Matt Freear: Local Peace agreements are the only way to stabilize Syria

12 October 2016

Mey Alsayegh

Displacing ISIL from its territorial base in Syria, and destroying its leadership and financial foundations, may be a start, but it is not enough to pursue stability in this war-torn country. When al Shabaab vacated its conventional frontline in Mogadishu in 2011, it turned to guerilla operations, like many other insurgencies. A public debate amongst Syrians about what a stable future looks like – including those in Syria and displaced around the world – is one that can eventually lead towards a developed political framework and constitutional reform, Matt Freear , a strategic communications expert, specializing in security and stabilization in post-conflict environments stated.

Freear , who has worked in campaigning, advisory and official roles for the UK and US governments, the United Nations, European and African Unions in Kenya, Libya, Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq explained in an interview with Aljoumhouria the aim of his paper, entilted “the Syrian Stabilization and Reconstruction Lessons Learned for a Post-Conflict Syria” and that was published by The American Security Project (ASP) in June 2016 .

Freear said :” People can work together ,and local peace agreements can be a small start ,and it may extend to cover the whole country”.

In light of what has happened in Mogadishu, reconstruction is  stabilization when it grows the circle of stability stakeholders who are invested in peace, provides jobs and builds confidence in the future, Freear concluded in his paper.

It is more than just formal structures of government and navigating local political economies. “It is about building an entire country’s vision of its future”. Things has to be done from the local level upwards – not by foreign actors – and creating momentum in public debate is an area where the US and its democratic partners have considerable advantage.

But how can this work in Syria?

Freear said: “communications platforms and social media offer opportunities to innovatively generate conversations about the future of Syria. Amidst the conflict, that public debate is much needed”.

This debate should start now and Syrian NGOS even they are depressed , they should say what they want for their country ,and there is a tremendous potential for carrying this out using technology to reach Syrians globally in the digital age .

NGOS  hand in hand with media should play a role in bringing people together and finding common interest and motivating Syrians in diaspora to come coming back, and invest not necessarily on a large scale and to be part of the future of Syria.

According to Freear , social media is an opportunity that should be used properly, since words are better than weapons , later on people need to sit face to face and build trust.

Freear added: “provisional constitution needs to be understood and  supported by majority of people, things require a lot of debates, about balances of power , legal systems economy and division of adminstration between central and local government”.

Freear found the Somali model quite interesting to realize how the Somali refugees that settled in Europe and North America in the 1990s today provide one source of skills and investment for the current wave of reconstruction in Somalia, as many diaspora return to their country of origin.

Freear said:” Private (sometimes diaspora) investors were among a new set of stakeholders for stability in Mogadishu, especially after al Shabaab left the capital of Somalia in 2011”. Their confidence, risk and willingness to invest in reconstruction has led to a greater sense of security, and there is much to be learned from that.

He added:”Media reached to those in Somali Diaspora and linked them with their citizens inside despite the divide between several groups. This move can be applied in Syria and people need to express their desire and reconciliation and plan for their future together.

Will international and regional powers facilitate this dialogue?

Freear did not deny that regional powers and neighboring countries to Syria have their own interests, but they have to stop interfering in Syria.

He said: “If USA , Russia and European countries have to protect their interests, then we can ask regional powers to pull back. if we want these local  peace agreements to flourish, it is supposed to be linked with international powers, who  should protect and ensure its implementation”.

For instance in Somalia,  when international powers reached to a settlement in this country, African union countries decided to lessen its interference(Kenya , Burundi mainly). So  what seems a challenge now may lead to new approaches in the future.

But such agreements willnot enahnce dividing Syria?

Freear said in fact , Syria is divided today, what will be the situation in the future, what people expect how power will be distributed, maybe there will be reconciliation and people will work together how minorities will be treated.

Freear believes that local agreements will not be final,  it may expand in the entire country, and have a domino effect if they  donot surrender in the face of overwhelming force.  It will take time, if we want different outcomes of what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan, patience is highly recommended.

Freear considered that western countries focused on military power in Iraq and Afghanistan to establish strong central government ,and  launching massive development projects did not lead to fruitful results, because people wasnot being listened to, plans were put in Newyork , London, and Brussels.

So lessons learned, that to achieve development, we need to focus on people and local governments and giving United Nations more influence to contain the conflicts.

What is still missing?

The US government and its partners in Syria prioritise what is still known as the war on “international terrorism”, and it is unclear how that current policy contributes towards peace for Syrians given the clear lessons from Iraq, Afghanistan but also Libya and Somalia.

