DAMASCUS, Syria (Dispatches) — Syrian President Bashar Assad was sworn in Saturday for a fourth seven-year term in the war-torn country, pledging to overcome the impact of Western economic sanctions and retake territory still out of his control after 10 years of fighting.
The swearing-in ceremony was held at the presidential palace and attended by clergymen, members of parliament, political figures, army officers and other supporters.
In power since 2000, his new term starts with a country still devastated by war and facing widening Western sanctions that have hit ordinary Syrians hard.
Assad said in his inaugural speech that all his concerns are about “liberating the land and confronting the economic and social ramifications of the war.”
“Making things better is possible, certainly possible,” he said, speaking for over an hour. “War and siege didn’t close the doors completely ... we can get through them. We just have to know how to.”
Fighting has largely subsided, but parts of Syria remain out of government-control and foreign troops and militants are deployed in different parts of the country.
Assad said that Syrian money stuck in Lebanese banks — which he estimated at between $40-60 billion — was a bigger challenge than the sanctions. Lebanon is facing its own economic crisis. That deprives Syria of funds, he said, and pressures the Syrian pound, now trading at around 3,000 to the dollar, compared to 47 pounds to the dollar at the start of the war.
Buoyed by military victories, Assad called on Syrians in exile to return home, saying they were “misled by the illusion” of a rebellion against his rule.
The foreign-backed war on Syria has left nearly half a million killed, tens of thousands missing and devastated the infrastructure.
The May election — the second during the 10-year civil war — saw Assad winning 95.1% of the vote against two candidates.
Assad was sworn in on the constitution and the Qur’an in the presence of more than 600 guests, including ministers, businessmen, academics and journalists.
The president hailed the Syrian nation for standing for their rights and defending the country against foreign conspiracies.
“Through your awareness and national zeal, you have proven that the people’s determination in defending their rights won’t weaken no matter what the colonists have cooked up for Syria,” he said, referring to the U.S. and its allies.
“They have sought to stir the chaos that burns our homeland, but through your national unity, you have shot the coup de grace at the projects that targeted the homeland,” he added.
President Assad touched on foreign efforts to devise a new constitution for Syria, saying those efforts “continue until today” and are pushed by some agents who try to put Syria at the mercy of foreign powers.
“However, these attempts have failed by virtue of the Syrian people’s resilience,” he added.
President Assad stressed that stability of Syria is the top priority
and anything that affects it and the country’s safety is absolutely rejected.
He also renewed his amnesty for those who have turned against the government by helping a foreign-backed sedition in Syria.
“I repeat my call on all those who have been deceived and bet on the collapse of the homeland and on the fall of the state to return to lap of the homeland because the bets have fallen and the homeland has remained.”
Assad also reiterated “our trust in our army that it will achieve liberation even if it takes a while… and our belief in ourselves, our history and our civilization”.
“This trust has achieved the impossible, and this is what we need today to confront the economic war,” he said.
President Assad said the Syrian people who have been through a fierce war and regained most of their lands are certainly able to build their economy under the most difficult circumstances, with the same will and determination.
The country is struggling to return to normalcy after liberating most of its territories from the clutches of the most ruthless militant groups in living memory.
However, some swaths of land occupied by U.S., Turkish and other foreign forces remain in the hands of militants.
U.S. troops are based in a part of Syria which constitutes the breadbasket for about 60 percent of the Arab country’s grains. The territories are also home to some of the country’s hydrocarbon wealth which is reportedly being looted by the Americans.
Many other countries, however, have already started normalizing relations with the Syrian government.
The Financial Times said this month that some European countries are warming their ties with Syria after President Assad won the May 2021 presidential election.
Cyprus, it said, is moving into a new embassy in Damascus, and Serbia is set to send an ambassador to Syria.
The British newspaper said while such “small steps” are unlikely to be followed by EU’s juggernauts France and Germany any time soon, they “make clear the challenge the bloc will face as the situation in Syria normalizes over time”.
Laure Foucher, a senior analyst at Crisis Group who focuses on Europe and the Middle East and North Africa region said such moves by fringe states are “weakening the EU position”.
Some Arab states have also been seeking reconciliation with Damascus since the government forces gained the upper hand against the foreign-backed terrorists.
In 2018, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates reopened embassies, which had been closed soon after anti-government militancy began in Syria in 2011.
Oman reinstated its ambassador to Syria last October, becoming the first Persian Gulf Arab state to do so.