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Clingendael Academy trains Syrian Coalition

17 Sep 2014 - 13:55

From 8 till 12 September 2014 the Clingendael Academy trained a group of representatives from the Syrian Opposition Coalition (officially called the Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces (SOC or Coalition)). During five intensive days of training, the group learned about the many facets of diplomatic work. The training laid a basis for the development of SOC diplomacy and diplomatic missions.

Why training the Coalition?

As early as 2012, many countries including the Netherlands, have been a ‘Friend of Syria’. Friends of Syria recognize the Syrian Coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. The Coalition – sometimes called the moderate opposition -  is the party in the Syrian conflict actively seeking a diplomatic solution. 

“Seeds of a democratic Syria”

The training programme “sowed the seeds of a democratic Syria”, according to a recent report in the Dutch newspaper Volkskrant. It covered lectures in diplomacy and international law; training in diplomatic skills; and expert meetings with successful Dutch diplomats. Much attention was given to the role of communication in the work of a diplomat. How to develop a public relation strategy for the Coalition? How to engage people with the core objectives of the Coalition? What is the best way to set up internal communication lines? These were recurring questions throughout the week.

Speech of Ambassador Monzer Makhous, SOC
Speech of Ambassador Monzer Makhous, SOC

Diplomatic Practice

One element of the training, which was much appreciated by the group, was the interaction with experienced Dutch diplomats such as retired ambassador Koos van Dam (renowned expert on Syria), former ambassador to Syria Désirée Bonis, and ambassador to Azerbaijan Robert Gabriëlse. During this interaction many practical issues were brought up such as diplomatic networking, the workings of a small mission and team, policy priorities, and reporting to the Ministry - especially during the first stages of a new posting. These invaluable sessions provided the participants with key insights and practical know-how, allowing them to further develop and professionalize their own diplomatic network as well as set up new missions abroad.

Mr Ron Ton, director Clingendael Academy, giving a training on Diplomacy for the SOC
Mr Ron Ton, director Clingendael Academy, giving a training on Diplomacy for the SOC

New perspectives

One of the assignment’s topics was ‘how to deal with media’. Under supervision of communication trainers, the participants were asked to write a press statement ánd to think of subsequent questions that could be raised by critical journalists. The exercise was also practiced in front of a camera. This resulted in productive insights about the Coalition’s communication strategy. The group agreed that a positive and homogenous external communication strategy is of vital importance. The participants were open for new and – sometimes – critical perspectives as to their own performance. One participant stated: “That’s why this kind of courses are good. Your thoughts are turned upside down, it opens my mind for new insights.”

Obama’s Speech

This training took place during a critical period for the position of the Coalition. President Obama’s speech on 11 September about the US strategy to counter IS revealed that an international coalition would for the first time intervene in Syrian territory: 
“Tonight, I call on Congress again to give us additional authorities and resources to train and equip these fighters [of the Syrian Coalition].  In the fight against ISIL, we cannot rely on an Assad regime that terrorizes its own people -- a regime that will never regain the legitimacy it has lost.  Instead, we must strengthen the opposition as the best counterweight to extremists like ISIL, while pursuing the political solution necessary to solve Syria’s crisis once and for all.”
The US along with its broad international coalition would greatly strengthen the SOC in terms of visibility, legitimacy and capacity. This shift was therefore very much welcomed by SOC president, Hadi al-Bahra.

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This diplomatic training comes one year after the negotiation training that Clingendael and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs organized for a delegation of the Coalition for the Geneva II peace talks in January 2014.
Clingendael Academy is a large independent international diplomatic training center. Every year, around 1,700 international professionals participate in courses at the Clingendael Institute in The Hague. Click  here to read more about Clingendael’s training and courses.


Participants together with Mr Ron Ton, Hans Wurzer and Mara van der Meer, in front of the Clingendael Institute
Participants together with Mr Ron Ton, Hans Wurzer and Mara van der Meer, in front of the Clingendael Institute