Amid other upheavals in the Arab world, popularly known as the Arab Spring, protests to the rule of President Bashar al-Assad started in March 2011. In response, the Assad regime unleashed a campaign of violence: as of July 2012, as many as 26,700 people are believed to have been killed and up to 1 million Syrians have been displaced within the country.
As the bloody crackdown intensified through 2011, the Arab League in November suspended Syria’s membership, and called for political and security reforms and negotiations with the opposition. In February 2012, Western and Arab powers established a Friends of Syria Group in Tunis, Tunisia, and the United States withdrew its embassy staff from the capital Damascus.
Amid growing international condemnation for the violence, the United Nations Security Council that spring appointed former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to oversee a joint U.N.-Arab League peace plan. However, as the fighting waged on, many observers warned that the Assad regime would not take the so-called "Annan plan" seriously.
Echoing such concerns, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan in July said, "The Annan plan, which the international community including Turkey has supported in good faith, has become a vehicle for exploitation by the Assad regime in its current form. The international community must take more responsibility when faced with the unfolding developments."
Indeed, by July 15, the International Committee of the Red Cross characterized the Syrian conflict as a civil war.
Since the start of the conflict, other resolutions put forward at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) have been vetoed by UNSC member countries China and Russia, which contend that such efforts could become foreign interventions.
By July 17, Syrian rebels appeared to make headway against government forces, pushing into the capital Damascus and killing at least three top Assad officials. That development signaled to many observers that the regime might be starting to crumble.
When asked how long the Assad government could survive, Nabil Elaraby, the secretary-general of the Arab League, warned that "the regime cannot continue for a long time."
Even as many speculate that the regime will not survive, there is uncertainty about what would happen next.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on July 24 said that it was now time to plan for the "day after," urging the opposition to prepare for how they may govern and how to prevent chaos from erupting as it has in so many other countries emerging from conflict.
"We do believe that it is not too late for the Assad regime to commence with planning for a transition, to find a way that ends the violence by beginning the kind of serious discussions that have not occurred to date," Clinton said at a news conference on July 24.
Calling on the opposition to "be prepared," Clinton said "they have to start working on interim governing entities. They have to commit to protecting the rights of all Syrians," as well as set up humanitarian response efforts and safeguard the chemical and biological weapons.
"It's important to look at these day-after issues," Clinton said.
"We're working across many of these important pillars of a transition that is inevitable. It would be better if it happened sooner both because fewer people would die or be injured, but also because it would perhaps prevent sectarian retribution," she said.
- The Day After Project
he Day After project brought together a group of Syrians representing a large spectrum of the Syrian opposition—including senior representatives of the Syrian National Council (SNC), members of the Local Coordination Committees in Syria (LCC), and unaffiliated opposition figures from inside Syria and the Diaspora representing all major political trends and components of Syrian society—to participate in an independent transition planning process.
- Syria and "The Day After" Project
USIP's senior adviser for Middle East initiatives, Steven Heydemann, discusses “The Day After” project, a Syrian-led effort to plan for a post-Assad transition.
- The Arab Awakening
As the dramatic events of the Arab Spring turn to the more mundane yet vital work of governance, constitution writing and peacebuilding, USIP is on the ground, bringing its unique brand of action and expertise to the effort.
- Eye on the Middle East and North Africa: Experts from the U.S. Institute of Peace are closely following developments throughout the Middle East and North Africa. In a series of reports and interviews, they cover a wide range of issues.