Distribution of Power

Dimension 6 of 17


We wanted to learn about how power is distributed in Syria is. We listened to a wide range of local, regional, and international actors influential in the life of Syria. The statements we heard told the same basic story: 

“A cock crows on his own dunghill.” (230713)

“There are regions of government control, ISPYD, and Islamists. The first 3 regions control large territories. The Islamists have smaller territory which itself is divided among parties. The Islamist area will diminish. IS may also. No one knows about the Southern Front. In 3 months there will only be 3 regions. Turkey probably agrees. Their only interest is in not letting the Kurdish regions connect.” (231641)
“The war has many dimensions. It is by definition civil, but that does not deny the revolution or the heroic work of the Syrian Civil Defense, Local Councils, etc.” (233911)
“At the moment Syria is divided between the KurdsIS, the Opposition, and the regime.” (233881)
“It is a 2-front war, civil on one side, and against outside terrorists on the other.” (238631)
“It's not yet a civil war. There are not equivalent powers. The government and its allies are fighting the people in general.” (232631)
“There's still a lot of violence across the country.” (233121)
“Except it's not exactly a civil war because it's the government killing the people.” (235931)
“In some areas where Assad has control there are vestiges of a secure state, but not like it was before.” (239311)
“The only reason this continues is because Assad is funded by outsiders to maintain the military, and the opposition is unable to take control in a lot of places. Taking territory often includes kidnapping adults and children. There is an economic gain in it. If the government isn't directing genocide some commanders clearly are. We can know this because the commanders try to hide it. This will probably be investigated for years to come.” (239312)

What does the state of Syria's distribution of power matter in your choice of partners, the design of initiatives, and the implementation of those initiatives? Read more to find out. Scroll to the bottom of the page for more statements. 


INCA DIMENSION #6:

SYRIAN DISTRIBUTION OF POWER


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Syrian Distribution of Power is the 6th of 17 dimensions in Syrian society that influential local, regional, and international actors assessed and discussed through 3 rounds of interviews and feedback, beginning in January, 2016. Taken together, the 17 dimensions of the x-axis offer a comprehensive, holistic view of Syria and its people. Interview participants assessed the capacity of each dimension, represented by the y-axis; higher levels indicate greater capacity within that dimension for Syrians to respond effectively to existential global threats.

Distribution of Power is important because it reveals who establishes and enforces the basic rules of self-governance of the country. Based on the 8-level hierarchy described in the question below, participants from 27 influential organizations assessed the distribution of power in Syria at different levels at this time in history, ranging from 1 to 5. (At the bottom of this page, you can read statements interview participants gave to support their assessments.)


The Question

Power (in the political or social meaning) is the ability to influence or control the behavior of people. There are different ways to earn or maintain power. Which of these levels of development is most characteristic of the country—is the dominant mode? (If two seem equal, name the lower level.)

1.     Fragmented, with ongoing civil war.

2.     Fragmented, with little violence. None of these three features exist at the national level: a strong central state, rule of law, or democratic accountability.

3.     Rule by an elite, with one of these three features: a strong central state, rule of law, or democratic accountability.

4.     Rule by an elite, with two of these three features: a strong central state, rule of law, or democratic accountability.

5.     An emerging democracy, with a strong central state, rule of law, and democratic accountability. But, the institutionalization of the practice of democracy is not yet fully established and there is fear of return to rule by an elite.

6.     A stable democracy with little chance of return to an oligarchy in the next twenty years.

7.     A stable democracy that chooses to be ruled by a regional democracy, with a mutually satisfactory balance of power between national and regional forces (i.e., the EU).

8.    A stable democracy that chooses to be ruled by a global democracy, with a mutually satisfactory balance of power between national, regional, and global forces. global democracy, with a satisfactory balance of power between national, regional, and global forces.


READ CLOSELY, IMAGINE, LEARN

Read each statement below closely. Assume the person who wrote this is sincere; they believe every word. Imagine what life experience or background might lead a person to have this belief. Whether true or false, this person’s perception is a fact. 



DEVELOPMENT IN SYRIA


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WORK WITHIN SYRIA’S DISTRIBUTION OF POWER

The thick brown line represents fragmentation

The thick brown line represents the most conservative assessment of Syria’s distribution of power, fragmented, with an ongoing civil war. Any organization operating in Syria would be best served by not assuming any Syrian party can enforce an agreement (beyond a familial commitment), whether they wish to or not.


CHANGING SYRIAN DISTRIBUTION OF POWER ONE STEP AT A TIME

Aim just right: end the large-scale violence

The green area of the chart, from levels 1 to 2, indicates where projects to change Syrian power distribution will be most likely to succeed. These are efforts to negotiate peace agreements. There have been a number of these efforts. In 2017 the Astana and the Geneva peace talks are both attempts to negotiate peace agreements.  

If you aim too high: destructive overreach

Projects and agreements in the red area of the chart are overly ambitious and, at best, will be a waste of time. More likely, they will drive confusion and corruption into the country. Any attempt to move Syria from its current state of ongoing civil war (level 1) to a country with even one element of advanced governance capacity, such as a strong central state, rule of law, or democratic accountability (level 3) would be too much to do at once! Without first putting an end to the violence (level 2), efforts to establish advanced governance capacity would be doomed to failure. 

The distribution of power in post-invasion Iraqi society was at a similarly low level in the spring of 2003. The United States, however, failed to recognize the lack of governance capacity implied by this distribution of power and instead enacted many programs based on the faulty assumption that Iraq maintained a strong central state and well-enforced rule of law even after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime (level 5). As a result, inappropriate practices and projects drove confusion and corruption into Iraqi society with disastrous results.

