This report provides an overview of the key events in Syria during the month of August 2023, focusing on political, security, and economic developments. It examines the developments at different levels.
Bashar al-Assad has made the decision to replace the governor of Tartous, “Abdel Halim Khalil”, with the retired Brigadier General “Firas Ahmed al-Hamid”. This move is seen as an effort to quell the growing dissatisfaction among civilians due to bad living conditions in Tartous.
In August 2023, the protests against the poor economic conditions intensified with a higher number of participants in As-Suwayda province. The scope of these protests has significantly expanded, spreading to /48/ distinct areas, a substantial increase from only /3/ areas during previous demonstrations.
Map (1): Protest points in As-Suwayda governorate during August 2023
If the protest in as-Suwayda province evolved, we might see the Regime adapting different tactics in dealing with these protests such as, using local gangs in the city to incite violence or even assassinate key figures in the protest movement, particularly if it begins to threaten the interests of the regime and its allies, including potential disruptions to drug trafficking routes (primarily Captagon).
In August, the head of the National Coalition of Syrian “SOC” received a letter from the French Foreign Minister. The letter stated France's belief in the need for political change in Syria and their goal to hold war criminals responsible. Also in August, Bader Jamous was chosen again as the president of the Syrian Negotiations Commission for a second term.
During 2023, the Regime held-areas have seen a rise in IEDs attacks aimed at the regime military's and security forces, during August 2023 two IED's attacks were recorded, one in the city of al-Moadamyeh and the other attack was at al-Quneitra province, the rise in IED attacks is a clear indication of the regime's growing weakness of its security capabilities, after becoming more reliant on untrained foreign militias on one hand, and the ongoing failure in limited ISIS cells attacks in 2023 on the other hand.
In the Opposition held-areas, in southern Idlib, specifically in the northwest region of Jabal al-Zawiya, ongoing battles have been reported between the “al-Fateh al-Mubin” opposition factions and the regime forces alongside their allied militias. The conflict escalated after the opposition took control of the “Milaja” village and other strategic points. In response, Russian warplanes-initiated airstrikes to aid the regime forces in recapturing the lost territories. The clashes over three days resulted in numerous casualties, including dozens from the regime forces and 7 opposition fighters.
Map(2):Developments in battles between tribal forces and SDF in Deir Ezzor (August 31.2023)
In the SDF held-areas, in Deir Ezzor, tensions increased between the SDF and tribal forces following the arrest of the Deir Ezzor Military Council commander, “Ahmed al-Khabil”, and several other leaders of the council by the SDF. The situation worsened as the SDF implemented a security policy to manage the backlash, which triggered further violence. The aggressive stance of the SDF towards civilian demonstrators spurred other tribes, including al-Akidat clan, to join the fight, demanding redress for the grievances of the Deir Ezzor populace and the removal of Kurdistan Workers' Party “PKK” leaders from the region. This situation poses a significant challenge to the “Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria” project and its influence over the area.
Bashar al-Assad approved a decree to double the salaries of public sector workers, both civilian and military. This was followed by a 50% bonus for certain groups. However, the regime also increased fuel prices and reduced subsidies on drinking water by up to 400%, leading to a surge in the cost of living, with the average family now needing over /10.3/ million Syrian pounds to get by, according to Qasioun newspaper. These measures, aimed at covering the salary increase, have resulted in a continuous devaluation of the Syrian pound and increased poverty.
On another note, the regime will have to import around two million tons of wheat to meet the country's needs, as the local season's won't exceed /800,000/ tons, far below the required three million tons. Meanwhile, to foster ties with Saudi Arabia, the regime granted licenses to two Saudi-owned companies to invest in Syria's phosphate, fertilizer, and cement sectors. However, Saudi Arabia has imposed restrictions on Syrian trucks entering its territory, causing delays at the Nasib crossing.
Moreover, there has been a significant increase in the migration of traders, especially from Aleppo and Damascus, with some transferring substantial gold reserves abroad, highlighting the deepening economic crisis.
The “Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria” has doubled the salaries of its civilian and military employees, setting the minimum wage at /1,040,000/ Syrian pounds and the maximum at /8,222,000/ Syrian pounds. They also increased the price of heating diesel and allocated /300/ liters per household for the upcoming winter.
In terms of early recovery projects, 90% of the “Ambara” road project, linking al-Qamishli city to the M4 international road, has been completed with a 2023 budget of around $/794,633/.
To regulate economic activities, two laws were enacted:
In northwest Syria, the “Salvation Government” raised the prices of gasoline and domestic gas following a two-week shortage in its controlled areas. To foster investment, the “Syrian Interim Government” initiated discussions with local entities to organize an investment conference aimed at enhancing the investment environment in northern Syria. A memorandum of understanding was signed with various stakeholders to foster cooperation and prepare for the conference.
Meanwhile, the electricity crisis is escalating in rural Aleppo, with “Ak Energy” hiking electricity prices, sparking public outrage and protests in front of the company’s headquarters in Azaz. Local councils are considering new contracts with alternative energy providers to address the issue.
In terms of early recovery, projects are underway in rural Aleppo and Idlib, including housing projects and road expansions to improve infrastructure. Various organizations are working on these initiatives to facilitate better living conditions and connectivity in the region.
This report provides an overview of the key events in Syria during the month of July 2023, focusing on political, security, and economic developments. It examines the developments at different levels.
Security and Military Sector: The eastern parts of Syria have seen heightened military activity by several groups along the Euphrates River. Additionally, disagreements between the Deir Ezzor Military Council and the Syrian Democratic Forces “SDF” have led to armed clashes and road blockades in the northern Deir Ezzor villages and towns.
Political Sector: The continuation of the Arab rapprochement initiative, this rapprochement appears to be contingent on the reciprocal actions and offerings from the Assad regime, emphasizing a “Step-for-Step” approach. Furthermore, Russia's veto against the extension of cross-border aid challenges the UN and other humanitarian organizations, necessitating new strategies to deliver aid amidst Syria's dire humanitarian crisis.
