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The Tussle on who will rebuild war torn Syria begins

As the war in Syria begins its slow death march, politicians and businessmen across the world are salivating on their upcoming windfall.

November 13


London , United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland - 13 Nov 2016 - Foreign Ministry

Donald Trump’s stunning electoral defeat of Hillary Clinton marks a watershed not just for American politics, but for the Syrian people and their war-torn country. Moreover, it may signal the end of the West's pursuit of exporting democracy that has only left in place shattered lives and nations. Over the past three weeks, a sudden rash of statements and quotes by International organizations such as the World Bank, the United Nations and private insitutions seem to point to the next phase of the calamity that has befallen Syria; which is the true cost of the conflict and which parties will be entrusted with rebuilding the country. Here are two obvious statements.

World Bank Chief: estimates to rebuild Syria could be as high as $150bn

War could cost Syria nearly £1tn in lost economic growth by 2020, study warns

The British government is understood to favour a UN-led reconstruction effort, but has said it is willing to contribute at least another £1bn to the costs of rebuilding Syria. Last November, the prime minister told parliament that the UK would “absolutely” be involved in “a proper post-conflict reconstruction effort to support a new Syrian government when they emerge”. That may seem rather generous of the Uk Government, however it is probably far less than the actual damage inflicted by its armed forces during attacks on Syria and it comes with the same pre-condition that preceded the war in the first place which is that Assad must go.

The reality is that Damascus will lean on Russia, China, Iran in rebuilding Syria: The transitional period in Syria must occur under the current constitution and include a national unity government comprising various political forces, Syrian President Bashar Assad told Sputnik news agency.

"The reconstruction process is in any case profitable for companies that are participating in it, especially if they manage to get loans from the countries that will support them. Of course, we expect that the process will rely on the three main states that have supported Syria during this crisis — that’s Russia, China and Iran. But I suppose that a lot of countries that were against Syria, I mean first of all Western countries, will try to direct their companies to take part in this process. However, for us in Syria there is absolutely no doubt that we will ask, first of all, our friendly states," Assad said.

According to the president, it is "absolutely certain that if you were to pose this question to any Syrian citizen, his answer, political and emotional, would be that we welcome, first of all, the companies from the three countries, primarily from Russia."

Lebanon is another country that deserves some credit for welcoming over 1 million refugees even if Lebanese politicians (with the exception of Hizbollah) werent that supportive of Assad during the 5 year war. The same is true for Turkey who also housed over 1 million refugees but were and still are politically opposed to Bashar Al-Assad.

It may seem obscene, but the businessmen, construction giants and entrepreneurs of Lebanon are already planning the rebuilding of a physically shattered and broken nation called Syria. With at least 280,000 dead – the statistics become more wobbly the longer the civil war continues – what’s the point of talking about the nation’s restoration, you may ask?  Well, who could be more expert than the men and women who have restored – not very successfully, it must be said – the glories of their own capital of Beirut after Lebanon’s 15-year civil war?

The great and the good of Lebanon’s private sector have therefore been meeting to discuss the frightening reconstruction costs of their not very lovable neighbour. The Lebanese are well known as the 10 per cent men of the Middle East and don’t want to be left out of the reconstruction profits once the war is over – whoever is then in charge of Syria. There are plans for a massive increase in the capacity of Beirut port and of the small harbour in the city of Tripoli and the reopening of the overgrown airport at Qlaiyat in the far north of Lebanon. Lebanese banks – and there are seven private Lebanese banks in Syria today – are the only institutions who know how to open enough letters of credit to fund Syria’s reconstruction materials: so rebuilding Syria means big profits for them.

Don't let the Lebanese re-imagine Syria; they did a pretty bad job with Beirut

Lebanese architects tried to inspire a recreated but re-imagined Beirut after their own war. They restored the French mandate streets of the 1930s but allowed the bulldozers into the Ottoman ruins.

Instead of the popular soukhs that once adorned old Beirut, the new streets are packed with Parisian and Italian fashion houses whose prices only the wealthy can afford.

But of course, the big problems remain. Who will fund the rebuilding of Syria? The Gulf States will surely refuse if Bashar remains. But Russia, China and Iran will assuredly want to put up the cash if he stays. Then it would be the Syrian émigré opposition which would be cut off from the country’s reconstruction.

In terms of sheer devastation, Syria today is worse off than Germany at the end of World War II. Bashar Assad’s regime and the original nationalist opposition are locked in combat with each other and also with a third axis, the powerful jihadist current led by the Islamic State. And yet, even as the fighting continues, a movement is brewing among planners, activists and bureaucrats—some still in Aleppo, others in Damascus, Turkey, and Lebanon—to prepare, right now, for the reconstruction effort that will come whenever peace finally arrives.

In downtown Beirut, a day’s drive from the worst of the war zone, a team of Syrians is undertaking an experiment without precedent. In a glass tower belonging to the United Nations’ Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, a project called the National Agenda for the Future of Syria has brought together teams of engineers, architects, water experts, conservationists, and development experts to grapple with seemingly impossible technical problems. How many years will it take to remove the unexploded bombs and rubble and then restore basic water, sewerage, and power? How many tons of cement and liters of water will be needed to replace destroyed infrastructure? How many cranes? Where could the 3 million displaced Aleppans be temporarily housed during the years or decades it might take to restore their city? And beneath all these technical questions they face a deeper one, as old as urban warfare itself: How do you bring a destroyed city back to life?

“We don’t want to end up like Beirut,” one of the Syrian planners says, referring to the physical problems but also to a postwar process in which militia leaders turned to corrupt reconstruction ventures as a new source of funds and power. He spoke anonymously; the Future of Syria team, which is led by a former Syrian deputy prime minister named Abdallah Al Dardari, doesn’t give on-the-record briefings. Since their top priority is to maintain buy-in from Syrians on all sides, they try to avoid naming names so as not to dissuade people they hope will use their plans when the war ends.

Syria’s national recovery will depend in large part on whether its industrial powerhouse Aleppo can bounce back. Until 2011, Aleppo had been celebrated for millenniums for its beauty and commerce. The citadel overlooking the center is a world heritage site. The old city and its covered market were vibrant, functioning exemplars of Islamic and Ottoman architecture, surrounded by the wide leafy avenues of the modern city. Aleppan traders plied their wares in Turkey, Iraq, the Levant, and all the way south to the Arabian peninsula. The city’s workshops, famed above all for their fine textiles, export millions of dollars’ worth of goods every week even now, and the economy has expanded to include modern industry as well.

At the current level of destruction, the project planners estimate the reconstruction will cost at least $100 billion. Regardless of how it’s financed—loans, foreign aid, bonds—that’s a financial bonanza for whoever controls the reconstruction process. Some would-be peacemakers have suggested that reconstruction plans could even be used as enticements. If opposition militants and regime constituents think they’ll make more money rebuilding than fighting, they might have a Machiavellian incentive to make peace.

How that recovery is designed will help determine whether Syria returns to business as usual, sowing the seeds for a reprise of the same conflict—or whether reconstruction allows the kind of lasting change that the resolution of war itself might not. Given that more than four million Syrians have been forced to escape the never-ending civil war ravaging their country and the barbaric terror group carving a bloody trail across the Middle East. The vast majority live in overcrowded refugee camps in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq - all under threat from ISIS - and record numbers are making the perilously long journey to Europe. Yet, as debate raged between politicians in Europe over how many they should take, nearby super-wealthy Gulf nations of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain have refused to offer sanctuary to a single Syrian refugee. They may regret this action when the spoils of reconstruction are distributed.


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