Legitimacy and Citizenship in the Arab World

Duration: January 2019 - September 2023
Supported by: Carnegie Corporation of New York


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;

Our Research

Sectarianism and the Judiciary in Lebanon and Syria 

Dr Jinan Al-Habbal is examining how the lack of judicial 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.



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

The making of Syria’s administrative divisions’ map: one hundred years of a problematic relationship between the centre and the periphery

Authors: Zedoun Alzoubi, Omar Abdulaziz Hallaj, Sohaib Al Zoub and Jadd Hallaj.

I-Academic Publications

1-Sami Hadaya (2020) Sectarianisation in Syria: the disintegration of a popular struggle

2-Special issue at Peacebuilding journal on Local agreements in protracted conflicts

Papers in the Special issue (the first three were supported by the grant):

A-Kaldor, Mary, Theros, Marika and Turkmani, Rim (2022); Local agreements - an introduction to the special issue, 

B-Rim Turkmani (2022): How local are local agreements? Shaping local agreements as a new form of third-party intervention in protracted conflict. 

C-Rim Turkmani (2022): Local agreements as a process: the example of local talks in Homs in Syria, 

3-Zeno, Basileus (2021) Education and alienation: The case of displaced Syrians and refugees.

4-Theros, Marika and Turkmani, Rim (2022); Engendering civicness in the Syrian peacemaking process

5-Zeno, Basileus (2022). The making of sects: Boundary making and the sectarianisation of the Syrian uprising, 2011–2013.

6-Qaddour, Jomana (2022) Iraq’s Constitutional Moments and the Institutionalization of Ethno-Sectarianism, 

7-Khouloud Al Zghayare (2020) Military and Politics in Syria (1946-1963): Alliances, Conflicts and Purges, Journal of Syrian studies

1- Reports and working papers

1-From Federalism to Hyper-centralisation: The History of Decentralisation in the Syrian Constitutions (in Arabic). (2022) Dr Zedoun Al Zoubi, Dr Rim Turkmani, Mr Mazen Gharibah. 

2-Absent from Syrian Constitutions: The Status of International Treaties, Independent Constitutional bodies, and Challenging Unconstitutional Laws. Dr Ibrahim Draji (2022).  In Arabic

3-The question of religion in the Syrian Constitutions: historical and comparative review. Ibrahim Draji and Rim Turkmani, 2019 (in English and Arabic).

4-The Syrian Constitutional Court: How Can it Become a Guarantor of Legitimacy and Citizenship?. Ibrahim Draji. 2020. in English and Arabic). 

5-‘The Constitutional Court in Syria’s Constitutions: A Comparative, Historical and Legal Reading’. Ibrahim Draji. 2020.

6-Kurdish political and civil movements in Syria and the question of representation. Mohammad Hasan. 2020. in English and Arabic).

7-Legal obstacles to the participation of Syrian refugees in the presidential elections. Ibrahim Draji. 2021

8-A democratic constitution for Christians and Muslims, translated chapter from Dr Thompson, Elizabeth book.

9-Realism vs realism; Syrian Civil society participation in the constitutional process.  

Blogs and media articles:

-Lebanon needs the rule of law, not the rule of sect. By Dr Jinan al-Habbal.

Are we going to see legitimate constitutions that achieve stability in Syria and Iraq in the future? Media article about one of our seminars.

 -The popularly and officially absent; The Syrian Constitutional Court. Media article about our publication on the Constitutional Court.

The Question of Religion in Syria’s Constitutions: A Comparative and Historical StudyLSE Conflict and Civil Society Research Unit, May 2020. Available to read in English and Arabic.

Lebanon needs the rule of law, not the rule of sectLSE Conflict Research Programme Blog, December 2019.

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




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. 


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


Dr Ibrahim Draji

Ibrahim is a Visiting Senior Fellow in the Department of International Development at LSE. He holds a PhD in International Law from Ein Shams University, Egypt, and has over 17 years' experience as a lecturer in law.

He is an Attorney Consultant to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on protection of refugees and displaced and stateless persons, and a member in the Syrian constitutional process that was launched under the auspices of the United Nations in Geneva in 2019.

Mary Kaldor

Professor Mary Kaldor

Mary Kaldor is a Professor of Global Governance and Director of the Conflict and Civil Society Research Unit in the LSE Department of International Development. Professor Kaldor also directs the unit’s largest research project, the Conflict Research Programme (CRP), an international DFID-funded partnership investigating public authority, through a theoretical lens of the political marketplace and the concept of civicness, across a range of countries in Africa and the Middle East.