Economic Sector: Syria's economic situation is deteriorating, marked by a significant rise in the cost of living paired with decreasing salaries. Concurrently, the Assad regime is aiming to further assert its control over vital resources and gain a monopoly over critical, high-revenue sectors, benefiting both the regime and its allies.
Israel conducted strikes on multiple security and military sites in the regions of Damascus countryside, Eastern Homs, and Tartus. Out of the five sites targeted, three are under the control of militias backed by Iran. ()
Map (1), Highlighting Israeli strikes in Syria from January of 2023 to July 2023
Security chaos continues in the south, /37/people were assassinated in Daraa province, with /20/ more in various security incidents throughout the month. During July, the regime used drones in its operations in Daraa, hinting at a shift to newer security tools, possibly supported by Iranian expertise.
In al-Suwayda Province, in retaliation for the regime's recent arrest campaign, local groups apprehended regime officers. Such incidents highlight the regime's fragile security control in the province.
Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham “HTS” continued its security campaign, arresting over /300/ of its members from different departments, accused of spying for the Syrian regime, Russia, or the USA.
Deir Ezzor witnesses military mobilizations by various parties along the Euphrates River.
Numerous military supply convoys for the International Coalition have reached their bases near the al-Omar oil field.
The Syrian Democratic Forces “SDF” have increased their presence and set up operations rooms in Deir Ezzor.
In the northern countryside of Deir Ezzor, several villages and towns experienced clashes between the “Deir Ezzor Military Council” and the SDF's Military Police. This conflict arose following the killing of two council members and the detention of several others.
International Coalition forces intervened to mediate and stabilize the situation, assuring that those responsible for the incident would be held accountable. These events highlighted the vulnerabilities within the SDF's internal unity and underscored concerns about the PKK's dominance over these forces, often sidelining local factions in decision-making.
A general strike took place in Manbij city against the conscription campaign carried out by the SDF.
Following the failure of the UN Security Council to extend the decision on cross-border aid delivery due to Russia's veto, the Assad regime announced that it would allow the UN and its specialized agencies to deliver humanitarian aid through the Bab al-Hawa crossing, on the condition that it would not be handed over to what he termed as “Terrorist Entities”, and the aid distribution should be coordinated with the Syrian Red Crescent. Several Western countries rejected this, and the UN considered it contrary to its independence and freedom of operation. The regime aims with this decision to control the UN aid and use it as a new tool to put more pressure on the international communities and the Syrian oppositions. Meanwhile, Bashar al-Assad received the Iraqi PM, Mohammed Shia' al-Sudani, in Damascus during his first official visit for an Iraqi PM since 2011. Al-Sudani emphasized the importance of coordination between the two countries. Assad mentioned the “Theft” of Syria's and Iraq's water by neighboring countries in supporting terrorism, referencing Turkey, Despite Erdogan's expressed willingness to meet with Assad, the path to reconciliation has been hindered due to the regime's preconditions, primarily the demand for a withdrawal timetable from Syria.
On a technical level, the first meeting of the Jordanian-Syrian Committee to Combat Cross-Border Drug Smuggling took place in Amman. This committee was established following the decisions made at the consultative meeting hosted by Jordan in Amman last May.
The SYP rate continued to fall against foreign currencies, registering /13,000/ SYP to the US Dollar in markets of Damascus, Aleppo, Idlib, and al-Hasakah. Meanwhile, the Regime Central Bank adjusted the US Dollar exchange rate to /9,900/ SYP for banking operations, money exchange companies, individuals, and foreign transfer exchange rates.
This month's SYP depreciation is attributed to the vast amount of money introduced into the market due to wheat payments, estimated at 2 trillion SYP (2,000 billion SYP) for purchasing /800,000/ tons of wheat from farmers in Regime held-areas. It's valued at $/516/ million in SDF held-areas in northeast, and $/64/ million in Opposition held-areas in northwest, causing a cash surplus. The central bank also approved printing a /5,000/ Lira note to add to market liquidity. The decrease in the SYP’s value led to a significant, uncontrolled increase in the prices of co0mmidities in regime held-areas, with some products witnessing over a 200% increase. The average living cost for a family of 5 in Syria has reached more than /6.5/ SYP, while the average salary stands at /150,000 SYP/.
Given these continuous crises, the PM of the regime, “Hussein Arnous”, announced the formation of a joint committee from the People's Assembly and the economic committee in the Council of Ministers to prepare a proposal to boost the economic and living conditions, even though the People's Council admits its inability to change the country's economic reality.
During the UN Food Systems Summit in Italy, Agriculture Minister “Mohammed Hassan Qatana” urged his Saudi counterpart, “Abdul Rahman al-Fadhli”, to ease the import of Syrian goods into the kingdom. Meanwhile, the Director General of the regime's Civil Aviation Corporation announced that Saudi Arabia has approved the resumption of flights between the two Syria and KSA. Consequently, the Syrian Arab Aviation Corporation has started setting up its offices in Riyadh.
The regime's Ministry of Transport announced an investment partnership with “Iluma”, a company closely linked to Bashar and Asma al-Assad, for the Damascus International Airport. The General Organization for Aviation will retain a 51% stake, while the investing company will hold 49%. “Iluma” will be responsible for all tasks and services related to air transport of passengers and goods, including owning, purchasing, leasing, and investing in aircraft, as well as organizing flights and ground services. This move underscores the regime's strategy to exert control over resources and monopolize key sectors, ensuring significant returns for itself and its allies.
In Opposition held-areas, food prices have surged by 48% in the past six months due to the depreciation of the Turkish lira. According to the UN REACH team, the minimum expenditure on basic food items has increased from /1,600/ TL to nearly /2,700/ TL within a year.
In eastern Syria, the Autonomous Administration raised fuel prices, leading to a temporary halt in sales at gas stations until new prices were set, also the cost of diesel for vehicles and industrial purposes rose from /425/ SYP to 525 SYP per liter, while the cost of free diesel rose from /1,200/ SYP to /1,700/ SYP per liter. However, diesel prices for generators and bread ovens remained unchanged, but the cost of a domestic gas cylinder increased, going from /7,500/ SYP to /10,000/ SYP.
