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Political impacts of humanitarian crisis in Turkey, Syria

Feb 19,2023 - Last updated at Feb 19,2023

There is no doubt that the humanitarian catastrophe that Syria is facing after the terrible earthquake has inspired many countries to act and help, as political taboos are often bypassed in the face of human catastrophe. However, from a political point of view, the situation remains very complicated.

Many observers have noticed in recent years the Emirati political activism regarding Syria issues. UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed has visited Damascus frequently, and of course Bashar Assad broke his political embargo by visiting the UAE. This effort appears to be part of UAE efforts to reshape an Arab position in support of ending the Syrian crisis. These efforts have not yet succeeded in bringing Syria back into the Arab League, but the number of Arab countries now engaging with Syria, or have no objection to its return, are increasing.

Recently, the Jordanian Foreign Minister also visited Syria and met with Bashar Assad, as part of a humanitarian trip to Syria and Turkey. It is difficult to ignore the political implications given the cooled relationship for the last 12 years. An in-person meeting with Assad in Syria is a step up from phone calls between King Abdullah II and Bashar Assad and the presence of Syrian officials in Amman, including the Minister of Defence and a meeting with the Syrian foreign minister with his Jordanian counterpart during UN General Assembly meetings.

Attempts to break the political embargo on Syria will always face opposition from international players, including the US and the Caesar sanctions used as justification for that position. However, countries like Jordan will be allowed some leeway given the shared border and the fact that there are direct implications to the security, economy and demography of Jordan because of the ongoing situation. Although the humanitarian crisis in Syria is terrible and requires more assistance and donations for the Syrian people, that does not mean the political barriers will easily fall.

The earthquake in Syria and Turkey will clearly impact the socio-political and security situation. There are further implications for Turkey given the catastrophe has occurred a few months before the upcoming Presidential elections and Syria is facing this disaster during a deep economic crisis where basic goods are already in deficit, and it is dealing with the presence of terrorist groups that do not hesitate to exploit any situation to expand and operate. As the regime struggles to address this disaster, the less its capacity to confront the expansion of terrorist groups.

The humanitarian situation, and the resulting solidarity toward the Turkish and Syrian people will encourage governments to act to support them. But it is unlikely that this will extend to change in regime or the status of sanctions. The priority at this stage must be to improve the lives of those who are suffering and to assist the recovery efforts, and that is what the focus should be on from the international community, the humanitarian crisis rather than the political issues.

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