The Syria - Conflict Research Programme aims to understand and analyse the underlying political economy of violence with a focus on informing policy.

The programme focuses on five interrelated research topics: the function and legitimacy of public authority, identity politics, economic drivers of the conflict, civicness and reconstruction.

Research Topics

Governance and perception mapping

 This mapping project has two main components: 

The Institutions Mapping

This project will focus on mapping different governmental, semi-governmental and non-governmental institutions across all areas in Syria, at different administrative layers; on the provincial, district and local level.These institutions will be categorised in the following sectors: security, health, education, justice, industry construction, reconstruction and rehabilitation, aid and relief, water supply and sanitation, social affairs, communications, energy, banking and financial services, agriculture, livestock, Trade (import/export), capacity building and vocational training, momen and gender rights and media.

This mapping will closely examine the institutions’ structure, hierarchy, regulations, formation methods, legal status, vertical and horizontal affiliations, sources of funding, number of individuals affected, and the percentage of women involved, both directly and indirectly.  

The Perception Mapping

In this project we will measure the public perception towards the main actors and institutions located in different locations. The public perception mapping will focus primarily on: local authority perception, justice perception, security perception, health perception, aid and relief perception and education perception.

An online interactive platform will be used to visualise the key results and main findings of the Institutions and Perception Mappings, where users can automatically generate their own reports with regards to the current situation of each sector in specific areas.

The data will be regularly updated and validated, and it will be shown according to different categories; each institution’s degree of formality, legal status, the prime and sub-sector, geographical distribution, effectiveness, responsiveness, inclusiveness and horizontal and vertical affiliations. 


Local governance and elections

Progress in the Wrong Direction: The 2018 Local Council Elections in Syria

This paper is based on field research conducted by the leading author during the 2018 local elections in government-controlled areas in Syria. It reveals substantive gaps between legal procedures, their implementation and the way people perceive them. It exposes the level of mistrust people have with the overall system of governance which they believe works only to benefit the corrupt elite inside and outside the government. The paper concludes that constitutional and legal changes are a necessary but insufficient condition for the process of democratic transition in Syria. Any meaningful political transition process will indeed require substantial changes in constitutional and legal frameworks and should be based on electoral processes at several levels. 

But these amendments and procedures alone will remain futile and could end up as a facade for the authoritarian regime if not accompanied by other conditions and measures. Besides legal changes, real change requires actions that restore confidence in the overall system of governance and at all levels. The paper analyses the political economy of the elections and discusses structural changes needed at all levels in the overall political economy in order to aid genuine democratic process.

Research outputs:

  • Progress in the Wrong Direction: The 2018 Local Council Elections in Syria, LSE Conflict Research Programme, February 2019. Available to read in English and Arabic.

Local Elections in Post-Conflict Syria: Opportunities and Challenges for Local Representation

This paper looks at the question of local representation and decentralisation from a procedural and legal perspective. It analyses the reasons why current administrative and legal frameworks which regulate the electoral processes and the distribution of roles and responsibilities between the Central Government and the Local Administrative Councils have largely failed to deliver actual decentralisation. 

Based on the development of local governance structures in Syria in the last eight years, the paper suggests that the adaptation of a combined top-down and bottom-up approach to the political solution would facilitate the implementation of any political arrangements between the warring parties and would arguably support legitimising such arrangements at the national and sub-national level.

Therefore, the paper presents several recommendations needed to the laws of local elections and the laws of local administration in order for the political solution to have any positive, meaningful impact on ending the Syrian conflict. These suggested changes are essential to enable the local governance structures to play an influential role in rehabilitating the local communities, ensuring a broad public participation, promoting the social cohesion, mitigating the effects of war economy, stabilising the local economies, constructing a sense of ownership and legitimacy form the bottom up and empowering the social harmony at the national and sub-national levels.

Research outputs:

Identity Politics

Identity politics and Sectarianisation in Syria

The paper delineates the different factors and structures that played vital roles in the sectarianisation of the conflict in Syria, postulating sectarianisation as a process that should be examined within its own historical, socio-economic, and political particularities in order to fully grasp its complexity and pervasiveness. This is contrary to the common depiction of sectarianism as a form of cultural exceptionalism, often occultly associated with backwardness, mysticism or irrationality, and religiosity.

The paper provides a nuanced and multi-dimensional perspective of sectarianisation and demonstrates how the rhetoric and practices of the Assad regime, GCC states, Turkey and Iran contributed to the articulation and reification of ethno-sectarian rationalities and polarisations, albeit for their own political benefits. 

