The Pillars of Authoritarian Resilience Part 1
In July 2018, in southern Iraq, protests erupted against government corruption and mismanagement. The government’s response was brutal, echoing the Syrian government’s mobilisation of its own security forces, during the 2011 Syrian protests. The origins of these post-conflict demonstrations are perfectly described by Sarhang Hamasaeed as “the fragility that gave rise to ISIS”.1.Hamasaeed, Sahang 2018: Iraq’s protest show the fragility that gave rise to ISIS remains This societal fragility comes from a decade of physical and psychological violence. Coupled with socio-economic differences from corruption and broken social contracts, which mainly benefit a narrow segment of Iraqi society.
The social space in which young Arabs express grievances is related to this fragility. It’s where the Islamic State (IS) represents more of a symptom to express this grievance, than the cause of it. These social and economic grievances, deeply connected with the resilience of the authoritarian political systems, have been interpreted by Hassan Hassan as the prime motivators for young people to join extremist groups like ISIS or Al-Qaida. Based on this thought, he also recognises a deeper social and political connection between today’s uprising in Syria and the battered rebellion in Hama in 1982.2.Hassan, Hassan 2018: ISIS is poised to make a comeback in Syria
Societies in conflict become exposed to polarization from the dominant actors which emerge in these conflicts. As new hierarchies appear they can be divided into two groups: Those who can profit from conflict and those who have lost their previous social status.3.Schlichte, Klaus 2004: Krieg und bewaffnete Konflikte als sozialer Raum, in: Sabine, Kurtenbach/Peter, Locke (Hg.): Kriege als (Über)Lebenswelten: Schattenglobalisierung, Kriegsökonomie und Inseln der Zivilität, pp. 186-187.
The collapse of the formal economy in favour of various war economies in Syria significantly widened the gap between the losers and winners of this conflict. With 75% of the economy becoming monopolised by individuals with close ties to the regime.4.Makki, Danny 2018: Syria’s war economy exacerbates divide between poor and rich
Based on research by the author, several patterns emerged between the macro level of the militant groups and the micro level of the individual. Ultimately the downfall of formal economic structures and the rise of violence-supported conflict-related economies, forces the individual to participate in a vicious circle of violence.
The multipolarity of violent actors within the Syrian social space and the different distributions of capital which benefit the actors who are able to revert to military force, prevents a balancing social unification. In the case of government-held areas, the regime expanded the security apparatus away from centralised government led control towards affiliated militias. These functioned as the main driver for the redistribution of social, cultural and economic capital.5.Lund, Aron: Who are the pro-Assad Militias? Through a manipulative representation of the regime as a guarantee for protection against the raging violence of the civil war, Assad repositioned himself as the Leviathan of his own created state of nature.
With the military and financial backing of its international protectors, the regime of Bashar al-Assad appears to be on the road to victory against the rebellion, having avoided substantial reform, political liberalisation and secular power-sharing. Yet even if Assad can achieve a domestic military-victory, it will be a pyrrhic victory, with Assad as “king of the ashes, overlooking a distraught country from his presidential palace”.6.Phillips, Christopher 2018: The world abetted Assad’s victory in Syria In which case, can the regime really claim an enduring victory? Or will its resilience become the breeding ground for a neverending insurgency.7.Eisenstadt, Michael 2018: Hast he Assad regime ‚won‘ Syria’s civil war?
In preventing the success of the revolution, the war machine of Assad used a range of tactics and strategies that were crucial to stifle political change. Those tactics, like the co-option and economic binding of Syrian individuals, relied on the same economic conditions that caused the crisis as well as the existential fear of Syria’s war-weary population. It focused on preserving these conditions and embedding them into a propagandistic narrative of its own survival.
