Syrian refugees watch news about the Geneva II peace talks from inside a makeshift tent home in an unofficial refugee camp on the outskirts of Amman, Jordan, January 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Mohammad Hannon)
Representatives from Bashar al-Assad’s government and the Syrian political opposition gather in Montreux, Switzerland, today for second-stage peace talks to end the conflict in Syria and agree on the broad parameters of a political transition.
Expectations are low for the Geneva II peace conference, and it is in fact off to a rocky start. Although discussions are likely to focus on ending the current conflict, improving the delivery of humanitarian aid, and on whether and how the current regime will participate in political reform, it is not too early to give some thought to what needs to happen in Syria’s social and economic sphere for a peaceful transition to take hold. Lessons from previous Middle East transitions can offer some insights here.
- While some elements of the Syrian regime may need to be dismantled, a robust Syrian state and strong institutions will be needed to promote stability and economic growth in a postconflict Syria.
- Some will push for rapid privatization in Syria, but this would likely come at the cost of stability and sustainability in the country’s economy and economic institutions.
- Where other political transitions have institutionalized sectarianism, Syrians should focus on establishing a cohesive national identity.
- Regional cooperation and action will be essential to supporting Syria’s 2.4 million refugees and critical to long-term security and stability in the Middle East more broadly.
The architects of the Geneva Commuique and what comes after it need not look far for inspiration and important lessons as to how to reconstruct Syria peacefully and sustainably. There are many recent examples of postconflict transition in the Middle East, and particularly in places of complex socio-religious composition and high international strategic interest: immediate postconflict reconstruction in Iraq (2003–2005), the Taif Agreement in Lebanon (1990), and the Gulf Cooperation Council Initiative in Yemen (2011).
In a recent paper, Planning Ahead: Lessons for a Post-Conflict Syria, I drew lessons from these experiences to inform policymakers’ efforts to support political transition in Syria—particularly when it comes to shoring up the state, revitalizing the economy, rebuilding the lives of those marginalized or displaced, and fostering regional cooperation.