Something has been bothering me for the past few days. Nobody seems to be interested in the shape of a post-Assad Syria. Outraged comments about Bourhan Ghalioun's promises to break ties with Iran and Hezbullah, or to negotiate a return to the Golan Heights, have drowned out any questions about how the Syrian National Council would address Syria's grinding economic and social issues. There is some mythical word, freedom, which is bandied about as if it would fix everything once we attain it. But Syria has many problems that will need to be addressed urgently. These are: A deficient, if not highly damaging, judicial and political system; endemic corruption, environmental degradation and desertification; poverty; a potential for an enormous crime wave once the regime collapses; and how they intend to build bridges across the communities and tribes that make up Syria's patchwork society.
Wednesday, December 07, 2011
These are all very important questions, and even the current regime - with all its corruption and brutality - had to take time from its plundering in order to address. The longer these issues continue, the larger a snowball of problems they will make. Environmentally, Syria has regular water shortages and a creeping process of desertification. Nobody seems to care that the entire North-East of the country - formerly the breadbasket of Syria - has now turned into a dustbowl. This has had a knock on effect whereby entire villages have just vanished, as the inhabitants move to urban centres and thus put an increasing strain on cities with a terrible infrastructure that can barely support the original inhabitants. The result is slums, and then possibly crime, especially if people will not be able to make a living by finding decent and honest work.
Syria's judiciary is corrupt, incompetent and politicised. Our laws are ambiguous and open to abuse. Furthermore, the worst thing anybody could do is resort to Syrian courts, so tortuously long and painful is the process of reaching a decision, and so expensive is the process, both in terms of bribes and in regular costs. The reason we have become like this is not because Syria lacks the legal expertise, finesse, and sophistication to formulate its own laws, far from it. The problem is that there is a system which seems by design to filter out any qualified candidates with potential and ability, and to only attract those who wish to abuse the system and gain benefits from it. The entire structure of the Syrian government, whether the executive, judicial or legislative, is completely and utterly corrupted.
The solution to this problem should not be a mass cull of ex-Assad era employees. Instead, a future government should begin by establishing accountability in the form of key performance indicators, with penalties for failure or inconsistency. This should be combined with strategic replacements of personnel at key junctures in the machinery of the state Those who will be involved in the mammoth task of repairing Syria's decayed institutions will have to be remarkable individuals of exceptional stamina and fortitude, and with remarkable vision. Most importantly, they have to be people with a strong sense of self-belief in their abilities, and not the usual incompetent Arab official who looks to the West for solutions, or who simply wishes to protect themselves from taking any responsibility.
Perhaps I'm asking too much, but if we don't demand these standards in services and standards from our own government, then we have only ourselves to blame if the country descends further into failure after Assad goes.