In this article the author highlights patterns of interaction between the regime and its compliant militants, which can be categorized in the form of the ‘violent market’ or rather on the basis of the political marketplace. In this marketplace, political entrepreneurs are using money and violence as a currency to buy personal loyalty or access to state institutions in order to reach certain political goals. According to Alex de Waal: “Those who rose in these political systems are those who can best mobilize money and deploy violence, who reduce human beings and human dignity to instrument as well as commodities”.8.De Waal, Alex 2016: The real politics of the Horn of Africa: Money, war and the business of power, pp. 34 This pattern can be repeated as long as the resources and interests of the violent actors meet with the far-reaching aims of the political entrepreneur, or the entrepreneur has re-established his hegemony with violence. In terms of de Waal, the marketplace replaced some sort of governance and implements a very flexible but at the same time turbulent political constellation, which gradually replaces the former political system. The resulting system decentralized the use of violence for political entrepreneurs to reach certain goals, utilising militias and mafias connected to the regime.9.Ibid. pp. 18-22
The series will be divided into a total of four articles. The first part will analyze the actors of the capitalist base of the regime, which move and reproduce in connection with the state as well as the armed actors in the political marketplace. They use the social space to expand their own influence and are actively contributing to the further political development in a post-conflict Syria.
In the second part, the author focuses on the tactics used by the regime to bind or undermine its supporters and the military efforts to destroy any other alternatives to its hegemony. The third part of the analysis will focus on the discursive construction of the regime and its reproduction of a narrative about the conflict, as well as the alignment with the circumstances within Syria.
In the last section, the analysis will be dedicated to the militant actors moving in the loyal areas and actively promoted by the regime. The main question here is how these groups will have a decisive impact on the future composition of the regime.
The financial spine of Assad’s war machine
In the state of nature, profit is the measure of right.
– Thomas Hobbes, De Cive
In order to correctly classify the resilience of the Syrian regime throughout a war of attrition without any sort of political transition, it is fundamental to analyse the economic structure that underlies the political system. The actors inside this economic structure, whose highest priority is the preservation of its social and economic power through a sophisticated manipulation of state institutions, interact within a “militarised rentier political marketplace”. As mentioned in the introduction, this political marketplace is a social space in which political entrepreneurs make use of the advanced de-institutionalization of the state, in order to achieve political goals through the targeted inflow of money to the multitude of violent actors.10.De Waal, Alex 2016: The real politics of the Horn of Africa: Money, war and the business of power, pp. 30-31 This economic interaction manifested during the conflict with the regime’s ever-increasing need for new sources of income, as well as a focused decentralisation of the security branch in loyal territories,11.Yazigi, Jihad 2016: No going back: Why decentralisation is the future for Syria which contributed to the vicious circle of brutality.12.Slim, Randa 2011: Where’s Syrias’s business community? Therefore it is critical to evaluate those power elites that are pillars of the regime’s resilience. These power elites include individuals associated with the Assad family, Ba’ath party members, military personnel, tribal leaders and religious authorities as well as parts of the Sunni bourgeoisie from urban areas.13.Daher, Joseph 2018: Revolution and counter-revolution in Syria, origins and developments, pp. 99-102
In the case of Syria, the basis of this system existed with an economic configuration that began in the pre-war period. Like many governments in the post cold-war era, Syria underwent an economic liberalisation, while preserving it’s authoritarian rule.
According to Caroline Donati, the political transition from Hafez al-Assad to his son Bashar, was followed by some sort of “neoliberalisation” of the political system, which allowed a new generation of business elite to enter its structure, “to ensure the regime’s access to resources in the form of rents that it could extract from newly liberalised sectors of the economy.”14.Donati, Caroline 2013: The economics of authoritarian upgrading in Syria: Liberalization and the reconfiguration of economic networks, in: Middle East Authoritarianisms: Governance, Contestation, and regime resilience in Syria and Iran, pp. 36
In order to gain access to necessary resources, the regime makes use of a mixed tactic, founded on political co-opting of key economic actors and targeted repression against all criticism. Successful co-option provided, amongst other examples, political privileges like seats in the People’s Council of Syria or preferential treatment in the allocation of government contracts. The legislation for this approach works through a flexible institutional framework that is shaped by a clientelistic network.15.Ibid. pp. 37
Syria’s GDP dropped from $60 Billion in 2010 to $15 Billion in 2016 while the central bank of Syria’s foreign currency reserves steadily decreased. Leaving the regime scrabbling for alternatives to finance its counter-insurgency alongside its welfare state through the diversification of the channels through which capital or basic goods can be accessed.16.Bordsky, RJ Matthew 2018: The financial viability of the Assad regime in Syria, pp 3
