Recycling de facto authority in northeastern Syria

“The Social Contract” and the concern of separation

AANES’ Internal Security Forces (Asayish) inspect the tents in al-Hol camp - August 28, 2022 (AFP/Edited by Enab Baladi)

Recycling de facto authority in northeastern Syria

“The Social Contract” and the concern of separation

AANES’ Internal Security Forces (Asayish) inspect the tents in al-Hol camp - August 28, 2022 (AFP/Edited by Enab Baladi)

AANES’ Internal Security Forces (Asayish) inspect the tents in al-Hol camp - August 28, 2022 (AFP/Edited by Enab Baladi)


Enab Baladi – Khaled al-Jeratli

At the end of 2023, the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), the political umbrella of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that controls northeastern Syria, came out with an updated “social contract” to replace an old one that had faced criticism at home and abroad.

A new formula that included changes in names and descriptions, but experts, analysts, and specialists say that the new “social contract” is a repetition of the exclusion of other parties, and “a unilateral initiative.”

Some opinions suggest that it is an attempt to prove legitimacy in front of internal and external parties, and that it is an entrenchment of the de facto authority. Although its clauses do not directly indicate a desire for separation, at the same time, it seeks to impose the name of the Syrian state in the future, as well as the addition of a regional flag alongside the country’s main flag, as some others see it.

The “social contract” in its latest version has faced criticism, objections, and accusations of being “covert separation,” which will not be accepted by the central state, and neither will it be accepted by Turkey, which means that the United States will pressure its Kurdish ally on this matter.

On the economic, service, and social front, the new contract changed the nature of the supervising bodies and their names. On the political side, it outlined prospects that indicate a future desire for self-governance, assumed a name for the state, and entered into descriptions of the nature of the relationship between northeastern Syria and Damascus as the center of the state, which is worth researching and following up in this file. Enab Baladi discusses with experts and researchers the nature of the “social contract,” the validity of the criticisms, and accusations faced by the Autonomous Administration, as a body intending to separate from Syria.

What is the “Social Contract”?

The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria has changed its structure and nomenclature after completing the preparation of its “social contract” on December 12, 2023.

The new “social contract” stipulated the new name, “Democratic Autonomous Administration in the Region of North and East Syria,” and is now composed of one region, which is the Northern and Eastern Region of Syria, including seven provinces.

The Autonomous Administration primarily manages the areas of northeastern Syria and enjoys direct support from the United States. It is at a fundamental disagreement with Turkey at the northern border, which considers its forces an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is banned and classified as a terrorist organization by Turkey.

The new “contract” included changes that affected the structure of municipalities in all areas under its control east of the Euphrates River, stating in one of its clauses that “the Municipalities Authority will transform into a gathering and union of municipalities.”

The name of the “General Council” for the Autonomous Administration was modified to “Council of Peoples of North and East Syria,” along with steps to create some institutions according to the “new social contract,” such as the “Control Institution,” which will be affiliated with the “Council of Peoples,” instead of the Executive Council, and the “Council of Universities.”

The “contract” stipulated that Arabic, Kurdish, and Syriac are the official languages in the areas controlled by the AANES, and on “ensuring the economic, social, political, and cultural rights of the Kurdish people and the Syriac people, preserving the historical features and the authentic demographic structures of the Kurdish areas, and rejecting any demographic change in the areas of the Assyrian Syriac people.”

Article “120” of the “social contract” indicated that “the form of the relationship in the Democratic Republic of Syria is determined between the Democratic Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria with the center (Damascus), and other areas at all levels, according to a consensual democratic constitution.”

This matter is subject to amendment in case of agreement on a “democratic constitution” in Syria.

Following the announcement of the adoption of the “new social contract,” the “General Council” of the Autonomous Administration issued a statement saying that preparing this “contract” took two years of work.

Protection of the “Contract”

On February 7, Hassan al-Ahmad, the joint president of the Social Justice Council in the Autonomous Administration, said that after the adoption of the “social contract,” it was necessary to establish new institutions, including a court for the protection of the “contract,” according to Article “119” in the charter of the “contract” itself.

