Injustice is the core of the conflict. Rabie Nasr on the war in Syria and civil society’s future opportunities

an interview by Helmut Krieger

© Karolin Pernegger

Der Krieg in Syrien ist noch nicht beendet, jedoch propagieren das Regime in Damaskus und am Krieg beteiligte Staaten bereits eine Normalisierung der Lage. Der Diskurs in Europa scheint nicht die Aufklärung von Kriegsverbrechen und Sicherstellung menschenrechtsbasierte Politik im Fokus zu haben, sondern dreht sich vielmehr um die Frage der Abschiebung von Geflüchteten in ein vermeintlich sicheres Syrien und eine finanzielle Beteiligung am Wiederaufbau. Doch wie müsste dieser Wiederaufbau aussehen, um den Millionen intern Vertriebenen und Geflüchteten eine Rückkehr zu ermöglichen? Was braucht es, um demokratische Strukturen, nachhaltige Entwicklung und Frieden für die syrische Bevölkerung zu ermöglichen? Darüber diskutierten Ansar Jasim, Aktivistin der deutsch-syrischen Menschenrechtsorganisation „Adopt a Revolution“, Abdallah Alkhatib, palästinensisch-syrischer Menschenrechtsaktivist und Rabie Nasr, Mitbegründer des Syrian Center for Policy Research bei der VIDC Veranstaltung “Vermessungen des Krieges. (Zwangs-)Rückkehr und Wiederaufbau in Syrien”. Moderiert wurde die Podiumsdiskussion von dem Soziologen Helmut Krieger. Für Spotlight hat er mit Rabie Nasr über die Herausforderungen und Bedingungen einer friedlichen Konflikttransformation gesprochen.


© Karolin Pernegger

Rabie Nasr ist Mitbegründer des Syrian Center for Policy Research und arbeitet zu makroökonomischen Politiken, inklusivem Wachstum sowie zu Armut und den Auswirkungen der sozioökonomischen Krise in Syrien.
Im Jahr 1999 schloss er einen BA in Ökonomie der Universität Damaskus ab, gefolgt von einem Diplom in Volkwirtschaftslehre im Jahr 2000. Darüber hinaus erhielt er einen MSc in Ökonomie von der University of Leicester in Großbritannien. Bevor er im Syrian Development Research Center zu arbeiten begann, war er von 2004 bis 2005 Chefökonom und Generaldirektor in einer staatlichen Planungskommission, der Abteilung für makroökonomische Steuerung. Anschließend arbeitete er als Wirtschaftsforscher am Arab Planning Institute in Kuwait und war von 2009 bis 2011 leitender Wissenschafter am Syrian Development Research Center, das sich vor allem auf angewandte Forschung und Evaluierungen spezialisiert hat.


© Karolin Pernegger

Helmut Krieger ist Sozialwissenschafter und wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter am Institut für Internationale Entwicklung der Universität Wien sowie Konsulent des VIDC. Seine Forschungsschwerpunkte sind: der israelisch-palästinensische Konflikt, Bewegungen des politischen Islam in der arabischen Welt, kritische Staatstheorien und postkoloniale Theoriebildung. Aktuelle Veröffentlichungen sind unter anderem „Food Sovereignty and Alternative Development in Palestine“ ( 2018, Hrsg.) und „Krise, Revolte und Krieg in der arabischen Welt“ (2017, gemeinsam mit Magda Seewald und dem VIDC). Des Weiteren ist er Leiter des von der ADA geförderten Forschungsprojekts „Knowledge Production in Times of Flight and War – Developing Common Grounds for Research in/on Syria”, einer Kooperation zwischen der Universität Wien, der Birzeit University in der West Bank, der American University Beirut, der Alpen-Adria-Universität in Klagenfurt und  Mousawat, Beirut.

Helmut Krieger: My first question is about Idlib. In Western media the current situation in the province is portrayed as a war between a jihadist militia (Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, HTS) and regime forces supported by the Russian Air Force. In this picture, the more than three million civilians living in the province are almost forgotten. What is your point of view on the current situation in Idlib?

Rabie Nasr: Idlib represents the continuation of the military strategy of all key actors. It is clear that Russian and Iranian support of the regime involves taking control of the whole territory of Syria, including the northwest and the northeast. At the same time, it is a gradual strategy to control the country by force. Furthermore, Idlib is very crowded, with millions of civilians. And due to the narrative supported both internally and externally that the province is under control of HTS, the civilians will suffer in this military confrontation in a more miserable way than in any other region. In general, the situation in Idlib is a by-product of the Syrian conflict. So far, we don’t have any agreement on an international level about how to end this conflict. Each of the key actors on the international scene blames the others. We have no active intervention by the EU, for example, to actively bring an exit strategy to end the war. This behavior is not just related to Syria. It is related to other countries as well, including Libya, Yemen and Sudan. At the same time, the world will suffer from these conflicts and they will create other conflicts in the future. I don’t see an in-depth commitment towards resolving these conflicts in any sustainable way.

