Governance in Syria


What are the key issues with regard to governance in Syria that need to be addressed?


Over the past six years the civil war in Syria has evolved into a multifaceted conflict with numerous actors both internally and externally. As a result a complicated framework of governance has emerged with fragmented arrangements operating across the country. Therefore, although there are policies that can be implemented across the board and centralised institutions can be developed, an understanding of local needs also has to be formed in order to better enhance local governance capacity. There are a number of elements – such as security, aid, reconstruction, return dynamics, reconciliation and external actors – that also impact on governance and thus have to be taken into account when addressing issues of governance. This review highlights what analysts see as the key areas that need to be addressed or supported in relation to governance in Syria both now and once the conflict has ended.

Key Findings

  • Due to numerous incompatible forms of governance a multidimensional system of governance needs to be developed for Syria as a whole.
  • The presence and participation of women in governance needs to be supported and encouraged.
  • Participation beyond influential individuals and families also needs to be encouraged.
  • Capacity of local governance units need to be built, particularly with regard to delivering on local needs.
  • Local government units need to be formed for areas under the Islamic State’s control so there is not a power vacuum when it is defeated.
  • Local governance units’ control of security needs to be improved.
  • Inclusive debates on the horizontal distribution of power are needed so that an understanding of a viable decentralisation arrangement can be formed.
  • However, a vertical system of coordination and oversight also has to be formed, and for this purpose links between internal and external opposition groups need to be enhanced.
  • Systems need to be put in place to better understand how to maintain the operation of the current civil service following the potential fall of the Assad regime.
  • The different levels of security across Syria need to be understood and addressed in any governance solutions.
  • The local war economies linked to organised crime need to be understood and prevented from dominating governance units post-conflict.
  • The distribution of aid needs to be carefully administered as it impacts on the ability of local actors to govern now and after the war.
  • Aid needs to be delivered across the country, as it impacts the post-war reconstruction and development phase by building the foundation for future services and livelihoods.
  • The return of the population will affect future governance, as people with skills are more likely to return to safe zones, privileging some communities over others.
  • Demographic manipulation by the Iranian and Syrian governments through returns needs to be prevented as this will exacerbate ethnosectarian tensions.
  • Reconciliation processes help communities work alongside one another and therefore need to be pursued in parallel to governance initiatives.
  • External interfering has undermined local governance and limited the ability to deliver services, so negotiations are needed among external actors towards compromises on their maximalist ambitions.


Suggested citation

O’Driscoll, D. (2017). Governance in Syria. K4D Helpdesk Report. Brighton, UK: Institute of Development Studies.