The future of the Middle East and North Africa, a region of some 350 million people, is very much defined by what comes after the devastating conflicts which have brought Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen to ruin. The phrase post-conflict reconstruction is at once lofty and foreboding because of the great hopes, expectations, and risks it carries.
While the Marshall Plan and the American occupation helped to resuscitate the economies of Germany and Japan in the aftermath of the Second World War, the parameters which govern peacemaking and nation-(re)building have today drastically changed. For example, in Syria’s prolonged conflict, which has not fully ended, any efforts must overcome religious, political, and social fragmentation under the shadow of a government which itself was a party to the conflict and has consolidated its power to be in control of much of the process of reconstruction and rebuilding. The significant presence and role of outside parties—such as Iran, Russia, the European Union, and the United States—in Syria further complicates efforts of rehabilitation in the country.
The situation in neighboring Iraq, meanwhile, offers an excellent example of what to avoid when applying traditional approaches of reconstruction and rebuilding. Despite the United States and its allies defeating and removing the Baathist regime in 2003, very little has been done to improve the country’s power and water supplies. With basic infrastructure, healthcare, security, and humanitarian assistance underfunded and in disarray, Iraq has been a case of mismanagement of billions in revenue and political capital intended to foster economic and political cohesion to allow effective reconstruction.
With the horrifying bloodshed and devastation unleashed in these conflict zones, international donors, organizations, and national initiatives are desperately looking for a playbook to make the wholescale transformation toward more democratic institutions less daunting. No such playbook exists.
In this issue of the Cairo Review titled “Under Reconstruction,” global experts and scholars invested in the reconstruction and rehabilitation offer their perspectives on what lies ahead after the last bullet has been fired and the smoke has cleared. The consensus is that there needs to be information-driven collaboration between national and international actors—including those who were parties to the conflicts. There is also consensus that conventional notions of economic inclusiveness may no longer be enough given the ethnic, sectarian, and tribal factors which often are significant to the point of disrupting any serious reconstruction efforts. Participation by all sectors of society, including political enfranchisement of minorities and women, in a holistic approach is now more needed than ever to ensure post-conflict stability which allows for the right conditions for reconstruction. Chaos and conflict continue unabated in some parts of MENA which is why for this issue we chose to do things a little differently and capture the reconstruction amid ruin as depicted by Syrian architect/artist Mohamad Hafez who has witnessed first hand the ravages of war tearing his nation apart.
Firas Al-Atraqchi & Karim Haggag
Cairo Review Managing Editors