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.

August 7, 2012

International leaders are increasingly speculating that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's days are numbered, as calls for his peaceful departure grow louder. But, in the case he is toppled, what happens in the aftermath of regime collapse?

History and recent experiences elsewhere in the Arab world demonstrate the difficult challenges of post-conflict transitions. The new leadership must contend not only with the legacies of dictatorship, but with the immediate consequences of violence—human, social, institutional and economic—which vastly complicate, and have often overwhelmed, even the best efforts to build and consolidate democratic institutions and norms in a traumatized, post-conflict society.   An organized, transitional governing structure is needed to address the challenges that could arise once the Assad regime falls. 

For this reason, USIP has helped to facilitate “The Day After” project, a Syrian-led effort to plan for a post-Assad transition.

USIP’s Steven Heydemann, the lead facilitator of these efforts, discusses the project, preparations for a post-Assad Syria, and potential pitfalls and complications in the post-conflict transition process. 

What is “The Day After” (TDA) project?

To ensure a successful and orderly process, “The Day After” project convened approximately 45 Syrians -- representing the full spectrum of the opposition – to participate in the development of plans designed to facilitate Syria’s democratic transition, should the opposition succeed in bringing about the fall of the current regime.  The group includes senior representatives of the Syrian National Council (SNC), the Local Coordination Committees in Syria (LCC), as well as former generals, economists and lawyers, among others, from inside Syria and the diaspora representing all major political trends and components of Syrian society.  Both men and women are involved, and all the country's religious groups are represented in this group.

How did the project start?  What has it been doing?

The U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) and the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) initiated the project shortly after the March 2011 uprising began in an effort to assist the Syrian opposition with the technical aspects of transition, such as identifying key issue areas and laying out goals for transitional authorities.  

Between January and June 2012, the Syrian participants and international experts in post-conflict planning met monthly to develop a shared vision of Syria’s democratic future, define goals and principles of a transition, and to prepare a detailed yet flexible transition planning document. 

With the assistance from technical experts, the group focused on six critical areas: rule of law; security sector reform; transitional justice; economic and social policy reform; constitution making; and election system design. 

Later this month, the group plans to produce a final document published by a Syrian nongovernmental organization based on their meetings and technical consultations.

What will be in this final report?

The final report – to be circulated among key audiences prior to its public release in late August -- will be a transition planning document that identifies core challenges that a transitional authority in Syria will confront and develops options and strategies for addressing them.  The purpose of the transition plan is to provide actionable guidance to the leadership of a post-Assad regime in Syria, whatever the composition of that leadership might be.  In addition, the plan will include recommendations of steps that can begin immediately to lay the groundwork for a transition.

Why is USIP involved?

USIP was involved for a couple of reasons.  First, USIP has a history of convening disparate parties and diverse groups and training these representatives to communicate effectively.  Consequently, one result of the TDA project has been to strengthen the collaboration, coordination, and shared vision of Syria’s future among Syria’s diverse and, at times, fragmented opposition.

Second, USIP is involved because of its expertise in transition planning.  As mentioned earlier and as recent history demonstrates, post-conflict transitions can be as difficult, complicated and even as violent as the conflict itself.  

USIP has a long, successful track record of working with countries in transitions – Iraq, Libya, the Philippines, and Kosovo, among others.  USIP is also recognized for its expertise in rule of law, security sector governance, post-conflict economic reconstruction, and constitutional design issues. This expertise made USIP and its German partner, the SWP, natural homes for an effort to facilitate efforts by a diverse and representative group of opposition figures to deliberate about how to manage a post-Assad transition. 

Who funds it?

Project activities are funded by the U.S. State Department, the Swiss Foreign Ministry, the Dutch NGO, Hivos, as well as the Norwegian NGO, Noref.  The structure of the project and the diversity of funding are intended to ensure Syrian ownership and leadership of the project, and to reinforce the roles of USIP and SWP merely as facilitators.

What are some goals for the transitional authorities?

Participants in the project identified the following goals to guide the efforts of transitional authorities:

  • Develop, strengthen and promote a new national identity;
  • Foster unity among components of Syrian society;
  • Build consensus on the core values and fundamental principles of the nation as well as the new framework for governance;
  • Citizenship and equality of all citizens, rather than sectarian, ethnic, or gender considerations should be decisive in relations between individuals and the state;
  • Syria should be a civil state in which the role of the security forces should be to protect the security and human rights of all citizens;
  • Unite state and territory together with elements of decentralization will allow for citizens’ participation on all levels;
  • The economy should be managed to realize social justice, human development, sustainable development, and the protection of national resources;
  • Build trust between communities and groups;
  • Break with authoritarian legacies by demonstrating a commitment by political leadership and government to democratic principles and processes;
  • Educate and empower citizens on the principles and practice of democracy; and
  • Increase the potential for a legitimate and effective governance and legal framework.

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