Already in 2011 the business elites were considered as one alternative option for the regime to weather the storm brewing throughout the country. A fundamental analysis of these power centers should be judged in the context of the Assad family’s connections. Grace Abuhamad and Andrew Tabler from the The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, pertinently illustrate the connections between the Syrian business elite and the regime’s political elite. The paternalistic structures and the regime’s personal connections, reflect the economic aspect of the social space in Syria and could be described as an oligarchic system regulated by a monopolistic and rigid administration.17.Abuhamad, Grace & Tabler J. Andrew 2013: All the Tyrant’s men: Chipping away at the Assads regime’s core Therefore a regime change, removing the Syrian government, that rules in favor of a neoliberal policy and provides further expansion of private capital, was anathema to the business elite. Hereby, Bashar had become the neoliberal President, who cuts completely with the socialist label of his B’aath origin, as under his guidance he not only contributes to a further establishment of inequality by reducing taxes for larger companies or individuals, but also encourages transfers of collective ownerships into the hands of his loyal, capitalistic associates.18.Daher, Joseph 2018: Syria: The social origins of the uprising The so-called Damascus Spring was thus the privatisation of an authoritarian state economy and its subsequent integration into the global banking and trading system. This process was an attempt by Assad’s ruling circle, to integrate parts of the Sunni business elite, which were traditionally the backbone of Syria’s industrial and commercial entities.19.Briscore, Ivan/Janssen, Floor, Smits, Rosan 2012: Stability and economic recovery after Assad: Key steps for Syria’s post-conflict transition
However, since this process was largely controlled by the regime’s co-optive approach to gain a constant inflow of currency, this liberalisation process blurred the lines between the private and public sector. This makes it important to differentiate corruption in Syria from the usual methods of mismanagement, because of the nesting of the regime’s security architecture within the institutional structure of the Syrian state.20.Donati, Caroline 2013: The economics of authoritarian upgrading in Syria: Liberalization and the reconfiguration of economic networks, in: Middle East Authoritarianisms: Governance, Contestation, and regime resilience in Syria and Iran: pp. 39 The regime’s ongoing co-option attempts, which oriented policy outcomes regarding the preferences of its loyal associates, intensified alongside the crisis and laid the foundation for the current political marketplace. Therefore it is imperative to analyse the conflict in Syria in context of the separation between work and capital, which started with the uprising of unemployed youth without any real prospect for a decent life. These factors were decisive in driving the protests against Assad’s political system.21.Daher, Joseph 2017: Assad regime still reliant on fractions of the Sunni bourgeoisie
This call for change was heavily opposed by the business elite, which benefited from the regimes market-oriented policies. The resulting inequality of the regime’s economic policies lead to a “concentration of the armed resistance in poor, rural, Sunni-dominated areas, as well as the later shift of the rebellion to the poorest areas of Syria’s largest cities”.22.Briscore, Ivan/Janssen, Floor, Smits, Rosan 2012: Stability and economic recovery after Assad: Key steps for Syria’s post-conflict transition A “predominantly working-class revolution”, which demands “democracy and social justice”, was a risk to the rentier-oriented calculus of the business-elite.23.Yassin-Kassab, Robin & al-Shami, Leila 2016: Burning Country: Syrians in revolution and war, pp. 61 This existential threat could only be prevented in supporting the stability of the Assad’s leviathan rule that guaranteed continuing capital flow to its loyal patrons.
A cousin to Bashar al-Assad, Rami Makhlouf is a key patron in the regime’s circle, controlling a vast capitalistic empire of Syrian businesses. He is said to be the richest patron and therefore “the most visible symbol of the integrated elite” in Syria, representing the mafia character of the regime like no other.24.Abboud, Samer 2013: Syria’s business elite: Between political alignment and hedging their bets, pp. 3 His business empire extends from foreign trade and the service sector, to industrial production in Syria.25.Friedman, Uri 2011: Rami Makhlouf: the man the Syrian regime is distancing itself from Because of his predatory business activities, which were made possible due to his family ties with the Assad’s, Makhlouf was the protest’s prime example for an individual in the regimes power elite, who uses the state as a self-service store.26.Shadid, Anthony 2011: Syrians businessman becomes magnet for anger and dissent The businessman is well connected to the infamous security branches of the regime, especially since his younger brother Haef Makhlouf was head of the internal branch of the General Security Directorate, Syria’s civilian intelligence agency and thus the main agency involved against the crackdown on the uprising.27.BBC 2012: Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle This connection with the counterinsurgency goes so far, that he is the founder of several pro-regime militias such as Fuhud Homs, Kata’ib al-Jabalawi or Liwa Dir’ al-Watan, all of which are financed through Makhlouf’s charity organisation.28.Mikhail, K 2017: rami Makhlouf: Magnate of the Syrian state, part two His activities form a crude blueprint for a number of people who became rich through their loyalty or proximity to the regime during the conflict.
