest stars. In 2014 he wrote these words about Syria. They ring exactly true four years later. Read his beautiful opinion piece here: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/feb/17/syria-abomination-human-intelligence-end-war

The Permutations of Assadism

pulsemedia.org   

Posted on

The history of the past century is littered with episodes of anthropogenic evil: Armenia, the Holocaust, Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur. In their aftermaths, reverberated the collective riposte of “never again.” Only to be followed by Syria, awaiting its eventual transcription into modernity’s catalog of barbarism.
Seven years in the making, the internecine conflict has mutated into nothing short of a global catastrophe: culminating in the worst humanitarian tragedy of the postwar period, spawning a refugee crisis of unparalleled proportions, and fermenting a belligerent sectarianism where ‘disaster Islamism’ wound up thriving. As the world looked on in horror and outrage, it simultaneously resigned itself to the conclusion that the Syrian byzantine precluded any objective extrapolation; that it is far too “complicated” to acquire neutral information is invoked with almost chronic exhortation.
A sub-thread to this sophism of withdrawal is a rancid Assadist discourse that has colonized debate in radical circles…

the rest of the article here

The Guardian view on Putin in Syria: victory and desolation

www.theguardian.com

Vladimir Putin went on a victory lap of Syria and the Middle East this week, intent on showcasing his ability to secure the upper hand against the US in the region. On a surprise visit to a Russian airbase on the Syrian coast, he demonstratively embraced the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, whose hold on power Russia’s military intervention has all but saved. “Friends, the motherland is waiting for you,” Mr Putin told a detachment of Russian soldiers. “You are coming back home with victory.”

Meanwhile, in eastern Ghouta, a rebel-held suburb of Damascus where Russia had announced earlier this year that a ceasefire would take hold, children living under siege are starving. Despite the “de-escalation” deal, Syrian government forces continue to pound the area, backed by Iranian and Russian allies in an attempt to score a decisive victory. These two scenes spoke volumes about Russia’s calculus, and about the realities it has helped create on the ground. That the Russian president has now announced a substantial troop withdrawal must be taken with a barrel of salt. Similar pledges have been made before and remain unfulfilled. On Tuesday a Kremlin spokesperson said Russia would retain a sizable force in Syria to fight “terrorists”. Russia’s definition of “terrorism” in Syria is like that of the Assad regime, which equates it to political opposition.

Mr Putin is keen to speak of victory. In Moscow he has announced that he will run for re-election next year. Bringing back some of the Russian forces – who are reportedly deployed alongside thousands of Kremlin-connected private contractors – can only be good for his political prospects. Russian casualties in Syria are a closely guarded secret, as are the financial costs of the operation. In geopolitical terms Mr Putin’s war in Syria has been a profitable investment for the Kremlin. He has capitalised on western strategic disarray and America’s reluctance to get drawn deeper into the conflict, an instinct that predated the volatile Donald Trump. After Syria, Mr Putin travelled on to Cairo, where he met Egypt’s president Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, demonstrating Russia’s new clout in a country that since the 1970s has had privileged ties with the US. There is now talk of Russian military aircraft being able to use Egyptian bases.

It is no small irony that Mr Putin has claimed victory over Islamic State: the bluster does little to hide the fact that his forces focused much more on targeting the anti-Assad opposition than they did the jihadi insurgency. The retaking of Raqqa was not a Russian accomplishment, but the result of a Kurdish-Arab ground offensive, supported by US-led coalition airstrikes.
None of this has prevented Russia from claiming the diplomatic high ground. By changing the balance of forces and catching the west off guard when he sent forces in 2015, Mr Putin has built up his leverage. Whether he can deliver a peace plan is, however, a different question. The signs are that the Russian president would prefer to sideline, if not entirely obstruct, UN-sponsored talks in Geneva. It helps that these discussions have been convened in the hope, rather than the expectation, of peace. He has explored other formats, alongside Iran and Turkey, but these are complex partners. Iranian-controlled forces have grown more dominant in Syria than Mr Putin perhaps initially anticipated. It is also true that UN resources will be needed when – and if – Syria’s reconstruction is one day contemplated.

