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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”