Almost three years into the Syrian Revolution, the most crucial question now is the alternative which can replace President Bashar Assad’s regime. After 50 years of kleptocratic rule, the entire governance structure in Syria and even its social structure need restoration. To avoid chaos and ensure a peaceful transition to a democratic Syria, the country could be placed under an administrative mandate for about 10 transitional years, to allow the emergence of a new generation of public servants with some experience and no residues from the deviant ways of the past. The mandate would be inspired by the system under which France ruled Syria between 1920 and 1945. The modalities of the administrative mandate would be adopted by the Arab League and subsequently by the United Nations General Assembly. A 10-member Syrian Mandate Committee, composed of five members of the Arab League and the five permanent members of the Security Council, would oversee implementation and termination of the mandate.
The head of the administrative mandate authority would have to be a non-Syrian Arab personality. Ideally, the “administrator” would be a Hashemite prince from the family of Faisal, the king of Syria between 1918 and 1920, and a descendant of the Prophet. The name of the administrator would be decided by, and included in, the resolution of the Arab League. This person’s role would be largely ceremonial: chairing the Transitional Executive Council without voting powers, heading official ceremonies, and signing executive decrees of the transitional authority. He would be allowed to play a role as counselor-arbiter in case of divergent opinions among TEC members or representative bodies during the transitional period.
The administrator would compose the TEC after consulting with various Syrian groups willing to work in good faith for a positive outcome. Once the TEC has been accredited by the Syrian Mandate Committee, it would be recognized as the sole legitimate government of Syria, regardless of the status of the regime in Damascus. U.N. member states would have to redirect their diplomatic, financial and military support to the TEC, in return for a clear commitment by the TEC to honor all international treaties and conventions which Syria has ratified to date.
The “effective” period of the mandate will start from the moment the TEC and the administrator are able to settle safely in any Syrian city. International peacekeeping forces would be needed in Syria to support TEC rule in confronting armed resistance from the remains of the previous regime and other rogue groups, preventing ethnic massacres, protecting state assets, assisting in the collection of unlicensed weapons, and training the reformed law enforcement agencies of the democratic Syria.
TEC members would be Syrian technocrats with no known involvement with the previous regime who agree not to run for elected office during the transitional period. TEC members can be seconded each by non-Syrian technical advisors borrowed from foreign civil services and relevant U.N. agencies, with preference given to members of the Syrian diaspora, to Arab-speakers and to those with prior professional experience in the Arab world. TEC members would rule through temporary laws which would have to be revisited by the first Syrian Parliament resulting from free elections. Until then, the TEC would act in the name of the sovereign Syrian people. Its activities cannot be vetoed by non-Syrian external powers or authorities.
During the TEC’s period of activity, humanitarian relief should be the priority of all priorities. Scores of cities and villages have to be reconstructed, 15-20 million internally displaced persons and refugees have to be repatriated and sheltered, widows and orphans have to be supported, children must go back to school, persons with disabilities must receive care and rehabilitation and be reinserted in the socio-economic life of their community.
Humanitarian relief would be incomplete without justice and retribution. Members of the previous regime should face criminal accusation and be brought to trial in front of Syrian courts, or, for some, before the International Criminal Tribunal.
The political process should not be neglected. The interim period will provide time for a transitional process to be tested and modified without too much formal and potentially acrimonious debate. In the interim and until a final constitution has been accepted, subnational elections for representative middle-level bodies should be implemented as a way of introducing the population to a democratic and free process of multiparty political life.
In parallel, major administrative reform has to be launched, starting with the judicial system, the army, police, and security agencies, with the priority being to secure civil peace and protect a safe, free and fair political process leading to a democratic Syria. A national audit can help in the recovery of goods and assets hoarded by the previous regime at home and abroad.
The adoption of this transitional plan or variations thereof by the Syrian National Council or other entities engaged in the opposition to the regime is desirable but not necessary. A large Syrian consensus around the mandate scheme will improve its credibility and optimize its positive impact. However, the current performance of Syrian opposition groups renders it unlikely that a consensus on one plan can ever be reached willingly, and some degree of compulsion may have to be exerted to ensure at least a constructive and critical opposition, if not outright adhesion and cooperation.
The transitional administration will remain until a constitution has been adopted, and a parliament and president of the republic have been elected. The TEC will present its resignation after the election of the temporary parliament (year 8), and the mandate administrator after the election of a president (year 10).
The stability afforded by this transitional plan will convince international donors to mount an investment strategy akin to the Marshall Plan, this being the only way to restore Syria after a devastating conflict that has not been equaled in any single country since the end of the war in Indochina in the early 1970s.
Salim M. Adib, a professor of epidemiology and public health at the Lebanese University, is a member of the Executive Secretariat of the Syrian Democratic-Secular Alliance. He wrote this commentary for THE DAILY STAR.