Sunday, October 16, 2016

Civil Society in Syria: A Changing Landscape

Emily Susman: Will be taking 2nd module

Civil Society in Syria: A Changing Landscape


Over the course of the last five years in Syria the focus, both internally and internationally, has been on armed activities. This has discounted a robust and impressive civil society that has formed despite the government’s tight restrictions on any sort of organizations that can be seen as opposition.

Civil Society Organizations (CSO) have been crucial to protecting and providing for Syrians in the midst of the war. While Syria has always had a strong underground CS presence, today these organizations are up operating in a much more dangerous landscape. Instead of drawing attention from the Assad regime, now they must operate in a landscape where the government, armed groups, and international actors see CSOs as a target.

Today, there are thousands of civil society organizations operating in Syria. These range from local councils of a handful of Syrians to the Syrian Civil Defense that has almost 3,000 volunteers across the country. With the absence of social services, civilian protection, and basic access to livelihoods, CSO have grown to fill a need that is specific to local Syrians.

This is something that many INGOs have tried to do in Syria, but Syrian CSOs remain unique in that they operate with a local knowledge of what civilian services are needed. Additionally, CSOs will be crucial in the rebuilding of Syria in a post-conflict environment.

With limited communication options between the CSOs across Syria there is difficulty understanding what already exists, what is being duplicated, best practices, and potential collaborations. This is difficult for CSOs to find out because of the underground nature of many of the organizations.

My capstone focuses on civilian self-protection in Syria and many of these measures are performed by local CSOs. Understanding what is already in Syria and where there are holes both geographically and thematically will be crucial for a better understanding of civilian self-protection currently in Syria.

Primary Question

Are Syrian civil society organizations meeting the needs of their local communities by diversifying their services (medical, political, food aid, etc.) based on the governorates they operate in, despite an absence of collaboration?


  • What geographic areas are missing key CS services?
  • Are these holes appearing in areas that are under the control of specific armed groups (including regime)?
  • What services are not being provided by CSOs in Syria?
  • Effectiveness of coalitions
  • Are coalitions formed by activity, region, year established?



I will be using data collected by Citizens for Syria, that has amassed a database with over 800 CSOs operating in Syria.

This database include
  • Name of organization
  • Main Domain (education, medical, emergency response, etc.)
  • Secondary Domain
  • Third Domain
  • Headquarter Location
  • Abroad
  • Web presence

Citizens for Syria has also created a list of coalitions of CSOs which will be incredibly helpful for understanding communication and collaboration between CSOs.

While I think it would provide invaluable insight to know the primary funder (western government, local funds, INGOs) of these organizations, unfortunately that is beyond the scope of this project.

Once I perform the SNA analysis I will identify holes (see below) and input the armed group in control of this area. Allowing me to look for patterns between CSOs operation in certain regions of Syria. I will find this data using the Carter Center’s Syria Conflict Mapping data.

Network Measures

The network in this SNA will not be based on frequency of contact, as most of our class examples have been, this is because the communication networks between Syria CSOs has not been tracked.

This means that the network will begin as a two-mode issue network, and I will also look at it as a one-mode network to see what CSOs are connected to each other.

I also will be using structural holes to understand the gaps in the network in order to form recommendations on what could make the civil society landscape across Syria more complete.


Social network analysis will help me 1) gain a better understanding of the CSO landscape in Syria currently 2) find gaps in the CSO model in Syria that would otherwise be unreachable 3) look for links between an absence of a certain domain in an area and armed groups in control of that area to see patterns of CSO formation in Syria.

This project will complement my capstone research on civilian self-protection in Syria by providing an analysis on the self-protection measures already employed by CSOs in the country.


Civilians for Syria, Mapping Syrian Civil Society                  

The Carter Center’s Syria Conflict Mapping,

1 comment:

Christopher Tunnard said...

How fortunate that CfS has a list of coalitions, but this is still going to be a lot of work. One place to start might be your question. What is the relationship (if any) between the diversification of services and the absence of collaboration? SNA can help with the latter, but can it with the former? The "structural holes" that you talk about are in a network, which, I assume, will be the collaboration network. The missing services are just data points, not related (necessarily) to any network, or at least that's how I interpret what you've written. A lot will also depend on how accurate and complete the data on the 800 CSOs are.

The good news is that you've got data and an approach, and you'll refine it all during the second half of the course. It will be great to see what develops, and it should be immediately useful to those involved.