Professor Kaldor is highly regarded for her innovative work on democratisation, conflict, and globalisation. She was a founding member of European Nuclear Disarmament (END), a founder and Co-Chair of the Helsinki Citizen’s Assembly and a member of the International Independent Commission to investigate the Kosovo Crisis, established by the Swedish Prime Minister.

Professor Kaldor pioneered the concept of new wars and global civil society and her work on the practical implementation of human security has directly influenced European and national politics. Her books include: The Baroque ArsenalNew and Old Wars: Organised Violence in a Global EraGlobal Civil Society: An Answer to War and Human Security: Reflections on Globalization and Intervention. She is also the editor and co-author of the annual Global Civil Society Yearbook. Her most recent book International Law and New Wars, co-authored with Professor Christine Chinkin, was published in May 2017. At the request of Javier Solana, she was Convener for the Study Group on European Security Capabilities, which produced the influential Barcelona report, ‘A Human Security Doctrine for Europe’.

Professor Kaldor has been awarded Honorary Professorships at the University of Sussex and Corvinus University, Budapest, and holds the 2015 Ludvig Quidde Award for academic achievement in the field of peace. 

In 2003, Professor Kaldor’s work was recognised with the receipt of Commander of the British Empire (CBE) for ‘services to democracy and global governance’.



Mazen Gharibah

 Mazen Gharibah is Research Associate at the Conflict and Civil Society Research Unit in the Department of International Development at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He is part of the Syria Team in the Conflict Research Programme at the Unit.

Gharibah’s work focuses on public policies, legitimacy, elections, the role of civil society and governance during and in post- conflict settings. He combines academic research with policy work and strong grassroots experience. Previously, Gharibah worked as a governance advisor with Adam Smith International and GIZ, and a consultant for several national and international think tanks, focusing on the Syrian conflict. 

He is also a member of the UN-backed Syrian Constitutional Committee, where he is a member of the drafting committee representing the Syrian Civil Society. 


Marika Theros

 Marika Theros is a policy fellow at the Conflict Research Programme at the London School of Economics, where she coordinates their cross-cutting research stream investigating local peace agreements across six key conflict-affected sites, and where she works on the Syria CRP team to examine the design of inclusive mechanisms in Syrian political talks with a focus on questions of legitimacy and sustainability.  She also advises key stakeholders  involved in the Afghan peace process on developing structures for public participation. Over the last 20 years, she has designed a number of research and dialogue processes in the Balkans, South Asia and the Middle East, in order to support multi-level, multi-dimensional peace-making and peace-building approaches. 

She publishes on security, justice and state-building issues in academic journals, currently serves on boards of the Humanitarian Law Centre and Women for Peace and Participation, and is a non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council and Institute for State Effectiveness. Marika is completing her doctorate in International Development at LSE, and holds an M.A. in International Affairs from the Columbia University and an MSc in Human Rights from LSE.


Dr Khouloud Al Zghayare

 Khouloud Al Zghayare is a Syrian sociologist and poet based in Paris. She holds a master and PhD in sociology from the University of Sorbonne Nouvelle – Paris 3. Her PhD thesis comparatively examines the Syrian political elites of the period between (1946-1963) in terms of socio-political and historical composition, discourse and political practices. She worked as an assistant professor at the University of Damascus between 2005-2007 and published a number of research articles and studies in research centres, journals and websites on the Syrian situation, addressing the issue of political discourse, the institution of the Syrian Army and the question of identity.


Basileus Zeno 

Basileus Zeno is an archaeologist and a PhD candidate in Political Science at the University of Massachusetts/Amherst. He holds a BA (2006) in Archaeology and Museum Studies and an M.A. (2011) in Classical and Islamic Archaeology from Damascus University (Syria). Until summer 2012, Basileus was doing his Ph.D. in classical archaeology at Damascus University, but he could not complete his research because of the outbreak of the war. In 2013, he started his M.A. in Political Science at Ohio University, which he completed in 2015. Currently, he is finishing his doctoral dissertation, “Displacement and Identity (re)Formation in Exile: Syrian Asylum-Seekers and Refugees in the United States,” which is a political ethnography of institutional violence and racialized immigration policies in the United States.

 Basileus is broadly interested in the areas of Comparative Politics, Contemporary Political Theory, and Identity Politics. His scholarly interests primarily focus on refugees and forced migration, nationalism and sectarianism, colonialism, interpretive methodology, and social movements in the Middle East.






This project is funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and is part of Carnegie’s International Peace and Security programme.

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Contact us


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


Conflict Research Programme, LSE IDEAS, Floor 9, Pankhurst House, Clement's Inn, London, WC2A 2AZ

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