High-ranking members of the Syrian opposition movement have recently been trained in Berlin on how to establish a democratic system in the event that President Bashar al-Assad falls from power, German diplomatic sources have confirmed. Some 40 Syrians underwent training, including generals who have deserted President Bashar al-Assad, economists and lawyers living in exile.
The group includes members of various ethnic groups and religions, as well as members of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is banned in Syria. The diplomatic sources stressed that the German government was not directly involved in the meetings, which were held under conditions of secrecy, but said it was being kept informed and was providing logistical support. "It is the declared policy of (Foreign Minister Guido) Westerwelle to boost cohesion within the Syrian opposition and to contribute to making the Syrian opposition forces more professional," a Foreign Ministry spokesman said in Berlin.
The meetings included a visit to the authority that administers the files of the notorious Stasi, the defunct East German security organisation. The driving force behind the project, entitled "The Day Thereafter: support for a democratic transition in Syria," is the US Institute for Peace (USIP). Funders included the US State Department, the Swiss Foreign Ministry and Dutch and Norwegian non-governmental organisations.
According to USIP project leader Steven Heydemann, opposition leaders were being prepared for the immediate aftermath of a regime collapse in Syria, with the aim of averting economic chaos and ensuring public order. The organisers stressed that the plans being laid in Berlin were not aimed at changing the government in Damascus. As Heydemann wrote in his blog for the US journal Foreign Policy, the project was about "the day after," while others were working on "the day before."
Regime collapse was one issue, while talks about transitional arrangements were another, Heydemann said, adding that it would be "irresponsible" not to prepare for a transition. Heydemann said that the discussions to date had been about reforms to the justice system, among other things, along with the role of the armed opposition in the post-al-Assad era.
original report | 29 July 2012