He added that any individual, body, or institution can challenge the laws and decisions to be issued by this court if they violate the terms of the “social contract,” and when a challenge to one of the laws is presented to the “Protection of the Contract Court,” it is immediately considered and annulled if it does not match the charters contained therein.

Al-Ahmad pointed out that the court’s formation relies on the approval of two-thirds of the members of the Democratic Peoples’ Council, provided that its members possess “legal expertise and integrity.”

On February 1, Farid Ati, the joint president of the Democratic Peoples’ Council in the Autonomous Administration, stated that AANES is working on setting up mechanisms for the creation of new institutions, such as the Higher Commission for Elections, the Protection of the Social Contract Court, and the Public Institution for Financial Monitoring and Accountability.

On June 2, 2016, AANES launched the “Social Contract for the Democratic Federalism of Rojava – North Syria.”

On January 5, 2017, the “Constituent Assembly for Democratic Federalism of Northern Syria” modified some texts of the “contract” and removed the term “Rojava” (Western Kurdistan) from the title but kept it within its text.

On June 10, 2021, based on the mandate granted to it, the “Joint Presidency of the Autonomous Administration’s General Council” began forming a committee named “Committee for Drafting the Social Contract and the Basic Charter in the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria,” tasked with rewriting the “social contract.”

At that time, the “Joint Presidency of the Autonomous Administration’s General Council” determined the structure of the committee to consist of 150 members while reserving the right to add other members if necessary.

Later, the final number of committee members reached 157, after the “Joint Presidency” established several broad and general conditions for committee membership: being 18 years of age or older, having no convictions for disreputable crimes, residing in areas controlled by the Autonomous Administration, and having legal, political, administrative, or social experience.

Consolidation of de facto authority

Syrian Legal Researcher and Director of the Syria Justice and Accountability Center (SJAC), Mohammad al-Abdallah, said that the concept of “social contract” is not linked to features of separation; rather, it paves the way for a sound governance system between the public and the ruling authorities in general, according to his view.

Al-Abdallah told Enab Baladi that the idea of drafting a “social contract” on the sole initiative of the Autonomous Administration without consulting other parties is a negative indicator. It opens the door to criticism and appears to be a “unilateral contract.”

In the current situation in northeastern Syria, the Autonomous Administration’s proposal of a “social contract” seems to be a “social contract” founded by an authority attempting to impose it on the existing parties.


The dangerous aspect regarding the social contract is that there are four spheres of influence in Syria, which are ‘useful Syria’ governed by Damascus, northern Syria ruled by factions (the National Army) with Turkish support, northwestern Syria where (al-Nusra Front) rules, and northeastern Syria where the Autonomous Administration backed by the West exists, and they do not correspond to each other. Therefore, creating a social contract for each of them will not establish the creation of a national social contract.

Mohammad al-Abdallah, Director of the Syria Justice and Accountability Center


Samer al-Ahmed, a researcher specialized in the affairs of northeastern Syria at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies, on the other hand, sees the introduction of the “social contract” as an attempt by the Autonomous Administration to prove its legitimacy to local and international parties.

Based on a series of problems that the “contract” suffers from, the most prominent being its non-applicability and lack of approval by an elected body, al-Ahmed said that this step cannot be considered a tendency towards separation, but rather a consolidation of de facto authority.

He added that this consolidation divides into two parts; the first is theoretical, concerning issuing laws and decisions, which no party will take seriously, even the United States, which supports the Autonomous Administration, since this support could annoy its ally Ankara.

The second is actual steps the Autonomous Administration tries to take by involving more tribal dignitaries in managing the area, in an attempt to legitimize itself as a “region.”

A study prepared by the Jusoor Center for Studies on the mechanism and objectives of drafting the “social contract” concluded that the Autonomous Administration aims to create a legitimate umbrella for itself within its areas of control.

The legitimization aims, according to the study, to enable the legislation and legalization of internal policies, and control of protests and demonstrations against the Autonomous Administration through the formal participation of dignitaries and representatives of different social blocs in the process of drafting the “social contract.”