The Autonomous Administration has designated the regions of al-Hasakah, Tal Tamr, and their surrounding areas, as disaster zones due to the ongoing water crisis. The water scarcity in Hasaka has worsened since 2019, primarily because of water supply disruptions from the opposition-controlled “Alouk” wells. Additionally, in al-Qamishli, the devaluation of the SYP value to less than a third of its value since early July has led to a decline in food sales. Both consumers and retailers have reported a drop in food orders by up to 70%.
See Map (1) Israeli strikes break down in 2023, Map is designed by Omran team, and the information is based on credible open source along with Omran team special private source in Syria.
This report provides an overview of the key events in Syria during the month of June 2023, focusing on political, security, and economic developments. It examines the developments at different levels.
In northwestern Syria, both the regime and Russia have conducted aerial and artillery bombardments in several areas in Idlib. This ongoing security and military complexity can be used as pressure to reach understandings or technical agreements, particularly due to the increased military capabilities of local actors in both regime-controlled and opposition-controlled areas. Simultaneously, Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham security forces have arrested over 80 individuals accused of engaging in dealings and espionage for hostile parties. Among those detained are notable figures from the General Security Agency and certain military brigades.
In northeastern Syria, ISIS has claimed responsibility for more than 24 attacks targeting the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and their allies. These attacks resulted in the death of 11 people and left 26 others wounded. The following charts provides a comparison of ISIS attacks against the SDF between April and June for the years 2022 and 2023.
|April ISIS attacks||34||13||- 61.76%|
|May ISIS attacks||11||8||- 27.27%|
|June ISIS attacks||17||24||+ 41.18%|
The Autonomous Administration in northeastern Syria has made a significant announcement. They have decided to initiate public prosecutions for approximately 10,000 ISIS operatives who are currently detained by them. This decision was prompted by the international community's delayed response to the autonomous administration's requests for assistance in repatriating their detained citizens. The trials of these operatives will be conducted in accordance with a local anti-terrorism law that was developed in 2022. While the ISIS operatives on trial will have the right to appoint their own lawyers, it has not been clarified whether the court will appoint lawyers for them. It's important to note that the death penalty is not applicable in northeastern Syria. Furthermore, Turkey persistently refused to acknowledge the Autonomous Administration, labeling it as a "terrorist" entity associated with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). In line with this stance, Turkey continued its strikes against the administration's leaders and key figures. Most recently, Turkish drones conducted an airstrike on a vehicle transporting the leaders of the “Qamishlo Provincial Council|” in the eastern part of Qamishli. The strike caused the death of the co-chair of the Council, the deputy co-president, and the driver, while the co-chairman of the council, "Kabi Chamoun," sustained severe injuries as a result of the drone strike.
Regarding Daraa, ongoing evident signs indicating the failure of the regime's efforts for reconciliations and settlements. The notable indicators include:
During the month of June 2023, the Syrian regime recently made several diplomatic moves. They appointed an ambassador to the Arab League, and their foreign minister visited Iraq and Saudi Arabia, resulting in an agreement to resume economic cooperation between Syria and Arab countries. Additionally, Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian leader, met with the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator. During their meeting, al-Assad emphasized the importance of not politicizing the return of refugees and providing the necessary resources for reconstructing damaged structures and rehabilitating service facilities.
However, these statements by Assad also highlight the regime's refusal to address key security concerns regarding the safe return of refugees. These concerns include stopping security prosecutions against refugees, controlling, and restructuring the security services, and releasing detainees while reforming the judicial system.
It is likely that in the future, the Assad regime will continue to exploit the refugee issue to pressure the international community. Their aim is to achieve economic gains and the lifting of sanctions imposed on Syria.
In a parallel development, Canada and the Netherlands jointly lodged a lawsuit against the Assad regime at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. The lawsuit accuses the regime of torture and violations of international law, highlighting the ongoing stance of Western countries rejecting any form of normalization with the Syrian regime government.
During the recent 20th round of the Astana meetings, the final statement included several significant points. One of the key highlights was:
In the Regime areas, The Syrian pound continues to experience massive declines against the US dollar, reaching a rate of 9,250 SYP per dollar. These declines are a result of the economic and financial policies implemented by the regime government. To restore stability to the currency, the Monetary and Credit Council issued a decision allowing individuals entering Syria to bring in financial revenues up to $500,000. However, those leaving the country are restricted from taking out more than $10,000 or its equivalent in foreign currency. Living conditions in regime areas remain challenging, with the population enduring rising prices during Eid al-Adha. Price increases ranged from 15% to 45%, with notable examples such as the cost of "30 eggs" reaching 30,000 SYP in Daraa and 34,000 SYP in Damascus. The price of sacrificial animals during Eid al-Adha reached 3 million SYP in certain areas, recording a 6 time increase for 2022 price. Reports indicate a significant decrease in foreign remittances to Syria during Eid al-Adha compared to Eid al-Fitr. The regime government refrained from providing any financial grants or salary increases prior to Eid al-Adha. The regime's Ministry of Finance estimated inflation rates for 2022 at 10-0% and projected a range of 10-4.7% for 2023. It is important to note that the inflation rate has reached approximately 16,000% between 2011 and 2023.
In Opposition areas, both the interim government and the salvation government have established the price of durum wheat at $330 per ton, and the price for soft wheat is set at $285 per ton. On the other hand, in areas under the Autonomous Administration, the price of durum wheat is set at $430 per ton, while in regime-controlled areas, it is set at $222 per ton.
This difference in pricing may discourage farmers in opposition areas from selling their crops to the regime or motivate them to consider alternative crops that offer higher profits, given the current pricing conditions. As part of early recovery initiatives, local councils and civil society organizations have successfully completed various projects across multiple sectors. For instance, the local council in Mare' inaugurated a new industrial city consisting of 50 operational factories and 100 others in the process of being equipped. In the city of al-Ra'i, a significant infrastructure development project, involving the establishment of a major transformer for the industrial zone, has been implemented to facilitate future projects.
