Hadi al-Bahra outlines the “Economic Plan” for northwestern Syria

Hadi al-Bahra, the head of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces – December 8, 2023 (Enab Baladi)

Hadi al-Bahra, the head of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces – December 8, 2023 (Enab Baladi)


Enab Baladi – Khaled al-Jeratli

At the stage when Hadi al-Bahra assumed the presidency of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, he adopted two main slogans: the first was to strengthen the relationship with Syrian society, and the second was to revitalize the northwestern region, which is under the control of the armed opposition, in terms of services and economy.

Amidst the obstacles and available choices, the Coalition aims to achieve its goals by proving its existence in Syria and providing an attractive environment for Syrian businessmen to invest. This, in turn, will help accomplish the second objective.

Enab Baladi conducted an interview with the head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, Hadi al-Bahra, to discuss the announced goals and their close association with the ongoing political process regarding Syria for the past few years.

Why now?

Al-Bahra stated that the initial plan for the Coalition when it was established was for its headquarters to be located inside Syria, with its offices abroad addressing foreign relations, diplomacy, and “defense of Syrian issues.”

He added that the facilitated conditions for the return of the Coalition to the Syrian interior have gradually improved due to the cessation of military operations that have been taking place across Syrian geography over the past years.

Furthermore, according to al-Bahra, the organizational situation of the military factions was different in the past before the work of the Syrian Interim Government (the executive arm of the Coalition) inside the region. He pointed out the existence of an “organized national army” and the activities of unions, federations, and associations in the Syrian interior. Additionally, he mentioned that the needs of the Syrians in the region require the presence of a “political leadership” alongside the Interim Government as an executive body.


In response to questions from Enab Baladi, al-Bahra said that there is “self-growth” in the opposition-controlled areas in northwestern Syria, as some residents have started their own projects in the commercial, industrial, and even residential sectors.

He added that the economic development plan for northwestern Syria stems from the suffering of internally displaced persons within Syria, especially those who have been living in camps for about 13 years. The Coalition cannot accept an entire generation living under such conditions, he added.

Based on this suffering, al-Bahra stated that the first step for the Coalition is to secure temporary housing that is “dignified” and enables residents to withstand harsh natural conditions.

According to al-Bahra, the economic and service aspect is not exclusive to the Coalition. He pointed out several projects initiated by Syrian civil society organizations, as well as other programs implemented by the United Nations. These efforts aim to replace tents with temporary housing that provides at least a “decent living” for children.

He considered that temporary housing will provide opportunities for children to continue their education and for young people seeking more stability in life.

Regarding the funding of these projects, al-Bahra stated that “the main authority responsible for implementing these projects inside Syria is the United Nations,” especially since the burden is “much larger than the size of the Coalition or any individual country.”

Al-Bahra emphasized that international issues compete for the budgets of countries’ humanitarian aid, especially with the emergence of other crises on the agenda of these countries, as witnessed in Ukraine over a year ago or Azerbaijan a few months ago, or the recent unfortunate events in Palestine.

Moreover, many countries have significantly reduced their budgets for humanitarian aid directed towards the Syrian people due to economic crises they are experiencing.

According to al-Bahra, the deficit in the aid sector during the current year reached about 67%, which means that civilians in northwestern Syria rely on aid that represents only 33% of their needs.

In light of this deficit, there is a need to transition from the stage of waiting for aid to what al-Bahra called the “production phase,” which involves strengthening the productive capacity of the Syrian people themselves. This way, they can rely on themselves as much as possible to avoid the “humanitarian disasters” occurring in the Syrian interior.

The relationship with the “Voluntary Return” project

The economic project mentioned by the head of the Syrian National Coalition intersects with the “Voluntary Return” project that Turkey has repeatedly discussed, which aims to provide job opportunities in Syria and create a “safe environment” for the return of Syrian refugees residing in Turkey.

More than three million Syrian refugees are currently residing in Turkey, according to official data, and their numbers have been gradually decreasing due to the repatriation operations conducted by Turkey for over a year.

On August 13, the Turkish newspaper Sabah reported that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had given instructions to implement what was called the “Aleppo Model,” which aims to repatriate refugees to their homeland.

Based on the model mentioned in the newspaper close to the government, Turkey will work on opening up business activities in the “safe areas” (northern Aleppo countryside and part of the eastern part) to provide employment opportunities for those willing to return.

In accordance with the president’s instructions in this context, a tripartite mechanism was formed between the Turkish Ministry of Interior, the Justice and Development Party (the ruling party), and its parliamentary bloc to implement the plan.

Al-Bahra stated that the economic and service revival regarding northwestern Syria is a “general direction” for the Coalition. He expressed support for the concept of “voluntary and dignified return” of Syrian refugees in all host countries.

