Local Councils in Syria: A Sovereignty Crisis in Liberated Areas

This policy paper was written and published by Menapolis with the support of Freedom House.


This policy paper analyzes and evaluates local administrative councils (LACs), the nascent revolutionary governing structures that began forming across Syria as cities and towns asserted autonomy from the Assad regime. Since 2012 following the retreat of government authorities in various villages and towns, LACs have strived to provide essential public services such as water, electricity, and price stabilization for basic commodities, and in some instances humanitarian relief and military coordination.  Although precise numbers are not available, it is estimated that there are hundreds of LACs throughout Syria, at varying degrees of development and effectiveness.  

In an effort to synchronize the LACs’ initiatives, improve their efficacy, and tie their work more directly to external political opposition structures, the LAC Support Unit, now known as the LACU, was created in March 2013, with links to the Syrian Opposition Council (SOC). However, the LACU has been struggling since its founding in its attempts to solidify connections to the local councils and demonstrate its efficacy as a capacity and resource intermediary. These shortfalls in coordination caused by the inability of the Syrian Opposition Coalition (SOC) to assert its sovereignty in the liberated areas leave notable programmatic gaps in terms of the continued development of the LACs as legitimate local governance structures.

In order to understand the development of the LACs, the challenges they face, and identify opportunities for increasing their effectiveness, Menapolis interviewed LAC members from the liberated cities of KafrNabel and Manbej, as well as key activists from across Aleppo, Idlib, Raqqa, and other governorates. The paper offers an overview on the history and evolution of LACs in the liberated areas, factors in their relative effectiveness, their composition and membership selection process, civil military relations, and ties to national level institutions. This background is accompanied by two case studies, and a set of conclusions and recommendations for the SOC and policymakers. 

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