In the Autonomous Administration, citizens in Hasakah protested the shortage of domestic gas, which led to its price doubling on the black market to 150,000 Syrian pounds. In Amuda market, remittance and currency exchange companies closed in objection to new licensing requirements that impose financial guarantees and office conditions beyond their capabilities. Additionally, the Customs Department has implemented a new customs system. The updated fees for shipments of vegetables and fruits are as follows:
|Item||New customs fees per ton|
|Potatoes – Tomatoes – Green Onions||3$|
The fire brigade in al-Hasakah province has reported crop fire damage in 2023. Approximately 370 dunums of land in the countryside of al-Hasakah city and 418 dunums in al-Qamishli city have been affected.
Dr. Ammar Kahf, executive director of the Omran Center for Strategic Studies, commented on the Brussels donor conference, saying, "The pledges were better than expected, except that the focus was always on the aid approach rather than the systematic empowerment approach that the Syrian people need to create more jobs.
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From the beginning of the Syrian uprising, several Arab countries were almost unanimous in isolating the Syrian regime to punish it for its violations of Arab League resolutions and the rights of the Syrian people. This approach was translated by Qatar’s leadership in the Arab League and the important support of Saudi Arabia and post-revolutionary Tunisia and Egypt into a resolution that led to the suspension of the regime’s membership in the Arab League in November 2011.
In the following years, most Arab countries called on the regime to stop military operations against civilians, and some of them even played a greater rolein actively seeking regime change in diplomatic manners and by supporting and financing the opposition. However, in the coming years, political changes occurred in some Arab countries such as in Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, causing a departure from regime change politics to the restoration of pre-Arab spring MENA security order, thus affecting the regional attitude towards the Syrian regime.
Egypt resumed consular relations in 2013, when most Arab countries took a stand against the Syrian regime, but has not fully normalized its relations with the regime to date. This shows that Egypt prioritizes the stability of the Syrian regime in its foreign policy, as Egypt distrusts the opposition and considers it a proxy for Turkey. Moreover, Egypt prefers to work with the army and considers it more reliable.
The UAE and Jordan, on the other hand, were on the opposite side and supported the Syrian opposition to varying degrees, but after the Russian intervention in 2015, the situation on the ground had changed, which, along with other factors such as the UAE’s attempt to counter Turkey and contain Iran with a different approach in Syria, led to a change in the countries’ priorities in their foreign policy toward Syria. In 2018, the UAE and Bahrain reopened their embassy in Damascus and resumed relations with the Syrian regime. The UAE wants to normalize its relations with the Syrian regime in order to have relations with all parties on the ground.
Similarly, when the Syrian opposition lost control of southern Syria in 2018 and signed reconciliation agreements, Jordan reopened its border with Syria with some restrictions, as it had done before 2015, Jordan has not completely severed relations with the Syrian regime, but it has downgraded its representation. It normalized its relations only in October 2021 after a telephone conversation between King Abdullah and Bashar al-Assad, which was expected after King Abdullah’s speech on CNN during his visit to Washington and after his meeting with President Biden.
Looking at the factors behind this action, the first one seems to be the economic factor, because the country is in a difficult economic situation, aiming at normalization and cross-border trade, as the Arab gas pipeline will help the Kingdom’s economy. In addition, the security factor is not as important as the economy, but it plays a role because the Kingdom is concerned about stability on its northern border and normalization will help in security coordination with the Syrian regime to prevent possible threats.
2021, the beginning to regime regional re-integration
In the last quarter of 2021, more precisely on November 9, 2021, the Foreign Minister of the United Arab Emirates, Abdullah bin Zayed, visited Damascus as the highest UAE official since the beginning of the Syrian uprising in 2011. The visit came at a time when the idea of normalizing relations between Arab countries was discussed among Arab officials, and some expressed this on various occasions. In addition, Jordan’s King Abdullah spoke to Bashar al-Assad by phone in October last year, removing doubts about relations between the two countries.
At the same time, Egypt, which has maintained close relations with the Syrian regime in recent years, has not yet fully normalized its relations. So, if we look at the approach of each country, we can examine the differences between these three actors in the region-Egypt and the UAE, Jordan-in terms of timing and level, as well as their advocacy for the Syrian regime. Timing shows how long these countries have been linked to the regime, while level shows how deep these links are. Advocacy shows which countries are committed to the regime’s return to the Arab world.
As for the level, not all countries that normalize with the regime do so to the same degree. Egypt has played a role in supporting the Syrian regime, although it has not yet fully restored its relations with the country. There are several reasons for this, such as the desire to maintain relations with the Gulf States, as they have led the front against the Assad regime.
Egypt’s main objective is to view this relationship from a political and security perspective. The UAE, on the other hand, is looking at the relationship from an economic and political perspective. They want to participate in the reconstruction process in the coming years. Therefore, its normalization process with the Syrian regime has taken place without any conditions.
Although it has not severed its relations with the regime, Jordan has taken positions close to the Syrian opposition over the past decade, but has kept its border open with the Syrian regime for economic reasons. The Kingdom believes that normalizing its relations with the regime will help its economy recover and that it wants to play a role in resolving the conflict. Jordan has also sought to reactivate the bilateral agreement with Syria on various issues such as water. It also wanted to reactivate the Arab Gas Pipeline to reach Lebanon through Syria, which is part of the kingdom’s ambitions to become an energy hub in the region.
What sets Jordan apart, however, is that it is not only Jordan that wants to engage with the regime, but also brings along other countries that have the same idea of changing the regime’s behavior through concessions and vice versa. It is an approach that has met with the approval of the Biden administration. As part of its strategy to manage the Syria conflict by focusing on changing the regime’s behavior rather than regime change, this administration’s new approach to Syria is the opposite of the previous administration, which pursued a policy of maximum pressure.
In March 2022, another important UAE rapprochement with the Syrian regime took place, namely Bashar al-Assad’s visit to the country. This visit is considered very significant, mainly because it was al-Assad’s first visit to an Arab country since the beginning of the uprising. The visit can be analyzed from various points of view, such as future investments, the possibility of the regime’s return to the Arab League, and Iran’s influence.
