Syria Reaps the Rewards


Asad is entitled to feel confident when the two main sponsors of his armed opponents turn on each other

By Abdel Bari Atwan

Syrian President Bashar al-Asad was recently reported to have admitted that corruption is a major problem in Syria. He told Amina ash-Shammat, head of the Central Commission for Inspection, that it had become rampant and needed to be eradicated by ensuring that the law is applied equally to all.

This admission coincided with a number of developments on the ground and on the battlefield which confirm the advance of the Syrian army and the weakness of both the political and armed wings of the opposition, as well as the loss by Islamic State (IS) its Iraqi stronghold Mosul and the tightening noose around its forces in Raqqa and Deir az-Zour.

This is the second time in less than two weeks that the Syrian president raises the issue of corruption and the need to wipe it out and restore the rule of law. Many see this as evidence of self-confidence, of the regime having come out of the bottleneck with its main state institutions and structures in tact. It signifies that the regime is looking ahead to the future and the task of building a ‘New Syria’ on new foundations that avoid the mistakes of the past. And how many those mistakes were – from the brutality of the security agencies to endemic corruption and nepotism, the absence of liberty in all its forms, one-party control and phoney elections.

When Asad first succeeded his father he tried to draw up an ambitious political and economic reform programme aimed at eliminating corruption, achieving equality and promoting economic development. But most of these promises evaporated and only a few were fulfilled. Many believe this was due to opposition from the main centres of power, especially the security agencies. This eventually backfired against the country’s security and stability, creating breaches that were exploited by Western and Arab powers to support political and armed opposition factions with the objective of toppling the regime, its head and its institutions as happened in Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Egypt and Tunisia.

But for almost seven years the Syrian state has stood its ground, thanks to the army rallying around it and the conviction of broad sectors of the people that the country is being targeted by a scheme to partition it along ethnic and sectarian lines. Indeed, arguably no state in history has been subjected to the kind of pressures and plots faced by that the Syrian state at the hands of international and regional powers intent on fragmenting it.

The worsening crisis in the Gulf may be one fruit of the steadfastness of Syria’s army and state structures in the face of these schemes. After the main Gulf states such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia failed to overthrow the Syrian regime with US, Turkish and European backing — despite pouring billions of dollars and thousands of tons of weapons into the endeavour – the tables have turned against them. Their internecine political and tribal disagreements have flared up, and they no longer have the time to continue meddling in Syria or actively supporting the armed opposition they have been bankrolling to topple the regime.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, who used to incessantly demand Asad’s overthrow whether by peaceful or violent means, has totally changed his tune. He now wants to get rid of the Qatari regime, his country’s main partner in the campaign to achieve regime-change in Syria. Qatar, for its part, used to vilify Iran for supporting for Asad and employ its mighty media empire to demand the departure of Iranian and allied Hezbollah forces from Syria, deeming them to be ‘occupiers’. Now it is holding top-level discussions on bilateral cooperation between its Emir Sheikh Tamim bin-Hamad and Iranian President Hassan Rowhani, and even proposing the establishment of an Iranian military base on Qatari soil alongside the Turkish and US bases.

Who could have foreseen such an upheaval with regard to the Syrian file just a few months ago? Asad himself could not have dared imagine that Qatar would one day turn to Iran to protect it from its Saudi and Emirati neighbours, along with the Muslim Brotherhood, which acted as spearhead of the ‘revolution’ that sought to topple his regime.

The past six years have been catastrophic for the Syrian state and its leadership. More than half a million Syrians have been killed on both sides, and more than ten million displaced and dispersed around the world and in neighbouring countries. But there are many lessons that can, if absorbed, lead to the emergence of a new and different Syria, based on coexistence, equality and democratic freedoms; a strong Syria that knows who its enemies and friends are, and that regains its leadership and pioneering position in the region and the world.

We have said it and will repeat it again: This great, creative and inventive Syrian people who are heirs to eight thousands years of civilization, will rise from the ruins of this crisis stronger and more resilient, tolerant and committed to coexistence.