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Middle East

Friends of Syria plan for post-Assad era

Syria's economy is in tatters. The war-torn country will need help from abroad to get back on its feet. In Berlin, the international community is planning for the day when the Assad regime is gone.

"Assad has to go, his time is over," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said on Tuesday (04.09.2012) at a meeting of the Friends of Syria in Berlin. "We have to be prepared for that day." Representatives from 60 countries met in Berlin's Foreign Ministry to discuss how Syria's economy could get back on its feet again once the regime has fallen. Among the participants were also members of the Syrian opposition and economic experts.

"The Syrian people have resources like oil, but on our own we won't manage to rebuild our country," said Abdelbaset Sieda, president of the opposition Syrian National Council. He believes Syria needs a sort of Marshall Pan, i.e., help from abroad for the transitional period after Assad.

"Without a solid economy, we'll be leaving the door wide open for extremism," Sieda said.

Syrian businessman Ayman Tabaa has only recently left his home country. Things that he once took for granted are now a privilege – even something like breakfast.

"I don't have to be afraid anymore that after getting up in the morning in Aleppo, the Syrian air force will bombard me," Tabaa said.

Thinking long term

Foreign Minister Westerwelle didn't rule out that Berlin would accept Syrian refugees to Germany, but stressed that the priority was to help within Syria. But the lack of safe areas in the country makes this virtually impossible at the moment. Food, water and medicine will therefore be the most urgent supplies that will need to be shipped to Syria once the fighting is over.

But the Berlin meeting also discussed more long-term plans for the country. Westerwelle said Syria needed "fair economic opportunities after years of corruption."

Guido Westerwelle, Reem al-Hashimi, Abdo Hussameddin and Bassma Kodmani (Foto: Markus Schreiber/AP/dapd)

"Assad has to go, his time is over," Westerwelle said. "We have to be prepared for that day."

A potential area for investment is the oil and gas sectors. The production has dropped by 50 percent since the beginning of the fighting, said the former deputy Syrian oil minister, Abdou Husameddin. Many managers and workers have left the country, and they'll need to return to get the sectors back to full production.

Syria working group

Germany together with the United Arab Emirates is heading the working group on economic recovery and development, which was initiated in February 2012 by the Friends of Syria group. The working group, with its office in Berlin, is planning for Syria's post-conflict reconstruction. The international community wants to be prepared should the Assad regime collapse and avoid complicating the situation with uncoordinated and inefficient aid offers.

Those plans are intended to make it easier for the Syrian opposition to acquire an economic profile and thereby increase the movement's credibility. Westerwelle called on the many opposition groups to cooperate in the tradition of plurality and democracy. Only then would they be able to offer an alternative to the current regime and allay fears over what might come in the post-Assad future, he said.

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