The World Today for December 15, 2021

NEED TO KNOW

Moving On

SYRIA

Syrian President Bashar Assad’s friends and relatives are making billions selling an illegal amphetamine called captagon in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Middle East, a New York Times investigation found. Overseeing the operation is Assad’s younger brother, Maher, who runs an elite unit in the Syrian Army.

“The Syrian government…is exporting the drugs,” said Joel Rayburn, a former US special envoy to Syria. “It is not like they are looking the other way while drug cartels do their thing. They are the drug cartel.”

The man whose forces have largely won a 10-year-long bloody conflict that Voice of America said has claimed more than 350,000 civilian lives and displaced 13.5 million people, or half of Syria’s population, seems to be doing just fine.

Recently, Jordan’s King Abdullah II talked with Assad on a telephone call and the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates, Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, visited the Syrian capital of Damascus, the Washington Post reported. These moves were signs of how Arab leaders are normalizing relations with Syria after diplomatically ostracizing Assad and slapping economic sanctions against his war-torn country. Syrian officials hope Arab investment is coming soon.

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Other countries have reopened embassies in Syria and reestablished other ties that were cut off when Assad was waging war against rebels who sought to end his family’s regime, which has ruled the country for more than 50 years, as the Fair Observer explained. Syria is even slated to host an energy conference of Arab countries in 2024, the Associated Press reported.

President Assad isn’t resting on his laurels, however.

Iran and North Korea are allegedly helping Syria build a nuclear reactor, according to the Jerusalem Post. The reactor could help Assad construct nuclear weapons that might deter unfriendly countries – think Israel, the US and European countries – from deploying troops in Syria in the future.

Assad has also reconciled with his estranged uncle, who was facing a four-year prison sentence in France for embezzling public funds in Syria. As Foreign Policy explained, the uncle was once close to Assad’s late father, Hafez, who preceded Bashar as president, until the two had a falling out. The move was designed to consolidate power within his clan.

Meanwhile, more than 12 million Syrians are food insecure. Children in Idlib, where opposition forces still exert control, are working to survive when they should be in school. Islamic State militants still roam parts of the country, terrorizing locals. Meanwhile, millions survive on very little outside the country in neighboring Turkey, Lebanon and elsewhere.

No matter, the elite in Syria are moving on.

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