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Ten Experts to Watch on Reconstruction in Syria

From infrastructure and urban planning to funding and democratic dialogue, in this next installment of our “Experts to Watch” series we highlight 10 experts who focus on the different aspects of reconstruction in Syria.

Written by Mel Plant, Kim Bode Published on Read time Approx. 6 minutes
Syrians clear up the rubble of their houses, which were destroyed during clashes on the outskirts of Raqqa on July 19, 2017.BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images

Despite ongoing fighting, daily shelling and a severe lack of humanitarian access in certain areas of Syria, the international community and the Syrian government have started to discuss the issue of reconstruction.

With about one-third of residential infrastructure destroyed – and far more in some parts of the country – rebuilding housing and urban infrastructure will be a key component of Syria’s recovery.

The Syrian government is under severe financial pressure and the economy is struggling with inflation, which means that foreign powers and the country’s own elite will likely have to foot most of the reconstruction bill. But nevertheless, experts agree that civil society needs to play a role in plans for post-war development.

As part of our “Experts to Watch” series, we highlight 10 experts who come from a variety backgrounds – from architecture, engineering and urban planning to economics – to discuss the issue of rebuilding Syria.

Marwa al-Sabouni

Marwa al-Sabouni is a Syrian architect from Homs, where she has remained throughout the war. With her husband, a fellow architect, she runs the Arabic Gate for Architectural News, the first and only Arabic-language media platform dedicated to architecture, and an English-language academic bookstore in Homs. In 2014, she won first place at the national level in the U.N.–Habitat competition for mass housing for her design proposal for rebuilding Baba Amr, Homs, which authorities in charge of reconstruction subsequently rejected. In 2016, she published her memoir, “The Battle for Home: The Vision of a Young Architect in Syria,” which the Guardian named one of that year’s best architectural books. Al-Sabouni focuses on the politicalization of architecture in Syria. She argues that divisive, sectarian city planning contributed to the war and the widespread destruction of Homs, and suggests that the mixed neighborhood of the old city could serve as a model for reconstruction. She has been profiled by the Guardianthe New York Times and the Financial Times, among other outlets. She is on Twitter @marwa_alsabouni.

Tobias Schneider

Tobias Schneider is an independent international security analyst focusing on the political economy of conflict in the region, with a focus on the ongoing war in Syria. He currently covers Middle East political risk IHS Markit in London and advises private and government clients on dynamics in the Levant. Schneider is a regular contributor to the Middle East Institute and part of the Atlantic Council’s “Rebuilding Syria” project. He is a graduate of Johns Hopkins SAIS and Sciences Po Paris. He is on Twitter @tobiaschneider.

Hani Khabbaz

Hani Khabbaz is a Syrian engineer, consultant and businessman. He is currently director general of the Syria Recovery Trust Fund (SRTF), a multidonor trust fund for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of crucial services and infrastructure in Syria. By its own account, SRTF’s 12 completed projects in the food security, agriculture, health and electricity sectors have reached almost 7 million Syrians. Khabbaz is on Twitter @hanikhabbaz.

AlHakam Shaar

AlHakam Shaar is a Syrian researcher from Aleppo, focusing on the heritage of the city and the problems it is likely to face post-war. His interest in the city’s heritage started when his family renovated a traditional house in the old city of Aleppo. After spending three years in Turkey, where he was a lecturer of English at Isik University, Shaar moved to Budapest, where he is currently the Holbrooke fellow for the Aleppo Project at the Shattuck Center on Conflict, Negotiations and Recovery at the Central European University. The Aleppo Project is involved in consulting with Aleppan architects and archaeologists and surveying Syrian civilians on their goals for reconstruction. Shaar has advocated a pluralistic, innovative and democratic response for Aleppo’s reconstruction. He is on Twitter @ShaarH.

Omar Abdalaziz Hallaj

Omar Abdalaziz Hallaj is a Syrian architect and consultant, with a focus on urban planning and development. He’s currently an associate professor of architecture and design at the American University of Beirut. He previously led the team of the German Technical Cooperation Project for the Development of Historic Cities in Yemen, for which his rehabilitation project for the city of Shibam was awarded the Aga Khan Award for Architecture. Omar is cofounder of the Syria Initiative at the Common Space Initiative in Beirut, which aims to foster dialogue and facilitate projects for peace-building and recovery planning in Syria. He was the CEO for the Syria Trust for Development from 2010 to 2012.

Valerie Clerc

Valerie Clerc is a French architect whose research focuses on urban planning in Syria, Lebanon, Cambodia, Myanmar and India, with particular focus on informal settlements. She was director of the French Institute of the Near East Urban Observatory in Damascus from 2007 to 2011 and is currently a research fellow at the French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development (IRD). She is also a member of the Social Sciences Research Center on African, American and Asian Worlds in Paris. Valerie earned her PhD in urban planning from the French Institute of Urbanism in Paris and has written on the changes in urban planning under Bashar al-Assad, prospects for the reconstruction of informal settlements and the role of urban planning projects of renewal as a tool in the conflict.

Jihad Yazigi

Jihad Yazigi is a Syrian journalist who specializes in covering Syrian economic affairs. He is the founder and editor of the Syria Report, an economics news bulletin, and cofounder of the Syrian Observer, which translates articles from Syrian publications into English. Jihad is also a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, where he has published reports on Syria’s war economy and decentralization. He recently published a report on the regime’s capitalization on property destruction and on reconstruction for Friedrich Ebert Stiftung. He is on Twitter @jihadyazigi.

Osama Kadi

Osama Kadi is a Syrian-Canadian economist. He is the founder and president of the Syrian Economic Task Force, which has published more than 30 in-depth Syrian economic reports on a range of economic sectors. Kadi envisions a “Syrian Marshall Plan” or “Tillerson Plan” for reconstruction and economic rehabilitation in a post-Assad regime Syria. He argues that Syria’s reconstruction cannot be undertaken without a comprehensive political solution.

Samer Abboud

Samer Abboud is a Canadian scholar focusing on the political economy in Syria. He is an associate professor of historical and political studies at Arcadia University in Pennsylvania, U.S., after posts as visiting scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Center and as a resident fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. Abboud’s recent research focuses on Syria’s war economycapital flight and its implications for future reconstruction in Syria. He is also interested in neoliberalism and privatization in the region and how it has created and shaped new forms of political agency. He has a PhD from the University of Exeter, where he conducted research on marketization in Syria. In 2015 Abboud published a book called “Syria,” an analysis of the country’s descent into conflict. He also has written analysis pieces for the Century FoundationAl JazeeraMiddle East Eye and Mondoweiss. He is on Twitter @samer_abboud.

Nabil Sukkar

Nabil Sukkar is a Syrian economist and consultant. He is the owner and managing director of the Syrian Consulting Bureau for Development and Investment, which specializes in market and investment research and analysis and currently focuses on prospects for reconstruction and recovery in Syria. A former macroeconomist at the World Bank, Sukkar worked on a study of the Syrian economy in the late 1980s and proposals for its stabilization, restructuring and marketization. He then set up the Syrian Consulting Bureau for Development and Investment. More recently, he wrote two papers for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on “Syria: Priorities for Decentralization in Immediate Post Conflict and Beyond” and “Sequencing of Economic Reconstruction in Post-Conflict Syria”.

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