Talk of post-war reconstruction is justified but premature
When the issue of reconstruction in war-torn Arab countries is brought to the table, all eyes turn to the Arab Gulf, particularly Saudi Arabia, as one of the Middle East’s wealthiest and most powerful countries.
Ahead of Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud’s visit to Russia, analysts boldly predicted that Moscow would convince Riyadh to invest in Syria’s reconstruction needs. These presumed fortune tellers profoundly missed the mark and misled the public into thinking Saudi Arabia would fund an Iranian or Iran-supported project in the process.
In fragmented Syria, President Bashar Assad is less interested in rebuilding the country than in enriching his cronies and bolstering his regime’s legitimacy with the support of Iran and Russia.
Saudi Arabia, which has long been at the forefront of the fight against Iranian expansionism, knows that injecting money into the Syrian economy at a time when the Iran-backed Assad regime is regaining its hold on the people who rose up to bring it down would be a foolish wager.
Riyadh is also aware of the Syrian state’s propaganda schemes, which fan the flames of sectarian strife and feature Saudis as the central villains in the conflict, ensuring there is enduring hostility towards the Gulf Cooperation Council.
An investment into Syrian reconstruction when Iran’s proxies are still active on the ground and in political arenas could backfire, aggravating conditions that caused the civil war in the first place.
Saudi Arabia’s position on Syrian reconstruction is in line with most of the international community, including the United States, Britain and France. They recognise that, at this stage of the crisis, every reconstruction dollar that reaches the Assad regime is vulnerable to corruption.
Sympathy with the Syrian people should not blind anyone to the political reality: Any reconstruction money would go towards serving the political aims and priorities of Assad, not the welfare of the Syrian people.
Indeed, we must do away with wishful thinking and concede that any talk of reconstruction in Syria is premature. No sound process can be initiated before Iran’s involvement is contained and a political transition away from Assad is ensured.
In Iraq, another country in desperate need of reconstruction, there are similar concerns.
Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah has announced plans for an early 2018 international donor conference regarding Iraqi reconstruction. While most people would support this humanitarian initiative, it raises an important question: How can an unstable country where a sectarian war is still grinding be helped?
Soon after the Iraqi invasion of 2003, sectarian rule by the Shia Dawa Party marginalised Sunnis, Christians, Assyrians, Turkmen and others, largely excluding them from the country’s political affairs.
Fourteen years later, the country’s political turmoil has only increased. Major political forces are opposed on nearly everything. Corruption, mismanagement and lawlessness are rife.
Adding to the disarray is the recent Kurdish referendum, in which the region’s population voted overwhelmingly for independence. Baghdad, as a result, threatened more sanctions, causing tensions over power-sharing, oil production and territorial control to rise to levels not seen since 2011-12.
No one knows what the outcome of this dispute will be but Iraq’s unity hangs in the balance.
Unfortunately, turmoil in Arab countries has undermined the region’s ability to stand united against terrorist organisations and Iran’s expansionist ambitions.
Going forward, it is important to remember that impulsive judgments have never brought an end to conflict and suffering. What is needed more than good intentions is carefully crafted strategies. Only then can principles of democracy, security, justice, good governance and inclusive participation be ensured and successful reconstruction efforts be put in motion.
With the help of all Arab countries, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya will eventually be rebuilt. However, to build on solid foundations, we must wait for the fog to dissipate and the vision to become clear in good time.