The deep entanglement of the business empire of Makhlouf and the security branches in Syria served as a crucial tool for the regime’s resilience. While the regime provided the state structures as a channel of interaction for the expansion of the business associates of Makhlouf, his companies provide the technological services for the re-conquest of dissident territories. Especially in terms of the last aspects of this cooperation, Makhlouf was able to serve the regime’s military particularly well. Being the owner of SyriaTel, which enjoys an absolute monopoly in the Syrian telecom market, Makhlouf’s company played an active role in the shutdown of communication channels within the areas where loyalist troops were deployed.29.Freedomhouse 2017 SyriaTel is also the only company in Syria that has been able to recruit additional employees during the war, symbolising the alleged stability of the regime-held areas.30.Makki, Danny 2018: Syria’s war economy exacerbates divide between poor and rich
Another evidence of this symbiosis between regime and private capital is the crucial role of Makhlouf’s large network of private welfare organisations, whose activities can be described as an essential substitute for the collapse of the welfare policy of the government. The details about the functioning of these organisations will be examined in another article of the series. The regime’s close cooperation with the business conglomerate of Bashar’s cousin, were indispensable to the government, ensuring access to the barred international market. By creating international shell companies all around the globe, Mahklouf has been able to bypass international sanctions or convert its business activities to importing groceries like tea or rice in cooperation with Nestlé Syria, as food was excluded from the international sanctioning. In doing so, he contributed to a steady flow of provisions to loyalist militias and territories.31.Primavera, Mauro 2018: Rami Makhlouf and the Syrian war economy, pp. 2-4
The hub for those transactions where an offshore consultancy called Mossak Fonseca, which is mainly known in connection with the Panama Papers. The funneling of money through offshore firms or second rank business partners in Syria, had made it easy for other loyalists like Mohammed Hamsho to gain political influence in Damascus. Hamsho is an active member of the Syrian parliament and oversees a range of companies under the umbrella of Hamsho International Group with many worldwide affiliates.32.https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/uploads/Documents/infographics/SyriaRegimeChart20150526v2.pdf33.Al-Ghazali, Nizar 2016: Panama Papers: Who’s running Assad’s sanctions-busting network Because of his close connections to Bashar’s younger brother Maher al-Assad and his supportive stance towards human rights abuses, he is listed on the international sanctions list.34.Sheridan, Mary Beth 2011: U.S. adds Syrian businessman to sanctions list Hamsho’s and Maher’s partnership is symbolic for its exorbitant rapture at the cost of the last remnants of the Syrian infrastructure, as they purchase copper looted by pro-regime militias from reconquered opposition areas to sell them again below value on the regional markets.35.Salameh, Rafia 2018: The looting years This distribution chain is an empirical example of the reciprocity of the political marketplace, with the political entrepreneur not only investing money in the respective violent actors, but also reaping returns from their actions.
The ongoing conflict in Syria and the restrictions on its freedom of capital movement, due to the international rejection of the regime through economic sanctions, pushed the regime to open its channels of influence to a new form of businessmen. Regarding the integration of a new capital elite of the so-called ‘Wheeler-Dealers’ and warlords, the war-policy of the regime is not necessarily different from the previous deregulation policy.36.Donati, Caroline 2013: The economics of authoritarian upgrading in Syria: Liberalization and the reconfiguration of economic networks, in: Middle East Authoritarianisms: Governance, Contestation, and regime resilience in Syria and Iran: pp. 49-51
This not only refers to people who in their past business activities were dependent on their integrated colleagues, but also individuals who, through the flight of some of their competitors, seized the opportunity to monopolize entire markets and thereby accumulate huge amounts of capital. These activities were largely tolerated by the regime, as long as they promised monetary or political gain.
The sponsor of the last international trade fair in Damascus in summer of 2017, Samer Foz, is one of those personalities. He managed to use the flight of other businesspeople to monopolize a range of industry branches. Largely unknown until recently, Foz managed to become a new face within the Syrian business elite, without being on the international sanction list, through the production of pharmaceutical products, a dedicated steel industry and, of course, the construction industry. He is considered a person who will have a decisive role in the reconstruction efforts of the country.37.Rasmusen, Sune 2018: Out of Syria’s Chaos, a Tycoon builds a fortune In addition, Foz maintains various contacts with the regime’s notorious Air-force intelligence branch and is accused of financing one of its affiliated militia called Quwaat Dir’ al-Askari.38.Foz maintains various contacts with the regimes Air-force intelligence branch and is accused of financing one of its affiliated militia called Quwaat Dir’ al-Askari
Crucial as an intermediary for the regimes impartial trade of crude oil with IS, Muhammad al-Qatirji was the owner of a trucking company, who was recently targeted by the US with international sanctions.39.Zargham, Mohammad 2018: U.S. targets Syria oil delivery networks with new sanctions Al-Qatirji, who is also accused of regular weapons shipping from Iraq to Syria, interacts closely with the Syrian Ministry of Oil as well as the Syrian internal intelligence service.40.U.S. Department of Treasury 2018: U.S. Treasury imposes sanctions on Assad regime’s key ISIS intermediary and a petroleum procurement network Despite the US sanctions against al-Qatirji, it is reported that he is involved in the growing cotton trade with farmers in the SDF-controlled areas.41.Euphrates Post 2018: SDF opens Raqqa gates to the dealer of Assads regime and ISIS
Another personality of this new elite is Khaeld al-Ahmad, who was mentioned in the English-speaking media through an article by Rania Khalek. Although this source is to be viewed critically, Khaled al-Ahmad is already known through other international negotiations with individuals from the Obama administration. Al-Ahmad is said to have helped the regime negotiate reconciliations on the offensive in the south of the country, but according to the Khalek, has no real sympathy for Assad.42.Khalek, Rania 2018: Meet the mystery fixer who negotiated Syria out of seven years war
However, with regard to the co-opting strategy of the regime and the fact that this special position can only be achieved in combination with good relations with the Syrian security structure, this loose connection remains to be doubted.43.Sottimano, Aurora 2016: The Syrian business elite: Patronage networks and war economy
Another crucial development is the emergence of a conflict-dependent capital elite that generated wealth through ongoing warfare. A case in point for this phenomenon is the so-called dairy trader from eastern Ghouta, Abu Ayman al-Manfush,44.The Economist 2017: Syria’s new war millionaires who was becoming a millionaire by trading with the besieged area through the so-called One Million Dollar Check-point. This trade, tolerated by the regime, not only opened up informal communication channels with the enemy but also contributed to a steady cash flow for the regime’s exhausted war chest.45.Todman, Will 2016: Sieges in Syria: Profiteering from misery
This capital generated by the conflict is the result of Assad’s presidential legislation to empower loyal businessmen to protect their property through private militias.46.Foxnews 2013: Syria’s Assad ‘legalises” private security firms For the time being, the decree was granting licenses for private Syrian companies by the Ministry of Interior for the establishment of security firms.47.Zamanalwsl.net 2013: Presidential decree to legitimize arming of pro-Assad militias under ‘protection’ pretext Due to the rapid spread of the insurgency throughout the country, this legislation was expanded to include the so-called popular committees, which formed the nucleus of the regime’s loyal population strata. This policy resulted in the military service law that allows Syrians to join a local militia as an alternative to the mandatory conscription in the Syrian army.48.Danish Refugee Council 2015: Syria, update on military service, mandatory self-defence duty & recruitment to the YPG, pp. 12-14 Hence, the regime promotes its counter-insurgency through armed locals and criminal gangs, which are sponsored by “private sector individuals”.49.Briscore, Ivan/Janssen, Floor, Smits, Rosan 2012: Stability and economic recovery after Assad: Key steps for Syria’s post-conflict transition, pp. 5. Not only was this legislation the starting point for the emergence of countless armed groups now gathered under the umbrella organisation known as the NDF. But it enabled these warlords to create a local power position through war economies.50.Zambelis, Chris 2017: Institutionalized Warlordism and the National Defense Force These war profiteers extract their wealth through a wide network of checkpoints in their area of influence as well as from looting of former rebel-held areas.51.Lund, Aron 2015: Who are the Pro-Assad militias
