Third, protect, encourage, and engage civil society. In the brief sunlight period following Bashar al-Assad’s ascent to power in 2000 after the death of his father, Hafez al-Assad, cafes buzzed with vibrant political and social debate amid expectation of change.
Syrians are a vital, engaged, intellectual people. Even in the darkest periods of the 42-year reign of the Assads, in a police state as invasive as the erstwhile East Germany, passionate debate persisted underground. A thriving civil society – comprising a free press; nongovernmental health, education, and development organizations; returning intellectuals from the diaspora, and unrestricted universities and students movements – is essential for reconstruction.
Fourth, draw on experience from other post-conflict societies – in particularly South Africa, Rwanda, Mozambique, Bosnia, and Iraq, where there are deep wells of human talent and diverse models of reconciliation.
Given Syria’s geopolitical context, set at the crossroads of a region undergoing tremendous upheaval and fragile democratization, transition in Syria will be impossible without constructive international support. While the future of Syria must be in the hands of its people, the end of the Assad era, however it comes, will require resetting the way in which the world engages with the country.