Security directives of Syrian regime: Arab pressure on al-Assad to bridge “confidence gap”

Syrian regime’s interior minister, Mohammad al-Rahmoun, during his meeting with officers and heads of security branches in his ministry - May 25, 2024 (Interior Ministry/Facebook)

Syrian regime’s interior minister, Mohammad al-Rahmoun, during his meeting with officers and heads of security branches in his ministry - May 25, 2024 (Interior Ministry/Facebook)


Enab Baladi – Hussam al-Mahmoud

From the gates of the Ministry of Interior of the Syrian regime, several decisions have been issued in recent days. These decisions partially change the behavior of the institution in dealing with some security and civil matters concerning citizens in those control areas.

These decisions or directives, which included a relative change in tone, came as a part of a series of changes the Syrian regime talks about, without real impact on the ground. Meanwhile, unofficial talks suggest a step back in Arab efforts regarding normalization with the regime and repairing relations with Bashar al-Assad.

On May 27, the Ministry of Interior issued a directive that included several key points, notably adherence to laws that guarantee the rights of suspects, informing their relatives of their whereabouts, and avoiding physical or mental torture (avoiding, not completely prohibiting), with examples of such violence including insults, threats, coercion, and verbal abuse during investigation to extract forced confessions.

It also included a call for constructive cooperation with the judiciary and adherence to legal detention and investigation periods, without seeking to extend investigations for long periods except in serious criminal cases. It emphasized caution in dealing with information from informants, individuals with criminal records or detainees during interrogations, and verifying the accuracy of such information before taking any action.

The directive restricted the issuance of search alerts to those with substantial evidence proving their involvement in the crime under investigation. Search alerts should only be issued through “the five-key system” with a national ID number after verifying the individual’s identity and involvement in the crime, and should not rely solely on others’ confessions without supporting evidence. Approval from the judiciary is required for the continued validity of search alerts, with a caution against misusing the civil status system to randomly select names unrelated to the crime.

The directive, signed by Interior Minister Mohammad al-Rahmoun, also included monitoring and controlling migrant smuggling networks exploiting citizens’ need to travel illegally outside the country. It called for increased efforts to combat certain crimes that have recently become more prevalent, such as theft of electrical and telecommunication cables, car and home burglaries, and pickpocketing using smuggled motorcycles.

Another directive issued on May 25 laid the foundation for the subsequent directive. It followed a meeting between the Interior Minister and directors of criminal security, anti-narcotic trafficking, and human trafficking administrations, as well as the heads of criminal security and anti-narcotic trafficking branches.

This directive emphasized the need to reinforce patrols, gather accurate information, and thoroughly investigate crimes before issuing search alerts against individuals only on the basis of substantial evidence, avoiding reliance on confessions without supporting proof. It also stressed avoiding issuing review notifications for individuals without enough justification.

After the Arab Summit

The timing of these two directives suggests they were issued about a week after the Arab Summit in Manama, held on May 19, where there was noticeable restraint in Arab enthusiasm toward the Syrian regime. Al-Assad did not deliver a speech or hold side meetings to break his political isolation, a situation that had begun to change after the Jeddah Summit, which he attended for the first time in 12 years. In contrast, the side meetings during the Manama Summit were fewer and less significant than in Jeddah.

These seemingly paper reforms in security handling coincide with Lebanon’s persistent efforts to repatriate Syrian refugees, despite the refugees’ lack of trust and the international community’s and UN’s disbelief that Syria is safe. Numerous obstacles deter return, including the absence of security guarantees and documented human rights violations against returnees, ranging from detention to enforced disappearance and assassination.

Syrians’ distrust in any positive steps purportedly taken by the regime is justified globally unless seen within the context of the regime’s security approach over the past 13 years of the Syrian revolution.

On February 13, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported that many Syrians who fled the war face severe human rights violations upon returning to Syria.

A report from the UN Human Rights Office at that time documented violations and abuses committed by the regime’s government, de facto authorities, and other armed groups across Syria. These violations included arbitrary detention, torture, ill-treatment, sexual and gender-based violence, enforced disappearance, and kidnapping.

The UN’s perspective on the regime’s treatment of Syrians has remained unchanged since last February. UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi told Bashar al-Assad in 2023 that there is a trust gap with his citizens and that he needs to convince them that he can be trusted, explaining that he cannot tell Western countries how to deal with al-Assad.

In his latest briefing to the Security Council on May 30, UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen highlighted obstacles to the safe, voluntary, and dignified return of refugees, including protection risks, security concerns, and legal barriers.

The motives behind the directives

Jordanian strategic security expert Omar Al-Raddad believes the aim of such directives is twofold, targeting Syrians inside and outside the country. They are part of an effort to persuade Syrians that real changes are underway, addressing popular demands. However, he notes that the Syrian regime’s record is filled with documented violations, including court decisions in European and Western courts accusing the regime of crimes against humanity, torture, and extrajudicial killings.

Al-Raddad told Enab Baladi that trust levels among most Syrians regarding any regime-issued directives are almost non-existent. Any new measures are linked to their implementation on the ground and will be closely monitored and scrutinized by various international and human rights organizations.

According to al-Raddad, al-Assad recognizes that without new changes and decisions that meet at least the minimum demands of the Syrian people, he will remain isolated from the international community. There may have been Arab pressures on the Syrian regime within the framework of “rehabilitating” and presenting it to the international community, which still doubts the feasibility of normalizing relations with al-Assad.

Charles Lister, a researcher at the Middle East Institute, stated in an article published on May 30 in the Foreign Policy magazine that a year after al-Assad’s return to the Arab League, and his participation in the Bahrain Summit, al-Assad was only allowed to attend on the condition he remains silent throughout. This reflects the counterproductive results of Arab nations’ efforts to integrate al-Assad back into international diplomacy and present his regime as a responsible player.

Arab nations not only failed to compel al-Assad into making any concessions, according to Lister, but every aspect of the Syrian crisis has worsened since al-Assad set foot in Saudi Arabia in May 2023.

Lister pointed out that the “Jordanian Initiative” outlined five priorities for the Arab Liaison Committee to address, but efforts have not begun on these issues. The step-for-step initiative aiming for mutual concessions has not progressed beyond early 2023 high-level visits to Damascus and rejoining the Arab League. There has been no advancement in the political process, and the regime has clearly refused participation in any future political operations, a stance communicated to the Arabs.



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