Civil Society and Local Governance

  • Factors Driving the Destruction of Syria’s Natural Heritage

    The Assad government has long neglected Syria’s environment and natural heritage in favor of actions that have short term gains but that have increased the rate of desertification and ruined agricultural land. The civil war has created a new set of problems: lack of protection for reservations, increased smuggling encouraged by a lack of law and order and government policies aimed at currying public favor, and the destruction of land as a military tactic.

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  • Women’s Roles in Deir Ezzor during the Syrian Revolution

    Women in Deir Ezzor have supported the Syrian revolution in various ways since its beginning. During the early stages of the revolution, women held active roles, including those that were viewed as exclusively male dominated, such as carrying weapons in the armed opposition. Despite the seizure of most of the province by the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL), women in Deir Ezzor remain actively supportive of the local population and are working to protect other women.

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  • The Toll of Russian Air Strikes on Kafr Nboudha

    Since their start at the end of September 2015, Russian air strikes have displaced over a quarter million Syrians. According to Amnesty International, civilian harm attributable to Russia is on the rise. “We ran for our lives. We didn’t get to take anything with us. No blankets, nothing,” said Fatima, who fled Kafr Nboudha in Hama governorate to a makeshift camp called Jabal Harem on the Syrian side of the Turkish border. With borders more tightly sealed than ever before, temperatures dipping to 23°F (-5°C), and air strikes continuing, newly displaced Syrians have nowhere to go. As one UN official told me, “Everyday there is a new displacement… new arrivals… new needs.”

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  • Syrian Christian Perspectives on the War

    Syrian Christians face the difficult question of how to preserve their communities. The Islamic State (ISIS) and other Islamist groups target Christians for a variety of reasons, including to gain credibility as the implementers of “true” Islam and for economic reasons, forcing Christians to pay higher taxes (Jizya), seizing their property, and even capturing Christians as slaves. Christians in regime territories are safe from immediate danger, but struggle to keep their communities together.

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  • Syria’s Conflicting Powers Develop Separate Education Curriculums

    As the Syrian conflict intensifies unabated, four distinct entities have emerged as key players: the Assad Regime; the anti-Assad opposition seeking to depose his dictatorship; the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL); and armed Kurdish groups. Each of these four parties has sought to instill its own ideas and vision for the future within populations under its respective control, all while recruiting youths to fight in its ranks—a goal largely achieved by introducing reforms to the education system.

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  • The Personal Choice between Emigrating from and Staying in Syria

    The choice to emigrate from Syria is a difficult one for Syrians. Despite the war and oppressive rule of extremist groups such as the Islamic State, leaving Syria means braving the unknown and feeling one has abandoned his friends and country. Karam, who asked to only be identified by his first name, said, “I am betraying my revolution, I am betraying my homeland,” when he immigrated to Germany after surviving over four years of war. Originally from the western side of Aleppo city, when the fighting split the city into a regime-controlled western portion and opposition-controlled eastern portion in 2012, he decided to relocate to the eastern side.

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  • Between Regime Brutality and Society’s Cruelty

    “I will not forgive him, nor will I let God's mercy descend onto him,” uttered a woman activist working to support rape victims at a secret humanitarian organization in Damascus. The activist leveled this charge not against the regime and its Shabiha militias—which use this most cruel weapon of war systematically to intimidate, suppress, and humiliate Assad’s many opponents—but in reference to the father of a twelve year-old girl who was brutally gang raped by pro-Assad factions in her own home in front of her family.

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  • ISIS’s Malice for the People of Deir Ezzor

    If one wishes to live safely in Deir Ezzor, he must swear allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS). ISIS grants those who pledge their loyalty lucrative pensions and salaries, the best living accommodations, and favorable treatment, allowing said individuals to do what they want and come and go as they please—even after ISIS sealed the lone crossing to the city accessible to civilians earlier this year. The inhabitants of Deir Ezzor have rebuffed these advances and refused to pledge fealty, and so suffer harsher treatment than residents of any other ISIS-controlled area.

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  • In the Wake of Syrian Refugees

    European countries have absorbed a large number of Syrian refugees to meet the growing demand for a safe haven. Refugees face massive challenges in transit and destination countries. Refugees who decide to make the trek to Europe risk their lives, often departing without preparing for the journey’s challenges. They put themselves at the mercy of notorious trafficking networks to seek a dignified life away from the horrors of war and poverty. Recipient countries that have agreed to accept them have not considered the impact that the loss of experts, local leaders, and intellectuals will have on Syria. The countries of refuge, though perhaps acting with good intentions, have instituted integration processes with nary a thought to the loss facing Syria as its elite class leaves the country and are absorbed into a new one.

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  • Civil Society is a Force that Threatens the Enemies of Democracy—Bashar al-Assad and Islamic Factions

    Despite their best efforts, pro-democracy groups in Idlib and Aleppo, provinces with a strong opposition presence, have failed in their repeated attempts to create a strong, civil administrative system in the vacuum left by the Assad regime. The challenges these pro-democracy groups face vary significantly between the two provinces. Nonetheless, the greatest threat to a successful civil administration comes from the Assad regime and Islamist factions who are trying to nip any democratic system in the bud because it threatens the arbitrary rule they promote.

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