Leadership for Syria


BERLIN/DAMASCUS (Own report) - With impressive scholarship programs, the German government seeks to establish firm ties to the future elite of post-war Syria. Already last year the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs began to bring more than 200 selected Syrian students to Germany, within the "Leadership for Syria" program, to be instructed - alongside their academic studies - in advanced training in "governance," organizational setup and similar courses. The program run by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) - the largest foreign program the organization has ever undertaken - has the declared objective of preparing "a select elite among Syria's future leadership" for "active participation in organizing" post-war Syria. This assures Germany a wide range of channels for influence in Damascus over the next few decades. Berlin is also making efforts to sift out students from among the refugees arriving in Germany to be included in its efforts to gain influence. This would crystallize into Germany's becoming the Syrian elite's top European point of reference.

A Selected Elite

The "Leadership for Syria" program was launched by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) in the fall of 2014, with the declared objective of preparing "a selected elite of Syria's future leadership personnel" for "playing a major role in helping to form Syria's social, political, academic, and economic future."[1] Therefore, the DAAD has awarded, with the support of the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 200 university scholarships to Syrians, who were either still living in Syria or in one of the bordering countries (Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey), or who had fled to Germany. Other scholarships were financed by the German states Baden Wurttemberg (50), and North Rhine Westphalia (21). Alongside an introductory language course, the federal and the North Rhine Westphalian scholarships include a concomitant obligatory program "teaching" the future Syrian elite "fundamental and practical knowledge and skills in political sciences, economics, social sciences, as well as operational competence."[2] To insure that the scholarship recipients will really use their newly acquired skills, as soon as possible, in Syria, the DAAD requires already on the application, a precise description of how they - "with [their] academic knowledge and skills - can contribute" ... "to rebuild their country after the end of conflict."[3]

Bridge Builder

Berlin is obviously hoping that the scholarship awards to young Syrians, who, due to the war, would otherwise remain without prospects, will benefit German interests. "We hope that you will play an active role as bridge builders," DAAD's Secretary General, Dorothea Rüland, explained to the Syrian scholarship holders, participating at a conference, the foreign ministry organized for them on its premises November 24. That day, the future "bridge builders" linking post-war Syria to Germany, also discussed, with a selected number of representatives of German policy, reconstruction measures for their, to a large extent destroyed, country.[4] "We are going to need many hands and heads, if that country is ever going to rise again," noted Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in his address to the conference.[5] Some of the scholarship holders said, they already felt quite "integrated into German society."[6] Berlin has reason to hope that some of these junior members of the elite will develop strong ties to Germany, become "bridge builders" between the two countries and serve as channels for German influence.

Every Sixth, a Student

This effect is expected to be reinforced by the large number of Syrian refugees, who are still pouring into Germany. "Leadership for Syria" is having a wide resonance inside Syria, as well as among Syrian refugees in neighboring countries. The DAAD reports that there are around 5,000, often desperate applicants, of which only a minimal portion can receive a scholarship, and thereby an opportunity at an attractive future. Last week, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) confirmed that a relatively high number of students are fleeing Syria, via Turkey to the nearby Greek islands. The majority, then seek to travel on to Germany. In a random sample, the UNHCR found 16 percent students, while an additional half of the refugees admitted having studied at some point at a university.[7] "Leadership for Syria" scholars have repeatedly reported that they have been intensively involved in supporting their compatriots, arriving in Germany as refugees. Some tell of how they have encountered relatives in refugee camps - or even former classmates, who had not been able to enter Germany on the "Leadership for Syria" program and, therefore, attempted to flee to Germany on their own.

Elite Network

In the meantime, the German government is reinforcing its efforts to filter out refugees, with sufficient qualifications for admission to the university - not only - but particularly Syrians. Next year, a new scholarship for Syrians is supposed to be initiated. The German Ministry of Education and Research has announced it will be earmarking 100 million Euros to support refugees capable of studying at the university, of which 27 million Euros in 2016.[8] A DAAD expert is quoted saying that, unlike Iraqi, Afghan or Eritrean high school diplomas, Syrian diplomas are "indeed compatible with German diplomas." Whoever has graduated from high school in Syria can - of course, with a knowledge of the language - immediately be admitted to the university in Germany.[9] Regardless of how many refugees eventually will be available to return to undertake the anticipated reconstruction of a pacified Syria, once they have completed their studies, those Syrian academics, who remain in Germany, will, with their ties to their homeland, also constitute a new aspect of the German-Syrian elite network that Berlin can politically rely upon.

Top Country of Reference

Therefore, the opportunity may present itself for Germany to become the predominating country of orientation for Syria's future elite. In numerous countries of - not only - the Arab World, the former European colonial and mandate powers have remained the point of orientation in questions of education, which usually is linked closely to cultural-political influence. An extreme example is Algeria, where, according to UNESCO's Institute for Statistics (UIS), more than 85 percent of its students attend universities in France. British universities account, for example, for six times more Iraqi students than their German counterparts. The Federal Republic of Germany has never been the top country of orientation in the Arab World. According to UIS, in 2012, France had a clear lead over Germany with 1,828 Syrian students, as opposed to Germany's 1,570. In the meantime, the proportions have reversed, with UNESCO registering a drop to 1,446 Syrian students in France, and Germany, 1,577. These new scholarship programs could give Germany - combined with its popularity as country of refuge - a sizable lead, in the eyes of the Syrian elite. This, in Syria's case, would give Berlin the possibility to achieve what only former colonial and mandate powers have had, become the top country of cultural orientation for the establishment in an Arab World country.

[1], [2] DAAD Programmausschreibungen. Oktober 2015.
[3] Leadership for Syria. Frequently Asked Questions. 05.12.2014.
[4] Johannes Göbel: "Führungskräfte für Syrien": Empfang im Auswärtigen Amt für beeindruckende Persönlichkeiten. www.daad.de 25.11.2015.
[5] Thomas Sebastian Vitzthum: So will Deutschland Syriens künftige Elite ausbilden. www.welt.de 26.11.2015.
[6] Johannes Göbel: "Führungskräfte für Syrien": Empfang im Auswärtigen Amt für beeindruckende Persönlichkeiten. www.daad.de 25.11.2015.
[7] UNHCR says most of Syrians arriving in Greece are students. www.unhcr.org 08.12.2015.
[8] Flüchtlingen den Zugang zum Studium ermöglichen. www.bmbf.de 13.11.2015.
[9] Christiane Habermalz: Zunächst die "Studierfähigkeit" ermitteln. www.deutschlandfunk.de 13.11.2015.