Decentralization and the Future of the Syrian State

Arab Reform Initiative - Decentralization and the Future of the Syrian State
A Syrian girl runs next to destroyed houses on her way back from school in Douma, outskirts of Damascus, Syria, 17 December 2016. © Mohammed Badra / EPA

In a new report, the Arab Reform Initiative examines decentralization as a new political system for a future Syria and invites Syrians to go beyond the sectarian divides generated by the Assad regime to articulate a model of decentralization that reflects Syria’s past and present realities.

The report is based on an on-going discussion among a group of Syrians from different professional, geographical, ethnic and sectarian backgrounds. It argues that the discussion over the future shape of the Syrian state should take place now rather than later and is likely to provide answers to some of the most intractable questions. Three papers have resulted from those discussions.

Bassma Kodmani calls for a far-reaching model of decentralization but warns against deciding on the final shape of the future state now that the central government is in deep crisis and seriously weakened. A post-Assad democratic Syria will have to treat the aspirations of Kurds or any other community as legitimate, while communities should commit to achieving their aspirations through negotiations based on practical considerations and interests, and not merely on identity. Federalism may well be a suitable option for Syria, but federal states have a strong, highly sophisticated, and effective set of central institutions that are capable of organizing sound relationships with all their regions.  The more democratic and effective the institutions at the centre are, the stronger the chances of the state to reassure its various communities and strengthen their attachment to the national community.

Riyad Ali offers a legal perspective on decentralization and explores some of the models that can be adapted to a future Syria. He warns that implementing the existing Law on local administration will only strengthen centralized power and a single-leader system, and highlights the need for further legal and institutional reforms in order to ensure the good functioning of a true administrative decentralization.

Alain Christnacht outlines the process of decentralization in France and how the government led three major waves of decentralization seeking efficacy and more participatory politics and responding to identity-based demands emanating from certain groups.

For any form of decentralization to succeed, Syria will need to enshrine the principles of equality and non-discrimination in its Constitution, enact new laws and create national institutions with the authority to enforce decisions. The process needed to get there is going to be as important as the outcome.

The views represented in this paper are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Arab Reform Initiative, its staff, or its board.