Reconstructing Syrian Identity on Social Media

The paper relies on a constructivist approach to investigate the emergence and reinforcement of exclusive singular identities within the context of Syria’s uprisings and civil war, albeit with a concentration on the use of linguistic and rhetorical devices to consolidate such identities. The research therefore analyses social media content to delineate the different ideological clusters that highlight identity politics in Syria as well as points of intersection and contention between those clusters.

The paper aims to delineate the use of rhetorical and linguistic devices by different individuals and institutions to reflect their understanding of ‘self’ and that of the ‘other’, with an emphasis on the vocabulary and semantics that reify those kinds of singular identities and juxtapose them against an ‘other’. While the paper acknowledges that the root causes of the conflict are structural in nature, it nevertheless argues that institutional political messages have been consequential in triggering or reifying divisive identities and inflammatory discussions. Both the Syrian government and Islamist groups have held relatively clear objectives, with clear ideologies and explicit communication models, in their use and dissemination of identitarian narratives. 

Identity Politics and Urban Planning

This research focuses on the relation between ethno-sectarian identities, or singular sub-state identities more generally, and urban-spatial topographies in Syria’s Homs, a city that has witnessed sharp social animosities both before and after 2011.

The research seeks to develop a better understanding of the relation between group identities on the one hand and urban design, market dynamics and inter-communal contact (or lack of) with the hope that this would appropriately inform reconstruction efforts in the future. 

Syrian Cities: Case Studies

The research team is developing two papers on the impact of the ongoing conflict on identity politics and social dynamics in the southern governorates of Syria; the provinces of Dera’a and al-Sweidah.

These papers follow the evolution of the post-uprising sub-national governance structures, the space of civil society and effect of violence on the traditional social structures in these areas. These papers are aiming to shed a light on the emerging conflict-driven social contract and the newly formed local leaders and their relationship with each other and with the different parties of the conflict.  


Documenting Human Rights Abuses in Syria: Gaps and Ways of Addressing Them

The research’s main hypotheses is that there is an overwhelming concentration on retributive justice within Syria’s accountability strand. The majority of Syrian human rights organisations and other civil society groups who document atrocities and violations have generally focused on the perpetrator as the point-of-entry for their documentation activities, rather than victims themselves. If a comprehensive transitional justice process were to pave way in Syria, there would be a dire gap in victim-centred documentations which poses significant limitations on mechanisms of restitution, reparation, and recognition.

The research therefore aims to both understand the gaps present in documentation activities as well as the rationale and reasons behind this gap or, in other words, why human rights organisations in Syria have focused more on retributive rather than restorative justice. 

Research Projects

COVID-19 Response Plans in Conflict and Weak Governance Zones: Syria as Case Study

Project Duration: 1 June 2020 - 31 August 2020.

Research Objectives: The project investigates the context-specific factors affecting the spread of the pandemic in all Syrian regions dominated by three different authorities. The research aims to become a foundation for future in-depth analysis on each factors’ group. The factors we explore are health, socio-economic, and institutional factors within the Syrian context.

Research Outputs:

Research Team: The research team includes Zaki Mehchy, Mazen Gharibah and Dr Rim Turkmani from the CRP - Syria Team, as well as Dr Yazan Douedari from London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the expert in Health in conflict zones Dr Tayseer Alkarim. 

Legitimacy and Citizenship in the Arab World

Meet the Team

rim turkmani_300x300

Dr. Rim Turkmani

Rim is a Senior Research Fellow in LSE IDEAS and the Research Director for CRP work in Syria.


Mazen Gharibah

Mazen is the Research Manager at the Governance and Development Research Centre in Beirut, Lebanon, which partners with the CRP-Syria Team.


Marika Theros

Marika is a Policy Fellow in the CRP- Syria Team.


Zaki Mehchy

Zaki Mehchy is a Researcher at LSE working in the CRP - Syria Team, a Senior Consulting Fellow at Chatham House, and Co-founder of the Syrian Center for Policy Research. His work focuses on development policies. He has conducted research on socio-economic impact of the crisis in Syria, poverty and multi-dimensional deprivation, labor force, local governance, and community empowerment. In 2002, Zaki obtained a Diploma in International Economic Relations from Damascus University. He has MSc in International Economics from the University of Essex.


Dr Iavor Rangelov

Iavor is an Assistant Professorial Research Fellow in LSE IDEAS.


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