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Syria and the politics of reconstruction: introduction to a debate

Let us face it: these past ten years of wars and destruction don't encourage optimism. But with this series of articles and opinions we would like to raise awareness in preparation, debating the economic aspects of Syrian reconstruction policies.

Annalena di Giovanni
28 March 2013

Let us try to sketch a way through. The Syrian conflict might be out of hand and far from resolved - but this also means that there is time to prepare for the day after. It is in the hope of enumerating the peculiarities of the Syrian case, its priorities and risks, that we host this platform.

And platform it is, in the basic sense that we have tried wherever possible to operate on a horizontal level, encouraging the exchange of opinions between contributors. The starting point was a long conversation - here adapted into an article - with the economist Jihad Yazigi, who patiently lays out the economic roots of the present crisis, remarks then circulated among other authors. What makes Syria a special case, he argues, is a protest igniting first of all in rural areas - unlike other Arab protest waves, and fuelled by the discontent induced by Bashar al Assad's hasty economic reforms. Portraying the class dimension of the protests is also Maurice al Haddad, who, from his origins between the outskirts of Homs and the North of Lebanon, is able to expand on what post-war reconstruction could mean for the impoverished population outside Damascus and Aleppo. For them, (either pro-Assad or rebels), there will be little to cheer in either democracy or freedom, should power simply pass from one elite to another, and reconstruction remain a top-down international business venture.

Nizar Ghanem has zoomed in on the sore point in Yazigi’s argument for leftists sympathizing with the protests: post-war reconstruction is invariably a neo-liberal call. In the case of Syria, this reconstruction menu has already proved faulty. I endorse his appeal, and invite you to read his words for a more detailed explanation.

To Foti Benlisoy, Turkish involvement is strictly a business proposition. And explaining how AKP represents and marshals the needs of an expanding Anatolian capitalism, Foti also allows us to glimpse what the Turkish role in the reconstruction of Syria will look like: more private entrepreneurs and constructors, but probably also more schools to create an ideal business environment just across the border.

Finally, to Clare Lockhart falls the duty to resume and reframe the Syrian picture from the technical point of view of an expert and professional, speaking out of her experience of post-conflict reconstruction evaluation, and finally willing to list precise recommendations.

We hope this is just the beginning of an illuminating debate on the values, the needs, but also the failures of whatever will come out of these days of conflict in Syria. We hope more voices will join in, and we believe it is the right time to address the issue. Debates on economic reform among Syrian groups - such as the Economic Reform Task Force, and interest in a Syrian Marshall plan - suggest that there is still so much more to say about new economic policies in Syria…

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