Who Will Rebuild Post-War Syria?

(Damascus) With estimates for the reconstruction of an 8-year destructive war ranging between 400 billion and 1 trillion US dollars, Syria faces a different war once the guns go silent. A challenge fraught with political complications as well as economic hardships, is further complicated by unrealistic preconditions set by the majority of potential contributors, particularly by the US and some Western powers, before they commit to injecting sizeable funds into the rebuilding of a war-ravaged country and an already suffering economy.

The problems and intricacies of construction in Syria are multifold, due to local, national as well as international priorities, agendas and complications. Who will do what, how, why, and at what cost? These remain key questions that need to be answered. Yet, the issue of reconstruction has gained some extra momentum as the feeling that the worst war in Syria’s modern history, and one of the worst human tragedies since World War II is drawing closer towards its end, with only 2 remaining obstacles in Idlib and east of the Euphrates.

“The process of eradicating terrorism has reached its final stages, and the reconstruction phase is knocking on the door,” Public Works and Housing Minister Hussein Arnous said last October, as he inaugurated the 4th International Trade Exhibition for Rebuilding Syria, with the participation of 270 companies from 29 countries in the exhibition, which was held from 2-6 October, despite the sanctions imposed on Syrian.

“There are many problems with Syrian industry because of US sanctions, and our company is ready to provide all the catalysts, all the technologies that Syrian customers cannot get because of these sanctions,” said Valeriy Anisimov of Russian petrochemical firm JSC Promcatalys who is in talks with two oil refineries in Syria. Russian companies face competition from China, which is making serious, if cautious, efforts to snap up reconstruction offers. “It is only natural that Iranian investors should come to Syria to help it rebuild,” said Iran’s ambassador to Syria, Javad Turk-Abadi, shrugging off US sanctions against both countries.

On the other bank of the political river, Nikki Haley, the US former ambassador to the UN, once bragged that America will not “rebuild Syria” for Assad and his Russian supporters, calling the idea “absurd.” Several top US officials from the president down, have expressed similar sentiments in opposition to the Syria reconstruction efforts.

With so much politics involved, the question of reconstruction remains both a crucial and complex one. Above all, who should finance it? Neither the Syrian state nor Iran or Russia want to bear the costs alone.

Former United Nations special envoy for the Syria crisis, Staffan de Mistura, once estimated that roughly $250 billion (€215 billion) would be required to rebuild Syria’s infrastructure. That figure was raised by president Assad in a recent interview to $400 billion. Some independent experts went even higher, with a staggering $ 1 trillion reconstruction forecast figure.

Russia has called on Europe to provide financial aid for reconstruction efforts. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has raised the issue of reconstruction with European leaders on numerous occasions, particularly with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Although she stressed Germany’s and Russia’s joint responsibility for a solution to the Syrian crisis, as well as the idea of Germany contributing to rebuilding a Syria ruled by Assad does not sit well with many German politicians.

Yet, the prospect of contributing has not been entirely ruled out in Berlin. In April last year, for example, at a donor conference for Syria in Brussels, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas stressed that a political solution was a prerequisite for German reconstruction aid.

Meanwhile, president Bashar Al Assad himself has left no doubt as to who exactly will be welcome in his future Syria. ” No country that has taken part in the destruction of Syria will be given any role in the rebuilding process”, Assad stressed on more than one occasion. ” It will take 10-15 years to rebuild the country, and priority in the reconstruction phase will be given to our allies”, Assad told a Greek reporter in a recent TV interview.

With so much at stake, the battle for rebuilding Syria promises to be a little less ferocious than the military one. With the US and the majority of ‘able’ Western powers putting next-to-impossible prerequisites for aid, and with the will of Iranian allies being hampered by increasingly suffocating US sanctions of their own, and the Russians being daunted by a somewhat troubled economy, China with its world leading economy and massive surplus and foreign investment plans, remains the strongest potential investor in the reconstruction of Syria. Beijing has emerged as the only power that could possibly have the will and means to reshape Syria’s post-war economic future.

As for the oil-rich Arab Gulf states, the fact that their immense wealth lacks any independent political decision-maker to play role in rebuilding a country they themselves have partly destroyed over the past 8 years, makes their active contribution extremely unlikely, unless told to by Washington.

Thus, between political will and economic might, given the mayhem of intermingled economic, humanitarian, legal, security and political factors entailed, Syria’s ambitious post-war reconstruction plans, as well as its relentless endeavours to rebuild a war-torn country and revive an ailing economy, remain, for the time being at least, as uncertain and as challenging as ever.