In terms of support for the Syrian regime, not all of these countries are equally committed to Syria’s return to the Arab League in order to normalize the country’s relations with the world, but we can see some differences. In late January this year, Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said that Syria’s return to the Arab League was not discussed at the consultative meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Kuwait. He later added that Syria’s return to the Arab League depends on consensus among Arab countries. These are indications that a return is unlikely at the next summit.
The irony is that Egypt is playing a role in the Syrian regime’s return to the Arab League but has not yet fully normalized its relations with the Asaad regime, which could happen in the near future. As mentioned earlier, Egypt sided with the Syrian regime under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and the two countries have since restored consular relations.
The UAE changed its stance on Syria after 2015 until it normalized its relations with the regime. After that, they began to support the Assad regime and promote the normalization of their relations with other countries in the region. They went even further by calling for the lifting of sanctions imposed on Syria.
In Jordan, however, we see a different approach that accepts the current status quo in Syria as a reality. For example, Jordan does not fully side with the regime in the Syrian conflict, but rather seeks to benefit from the opening of its relations with the Syrian regime on an economic level and restore the situation to what was before the border between the two countries. In doing so, it advocates its approach to Syria “step by step” as a comprehensive plan for dealing with the regime.
Ultimately, these approaches are similar in some respects, but they are not identical. This means that not all of the approaches these countries are taking have the same goals. Moreover, not all countries approaching the Syrian regime can be considered allies of the regime; rather, it is about their needs.
Finally, these approaches are similar in some respects, but they are not identical. This raises the question of which of these approaches will be successful and how this will affect the situation on the ground. To what extent these approaches will be able to bring the Syrian regime back to the Arab League.
So far, these approaches have not been able to change the position of Riyadh and Doha in terms of normalizing relations with the Syrian regime, which may show how effective these processes have been so far. On another level, will the relations between the Syrian regime and the international community remain the same? Will we see some changes in the position of some countries like the U.S., or could other approaches be taken?
In opposition-held territories, the agricultural sector suffers from a variety of complex challenges. Among those challenges is that supply exceeds demand due to poor planning, absence of refrigerated storage facilities, weak purchasing power, absence -or limited- presence of food production factories, and the absence of export channels. Although some exports have moved from Syria to Turkey, they remain limited in quantity and continuity. Most sellers were left with no choice but to sell their products at unfairly low prices, with a high cost of production and export logistics, leaving them with little if any margins of profit. Such challenges have prevented agricultural production from employing the necessary workforce and strengthening the food cycle throughout the years. The current governance dynamics prevents farmers from securing effective solutions, and therefore the farming community continues to endure losses. This has drastically affected the development of the agricultural sector within these regions.
The following paper covers some of the agricultural sector's challenges and proposes recommendations to empower its sustainable growth. The outlined recommendations may offer some solutions to achieve the minimum level of recovery of costs and create a plan of action.
The problems faced by the agricultural sector, whether in terms of supply or demand, can be summarized as follows:
Governing bodiesignored the calculations of the absorptive market capacity (demand) of agricultural crops, which increased the financial losses and caused a weak valuation of the sector. For example, based on a 2020 study by the General Organization of the Seed, for onions and potatoes crops, the General Organization for Seed Multiplication estimated the surplus local onions production at 25% and local production of potatoes at 19%. The percentage was estimated without considering the worker's wages, as farmer hardly earns $100 per hectare of onions, while their loss is $1,668 per hectare of potatoes.
In addition to inaccurate calculations, farmers also endure difficulties in exporting produce. Exporting agricultural products from opposition areas to regime-held districts is neither easy nor feasible because of the high transportation costs and bribes to guards at regime-held checkpoints. For example, a kilo of onions in al-Bab area is estimated at the writing of this paper at 200 Syrian Pounds but reaches 500 S.P in Damascus' markets(1) There are also high costs and difficulties in exporting produce from opposition-held territory to Turkey. In June 2018, the opposition areas exported only 4,000 tons of potatoes to Turkey, even though the local production of potatoes was around one million tons. Among the difficulties is the local council’s low capacity to facilitate exports with Turkey. Usually, Turkish authorities show interest in importing commodities from the opposition area, requesting lentils, chickpeas, pistachios, pomegranates, cherries, potatoes and onions, according to their needs in cooperation and coordination with local councilswho mediate between the Turkish government and local Syrian fermers(2)
Furthermore, current procedures implemented by Syrian Interim Government do not accurately facilitate the market balance between goods imported from abroad and those produced locally. This leads to the dumping of produce by the local market due to imported items creating a surplus in the market. This became relatively frequent after March 2021, when the Syrian Interim Government reduced customs costs for Turkish goods entering the areas of Aleppo countryside through the Al-Salama, Al-Ra'i, Jarablus, Al-Hamam, Tal Abyad and Ras Al-Ain crossings, as the following table shows(3)
It is evident that the agricultural sector is suffering for a multitude of other reasons. These reasons include the negative impact of the industrial sector, high costs of raw material, lack of accessibility to energy sources such as water, electricity, and fuel, the low purchasing power of citizens, and the unstable security environment. Water has become an issue across the region, but Al-Bab in particular, has suffered from lack of water due to the digging of random wells and draining of the strategic water reserves.
To enhance communications, the NFA may issue quarterly reports that include an economic index to measure the growth of the agricultural sector to enhance the values of transparency.
As shown in the figure below, the NFA would be a public body comprised of farmer unions/ associations from every city and town who select a national entity. This new entity would then establish the supporting offices that include: (1) a Legal Office to consider the affairs of agricultural licenses and property rights, control the investment process, issue instruments, and control violations. (2) Marketing Office promotes products and projects to investors and investment entities, negotiates with governments, and signs memorandums of understanding and work protocols to promote agricultural crops and secure consumption channels. (3) Production Management Office that will adapt the production plan to the market needs of food, industry, storage, export and other needs, (4) Financial Office that will be responsible for the transactions, financial liquidity, and the funding and crediting process.
