The Social Contract in northeastern Syria: Challenges and failure factors 

A commemoration of the formation anniversary of the Autonomous Administration in northeastern Syria - 6 September 2021 (the Autonomous Administration website)

A commemoration of the formation anniversary of the Autonomous Administration in northeastern Syria - 6 September 2021 (the Autonomous Administration website)

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Enab Baladi – Raqqa

Last June, the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) announced the formation of a committee to re-draft the Social Contract Charter. The committee was planned to include157 members, but AANES reduced the number to 30 members a few weeks after the announcement.

This move comes amid criticism of the Social Contract, which neglected several core principles, such as the prohibition on arbitrary detention, the right to prompt judicial review, and the right to a lawyer in criminal proceedings, according to a report by the Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The charter’s preamble was also criticized for a number of fundamental issues.

A hastily written charter

Last August, Lawyer Abdullah al-Aryan, who lives in Raqqa city in northern Syria, said that “The current Social Contract of AANES was hastily written under the influence of the Socialist Left. The contract was not drafted by representatives of all regions, as some were still under the rule of the Islamic State (IS).”

Al-Aryan added that the amended Social Contract must be drafted in a highly professional manner and that members of AANES institutions should not be involved in its writing because their thinking would be limited within the scope of AANES’ work.  

According to al-Aryan, the participation of independent lawyers or legal experts in the re-drafting of the Social Contract will contribute to its success. 

AANES defines the Social Contract Charter as a set of laws, regulations, and administrative references, which institutions must follow in their dealings with the population, as the contract determines the relationship between individuals and officials.

The charter currently in force in AANES areas came as a result of consensus between Kurdish parties in the region, which reached a form of agreement to administer the northern regions the Syrian regime withdrew from in 2012.  

Failed efforts in local security

Over the past few years, the society of northeastern Syria has been discontent with AANES’ work. People’s frustration grew as AANES continued drifting from achieving domestic security, Syrian researcher at the Jusoor Center for Studies, Anas Shawakh, told Enab Baladi in a previous talk.  

The AANES failed to establish a central, effective, and acceptable force that could win people’s approval and prevent the region from falling into chaos.

The northeastern Syrian region is a strategic target, thanks to its natural wealth and internal fragility resulting from specific circumstances of historical dimensions.

All these factors must be taken into account by the committee mandated to re-draft the charter, an official at AANES told Enab Baladi on the condition of anonymity for security reasons. 

The official added that AANES hopes that the new Social Contract will reduce the gap between its institutions and the political and social elites in northeastern Syria, particularly in the Arab clan areas.

The new Social Contract will give a national character to AANES to prevent continuing accusations of separatism and racism from other Syrian parties, whether the opposition or the Syrian regime.

The official acknowledged that the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD)’s ideas and opinions predominate in many administrative, political, and even military matters in northeastern Syria, adding, “We must not forget that the PYD is the founder party of AANES.”

The federation of the north threatens Syria’s centralization

Last June, the co-chair of AANES’ General Council, Farid Ati, said that the new version of the Social Contract would define the structure and shape of AANES and the powers of its affiliate institutions.

Ati added that the ratification of the new contract would be either through the General Council or through a popular vote in northeastern Syria.

A legal expert based in Raqqa city told Enab Baladi, after requesting his name be withheld for security concerns, that the success of AANES in drafting a new Social Contract appropriate for Syrians in its regions may threaten the policy of centralization ruling Syria for decades.

The expert added that AANES would try in the coming period to keep its promises, improve the general social situation, draft modern laws within its spheres of influence, and abandon transporting laws from the regime government.

A research entitled “Reading in the Social Contract of the Federalism of the North,” written by Badr Mulla Rashid and published by the Omran Center for Strategic Studies in 2016, said that the Social Contract resulted from the synergy of a group of actors the PYD used as a basis to make the contract seem like an objective output of the interactions within the structure of AANES.

The PYD’s move underlined a set of political objectives at the domestic and external levels to confer legitimacy to the de facto authority of AANES in northeastern Syria on the one hand and gain political support on the other hand.

According to Rashid, AANES presented the Social Contract Charter as a legitimate source of authority, akin to a constitution. 

However, the legitimacy of this de facto authority is still under question locally, regionally, and internationally, with this concept being ambiguous in international law. 

Moreover, the absence of explicit and clear provisions for de facto authorities, formed as a result of internal armed conflicts or popular protests, prompts sovereign States to deal with these authorities in a duplicative manner.

Some states maintain part of their relations with the central government of a country while having dealings with an administration established in a particular area within the same country. 

De facto authorities aim to bring down legitimate governments by handling economic burdens independently of the central government and ending its security and military presence.

“The Social Contract document raises a number of challenges related to legitimacy, including questions surrounding the political representation of key actors of northern Syria, issues related to the absence of a capacity to measure popular support, the absence of approval of the Social Contract from the Syrian central government or any other government,” Rashid said.

“The Social Contract did not specify the borders of the northeastern Syria federation. Instead, the text of the preamble refers to a geographic concept, and political and administrative decentralization within a unified Syria,” Rashid said.

He added, “The concept of political decentralization is unclear and vague, and the text appears to confuse the concepts of the rights of entities within a confederation —which is more like a union of sovereign states—and federalism, which is a looser term that cannot be defined by one particular model.” 

By re-drafting the Social Contract Charter, AANES is trying to ensure its control over northeastern Syria and improve its political, security, service, and economic realities. However, AANES is taking this step without involving other Syrian actors, mainly Arab clans, which may foster predisposing factors to reject this project.

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