“Harnessing the considerable power and will of international allies in the destruction of regimes or organisations, however abhorrent, is far from enough for creating stability. The primary antidote to international terrorism is not destruction of organisations – you can’t destroy an idea.  Rather, the balance of resources and effort must be placed on the positive construction of politics and ideas – and the best place for that to happen is locally”.

Freear said :“It might sound trite when peace seems a long way off and while people in Aleppo continue to be bombed, but we need to arm people with ideas, as well as guns. And in the internet age there is no doubt that there are huge opportunities to garner and support the construction of political ideas”.

He added: “the appalling disaster of the Russian-US, national-level truce shows that progress cannot be agreed distant from the country. It may be harder in practice but what is needed investing – properly, adequately – in fostering local ideas,  and leadership and peace is a relevant alternative – or complement – to high level negotiations”.

Freear concluded that the new American adminstration willnot send boots on grounds if they don’t have a clear paln, that is for sure.



The American Security Project (ASP) is a nonpartisan organization created to educate the American public and the  world about the changing nature of national security in the 21st Century.



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Mey Al Sayegh

Mey AL Sayegh
Senior Correspondent and International news editor@ ALjoumhouria newspaper

I work as a senior international news editor and correspondent at Aljoumhouria newspaper (Lebanese Arabic daily). In my articles, I focus on international conflicts and development, diplomatic issues and conduct interviews with foreign ambassadors to Lebanon and senior officials.
At the technical level, I am qualified to use computer and research engines properly and I am active on social media as well.
My native language is Arabic and most of my articles are written in this language. I also write articles and analysis in English language for SFPA, SAC- Slovakia think- tank.
I believe that the expert in anything was once a beginner, that what I learned from my experience as a journalist since 2007.I realized that being passionate of my work and the high sense of responsibility are the key points in my success. I walked my way bearing in my mind that my articles (English &Arabic) should not be boring or written in a press release form; they should reflect a human sense.
In parallel, I developed a wide network of public relations and been very active in advocating voluntary for the causes I believe in, even though it was not part of my daily tasks at Aljoumhouria newspaper and Tatwir Center for Studies.
As a result, I have been invited to a large number of countries to cover different topics, ranging from international politics (Geneva 2 on Syria) to development issues, and appointed as a member of Media network for Blue peace in the Middle East.

A list of most important certificates i have got from United States Department of State(International visitor Leadership Program June 16- July 4 2014)
Media for development program (2012-2013)
Reporting the EU training (2013-2014)

Senior Correspondent
Aljoumhouria newspaper
January 2014 – Present (2 years 3 months)missions abroad
The Geneva II Conference on Syria coverage- for ALjoumhouruia newspaper (January - February 2014 )
The Reform process in Jordan coverage - exclusive invitation from His Royal Highness prince Alhassan Bin Talal.(February 2014)
1 honor or award
Senior international and diplomatic news editor
Aljoumhouria newspaper
January 2011 – Present (5 years 3 months)zalka
January 2011 to date
Head of International news department/ Aljoumhouria newspaper (
- News reporting, Feature writing, Investigative reporting,
Editing, Research and Fact- checking, Conducting interviews
- Covering international and regional conferences

April 25 - May 10 2012
-Conducted Training for editors @ Aljoumhouria website

December 2013 to date
Freelancer -Conducting researches and interviews / Tatwir Center for Studies – Beirut- Lebanon ( Arabic – English)

June 2012 till June 2013
Freelancer writer at Slovakian media (Blizkyychod Media)
(articles covering middle east issues written in English(

June 2013 to date
Freelancer writer at think- tank SFPA, SAC- Slovakia (English language)

May 2007 –September 2009:
International news editor - Al-akhbar newspaper – Verdun
Lebanon (

- International visitor leadership program on Investigative Journalism /United States of State of Department(July 4 2014)

- Media neighborhood training – BBC /Reporting the European Union (May 2014)

- Multimedia and social network /Agence France-Press AFP, Canal France International (CFI), UNDP , Montpellier ,France(October 2013)

Member at Lebanese Editors Syndicate
- Investigative Reporters and Editors - IRE
( June 9, 2014 – June 2015)
- Blue peace Media Network

Workshops and conferences:
April 2011-till 2013
- Media for Development workshop /UNDP /AFP (Training sessions/ field visits / Sarajevo conference on civil war)

March 2013 to present:
- Blue peace conferences - Istanbul, Jordan, Geneva.
- Field trips :The Rhine river - Switzerland - September 2013/ Mekong river in Cambodia and Laos- November 2014/ Senegal river -August 2015

June 2013 / February 2014
- The 5th Wana Forum (The Uprooted) - Jordan.
- Reform process in Jordan.

November 2013
Coverage of Regional and Municipal elections and Green Economy in Denmark