Vision, Goals, and Principles

The Day After Project: Vision, Goals, and Principles

The Challenges of Transition

Right now, Syrians are struggling to overthrow an authoritarian regime and secure the opportunity to live in a stable, peaceful democracy. But history (and recent experiences elsewhere in the Arab world) tell us that transitioning to democracy is difficult. Transitions that occur in the wake of armed conflict face daunting challenges. They must contend with the legacies of dictatorship, as well as the immediate consequences of violence—human, social, institutional, and economic—which vastly complicate, and often overwhelm, efforts to build and consolidate democratic institutions and norms in a post-conflict society.

Even under the most difficult circumstances, however, prospects for a successful transition improve when the effort is anchored in shared principles and a shared commitment to clearly defined goals. Transitions that are guided by an understanding of the pathway to be followed, agreed-upon principles, and a sense of common purpose are much better equipped to meet and overcome the inevitable challenges. In addition, transitions are more likely to succeed when they take into account the specific historical experiences of a country, including its social structure, cultures, and traditions. The odds of success increase when risks and challenges that may disrupt a transition are identified, strategies for mitigating them are developed, and sufficient flexibility is built into a transition plan to ensure that it remains relevant even under volatile and unpredictable conditions.

The Day After Project: Background and Overview

The Day After project was established to contribute to a successful transition in a post-Assad Syria. We are a group of approximately 45 Syrians who represent the diversity of the opposition and who are leading an independent transition planning project with the facilitation of the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP), in partnership with the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP). From January to June 2012, we convened monthly to develop a shared vision of Syria’s democratic future, define goals and principles of a transition, and prepare a detailed yet flexible transition planning document. Our deliberations were supported by leading international experts in transition planning,

We felt strongly that the document resulting from our work should not be seen as a blueprint, or a step-by-step guide to how a transition must be organized. Rather, we hope the document will be seen as one contribution to a debate in which all Syrians have a right to participate. The document is not intended to tell a new Syrian government what it must do, nor to limit discussion and debate among Syrians about how they will shape their future. Rather, we hope that by offering recommendations and defining goals, principles, objectives, and strategies, the report will provide a starting point around which debate and discussion can be organized. We hope to advance the efforts of all Syrians to achieve the democratic future for which they are currently struggling against a brutal dictatorship.

The group focused its work in six issue areas: (1) rule of law; (2) transitional justice; (3) security sector reform; (4) electoral reform and forming a constitutional assembly; (5) constitutional design, and (6) economic restructuring and social policy. While each of the six working groups were guided by the needs of the specific issues on which they focused, all of the groups were guided by a shared commitment to clearly defined goals and principles, as set out below.

Core Principles and Goals

The Day After project identified the following as goals that should guide the efforts of transitional authorities. We believe progress toward these goals will increase prospects for a successful post-Assad transition.

Key Goals of a Transitional Process

  • Develop, strengthen, and promote a new national identity;
  • Foster unity among the many diverse components of Syrian society;
  • Build consensus on the core values and fundamental principles of the nation as well as the new framework for governance;
  • Establish citizenship and the equality of all citizens as decisive in relations between individuals and the state as opposed to sectarian, ethnic, or gender considerations;
  • Establish Syria as a civil state in which the role of the security forces should be to protect the security and human rights of all citizens;
  • Affirm that Syria must remain one unified state, with elements of decentralization that will allow for citizens’ participation on all levels;
  • Provide for economic governance that ensures social justice, human development, sustainable development, and the protection of national resources;
  • Dedicate efforts to building trust between communities and groups;
  • Break with authoritarian legacies by demonstrating a commitment to democratic principles and processes among political leadership and government;
  • Educate and empower citizens on the principles and practice of democracy; and
  • Increase the potential for a legitimate and effective governance and legal framework that consolidates rule of law in all domains.

Key Principles Guiding the Transitional Process

The goals at the heart of Syria’s revolution cannot be achieved by Syrian leaders on behalf of the people. They must be realized by the Syrian people themselves through a process of civic education, national dialogue, and public consultation that allows the people to express their fears, needs, and aspirations directly to their leaders and to each other. This process should be grounded in the following core principles:

(1)   Inclusiveness and Participation: An inclusive and participatory transitional process is one that includes all components of Syrian society. Inclusion is achieved by encouraging public participation to the greatest extent possible. Participation is a natural and legitimate right of the Syrian people, both to express freely their opinions, interests, and preferences to a transitional authority, and to be confident that the authority will be responsive to and promote this inclusive participation.