In addition, the Autonomous Administration wanted to take a unilateral step forward to enhance its influence as a de facto authority, without the need for genuine partnership with community and political forces in the region, such as the Kurdish National Council parties, and other non-loyal Arab and Kurdish political forces.

The study pointed out that the Autonomous Administration’s conduct of general elections is a legal preparation for circumventing American pressure and public demands to make changes in the AANES’ cadres and leaderships to limit corruption and address economic and security policies.

Challenges facing the “social contract”

The first version of the “social contract” initiated by the Autonomous Administration received widespread criticism, most notably from human rights organizations.

Numerous criticisms were directed at the “social contract” which, when first issued in 2014, overlooked several basic human rights principles, such as the prohibition of arbitrary arrest, the right to judicial review without delay, and the right to legal counsel during criminal proceedings, according to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report. It also contained several fundamental issues within the preamble of the ” social contract”.

The new version of the “social contract” did not refer to banning arbitrary detention, but Article “56” states that “everyone has the right to a fair trial,” and Article “57” stipulates that “no arrest, or entry or search of private places or houses is allowed without a judicial warrant, or in cases of flagrante delicto.”

In Article “58”, “Individual freedoms shall not be restricted without a legal basis”.

The “social contract charter” is defined by the Autonomous Administration as a collection of laws, regulatory rules, and management references that institutions must follow in their dealings with residents to determine the contract’s relationship between the individual and the official.

The charter currently in force in areas controlled by AANES is a result of consensus among Kurdish parties in the region, and a form of agreement for managing the areas after the withdrawal of the Syrian regime in 2012.

Researcher Samer al-Ahmed divided the problems facing the “social contract” into three levels; the first concerns the method of production and legislation. It was not created by an elected committee and was not discussed with political parties or community committees, indicating that the committee which worked on its production is accounted to the Democratic Union party (the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party).


The drafting of (the contract) was supervised by a specific, unelected body; no elections have taken place in the areas of the Autonomous Administration control to this day, despite being established around ten years ago, during which democracy has been claimed repeatedly.

Samer al-Ahmed, A researcher specializing in the affairs of northeastern Syria at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies


At the second level, the researcher believes that the content and philosophy on which the contract is based are at the core of its problems, as it contains a number of ideas and points that are strange to the culture and geographical and political nature of the region.

The researcher also sees that the third level of problems is centered on the applicability of this “contract”. He sees it as a collection of decisions that were previously issued, along with containing concepts that were launched and not implemented, as is the case with terms like pluralism, democracy, and freedoms used by the Autonomous Administration without applying them.

A study published by the Jusoor for Studies Center referred to Turkey’s rejecting stance necessarily towards the “social contract” move as one of the challenges facing the Autonomous Administration’s project in implementing this “contract”.

It attributed this to the fact that such a move confirms Ankara’s fears of legitimizing or moving towards the establishment of a PKK-affiliated entity on its southern borders, and therefore the Turkish objection may result in pressure on the Autonomous Administration by the United States to prevent the approval of the “contract”.

Likewise, the ongoing failure of the Autonomous Administration to face challenges and crises in living conditions, the economy, security, and military, and the resulting weakness in maintaining a monopoly on force, will make it difficult for them to achieve any progress with a new step in the context of legitimizing its existence and authority, according to the study. This is in addition to the lack of genuine community participation, as there is a noticeable absence of the Arab component from the decision-making circles in the Autonomous Administration and the exclusion of wide Kurdish representation after the exclusion of parties such as the Kurdish National Council and other non-loyal Kurdish political parties.

An American soldier alongside civilians from the eastern region in Syria- December 23, 2022 (CENTCOM)

An American soldier alongside civilians from the eastern region in Syria- December 23, 2022 (CENTCOM)

A step towards separation?

Days after the announcement of the “social contract,” criticism emerged from various opposition parties, most notably the Syrian Islamic Council, which described the “contract” as “a veiled separatist project.”

Abdullah Kaddo, the coordinator of the studies and consulting group in the opposition’s Syrian National Coalition, rejected any attempt to unilaterally draft a “social contract” in Syria, pointing out that it should be built on the consensus of “the free will of Syrian women and men to live together.”

