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The Libyan crisis in the summer of 2020

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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In 2011, in a phase of severe economic crisis for Italy, almost on the verge of default, the violent ousting of the Libyan leader, Muammar al Minyar El Gaddafi, was the obvious tombstone of Italian foreign policy and also of its intelligence Services forced to serve only the interests of those who wanted to destroy Italy’s interests.

 The United States wanted to put an end to the sequence of “Arab Springs” started in Tunisia, a small country suitable for tests – as the papers of the Foreign Office reported in 1901 with respect to Russia, “a country suitable for Socialist tests”.

The United States interpreted foreign policy according to its internal and self-referential criteria and it was useless to ask it to have a broader vision.

Certainly France wanted to take Libya, but above all it wanted to take ENI and also to put Italy in a severe minority condition throughout the Mediterranean region.

 The way in which France operated in Gaddafi’s times – and, indeed, France has never relinquished coup designs against Gaddafi – showed only one thing, that also Great Britain knew, i.e. that Gaddafi had been an excellent invention of the Italian Intelligence Services, when they still existed. Italy rescued Gaddafi at least three times, twice from Great Britain and once from France, as well as twice from the United States.

Pursuing our national interest, we were branded as “anti-liberal” and, in any case, within NATO you pay for certain betrayals.

 Great Britain also wanted to follow France in its anti-Gaddafi hysteria, especially after Sarkozy asked the Raisfor a significant loan. It had some oil interest with it to prepare for the Royal Dutch Shell, which first opened negotiations with the new Libyan regime in 2013, as well as the ENI security Services, which quickly agreed with Jallud and Italy’s traditional points of reference in opposing Gaddafi. Either Shell or Total – that was the game, while Italy was sinking into the crisis and a “friendly” sale of ENI was not unlikely.

To put it frankly, however, the anti-Gaddafi rhetoric was ridiculous: the usual talk about his “not being democratic” – as if an Arab Rais could behave like a Manhattan jazz musician, all sex, drugs and rock & roll – while opening the doors to the Muslim Brotherhood and its networks which, coincidentally, immediately generated a widespreading of jihadist organisations, as it happened also outside Libya.

 Did they really believe there were good and “bad” jihadists? But where did they live, in a commercial spot for detergents?

The French intelligence services’ operation triggering the “revolt” was above all the tension at the Abu Salim prison, organized by a strange and previously unknown “Libyan section of the Association for Human Rights” based in Paris.

 The material start of the revolt was in Benghazi, in February 2011, but the economic and social situation in Gaddafi’s Tripoli was very different from the other “Arab springs” superficially organized by some strategic PRs,paid by the intelligence Agencies, between Manhattan and Sloane Street. Nothing to do with talk about “freedom” and Martini cocktails.

In fact, as maintained by some reports of the German Foundations published shortly before Gaddafi’s fall, Gaddafi’s Libya ensured an average income five times as much as Egypt’s. Said income was also well spread among the population, especially with Gaddafi who did the only possible job in a country with many tribes, i.e. ensuring their selective support.

Furthermore, the harsh but also naïve system – already put in place against Milosevic in Serbia or against Saddam Hussein in Iraq – was used again in Libya. Distingue frequenter, as the medieval logicians used to say.

The network of bloggers, previously strangely silent, started immediately, as well as some demonstrations on problems that existed even before, and the obsessive use of the “buzzword” democracy, which, in the minds of the poor and underprivileged people meant “getting better”, while in the words of strategic information managers, hired at a high and useless price by Western governments, meant: “now work for us”.

There was also Nietzsche’s “soothing oil” of the democratic myth to calm people’s fears, with some other possible distraction. Sex, above all, or youth amusement and entertainment business.

In the first phase of the Libyan “people’s” revolt, the United States largely had a wait-and-see attitude, but certainly a West believing that reality reasons like snobbish young ladies, like those you can find in some jet setters’ and socialites’ salons, is always doomed to the most tragic failures.

 The Libyans did not want to kill the “tyrant”, in a Macbeth-style Scottish ritual – since it is a concept completely alien to their political culture – but they simply wanted to improve the Libyan regime, like the Tunisian one, both certainly permeated with nepotism and corruption, especially in Tunisia. Nevertheless, everything would certainly have been better than what happened afterwards.

