Shattered ground and shattered politics - Foundation Office Lebanon
The repercussions of the earthquake that hit Syria and Türkiye more than one and a half months ago are far from over. While the worst seismic aftershocks have subsided, the humanitarian as well as political ramifications are ongoing and manifold. Foreign states have rushed to send aid to Syria, however on multiple occasions the obstruction and theft of life-saving aid by the Assad regime as well as various Syrian warring factions has put the spotlight on the protracted nature of the Syrian conflict and highlighted the existing lack of trust and unwillingness to compromise political interests even in the face of an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe.
The Assad regime has used the disaster to make diplomatic gains, most notably by edging closer towards the Arab fold from which it has been expelled more than a decade ago. Those Arab states on a course towards normalizing ties with Damascus have been provided with a humanitarian pretext to advance their efforts. Against this background, also the flow and direction of aid as well as respective diplomatic gestures appear to be indicative of the various degrees of states’ benevolence - or lack thereof - towards the Syrian regime. While thus far no Arab government has changed its fundamental stance, the humanitarian emergency has served as a fig leaf that allows leaders to talk with unprecedented ease about rapprochement and normalization.
For Damascus, the earthquake has also presented an opportunity to point fingers at Western governments, blaming their insistence on cross-border aid and adherence to sanctions for the impeded humanitarian response. While such well-known and often-employed mantras are used to distract from the regime’s own inability and unwillingness to respond appropriately to humanitarian emergencies, the U.S., EU and others have reacted by further alleviating sanctions on humanitarian aid - perhaps more so to escape the political blame game than out of a firm believe that such amendments could stem the tide of misconduct and political opportunism on the side of the regime and other parties. While Assad has conceded to open additional border crossing points for aid into rebel-held territories, this step came too late for many trapped under the rubble.
If anything, a natural disaster such as the one seen, which does not stop at man-made borders and does not spare one group over another according to their political, religious or ethnic affiliation, should have above all prompted the Syrian regime, as the main power holder, to adopt a behavioral change, show goodwill and make concessions for the greater humanitarian cause. Instead, the earthquake has served as a brute reminder that illustrates once more the protracted nature of the Syrian crisis, while, as of now, doing little to shake the bigger political establishment that perpetuates it.