Sami Aubry, formerly a Syrian amusement park and fast-food chain owner, did not only use the decentralisation of the security structures by the regime to protect his property, but took the opportunity to become the head of his own Aleppo-based militant group.52.Goldsmith, Jett 2016: How relevant to Syria is Syria’s regime? In doing so, it was possible for him to accumulate both political and economic power as a warlord in Aleppo.53.Read, Russ 2016: Former amusement park manager now major warlord in Syria54.Schneider, Tobias 2017: Aleppo’s Warlords and post-war reconstruction Notorious pro-government militias such as the Tiger Forces or the Desert Eagles are largely funded by regime-oriented capitalists, as Gregory Waters detailed in his series.55.Schneider, Tobias 2016: The decay of the Syrian regime is much more worse than you think56.Waters, Gregory 2018: Tiger Forces, Part 1: The War crimes of the “Cheetah” groups
As we can see the capital structures close to the regime operate within the dynamics of the political marketplace, as shareholders who meet the business elite’s political and economic interests.57.De Waal, Alex 2016: The real politics of the Horn of Africa: Money, war and the business of power, pp. 22-26.
The result of this organization of violence through private capital has made its impact on the legislation of the post-war period, which is perfectly described by Maha Yahya as “the politics of dispossession”. This policy had become the major tool for the regime to punish disobedience to its rule.58.Yahya, Maha 2018: The politics of dispossession
Keywords for this policy are the decree 66 and its extended implementation, called law number 10, which is also codified as the ‘Urban Renewal Law‘. The law is overseen by two capital holding companies, which could be described as the main integration tool to “procure capital, networks, and political support for the regime”, in transferring ownerships of lands and properties for “political, security and commercial reasons”.59.Agha, Othman Muneqeth: Class and exclusion A central role is held by the company named Al-Cham, which has a capital volume of approximately $350 million, and is effectively owned by Rami Makhlouf. Another crucial company is al-Sourya, with a capital volume of $80 million – the holding is much smaller and unites lesser-known businessmen, but serves as a platform for the Syrian Business Council. Through the close networking with the state ministries, these businessmen are regularly offered contracts by the state, for example, to build railways or airport infrastructure.
A vast majority of the businesspeople in both holdings are on the current sanction list of the EU. Both have emerged through the economic liberalization policy under Bashar, working on future construction projects whose function is to accumulate national, as well as international capital.60.Donati, Caroline 2013: The economics of authoritarian upgrading in Syria: Liberalization and the reconfiguration of economic networks, in: Middle East Authoritarianisms: Governance, Contestation, and regime resilience in Syria and Iran: pp. 41-43.61.Briscore, Ivan/Janssen, Floor, Smits, Rosan 2012: Stability and economic recovery after Assad: Key steps for Syria’s post-conflict transition
Besides actively rewarding loyal businessmen, this construction policy turns out to be a punitive mechanism for many areas that have joined the uprising against Assad, such as Baba Amr, Jobar in Homs and Harasta in eastern Ghouta. The law is formulated in such a way that the affected areas do not necessarily have to be destroyed, so much as promise a high return of capital or easy development.62.Yahya, Maha 2018: The politics of dispossession An existing project financed by al-Cham holding, is Marota city, which is a high investment project in Basatin al-Razi and aims to construct high-rise housing apartments, offices as well as shopping malls, has become the flagship project of the new Syria.63.Daher, Jospeh 2017: Militias and crony capitalism to hamper Syria reconstruction Hereby, it is no coincidence that those splendid skyscrapers, scheduled for imminent construction, were planned on former farmland. In addition, there is already the announcement of another construction project south of Damascus called Basilia city, five times the size of Marota city.64.Karam, Zeina 2018: a luxury city shows blueprint for Syria’s rebuilding plans Basilia City is located in the suburb of Darayya and is another former rebel territory from which dozens of people were deported to the last rebel stronghold in Idlib.65.Reuter, Christoph 2018: Syria’s uncertain future under Bashar Assad The person in charge of this selection process to localize certain reconstruction zones is none other than Hussein Makhlouf, who occupies the position of Minister of local administration and is a relative of Rami Makhlouf.