Just think about the fact that the long war seems to be the silly rule of current “humanitarian” operations and interventions: everything is done with great fanfare and democratic rhetoric – as if the whole world should go on like Vermont, or Paris V Arrondissement -and later you discover that the world is different from the parochial and obscure wealth of certain leaders. Hence “the dose is repeated” endlessly, always with fewer troops, as if the others were idiots or unable to fight, finally believing that everything works according to the repetitaiuvant principle. However, foreign policy and strategy never work like that.

 The United States will be out of Afghanistan, without having resolved anything. Indeed, the situation will be worse than before, after a treaty with the Taliban drafted in Doha, which should lead to the withdrawal and complete return of U.S. soldiers back home within the next 14 months.

In Iraq, U.S. troops have been the subject of a Parliamentary resolution calling for their removal, despite the fact that the Iranian Armed Forces are still reluctant.

No significant strategic results have been reached and will be reached on the ground. Hence in Afghanistan the Taliban will obviously rise to power, as would have also happened many years ago.

 In Iraq, with the Shiite majority in the population and the Iranian oil, economic, political and military penetration, I do not believe that the U.S. presence will achieve other great results.

Certainly the U.S. bases in Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, and the largest one in the Emirates, are another necklace around Tehran. As the old and new AFRICOM networks around Libya, i.e. as many as 29 military bases in Bizerte, Tunisia; Libreville, Gabon; Ouagadougu, Burkina Faso; Dakar, Senegal; Niamey and Agadez, Niger, to control the great route of African migration, often directed against our shores, as well as 5 other bases in Somalia, 4 in Mali, and finally 2 in Libya.

 Hence a terrible game is being played on Libya, which is the command and control on the passages from the Mediterranean to Central Africa, and Italy seems only to repeat the usual formulas of the snobbish young ladies, like those portrayed by Italian comedian Franca Valeri, based on two gross and very dangerous mistakes: a) Libya is not a “national interest”, because the usual human rights must be restored, but this is huge nonsense because these famous rights should be restored all over Africa; b) Italy’s interest is only that of the West, which does not have only one interest and, anyway, all the interests already defined are against Italy.

Which is the virus currently inoculated in our childish and immature politicians, which does not let them believe that there is a national interest, in which Libya is an unavoidable axis, considering that, as Napoleon said, “the basis of foreign policy lies in geography”?

At the time, we followed the very childish idea of Silvio Berlusconi and of his “centre-right” coalition that sided with the Anglo-Saxons and France as if we were in a costumed re-edition of the Second World War.

Certainly, just in case, we were also told that we would be bombed “by mistake”. But fear is not part of some strategic calculations. If our “allies” –that were stealing Libya and ENI from us – had done so, we would have told the truth. And more train attacks and bombings would have taken place…

The Reductio ad Hitlerum is a naivety that, in Italy, also applies to ruling classes. Ignorant of foreign policy as confirmands.

 Now, we are in the fairy world of a government that believes it can mediate while being completely irrelevant. Even on the ground, in Tripoli and Benghazi. A fairy-tale world made of human rights, always slave to propaganda, as well as to the rejection of war laid down by the most idiotic article of our Constitution, Article 11 (and, indeed, it is not the only one), which in fact accepts only unconditional surrender. In fact, those who came to power after an unconditional surrender, remember only that.

Not to mention the usual irregular migrants to be accepted without saying a word – something that our EU friendly countries do not and have never done, but that we should do immediately, considering the Dublin agreement and the always artfully created sense of guilt for old experiences.

It is also worth reiterating that Italy is out of Libya, of the Maghreb region, of Africa and it will shortly be out of the Mediterranean. Thanks to our politicians, who know about strategy and geopolitics like a pizza maker usually knows about the calculus of variations. No disrespect and offense to our pizza makers, of course.

 Without Libya there will beno control of the Mediterranean. Without control of the Mediterranean, there will be no Italian strategic and economic autonomy. Finally, without Italian strategic and economic autonomy there will be no growth, the mantra about which current politicians talk grandly.

However, let us better analyse the situation: Russia denies any direct engagement in Libya, but there are at least 14 MiG29 missiles in the Jufra base, as well as some Sukhoi-24 bombers, and also Pantsir anti-missile systems.

Allegedly, in the bases still linked to General Haftar, there are also Serbian and Ukrainian mercenaries, connected to the Wagner networks of Russian contractors.

 They are mainly in the base of Gardabyah, but although denying any direct military interest in Libya, Russia has reportedly deployed its 900 “militants” in Syria and Libya in the bases linked to Haftar, as done also by Turkey.

