Syria’s Descent Into Horror Under Assad’s Dictatorship

The Reign of Bashar al-Assad continues with another ‘sham’ election in Syria with 95.1% vote-share. West condemns the election as ‘free nor fair.’

This year marks 10 years of the harsh crackdown of the Syrian uprising. The protests against  Assad’s regime were turned from student-led demonstrations into an armed uprising. Tens of thousands died and millions were displaced with only one notable survivor of the horrors: President Bashar Al-Assad. In May this year, Assad with help of multi-front civil and proxy wars was yet again elected as Syria’s President for seven more years with an overwhelming margin of 95.1% vote share.

It is indeed a surprising maneuver that he was not able to overtake his father Hafis Al-Assad regime who won with not less than 99%. It seems like the Syrian dictator wanted to keep a more realistic approach. His competitors, former cabinet minister, Abdullah Salloum Abdullah, and ‘tolerated’ opposition, Mohammoud Ahmed Mari witnessed 1.5% and 3.3% votes respectively.

Head of parliament Hammouda Sabbagh announced that voter turnout was around 78%, with more than 14 million Syrians taking part. However, voting was only allowed in areas under Assad’s regime.

Millions of refugees living in host countries with no Syrian embassy were not allowed to cast a vote. On the other hand, the Syrian Democratic Council, which administers an autonomous oil-rich region in the North-East and US-backed Syrian Kurdish YPG militias of Idlib boycotted the election.

It seemed like half of the nation was not allowed and the remaining who could were forced to do so. There was leaked footage of Syrian military officials casting multiple votes at different ballots. Germany and Turkey banned voting by calling it theatrical and farce.

According to Deutsche Welle reports, the US, UK, France, Germany, and Italy released a statement calling Syria’s presidential elections on Wednesday as neither “free nor fair”. The election went ahead despite an UN-led peace process that had called for voting under international supervision that would help pave the way for a new constitution and a political settlement.

The foregone conclusion of faux campaigning was not possible without the Russian and Iranian intervention. Before the intervention, Assad’s regime shrunk to the Alawite-populated region ranging from Damascus to the Mediterranean coast.

The 55-year-old Ophthalmologist who has now ruled Syria for 21 years now is accused of not only destroying cities, imprisoning and executing opposition members. But also, of forcing over 5.5 million to turn into refugees and displacing over 6.2 million people. He battered towns and villages, ravaged by decades of savagery.

With four decades of established dictatorship, Syria has turned into a failed state. Assad’s control over the country’s revenue is now compared to the Mafia system where the economy is powered majorly by drug trades. He now controls most of Syria- excluding Idlib and the Kurdish territories.  At the time when Assad should be facing trials for crimes against humanity in the Hague, the war criminal has rather locked Syria in a prolonged geopolitical contest. No wonder he is often referred to as the “shrewd savior” by the loyalists.

Syria was in a state of flux ever since Islamist organizations took over and hijacked the Syrian revolution of Arab Spring. Syrian government showed no mercy as well. From day one of the 2011 protest, Assad’s regime responded with aggression. The protest which was to bring political and economic reform, which was a cry for the end of dictatorship brought nothing but turmoil.

The U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) says 13.4 million Syrians need humanitarian aid, 20% more than last year, but assistance reached only 7.7 million. Nine out of 10 people are living in poverty while Syrians without secure access to food increased 57% in the past year. UNICEF says that 90% of Syrian children need humanitarian assistance

War-torn Syria with decades of conflict, Western sanctions, and a financial collapse in neighboring Lebanon under Assad’s regime went into a severe economic crunch. The currency crash sparked shortages of essential goods in the government-ruled region. Apart from this global pandemic has battered Syria’s economy.

As the currency plunged against US dollars, more than 80% of Syrians came under the poverty line with skyrocketing inflation. The dictatorship has done no good for any civilian. It is only the government who benefitted from it. Other than the regime, Russia, Iran, and now even China are trying to gain influence in the Middle East by supporting the government and neglecting the deaths and displacement in the Syrian diaspora.

Approximately 75% of the population in northwest Syria is dependent on U.N. aid to meet their needs; around 85% of that aid comes through Bab Al-Hawa border crossing.

Even after 11 years of the Syrian crisis, still there is no hope for democracy. In fact, mob boss victory is also a demonstration of an unsaid message and a cynical ploy. The ‘victory’ where over 10% of people have been killed will be used to show the government’s legitimacy. 

In a recent development, after the presidential election charade, Assad got elected as a member of the WHO executive board. This happened when Syrian Minister of health Hassan Ghabache, the representative on the WHO board, has been on Britain’s financial sanction list since March, and the European sanctions list since last November.

A seat in WHO for the regime which has repeatedly targeted and bombed hospitals is proof that other than verbal condemnation, the international community has done a little for the Syrian people. The sham election reflected the failure of American policy in the region as well.  

The inevitable victory displayed the limits on the US’s power. Failure in Syria confirmed that the US cannot be the global police. US failure in Iraq and Libya resulted in 18 and 10 years of war respectively. In Iraq, the dictatorship was replaced by terrorism, first al Qaeda, then the marauding “caliphate” of the Islamic state whereas Libya still faces the worst humanitarian crisis riven by civil war.

If the SDF does not receive US assistance, the SDF will face Iran-backed Shia militias in the east and Turkish-backed forces in the north. This may lead to ISIS recruitment as a result of a permissive environment.

According to a report by the International Monetary Fund, Trump’s administration withdrawal from JCPOA in May 2018 caused Iran’s foreign reserves to dwindle to as low as $4 billion. The dwindling also affected Iran’s funding for its war machines. 

Iran’s annual support for Assad’s war remains at $15 billion per year. Other than the regime, Iran supports proxies including Lebanese Hezbollah, the Fatemiyoun and Zainabiyoun Brigades, Harakat al-Najuba, and Asaib Ahl al-Haq besieging rebel-held cities.

The earlier sanctions weakened terrorist activities in Syria. Hezbollah and other Tehran backed-militias admitted that Tehran could no longer afford their salaries. This forced them to request support from the Lebanese public for ongoing terrorist operations.

If the Biden administration were to ease sanctions, Iran’s foreign reserves will again swell for more than $100 billion. This will indirectly impact Iran’s foreign funding to regime backed-militias. So, if the Biden administration is looking forward to giving sanction relief to Iran, they should demand extraction of Iran’s militia personnel from Syria and also for them to end support for the Assad’s regime military operations.

US return to the JCPOA without Iran’s word on extraction concession could lead to a ripple effect on the Syrian crisis. The aftermath of this sanction relief and tens of billions of dollars in Iran’s foreign reserves will directly impact the Syrian humanitarian crisis.

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