The German Foreign Ministry organized the conference of the Working Group following a meeting with 45 Syrian opposition activists. The meeting was held in Berlin under the co-chairmanship of the UAE and Germany, with the participation of 64 countries and seven international organizations, including the League of Arab States, the EU, the Cooperation Council for the Arab Gulf States and the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
For the past few months, members of the Syrian opposition comprising the Working Group have been meeting at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) to discuss options for a peaceful transition once President Bashar al-Assad’s regime falls.
Their project, titled “The Day After: Supporting a democratic transition in Syria” -- backed by some Western governments and organizations such as the Foundation for Science and Politics (Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik) and the United States Institute of Peace -- has produced a report outlining a plan in which a constituent assembly for Syria will be declared and secret prisons closed.
At a press conference in Berlin on Tuesday last week, Syrian dissidents demanded that rebel fighters be supplied with heavy weaponry, and called on the international community to intervene militarily to establish no-fly zones and protection zones for affected Syrians. They also criticized the West for its caution and reluctance to intervene in Syria. “We need a little bit more than just words,” said Syrian living in exile Amr al-Azm.
The Working Group report reads: “Syria’s constitution-making process should seek to achieve more than just a new constitution. It should help the Syrian people develop, strengthen and promote a national identity and foster unity; build trust between different components of Syrian society; contribute to national reconciliation and create a new culture of democracy in Syria over time.”
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle described the agreement of 45 opposition figures as an “encouraging sign,” repeating calls for the establishment of a transitional government and stating: “This vision contains a comprehensive blueprint for a process of transition towards a democratic Syria. It is one contribution among several, but it is precisely the kind of effort that is needed to bring together the Syrian opposition.”
Savaş Genç, journalist and associate professor of international relations at Fatih University, criticized Germany for acting too cautiously. He described Westerwelle’s proposal for a transitional government as “against the nature of social sciences. It is not really given to solve a problem.” Furthermore, Heiko Wimmen from Germany’s Foundation for Science and Politics (SWP) noted that, “It would be better if we could communicate internally within the EU as to what degree a transitional government could contribute to the transition in Syria.”
Wimmen told Sunday’s Zaman that Germany was not disinterested in Syria, but rather that Germany had been supporting the Syrian opposition for months by providing a platform on which to discuss the future of the Syrian people, their proposed constitution and the political direction of the country.
Wimmen noted that the German government had supported sanctions against Syria, and argued that accusations of complacency or reservation on Germany’s part were incomprehensible.
The aim of the Working Group is to provide a forum for the international community to coordinate the assistance of reconstruction, democratization, the constitution process and the development of post-Assad Syria as a whole. Wimmen claimed that “the conflict [has] regionalized. The fall of Assad does not seem imminent yet. That is why it is important to have a platform where questions such as how to prevent a security vacuum in the case of the fall of the Syrian regime can be debated. It is also important to estimate the political trajectory of the Syrian transition and what perspectives opposition members have.”
In his opening speech at the meeting, Foreign Minister Westerwelle made it clear that Germany wants “Syria to be ruled by a democratic government that respects the rights of all its citizens, regardless of their ethnic, religious or political affiliation.”
But Christof Hörstel, publicist and an expert on the Middle East, believes that Cold War structures are detectable in the current political atmosphere regarding Syria. In an interview with Sunday’s Zaman, he said that the interests of the US were criminal, being all about “taking power in Syria.” He added that the conference aims to establish a transitional government for post-Assad Syria, and that this means organizing a government to operate in exile in parallel with the official government, a state-orchestrated breach of international law.
“I would recommend the German government recognize its status as the one implementing US interests,” the expert continued. According to Hörstel, Western countries are trying to ensure the establishment of a post-Assad government that corresponds with Western post-imperial interests.
“Considering the fact that [Gerhard] Schindler, the president of the German intelligence agency, BND, said in an interview that Afghanistan and Syria are the most important fields in their work, we cannot say that Germany is indifferent towards the issue of Syria. This means that our agents in Syria are the largest BND contingent in the region. Thus, Germany is an activist on the side of the US,” he stressed.