No one can predict how long the Assad regime is still going to last, but behind closed doors, plans are being made for the time that follows - and much of that work is being done in Berlin.
His grip on the country may still be still strong, but the erosion of Syrian president Baschar Assad's power is becoming more and more apparent. Still, analysts aren't making any forecasts as to how long the regime is going to last. That would be the same as reading tea leaves, said Heiko Wimmen, an expert on Syria at the German Institute for International and security Affairs in Berlin (SWP).
"But there is reason for concern that even with Assad gone, the problems might still be there," he added, a view that is shared by Elmar Brok of the Christian conservative party CDU and member of the European Parliament. According to Brok, there is no unity within the opposition. In an interview with DW he said "there's the risk of these different groups fighting each other in a manner that - even without Assad - a civil war is possible."
The development of strategies and concepts that might follow the Assad era therefore emerges as one of the main objectives. This appears to be particularly true, when taking into account similar interventions of the West in recent times that didn't generate the desired results.
Adjusting international policy
According to German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, Syria is at a turning point. In a newspaper interview on July 23, he said that now was the time to adjust policymaking in a way that takes into account the latest developments in the country. But according to Brok this can't be in the form of unilateral action by Germany, since a German intervention by itself would be "most limited" in nature. Only as a member of the European Union would Germany have any true influence.
The German foreign office has now come up with a paper that outlines suggestions for further steps to be taken by the EU, focusing on ways to contain the violence on the ground, intensify humanitarian aid and take precautions for reconstruction efforts following the end of the Assad regime.
A Foreign Office spokesperson said that plans involve giving long-term support to the Syrian people; therefore now would be the time to lay the foundation for economic reconstruction. This, too, is the focus of the working group Economic Construction and Development," which is supported by the "Friends of Syria" group and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Germany and the UAE are co-chairing the group, which, among other things, intends to offer the Syrian opposition a forum for a professional exchange of ideas in order to help the group sharpen its economic expertise. But for the German foreign minister it's not just about Syria's economic future. Preceding a meeting of the Syrian opposition in Cairo, the "Rhenische Post" newspaper quoted Westerwelle urging all participants to pledge support to a democratic and pluralistic Syria. According to Westerwelle, this should be the common denominator for all.
At the same time Westerwelle once again appealed to Russia and China to cease their continuing support for Assad. The task ahead would now be to work together on a peaceful and democratic future for Syria.
Forum of discussion
Since the beginning of the year, only a stone's throw away from the foreign office, the Syrian opposition has been holding meetings in the Berlin district of Wilmersdorf, to work on the organizational cornerstones for a transition to a democratic Syria.
A project entitled "Day After" is being organized in collaboration between the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) and the SWP. The State Department in Washington and the Foreign Office Berlin are helping with logistics, but have otherwise kept their presence to a minimum. In an interview with the weekly newspaper "Die Zeit" the head of the SWP, Volker Perthes, said that the participants had done the recruiting themselves, as it was "not our job to recruit a new Syrian government here." The idea was to assist the opposition "to create a community that allows for discourse, free of supervision and pressure," he said.
In August, the participants hope to be able to present an outline with the results of these meetings. How and when the blue prints for a new Syria can be implemented on the ground depends on a number of factors:
One of them is the length of time Assad can cling to power; another is how deep the emotional gap between the different groups really is. Yet another factor is what course the economic reconstruction of the country is taking, and how it can be shared equally.
Even if that day is still far down the road, according to Wimmen it would make sense to secure a certain influence on the future developments now. "Once the time has come, the involved actors will be hard-pressed by the events to take action. If there is no master plan in place then, it will never happen."
Autor: Sabine Hartert-Mojdehi / ag
Editor: Rob Mudge