The security gap in Syria: Individual and collective security in ‘rebel-held’ territories

Ali Ali


This paper examines security in Syria through the conceptual lens of the security gap. It compares the security situation in so-called ‘rebel-held’ areas of Syria where alternative governance structures have emerged, and areas dominated by the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD). It argues that security and safety are strongly influenced by authority formation and the nature of deals and relationships, and by the Syrian government. In doing so it demonstrates the limited utility of the ‘regime’ vs. ‘rebel-held’ dichotomy, as rebel groups, at times, must accommodate the Syrian state in limited ways for instrumental purposes.

The article is based on fieldwork conducted in Turkey in 2013–2014, interviews conducted in 2015, and secondary sources based on field research. It applies the notions of security objectives and security practices, and the ‘security gap’ between them, highlighting that the gap between collective and individual security remains wide, and is getting wider.

Three key arguments emerge:

  • The war is highly decentralised and fragmented and the security gap is experienced very differently in different localities. There are a small number of cases in Southern Syria where more participatory structures (than in the North and East) appear to have emerged, possibly as a result of the involvement of civil society in authority formation and influence on international actors.
  • Individual security, particularly in areas no longer under government control, is very much related to the nature of political authority and the process of its formation. The collective security of the Assad government remains the most dominant in Syria, even in these ‘rebel-held’ areas in Northern and Eastern Syria. Evidence of organisations who have achieved success as a result of deals brokered with the Syrian state challenges the notion that the rebel-government dichotomy is a useful tool of analysis.
  • Even groups emergent from an attempted revolution against the authoritarian rule of a narrow elite have practiced forms of exclusion in their nascent authorities. Those which are still able to function have either been able to accommodate or compromise on their own collective security agendas in order to gain support from the state, or are able to serve, or do not threaten, the collective security of the Assad government.


Ali, A. A. K. (2015). The Security Gap in Syria: Individual and collective security in ‘rebel-held’ territories. Stability: International Journal of Security & Development 4 (1): 40, 1-20