He emphasized that the Coalition also supports the right of refugees to seek asylum and protection, and their treatment with dignity and humanity in accordance with international laws.

Additionally, the “forced return” of any Syrian refugee is rejected by the Coalition, as their return should be based on their own decision and the available conditions in the Syrian interior, al-Bahra added.

The economic plan in northern Syria is a “direction” for the Coalition, and it is not a concurrent project with Turkey’s “Voluntary Return” project for Syrian refugees, according to al-Bahra.

Furthermore, al-Bahra believes that Syrian businessmen and Syrian expertise should start considering returning to Syria and participate in the project of “revitalizing northern Syria.”

Customs exceptions for industrial cities

During a previous closed meeting between the Coalition members and Syrian journalists in October, al-Bahra mentioned the Coalition’s aspirations to secure “customs exceptions” for the industrial cities in northwestern Syria. He considered this idea important to provide a successful model of what Syrians can achieve outside the framework of the regime’s rule.

In the areas under the control of the Interim Government in northern Aleppo province and part of its eastern region, there are five industrial cities that have provided employment opportunities for young Syrians.

Al-Bahra stated during his interview with Enab Baladi that the Coalition has held several meetings with merchants and industrialists in northern Syria to listen to their challenges and overcome obstacles in order to increase the productivity of Syrians. Consequently, this will enhance the possibility of exporting products beyond Syria.

He also mentioned that the Interim Government previously sought to allow the transit of goods from Turkey, which were previously prohibited by Turkish laws. He highlighted that this ban applied to a specific category of goods entering Turkish territory and did not relate to Syria.

A general circular issued by the Turkish Ministry of Trade, No. 21/2021, updated on September 27, lists the goods and materials that are imported from or exported to northern Syria or pass through Turkey (transit) while being transported to other countries, and those eligible for “customs services” and the materials that cannot receive these “services.”

Al-Bahra stated that the Interim Government is working to resolve some obstacles related to import and export issues that are linked to international sanctions laws. For example, there are restrictions on importing certain materials like “chlorine,” which is used in the production of carbonated beverages.

Reforms as a prelude to creating a “safe environment”

The security tension experienced in northern Syria and the internal conflicts between military factions affiliated with the Syrian National Army (SNA) have always been a cause of concern for the region’s inhabitants and employers. This was affirmed by the Coalition’s president Hadi al-Bahra during his conversation with Enab Baladi.

At the same time, al-Bahra pointed out that security is essential for any businessperson or individual planning to implement a project in the region. However, according to al-Bahra, one cannot wait for a “100% safe environment” to be established due to the unstable conditions in Syria.

Nevertheless, the region can progress towards becoming a “safe zone” starting from now. As for any economic growth achieved in the area, the return of businessmen to Syria is completely voluntary, and investments will be made in the region, according to al-Bahra.

He noted that despite the current challenging conditions, there are still people investing in the area, citing several factories exporting their products outside Syria, which he visited himself during his presence in northern Syria, as he told Enab Baladi.

Al-Bahra considers that the current Coalition and Interim Government focus is on bringing more Syrian businessmen and investors to the Syrian interior to expand this type of economic work and to direct international relief programs to enhance productive capacities, provide grants and small loans to areas in northwestern Syria, rather than relying solely on humanitarian aid.

A new phase

During a meeting held by the Coalition at its headquarters in the Florya neighborhood of Istanbul with Syrian journalists, attended by its newly elected president, Hadi al-Bahra, a new action plan was presented aimed at “revitalizing northern Syria,” as stated by al-Bahra during the meeting.

Al-Bahra discussed several points during the meeting, which took place on October 6, including a plan that involves economic and service aspects in the areas controlled by the Interim Government (the political umbrella for the Syrian National Army) in the northern Aleppo province.

The meeting also addressed the developments of the Syrian file on the political level in international meetings with the Syrian opposition.

Al-Bahra believes that the upcoming phase will be a “transparent phase” between the opposition’s institutions and the Syrian people. This will allow access to the activities and work of these institutions and strengthen their communication with Syrian media outlets to facilitate readers’ access to information related to the activities of the institutions themselves.

The General Assembly of the Coalition elected Hadi al-Bahra, who held several political positions in opposition institutions after 2011, as the president of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces.

The second presidential candidate, Haytham Rahma, assumed the position of Secretary-General of the Coalition, while the members agreed on three deputies for the Coalition’s president: Dima Moussa, Abdel Hakim Bashar, and Abdel Majeed Barakat.

Currently, Hadi al-Bahra serves as the head of the Syrian opposition’s National Coalition and the co-chair of the Syrian Constitutional Committee (SCC). He previously held the position of Coalition president in 2014 and served as a member of the Coalition’s political body.


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