News / Middle East

Syrians Plan Next Government without Assads

(From L) Members of the opposition Syrian National Council Murhaf Jouejati, Afra Jalabi, and member of the opposition National Change Currents Amr Al-Azm following a press conference in Berlin, August 28, 2012.
(From L) Members of the opposition Syrian National Council Murhaf Jouejati, Afra Jalabi, and member of the opposition National Change Currents Amr Al-Azm following a press conference in Berlin, August 28, 2012.
David Arnold
While many around the world wait for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime to fall, a few dozen Syrians have been meeting privately for six months trying to figure out what comes next.
The 45 Syrians – mostly exiled politicians and some activists fresh off the streets of their nation’s 18-month uprising - have been meeting quietly in Berlin to recommend how a transitional government could rebuild government institutions and establish democratic practices unseen in the country for more than four decades.

The results of their work are contained in The Day After: Supporting a Democratic Transition in Syria, a 120-page document that was released to the public today in Berlin.

However, the larger questions remains who can implement their recommendations.

“The fact is, we don’t know,” said Andrew Tabler, a senior research fellow from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who spoke from Antakya, a Turkish city on the Syrian border. “That’s why there is such an effort now to reach out to the opposition, especially inside the country to see if we can work better with it.”

Looking for new leadership inside Syria

The Syrians meeting in Berlin are not the only ones trying to map out a future transitional government in Damascus. So are the Arab League, the so-called Friends of Syria alliance and other regional and western powers, including the U.S. State Department and Pentagon.

But despite the effort of the Berlin group, coming up with an acceptable transition team for Damascus still remains a huge obstacle for the Syrian opposition because the various factions have yet to agree on its makeup.

For now, their first priority is to win the civil war and oust Bashar al-Assad.

Tabler says one difficulty is that Syria’s opposition forces are still “very fragmented and very suspicious of one another.”  Even so, he says the activists and militants who are inside Syria fighting the regime on a daily basis may be better placed to provide leaders who can command support for an eventual transition.

“Whether they would provide the political base or the backbone, nobody knows yet,” Tabler said.

Syrians meeting in Berlin

Taking questions at the press conference in Berlin today, Day After participant Amr al-Azm said the project could speed up the demise of the Assad regime and added that further international support was needed to assure his departure and the nation's recovery.

Amr al-Azm at conference
Amr al-Azm at conferencei
|| 0:00:00

Another Syrian who participated in the six months of deliberations, Murhaf Jouejati, stipulated that his fellow Syrians "want no boots on the ground" but have an immediate need for international assistance with the large numbers of Syrians now homeless due to the conflict.

Murhaf Jouejati at conference
Murhaf Jouejati at conferencei
|| 0:00:00

Al-Azm added that the Day After working group never intended that their work was to create a transition government. but to offer suggested measures to be taken once a government is identified.

Day After participant Amr al-Azm
Day After participant Amr al-Azmi
|| 0:00:00

Members of the Berlin working group also could be a source of expertise for the reconstruction of Syria.
I would like to state very clearly that this is a Syrian document

“That’s highly possible,” said Steven Heydemann of the U.S. Institute of Peace [USIP], which facilitated the six-month exercise in partnership with the German Institute for International and Security Affairs [SWP]. Swiss, Dutch and Norwegian funders also helped finance the project.

The group in Berlin includes Sunnis, Christians, Druze, Alawites, members of the Muslim Brotherhood and a number of independent political organizations inside and outside Syria.

Political independence

Rafif Jouejati, a spokesperson for the Berlin group, is emphatic that its recommendations are not the product of the United States or of any other foreign power.

“I would like to state very clearly that this is a Syrian document,” Jouejati said. “It was written by Syrians, and it is owned by Syrians.”

The “Day After” group’s document addresses what members believe are six areas of needed political and governmental reform: the constitution, the judicial system, popular elections, internal security, rule of law and economic and social policy. 

They don't want another Iraq

Heydemann of USIP said Syrians meeting in Berlin looked to events in Iraq over the past decade as a guideline on how to develop suggestions for Syria.

“They viewed Iraq as holding a number of lessons about how not to proceed with the transition,” he said. “And the idea that a transition would bring about the dismembering of institutions was something they were anxious to avoid. They felt the Iraq experience was a disaster in that regard.”

They viewed Iraq as holding a number of lessons about how not to proceed with the transition
The Syrians also reviewed U.N. guidelines for choosing reliable government bureaucrats, Heydemann said. They learned to avoid assumptions that an Alawite in the courts system, for example, was automatically complicit in the crimes of the regime, or that a Sunni in the security apparatus had been a victim.

Jouejati said the vetting process clarified how to select currently serving military and government officials “who do not have blood on their hands to keep the government functioning.”

Syrians must decide

Jouejati again emphasized that the Berlin Day After group, which was made up mainly of Syrian exiles, wants those inside Syria to make the final decisions on how to proceed.

 “They are the ones who have been suffering the terrible brutality of the regime,” Jouejati said. “They must have a vote on determining their future.”

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Comment Sorting
by: umayyad grandson from: damascus syria
August 29, 2012 9:48 AM
this photo of 3 of them who are they, why jalabi? is she Iraqis who si al azem, and why jouijati, why not me this is a big mistake to train people out side of syria and claim that they are working for us, what measure you take when selecting those people, and how we can be sure that those people going to be better and will not be another copy of the dictators we dont want to release from iran and follow america we want to follow our interest .do you think 45 person can lead the transition goverment that means 2 person for one million this is not fair and they are not accepted from me that means from us inside the country

by: Bud Peart from: Australia
August 29, 2012 6:25 AM
So how much credibility do these people have in Syria? About as much as Chalabi had in Iraq? What a joke, a hotch potch of US chosen puppeteers. These idiots will be swinging from lamp posts in no time if they try an oppose the FSA's Islamic agenda.

by: Anonymous
August 29, 2012 3:37 AM
That's all we need-another U.S. puppet administration.

by: Godwin from: Nigeria
August 28, 2012 11:09 AM
Let Assad go first, that's the first step. As it is at the moment, he's not ready to go unless somebody suggests he commits suicide - which he is gradually committing but not about to accept because life's precious, though he thinks of his own life only. To Assad, the motto is to retain power until it is taken away by force. Nothing is going to make him relinquish it as long as Russia, China and Iran are solidly behind him. He plays out the scenario that Tehran has been wanting to experiment, and Ahmadinejad wants to see how far it can go, thus confirming his theory of democracy by force, even as the euphoria of its short term success gave him the impetus to pursue another victory in being able, under the present circumstances, to convene a meeting of120-member non-aligned movement. Solicited or unsolicited, Syrians have played into the hands of Iran to be used for laboratory test of this theory. This raises the question: Inside or outside, can these arabs ever midwife a democracy that is truly people oriented?

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