Fri 17 Aug 2018

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Economic Normalization: A Weapon in the Syrian Regime’s Hands

Caption: Assad’s force at the Nassib Border Crossing (AFP)

Caption: Assad’s force at the Nassib Border Crossing (AFP)

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Assad’s forces control over the Nassib Crossing, on the borders with Jordan, July 6, was met with a silence on the part of the government of the Syrian regime, as it did not define a date for re-opening the crossing and the reactivation of the commercial activity, except for a few statements about its economic importance to the three interested states, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.

In an interview with the Iranian “al-Alam” news network, on July 19, the Syrian Prime Minister Imad Khamis spoke only of the importance of the crossing as it links Europe with the Arab Gulf and that reopening and investing in it is being studied.

For their part, the Lebanese and Jordanian economic entities started speaking of the commercial trucks’ readiness to pass through the crossing and get started towards the European and Gulf markets, which has the ability to finally break the state of economic recession suffered by the two states in the past years and achieve an economic revival in both Lebanon and Jordan’s different economic sectors.

The silence hides a set of conditions that the government of the Syrian regime is planning to impose on the neighbor states as to give their trucks the permission to pass through the Syrian territory.

These conditions are related to the normalization of the political relationships, especially that politics cannot be dealt with as separate from economy and vice versa. The two lines progress in parallel, the Jordanian economic analyst Mazen Rashid told Enab Baladi.

 

Blackmailing Lebanon

On July 19, the Lebanese “al-Akhbar” newspaper quoted Syrian sources, who said that the government of the Syrian regime is not considering reopening the crossings with Iraq and Jordan any soon, and if they were to be reopened, their privileges would be limited to Syrian merchants alone.

The sources pointed out that the Lebanese trucks would not be allowed to pass through the Syrian territory to the Arab states, unless an official political agreement is sealed between the Lebanese government and the government of the Syrian regime, for Syria would not offer any free services, to any one any more. “Incase Lebanon or any other Arab states are seeking to reopen the crossing, let them find the best means to communicate with the Syrian government, “al-Akhbar” reported.

The sources, according to the newspaper, hold the Lebanese government responsible for the Lebanese merchants and farmers’ loss, attempting to turn them against their government and to impose pressure on it to open the communication door with the Syrian regime.

This corresponded to the information that “al-Jadeed”, a Lebanese TV network, managed to get, stating that the Syrian regime has stipulated, to allow the Lebanese trucks a “transit” passage through the Syrian territories, that “the Lebanese authorities take the initiative and knock the Syrian States’ doors, either through the President Michel Aoun or the Minister of Foreign Affairs Gebran Bassil, communicating with the latter’s counterpart Walid Muallem or through an official delegation. Unless this happens, Syria would not consider the approval of free of charge passage.”

The network added that if the government failed to delegate first class political officials, it could possibly send Chairman of the Lebanese Chamber of Commerce Mohammad Shuqair, otherwise the Lebanese industrialists and merchants would be forced to export their products by sea.

Caretaker Agriculture Minister Ghazi Zaiter spoke of a potential official visit to Syria, telling “al-Liwaa”, a Lebanese newspaper, on Monday, July 16, that “I am in touch with the Syrian side, and I might conduct an official visit to Damascus to discuss with Syrian officials about Nassib crossing.”

Under these conditions, it seems that a political war is already taking over the halls of Lebanese politics, a highlighted polarity between those with the Syrian regime and others who oppose it, concerning the normalization of affairs on the pretext that it would be beneficial for Lebanese exporters.

“If Lebanon’s interest necessitates communication with the Syrian regime that is in control of wide swathes of territory in Syria..let it be then”, the Caretaker Economy Minister Raed Khouri told “Reuters” last Monday.

Khouri, affiliated to the “Free Patriotic Movement” a political ally of “Hezbollah”, which is fighting alongside Assad’s forces, did not define the manners through which the negations are to be conducted; however, he stressed that Lebanon must seek to seal a deal with Syria concerning the reopening of the border crossing because it is a Lebanese priority.