The intelligence Services are particularly active. Especially the French ones, namely the DGSE, as well as the American CIA, which has never left Libya, and the German BND. This is not surprising.

 Italy still has an excellent advisor to al-Sarraj, who knows all too well how to deal with certain issues. But he is alone, isolated, and now he is rare breed in Tripoli’s government.

In our opinion, al-Sarraj was not the holder of some Italian geopolitical interests, which should be dealt with well, but has the virtue of having been awarded the holy spirit of international organisations, through complex and sometimes indescribable ploys and ruses.

Italy would recognize also the devil, if it were appointed by some international organisations and fora, possibly even irrelevant.

France does not care about the international choices, which so much entice ambassadors and ladies, although it is a major part of them, more than Italy. In fact, it has always operated with its intelligence Services on Haftar’s side. When will the geopolitical servile attitude typical of the Italian ruling classes end?

 The passage channel between Libya and Europe – but not in Italy – is always the triangle between Benghazi, Zuwara and Malta, created with light aircraft.

They know more in certain palaces in Valletta, including the “religious ones”, than in many Italian palaces of power, if we still want to call them so.

 For the French Intelligence Services, the easiest connection is between Algeria and Lyon and, still today, some French intelligence service operatives train the still budding executives of Haftar’s Internal Intelligence Service.

 The Germans meet both Haftar and al-Sarraj with communication lines starting directly from Germany and arriving both in Tripoli and Benghazi.

 Meanwhile, on July 19, Egyptian President Al Sisi, the former Chief of the Military Services of the Armed Forces in Cairo stated – and he could not do otherwise – that Libya is obviously a national interest for Egypt. Even Italy, however, should have done so, also with possible “harshness”.

The EU, another factory of nothing, has stated in these days that we need to go back to the 5+5 mechanism for negotiation. But all the Libyan parties are reflections of other foreign countries and it is useless kicking the dog and meaning the master. We only need to talk to the master. What would be the “resolution of the Libyan crisis” magically awaited by the United Nations? No one knows.

An open and clear segmentation of the territory, which at the time of the Ottoman Empire was not unified at all. Hence it is a matter of “saying goodbye and part without resentment”. Like the aforementioned snobbish young ladies, jet setters and salon socialites.

But are we sure that a split Libya would be in our best interest? Possibly with the Fezzan tribes, happily involved in the illegal migration business, and Italy there to wait and see, as well as pay additional 1.3 million Euros to the so-called Libyan “coastguards”, as recently happened?

 In a context of oil and hence of public revenue crisis, such as the one expected in Libya in 2020/2021, the only country that will bear a heavy brunt will be Italy, which will probably die economically together with its old Libyan colony.

 Al-Sarraj recently explained that 1.4 billion U.S. dollars of oil sales have been lost since the port blockade imposed by General Haftar last January.

 It should also be noted that General Haftar already has excellent relations with the Greek Intelligence Services, he has often met in obvious opposition with Turkey. However, the choices made by the Benghazi leader have already caused an 80% fall in Libyan oil sales.

Considering that, in a situation of low prices per barrel and oil extraction restrictions, the least expensive oil in Africa, that is Libya’s, has its own strong significance, if it is closed to markets, we can infer the rule of those who have an interest in still destabilising Libya and those who have not.

Where would the “playing cards” of Westerners be? A small market in a very severe crisis? A non-existent presence on the ground? The idiotic ideologies that see in rampant immigration or in the impossible sealing of borders the solution to our problems? Those who do not know how to use weapons should not do foreign policy, and there would also be many weapons.

 Turkey has quickly taken the place of Italy, which is increasingly apallic.

In Italy they probably fear the reactions of some salon , jet setters and socialites, who would cry out for human rights and, sometimes, for the necessary actions of some lackeys.

Until January 2020, however, Turkey sent 100 of its officers and at least 2,500 militants from a jihadist group operating in Syria under the orders of MIT, the Turkish Intelligence Service, who quickly overturned the military result on the ground against General Haftar.

 Turkey has two goals on Libyan soil: firstly, stopping the Egyptian, Emirates and Saudi operations against Turkey’s economic and oil expansion in the Mediterranean. They know where the Mediterranean is. We do not.

We have surrendered to a beautiful region full of far more powerful States than Italy, namely Northern Europe, which no longer knows what to do with us. If it were not for the SMEs in the North.

