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Another year for Syria?
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 14 - 03 - 2019

The war in Syria has now entered its ninth year, and many Syrians are losing hope that it will ever end or that the desire for political change that triggered the revolution will ever be achieved.
The situation in the country has become increasingly complicated on the domestic, regional and international fronts, and many countries are vying to secure their interests in Syria even if there are still signs that a political solution and an end to the war could be on the horizon.
Over the past eight years, the Syrian people have been the targets of air and other attacks by the regime led by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, which has also carried out more than 200 attacks using chemical weapons.
It has used heavy weapons to suppress the revolution that demanded its removal, resulting in the destruction of one third of the country's infrastructure and the death of one million Syrians.
The regime has rejected a political solution to the conflict and has turned down or obstructed all Arab or international proposals for a resolution. It has opened the floodgates for mercenaries, terrorist groups and other countries to interfere in Syrian affairs, surrendering vital political and military decisions to Russia and Iran.
Russia has also used its veto power at the UN Security Council 12 times to block resolutions that could end the war and the regime violence.
Russia and the US have relied heavily on air strikes, destroying many villages and urban areas and killing thousands of people. They have used banned weapons such as phosphorous and cluster bombs. Russia has set up military, air and navy bases in Syria, while the US has established at least four bases, and Turkey has taken control of northern Syria.
The Islamic State (IS) group has destroyed hundreds of towns and villages, has terrorised the population and has given other countries a pretext to intervene. Lebanese and Iraqi sectarian militias have wreaked havoc in Syria, while the Syrian Kurds have demanded independence and called on non-Syrian Kurdish forces to help them achieve this goal.
They have burnt villages and killed the innocent with the aim of eliminating Arab Syrians from Kurdish areas. Syria over the past eight years has been transformed almost into a failed state.
Other countries have been trying to reap the political, security or economic fruit of their interference in Syria and do not care about violating international laws and agreements. Even the Syrian regime, which has used chemical weapons and crossed red lines, has not been impacted because it has relied on Russian and Chinese support in the UN Security Council and has been comforted by ambiguous US policies in Syria.
The Syrian opposition remains weak and divided, and it has been unable to make an impact owing to fragmentation and multiple ideologies. Its allies have abandoned ship, and its military wing has lost in the battle with US and Russian forces.
However, the opposition has refused to surrender to the regime despite the latter's brutality and its being let down by countries supposed to be friends to it. The sacrifices that have been made for the sake of political change have been ignored and international and Arab organisations paralysed.
Despite the deaths of one million Syrians, the displacement of seven million inside Syria, and the fleeing of five million overseas, the revolution continues and for many there can be no retreat until the regime is toppled.
The opposition is relying on the fact that the regime has committed so many crimes that it will be difficult, if not impossible, to rehabilitate it. The international community has largely refused to acknowledge the victory of the regime, and it also refuses to withdraw from Syria politically or militarily.
Reconstruction has been largely ruled out before political transition, and sanctions are still in place against the regime and its key figures. The regime cannot be allowed to return to the Arab League or other forums in the absence of steps such as a new constitution, new elections and a thorough overhaul of the political system.
Many believe the regime has expired and that it has no role to play in peace and reconstruction. Its main allies of Russia and Iran are competing against each other, and their interests will prove more important to them than the Syrian regime, which they could abandon for their share of the cake.
Foreign countries have been settling scores on Syrian territory, but because Syria neighbours Israel the US and Russia have agreed on how to manage the conflict. They agree that Syria's geopolitical, political and strategic advantages must be manipulated to serve Israel, though their other positions remain polar opposites.
Regime supporters believe they have won the war, and the regime media has proclaimed that victory has been accomplished. However, no one can stay still or move forward due to the delicate balance in the situation. There can be no solution for a destroyed country without a new political foundation.
US sanctions against those cooperating with the Al-Assad regime or offering reconstruction before political change play a key role in preventing Al-Assad's rehabilitation and help destroy the morale of his supporters. Regime allies Russia and Iran also suffer from US sanctions that target companies and those close to power, including scrutinising the Russian president.
However, the US has proved temperamental and ambiguous in its political and military decisions. It is focused on removing Iran from Syria, and it continues to oscillate and rely on others.
The opposition has not emerged with credit from the last few years of the Syrian crisis, with military and political figures focusing on their own interests under the cover of nationalist or religious ideology. No cohesive body has emerged to lead the revolution militarily and politically, and there has been no unified security and military institution for the Syrian Revolution.
The next phase will be based on what foreign countries want from Syria, and there is still the hope that the contradictory interests of the regional countries, Russia and the West will result in a political transition.

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