He added that proposing a “social contract” formula by any party that does not take into consideration the hopes and aspirations of all components of the Syrian people throughout Syria’s territories is an unacceptable act both in form and content, and he considered that it “pushes towards the division of Syria in terms of land and people.”

One of the clauses in the “social contract” talks about the flag of the Autonomous Administration, stipulating that it be raised alongside the flag of the “Syrian Democratic Republic”, thus specifying a flag for the AANES and requiring a change of the name of Syria, which appeared to be a condition imposed by the Autonomous Administration to engage in potential settlement negotiations.

Syrian legal expert Mohammad al-Abdallah doubted that the “social contract” aims to define the name of Syria for the future, or to impose conditions for returning to Syria, especially since it has not left to begin with.

Al-Abdallah told Enab Baladi that the talk of parallel flags raises suggestions of decentralization demands, not desires or intentions for separation; however, regarding its practical application, he doubted that the Damascus government would accept this, even with Russian pressure in this direction.

He added that the Autonomous Administration’s reference to its flag alongside the flag of the “Syrian Democratic Republic” is an acknowledgment of the unity of Syrian territories and recognition of the existing central government, thereby showing no “separatist intentions,” according to al-Abdallah.


What the Autonomous Administration means in Article “8” of the ‘social contract’ regarding its own flag, is an indication that it is ready to remain under the central government’s flag, if that government recognizes its national existence.

Mohammad al-Abdallah, Director of the Syria Justice and Accountability Center


The co-chair of the Executive Council in the Autonomous Administration, Hassan Kojar, said on December 23, 2023, that the Autonomous Administration released a political initiative for the “Syrian state” aimed at solving the Syrian crisis and ensuring the unity and sovereignty of its territories, towards building a “united democratic constitution,” which was subsequently issued by the “social contract”.

Kojar considered that the “initiative” itself indicates that the Autonomous Administration is not separatist but strives for the unity of Syrian territories.

Elements of the US army at the al-Maamel roundabout at the entrance of the city of Deir Ezzor during protests by civilians rejecting the crossing of a Russian military convoy through their areas - November 19, 2021 (Facebook/Euphrates Post)

Elements of the US army at the al-Maamel roundabout at the entrance of the city of Deir Ezzor during protests by civilians rejecting the crossing of a Russian military convoy through their areas – November 19, 2021 (Facebook/Euphrates Post)

Introduction to a political and constitutional reality

The term “social contract” has been repeatedly linked to describing the “new Syrian constitution,” especially as mentioned by officials from the Autonomous Administration, most recently by the co-president of its General Council, Siham Qaryo, who saw the drafting of the “contract” as “a first step towards writing a new constitution for Syria.”

Director of Research at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies, Maan Talaa, told Enab Baladi that the Autonomous Administration is attempting through the “social contract” to impose a new political and constitutional reality on the Syrian file.

He added that the thesis of the “social contract” could be read in more than one way, the first of which is from the angle of local control necessities, and completing the governance decor in the local environment, making an effort to showcase the diversity present in its areas of control and its method of managing this diversity, producing a space for Syrian-Syrian interaction, and portraying it as a framework that can be generalized.

Talaa attributed the Autonomous Administration’s desire to present itself in this way to its repeated failure to export itself as a political umbrella for various Syrian components, with the “tribal uprising” that Deir Ezzor witnessed in the middle of last year being a prime example of this.

Syrian human rights activist and director of the Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ) organization, Bassam al-Ahmad, linked the legitimacy of the “social contract” to the extent of involvement of the region’s components in its preparation, pointing to the Syrian constitution drafted by the regime in 2012, which he considers to be “lacking legitimacy” as it did not embrace the participation of all Syrians.

Al-Ahmad did not deny the possibility that the “social contract” could be a step towards separation, but it cannot be ascertained, especially since Article “5” of it states, “The Democratic Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria is part of the Syrian Democratic Republic.”

He considered that the legitimacy of any “social contract” or “constitution” stems from the level of participation in it and its acceptance at the local level. Given the state of the Autonomous Administration, one may wonder whether the “contract” has a technical aspect aimed at establishing laws that govern the lives of the inhabitants of northeastern Syria.

