By Bassam Saker

Bassam Saker is a US Representative of the Syrian Democratic Council in Washington DC, and is a member of the Presidential Committee of the SDC.

Syria is a fabric woven together with many different threads. We are a colorful and lively blend of ethnic groups, religions, peoples, and ideologies. But this fabric has frayed after nearly ten years of war and instability. Social cohesion is at an all-time low. If we wish to keep our beautiful tapestry intact, we must seek solutions to the Syrian crisis that enhance our social cohesion, build peace in Syria, and weave together the many threads of our people.

Social cohesion is the willingness of people to freely associate with each other in order to survive, thrive, and prosper. A strong nation with a high level of social cohesion is more likely to realize their goals, experience health and prosperity, and share equitably the benefits of their labor. Syrians would do well to consider the following seven measures to enhance social cohesion as part of a transition to a democratic system that will allow our nation to move forward in harmony.

1) Investigate War Crimes. From 2011 until today, war crimes have been committed all over Syria. The people need a comprehensive process toward justice and accountability for these atrocities. A fact-finding committee should be established to investigate these war crimes, as defined by the United Nations. The committee should be composed of human rights defenders, judges, and recognized and impartial investigative figures working independently of the system and government, under the supervision of the United Nations whose role is advisory and supportive of this committee.

2) Negotiate a Disarmament. In order to come back together, Syrians must disarm. In the future, the arms should be only in the hands of the government, whatever shape that government takes. Syria cannot unify with competing militias in our nation. It may require more time, but it also requires more intelligence and sophistication in dealing with such a sensitive matter as it requires the involvement of a neutral party like the United Nations to facilitate the process of dialogue between the various parties. The United Nations can provide mediation due to its previous experience and history of peacebuilding. Parties must be convinced to hand over arms in exchange for reintegration into public and political life. Especially in light of the international and regional threats, Syrian armed factions must disarm in order to effectively combat the spread of terrorism and extremism.

3) Build Free and Independent Media. Currently, the media that is broadcast into Syrian households is too often government propaganda or biased in one direction or another. This leads to frequent attacks, slander, inflammatory sensationalism, irresponsible hearsay, and immoral attempts to influence public opinion. We should build a culture of independent media, with an emphasis on fact-based reporting, citing reliable sources, and transparency in sourcing information. Our media should be impartial, rather than slanted in one political direction or another. This will help create a culture of trust, honesty, and cohesion between different Syrian groups.

4) Reform Security and Police. Security and police services should be accountable to the people. Strong rules and policy should be in place to ensure that security and police respect human rights, are not complicit in human rights violations, and do not participate in war crimes. Security and police exist to protect and serve the people, and if they are not doing so in good faith, they must be held accountable.

5) Holding Free and Fair Legislative Elections. Democracy means much more than just elections, but transparent, rules-based, and dependable elections are an important part of a democratic system. Elections should have oversight by international observers. They should be supported by the UN. They should ensure one person, one vote. The results should be certified by independent bodies, so the will of the people can be expressed through the election process.

6) Enact Comprehensive Reconstruction and Development. Our reconstruction and development policies must fight corruption, carefully utilize foreign investment, distribute benefits to the people, deliberately include youth, and improve education. Corruption is one of the most important challenges facing Syria, and during our reconstruction and development phase, we must boldly confront it and ensure there is no waste of state resources. We must exercise caution while foreign investment occurs in Syria, urging projects that enhance our productive capacity and reduce unemployment among Syrians. Foriegn investment must not consume our resources or capacity, but benefit our citizens through good tax policy. We must encourage young people to lead, and create a generation of leaders who are able to guide the country and participate in public life through programs, training courses, and civil society activity. We must strengthen our education policies reduce illiteracy in society and raise the efficiency and quality of education.

7) Provide Humanitarian Aid. The Syrian people have experienced multiple waves of upheaval, and most are living below the poverty line. The aid we are receiving is nowhere near enough to help people re-establish their lives. An increase in humanitarian aid is required to get us past initial hurdles. In addition to providing food aid, healthcare, and other material assistance, special programs are needed to assist in reintegration and resettlement of refugees and the displaced. We must take care to ensure that, in all parts of our diverse nation, people are given help in returning to their homes.

In conclusion, these steps are necessary if we wish to weave back together the many threads of the Syrian nation. It is important to take these steps early before the total deterioration of society and the occurrence of more division in Syria. Otherwise we may see new internal conflicts arise that may tear to shreds what is left of the bold, beautiful tapestry that is Syria.