Sami Moubayed is a Syrian historian and author of Under the Black Flag (IB Taurus, 2015). He is a former Carnegie scholar and founding chairman of the Damascus History Foundation.

  • Progress but questions remain after Washington and Astana, On: Sun, 21 May 2017

  • 69 years on, al-Nakba is history and Iran is the Arabs’ enemy, On: Sun, 14 May 2017

  • Syria’s population transfers cause sectarian upheaval, On: Sun, 07 May 2017

  • Trump’s U-turn on Syria checks Iranian ambitions , On: Sun, 30 Apr 2017

  • From the grave, Qabbani’s poems lay bare Syria’s agony, On: Sun, 30 Apr 2017

  • As Syria war grinds on, no good options for Putin and friends , On: Sun, 23 Apr 2017

  • Trump’s Tomahawks and the Abu Nidal factor , On: Sun, 16 Apr 2017

  • The day after the battle for Syrian city of Raqqa , On: Sun, 16 Apr 2017

  • Syria’s refugees face limited choices now and likely in the future , On: Sun, 09 Apr 2017

  • Erdogan’s pact with Putin changes war in Syria , On: Sun, 02 Apr 2017

  • Russia calls the shots at Syria talks but peace is no closer , On: Sun, 02 Apr 2017

  • After six years of war, Syria is an economic basket case, On: Sun, 26 Mar 2017

  • Trump, Syria and the Muslim Brotherhood, On: Sun, 12 Mar 2017

  • Turkey threatens as US deploys troops in Syria , On: Sun, 12 Mar 2017

  • The complex politics of the battle for Syria’s al-Bab , On: Sun, 19 Feb 2017

  • Trump feels his way through Syria’s labyrinth , On: Sun, 12 Feb 2017

  • Assad eyeing Hamas split over Syria , On: Sun, 05 Feb 2017

  • For Syria’s millions of refugees, no future and no hope, On: Sun, 05 Feb 2017

  • Astana talks change the rules on Syria negotiations , On: Sun, 29 Jan 2017

  • Assad’s new strategy: Wooing back defectors , On: Sun, 22 Jan 2017

  • Guterres faces Herculean task of rescuing UN, On: Sun, 08 Jan 2017

  • Putin seeks to be peacemaker in Syria — on his terms , On: Sun, 08 Jan 2017

  • ‘Reconciliation’ part of Syria’s post-war education system, On: Sun, 18 Dec 2016

  • Assad walls off West with BRICS and then there’s Trump , On: Sun, 18 Dec 2016

  • ISIS and Putin’s Machiavellian endgame in Syria , On: Sun, 11 Dec 2016

  • Moscow seeks talks with Syrian rebels to overturn UN effort , On: Sun, 04 Dec 2016

  • Why ISIS and Baghdadi will survive losing Mosul, Raqqa, On: Sun, 27 Nov 2016

  • Warring rivals struggle to unravel Trump’s Syria policy , On: Sun, 20 Nov 2016

  • Hariri walks the tightrope again as Aoun’s prime minister, On: Sun, 13 Nov 2016

  • As war reaches stalemate, Syrians are left to mull a federal solution , On: Sun, 06 Nov 2016

  • Lausanne flops as Russians buy time to crush Aleppo, On: Sun, 23 Oct 2016

  • Putin determined to crush Aleppo — and who’s to stop him? , On: Sun, 16 Oct 2016

  • Plagues, conquests and disasters: Aleppo’s unending troubles, On: Sun, 09 Oct 2016

  • Baghdadi fends off challenges for leadership, On: Sun, 09 Oct 2016

  • Putin’s Syria mission: Third time lucky for Assad , On: Sun, 09 Oct 2016

  • Remembering Nasser: Arab renaissance to endless war , On: Sun, 25 Sep 2016

  • For now, US and Russia find common ground in Syria , On: Sun, 18 Sep 2016

  • Iran’s ebbing influence in Syria, On: Sun, 11 Sep 2016

  • Putin’s deal gives Erdogan a strong hand in Syria , On: Sun, 04 Sep 2016

  • Progress but questions remain after Washington and Astana

    The political and administrative hegemony of Damascus cannot continue into post-war Syria.

    Geopolitical player. Senior Russian military commander Sergei Rudskoi at a news briefing on Syria, on May 5. (AP)

    2017/05/21 Issue: 107 Page: 5

    US President Donald Trump said the latest talks in Washington between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the US administration were “very, very good.”

    After hosting his Russian guest at the Oval Office, Trump added that he and Russia were deter­mined to stop the slaughter in Syria.

    For the first time in more than six years that might be a real possibility. However, much depends upon the relationship between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Trump and whether the two leaders are able and willing to put their full weight behind the “de-escalation zones” agreed at talks in early May in Astana, Kazakhstan.

    The deal hammered out in Astana partially reflects Trump’s long-standing demand for the establishment of Syrian safe zones, though with a linguistic twist designed to garner support in Damascus.

    The agreement was signed off by the Big Three — Russia, Turkey and Iran — and was discussed by Putin and Trump during a telephone conversation May 2.

