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  • Author: Bassma Kodmani
  • Publication Date: 07-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: Before the Syrian uprising morphed into a full-scale war, Syria was probably the most authoritarian regime in the Arab region, unequalled in the scale of its repressive practices except by the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein. Authoritarianism is hardly compatible with decentralization. An authoritarian government’s key concern is to spread the tentacles of its surveillance apparatus across all regions in order to exert full control over the lives of the citizens. A process of decentralization – in which power is genuinely devolved – is practically impossible, therefore, in an authoritarian system of governance. Yet equating centralization with authoritarianism and decentralization with democracy is an assertion that deserves discussion. Some democracies have functioned in a highly centralized manner. Perhaps, one of the best-known examples is France (on which the Syrian state was modelled) that remained highly centralized since the early days of the state formation almost 1000 years ago. The French revolution of 1789 upheld freedom and equality and announced a democratic system. The very idea of decentralization was rejected at the time in the name of equality understood as uniformity. Yet even France found it necessary to engage in some form of decentralization. Since the early 1980s, it engaged in a process of decentralization, mainly for administrative and financial efficiency. Although it continued to consider identity politics as dangerous for the unity of the nation, it was forced to concede to one particular identity-driven demand, that of the Corsicans, by designing a special status for the island.1 And decentralized systems do not necessarily produce democratic or more representative systems. Mexico is a case in point. Although it was always a federation, its political system remained a one-party rule for some seventy years before it transitioned to democracy in the early 2000s. Decentralization and democracy are, therefore, not inherently inseparable. However, a centralized system, even if democratic, inevitably reduces and often denies the specific identity of certain groups within society. It might operate in a democratic manner when national identity is homogeneous, but the world is composed of states where homogeneity is an exception. In diverse societies such as those of the Middle Eastern countries, centralization together with the demagogic discourse of authoritarian regimes using national cohesion as a pretext and brandishing foreign interference as a permanent threat, have served to deny diversity and basic rights of both individual citizens and specific communities. Syrian society faces a historic challenge and possibly an existential one: it needs to craft a model of decentralization as part of a new social contract while its national institutions are all but failing and its regional environment challenges the integrity of its territory and its sovereignty. Given the uncertainty shrouding the future of Syria, the paper is organized in two parts. The first lays out the discussion about decentralization based on the current reality of the Syrian regime in a scenario in which it regains control after having lived through nine years of gradual foundering of state institutions. The second part considers options for a new decentralized order in a context of democratic political transition. This is not to say that the first option is viable while the second is an ideal order for a fictitious future. On the contrary, the paper shows that the destruction of state institutions is a reality and a consequence of the conflict, that violence and other forms of resistance will continue, and that peace cannot be brought to the country under the existing political system. The second option is, therefore, a necessity which Syrians will need to define with the support of the international community. The paper lays out the process with concrete steps for achieving democratic decentralization.
  • Topic: Fragile/Failed State, Democracy, Decentralization , Regionalism
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria, Damascus
  • Author: Bassma Kodmani
  • Publication Date: 12-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: The Collapse of the Syrian state is largely a reality. Both Russia and Iran, Assad’s allies, know he is not the guarantor of the continuity of the state any more but continue to hold on to him to sign off on projects that consolidate their control. This paper argues that instead of a failed state, a two-headed system has emerged, with Iran and Russia each pushing for their own vision of the country.
  • Topic: Imperialism, Fragile/Failed State, Authoritarianism, Military Intervention, Repression
  • Political Geography: Russia, United States, Iran, Middle East, Syria, Damascus
  • Author: Alimar Lazkani
  • Publication Date: 11-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: By monopolizing political, economic and social life in Syria, the Assad regime has barred the emergence and growth of independent, popular or influential local leaders and equated voicing reservations or being neutral towards its policies to opposition. With the outbreak of the revolution, the rules of loyalty to the regime have not changed for fear of reprisal or loss of opportunity. The opening of the market to large businesses have fed the ambitions of small entrepreneurs, making them more loyal. Neutrality and reservations have come from opponents who are waiting for the opportunity to organize, and from some cultural and artistic actors. This paper draws a rich map of the political, economic, cultural and religious elites of the Syrian coastal area and the extent to which they can become an actor able to build a national inclusive project for post-war Syria.
  • Topic: Civil War, Social Movement, Revolution, Dictatorship
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria, Damascus
  • Author: Maher Al Junaidy
  • Publication Date: 12-2018
  • Content Type: Research Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: This paper addresses the situation of Syrians in the UAE, and their readiness to contribute to the reconstruction of Syria. It has two parts: The first part begins with a look at the history of the Syrian community in the UAE, and then examines the influx of “new Syrians” into the UAE after 2011. It also sheds a light on Syrian groups and organizations assembled by Syrians in the UAE before and after the 2011 Revolution in response to political change in Syria. Finally, it examines the cracks within the Syrian community and its organizations. It concludes by examining the volume of Syrian capital in the UAE, and the economic sectors in which it is located. The second part is based on a survey, conducted by the researcher on a selected sample of Syrian economic, academic, and professional elites residing in the UAE, that conveys their views on the issue of reconstruction in Syria.