Geopolitical power games have not ended in Syria, nor has the fighting. In eastern Ghouta, according to the UN, 137 children, including babies, are in urgent need of medical evacuation. By propping up a dictator who starves and massacres his own population, Mr Putin surely owns the desolation in Syria, as much as he controls military bases. Russia has returned to the Middle East, but its responsibilities in the bloodbath are equally on display.

SYRIA: THE STORY OF AN IMPOSSIBLE REVOLUTION

The New Rules of the Syrian Conflict

The project is about simplifying the meaning of the conflict in Syria and drawing small icons to refer to some issues in the daily life of Syrian families and Syrian people.
The purpose of choosing those simple elements (electricity source, light, food, movement, transportation and so on) was to draw attention to the fact that war has changed everything in our routines and daily lives and has made it harder in all those aspects

Work as part of Urbegony – Architects Without Borders.Syria group

Click on image to view full project


Families are smaller, some of their members don’t live anymore. There is no family that doesn’t feel the bitterness of losing one of their members because a bomb of a shutting or mabye drawning in the sea trying to escape the war

Assad’s Militias Turn to Schoolchildren to Fill Manpower Void


Mar 29th, 2017 by Alsouria Net (opposition website)

Opposition outlet claims loyalist paramilitary groups are routinely exploiting Syrians’ needs for a stable income by recruiting children into their ranks for up to $200 a month, with many of them being sent to battlefronts without proper training

Conscripted from schools or places of work to fight in the ranks of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, children walk through areas of Damascus and its countryside in full military gear, only to end up dead or stationed on battlefronts to await their fate.

Amid a dire economic climate and widespread financial stress for many families, celebrations for the conscription of schoolchildren under 18 years old have become a normal affair, as the regime exploits people’s need for an income against a backdrop of skyrocketing prices.

Damascus and its countryside have seen the conscription of children from the ages of 13 to 17 in various areas. One such area is Adra al-Amaliyeh, close to the city of Douma in the Damascus countryside, where a number of secondary and preparatory schools have witnessed the presence of recruiters from the Baath Brigades militia, while a party was held for about 40 children signing up to fight with the loyalist Fifth Corps, according to what sources told Alsouria Net, requesting anonymity out of fear for their safety.

The sources said there were no regulations for recruiting children, whereby the Baath Brigades accepted any child to fight in its ranks in exchange for $200 a month. Other incentives include the recording of their attendance in school and securing opportunities to succeed in academic courses.

In the Rukneddine area in the capital Damascus, children appear in their military gear alongside the National Defense Forces group and a number of other Shiite militias. Many of the children enter into fighting without having taken training courses to prepare them for the battle, increasing the likelihood of them being fatally wounded during clashes.

Among the children who told their stories to Alsouria Net was the child Shihab, 16, who lives in the Kashkool area near Jaramana and fights alongside the NDF militia for 35,000 Syrian pounds ($160) a month. He told his relatives that he had left school because his family was unable to secure a living and that he benefits from the salary he receives and from looting, which regime forces carry out in the areas they enter.
Although the most recent constitution, authored by the Assad regime in 2012, includes compulsory schooling for all children, it seems ensuring the education of those who drop out of school is not considered a priority in the areas under regime control.

The NDF militia, the popular committees and the Baath Brigades are the most prominent parties into which children are conscripted for the benefit of the Assad regime — something the regime has repeatedly denied. From time to time loyalist pages on social media will publish images of bases for conscripting children, while the NDF militia in the Hama countryside has previously published images of children who were receiving training, some of them wearing military uniform, overseen by fighters from the regime forces.

This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.

http://syrianobserver.com/EN/Features/32538/Assad_Militias_Turn_Schoolchildren_Fill_Manpower_Void

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