Legitimacy and Citizenship in the Arab World

Syria, Lebanon and Iraq

Duration: January 2019 - January 2021
Supported by: Carnegie Corporation of New York

Contemporary conflicts are better understood as a social condition in which violence becomes a mechanism for mobilising sectarian sentiment and predatory economic behaviour.

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About the Project

One of the main problems with processes of peace-making and constitution-drafting is the gap in understanding legitimacy between external policy-makers, who are more likely to hold a procedural notion of legitimacy, and local citizens who have a more substantive conception, based on their lived experiences. Moreover, external policymakers often assume that conflicts in the Arab world are caused by deep-seated divisions usually expressed in terms of exclusive identities. People on the ground see the conflict differently and often perceive it as collusion against the general populace.

The project aims to bridge these gaps and advance our understanding of political legitimacy, thus improving policymaking and constitution writing to achieve sustainable peace and state-building in the Arab world. It also investigates how exclusive identities are deliberately constructed by ruling elites as a way of deflecting democratic demands and hindering the prospects of substantive legitimacy.

While Syria is the project’s focus, a comparative analysis is also being conducted to draw relevant lessons learned from post-war Lebanon and Iraq where ethno-sectarian power-sharing agreements were the basis of peacebuilding processes and constitution writing.

The research is based on qualitative and quantitative methods, including:

  • Participatory research, such as focus groups, meetings, and workshops;
  • Fieldwork interviews;
  • Social media content analysis;
  • Comparative case studies;

This project is funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and is part of Carnegie’s work in Transitional Movements and the Arab Region.

Our Research:

Sectarianism and the Judiciary in Lebanon and Syria

Dr Jinan Al-Habbal is examining how the lack of judiciary independence hinders democracy in Lebanon and Syria. Although the Constitution of both countries stipulates the principle of separation of powers, certain constitutional articles and laws contradict this principle and allow the executive to manipulate and control the judiciary. The research focuses on how Lebanon’s confessional system assigns certain sects to specific posts and gives sectarian political elites the right to appoint key judges and prosecutors, leading to an inept clientelist judiciary.

The Lebanese case will be compared to the Syrian judiciary which is controlled by the president as a means to entrench his regime. Even though Syria’s judiciary is not based on sectarian identities, the current absence of state institutions in some areas has led to the formation of various forms of de facto judiciary, many of which are organised around confessional identities, such as tribal and Shari‘a courts. The study will highlight how sectarian power-sharing agreements and politicians’ intervention in the judiciary impede prospects of accountable governance and democracy. The research will also include the Iraqi judiciary at a later stage.

Non-institutional Justice and Collective Identity

Sami Hadaya is investigating the relation between justice and identity politics and whether the latter is driven or reified through some provision of justice, be it rhetorical or actual. Sami is primarily looking at non-institutional means of justice and service provisions, such as through tribal, sectarian, partisan, and/or ethnic structures, and the extent to which such a provision of justice strengthens a particular form of collective identity.

The study will examine the different mechanisms warring parties in the Syrian conflict have used to provide justice, or a sense of it, to communities under their control, and how or whether that has enabled them to solidify a particular prism of collective identity. The focus will be on the justice provided by the Syrian Government, Armed Opposition Groups (AOGs): Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), Islamic State (IS), and the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria (DFNS).

Constitution Writing Process

The process of writing a new constitution for post-war Syria is an important means of building political legitimacy, countering sectarianisation, and helping citizens reach a consensus on the state they desire. It is equally important that such a process and debate widens the question of legitimacy among citizens, civil society actors, and external policymakers. Moreover, constitution writing that incorporates citizens’ perspectives and needs is part of the reconciliation process, as learned from the experience of many countries, such as South Africa, rather than focusing solely on the figurehead of the state.

The research will investigate the process of constitution writing in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq and the role of foreign powers and civil society in this process. It will also explore how the post-war Lebanese and Iraqi constitutions were shaped by identity politics and power-sharing agreements and their role in sustaining sectarianism, dysfunctional institutions, and the threat of renewed conflict. Considering the different political contexts, the comparative analysis aims to conclude lessons learned from the three cases.

Dr Mohamad Hasan is conducting a comparative analysis between the Syrian and Iraqi constitutions and researching the Kurdish constitutional demands in Syria and the constitutional and non-constitutional guarantees for the rights of Syrian Kurds.

website will also be created which will contain resources and materials regarding the Syrian constitutional process.

Research Outputs:

Realism vs. Realism; Syrian Civil Society Participation in the Constitutional Process, Policy Note, LSE Conflict and Civil Society Research Unit, October 2019.


Meet the Team  

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Dr Rim Turkmani

Rim is the Principal Investigator of the project. She conducts research on identity politics, legitimate governance, transforming the war economy into a peace economy, and the relationship between local and external drivers of the conflict. Rim supervises the work of the team and will share the results of the project with policymakers.

She is a Senior Research Fellow in the Conflict and Civil Society Research Unit, directing the Syria Conflict Research Programme and publishing several papers and reports on the Syrian conflict. 

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Dr Jinan Al-Habbal

Jinan is a researcher in the project. She obtained a PhD in International Relations from the University of St Andrews. Her research examined how consociationalism in the Lebanese and Iraqi political systems hinders democratisation efforts. Jinan analysed the impact of sectarian power-sharing state institutions – namely the electoral system and army – and political leaders on promoting democracy in Lebanon and Iraq. She is the co-author of The Politics of Sectarianism in Postwar Lebanon.

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Sami Hadaya 

Sami provides administrative and research support to the project. He is a Research Assistant in the Conflict Research Programme. His research focuses on the formation of sectarian identity politics in the MENA region. After completing his master’s degree in Social Anthropology at the School of Oriental and African Studies, Sami was a freelance researcher for several Syrian civil society organisations working on local reconciliation agreements, displacement movements, and the forced repatriation of Syrian refugees.

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Dr. Mohamad Hasan

Mohamad is a consultant conducting a comparative analysis between the Syrian and Iraqi constitutions. Mohamad is an academic and legal adviser, having over 13 years of legal experience in the Middle East and Europe. He holds a PhD in Constitutional Law from the University of Paris II Panthéon-Assas (Sorbonne University in Paris).

 

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Contact us

Telephone

Dr Rim Turkmani, Principal Investigator +44(0)207 955 6627

Address

Conflict and Civil Society Research Unit, Department of International Development, Houghton Street, London, WC2A 2AE

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