Syria is in trouble

A guest piece by Charles Lister, the Middle East Institute

After more than 12 years, Syria’s crisis continues as the country remains mired by insurgency, terrorism, geopolitical hostilities, organised crime, mass displacement and crippling economic and humanitarian crises.

With the West distracted by Ukraine, great power competition and challenges at home, governments in the Middle East chose to re-engage Syria’s regime in the Spring of 2023. It was described as a “conditional” effort to resolve Syria’s crisis, seeking:

  1. 🧑‍🤝‍🧑 A return of millions of Syrian refugees
  2. 💊 An end to the regime-coordinated captagon drugs trade
  3. 💰 The stabilisation of Syria and recovery of its economy, and
  4. 🖋️ A negotiated political settlement.

Four months later, this regional initiative has proven to be an unmitigated disaster, with every aspect of Syria’s crisis significantly worsening:

  • Syria’s economy has begun a precipitous collapse, with a soaring cost of living crisis triggering rare public expressions of anger from within Assad’s minority Alawite community.
  • Protesters have taken to the streets throughout regime-held areas of southern Syria, including the Druze-majority governorate of Suwayda, demanding Assad’s downfall as the economic situation spirals out of control.
  • Russia has used its UN Security Council veto to close down a mechanism for cross-border aid delivery to northwestern Syria, forcing the UN to consider giving Assad’s regime authority over any delivery – despite its track record of systematically impeding and stealing aid while enforcing starvation sieges on opposition areas.
  • More than $1B of Syrian-made captagon has since been seized across the region, and Syria’s captagon trade has now penetrated Europe, with a production facility discovered in Germany in July.
  • Refugees haven’t returned, and new UN polling revealed only 1% would consider doing so. Meanwhile, Syrian refugees have comprised a significant proportion of recent ship sinkings in the Mediterranean, as they flee further afield.
  • Conflict hostilities have escalated markedly, with Russia resuming airstrikes in the northwest, tribes rising up in arms against regime forces in the northeast, and ISIS dramatically resurging in the regime-administered central desert.

In short, Syria’s crisis is far from over and all the root causes and drivers of instability have been exacerbated by the recent regional normalisation of Assad’s regime. The West cannot afford to ignore Syria any longer, as the situation there is rapidly spinning out of control.

Intrigue’s take: Charles is a brilliant observer on Syria and the broader region. His on-the-ground experience and deep networks offer unique insights with global implications. It’s well worth following Charles and his work on Twitter/X.