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Decentralization in Syria

January 2016

Given its centralized state before the war, Syria was in urgent need for decentralization and for a new governance structure. A de-facto decentralization took place during the war as a result of the fragmentation of the country and separation of many regions from central government control. Local authorities were established in these regions to deliver basic services such as water and electricity for the population. Some initiated Sharia courts. But these decentralizations were chaotic and unorganized and were in most cases run by war lords and financed from forced taxes extortion, smuggling money and funds from external supporters. About 50% of the country’s territory and 15 million people (65%) are currently in areas under government control.

Decentralization (either political, administrative, fiscal or all) is normally advocated for better governance structure, enhancing participatory governance, better service delivery, and achieving balanced development. In post conflicts, many governments implement decentralization as a means to ensure that the voice of local people is heard in the development and reconstruction process and that necessary services reach damaged areas.  The war in Syria made decentralization more urgent, but it also made it more difficult, given: a) the rise of war lords in rebel areas, b) the fear of local political and social feuds, c) the displacement of some 6 million inside and outside the country, and d) the uncertainty of central government’s ability to regain control of all territories and manage decentralization.