This normalization seems to be the goal set by the al-Assad regime in order to regain its place in the region and then the world, as he claimed early October that Western and Arab countries are preparing to restore their presence in Syria after years of absence. Al-Assad stated that “for many Arab countries, there is a great understanding between us and them, and many Western countries have begun planning and preparing to open their embassies (in Damascus).
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Indeed, after Bashar al-Assad took over from his father, al-Turk played a large role in the so-called Damascus Spring, a period of political debate and demands for democratic change in June 2000. In August 2001, al-Turk appeared on al-Jazeera calling for all political factions to unite. “What we need today is reconciliation, and [we] have to work for a new future, forgetting mistakes of the past. In the past, we had a problem with the dictator, and now that problem is over – the dictator is dead,” he said.
On the ground, no one knows how large-scale reconstruction will eventually happen or even when it will start. With no clear economic or political view of the future, refugees might not be tempted to return home. Reconstruction has already become so political, even before the war has ended, that a solution to the issue might take years to be found.
Local and international human rights organizations have documented the inhumane conditions in Syrian detention facilities, and testimonies from the prisoners who managed to be released focused on the torture they faced inside. Prisons are overcrowded and unsanitary. Detainees are given inadequate food and sometimes starved, and suffer from medical neglect. Torture is routinely and systematically implemented, on a very large scale. Women, and men, have suffered rape and sexual abuse.
Yarmouk’s former residents do not seem to be a priority in Syria, where many questions regarding reconstruction and resolutions remain unanswered. In the meantime, refugees have been forced to leave the country or stay in Idlib, which is still controlled by the jihadist alliance Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham. The fate of Palestinian refugees in Syria continues to be unclear as the regime pursues its objective of regaining control of the entire country.
Whenever the war comes to an end, this challenge will become particularly difficult to manage. The shabiha will not disappear once their military purpose has ended. Instead, they will likely linger as organized crime groups, further eating away at the state’s legitimacy and slowing the country’s economic and social recovery.
The decree does not specify where the regulatory zones will be. However, given that a majority of those who fled their homes or the country do not have documents proving their ownership of their houses, and many are also wanted by the state for their involvement in opposition groups – armed and unarmed – or for fleeing military service, the law opens the door for the government to potentially seize the property of thousands if not millions of displaced Syrians.
While Damascus residents hope for quieter and more peaceful times after the fall of Eastern Ghouta, they remain fearful about the future of their country. With the United States (US) supporting the Kurds in the north-east, Turkey supporting the opposition in Idlib in the north, and Russia and Iran supporting the regime, Syria continues to be a geopolitical powder keg.
The situation continues to be volatile, leaving the world and especially Syria and its neighbours on edge, fearing for the last scraps of stability they have. Once again, the recent air strike by the US, UK and France has had few tangible results, and many suggest they should have focused their efforts on trying to overthrow the regime instead.