Volunteers for the Amr Ibn Al Aass brigade load their rifles during training on the outskirts of Azaz, in northern Syria. Miguel Medina / AFP
Volunteers for the Amr Ibn Al Aass brigade load their rifles during training on the outskirts of Azaz, in northern Syria. Miguel Medina / AFP

Conflicting interests have helped the war in Syria to continue



The war has been eating away at Syria for more than four years. There seems to be no end in sight, commented Taoufik Bouachrine in an opinion article in the Moroccan daily, Akhbar Al Youm.

Everyone realises that it is time to end the war. All nations, except those in the Arab region, negotiate and compromise to resolve conflicts, especially when a certain victory is unattainable. Arabs, however, keep fighting until the end, at times for nothing, the writer remarked.

The tragedy in the Syrian war in unimaginable. So far, about 350,000 people have been killed, more than a million injured and disabled, 7 million displaced within Syria and 5 million refugees have fled to other countries. A great deal of money will be needed to rebuild. Even then, it will take dozens of years to bring it back to what it was before 2011.

Unfortunately, these figures have not yet persuaded the conflicting parties, in Syria and elsewhere, to work towards ending the bloodbath, the writer noted.

The problem in Syria is that none of the parties considers it worth negotiating for what they have been sacrificing their blood and money for over the past four years. Every party wants to win over the opponent, which they consider the only possible reward for their sacrifices.

As it stands now, the Syrian conflict cannot possibly be won by military force. The Assad regime currently controls only 20 per cent of the territory and is incapable of defeating the opposition that comprises the Free Syrian Army, Jabhat Al Nusra, ISIL and many armed factions backed by Turkey, the US and GCC countries. Whenever the regime wins a round, aid is boosted to offset the scales.

Conversely, the opposition cannot enter Damascus or beat the regime, because the latter is supported by a minority Alawite sect that is fearful of extremists inside the opposition, as well as by Russia, Iran and Hizbollah. Again, whenever the Assad regime loses a site, fighters or supplies, backers funnel supplies and deploy fighters to ensure Bashar Al Assad remains in power.

The Assad regime, which has ruled the country with an iron fist for 50 years, cannot act independently because it survives because of its backers who must be part of the decision-making. Nor can the opposition independently decide anything, because of the same reason. It is this situation that has entrapped the Syrian people, the writer suggested.

On the one hand, president Al Assad wants a settlement that allows him to stay in power, while Iran wants a solution under which it retains Syria as a trump card to pressure the Gulf countries. On the other, the opposition wants a Syria without Mr Al Assad, Al Nusra Front seeks revenge for the Sunnis from the Alawites and wants to establish a theocracy and ISIL wants the mess to continue because it feeds its religious war and it aims to retain Al Riqqa and part of Syria on the border with Iraq as they are a strategic extension to its state in Mosul.

The end result of this situation is that all parties want to get from negotiations what they have failed to get from war: an impossible equation. Negotiations will move forward when all parties will feel they will lose and realise that a settlement will not give them all they want but it will stop their losses, Bouachrine remarked.

The Doha-based daily Al Sharq said in an editorial that Sunday’s summit in the Qatari capital, which had been attended by the US, GCC countries and Russia, might be an opportunity to announce a new political solution for the Syrian conflict, a solution that should exclude the key figures of the regime, including Mr Al Assad.

Meanwhile, the situation in Syria has been escalating. The US said it had used air power in defence of allied rebel groups, a sign of a deeper US involvement in the conflict. This intervention will add new pressure on the embattled Mr Al Assad, the paper said.

The US administration also said it would take “additional steps” to defend US-trained and equipped forces and warned the regime not to interfere. The outcomes of the summit suggest significant changes ahead in the political landscape of the region, and the messages sent by the participants could kick-start the process of a settlement, the editorial added.

Writing in the London-based newspaper Asharq Al Awsat, Tariq Al Humaid argued that the meeting resulted in a few diplomatic developments. Washington said it would allow air strikes to help stop attacks on US-trained forces, while the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, warned that the fight against ISIL could be hampered by such air strikes.

The US secretary of state, John Kerry, rightly said that it was Mr Al Assad’s brutality that had brought extremist groups to Syria. But ISIL, the writer noted, is also result of a global neglect of Iraq and Syria.

Had there been an international action to get the moderate opposition united and provide them with advanced weapons, real changes would have been seen, the writer noted.

* Translated by Abdelhafid Ezzouitni

aezzouitni@thenational.ae

Mercer, the investment consulting arm of US services company Marsh & McLennan, expects its wealth division to at least double its assets under management (AUM) in the Middle East as wealth in the region continues to grow despite economic headwinds, a company official said.

Mercer Wealth, which globally has $160 billion in AUM, plans to boost its AUM in the region to $2-$3bn in the next 2-3 years from the present $1bn, said Yasir AbuShaban, a Dubai-based principal with Mercer Wealth.

Within the next two to three years, we are looking at reaching $2 to $3 billion as a conservative estimate and we do see an opportunity to do so,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Mercer does not directly make investments, but allocates clients’ money they have discretion to, to professional asset managers. They also provide advice to clients.

“We have buying power. We can negotiate on their (client’s) behalf with asset managers to provide them lower fees than they otherwise would have to get on their own,” he added.

Mercer Wealth’s clients include sovereign wealth funds, family offices, and insurance companies among others.

From its office in Dubai, Mercer also looks after Africa, India and Turkey, where they also see opportunity for growth.

Wealth creation in Middle East and Africa (MEA) grew 8.5 per cent to $8.1 trillion last year from $7.5tn in 2015, higher than last year’s global average of 6 per cent and the second-highest growth in a region after Asia-Pacific which grew 9.9 per cent, according to consultancy Boston Consulting Group (BCG). In the region, where wealth grew just 1.9 per cent in 2015 compared with 2014, a pickup in oil prices has helped in wealth generation.

BCG is forecasting MEA wealth will rise to $12tn by 2021, growing at an annual average of 8 per cent.

Drivers of wealth generation in the region will be split evenly between new wealth creation and growth of performance of existing assets, according to BCG.

Another general trend in the region is clients’ looking for a comprehensive approach to investing, according to Mr AbuShaban.

“Institutional investors or some of the families are seeing a slowdown in the available capital they have to invest and in that sense they are looking at optimizing the way they manage their portfolios and making sure they are not investing haphazardly and different parts of their investment are working together,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Some clients also have a higher appetite for risk, given the low interest-rate environment that does not provide enough yield for some institutional investors. These clients are keen to invest in illiquid assets, such as private equity and infrastructure.

“What we have seen is a desire for higher returns in what has been a low-return environment specifically in various fixed income or bonds,” he said.

“In this environment, we have seen a de facto increase in the risk that clients are taking in things like illiquid investments, private equity investments, infrastructure and private debt, those kind of investments were higher illiquidity results in incrementally higher returns.”

The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, one of the largest sovereign wealth funds, said in its 2016 report that has gradually increased its exposure in direct private equity and private credit transactions, mainly in Asian markets and especially in China and India. The authority’s private equity department focused on structured equities owing to “their defensive characteristics.”

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