Would Daraa’s latest events affect economic plans between Syria and Jordan?

The Syrian-Jordanian borders (AFP)

The Syrian-Jordanian borders (AFP)

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Enab Baladi – Jana al-Issa

During the past few years, the Syrian regime and Jordan sought to promote their economic relations after long years of estrangement following the outbreak of the Syrian revolution in 2011. 

On 25 July, The Jordanian King Abdullah II made an interview with US channel CNN, during which he said, “The regime is there, so we have to be mature in our thinking. Are we talking about regime change or behavioral change?” 

Abdullah’s statements on the Syrian regime were followed by a phone call between the Syrian Minister of the Interior Mohammed al-Rahmoun and his Jordanian counterpart Mazen al-Faraya. The two ministers agreed on joint coordination to facilitate the passage of trucks and passenger buses between Syria and Jordan.

A day after the phone call, on 28 July, the Syrian and Jordanian sides agreed on re-operating the Nassib-Jaber border crossing.

The Nassib crossing was operated for two days before the Jordanian Ministry of Interior announced a temporary closure for the crossing as a result of security developments in Daraa governorate on the borders with Jordan. The Ministry confirmed that the crossing would be re-operated on the Jordanian side under the right conditions.    

After the temporary closure, the Jordanian authorities allowed the movement of goods through the crossing on 4 August, and on 8 August, the two sides of the crossing agreed on allowing Syrians to enter Jordan through the crossing as a two-way transit point to the Arab Gulf States.

Still, the return of commercial activity between Syria and Jordan through the Nassib crossing remains at risk, as local fighters from Daraa governorate temporarily cut off the road to the crossing by setting fire on elastic tires as a protest to the regime’s arrest of one of the residents of the Umm al-Myathen town in western Daraa. 

A temporary effect

Jordanian strategic expert Dr. Amer al-Sabayla told Enab Baladi that the Syrian regime depicted the eviction of opposition factions and civilians to northern Syria, years ago, as a re-establishment of security and control; however, the simplest unrest in these regions is causing security and stability breakdowns. This highlights that regime’s control in such regions does not necessarily indicate a well-established security situation.  

Al-Sabayla added that instability and security chaos affect regular economic activity and border crossing movement on the Syrian-Jordanian borders. 

Al-Sabayla said that depending on observations, the economic impact of Daraa’s latest security disturbances will be temporary because it is linked to an impermanent event. 

The expert pointed out that there is no indication that the security crisis in Daraa will hamper the commercial activity on the Nassib border crossing. 

The Minister of Economy of the Syrian Interim Government (SIG), Dr. Abdul Hakim al-Masri, told Enab Baladi that Daraa’s recent security developments could impact the Jordanian officials’ decision to activate the Nassib crossing. This, however, does not mean that Jordan will consider a complete suspension of its economic relations expansion plans with Syria.  

Retaliating against Daraa’s position of the presidential elections, the regime forces started a military offensive against Daraa city last July, following the failure of negotiations between the regime and representatives of Daraa al-Balad residents who were demanded to surrender their individual weapons but refused to do so. 

The Daraa Central Committee (DCC) denied that the city’s residents possessed any weapons, noting that the opposition factions handed over their weapons in July 2018, after the regime took control of Daraa and Quneitra governorates under the “settlement” agreement.

Consequently, regime forces laid siege to the city, prevented the delivery of humanitarian aid, tightened security measures against the locals, and escalated their military activities there.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said that the regime’s latest military campaign on Daraa is “the most serious confrontation since 2018 when Government forces established control over Daraa following various Russian-brokered reconciliation deals.”

The OHCHR called on an immediate ceasefire in Daraa city after the military escalation there forced 18,000 persons to flee their regions. 

The Daraa Martyrs Documentation Office has reported that 52 persons have been killed in Daraa governorate last July, including 11 children and two women.  

The office released a statement on 1 August saying that July has witnessed direct confrontations between Daraa’s local fighters and regime forces in several cities and towns in Daraa’s western and eastern countryside. 

The statement mentioned that 14 persons of those killed during the confrontations were local fighters, mainly from Daraa city and Daraa’s western countryside, while the other nine killed were civilians, mostly children, due to artillery and missile attacks. 

Why is Jordan interested in promoting economic relations with Syria? 

Commenting on the Syrian-Jordanian economic relations, al-Sabayla told Enab Baladi that the relations between the two countries have not disappeared but were weakened at many levels during the last ten years.  

Al-Sabayla attributed Jordan’s current interest in reviving economic relations with Syria, manifested through recent measures taken by Jordanian authorities, to Jordan’s need to benefit from the large-scale trade that commercial relations with Syria would provide.     

On another level, Jordan is keen on promoting small-scale commercial projects through reactivating economic relations with Syria, al-Sabayla added. 

As for al-Masri, he believes that the reopening of the Nassib crossing and permitting of cross-border commercial trade came under pressure and demands on Jordanian authorities from Jordanian merchants affected by the previous closure of the crossing. 

Al-Masri added that Jordan has been “cautious” in redeveloping its economic relations with Syria fearing adverse impacts like being affected by the US imposed Caesar Act’s economic sanctions on Syria and the region’s instability, particularly in Daraa governorate, that could reach the crossing.  

According to data obtained from the Amman Chamber of Commerce, exports value between Jordan and Syria reached 22.8 million Jordanian dinars from the beginning of this year to the end of last May, while imports value was estimated at approximately 16.4 million Jordanian dinars.

On 12 July, the pro-government local newspaper al-Watan cited a source at Nassib crossing saying that the crossing’s revenues amounted to nearly 17 billion Syrian pounds in the past two months alone.

The source told the newspaper that most of the revenues were generated from violations in customs declarations of import transactions. These violations were registered after examining figures and documents of imported goods from Jordan through the Nassib crossing.

It is worth noting that since 2011, Jordan’s position towards the regime went through several shifts. Early after the Syrian revolution, Jordan supported opposition factions in southern Syria, but after the regime regained control over the region, Jordan sought to mend relations with the regime, mainly through reopening the Nassib border crossing.

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