Bashar al-Assad, the beleaguered President of Syria, lives to fight another day, having been sworn in as President for a fourth term on Saturday.
Though the Western powers have reservations about his assumption of office yet again and a decade after the heady Arab Spring, the presidential palace in Damascus is less than enthusiastic about the West, which wasn’t wholly unexpected.
Chiefly, President Assad reaffirms his grip on a direly depleted inheritance with a welter of problems that could impede his foreign and domestic policies.
Aside from the general disaffection in the country, he is confronted with a crisis that is primarily economic. Indeed, the main impediment to investment in the country was the money stuck in ailing Lebanese banks.
In a speech after being sworn in as President, Assad said that estimates suggested the frozen funds were worth between $40 billion and $60 billion. “Both figures are enough to depress an economy like ours,” he said.
And not the least because Lebanon is in the throes of a severe economic meltdown that is threatening its stability. Lebanese banks have locked depositors out of their accounts and blocked transfers abroad since the start of the country’s crisis in late 2019. Many Syrian front companies had long circumvented Western sanctions by using Lebanon’s banking system to pay for goods which were then imported into Syria by land.
Syria, Assad said, would continue working to overcome difficulties caused by the Western sanctions imposed over its decade-long war. Sanctions have not brought the regime to its knees.
Yet the crippling curbs “haven’t prevented us from securing our basic needs but they have created some choke points,” he said.
“We will continue to work to overcome them without announcing what methods we used before to do that or what we will use in the future.”
Syrian authorities blame Western sanctions for widespread hardship, including soaring prices and people struggling to afford food and basic supplies.
The UN, which has prevaricated on Syria, has estimated that more than 80 per cent of Syrians live below the poverty line.
The Syrian currency is in a free fall and basic services and resources are scarce. Assad secured a fourth term in office in the election in May, winning more than 95 per cent of the votes. The vote was binned by the West and his opponents as “illegitimate and a sham”.
While theoretically, he boasts a groundswell of support; yet his opponents say the election was marked by fraud.
The government claims the outcome showed the country was functioning normally despite the long war and the tumultuous aftermath of the Arab Spring, which had toppled a bevy of leaders… save Assad.
Now that he has regained control of around 70 per cent of the country, the forbidding challenge of the born-again President is an economy in decline.