The regime is well aware that regions where the protests had a strong popularity, were laced with illegal settlements. This problem is nothing new in Syria, as even before the conflict 40% of the population have been living in illegal settlements and were already targeted in several legislative actions by the Assad government, as the decree 66 was already written in 2012. Areas around Damascus were targeted like this, because they promise lucrative business opportunities. However, this legislation was not fully executed before the conflict, because the regime was aware of the problem of mass migration from rural areas due to drought as well as job losses and did not wish to provoke public discontent.
The war had opened a window of opportunity for the regime, to execute its long awaited policy of restructuring the social composition of the areas near the capital.66.Lund, Aron 2018: Dispossession or development? The tug of war over Syria’s ruined slum dwellings This pattern could be explored in cases in poor regions like Wadi al-Joz in Hama in 2013 and al-Arb’een in 2012. Where despite the withdrawal of opposition militias from the areas, the Syrian army shelled the area with heavy artillery, because of their location near the Aleppo-Hama highway that provides lucrative business infrastructure.67.HRW.org 2014: Razed to the ground: Syria’s unlawful neighborhood demolitions in 2012-2013 The fact that all announced major reconstruction efforts are related to places formerly occupied by illegal settlements, suggests that the regime uses selective reconstruction to punish “poor and rebellious communities”.68.Agha, Othman Muneqeth: Class and exclusion
The Syrian Law Journal, a dubious page calling itself an independent website for information about legislation in Syria, attempted to examine the composition of the law No. 10 in early 2017 and tried to make the call for arbitrary and elite-benefiting implementation relative. While some opposition voices interpret the law in terms of a ruthless ethnic intention by the regime to reengineering Syria’s demography, the Syrian Law Journal speaks about the policy as an attempt of the regime to support the regeneration of the country, through a legislative process accompanied by a certain sanctioning and control mechanism that protects the individual from state excesses. This allegedly includes a “devolution of certain powers away from the central government to the local councils where ordinary people have more influence” as well as a process for reviewing ownership certificates “to safeguard the property rights of owners whose interests are not recorded in the Land Registry”. At the beginning of his argument, the author argues that the recognition of a site as a reconstruction zone can only be approved by a local council and therefore includes some sort of decentralisation. Despite the author’s intention not to engage in political discussions, but to focus on the legal aspects of the law, he ignores the fact that the implementation of laws is always to be evaluated in terms of the underlying institutional framework as well as the political reality in Syria.69.Syrian Law Journal 2018: The new urban renewal law in Syria Therefore it is absolutely obligatory to understand the latest local council elections in Syria in its importance for the ongoing reconstruction process. Law no. 10 allows the local councils to establish their own holding companies in order to oversee the responsibility of the reconstruction. This mechanism should also give the impression that this policy can be supervised and regulated by the ordinary citizen.70.Ahmad, Reem et. Al. 2018: Syrians divided over prospects for local election results, as government ‘consolidates its power’ To sustain a further control on this process the electoral lists are stocked with regime-related personalities, who are approved by Damascus and who are definitely not opposed to its rule.71.Khaddour, Kheder 2017: Local wars and the chance for decentralized peace in Syria Even if the local councils gained some independence in terms of local governance,72.Waters, Gregory 2018: Damascus’ “Democratic” experiments: Local councils under government control the latest local council elections in Syria are exemplary for the domination of the ruling party, as “most of the candidates were either from the B’aath Party or tied to it”.73.DW 2018: Syria holds first local elections since 2011
In order to prove the rightful ownership of settlements units and land areas, Syrians theoretically have the opportunity within one year to prove legitimacy on the basis of property titles or through testimonies of other persons. If the property right is proven accordingly, the landowner will receive a share in the upcoming construction project. However, it must be pointed out, that these documentary-based approval-mechanism is founded on an understanding that requires a legalized and market-based housing environment, which completely bypasses the current reality of many householders in Syria.74.Farah, Jakob 2018: Assads Gesetz Nr. 10
Beside the fact that the evaluation for compensations or alternative living places for people from declared reconstruction zones are intransparent, there are countless obstacles for individuals, who want to make an appropriate use of this approval process. Civilians are only able to get access to certain areas, when they’ve passed several security checks. Those security-checks search for all individuals, who could have been supportive of, or active within the opposition. Human Rights Watch has recently reported about the deliberate destruction of homes of displaced Syrians by regime forces, as well as the targeted refusal of access to certain areas for persons who wanted to prove their property rights.75.HRW 2018: Syria: Residents blocked from returning Recently, regime forces prevent residents of the Palestine Yarmouk camp as well as the al-Tadamon district in southern Damascus from being able to return to their former homes, in order to prove their property rights.76.The Syrian Observer 2018: Regime prevents residents of Yarmouk camp from returning
Another decisive obstacle for many Syrians, who have fled the war, is the problem that they are considered traitors by the regime and because of that have to fear being punished with economic exclusion or a special observation by national security authorities.77.Nedaa-Sy 2018: Minister of the Syrian regime threatens to hold accountable refugees if return Especially, male refugee’s risk mandatory conscription if they enter regime-hold territories. In addition, many Syrians have lost their respective documents through a hasty escape from the destruction, so many will not be able to prove that they were owners of property or land for many years. The final issuer of new documents remains the state or the respective local council, which will adhere to the instructions of the Syrian power elite. The entire concept of redistribution is designed so that individuals with good connections to the regime and a certain amount of capital will be more likely to become shareholders in the construction projects. People of the middle or lower classes, who are able to prove their possession but do not have enough money to participate in a planned reconstruction process, will be forced to pay these shares to the dominant shareholders. According to the Syrian state media, law No. 10 was recently adjusted regarding the possibility of the landowner to recourse to Syrian courts, if the approval procedure was not performed correctly by the responsible institutions.78.https://www.sana.sy/?p=842393 This “improvement” is a mocking consolation to many Syrians, as “Syria’s judiciary should be regarded as part and parcel of the regime’s repressive apparatus”.79.Leenders, Reinoud 2013: Prosecuting political dissent: Courts and the resilience of authoritarianism in Syria, in: Middle East Authoritarianisms: Governance, Contestation, and regime resilience in Syria and Iran: pp.169-170.
The regime-led reconstruction efforts may well be judged as a bottom-up redistribution or, in the words of Joseph Daher; a replacement of poor areas with “higher social classes and new elites of war, who are generally less inclined to rise up against the regime”.80.Daher, Jospeh 2018: Decree 66 and the impact of its national expansion The latest announcement by Russian UN officials, which said that law No. 10 will refrain from the confiscation of refugee properties, should be judged with particular caution, as the regime is able to expropriate real estates of its citizens through a whole range of other laws.81.Keaten, Jamey 2018: UN official: Syria has withdrawn controversial property law On example of this kind of law is the law No. 3, which allows the Ministry of Defence to confiscate buildings from people who are labeled as suspected terrorists.82.Agha, Othman Muneqeth: Class and exclusion83.https://twitter.com/ejbeals/status/1053182050965114880 This redistribution of wealth will exacerbate the socio-economic imbalance, which was been a major factor in the uprising and will affect Syria’s ongoing instability for years to come.
Assad is ready to pay his determination to persist with cessions in the states power centers as well as the exploitation of the country’s national resources for the greed of its pro-regime capitalists, warlords and criminal gangs, who profit from the current condition of the Syrian state.
At this juncture, the leviathan rewards its fellows for wartime endurance and manifests the political marketplace as the dominant social space by organizing the deinstitutionalization of the state as well as by transferring the responsibility for security to it’s loyal capitalists. The social environment inside the regime-held areas will inevitably result in a re-shuffling of the composition of the security apparatus and the political elite in Damascus.84.Mardasov, Anton 2018: Russia eyes role in formation for Syria’s National Defense Force The co-optation approach by Assad’s inner circle already expanded the entanglement of state institutions with a militarised business elite. The regime’s policy promotes rapture capitalism, which has fuelled an economic superstructure and creates a social space that contributes to the duration as well as the scale of brutality of the conflict.
The paradox outcome of the current state of mind in Syria is not an intensification of the individual’s willingness to further fight the government, rather to be driven into its dependency, as the regime blackmails the apathy of its citizens through a sophisticated welfare system inside its controlled areas. This governance through extortion will be explored in the upcoming article of this series.