Challenges facing new names in the Syrian regime’s ministries… Will they succeed?
Enab Baladi – Zeinab al-Masri
By a legislative decree, on 30 August, the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, assigned 30 new ministers in the government led by Hussein Arnous and kept other names in some sovereign ministerial portfolios: Walid al-Muallem has retained his post in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, Major General Mohammad Khaled al-Rahmoun has remained as Minister of Interior, Talal al-Barazi has kept his position as Minister of Internal Trade and Consumer Protection, and Mohammad Samer al-Khalil has continued to serve as Minister of Economy and Foreign Trade.
Twelve ministries have obtained new posts in the new government: the veterinarian, Darem Tabaa, has been appointed as the Minister of Education, the first investigating judge, Ahmed al-Sayed, has been assigned as the Minister of Justice, and the former Minister of Culture, Labana Mashouh, has returned to her ministerial position again, and Hassan al-Ghobash has been appointed as the Minister of Health, while Kanan Yaghi has been assigned as the Minister of Finance, and Ghassan Zamil as the Minister of Electricity, and Bassam Radwan Toumeh as the Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources.
A reality facing the new ministers
Al-Assad assigned Dr. Hassan al-Ghobash as Minister of Health, succeeding Nizar Yaziji, to face a host of new challenges, represented in controlling the medical situation after the outbreak of the “novel coronavirus” (COVID-19), and documenting international organizations to exceed hospitals’ capacity. Besides, health sector workers are experiencing an “acute” shortage in “pandemic prevention supplies, and not to mention that necessary medical care is provided to people who can only afford its financial cost. Furthermore, reported figures of confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths by the Syrian government contradict realistic statistics.
Kinan Yaghi has held the position of the Finance Minister, succeeding Mamoun Hamdan. It is worth mentioning that the Syrian Pound (SYP) saw an unprecedented decline in its value against the foreign currencies affected by the Caesar Act’s sanctions, the Lebanese banking crisis, and the conflict that took place between Bashar al-Assad and Rami Makhlouf, a Syrian businessman, and the president’s cousin.
The value of the SYP plummeted to historic lows against the US dollar (USD), about 3,175 per 1 USD, at the beginning of last June, which led to a rise in food prices to more than double in 2019, by 133 percent across Syria, according to Stéphane Dujarric, the spokesperson of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, amid the Syrian government’s failure to prevent the freefall of the Syrian currency, and control inflation. The World Food Program (WFP) estimates that 9.3 million Syrians are now food insecure.
Last August, the SYP stabilized against the USD at an average between 2,320 and 2,080 per 1 USD, according to the website of Syrian Pound Today (a Syrian Pound tracking website.)
Besides, al-Assad appoints Bassam Radwan Toumeh as Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources instead of Ali Ghanem at a time where Syrian citizens throughout the Syrian governorates have been experiencing a severe fuel shortage for months, especially gasoline, exacerbated by economic sanctions on the access of oil and petroleum products into Syria. Furthermore, Syria’s biggest oil wells are located outside the Syrian regime-controlled areas. Also, the previous government failed to keep its words by overcoming this economic crisis.
Al-Assad also appointed the General Director of the Daraa Electricity Company since 2017, and the assistant general manager of the same company between 2013 and 2017, Ghassan al-Zamil, in place of Muhammad Zuhair Kharboutli. When Kharboutli was serving as Minister of Electricity, there was no improvement in the electricity situation, like many areas in Syria are seeing constant power interruptions, some of them last up to three days.
Challenges to be addressed
Away from solutions to the economic crises and difficult living conditions that affect Syrian citizens adversely, al-Assad made a speech before the new government after it was sworn in on 2 September.
He arranged priorities for the work of the new government, including administrative reforms and anti-corruption in Syrian institutions and giving priority to agriculture.
The Syrians’ eyes are on the new names of ministers whose businesses touch their economic and living conditions directly, to take measures and find solutions that change the deteriorating living conditions, most notably the Ministers of Finance, Internal Trade, Oil, Electricity, and Health.
Amidst people’s demands for a new government, which can create an economic emergency law and change the current Syrian reality, Syrian researchers believe that there is no new role for the government in light of the security services’ control over most of the country.
Karam Shaar, an economics professor and researcher at the Middle East Institute in Washington, expects that the new government will continue with the policies of its predecessor, significantly since most of the ministers of the sovereign portfolios have not been changed such as the Minister sof Defense, Interior, Foreign affairs, and Economy, as well as the Prime Minister.
Shaar told Enab Baladi that governments play a marginal role in managing the country compared to the role of the security services, which was confirmed by the researcher at the “Mari” Center for Studies and Research, Dr. Bashar Narsh, who believes that “the old government that is grafted with new names,” does not have any mechanisms to improve the living standards and economic conditions of citizens.
Narsh added that al-Assad aims only through the establishment of a new government at “deceiving his supporters” and unburdening the Syrian people of their anger sparked due to the deteriorating economic and living conditions. The role of the new government will be limited to conducting business without any plans or programs, pending the presidential elections in the middle of the year.
In an interview with Enab Baladi, Dr. Narsh said that the new government is unable to overcome the many challenges faced by citizens. Given its numerical formation, it consists of 30 ministers, including 18 ministers from Imad Khamis’s government— who was dismissed for many reasons, including the inability of his government to address economic and living challenges—along with 12 ministers from among the new names, including Minister of Culture Labana Mashouh, who was in the deposed government of Riad Hijab.
Narsh wonders: “How can a government of more than half of its members who were responsible in a government that was accused of negligence and inability to face challenges, overcome the default after being vaccinated with new names that do not differ from the old names?”
The new names in the government do not have any different tools, because the formation of any government in Syria since the eighties is not subject to any standards of competence and specialization, Narsh indicated. The mechanism for forming the governments themselves for decades is based on various considerations, the most important of which are partisan, regional, and tribal considerations.
Researcher Bashar Narsh expects that the United States will increase its pressure on the Syrian regime and expand the list of sanctions imposed on new figures in the regime, in the coming period, specifically before the American elections takes place on 1 November, because according to statements issued by officials in the US administration, the United States will punish any person or entity that does business with the Syrian regime.
Narsh indicated that the current Prime Minister, Hussein Arnous, had his name placed on the European sanctions list when he was Minister of Public Works and Housing. Therefore it is expected that the new list of sanctions will include any of the names in his government.
Narsh assumes that the sanctions will have a “severe impact” on the mechanism of work of the new ministers, especially since the living situation in the regime-controlled areas is tending to “deteriorate.”
All statements made by some officials in the Syrian government about the government’s orientation towards self-reliance to secure the basic needs of Syrian people are “just general talk” that lacks any practical program or any actual ingredients that make it viable.
On the other hand, Shaar doubted that Western sanction will affect the behavior of the new ministers because they know in advance before they accepted to serve in ministerial positions, of the possibility of Western sanctions against them.
Many ministers in previous governments are subject to sanctions despite their marginal role in the security, political, and economic situations, as the two former Ministers of Culture are subject to European sanctions, while the current Minister of Culture, Labana Mashouh, is still placed on the lists of the American and European sanctions for her role in the previous government, including the Ministry of Culture.
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