Syria-Lebanon deal could mean a great start - GulfToday

Syria-Lebanon deal could mean a great start


Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Miqdad (right) and other cabinet members meet an official Lebanese delegation including Minister for Foreign Affairs Zeina Akar in Damascus. AFP

A high-level Lebanese delegation, led by interim deputy prime minister Zeina Akar, met Syrian foreign minister Faisal al-Meqdad and oil minister Bassam Tormeh, and Syria has agreed to the Lebanese request to allow its territory to be used for getting electricity from Jordan and gas from Egypt. This is the first time in a decade when there has been an official contact between the two neighbours after the outbreak of civil war in Syria.

Syrian officials and politicians have been visiting Damascus in their personal capacity. The Lebanese have adopted a strict neutral policy towards the domestic conflict in Syria, and there was also the fact of American sanctions against the government of Bashar al-Assad. The political equations between Lebanon and Syria are quite complicated and troublesome, but the Lebanese are on their own after Syrian troops left Lebanon after the protracted civil war between 1976 and 1990 in Lebanon. The details and modalities of how the gas and electricity will reach Lebanon through Syria remain to be worked out, and there are technical and financial aspects to it which need to be sorted out. This initial agreement will be followed by Beirut-Cairo-Amman-Damascus deliberations.

While Lebanon which is suffering from huge shortages of power and gas supplies desperately needs the supplies, this will also help war-ravaged Syria to derive economic benefits by providing transit infrastructure and facilities to Lebanon. It is quite evident that the Syrian economy lies in a rubble because of the decade-long crises. This has led to the rise of the Daesh presence which has complicated the situation. The foreign elements in the Syrian civil war through the United States and Turkey ranged against the Assad regime, and Russia and Iran in its support, have made the situation messier. Turkey was faced with a massive Syrian refugee crisis as European Union (EU) countries, except Germany, were not willing to take in the refugees.

It is possible that the Lebanese-Syrian economic agreement will help both the countries to gain a semblance of economic stability. The transit facility sought by Lebanon is a small part of the economic activities of Syria and Lebanon, but it will help the two economies in crucial ways. This will indeed be the lifeline for the Lebanese people as they struggle to come out of a deep economic and political crisis. But this could be a breather for Syria as well because the American sanctions will not come in the way as the Americans recognise the economic compulsions of the Lebanese people. It would be premature to speculate if this could pave the way for further relaxation of American sanctions against Syria.

While the Lebanese struggle to set their house in order, this might be an opportunity for the Assad regime to reach out to the opposition and reach a political compromise that would strengthen the democratic set up in Syria. President Assad and his colleagues in the Baath Party must realise that the era of one-party rule is over, and that indeed is the message of the Arab Spring of 2011. A multi-party democracy will certainly challenge the monopoly over political power of the Baath Party, but it will strengthen Syria in political and economic terms. President Assad will be in a better position to tackle American pressures without depending on the Russian and Iranian support.

The transition to democracy in Syria will not be smooth as can be seen from the political troubles in Iraq, but it will help Syria to come out of isolation in the region. Syria should treat the economic cooperation with Lebanon as an opportunity to end the futile and dangerous political stalemate at home.

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