A Jordanian Ovation and a Syrian Disregard

The Syrian regime’s conditions might find a response on the part of the Lebanese government under the pressure imposed by the Assad’s loyalist current within its formula, in addition to the impact enforced by the Lebanese industrialists and merchants, who lost a lot due to the crossing’s shutdown and the closed land roads reaching the Gulf markets. But still, the answer to the regime’s conditions on the part of Jordan seems more ambiguous, the biggest loser of the crossing’s passivity, especially after it embraced the Syrian opposition, militarily and politically, for the past a few years.

Jordan, following the Syrian regime’s control over the crossing, started to welcome, through its officials, the reopening of the crossing, alluding to the readiness of thousands of trucks to pass it, according to the head of Trucks Owners’ Union Mohammad Khair Dawood statements to “al-Ghad”, a Jordanian newspaper, on July 15, explaining that five thousand Jordanian trucks are ready to transport commodities and exchange them with Syria.

“Resuming the commercial relationships between the two states shall reactivate the goods exchange between Syria and Jordan,” adding in a different statement to “Ad-Dustour” newspaper, that Syria is Jordan’s gate to the commercial and economic movement, export and import of goods to and from other countries such as Turkey and Lebanon.

The first stage will be limited to goods’ exchange in the Syrian-Jordanian joint free zone, fearing terrorist groups, stealing and abduction of trucks’ owners, pointing out that the trucks are ready to pass through Syria to other states in case the road is secured, he added telling the newspaper on July 18.

 

Loss Compels Jordanians to Accept Normalization

The economic difficulties suffered by Jordan in the past a few years might be an indicator to its approval of the normalization of relationships with the regime to overcome its current economic downturn, for Amman had bore with many of the problems that broke out in the countries surrounding it, including Syria, Iraq and the west bank of Palestine, in addition to the latest internal crisis that hit the state according to the Jordanian economic analyst  Mazen Rashid, who confirmed that the time has come for Jordan to focus on its interest.

The unemployment rates in Jordan have reached their historical peak, as the rate declared by the government is 18.5% according the Jordanian Public Census Department last May, while Rasheed said that the independent rate might reach 28%. The poverty line has rose from 14% in 2010 to 20% in 2016 as stated by the Economic Policies Council last January.

The indebtedness also reached its historical peak, for it arrived at 38.5 billion dollars according to the Jordanian Ministry of Finance, last February, while it was 19 billion dollars in 2012, according to Rashid.

These economic crises are all pushing Jordan to think of the reactivation of relationships with Syria, which undertook a proactive step prior to Assad’s forces control of Southern Syria by sending an economic delegation to Damascus last May for the first time in five years; the delegation was headed by Adanan Abu Ragheb, the Chairman of Jordan’s Chamber of Commerce.

Rashid believes that Jordan does not object to reactivating the cooperation with the Syrian regime and opening its borders with Syria, at the level of economy and tourism, stipulating that the return does not pose a threat to the Jordanian Side and a road map highlights the relations. In the same time, he expects that the relationship would not be an easy one.

Rashid also considers it early to speak of a cooperation, since the roads leading to Syria and the ones under the control of the Syrian regime must be secured first, not only the southern parts (Daraa), which is a thing beyond demand currently, despite the fact that Assad’s forces are in control of larger areas if compared with the situation before two years.

As for the normalization of the affairs with the Syrian regime, Rashid thinks that it is yet premature to talk about the reactivation of the political affairs for two reasons. The first relates to Jordan being a part of the Arab coalition, led by the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and even America. Accordingly, it is not expected to act separately, reactivate the political relationships with the Syrian regime and deviate from the coalition.

The second reason relates to the idea that the return of the relationships depends on achieving a consensus by all the involved Syrian parties (regime and opposition), in the light of which Jordan can take action. Therefore, the economic delegations and the Jordanian companies’ participation in exhibitions in Syria is not considered an official normalization according to Rashid.

Figures on the economic reality in Jordan in a map showing the border crossings in Southern Syria (Enab Baladi)

Figures on the economic reality in Jordan in a map showing the border crossings in Southern Syria (Enab Baladi)

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