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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

Assad has lost all right to sovereignty

Desperate to remain in power, he has handed the country over to his backers

A boy stands on the rubble of damaged buildings in the city of Douma, near the Syrian capital Damascus. Ali Hashisho / Reuters
A boy stands on the rubble of damaged buildings in the city of Douma, near the Syrian capital Damascus. Ali Hashisho / Reuters

Today marks the anniversary of Syria’s declaration of independence from the French. Seventy-two years on, after more than seven years of a bloody conflict, Syria’s sovereignty – its ability to protect its land, borders, institutions and, critically, its people – lies in tatters. In an interview last year with a French TV station, Bashar Al Assad claimed he was protecting Syrians “according to the constitution and the law”. He has neither respect for national or international law, nor any compassion for the hundreds of thousands of Syrians killed and maimed in the bloodshed. There are those who have also been bombarded with chemical weapons at his hands. Those mourning their loved ones, butchered at the behest of the regime and its Russian and Iranian sponsors, would not say they felt protected. Indeed, Mr Al Assad has failed in every aspect of governance. Desperate to remain in power, he has handed over sovereignty to his backers and allowed Syria to become a free-for-all, with world powers wading into the conflict without fear or prohibition.

The 20th century German philosopher Max Weber famously defined the nation-state as an entity that claims a “monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force”. With that in mind, consider the following. The US followed its 2017 Syria airstrikes with a volley of missiles last week, in unison with the UK and France. Israel was suspected of launching an airstrike on a military base earlier this month. Russia has carried out a prolonged bombing campaign in rebel strongholds and as The National reported, Russian troops are a visible presence on the streets of Damascus and were intrinsic to the evacuation of Eastern Ghouta. In the northern city of Afrin, Turkey was unimpeded in its efforts to stamp out resistance from Kurdish YPG fighters while Iran has backed pro-regime militias since 2012 to spread its malign influence in the region. Syrian autonomy is a thing of the past – and yet, the lie of preserving it has repeatedly been used by Russia to thwart UN attempts to alleviate suffering in the country and to block investigations into the use of chemical weapons. Russia has time and again used its veto power to foil a political solution, numerous ceasefires and the supply of humanitarian aid. That in turn has given Mr Al Assad licence to kill with impunity.

At the heart of the conflict is the failure of the Syrian regime to grasp that sovereignty is an obligation, not a right. No player has done more to violate Syria’s sovereignty than its own government. The Assad regime, with its barbaric use of chemical weapons, poses the greatest threat to the innocent people of Syria. Indeed, Mr Al Assad surrendered legitimacy and sovereignty when his regime first began shooting demonstrators in 2011 and subsequently recruited external sectarian militias. And to what end? His regime has shown that it is completely ill-equipped to govern a country torn apart by warfare. With Mr Al Assad close to crushing the last of the rebels, the stability of true sovereign rule is an ever-diminishing hope.