Syria’s Transition: It’s Happening Now

BY Larisa Epatko  October 4, 2012 at 4:39 PM EST


A Syrian rebel runs for cover during a firefight in the area of the Zacharias mosque in the old city of Aleppo on Oct. 1. Photo by Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images.

Syrians aren’t waiting for President Bashar al-Assad to fall before planning what their country will become.

It could take months or more to overturn the Assad regime, but some northern locations, including part of the commercial capital Aleppo, are already no longer under government control. Efforts are underway to try to make their transition a smooth one.

Part of that initiative is embodied in a document called “The Day After”, supported by the U.S. Institute of Peace and several other international agencies. They worked with dozens of Syrians to come up with some basic principles for a new Syria, including tolerance for difference ethnic groups and rejection of revenge killings.

Some concrete steps for rebuilding the country include creating jobs, repairing infrastructure so refugees can return, getting psychological care for those traumatized by the fighting now in its 19th month, and establishing “truth commissions” to let Syrians describe what happened to them — not only during the current conflict but also the 1982 government crackdown on an uprising in Hama that resulted in thousands of deaths.

Afra Jalabi, a political scientist based in Canada and member of the Syrian National Council, said at a USIP event Thursday that other truth commissions in Africa and Latin America show that when people’s suffering is acknowledged, “a great deal of healing can happen.”

Improvements in the country’s security forces, as outlined in the document, include replacing the current Syrian Army — whose main duty is to prop up the current authoritarian regime — with an apolitical army that allows its citizens to express different political views and protects them, said Murhaf Jouejati, a professor at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., and another member of the Syrian National Council.

One of the challenges is communicating the guidelines to Syrians around the country. Rafif Jouejati, member of the Local Coordination Committees in Syria, the National Consensus Movement and Activists for a Free Syria, said the Union of Free Syrian Students, which has 80 branches throughout the country, is among the groups helping to circulate the document.

Under the mantra “Syria Belongs to Us,” the groups are going to different communities, age groups and sectors of society to spread the word. For example, they are meeting with religious elders to prevent revenge killings, which would only destabilize the country and delay a transition, she said.

The team involved with crafting the document also is planning to set up an office in Istanbul, Turkey, to be in closer contact with the Syrians working toward a new government, said Rami Nakhla, a program specialist at USIP who’s helping coordinate “The Day After” project.

Nakhla said he’s often asked who will take over after Assad — but that’s something that will take time to answer. “We have to go through a process to figure that out” and vote for an alternative, he said.

You can read about “The Day After” project on USIP’s website.

View more of our World and Syria coverage.