 Beautiful those times when Amintore Fanfani, a man with extraordinary strategic and predictive skills- after all Tuscan-Etruscans are a bit haruspices, or predictors, whom the Romans greatly feared, according to Titus Livy – predicted a new “Mediterranean policy” for Italy, so as to take back that area that solum è mio, just to quote Machiavelli in a well-known letter to Vettori.

 The other Turkish policy line is that of perceiving a threat of the strategic whole between Israel, Greece and Cyprus – to which at least it reacts – with the probable EU support which, if any, would probably bring bad luck to the Turkish expansion in the Mediterranean.

 The reaction of Haftar’s operatives, although defeated on the ground so far, has not been negligible and allows to foresee a long proxy war between Turkey, Egypt, the Emirates, Saudi Arabia and other countries.

 With whom are the Westerners siding? They have left the ground to local players, with the exception of a few intelligence positions. Precisely with the hope of nothing, or rather with the idea that the matter will calm down and be settled by going back to the “negotiation and mediation tables”. To mediate what?

 The success of Turkey, which will certainly not want to mediate its new presence in Tripoli’s oil market, as well as in the new Turkish Exclusive Economic Zone, stretching from the Libyan coast to Kastellorizo, in the Dodecanese?

What does Russia want? It wants to fight Westerners in the region and, anyway, also Turkey.

 But again for Turkey and its intelligence, the services of the Russian contractor company Wagner were allegedly sold to the Emirates. This is not impossible.

Russia does not want a long war in Libya, which would wear out Mediterranean equilibria and probably exclude it from the new strategic context.

 On the contrary, Russia officially wants an agreement between the parties, the end of hostilities and the creation of a Government of National Unity.

 Furthermore, unlike others, Russia perceives the sense of Turkish penetration in Libya as the antecedent of the hegemonic Islamization of Turkey with respect to the jihadist groups of sub-Saharan Africa.

President Erdogan knows that Westerners – who do not make calculations,  but live on paranoia – are now obsessed with “China in Africa”. He therefore thinks they will keep quiet while Turkey takes the big piece of Africa not yet fully colonized by China.

Russia, however, will never take great risks in Libya, because it does not want tension with Turkey, and especially with its new Turkish Stream.

In 2016 Russia already printed 9 billion U.S. dollars of Haftar’s new Libyan currency, with the effigy of the old Rais, transported to Benghazi via Malta, which imposed its remarkable “tax”.

Moreover, the Russian Federation is playing its future true cards on Saif-al Islam Gaddafi rather than on General Haftar. In short, everyone is playing and making plans on Libya, after the “democratic” disaster of France and Great Britain, while Italy is doing nothing at all.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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Middle East

Erdogan’s Calamitous Authoritarianism

Dr.Alon Ben-Meir

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Turkey’s President Erdogan is becoming ever more dangerous as he continues to ravage his own country and destabilize scores of states in the Middle East, the Balkans, and North Africa, while cozying up to the West’s foremost advisories. Sadly, there seems to be no appetite for most EU member states to challenge Erdogan and put him on notice that he can no longer pursue his authoritarianism at home and his adventurous meddling abroad with impunity.

To understand the severity of Erdogan’s actions and ambitions and their dire implications, it suffices to quote Ahmet Davutoglu, formerly one of Erdogan’s closest associates who served as Minister of Foreign Affairs and subsequently Prime Minister. Following his forced resignation in May 2016 he stated “I will sustain my faithful relationship with our president until my last breath. No one has ever heard — and will ever hear — a single word against our president come from my mouth.”

Yet on October 12, Davutoglu declared “Erdogan left his friends who struggled and fought with him in exchange for the symbols of ancient Turkey, and he is trying to hold us back now…. You yourself [Erdogan] are the calamity. The biggest calamity that befell this people is the regime that turned the country into a disastrous family business.”

The stunning departure of Davutoglu from his earlier statement shows how desperate conditions have become, and echoed how far and how dangerously Erdogan has gone. Erdogan has inflicted a great calamity on his own people, and his blind ambition outside Turkey is destabilizing many countries while dangerously undermining Turkey’s and its Western allies’ national security and strategic interests.

A brief synopsis of Erdogan’s criminal domestic practices and his foreign misadventures tell the whole story.

Domestically, he incarcerated tens of thousands of innocent citizens on bogus charges, including hundreds of journalists. Meanwhile he is pressuring the courts to send people to prison for insulting him, as no one can even express their thoughts about this ruthlessness. Internationally, Erdogan ordered Turkish intelligence operatives to kill or smuggle back to the country Turkish citizens affiliated with the Gülen movement.

