Does the UN contribute to Assad’s flotation?
Enab Baladi – Lujain Mourad
In mid-September, the Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean at the World Health Organization (WHO), Ahmed al-Mandhari, met with the President of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, to discuss the reality of Syria’s health response.
The visit raised questions about the need for al-Mandhari to meet al-Assad to discuss a “service” issue, leading to talk about the role of UN organizations in re-floating the Syrian regime amid concerns about its impact on the aid file.
This visit was preceded by several indications that some have interpreted as revealing the United Nations’ tendency for normalization with the regime, most notably the appearance of an educational delegation from the regime’s government at the United Nations Transforming Education Summit held in New York between16 and 19 September.
This was further reinforced by the talk of the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) of an invitation to al-Assad by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, to participate in the said summit.
Those steps raised Syrians’ fears of any additional signs of normalization with the Assad regime.
The director of the Advocacy and Communication Department of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), former Syrian diplomat Danny al-Baaj, considered these participations and invitations merely a protocol procedure associated with invitations to conferences.
The United Nations’ attitude towards the Syrian regime was unwavering, and there was no push by it towards normalization or re-floating the regime, he noted. This was also confirmed by the director of Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ), Bassam al-Ahmad.
United Nations activity within regime-held areas and its communication with it is routine and has never been outside the United Nations’ capacity, al-Baaj said.
There was no flotation in the political sense by international organizations since re-flotation is linked to countries’ moves.
Countries’ moves to float the regime contribute to encouraging organizations to take broader steps that make them bolder to make this known.
In turn, Bassam al-Ahmad said that part of the UN agencies and organizations must work through governments unless there is a Security Council resolution.
Regime activity and dispersal of opposition
Over the past months, the Syrian regime has shown greater effectiveness towards engaging in United Nations activities, and its team has strengthened its appearance during United Nations meetings and conferences, according to Danny al-Baaj.
This is what al-Baaj attributed to the fact that “the regime took a breather after the military operations, which allowed it more room to focus on diplomatic moves and actions.”
Al-Baaj also considered that the regime’s previous fears that delegations would flee if sent abroad to attend international forums had recently receded.
In contrast, the Syrian opposition has not been able to fill the regime’s seat in the United Nations for the past years, which imposes the continuity of dealing with the regime as the representative of Syria, according to al-Baaj.
Al-Baaj explained that the UN does not deal with countries on political grounds but rather deals with the parties that hold their seats.
Opposition blames countries
The head of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), Salem al-Meslet, told Enab Baladi that strengthening the international status of the revolutionary and opposition forces is linked to the “international desire for that.”
The SNC and the revolutionary forces spared no effort in attending the primary and secondary international forums, he said, pointing out that there were “good” results in recent meetings with the United Nations.
Al-Meslet considered that the opposition’s role is limited to laying out “facts” before the countries and the United Nations and pushing for the implementation of Resolution N. 2254, explaining that “the (SNC) does not have control over the decisions of other countries.”
Meanwhile, Bassam al-Ahmad considered that the opposition thwarted the uprising and undermined the Syrians’ demands. Instead of carrying out its mission of being a representative of the Syrians to the countries, it became the delegate of the countries to the Syrians.
Opposition institutions are in a dispersed state with an utter lack of strategies for communication with the United Nations, leaving the regime with an opportunity to fill the void that the opposition has failed to fill.
Former Syrian diplomat, Danny al-Baaj
The regime exports it politically
The talk of UN organizations and their moves raises persistent fears that the Syrian regime will exploit them to re-float al-Assad, consolidate his authority, and restore his “legitimacy,” according to Bassam al-Ahmad.
Al-Ahmad added that the regime was capable of politicizing any international activity to convey the message that it was the legitimate government that administered the United Nations’ work in Syria.
This risk is reflected in the aid file, where the “state” with which the United Nations deals to deliver assistance is primarily responsible for politicizing humanitarian assistance.
The talk of the “changing attitude” of the United Nations towards the regime coincided with continued talk of “Early Recovery” projects during the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly.
This is what the Syrian opposition responded to by “discussing the consequences of humanitarian projects being entrusted to the Syrian regime” during the meeting with the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, according to the head of the SNC, Salem al-Meslet.
The Early Recovery file is considered one of the most prominent files that raise controversy and fears that it will be exploited by the Syrian regime and its Russian ally to implement reconstruction projects.
With dozens of reports documenting the Syrian regime’s politicization of aid and its use of the Early Recovery file to restore its legitimacy, the activity of United Nations organizations in regime-controlled areas poses greater fears of further steps serving it, as opposed to depriving thousands of Syrians of aid.
Many reports and studies, including a 2021 study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), indicate that the regime benefits from assistance through exchange rate manipulation and its institutions’ control over the distribution mechanism.
The regime also benefits from contracts signed between the United Nations and persons associated with the Syrian regime’s president, Bashar al-Assad, as part of the aid program.
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