Friday, November 18, 2005

A Fund for Syria!

The issue of foreign funding of civil society groups and opposition movements in Syria has always been problematic. Everybody is afraid of the stigma that this might bring. For this reason, the operations of independent civil organizations remain in the hands of volunteers and part-timers.

But, and while the role of such individuals in the management of civil institutions is always welcome and critical, civil institutions cannot be establish and managed solely on this basis. Fulltime commitment is needed, and the attention of the civil activists should remain focused on the tasks at hand.

Also, since many of these people often get themselves in trouble with the authorities some mechanism for supporting their families is also needed.

For this reason, and considering the important role that these organizations will be required to play in the weeks and months ahead, funding of civil society organizations in Syria, including opposition groups and movements, should be a major concern for all those interested in this country’s future.

One way for dealing with this issue is to remove the stigma of foreign funding from the scene through the creation of a special Fund for Syria, a fund that should be established and maintained by successful Syrian entrepreneurs and professionals from around the world. The Fund should, however, accept donations from individuals and international organizations as well. For so long as the founders are Syrians, and so long as the various donor organizations are vetted by them, the issue of the stigma can be overcome.

More importantly though, the Founders of the Fund will, in due course of time, acquire much credibility and legitimacy in the eyes of the Syrian people, and could position themselves to play an important role in future political and economic developments therein.

Furthermore, the Fund should not only be concerned with the transitional phase that Syria has to go through, but should also focus on the future. That is, funds should also be collected and committed to support future developmental projects in the country focusing on such critical issues as education, rural development and poverty alleviation.

Syrian entrepreneurs abroad have always been willing to approach the regime and offer to create major investments in the country should the country’s old laws be modernized enough to allow them to operate more freely, and should the President agree to shield these entrepreneurs from the corrupt elements in his regime who will continue to attempt to blackmail them and shake them down. To no avail. Not a single has been able to establish a successful foothold in the country. The regime is unwilling to change its ways.

But are the entrepreneurs unwilling to change theirs as well? That is, if they are really interested in their country’s future, are they not willing to see now that the regime is the main obstacle for progress in the country, and that the development of strong civil society institutions and democratic governance are the only way out of the quagmire we find ourselves in?

It is indeed about time for successful Syrian entrepreneurs and professionals to put some of their money at least where their mouths, and their hearts, seem to be: in the future of the homeland.