He regularly cracks down on Turkey’s Kurdish minority, preventing them from living a normal life in accordance with their culture, language, and traditions, even though they have been and continue to be loyal Turkish citizens. There is no solution to the conflict except political, as former Foreign Minister Ali Babacan adamantly stated on October 20: “… a solution [to the Kurdish issue] will be political and we will defend democracy persistently.”

Erdogan refuses to accept the law of the sea convention that gives countries, including Cyprus, the right to an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) for energy exploration, while threatening the use of force against Greece, another NATO member no less. He openly sent a research ship to the region for oil and gas deposits, which EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called “extremely worrying.”

He invaded Syria with Trump’s blessing to prevent the Syrian Kurds from establishing autonomous rule, under the pretext of fighting the PKK and the YPG (the Syrian Kurdish militia that fought side-by-side the US, and whom Erdogan falsely accuses of being a terrorist group).

He is sending weapons to the Sunni in northern Lebanon while setting up a branch of the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) in the country—a practice Erdogan has used often to gain a broader foothold in countries where it has an interest.

While the Turkish economy is in tatters, he is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in the Balkans, flooding countries with Turkish imams to spread his Islamic gospel and to ensure their place in his neo-Ottoman orbit. Criticizing Erdogan’s economic leadership, Babacan put it succinctly when he said this month that “It is not possible in Turkey for the economic or financial system to continue, or political legitimacy hold up.”

Erdogan is corrupt to the bone. He conveniently appointed his son-in-law as Finance Minister, which allows him to hoard tens of millions of dollars, as Davutoglu slyly pointed out: “The only accusation against me…is the transfer of land to an educational institution over which I have no personal rights and which I cannot leave to my daughter, my son, my son-in-law or my daughter-in-law.”

Erdogan is backing Azerbaijan in its dispute with Armenia (backed by Iran) over the breakaway territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is inhabited by ethnic Armenians and has been the subject of dispute for over 30 years.

He is exploiting Libya’s civil strife by providing the Government of National Accord (GNA) with drones and military equipment to help Tripoli gain the upper hand in its battle against Khalifa Haftar’s forces. Former Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis said in February 2020 that “The unclear Turkish foreign policy by Erdogan may put Turkey in grave danger due to this expansion towards Libya.”

He is meddling in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in an effort to prevent them from settling their dispute unless Israel meets Palestinian demands. He granted several Hamas officials Turkish citizenship to spite Israel, even though Hamas openly calls for Israel’s destruction.

He betrayed NATO by buying the Russian-made S-400 air defense system, which seriously compromises the alliance’s technology and intelligence.

He is destabilizing many countries, including Somalia, Qatar, Libya, and Syria, by dispatching military forces and hardware while violating the air space of other countries like Iraq, Cyprus, and Greece. Yakis said Turkey is engaging in a “highly daring bet where the risks of failure are enormous.”

Erdogan supports extremist Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, and an assortment of jihadists, including ISIS, knowing full well that these groups are sworn enemies of the West—yet he uses them as a tool to promote his wicked Islamic agenda.

He regularly blackmails EU members, threatening to flood Europe with Syria refugees unless they support his foreign escapades such as his invasion of Syria, and provide him with billions in financial aid to cope with the Syrian refugees.

The question is how much more evidence does the EU need to act? A close look at Erdogan’s conduct clearly illuminates his ultimate ambition to restore much of the Ottoman Empire’s influence over the countries that were once under its control.

Erdogan is dangerous. He has cited Hitler as an example of an effective executive presidential system, and may seek to acquire nuclear weapons. It’s time for the EU to wake up and take Erdogan’s long-term agenda seriously, and take severe punitive measures to arrest his potentially calamitous behavior. Sadly, the EU has convinced itself that from a geostrategic perspective Turkey is critically important, which Erdogan is masterfully exploiting.

The EU must be prepared take a stand against Erdogan, with or without the US. Let’s hope, though, that Joe Biden will be the next president and together with the EU warn Erdogan that his days of authoritarianism and foreign adventurism are over.

The views expressed are those of the author.

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Syrian Refugees Have Become A Tool Of Duplicitous Politics

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Syrian refugees in Rukban camp

Since the beginning of the conflict in Syria the issue of Syrian refugees and internally displace has been the subject of countless articles and reports with international humanitarian organizations and countries involved in the Syrian conflict shifting responsibility for the plight of migrants.