The most blatant overestimation of Iraq’s distribution of power was the purging of Iraq’s governance and military structures as a result of CPA Orders #1 and #2. The former fired all Ba’ath party members in the top three tiers of all Iraqi public institutions, while the latter entirely disbanded the armed forces and ministry of defense. Assuming that the country was dominated by a strong central state and at least rudimentary rule of law (level 4 ), this purge was carried out in the hope of bringing democratic accountability to the government and military (level 5 ) by removing officials who had presumably gained power through their personal relationships with the previous authoritarian regime. As our INCA platform reveals, however, this assumption was misguided and led to programmatic overreach. State capacity and the rule of law in Iraq after the invasion turned out to be illusory, and removing the most experienced members of these important public institutions severely weakened them. Rather than improve the distribution of power in Iraq by strengthening democratic accountability, which was the intent behind these policies, CPA Orders #1 and #2 in fact ended up tearing apart the very entities and individuals that had been maintaining what remained of state strength and rule of law after the invasion.

Background Reading

For more information on INCA for Iraq, read our retroactive case study here: http://sovereigntyfirst.com/iraq/report


Round 3 Statements (Nov 2016 - Jul 2017)

Note: These statements were given by participants as rationale for their decision to gauge Syrian capacity at their stated level. 

The Range

Lowest Score:1

Highest Score: 5

1. Fragmented, with ongoing civil war.

“A cock crows on his own dunghill.” (230713)
“There are regions of government control, IS, PYD, and Islamists. The first 3 regions control large territories. The Islamists have smaller territory which itself is divided among parties. The Islamist area will diminish. IS may also. No one knows about the Southern Front. In 3 months there will only be 3 regions. Turkey probably agrees. Their only interest is in not letting the Kurdish regions connect.” (231641)
“The war has many dimensions. It is by definition civil, but that does not deny the revolution or the heroic work of the Syrian Civil Defense, Local Councils, etc.” (233911)
“At the moment Syria is divided between the Kurds, IS, the Opposition, and the regime.” (233881)
“It is a 2-front war, civil on one side, and against outside terrorists on the other.” (238631)
“It's not yet a civil war. There are not equivalent powers. The government and its allies are fighting the people in general.” (232631)
“There's still a lot of violence across the country.” (233121)
“Except it's not exactly a civil war because it's the government killing the people.” (235931)
“In some areas where Assad has control there are vestiges of a secure state, but not like it was before.” (239311)
“The only reason this continues is because Assad is funded by outsiders to maintain the military, and the opposition is unable to take control in a lot of places. Taking territory often includes kidnapping adults and children. There is an economic gain in it. If the government isn't directing genocide some commanders clearly are. We can know this because the commanders try to hide it. This will probably be investigated for years to come.” (239312)

2. Fragmented, with little violence. None of these three features exist at the national level: a strong central state, rule of law, or democratic accountability.'

No Statements

3. Rule by an elite, with one of these three features: a strong central state, rule of law, or democratic accountability.

No Statements

4. Rule by an elite, with two of these three features: a strong central state, rule of law, or democratic accountability.

No Statements

5. An emerging democracy, with a strong central state, rule of law, and democratic accountability. But, the institutionalization of the practice of democracy is not yet fully established and there is fear of regression to rule by an elite.

No Statements


Round 2 Statements (Aug 2016 - Oct 2016)

Note: These statements were given by participants as rationale for their decision to gauge Syrian capacity at their stated level. 

The Range 

Lowest Score: 1

Highest Score: 4

1.     Fragmented, with ongoing civil war.

“This is not a 'civil war.' This is a revolution. The government is no longer legitimate. Military coups have legality, but that didn't happen here. The regime stole authority not due to them. Hafez Al Assad had some legitimacy by military coup, but Bashar used corruption. Bashar used international and national elements. He initiated the term 'opposition' to legitimize his own authority. He trained the Islamists in the prison of Sednaya, then let them out…. The Alawites got in to make it look sectarian. Everyone is up to their elbows in blood. The Alawites are against him, as are many Christians." (220291)
"Power is now dispersed between the government, ISIL, the Free Syrian Army, the Islamists, and the PYD. There are sub regions within them. The government areas are controlled by militias, Iran, Hezbollah. The same with the Kurdish regions. They are divided too. There seems to be a power struggle within ISIL. Islamists are divided between radical and moderate." (223881)
"It is not a civil or sectarian war. It's a revolution for freedom…. When the people rise up Assad responds with killing." (225662)
[Agrees with Round 1 comment]. (221211)

2.     Fragmented, with little violence. None of these three features exist at the national level: a strong central state, rule of law, or democratic accountability.

No Statements

3.     Rule by an elite, with one of these three features: a strong central state, rule of law, or democratic accountability.

No Statements

4.     Rule by an elite, with two of these three features: a strong central state, rule of law, or democratic accountability.

"The government controls everything. There is no distribution of power." (229051)


Round 1 Statements (Jan 2016 - May 2016)

Note: These statements were given by participants as rationale for their decision to gauge Syrian capacity at the level they did for this dimension. 

The Range

Lowest Score: 1

Highest Score: 1

1. Fragmented, with ongoing civil war.

"Democracy is very small because the country isn't stable. The freed regions have almost the same democracy in all regions. You gain the power from the people, not to implement it on the people. The government is the opposite. Bandits rule Syria now. The freed people want to develop the democracy and make it better. The local councils are freely elected. Everyone participates, even women." (222172)