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Decentralization in Syria

December 5, 2019

Given its centralized state before the war, Syria was in urgent need for decentralization and for a new governance structure. A de-facto decentralization is in place at present as a result of the fragmentation of the country and separation of many regions from central government control. Only 60% of the country’s territory is currently under government control. The remaining 40% is under rebel groups’ control supported by occupying powers. Local councils are established in separated regions to deliver basic services for the population. But the councils are chaotic and are in some cases run by war lords and financed from forced taxes, extortion, smuggling, and funding from abroad.

Decentralization (political, administrative, fiscal or all) is normally advocated for any of or all of, better governance structure, enhancing participatory governance, better service delivery, and achieving balanced development. In post conflicts, many governments implement decentralization as a way to improve governance, strengthen ethnic integration, and ensure that the local people are involved in the reconstruction and development process. 

The war in Syria made decentralization more urgent, but it also made it more difficult, given the rise of war lords in rebel areas, fear of local political and social feuds, the displacement of some 11 million people inside and outside the country, and the uncertainty regarding the central government’s ability to manage decentralization effectively. The territorial reintegration of Syria is a pre-requisite for starting the gradual establishment of a decentralized and democratic governance structure.