Outcome Papers

Intra-Syrian Dialogue Zurich, February 19-20, 2019 Event Briefing

February 19-20, 2019 Report

The Shaikh Group (TSG), with the kind support of the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs, held an Intra-Syrian Dialogue (ISD) on February 19-20, which focused on the relationship between the central government and different localities throughout Syria. This was the second meeting convened by TSG on decentralized governance, after an initial meeting held in October 2018. Participants represented different constituencies of Syrian society and included local governance actors from across the country, civil society actors, economists, and governance experts, as well as opposition and Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) representatives. Senior officials from Switzerland, the European External Action Service, the Russian Federation, and the United States attended the workshop as observers.

This marked the first ISD in which TSG adopted a new approach to convening these workshops, establishing partnerships with Syrian organizations or experts in the conception and preparation of the meetings. In a context where the space for Syrians to exchange ideas on post-armed conflict outcomes across various divides appears to be shrinking further, TSG will aim for these workshops to provide a platform both to bridge those divides, and to promote and discuss relevant research or initiatives led by Syrian civil society or expert organizations, involving these actors in shaping the discussion at the earliest stage. Outcomes from these dialogues—which will continue to be held under the Chatham House Rule—will also be shared more publicly than has been the case in the past.  

Syria today is in a de-facto state of fragmentation, with different models and experiences of local governance prevailing within distinct zones: the areas held by the government, the opposition and Turkish-backed actors in the northwest, and the SDC in the northeast. In previous dialogues, Syrian participants emphasized that any revisions to the relationship between the central government and local administrations, intending to restore and reform a united Syria, must be agreed through a negotiated political process—not imposed or adopted as a reflection of this current, de-facto division.

At the workshop in October 2018, participants considered different conceptions of decentralized governance, concluding with a set of guiding principles to be applied to any collective effort led by Syrians to redefine the shape of the post-conflict state. They agreed that the relationship between the central government and the different local administrations must be reconfigured to balance the myriad local and national interests.

However, Syrians continue to differ significantly regarding the desirable shape of a future state, the distribution of powers between the central government and the different localities, and ways to ensure equitable economic development throughout Syria. They also recognize the dim prospects for arriving at any such revised models through a negotiated political settlement in the near term. In that context, participants here debated approaches for both preventing a further hardening of the current divisions, and keeping open the potential pathways to a reunited Syrian state. 


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