The NFA can preliminarily work in four tracks:
A. Trademarking for Syrian Agriculture
This track includes structuring the agricultural process as a whole and attaining a certificate of confidence from farmers in their willingness to work with the NFA. This process will allow farmers to be included in a registry that will be followed up with regularly.
The other step is to stamp the crop with the NFA's “stamp” to indicate that the product conforms to international health and agricultural specifications. This will enhance the NFA’s control and trust in Syrian communities and abroad. These two steps will motivate the farmer to return to his land and gain greater confidence in both his/her work and product.
B. Regulation of the production process
The failure to consider the balance between supply and demand has led significant increases or decreases in prices. The NFA would intervene to advance the calculations around production to determine the quantity of production, demand, and whether consumption, manufacturing, or exporting, are the necessary response. Through these proper calculations, the NFA would be better able to manage the production process costs and prevent financial losses for farmers eventually.
C. Policy Recommendations to Local and International Actors
Through its reach and capacity, the NFA will be able to issue recommendations on the agricultural sector in Syria to key stakeholders. The NFA would submit recommendations to the Syrian Interim Government, communicating them to relevant governance bodies. This will help enact protectionist policies that limit the import of any product similar to the specifications of the local one, thus reducing the dumping of local produce and harm to farmers. Recommendations may include imposing taxes and duties on every imported product similar to the local product. This will protect the local product, raise its competitiveness, and diversify markets.
D. Product Marketing
For the marketing process, the NFA should focus on two aspects: (1) the legal basis of contracts and covenants for agreements between two parties. The agreement documents will be in accordance with the international legal framework, and (2)the NFA will strengthen the assets of power and negotiation with Turkey on imports and exports to and from opposition areas, including the transit of local products through Turkey’s territory for exports abroad.
E.Developing the Finances surrounding the Agricultural Sector
The lack of financial institutions, such as banks, in opposition areas, has contributed to decreased sources of credit and created a fragile environment for funding and payments. The exchange rate and prices are constantly fluctuating. The NFA can design a financial program that regulates the credit and funding process based on the environment and situation. This includes signing work protocols with organizations, companies and banks, opening bank credits in Turkey and other countries to facilitate the payment and receipt process, and issuing special farming financial instruments(4) to be sold to Syrian investors at home and abroad with the guarantee of the NFA. The NFA can also direct funds to support the food industries sector and various industries in the agricultural sector.
() The farmer sells a kilo of onions for 200 pounds, and the cost of transporting it to Damascus is 300 pounds, Syria TV, 26-01-2021, link: https://bit.ly/3CSLdyA
() Turkey starts importing potato from war-torn Syria, 27-6-2018, link: https://cutt.ly/zRC8lhw
() “The Interim Government” announces a reduction of customs duties of Turkish goods, Alsouria Net website: 14-03-2021, link: https://cutt.ly/XRC3zs3
() Sukuk: Securities from the Islamic Sharia-compliant financing tools. The instrument is linked to specific projects and investment opportunities that are already existed or under construction. The instrument is equal to the value of a share in an ownership, and the holder of the instrument takes profits and has the right to participate in the management, capital, and trading. There are many types of instruments in Islamic Sharia, known as Sukuk (instruments),such as al-Mudaraba, al-Murabaha, al-Istisna’a, al-Musakah, al-Muzara’a, Ijara, services, and others.
On 28th September 2019, Syrian American Council and Syrian Forum USA organized an event for the Syrian community at Syriana Cafe & Gallery in Maryland state.
Omran Center for Studies board member Mr. Yaser Tabbara, and Omran’s Information Unit Manager Navvar Saban talked about the latest trends in regard of the Syrian situation both locally and internationally, the event ended by a Q&A session.
In Washington, 26 Sep 2019. Omran Center Senior Fellow Yaser Tabbara and Information Unit Manager Navvar Saban attended the release of the final report for the Syria Study Group (SSG).
This session organized by United States Institute of Peace (USIP) to present and discuss the assessments and recommendations of the final report, which took several months to work through extensive consultations across a wide range of local experts, regional and international stakeholders.
In coordination with Omran Center For Strategic Studies, Syrian American Council, and Syrian Forum USA a discussion session was coordinated on 14 Sep 2019, in Washington DC in America entitled "The Future of the Conflict in Syria" and what will be the field and political developments? Senior fellow Dr. Sinan Hatahet at omran center participated and considered that the challenge in 2020 to the Syrian revolution is to try to stop the bleeding and redefine the negotiating path with the regime by finding new understanding and spaces with the United States and the European Union. This leads to the formation of a new opposition bloc that relies on its own sources
After seven years of conflict between the people and the Assad regime, Syria is now going through a difficult phase. The nature of the conflict has transformed whereby the role and effectiveness of local actors has been greatly maringalized compared to an increasing role for international state and non-state actors. The role of armed opposition factions has diminished as international military, administrative, and political influence has grown. These armed opposition actors are also in a phase of turmoil as they struggle to survive or integrate under direct international custodianship, after having previously received support from the Northern or Southern Operations Rooms. This process follows the series of meetings in Astana and Sochi, and after the political bodies were domesticated into official negotiating bodies that support the interests of countries with direct influence over them. At the same time, direct Russian influence came to dominate the political, military, economic, and administrative spheres. As a result, the concept of the unified framework of the "regime platform" versus the "opposition platform" in accordance with the Geneva II concept was discarded through the creation of several negotiating platforms on the sides of the opposition, the regime, and the Syria Democratic Forces (SDF).
At the same time as these political changes were happening, the areas of influence and control on the ground were consolidated in 2018 into the north and northwestern portion under Turkish control, the northeast under the U.S. and SDF control, and southwestern Syria under the influence of the U.S. and Jordan, allowing Israel to strike any sites that it deems threatening. The areas of siege and opposition group control have been eliminated. International and regional influence has thus become more distinct, as efforts to control and integrate both armed opposition and pro-government groups continue.