    In its capacity as one of the guarantors of the agreement, Moscow would assume responsi­bility for ensuring that no Syrian warplanes and tanks access four agreed-to zones. The first of these would be the city of Daraa in southern Syria, followed by Idlib in north-western Syria. The de-escalation zones also apply to the northern region of Homs and the countryside to the east of Damascus, held by Saudi-backed rebels since 2012.

    Exempted from the ceasefire in all four districts are Jabhat al-Nusra (al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria) and the Islamic State (ISIS). Government troops and Turkish-backed rebels would be expected to unite in eradicating both groups from the Syrian battle­field.

    Russia’s second responsibility would be to ensure Damascus restores basic services, such as water and electricity, to areas within the zones where supplies have been stopped. Damascus would also be required to reopen schools, hospitals, clinics and police stations where required.

    Should the ceasefire hold, it would be incorporated within a UN resolution, allowing millions of refugees scattered worldwide to return home. Local militias would be required to surrender their heavy arms and military equipment — a task that Turkey has said it would oversee, promis­ing the armed opposition the opportunity to administer its cities and towns under the auspices of Damascus, with any weaponry being restricted to light arms.

    If successful, the de-escalation zones would provide a model that could be expanded to the eastern countryside of Aleppo, which Damascus and Moscow retook last December, followed by the villages surrounding the port city of Latakia.

    However, for that to happen, many things must occur. All sides need to agree upon the identity of the peacekeeping observers to police the ceasefire. Currently, suggested peacekeepers are limited to “non-controversial countries” such as Egypt and Algeria or members countries of BRICS — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

    In a break with what many assumed to have been an official policy of resisting the deployment of peacekeeping troops upon its territory, Damascus has not torpedoed the suggestion. However, no indication has been given as to who would fund the peacekeeping mission to Syria or precisely what the troops’ mandate would be and when it would end.

    Questions also remain over the future of pardoned rebels present within the territories and the freedom of movement extended to them. Likewise, the issue of how any potential conflict between the regime and the militias they will be required to work with might be resolved.

    Ambiguities also exist over who might be responsible for guaran­teeing the safety of returning refugees. Additionally, the Astana agreement says nothing about how the Big Three would respond to any breach of the ceasefire and does not specify what the moni­toring mechanism would be.

    Though it represents a serious compromise in their war aims, both Damascus and the opposition have approved the agreement as it stands. It is also certain that elements in both camps would stand to benefit should the agreement fail.

    However, the only chance of that happening is if the Big Three disagree among themselves over who gets what in the Syrian battlefield or if concrete steps are not taken to transform the Astana agreement into a workable framework document, through a new election law and a new constitution.

    Overall, there is the need to recognise that the political and administrative hegemony of Damascus cannot continue into post-war Syria. Different towns and cities need a new form of local governance — the right to appoint their own municipality and local chambers or parliaments — the right to get a share of their own natural wealth and to appoint their governors. Ultimately this would give them greater auton­omy but stop short of independ­ence. They would remain part of the Syrian Republic.

    The only legal document that has ventured close to this is the Russian-authored constitution. If the Syrians decide to stick with their old form of government, then Astana will fail, just like the tens of similar ceasefire agree­ments reached since 2011.

    Editors' Picks

    The Arab Weekly Newspaper reaches Western & Arabic audience that are influential as well as being affluent.

    From Europe to the Middle East,and North America, The Arab Weekly talks to opinion formers and influential figures, providing insight and comment on national, international and regional news through the focus of Arabic countries and community.

    Published by Al Arab Publishing House

    Publisher and Group Executive Editor: Haitham El-Zobaidi, PhD

    Editor-in-Chief: Oussama Romdhani

    Deputy Editor-in-Chief: Dalal Saoud

    Senior Editor: John Hendel

    Chief Copy Editors: Jonathan Hemming and Richard Pretorius

    Analysis Section Editor: Ed Blanche

    Opinion Section Editor: Claude Salhani

    East/West Section Editor: Mark Habeeb

    Levant Section Editor: Jamal J. Halaby

    Gulf Section Editor: Mohammed Alkhereiji

    Society and Travel Sections Editor: Samar Kadi

    Senior Correspondents:

    Mahmud el-Shafey (London)

    Lamine Ghanmi (Tunis)


    Saad Guerraoui (Casablanca)

    Dunia El-Zobeidi (London)

    Roua Khlifi (Tunis)

    Rasha Elass - Thomas Seibert (Washington)

    Published by Al Arab Publishing House

    Contact editor

    Subscription & Advertising:

    Tel 020 3667 7249

    Mohamed Al Mufti

    Marketing & Advertising Manager

    Tel (Main) +44 20 6702 3999

    Direct: +44 20 8742 9262

    Al Arab Publishing House

    Kensington Centre

    66 Hammersmith Road

    London W14 8UD, UK

    Tel: (+44) 20 7602 3999

    Fax: (+44) 20 7602 8778

    Follow Us
    © The Arab Weekly, All rights reserved