(2)   Transparency and Accountability: A transparent transitional process is one that is conducted in an open manner, through effective mechanisms for deliberation. Transparency is essential if Syrians are to be informed about, and help shape, a new Syria. Accountability of public officials ensures that the opinions and preferences of the Syrian public will be taken into consideration by the transitional authority.

(3)   Consensus: We hold that transitional process decisions should reflect as broad a consensus as possible among all components of Syrian society. Decisions should be reached by deliberation, negotiation, and persuasion to the greatest extent possible. Along with inclusion, participation, transparency, and accountability, this guarantees that decisions made by transitional authorities reflect the interests and the aspirations of the nation, and not just one societal interest.

We recognize that working toward these goals and objectives may strain the capacities of Syrian society at times. The urgency of providing stability and security may sometimes be in tension with the demands for participation and transparency. We believe that it is important not to let the needs of the moment (and the flexibility that the transitional authority will need to work effectively under difficult circumstances) erode its fundamental commitment to the goals and principles that will help build a democratic Syria in the post-Assad period.

Goals and Objectives of The Day After Project Working Groups

1)       Rule of Law: The overarching goal of efforts designed to consolidate the rule of law in Syria are to transform Syria from a state governed by the arbitrary power of individuals to a state of law, in which no individual is above the law and all are subject to the protections and obligations of the law. In addition, rule of law activities are intended to ensure the administration of the regular justice system in the transition; to revoke jurisdiction from extraordinary courts; to address the limited capacity of the current justice system; and to prevent lawlessness, violence, and criminality during the transition. Further, efforts to consolidate the rule of law are expected to reflect the following requirements: (1) be consistent with international human rights norms and standards; (2) be legally certain and transparent; (3) are drafted with procedural transparency; (4) are drafted in a way that allows for participation in decision-making so that ordinary citizens can be involved in the process of law-making; and (5) be publicly promulgated.

2)       Transitional Justice: In keeping with international norms and standards, a transitional justice program in Syria should include processes and mechanisms that are restorative in nature, as well as retributive. Transitional justice processes in Syria should be designed to: (1) achieve justice for the victims of systematic human rights violations and past abuses; (2) create alternatives to violent forms of redress that will deepen conflict and social fragmentation; (3) provide some truth about the behavior of perpetrators and the experiences of victims; (4) provide mechanisms of accountability, transparency, and inclusion, preventing further abuses and restoring citizens’ faith in state institutions (thus helping to strengthen the rule of law); (5) support the restoration of trust among citizens and the development of a new positive vision of Syria as a whole; and (6) provide for “social repair” for the victims, but also for the society at large in light of the collective impact of violence, repression, and authoritarianism over the past five decades.

3)       Security Sector Reform: Security sector reform must flow from democratic principles and accompany the organization of a democratic government. It is vital to the consolidation of a new democratic order, and it must be pursued simultaneously with efforts to provide for transitional justice and the rule of law. To advance this aim: (1) civil-military relations should be established in line with democratic principles—i.e. the armed forces, law enforcement, and intelligence agencies will be led by and operate under civilian authority; (2) service in the security sector will be open to all Syrian citizens, regardless of their ethnic background and/or sectarian affiliation; (3) the main function of the security sector will be to provide an effective security environment for the Syrian people so as to enable citizens to exercise political, economic, social and cultural freedoms, while maintaining public order and defending the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity; (4) the security sector will be completely detached from politics; (5) at the same time, the government will provide for the professional development of the armed forces, intelligence services, and police forces.

