Who will pay for reconstruction in post-war Syria?
The war continues to rage in Syria, and as winter approaches, millions will be at risk of hunger, and hundreds of thousands will be spending a precarious winter in refugee camps, or temporary homes inside and outside the country. Bashar Al Assad may no longer be able to kill his people with chemical weapons, but he can still kill them.
Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN’s special envoy to Syria, who this week returned to Damascus, indicated that Mr Al Assad could not remain leader after any transition, something the Syrian rebels have said and which formed part of their reason for rejecting the Geneva 2 talks.
Who leads Syria into 2014 and beyond is not merely a political question. It is squarely an economic one. After all, beyond all the talk of political transitions lies a more numerical one: who will pay to rebuild Syria? Whoever is in charge, whatever the composition of the government, whatever happens to the rebels and the Baath party and the institutions of the country – regardless of all these questions, there is a more fundamental one of who foots the bill for reconstruction.
The devastation wreaked upon Syria has been enormous. Earlier in the year, a former regime insider estimated the effect of the fighting would cost US$80bn to repair. That figure will have increased significantly as the year has gone on. Moreover, the human cost of the war is almost incalculable: many with the required expertise and skills have left the country. Many others have been killed or injured and many more will take years to rebuild their lives. The recovery from this devastating war will take decades.
The fact is that it will be the Arab nations, in tandem with other interested countries like Turkey, that will have to provide the funds to rebuild Syria. Nobody else will stump up the cash, given the state of the world economy. Just as it is in the interests of the region to see the war end, so it is in our interests for Syria to be rebuilt.
But Arab nations will be looking for legitimate leadership of Syria before they are willing to commit billions. No one is suggesting that outside countries should dictate the leadership of Syria. But the people negotiating on behalf of Syria, and those surrounding Mr Al Assad who still cling to the hope that he may yet continue as president, should be aware that the Arabs will only hand over their cheques to a leader who commands the currency of legitimacy.
Updated: October 29, 2013 04:00 AM