  • Topic: Reconstruction, Arab Spring, Revolution, Economic Development
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria, Damascus, UAE
  • Author: Hana Jaber
  • Publication Date: 12-2018
  • Content Type: Research Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: This paper addresses the dynamics generated, since 2011, by the influx of 673000 people who have fled the repression of the Syrian regime, and the deterioration of living and security conditions in Syria. By focusing on the new representation of Syrians in Jordan as situation deteriorated into a civil war, the study targets three main topics: 1) the rooted presence of Damascene presence in Transjordan, and its historical role in the Jordanian administration, polity, and economy; 2) the emergence of “Syrian refugees” as a new social category, stigmatized by public policies and discourses, that plays an significant role in the political and social equations of host countries; 3) the vital input of Syrian investors, skilled and/ or qualified people, and manpower, in transforming Syrian tragedy into dynamic opportunities that impacts positively both host and newcomer societies, these opportunities being meant to play an key role when the conflict in Syria will come to an end.
  • Topic: Civil War, Refugee Issues, Immigration, Repression
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria, Jordan, Damascus
  • Author: Sasha Al-Alou
  • Publication Date: 12-2018
  • Content Type: Research Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: This paper describes Syrian emigration to Turkey since 2011, and the forms of organization in which Syrian refugees have engaged. It provides figures on the number of Syrian refugees in Turkey inside and outside the camps and the places of their distribution in Turkey, by province. The paper also studies this distribution according to three factors: the nature of asylum (individual/group), the ethnic factors for the groupings, and investment associations. It examines the fissures in the relations between the Syrians in Turkey (based on the region, class, or profession within the Syrian institutions). In addition, it addresses forms of solidarity within Syrian communities in Turkey and inside Syria. These forms of solidarity are classified into three categories: economic, relief, and cultural and political. The paper concludes that the Syrian elite, with its various specializations, was not immune from the situation in Syria; rather the elite also continues to provide support within Syria, and looks forward to the post-conflict phase, in which it can participate in all aspects of reconstruction.
  • Topic: Civil War, Immigration, Refugees, Revolution
  • Political Geography: Turkey, Middle East, Syria, Damascus
  • Author: Cecilia Baeza
  • Publication Date: 12-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: This paper examines the stance taken by the Syrian diaspora in Latin America vis-à-vis the war in Syria and how it envisions its aftermaths. It builds on an ethnographic field research and analysis carried out between 2011 and 2014 in Argentina and Brazil, and expands its scope by including a questionnaire prepared by ARI on the diaspora’s future role in the reconstruction Syria in a post-conflict scenario. The questionnaire has been sent to Syrian immigrants and descendants from Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Mexico. The first section examines the patterns of Syrian emigration to Latin America and its diasporization process under the influence of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party and the Ba’ath. The second section shows how those historical elements have impacted the diaspora’s attitude towards the conflict in Syria. The last section analyzes the answers to the questionnaire and identifies the main topics of shared interest.
  • Topic: Civil War, Diaspora, Refugees, Revolution
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Brazil, Argentina, Latin America, Syria, Mexico, Chile, Damascus
  • Author: Rayan Majed
  • Publication Date: 12-2018
  • Content Type: Research Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: This paper is an attempt to monitor the situation of the Syrian diaspora in Lebanon from 2011 until today, without claiming full coverage of all aspects of the subject. It focuses on four diaspora categories as well as the reflection of the Lebanese-Syrian historical relationship and the internal political situation in Lebanon on the Syrian diaspora there. The paper relies on reports from international and human rights organizations and articles on Syrian asylum in Lebanon, and on interviews with Syrian residents living in Lebanon from a variety of backgrounds.
  • Topic: Civil War, Regional Cooperation, Diaspora, Immigration
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Lebanon, Syria, Beirut, Damascus
  • Author: Basma Alloush
  • Publication Date: 12-2018
  • Content Type: Research Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: The Syrian American diaspora has been actively engaged in the Syrian uprising through the provision of humanitarian assistance and the entry into political advocacy work. Yet, the Syrian diaspora in the U.S. does not represent a homogenous population group nor a unified political position. On the contrary, assessing the dynamics of the diaspora since 2011 reveals important transformations within diasporic groupings, with the 2011 uprising acting as a catalyst for the emergence of new fractures. Through a mixture of desk research and interviews with key members of the Syrian American diaspora, this paper investigates the evolution of the community and discusses the potential role of the diaspora in a post-conflict Syria. By assessing current and evolving trends within the diaspora from 2011, it is possible to shape future reconstruction plans to effectively include the Syrian American diaspora.
  • Topic: Civil War, Diaspora, Immigration
  • Political Geography: United States, Middle East, Syria, North America, Damascus