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Sun. June 23, 2024
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Syria's Dilemma: From a Civil War to a Drug War
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Less than a year after his readmission into the Arab League in May 2023, with the understanding that he would take decisive measures to crack down on the Captagon trade within Syria. President Bashar Al-Assad not only failed to keep this pledge but has also supported and profited from this illicit trade. Thus, Arab leaders must take decisive action to repeal President Al-Assad's membership in the Arab League. 

Through readmitting President Assad to the Arab League, the neighboring Arab countries hoped to limit Syria's illicit trade. However, this failed to meet their concerns. The Syrian economy is flourishing through President Assad's illicit trading as it is seeing an effective profit for himself and the Syrian economy. There is no reason to assume that the Assad regime is likely to get rid of what has become an effective profit for him and his economy.

In order to survive the collapse of the economy and the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2014, the Syrian government turned Syria into a narco-state Aljazeera.The outbreak of the Civil War, along with President Assad's abuses of his citizens, led to several sanctions against Syria. During the Arab Spring of 2011, Bashar al-Assad's rule used violence to maintain his leadership and control, leading to a catastrophic civil war that devastated the country. The use of chemical weapons against his citizens, together with the support of Western allies like Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah, led to severe sanctions against the country. The Civil War and Assad’s actions have exacerbated the socio-economic challenge and increased the level of unemployment in the country. 

To overcome these economic sanctions, and the hardships that Syria and its government experienced, the regime explored new ways with its allies to earn foreign currency. The regime sought to maintain its existence by benefiting from the drug trade, particularly Captagon Drug smuggling, also known as "the drug of jihad" or "poor man's cocaine". The reliance on Captagon Drug as a source of revenue not only reinforces instability in Syria but increases broader regional instability.

The 233-mile border between Jordan and Syria has operated as a crossing point and a hub for illicit drug trade. This trade has become a war on young people in Jordon. The Jordanian foreign ministry stated, "The smuggling of drugs and weapons across the Syrian border into Jordan is a threat to national security” 

This trade is not only used or benefited for the Syrian regime, it's also significant and used by Assad’s allies Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed milita who are part of the Lebanese government. “The US, UK and others accuse the Assad regime and its ally, the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, of producing and trafficking the illegal drug as a money spinner.” The drug revenues are used to increase Syria’s income. Syria has become highly dependent on illicit drugs, the drug revenues are approximately 30 times higher than legal exports. In 2022, drug exports from Syria yielded about $25-30 billion; in contrast, annual revenues from legal exports are about $800 million

The smuggling of Captagon across borders to neighboring countries and Gulf states is exacerbating instability in the region, particularly due to its high usage among youth in the Gulf. This issue has been described by many politicians as a "war on youth." Due to its high use among Gulf state youth. The vast majority of Saudi users of drugs are between the ages of 12 and 22, with Captagon being used by 40% of users. There should be increased pressure and sanctions on Syria and its trade. Despite Bashar al-Assad's readmission to the Arab League in May 2023, little to no progress has been made in combating drug smuggling, although his readmission was conditional on the Syrian regime making efforts and taking serious measures to combat drug smuggling. Arab leaders must take action against Assad's regime and consider revoking Assad’s membership in the Arab League.

According to Aron Lund, a fellow at Century International and a Middle East analyst, Syria's government benefits significantly from regaining full membership in the Arab League. However, it has brought more instability to the region. Recently, there have been strikes from Jordan into Southern Syria, causing casualties on both sides, resulting in the deaths of three drug smugglers and the injury of a Jordanian frontier guard.

Arab leaders should revoke Syria’s membership in the Arab League and its potential consequences. Accepting him sends a clear message to President Bashar Al-Assad that his trade is accepted by these leaders and it presents hypocrisy. Removing his membership, will put more pressure on President Bashar Al-Assad and send him a clear message that his illicit trade must be stopped and not tolerated by other Arab countries. 

Shahd Sharaf is a student at American University, where she is double majoring in International Relations and Arab World Studies. This semester, she is a Research Assistant at the Gulf International Forum. Shahd has a continued interest in the Middle East and North Africa region.  



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