This new phase is characterized by a complex series of partial deals that build on one another, and the arrangements among the state actors are developing in a "step by step" policy approach. The "counter-terrorism" framework that was used to justify the entry of these countries into Syria, is no longer a justification for their continued presence and influence: the U.S. is increasingly focused on the "Iranian threat;" Turkey is focused on "fighting the PKK" and security its borders; Israel justifies its interventions with the need to protect its borders against the "Iranian threat" and to prevent the transfer of weapons and fighters toward its borders; and Jordan is now also interested in protecting itself against the “Shi’ite crescent".
In light of this new landscape, contributing writers to this book discuss several aspects of Syria's current form of governance and how experiences on the ground in the different areas of influence converge or diverge from the concepts of centralization and decentralization, both vertically and horizontally. Towards this end, the chapters of this book first clarify the concepts and forms of decentralization and the way they are applied in post-conflict countries. They highlight the important role that agreeing on the form of governance and power sharing is an important factor in maintaining territorial unity and in shepherding negotiations to a more relevant stage of the new post-conflict reality. Next, the authors delineate decentralization in terms of its political, security, financial, and developmental functions, and review the constitutional and legal foundations of administrative and political decentralization in Syria. Finally, the authors present the experiences and applications of governance since 2011 in the regime-controlled areas and opposition-controlled areas, as well as in the SDF-controlled in northeast areas of the Democratic Autonomous Administration. Woven throughout the book are comparative descriptions of the experiences from Iraq, Lebanon, and other countries emerging from conflict, to see what lessons can be learned from the ways that these countries have negotiated the distribution of powers between central and local administrative units.
This book aims to help lay out a path towards the restoration of the legitimacy lost by all parties in Syria through the organization of local governance tools based on the experience of local councils. Local councils have tended neither towards excessive forms of decentralization nor to authoritarian centralization, but have instead followed a path that strengthens local structures and sets limits to central state authorities by granting powers rather than delegating them. At this stage, it is essential to work in parallel on strengthening the central government while also safeguarding and reinforcing the gains of the local councils through constitutional guarantees and a new local governance law. This book also stems from recognition of the need to shift away from limited centralized negotiations among the two “sides of the conflict” through a constitutional process followed by general elections, towards a negotiation based on power-sharing arrangements. Local governing bodies and other local actors should be engaged in the process of deciding which functions and authorities are mandated to the central institution versus the local governing units.
The chapters of this book were contributed by several researchers who differ in their approaches, but they all agree on the need to develop a decentralized Syrian model that avoids the reductive binary approach of political decentralization / administrative decentralization or federalism, and one that is based on the sharing of powers and functions, thus transitioning Syria’s system of governance from local administration to local governance. There is no doubt that further development and discussion of these ideas is required, but we present this effort as a starting place for a dialogue in the Syrian community on the most authentic or locally developed form of governance for Syria, which after years of adhoc decentralization, has become more localized than ever before.
Finally, it is important to note that most chapters were written in late 2017 and early 2018, which was before the change of control of Damascus suburb, northern Homs and the southern front. The arguments for a tailored and customized Syria-centric decentralization model put forth are still valid regardless of the controlling armed party.
Chapter one of the book focuses on the concept of decentralization and illustrates the differences among countries when it comes to choosing how they exercise administrative authority. Every country’s approach to governance is influenced by its political and social conditions, as well as the maturity and depth of its democratic practices. The need to shift towards a decentralized system becomes apparent after examining factors related to a state’s nature, size, and degree of political stability. Decentralization becomes a necessity for stability in some countries because of its core idea: the distribution of power and functions of state institutions between the central governments and local administrative units. This conceptualization reaffirms the fact that the transformation to fully decentralized system may be risky for many governments, despite the promise that decentralization holds as the solution for most conflicts in developing countries such as those in the Arab world. Chief among these problems is the need to expand the political and economic participation of citizens. Still, given the ethnic and sectarian diversity and complex nature of countries, decentralization can be a threat to state unity.
Chapter two describes political functions of the state in a decentralized system and how it is practiced in different versions of decentralization. Political functions of the state take many forms depending on the degree of decentralization and mode of local governance. The far end of a decentralized governance system continuum appears in the practice of full political decentralization (full federalism), where provinces and regions have their individual constitutions and laws, exercise special legislative, executive, and judicial powers, and influence federal government policy through a political oversight authority and through their representatives in the legislative branch councils. Local governments, meanwhile, exercise specific roles in these functions under the partial political decentralization within their constitutionally-vested authority. These roles are primarily related to domestic policy-making and the development of local rules and regulations that do not contradict federal legislations. In administrative decentralization modes of governance, the practice of political functions and duties is reduced to a great extent as it focusses exclusively on administrative and executive functions of local governing institutions. Local administrative units would then be fully subordinated and controlled by the central administration in the capital. In partial administrative decentralization modes of local governance, political functions completely disappear from local units.
According to chapter three of this book, the exercise of legislative and judicial functions within a decentralized system will require reforms in the Syrian judicial branch, such as: the restructuring of the Supreme Judicial Council to ban the executive branch from holding membership in it and stop its interference, and the repeal of laws that encroach on public rights and freedoms with judicial not executive branch oversight. Assessing the current form and content of the Syrian Constitution in terms of centralized or decentralized approaches highlights centralism as highly visible and grants authority to the presidency (which has broad constitutional powers) to override all other authorities and functions of the state. Instead, the principles of separation and distribution of powers should be applied to three independent bodies in order to create balance and cooperation between them. With regard to legislative duties in Syria, this paper shows that the Constitution has broadly granted legislative duties to the People's Council of Syria (Parliament) and the President of the Republic, transforming the mandate of the Parliament from drafting laws to ratification of presidential laws. Reforming this imbalanced structure requires redefining the scope and mandate of the Parliament, abolishing the broad powers granted to the President, and reducing the centrality of legislation process and parliament. There needs to be a shift toward some kind of decentralization that divides future legislative functions in a balanced approach between the exclusive jurisdiction of the legislative branch, and the jurisdiction of the executive branch for all that is not stated in text of the constitution.