The most notorious example of human suffering put against political games is the Rukban refugee camp located in eastern Syria inside the 55-km zone around Al-Tanf base controlled by the U.S. and its proxies.

According to official information, more than 50,000 people, mostly women and children, currently live in the camp. This is a huge number comparable to the population of a small town. The Syrian government, aware of the plight of people in Rukban, has repeatedly urged Washington to open a humanitarian corridor so that everyone can safely return home. However, all such proposals were ignored by the American side. U.S. also refuse to provide the camp with first aid items. Neighbouring Jordan is inactive, too, despite Rukban being the largest of dozens other temporary detention centres in Syria, where people eke out a meager existence.

At the same time, the problem is not only refugee camps. Syria has been at war for a decade. The country’s economy has suffered greatly over this period, and many cities have been practically grazed to the ground. Moreover, the global coronavirus epidemic didn’t spare Syria and drained the already weakened economy even more. However, Damascus’ attempts of post-war reconstruction and economic recovery were undermined by multiple packages of severe sanctions imposed by the U.S. At the same time, U.S.-based human rights monitors and humanitarian organizations continue to weep over the Syrian citizens’ misery.

The situation is the same for those refugees who stay in camps abroad, especially in countries bordering on Syria, particularly Jordan and Turkey. Ankara has been using Syrian citizens as a leverage against the European states in pursuit of political benefits for a long time. No one pays attention to the lives of people who are used as a change coin in big politics. This is equally true for Rukban where refugees are held in inhuman conditions and not allowed to return to their homeland. In those rare exceptions that they are able to leave, refugees have to pay large sums of money that most of those living in camp are not able to come by.

It’s hard to predict how long the Syrian conflict will go on and when – or if – the American military will leave the Al-Tanf base. One thing can be said for sure: the kind of criminal inaction and disregard for humanitarian catastrophe witnessed in refugee camps is a humiliating failure of modern diplomacy and an unforgivable mistake for the international community. People shouldn’t be a tool in the games of politicians.

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Is Syria Ready For Second Wave Of COVID-19?

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©UNICEF/Delil Souleiman

Despite a relative calm that has been holding on the front lines of the Syrian conflict since the beginning of the year, Syria had to face other equally – if not more – serious challenges. The spread of COVID-19 virus in the wake of a general economic collapse and a health care system battered by nine years of war threatened Syria with a death toll as a high as that of resumed military confrontation. However, the actual scale of the infection rate turned out to be less than it was expected considering the circumstances.

Although Syria did not have much in resources to mobilize, unlike some other countries that were slow to enforce restrictions or ignored them altogether, the Syrian authorities did not waste time to introduce basic measures that, as it became obvious in hindsight, proved to be the most effective. A quarantine was instituted in the areas controlled by the government, all transportation between the provinces was suspended, schools and universities were temporarily closed and face masks were made obligatory in public spaces.

As a result, official data puts the number of people infected with COVID-19 in the government areas at modest 4,457 while 192 people died of the infection. In turn, the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria announced that 1,998 people contracted the virus. The data on the infection rate in the opposition-controlled areas in Idlib and Aleppo is incomplete, but the latest number is 1,072. Compared to the neighboring Turkey with  9,000 of deaths of COVID-19, Syria seems to be doing relatively well.

Tackling the virus put the already embattled health care system under enormous strain. Syrian doctors are dealing with an acute shortage of medicines and equipment, and even hospital beds are in short supply. Over 60 medical workers who treated COVID-19 patients died.

The situation is worsened even further by the economic hardships, not least due to the sanctions imposed on Syria by the U.S. and the European states. Syrian hospitals are unable to procure modern equipment necessary for adequate treatment of COVID-19, most importantly test kits and ventilators.

The economic collapse exposed and aggravated many vulnerabilities that could have been easily treated under more favorable circumstances. A grim, yet fitting example: long queues in front of bakeries selling bread at subsidised prices, that put people under the risk of catching the virus. Many Syrians are simply unable to avoid risking their health in these queues, as an average income is no longer enough to provide for a family.

Moreover, despite a nation-wide information campaign conducted with the goal of spreading awareness about means of protections against COVID-19 like social distancing and mask-wearing, for many Syrians the disease is still stigmatized, and those who contracted it are often too ashamed to go to a hospital or even confess to their friends. As consequence, a substantial number of cases goes unreported.

With the second wave of COVID-19 in sight, it is of utmost importance that the work of health care professionals is supported, not subverted by the citizens. Otherwise Syria – and the world – may pay too high a price.

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