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  • Author: Lars Hauch
  • Publication Date: 07-2021
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Clingendael Netherlands Institute of International Relations
  • Abstract: This policy brief examines the EU’s engagement and relationship with Syria’s main political opposition umbrella, the Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (Etilaf), which was founded in late 2012. It discusses the EU’s engagement strategies with the Etilaf and their impact on its development in the context of the Syrian conflict. The brief highlights that the EU did not substantiate the international legitimacy it granted the organisation early on during the conflict with policies that would have allowed it to expand its domestic legitimacy and capabilities. This policy contributed to developments in which the Etilaf rapidly lost its original potential. While the Etilaf today faces a range of structural and operational challenges that need to be addressed, the brief nevertheless recommends EU institutions and Member States to increase their support for the Etilaf and the Interim Government linked with it, if a number of conditions can be met. Such support will help maintain and develop these bodies into a viable centre of political opposition to the Assad regime. Practically speaking, this objective can be pursued by piloting conditional EU support to areas of northwestern and northern Syria that are nominally under the control of the Interim Government. It also requires building a partnership with Turkey to jointly support local Syrian administration(s) in the same areas.
  • Topic: Politics, European Union, Conflict, Syrian War, Bashar al-Assad, Opposition
  • Political Geography: Europe, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Nick Grinstead, Christopher Solomon, Jesse McDonald
  • Publication Date: 01-2019
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Clingendael Netherlands Institute of International Relations
  • Abstract: The Eagles of the Whirlwind are one of the many militias that have fought on the part of President Assad’s forces in the Syrian civil war. The regime allowed it to defend and police Syrian territory and, in some cases, to fight alongside the Syrian Arab Army on the frontlines. The group proved to be a capable and effective paramilitary auxiliary. What makes the Eagles of interest is that its parent political party - the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) – was able to increase the space for its political activities in exchange for the battlefield services of its militia. This is not a mean feat under the authoritarian system of decades of Assad-rule that brooked no political diversity whatsoever. It is all the more remarkable because the SSNP has historically been a political rival to the Syrian Ba’ath party. This policy brief analyses the main interests and dynamics by which the SSNP managed to translate the battlefield support and achievements of the Eagles into ministerial positions and open recruitment rallies for party members across regime-held territory. It also examines the SSNP as a novel form of support to the Assad regime that traded greater political auton¬omy for paramilitary mobilization in support of the regime - without, so far, resulting in a more permanent role for the Eagles in the Syrian security architecture. While accepting greater political autonomy for the SSNP was a price the Assad regime was willing to pay for extra auxiliary fighting capacity, it remains to be seen how durable the SSNP’s hard-won autonomy will be.
  • Topic: Security, Non State Actors, Authoritarianism, Syrian War, Militias, Bashar al-Assad
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Samar Batrawi, Ana Uzelac
  • Publication Date: 09-2018
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Clingendael Netherlands Institute of International Relations
  • Abstract: Syrian society is more socially, politically and geographically fragmented than ever before. None of the social problems that caused the 2011 protests have been resolved. Nevertheless, during recent months the Syrian regime has been trying to foster the image that Syria is entering a post-war phase in which a unified and stable Syria can flourish under President Bashar al-Assad. The fact that more than half of the country’s pre-war population is living in exile and has no part in this new social contract of sorts is conveniently omitted from the image presented of this ‘new’ Syria. These refugees will likely continue to live in precarious conditions, with few prospects for safe and voluntary return. In this policy brief authors Samar Batrawi and Ana Uzelac identify four tools the Syrian regime has at its disposal to control the return of refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). It is the second in a series that explores practical considerations of potential European involvement in specific areas of reconstruction in Assad-ruled Syria (the first policy brief on urban reconstruction can be found here.) The brief puts these tools in the perspective of the broader conflict dynamics affecting refugees and IDPs and identifies implications for Western European policy. It concludes that rather than resigning to the limited possibilities for structural political engagement in Syria, Western European policymakers should invest in ways to mitigate the material and political dispossession of more than half of Syria’s pre-war population.
  • Topic: Refugee Issues, Displacement, Conflict, Syrian War, Bashar al-Assad
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria