Monday, 05 July 2021 16:04

The 2021 Syrian Presidential Election

The 2021 Syrian Presidential Elections have unanimously been described as a farce. It comes as no surprise that Assad stays in power for a 4th term, gaining 95% of votes. In an analysis of the legal, Syrian regional and international level, this paper sheds light on the many flaws, felonious procedures and violations of international law inherent in the presidential elections. Amongst others, the paper addresses the systematic exclusion of large parts of Syrian constituents, the regime’s deterrence of any real opposition, the lack of a safe voting environment, and therewith, on an international level, the neglect of the entire peace process that seeks a political and not a military solution to the conflict in Syria.

Looking into the near future of post-election Syria, the paper furthermore discusses what the elections mean for both Syrians and the Assad regime including possible strategies Assad might peruse to strengthen his power on a domestic and regional political level. Conclusively, a set of recommendations are provided regarding what the Syrian people may ask from the international community as a response to the 2021 Syrian Presidential Elections.

Additional Info

  • Files Syria
  • Files-Hidden F72
  • Experts Hadia El Omari
  • Experts No - Hidden E61

Executive Summary([1])

During the monitoring period, 812 projects and activities were implemented northern Syria’s opposition-held areas. Those areas include the northern and eastern countryside of Aleppo and Idlib. This marks a 77% increase or 355 additional projects. The economic development sector expanded the most, with 193 projects. This is followed by the WASH sector with 165 projects. 154 projects were also implemented by the transportation and communications sector, as well as 119 projects for the internally displaced.

The report highlighted several trends during the monitoring period. Among the trends identified was the increase of economic activities in Idlib and its countryside by 55% (or 455 projects) compared to Aleppo and its countryside by 45%. (or 367 projects).

Coordination between local councils and non-government organizations continued, with several announcements of MOUs. This included the building of a hospital in the city of Soran, and the support for grain farmers with compound fertilizers and wheat seed in Akhtarin. The report also highlights the increase in job opportunities, most of which were in the health, IDP support in camps, and infrastructure projects. About 947 job opportunities were registered, most holding temporary contracts between 6-12 months.

Projects monitored in the report were further analyzed for strengths and weakness. Among the most notable strengths was the local councils’ focus on securing electricity for hard-to reach areas, in addition to rehabilitating many city centers, main roads, and markets. The most prominent weakness identified was the over-reliance by local councils on economic recovery funding from local and international organizations and only playing an intermediary role due to its limited budgets.

Based on findings, the report outlined a set of recommendations. Prime among recommendations was to enhance a holistic development strategy to include sectors that lack support and have not received adequate attention in the last period. The recommendations also highlighted the need to expand programs such as “Cash for work” and “e-voucher” that support small businesses and handcraft projects.

([1]) Original paper published on March 15, 2021, in Arabic,


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  • Files Syria
  • Files-Hidden F72
  • Experts Munaff Koman
  • Experts No - Hidden E43

Navvar Saban, a field expert at the Omran Center, said in his recent interview with FP "foreign policy" Since 2017, Iran focused on building and enhancing their relationships with different Syrian communities. It carried out its operations with a different approach towards infiltrating local communities, especially by purchasing real state in different provinces. Recently, Iran has been purchasing more properties in Deir Ezzor, in both regime and SDF held areas.


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Executive Summary

After taking control east of the Euphrates, the Autonomous Administration (AA) has endured a host of challenges, including the overcrowding of various actors and its relation with local communities.  In an effort to obtain political legitimacy, international recognition, and preserve its military gains in the field, the AA is seeking the formation of a new political framework. The proposed structure would include opposition figures and entities.

The move is motivated by a number of internal and external motives. Internally, a new, more inclusive political umbrella may unify the various Kurdish political groups. By creating an inclusive front, the AA may be able to monopolize the representation of Kurdish people in Syria, and contain local (non-Kurdish) groups. Most locals perceive the members of the PKK “Cadres” as the dominant actor behind the AA, with local governance structures existing powerlessly. This is due to the “Cadres” control over decision-making and deeply entrenched within the AA and all its institutions. Therefore, a more inclusive and representative political umbrella may alter this perception among locals.

Externally, the new AA political framework may strengthen the AA’s position to negotiate with Russia and the Syrian regime. A united front may provide the AA with a more compelling argument for the type of autonomy being proposed in northeast Syria, despite the Syrian regime’s reluctance to accept. Secondly, by restructuring, the AA may signal the gradual withdrawal of foreign PKK members from northern and eastern Syria, providing assurances to Ankara and showcasing desire to hold peace talks with Turkey. This may mend the relationship between the AA and Turkey preventing any new military operations. Lastly, through the initiative the AA would exhibit its intention to not obstruct Washington’s goals in Syria.  

The initiative to form a new political umbrella east of the Euphrates may result in several scenarios. The AA will seek to adopt and improve its positioning, while mitigating potential losses.

  • The first scenario could be that the AA reaches a consensus with the Kurdish National Council and the key opposition forces, and meet them under the new political umbrella. However, this scenario is highly unlikely in the near future, as many substantial challenges still prevent its occurrence.
  • The second potential scenario could be that the status quo remains. Military clashes with Turkey and National army continues, while assistance and presence of the United States to prevent military incursions persist.
  • Based on the current dynamics of the “Autonomous Administration", the most likely scenario would be to reinforce understandings with the Moscow and Cairo platforms, as well as with opposition figures not associated with the Government of Turkey, in order to arrange "qualitative agreements" in preparation for joining the new political umbrella. The attempts will plan to formalize the representation of local components without affecting the centralized decision-making of AA.

([1]) Original paper published on March 4, 2021, in Arabic,

Additional Info

Dr. Ammar Kahf, Executive director of the Omran Center for Strategic Studies Participated in TRT World Forum Expert Roundtable

while talking about "The Future of the Arab World: 10 years after the Arab Spring"


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  1. Executive Summary
  • The main goal of the study was to inspect factors influencing the return of Syrian refugees from neighboring countries. The study targeted all areas in Syria, including those controlled by the regime, opposition, and the Autonomous Administration (AA). Based on a wide and comprehensive sample, the data was then analyzed to explore the security situation, relations between citizen and state, as well as identify other causes that may be influencing the return of Syrian refugee.
  • The study is based upon 620 surveys from Syrian refugees residing in Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey, as well as two Focus-Group Discussions (FGD) in regime-held Dara’a and Damascus Countryside.
  • The study is divided into four components; 1) overview of the general security situation, 2) relations between civilians and security apparatuses, 3) factors affecting decision to return, and 4) the experience of refugee return to the particular regions. Each component is based on field research in each of the three uniquely controlled territories in Syria. A number of conclusions were assembled from the sample’s responses to the survey and within the FGDs.
  1. 1.The General Security Situation – An Overview
  • The general security situation in Syria continues to be highly volatile and fragmented mirroring the political, military, and economic instability. To varying degrees, each area is experiencing a host of challenges revolving around the social and economic repercussions from the continued war.
  • Based on responses from respondents residing in regime-held areas, the behavior of the security apparatuses affiliated with the Assad regime remains unchanged and persistent in utilizing the same detention and torture tactics as before 2011. The responses highlighted that the Assad-regime has even increased its brutality against civilians.
  • The security apparatuses in regime, opposition, and AA held territories are unable to fully control the behavior of individuals, entities, and groups under their respective command at varying degrees. This is mainly due to lack of accountability and corruption.
  • Lack of professionalism by security-affiliated officials in opposition-held territories has contributed to the deteriorating security situation.
  • In Eastern Syria, within areas under the control of the AA, the security situation varies largely from city to city. While the AA is able to control the Al-Hasaka province, the security situation in Raqqa and Deir Ezzor is deteriorating.
  1. 2.Relations between Civilians and Security Apparatuses
  • The relationship between civilians and security groups in all of Syria are significantly deteriorating. When comparing the three highlighted regions, the security apparatuses in regime-held territories is significantly affecting voluntary return of Syrian refugees from neighboring countries.
  • Violations committed by regime security officials has reinforced public resentment, and exacerbated the negative perception of those security regime officials among citizens. The collective resentment and negative perception surrounding the regime’s security apparatuses, makes it difficult for reconciliation to occur in the future, as there is loss of trust and lack of reassurances between the community and the security apparatuses.
  • It is apparent that the Assad regime’s security mechanism is no longer able to control the different military factions and militias. The inability to control armed groups has further ignited public wrath.
  • In opposition-held areas, security groups are facing challenges in minimizing the influence of differing factions and in curbing their violations against civilians. Many of these factions refuse to abide by set rules.
  • In all areas, citizens have little confidence that security apparatuses would address their complaints and believe they are biased in terms of arrests and complaint management.
  • After 2011, regime security apparatuses relied increasingly on internal and external espionage networks by recruiting informants in all areas, across social classes and in countries hosting Syrian refugees. It is important to note that the Assad regime closely monitors returnees in areas in which the regime regained control.
  1. 3.Factors Affecting the Decision to Return
  • With the deteriorating economic situation in Syria, access to a sustainable livelihood is among the most important factor considered by returnees. Other important factors that influence the decision to return included securing their property rights, accessing public services, and the prevalence of social and moral corruption.
  • Seeking a voluntary and dignified return, Syrian participants highlighted the need for a UN-sponsored system that guarantees their security and safety upon return. Other push factors include: the level of services and living conditions, personal security, protection from discriminations, and legal/social stability experienced in host countries. All of these are significant factors that would influence their return.
  • Most Syrian refugees attain information on the local situation through relatives and friends inside Syria, and is listed as their most relied upon source. This is followed by information from social media, international media outlets, and non-regime affiliated media outlets, as well as reports issued by civil society organizations or international organizations.
  • The threat of facing arbitrary arrest by the Assad regime security, militias, and military factions was the most listed reason for delayed return among displaced Syrians. Fear of detention by the regime or other armed forces in Syria is followed by theft, abduction, and blackmailing for ransom. Other important considerations included local and foreign militias, the prevalence of assassinations, and random blasts.
  • Displaced Syrians most at risk of arrest upon return to Assad regime-held areas are political activists, members of the Free Syrian Army, and members of opposition-military factions, defectors from the regime military, and those targeted for military conscription. This is followed by employees who defected from regime institutions, individuals from anti-regime areas, and businessmen respectively.
  1. 4.Refugee Return to Regions under various control
  • For a large percentage of refugees, return to regime-held territories is difficult without international guarantees of safety. Even if refugees are able to return, services are selectively distributed based on regional demographics, Additionally, the regime’s security apparatuses would need to be reformed, which is close to impossible without structural changes in the country’s governance systems. The security apparatuses are closely linked to the Assad regime, which refuses any reforms or restructuring.
  • Opposition-held territories are fragile and suffer from security infiltrations. The instability and lack of security largely affects the lives of civilians, as they live in fear of further situational decline. Absent of a comprehensive strategy and logistical capacity, the security forces in opposition-held territory are unable to guarantee safety and stability for civilians. The security situation within these areas is likely to continue deteriorating with the Assad regime’s agenda to advance and displacing more Syrians.
  • AA-held territories suffering from pro-longed bureaucracies within the security apparatuses and wide-spread discriminatory practices including arbitrary arrest and protest suppression. This prevented a sense of stability within the AA regions. The lack of trust between communities and the AA’s security apparatuses reflects the instability of the areas. Additionally, there remain ISIS sleeper cells also contributing to security instability. These contributing factors prevent refugees from returning to their homes in AA territories.
  1. Introduction

Entering its tenth year, the Syrian conflict has resulted in a host of challenges for Syrian refugees in neighboring countries. The topic of return is among the most critical in local and international conversations, which remains a challenge with no solution in sight. Without a conducive political, social, and economically environment, voluntary return will be limited. A number of items must be considered to elevate the option of voluntary return, including securing a safe and dignified return, maintaining regional stability, and arranging the appropriate regional and international circumstances to ensure the availability of the objective conditions necessary for such return.

When discussing the internal factors in which effect the return of Syria’s displaced, the security situation is the most mentioned. The security conditions in all areas of Syria significantly influence an individual’s decision to return. With deteriorating security conditions, civilians are unable to feel safe and stable. With fear of being displaced again due to security reasons, they are deterred from voluntary return. With the ongoing crisis, maintaining a secure space remains difficult for security forces in opposition, Assad regime, and Autonomous Administration (AA) held territory. The path towards providing civilians with a sense of safety and stability there must be a political and military solution. Recovery and reconstruction may only begin when a safe environment is secured.

Omran Centre for Strategic Studies implemented a survey targeting individuals from regime, opposition, and AA-held territories. This survey is integral as it illustrates the perspective of civilians concerning the security situation and factors influencing their return. From the surveys, it is apparent that locally civilians understand the security conditions intensively, and are aware. The chaotic security situation -is manifested in a host of violations that come in different forms, tools, and intensities. Thus, it reflects the fragility and volatility of the security environment, which is inconsistent with the demand that international bodies seek to fulfil as one of the objective prerequisites for the safe and voluntary return of Syrian refugees from neighboring countries.

The goal of the survey was to identify primary and secondary factors as well as indicators related to the primary indicator of security stability in Syria. These secondary indicators include the efficiency of security apparatuses as well as the legal system associated with them, the performance of these apparatuses and their security operations in addition to relevant accountability, follow-up and complaints systems, as well as the extent to which these indicators have an impact on the return of the Syrian refugees from neighboring countries. First, the survey attempts to diagnose the general security landscape in various Syrian regions, then to identify the nature of relationships between civilians and security apparatuses in these areas, furthermore identifying the most important variables that govern the refugees' decision to return to Syria. Finally, it examines the reality of the refugees' return to Assad regime-held areas, opposition-held areas, and AA areas to determine the most important indicators related to the return of refugees to these areas.

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Additional Info

  • Files Syria
  • Files-Hidden F72
  • Experts Mohamed Al Bdullah, Omran Center
  • Experts No - Hidden E43,E59
  1. Introduction

Forced migration and internal displacement is still the heaviest toll of Syria’s security deterioration. The main political actors continue to struggle with resolving the causes of migration, including absence of security, empowerment, interaction, and safe spaces.

There are a host of challenges including the inability to provide basic services for IDPs and the lack of political coordination between local and international actors to maintain policies and procedures that lead to “dignified and voluntary return”. The local security actors, in turn, have no supporting strategies whether due to threats and challenges or the negative role they play within recovery and development prospects.

Stability is associated with the effectiveness of “local security” structures, which are deeply affected – structurally and functionally – by several governance models and performance, this association significantly affects refugees and IDPs return. This paper investigates indicators of a safe environment as a necessary condition for stability, return of refugees and IDPs and the prevention of further conflicts. This research attempted to raise questions and insights related to existing security structures, the Assad regime and its allies’ in-depth attitude towards such an environment, and finally, broad visions of a safe environment in the Syrian context.

This paper can be regarded as a thematic summary of an in-depth and comprehensive research initiated by Omran Center in the beginning of 2020. The research aimed at exploring several facets of the issue, first facet deals with refugees’ and IDPs’ prospect of return and related security issues. Second facet is related to the concept of relationship between civil society and security structures, as this relationship defines the legal and organizational parameter of a stable and secure environment. The third facet focuses on security indicators that affect people’s daily life, such as explosions, abductions, assassinations, etc. To examine the regime’s approach and attitudes towards national interest, the research was based on two focus groups located in areas the regime gained after 2018.

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Additional Info

  • Files Syria
  • Files-Hidden F72
  • Experts Maen Talaa, Omran Center
  • Experts No - Hidden E43,E46

I.    Executive Summary

•    Utilizing a qualitative approach, this report covers four security related indicators that significantly influence refugee and internally displaced persons (IDP) decision to return to their original homes. Presenting a wide range of figures and trends, the four indicators that are covered within this report are: assassinations, explosions, extrajudicial detentions, and abductions. As the Syrian crisis grows more complex, security and stability are the main pillars that lead to recovery and safe return of those displaced. By covering the four security indicators, this report attempts to present both the individual and societal perspective that may feed into policy aiming for recovery and progress.

•    The report examined occurances of assassinations and explosions in the governorates of al-Hasaka, Deir Ez-Zour and Daraa during two time periods: last 6 months of 2019 and first 6 months of 2020. During this period, 308 explosions and 72 assassinations were logged. Methods used varied from gunfire in 213 incidents, IEDs in 94, car bomb in 39, mines in 25, grenades in 9 cases, as well as other methods. The total number of casualties reached 1,008 including 490 military personnel and 518 civilians. Daraa, Deir Ezzor, and Al-Hasaka, the selected case studies in the report, expose the failure and weakness of the regime, and to a lesser extent the Autonomous Administration (AA). The number of explosions and assassinations were high within these governorates, due to the unsecure environment and the various actors that included local, foreign and militia actors, each with a separate agenda. The instability and dangerous situation have had an adverse effect on the safe return of refugees and internally displaced individuals.

•    In opposition-controlled territories, incidents of assassinations and explosions within the studied timeframe amounted to: 1,209 casualties, the included 890 civilians and 319 military personnel. IEDs were used in 93 cases, while car bombs were used in 69. As revealed through the analysis from the Euphrates Shield and Afrin territory, the “Wrath of Olives-Ghadab al-Zaytun” operation room held a leading role in the adoption of assassinations within the two areas. There was also a substantial rate of extrajudicial detention and abduction incidents within the monitored areas. The figures highlight the failure of security agencies in protecting their local environments from breaches and their inability to identify methods used by perpetrators. The fragile security environment has raised skepticism on whether there could be a safe return of refugees.

•    In the cities of Jasim, Douma, al-Bukamal, and Raqqa, 73 abductions and extrajudicial detentions occurred, including 15 in Jasim, 20 in Douma, 20 in al-Bukamal, 18 in Raqqa. 23 of the operations were committed by foreign actors, resulting in 182 casualties, 19 incidents committed by local actors, which resulted in 117 casualties, and the perpetrators of an additional 31 incidents are unknown, but resulted in 89 casualties. The total number of casualties is 388, including 188 civilians (109 which are from reconciled areas) and 56 military personnel, including 12 from the ranks of the AA’s People Protection Units (YPG), 20 from civil defense, 2 from the AA, and one person from the Military Security branch. These figures illustrate the decline in security and stability. Perpetrators vary between local and international actors. This further highlights the deterioration and inefficiency of security actors.

•    In the cities of Afrin and Jarablus, there were 169 extrajudicial detentions and abductions; 37 in Jarablus and 132 in Afrin with 355 casualties. The “Wrath of Olives” operations room expanded to 17 operation rooms. The incidents focused primarily on targeting and killing members of the Syrian National Army. According to reported data, the highest number of incidents took place in January 2020. Known actors were responsible for 141 extrajudicial detentions, while 28 remain unknown. The majority were identified in Afrin, which highlights the failure of security actors to maintain a secure environment.

•    The data and analysis resulted in a number of recommendations concerning efforts to aid in Syrian refugee and IDP return. The main recommendation is for decision-makers to avoid general policies that do not explicitly define the necessary terms of security and stability. In order to achieve the level of detail necessary, key stakeholders must agree on legal, administrative, and political conditions that will insure a the safe, dignified, and voluntary return of Syrians.

II.    Introduction
Security, stability, and early recovery are dependent upon one another in a political transition and reformation. As highlighted throughout history, security and stability are essential and were predominately achieved by instilling a new political order that removes the main sources of conflict. Syria is no exception, as the need for a political transition grows more urgent. Although security and stability are a focus point for key stakeholders, the growing fragmentation and chaos has only expanded the various layers to attaining security. Also contributing, the prolonged political process, including the constitutional committee, have laid a confusing path with unclear outcomes that would lead to a stable political climate in the near future. The current outlook does not clearly outline when a secure and stable environment will be set for Syrian to return.

As the Syrian conflict reaches a “precarious freeze,” it has become increasingly apparent that the security borders separating the three zones will be consolidated, which are the zone influenced by Turkey northwest of the Euphrates, the zone controlled by the Autonomous Administration (AA) in cooperation with the United States, and Assad regime-held areas, secured with Iranian and Russian influence. Despite the divisions, security and stability are critical in moving forward with early recovering and attaining social stability, whether inside Syria or in neighboring regions. This report will focus on four particular indicators of security; assassinations, explosions, extrajudicial detentions, and abductions. A variety of cities from a wide range of backgrounds were selected as case-studies to cover the different areas of control in Syria.

