Northeastern Syria: disadvantages of Autonomous Administration’s quota system based on social status

Shoppers in al-Quwatli Street- 23 August 2021 (Enab Baladi-Hussam al-Omar)

Shoppers in al-Quwatli Street- 23 August 2021 (Enab Baladi-Hussam al-Omar)


Enab Baladi – Raqqa

Since its establishment in 2014, the Autonomous Administration, which is active in northeastern Syria, has been seeking to form a political umbrella that would enable it to obtain the necessary legitimacy to participate in any political negotiations or settlements and preserve its military gains.

This constant endeavour is affected by the Autonomous Administration’s formation of its administrative structure within its institutions; it expands the actual participation of local components in managing its institutions to the detriment of others.

Several years have passed since the establishment of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), the political wing of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDF), and its management of northeastern Syria’s institutions. However, the lack of coordination and consensus on the question of equitable representation of social components in the institutions of the administration deepens disagreements and could unleash renewed turmoil. Furthermore, this lack creates a gap between the needs of institutions and their employees.

An employee in the Social Justice Bureau of the Autonomous Administration had to quit his job because he felt “restricted by instructions that contradict the judicial independence and professionalism.”

The Autonomous Administration is trying to achieve an equal representation of social components in its institutions. However, people in areas under its control are not appointed in its institutions based on experience and competence. The administration appointments are decided by quotas only between people with social status and power. 

Actually, this will adversely affect the presence of employees of good experience and education in the administration’s institutions. 

The employee, whose name is known to Enab Baladi, but withheld for security reasons, said the administration’s policy of hiring people into its institutions based on their social status is very similar to the quota system adopted in Lebanon and Iraq. 

The General Social Justice Bureau in northeastern Syria represents the Autonomous Administration’s highest judicial authority. Technically, the bureau is the reference for social justice institutions in the region’s autonomous and civil administrations.  

The General Social Justice Bureau is also concerned with drawing up the general justice policy and organizing its institutions. The bureau also consists of 13 members; the term of office of each member is two years, with a co-chair.

This appointment based on social status followed by the Autonomous Administration caused deep anger among human rights activists and lawyers. Some told officials of the Autonomous Administration, in previous meetings, about this unfair policy in the appointment of representatives of different social groups to the administration’s councils and institutions. In their return, the officials promised to find a solution to eliminate this unjust policy. 

An employee of the Raqqa Legislative Council, speaking on the condition of anonymity for security reasons, told Enab Baladi that “Most representatives of legislative councils in northern and eastern Syria are tribal elders and dignitaries, whether they are from the Kurdish or Arab tribes.”

The employee wondered whether it might be possible to generate new domestic laws in the presence of the tribal authorities, which are often ruled by customs and traditions. Moreover, these tribal authorities are known for not keeping pace with the rapid developments and events in the Syrian arena.

Most people, who are appointed as representatives of various political and social components in the Autonomous Administration-held areas within the joint presidency of some authorities and other positions in the Autonomous Administration, are not working for people’s interest. They used their positions to legitimize their claim to power and management.   

The SDF controlled Raqqa city on 17 October 2017, after 166 days of battles against the IS, with the support of the US-led collation, which was providing aerial and logistical assistance to the forces on the ground.

After the SDF managed to eliminate IS from the area, the Autonomous Administration was announced. The SDF stated that it aims “to form an administrative structure that coordinates services between the regions and fill the administrative and security vacuum.”

The Autonomous Administration’s structure includes an executive council that supervises the work of “democratic civil administrations,” consisting of “general and legislative councils” in SDF-held areas, while the civil councils operating in the region are considered governments that manage local affairs.

General amnesty granted, but first to whom?

Society components in northeastern Syria are not only appointed in the administrative institutions based on the quota system. These components are also appeased with the decisions made by the Autonomous Administration regarding “the file of combating terrorism.”

Precisely, the administration, via the use of the combating terrorism file, works to appease the tribal component in certain areas, mainly in densely populated Arab areas, in order to ease tensions with respect to its relations with them. 

In the context of tribal reconciliations or general amnesty in the region, there are two types of amnesty, according to a study prepared by Sasha al-Alou, a researcher at the Omran Center for Studies.

The first type of general amnesty is for civilians who are arrested by the Autonomous Administration as part of security campaigns on “terrorism” charges.

The administration gives the second type of amnesty to satisfy or get tribal elders and dignitaries over to its side. Thus, some tribal elders and dignitaries take the responsibility and sign the decision to release former members of the IS group, despite not knowing them in person, especially most detainees of al-Hasakah’s prisons are from the eastern governorates. 

In 2020, some families asked why their children were not released as part of a general amnesty issued by the Autonomous Administration, even though the decree included them. However, 

 However, these families had to pay to secure the release of their children to prison cadres through intermediaries. The settlements made by the tribal elders with the Autonomous Administration to release some people are met with great popular discontent in the local community.

Acknowledgment of the presence of dysfunction at the present stage

An official in the Autonomous Administration acknowledged the lack of coordination between the representatives of the social components. He stressed that what happened is a “phased defect that the administration can avoid when the appropriate opportunity arises.”

Speaking with Enab Baladi, the official considered that the rapprochement with representatives of society components, especially with tribal elders and dignitaries, was aimed at polishing the image of the Autonomous Administration. The administration also sought to obtain public acceptance in the areas under its administration. 

The administration official, who declined to be named for he was not authorized to speak to the media on the issue, pointed out that reformulating the Social Contract Charter that the Autonomous Administration is currently working on is an opportunity to avoid previous mistakes occurred in the organizational structure. 

He elaborated,” the restructuring after the completion of the drafting of the Social Contract will generate a local government capable of satisfying the masses and avoiding quotas at the expense of the people’s interest.”

Last June, the Autonomous Administration announced the formation of a committee to re-draft the Social Contract Charter. The committee was planned to include 157 members, but the administration 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 several fundamental issues.

 It is noteworthy that the amended Social Contract must not be formulated by those holding positions in the Autonomus Administration’s institutions to avoid the limited thinking within the scope of the work of the Autonomus Administration.

The project of the Autonomous Administration faces several problems, most notably that the administration is struggling to obtain societal acceptance in different areas with their human, ethnic, cultural and religious diversity. In addition, the administration faces difficulties getting political recognition of its project by the parties to the conflict in Syria.

The sources of legitimacy are determined by the people and their cultural and political effectiveness. However, the Autonomous Administration has not yet been able to push the communities under its control, whether Arab or Kurdish, to support its project for several reasons, including the absence of a fair representation of these communities within the Autonomous Administration’s management of available resources.

Thus, the reality of their governance acquires more complexity that is difficult to solve in the future.


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