The “contract” could be viewed as a “temporary status” intended for regulating laws in the geographical area controlled by the Autonomous Administration.

The director of research at the Omran Center sees that the “social contract’s” flaws are greater than what it contains, looking at the very name as a flaw within it, in addition to its unrepresentative and therefore illegitimate production method.

He added that the Autonomous Administration lacks the capacity to implement the “social contract” due to the absence of institutions serving this purpose.


The major problem in the “social contract” is that the Autonomous Administration has presented it to be the supreme law in an area where there is no basic law to begin with, and it is supervised by unqualified cadres, who lack credibility or trustworthiness.

Maan Talaa, Director of Research at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies


Amidst a political proposal

On December 20, 2023, the commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Mazloum Abdi, said that the Syrian regime still relies on a security and military solution, which was evident during its movements in Deir Ezzor province.

During his participation in the fourth general conference of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) on December 20, he called for intensifying efforts and working to organize the ranks of the “national” opposition throughout Syria.

He added that “the opposition linked to a foreign agenda has no programs and has become out of the equation,” and that international powers do not have “strong programs” to lead the solution, nor do they show the will to force all parties out of the crisis.

Abdi saw that the “foreign-affiliated opposition” had failed to find any solution to the “Syrian crisis,” considering that it left the field to “terrorist and radical” groups.

He added that there was a necessity for the emergence of the “real opposition,” which led to the establishment of the “Syrian Democratic Council,” according to Abdi.

The SDC forms the political umbrella for the Autonomous Administration and the SDF as it defines itself through its official website.

Abdi pointed out that the SDF took the SDC as a political umbrella, representing it in international and local political forums.

The Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) was established at the end of 2015, concurrently with the founding of the SDF, gradually becoming the political arm of the force composed of a coalition of Arab, Kurdish, and Syriac factions, which received international support in its war against the Islamic State organization.

The Syrian National Coalition and the opposition factions emanating from it adopt the same stance as Turkey regarding the Autonomous Administration and its political arm the “SDC” and the military “SDF,” considering them extensions of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party in Syria.

Over the past years, the Autonomous Administration has put forward plans for dialogue with the Syrian regime and reach a consensual solution, but the regime’s continuous refusal has thwarted these plans and initiatives, according to previous statements by Kurdish officials.

The Syrian regime considers the Autonomous Administration a “separatist entity” supported by a foreign state (the United States) and, based on that, has previously expressed its support for the armed tribal uprising in Deir Ezzor province against the SDF.

New steps

The Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) elected during its fourth conference held in the city of Raqqa on December 20, 2023, Mahmoud al-Meslet and Leyla Qahraman, co-presidents, with representatives from the Autonomous Administration, the political umbrella for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

The new names carried the hints of change, as Mahmoud al-Meslet comes from a tribal background, the nephew of the head of the opposition’s National Coalition, Salem al-Meslet. He has resided in the United States and has good relations with Americans and Turks.

On the other hand, Leyla Qahraman is considered a member of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, listed on Turkish and international “terrorism” lists, just like her predecessor Ilham Ahmad.

According to the new internal system of the SDC, the latter abolished the executive body from its structure, which was led by prominent leader Ilham Ahmad, one of the cadres of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party in Syria.

This was also preceded by promises made by the Autonomous Administration to make changes at the level of managing Deir Ezzor province, which witnessed armed conflicts in August and September 2023, following the arrest of the commander of the Deir Ezzor Military Council by the SDF, which turned into an uprising demanding the rights of the Arab component in the region.

The Autonomous Administration, based on what was announced on October 22, 2023, set forth a range of outcomes comprising 42 items, most notably restructuring local, legislative, and executive councils and municipalities, and reorganizing Internal Security Forces and Deir Ezzor Military Council within six months.

Commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) Mazloum Abdi during a burial ceremony for fighters in the SDF - March 22, 2023 (SDF Press)

Commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) Mazloum Abdi during a burial ceremony for fighters in the SDF – March 22, 2023 (SDF Press)



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