Recent changes on the ground in Syria, have forced the international community to ask difficult questions about their strategies towards Syria.
This has included some re-assessment on the part of international donors towards their engagement with Syrian civil society.
To contribute to these discussions, CCSD surveyed 221 members of Syrian civil society, 51% of whom were women. They were asked about Syrian civil society’s role during the conflict, its most important achievements, the gaps within its work, and the reasons support for Syrian civil society should continue. This report also explores prospects for the future roles of Syrian civil society in light of the field and political developments taking place.
While dynamics on the ground have changed, the fact remains that Syrian civil society has continued to play an important role in nearly every area of Syria. These roles have evolved and improved since the onset of the popular movement in 2011. Syrian civil society roles initially focused on organizing demonstrations against tyranny; claiming rights; demanding the establishment of a pluralistic civil democratic state as well as accountability and fighting corruption. Following the exacerbation of the Syrian crisis, the above-mentioned roles of Syrian civil society extended to include service provision in areas where state institutions ceased to function after they were taken out of the Government of Syria (GoS) control. Despite the volatility on the ground in many areas, civil society continues to branch out, taking on notable roles as each situation dictates – including as watchdogs of local authorities, mediators, economic engines, facilitators, advocates, and peacebuilders.
There are some who have criticized the prominent role that Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) have taken on in managing and providing services in areas beyond the control of the GoS. In spite of this debate, which occupies the public discussions taking place among Syrians, the reality remains a witness to the important roles that Syrian civil society has played and continues to play at all levels.
It has been seven years since what began as a peaceful uprising transformed into a vicious war with fierce competition between regional and international actors over Syria’s future. While the role played by local Syrian actors, particularly with regard to ending the conflict as well as finding a political solution and achieving sustainable peace, has arguably been weak, it is crucial to note that many Syrian parties and actors including Syrian civil society have actively contributed to solutions and have sometimes mitigated the worst outcomes of the conflict. These actors, including many Syrian civil society stakeholders, aim to move towards a more influential and effective framework. The support of the international community remains crucial to ensure this. And the work of Syrian civil society remains crucial despite, and even because of, the radical changes on the ground.