Governance in rebel-held East Ghouta in the Damascus Province, Syria (2014)

Working Paper #10

Ilina Angelova (Sciences Po, Paris)

This paper will describe the evolution of the civilian administration in East Ghouta in order to explain the development of the resilience mechanisms which have allowed this Damascus suburb and rebel stronghold to withstand chemical attacks in August 2013, a 23-month long siege, repeated aerial bombings and ground invasions by the Syrian regime as well as, most recently, the advance of the Islamic State (IS) in those territories. A detailed discussion of the various administrative bodies, created and run by civilian actors and responsible for the provision of the basic services for a population of 2 million people, will reveal the emergence of a governance model centred on the role of the city council and its constituent medical, relief, services and information offices. This civilian administration model, similar to the one implemented in the “liberated” areas in the Aleppo and Idlib governorates, is considered by many civilians and members of the opposition as an embodiment of the original principles of the Syrian revolution because of its commitment to moderate Islamic values and a transparent electoral process, as demonstrated by the January 2014 electrons in East Ghouta. As such, it offers an alternative to the governance models of Bashar al-Assad and the Islamic State, implemented in other parts of Syria. However, even though the civilian administration in East Ghouta has repeatedly illustrated its resilience to external attacks and adaptability vis-à-vis the deteriorating humanitarian situation, the obstacles to its survival have multiplied. In addition to the violent attempts of the regime and IS to take over this territory, the encroachment of armed groups on the activities of the civilian actors, the exhaustion of medical and food supplies, and the difficulty in standardising the governance structures on the local and provincial level have proved to be some of the overwhelming challenges to the governance model in East Ghouta that, until today, continue to question the endurance of the “liberated” territories around Damascus.