4)       Electoral Reform and Forming a Constitutional Assembly: The goal of electoral reform is to support Syria’s transition to a democratic political system, guided by a constitution that is democratic in character and that results from a democratic process. The new constitution will provide the foundations for the design of an electoral system in which public officials are chosen by voters through free, fair, and inclusive multi-party elections based on electoral laws, including regulations and procedures that ensure that all components of Syrian society are represented equitably and that citizens are able to hold public officials accountable for their actions. The criteria for designing an election system for a Constitutional Assembly should be somewhat different from the criteria for elections to a parliament in the future. This first legislature has the crucial task of overseeing the writing of a new Syrian constitution. In order to ensure that all relevant Syrian voices are represented in this founding document, inclusion must lay at the core of the mechanisms that lead to the drafting of the constitution. In the future, elections must also produce a parliament that is legitimate, that is representative, and that identifies with Syrians and their desires. Legitimacy will be based on democratic processes facilitating the inclusion of all significant voices, including national, ethnic, and religious minorities as well as women. Syrian elections must also nurture the embryonic party system and allow space for popular independents to contest and win elections.

5)       Constitutional Design: Syria’s constitution-making process should be seen as an opportunity to develop, strengthen, and promote a national identity; foster unity; build trust; contribute to national reconciliation; and support a culture of democracy. To achieve these goals, the constitution-making process should incorporate the core principles of inclusiveness, transparency, participation, consensus, deliberation, and national ownership. The major elements of the process should include the following steps: (1) the 2012 Constitution should be abolished and replaced with either an amended version of the 1950 Constitution or a new legal instrument to provide a legal framework during the transition; (2) the transitional legal framework should include fundamental rights and freedoms, transitional governance provisions, a roadmap for the negotiation and drafting of the permanent constitution, and agreed-upon constitutional guarantees that must be incorporated into the permanent constitution; (3) the constitution should be negotiated, drafted, and approved by a Constitutional Assembly, with additional consideration to using a national referendum for final ratification; (4) the Constitutional Assembly should be as inclusive and representative as possible, reflecting the diversity of Syria; (5) decisions by officials responsible for drafting the constitution should be transparent and should be achieved, as much as possible, by consensus.

6)       Economic Restructuring and Social Policy: Securing the dignity and freedom of the Syrian people will require the development of economic and social policies through transparent and participatory processes. With this in mind, key objectives of the transitional period should be: (1) addressing immediate social needs and providing relief with food, medicine, shelter, water, and energy; (2) starting to reverse the corruption and devastating effects of the political economy resulting from more than 50 years of Ba’thist rule; (3) reconstructing and redeveloping areas that have been shelled or otherwise damaged during the revolution; (4) stimulating the local economy in the areas of reconstruction and redevelopment by creating jobs and opportunities for entrepreneurship, while rebuilding social policies to provide appropriate economic and social protections for all Syrians; (5) encouraging macroeconomic stability through the adoption of effective mechanisms of economic governance, policy making, and oversight.

The recommendations presented in this document are the result of intense and heartfelt discussions—sometimes heated ones. However, we strove to work in a spirit of collaboration and with a shared commitment to the success of the revolution and the importance of doing everything possible to place Syria on the path to democracy, stability, economic justice, and peace. Further, we tried to approach the task with humility. For the most part, we are not the ones struggling to survive against the brutal attacks of the Assad regime. We are not the ones on the front lines of the battles against regime forces. Although many of our participants have suffered grievous losses, both during the revolution and in the preceding period—including imprisonment, torture, exile, and being deprived of Syrian citizenship—we know that those inside of Syria today are playing the most important role in determining the country’s future.

For this reason, we stress that this document is not a blueprint. It is not intended to set out recommendations that must be followed, or to suggest that it offers the only or the best way to move forward. Rather, we view this document as our collective contribution to an ongoing debate among Syrians—both inside and outside the country—about the most effective ways to manage the challenges that are sure to arise following the end of the Assad regime (which is an outcome that can no longer be in doubt). The principles, goals, recommendations, and findings presented in this document should not be seen as the last word, but as a starting point for discussions, debates, and disagreements. We hope that through vigorous debate the ideas presented in this document will be refined and improved for the benefit of all Syrians.

Finally, it is important to note that the contents presented here do not reflect the unanimous consensus of all project participants. Not every participant agrees with every recommendation made in the pages that follow. Some of the recommendations will be controversial. They may be seen as excessive and threatening by some, or insufficient by others. From our perspective, the important thing is that Syrians across the country (and in the Syrian diaspora) view this document as an important step toward a goal we all share: the liberation of Syria from the dictatorship of the Assad regime and its replacement by a truly Syrian democracy.