The fourth chapter focuses on security functions in decentralized systems. In the context of conflict-ridden or post-conflict countries, it is critical and necessary to re-assess national security functions: their applications, mechanisms for implementation and governance, and how security roles are distributed at different levels of government. This paper emphasizes that the redistribution of security duties and authorities in decentralized countries (in accordance with the lessons from stable and unstable countries) may result in a more efficient and coherent security architecture depending on who and how such a process is executed and whether by means of national actors, cross boarder actors, or international actors. In the search for a governing framework of the Syrian security sector within a decentralized system, independent intelligence agencies should have a clear mandate of intelligence gathering only (except for police forces and anti terrorism units that can arrest citizens) and an identified geographical jurisdiction. Local governing bodies should be constitutionally mandated to provide local security services and conduct police functions and duties locally. The assessment and identification of security threats and risks and the counter strategy to such risks should be developed locally and shared with central agencies for coordination.
The fifth chapter highlights the dialectical relationship between decentralization and its role in local development in countries emerging from conflict. Local development is one of the most important determining factors in whether or not decentralization is adopted in these cases. While some of post-conflict countries have reached acceptable rates of economic and social development after moving to a decentralized system, others have not. This disparity may be due to factors linked to each country’s particular local development process and adopted form of decentralization. This paper emphasizes that in the context of the Syrian situation, the country has suffered from the absence of a clear developmental model for decades. This has led to major developmental imbalances at the central state level, which are most evident in the developmental disparities between Syrian governorates. The adoption of a model of administrative decentralization in Syria will help to mitigate this disparity by empower local communities to participate in the local development process.
The sixth chapter, which deals with financial decentralization, emphasizes the fact that the successful implementation of decentralized systems of government in post-conflict countries depends largely on their ability to establish regulatory frameworks for financial decentralization and mechanisms for the collection, distribution, and disbursement of financial resources at various levels of government and administration. Successful implementation also requires substantial reforms in fiscal policy in general and in spending policies in particular. This paper finds that that the model for allocating financial resources to the local administrative units out of the state budget in Syria has many flaws. It is necessary to grant administrative units greater financial independence and to define metrics for successful financial decentralization to measure whether these units are meeting developmental requirements and making effective contributions to economic and social stability in their regions.
The seventh chapter examines the reality of local administration in regime-controlled areas. It illustrates the dominance of the central government in the local administration systems in regime-controlled areas, the growing influence of the Baath party, and the increasing influence of local Iran-backed forces in the operations of some local administrative units. This paper finds that the service sector crises in the areas of local administration units are indicative of their lack of funding, dysfunctional mechanisms, and insufficient personnel, forcing them to rely on the central government to conduct their affairs. It also argues that the regime is not interested in decentralization – which runs counter to its desire to retain centralized control – but it does use decentralization politically as a bargaining chip for negotiations with the international community, particularly the Europeans. The regime also attempted to manipulate the boundaries of the electoral constituency of administrative units to change administrative districts and weaken opposition areas by preventing them from winning elections in their areas while rewarding loyalists.
The eighth chapter focuses on the reality of governance in Syrian opposition-controlled areas. It reaches several conclusions, the most important of which is that local councils have undergone changes in terms of structure, mechanisms of formation, and function, as their organizational structures have stabilized and they rely increasingly on the elections for their membership. They have also been able to consolidate their service roles, compared to their role in local security and politics. The financial file is one of the primary challenges facing local councils as they cope with growing financial deficits, due both to the nature of revenues and expenditures, and also their lack of financial systems or laws regulating their budgets. This chapter explains how the long duration of the conflict, the transformations in its nature, the push towards coexistence, and the survival of the regime have all stimulated competition between local actors, of which the local councils were one of the most prominent players due to their political value and local legitimacy. As a result of the way the local councils have dealt with these challenges and threats, they face one of three scenarios in the foreseeable future: vanishing entirely, forming regional or cross-regional self-administrations, or continuing the current independent local units structures.
The ninth chapter analyzes the reality of governance in the Democratic Autonomous Administration (DAA) areas. It shows that lack of transparency is a key feature of service delivery, financial administration, and the management of strategic resources within the Democratic Autonomous Administration (DAA) areas. The process of forming legislative councils (mandated to pass laws) in these areas was based on partisan consensus that relied primarily on the literature and system of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its Movement for a Democratic Society (TEV-DEM). Laws passed by these legislative councils, such as laws related to self-defense, changes to school curricula, and civil status laws, are problematic. A review of the structure of the DAA and its legislative and executive bodies, shows the presence of a partisan political project that is being forced on the local population through its security and military apparatuses. This paper concludes that the DAA, though able to impose a unique governance model, still suffers from problems of representation, legitimacy within its population, and a lack of competent personnel, and it has failed to eliminate the local and regional concerns arising from this project.
The tenth and final chapter of this book proposes a unique Syria-customized decentralized framework, one that takes into account the importance of achieving stability. It highlights the importance of refocusing international negotiations on two parallel tracks: negotiations policies to strengthen central state institutions in order to create conditions for peace and stability, and empowering local governance models through local negotiations on power sharing of authorities and functions of the central state with local administrative units. They must also revisit the basic Geneva Communiqué according to the principle of power sharing agreements between the center and periphery and not only a central agreement where the opposition and regime share authority. This means prioritizing internationally-monitored elections over any other track, beginning with local administration elections.
In order to ensure the success of the elections, essential actions are required from the different parties with regards to the restoration of the functionality of police and local courts. It is therefore necessary to begin drafting a new law for local administration (decentralization) to allow locally-elected authorities to have full control over the work of the police and administration of local courts.
The opportunity exists for local councils to legitimize their structures and negotiate new authorities, guaranteeing a decentralized model that provides expanded authorities to the councils and governorates, based on the strength of their electoral legitimacy. This chapter emphasizes the need to empower the tools and foundations of local governance both constitutionally and legally, and to ensure that the countries with a presence on Syrian soil help push the negotiations to a peace-building stage and guarantee relative stability on the ground until an agreement on the various security arrangements is concluded.
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