Strategically selected, the case studies attempt to present a general picture of Syria’s current security condition. The first and second section of the report, presents an overview of data collected concerning explosions and assassinations over the course of a year, starting from the beginning of July 2019 until June 2020. explosion The sections cover the three areas of control through case studies from the following areas; in the Deir Ezzor and Daraa governorate are covered for Assad regime-held territory, areas in Deir Ezzor and Al-Hasaka governorate are covered for the AA region, and cities in Idlib, Aleppo, Raqqa, and Al-Hasaka are covered to represent the situation in opposition-controlled areas.

To measure indicators for assassinations and explosions, a tailored-approach was to collect and analyze data. Forms were utilized to record information on explosions and assassinations, including date, location, type of incident, target, targeting method, status of the target, and the actor. The results and consequences of each event were also recorded. After collection, data was cleaned and cross-checked, after which a cross-regional analysis was formed on the security conditions, stability, and how it relates to the topic of safe and neutral return.
The report relied on the following sources:

1) Accounts of activists in areas under observation or those following security operations on social media platforms.
2) Accounts and official websites of agencies and local media that cover events in those governorates.

The other two critical indicators of safe return, detention and abduction, were analyzed through case studies from the three particular zones of control. In regime-held areas, the city of Jasim in Daraa, Douma in Damascus, and Al-Bukamal in Deir Ezzor were selected. All three have been under the control of the regime since 2018. For opposition-controlled areas, the city of Jarablus and Afrin in Aleppo were selected. Both fell under opposition control in 2018, after Operations Euphrates Shield, therefore fitting into the same framework. The timing of control and the sensitivity of the situation in Afrin allows for the security situation to be compared with regime-held case studies.

For this purpose, a tailored form was designed to monitor these incidents and analyze their data as indicators of stability and safe return over half a year starting from October 2019 until the end of March 2020. The form of detention and abduction was designed as follows: (Date – location – type of operation – status of the target – number of those targeted – parties in control – places of observation – targeting party – gender of the target). In terms of sources, the report relied on private interviews with well-informed individuals whom are familiar with the details of the events in the monitored areas. In addition to relying on:

1.    The observation points affiliated with the Information Unit at Omran Center in northern Syria.
2.    The special security report issued by Ihsan Relief and Development offices inside Syria.
3.    The official social media sources of the targeted parties.


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Additional Info

  • Files Syria
  • Files-Hidden F72
  • Experts Baraa Khurfan, Maen Talaa, Navvar Şaban, Omran Center, Rateb Bouta
  • Experts No - Hidden E43,E46,E121
  1. Introduction

The majority of literature discussing civil-military relationship highlight that armed forces must follow a democratic civilian leadership. To achieve such a relationship, a state must undergo a complicated process to meet the necessary requirements, including a comprehensive legislative reform, a change in the entire security sector, the inclusion of transitional justice, establishing democratic institutions, and instilling democratic values. Civil-military relations are the most sensitive and vital aspect of the democratic transformation process, as failure to address the complex relationship may result in a relapse to the pre-democratic authoritarian status. An essential component to establishing democratic transportation, civil-military relations is a key element affecting internally displaces persons (IDPs) and refugee return, as well as their engagement in political, social, and economical life.

The necessity to secure a safe environment for dignified and voluntary return is intertwined with promoting civil-military relations. Such an environment does not currently exist across Syria’s geography, as various actors struggle to attain more power. The absence of a future plan that entails a “new political era,” and the “cautious freeze” on the ground, has resulted in a multitude of governance models backed by the various international and regional powers. This paper seeks to delve into civil-military relations throughout Syria’s geography, which consists of numerous governance models, to assess the impact of those relations on a refugee and IDP return. The ultimate research question addressed; to what extent do civil-military relations affect refugee and IDP decision to return?

Although the study sheds light on civil-military relations in all areas of control, there is a particular focus on regime-held areas. Regime-controlled areas provide identifiable features concerning civil-military relations, as the regime has control over the state in legal and institutional terms. Additionally, the regime’s security approach will have the most impact on civil-military relations in the future, affecting more than 12 million displaced Syrians decision to return. The paper also sheds some light on such parameters in areas outside regime control as fragile stability in others zones also hinders the formation of a safe environment conducive of a voluntary and safe return.

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Additional Info

  • Files Syria
  • Files-Hidden F72
  • Experts Maen Talaa, Omran Center
  • Experts No - Hidden E46,E43