Helmut Krieger: Does this include reconstruction efforts in the country after the war as well? Will they just be designed to be a perpetuation of the war by other means?

Rabie Nasr: Yes, first of all in the Syrian case, we don’t have any kind of constraints on the warring parties, nor, I think, in the other cases. So, we didn’t have lessons learnt from Syria so far about how to deal with armed conflicts, how to deal with oppressors, and even how to deal with extremism. The way of dealing with the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) is a shallow and arrogant way of dealing with the idea of extremism. That is why I don’t think we are approaching the end of these conflicts.


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Investment in refugee communities and sustainable development

The question of reconstruction has two angles. The first is the ending of the war. So far, I think there is a continuation of the fueling of the foundation of the conflict. The conflict economy flourishes across Syria and other countries in the region: weapons, drug smuggling, the way public policies are designed, military expenditure, humanitarian aid, and even the strategy of the UN are involved in such an economy. Furthermore, respecting democracy and the transformation of power, power sharing, are not on the table. Moreover, extremism or identity politics is no longer contained. At the same time, there is no clear vision for a compromise between Russia, European countries, the US, etc. Hence, we are going through a non-reconstruction phase.
The second point involves the society in Syria and key actors who want to support it, such as the global civil society or UN agencies. What can they do now? I think there is a huge opportunity now to invest in refugee communities, in rural areas inside Syria, and in more productive projects and programs that can connect people and are built on cooperative spirit and relations between people. These are minor steps, but it is very important to start now in order to be able to create a pillar for future peace or transformation. We should not wait until the end of the conflict; we should invest in sustainable development on a societal and communal level now.

Helmut Krieger: Do you see any opportunities for such a perspective that I would call inclusive peace and justice, in today’s Syria? How could the EU strengthen such a perspective?

Rabie Nasr: Injustice is the core of this conflict. Justice is at the roots and future of peace and I think all of our investment should be directed to that. How to invest in justice, in understanding justice and the active rejection of injustice?
In 2010, we were a low-middle income country, we had infrastructure for health, transportation and education, but we had huge levels of injustice. This injustice destroyed all the so-called achievements of development. After all the recent grievances during the conflict in Syria, it is very important to see how we will start to establish a new era of justice.

Reduction of injustice is key for inclusive peace

I think there are two issues related to the transformation towards justice: The first one is the clear understanding that justice is not just an abstract value, it is a very important part of reconstruction as well. The second point is that any kind of reduction of injustice is a very important step towards inclusive development in the future. So, we shouldn’t wait for a big shift, we should invest in any kind of reduction of poverty, lack of education, lack of access to food, to inclusion in the political field. Why is this not just a dream?


© Olivier Bourgeois/Alamy Stock

The regime can’t continue with people who are angry and refuse to accept the situation. With all of these kinds of violations, people will not continue to deny it. So, the first point is that the people are extremely in need of change, and this is the first motive and rationale behind the transformation. The second thing is the fragility of the key oppressors. The regime, HTS, Iran, Russia, Turkey, etc. all of them feel their instability, feel that at any minute, a lot of people could support a rejection of their power. They can’t continue with the current conditions. This gives our society a chance to expand the space. However, one of the problems is the fragmentation of the society. The question will be how to build links between Syrians and their allies across the world. How to build more informal institutions that could shape the participation of this society? Many traditional institutions didn’t work well, for example the parties, the trade unions or NGOs. I think we need to find some kind of informal institutions that could bridge the gap between our communities and societies and the formal institutions.

Helmut Krieger: That could be then a way, also supported by the European countries, of understanding the strategic significance of justice?

Rabie Nasr: If the EU strategy is to have inclusive development and prosperity in the north and south of the Mediterranean or across the world, so this will be yes. The EU should adopt a clear and consistent policy that is based on key human rights and dignity, justice, prosperity and right to life to counter crony capitalists and oppressors. Another ally for our society is the global civil society. Although it has been weakened during the last decade, I think it should be part of our thinking for the future. It could be a key element for confronting fanaticism, extremism and crony capitalism as well, because the people suffer from this type of socioeconomic model, as they don’t have another choice because it is adopted by all the key actors in the world. In our region, I can look at the young people in countries such as Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Egypt. This region has a huge, young population, with dreams, expectations and passion. When we are talking about an exit strategy for Syria, I always think it should be done together with the young people of Egypt, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and others. These hundreds of millions of young people across the region will be the engine for a transformation to sustainable peace.

Further readings and links

Krieger, Helmut/ Seewald, Magda/VIDC (Hrsg): Krise, Revolte und Krieg in der arabischen Welt. Verlag Westfälisches Dampfboot, Münster 2017

Syrian Center for Policy Research, Beirut

Note

This event was part of the program Culture X Change Libanon.