Pillars of Stability and the Obstacles of War

By: Muhammad Khalid
Translation: L24

In “Pillars of Stability and the Obstacles of War,” Muhammad Khalid, a researcher and specialist in Syrian affairs, discusses Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and its civil government, the Syrian Salvation Government (SSG), and how it balances war and governance. Translated from Arabic and edited by L24, the essay delves into the complexities surrounding the nascent government and emerging quasi-state in Syria’s Idlib province. It examines the significant challenges of transitioning from a society dominated by military factions to one governed by civilian institutions.


The Syrian Revolution has reached an important stage, which is the reconciliation of the state of quasi-stability and the state of confrontation with the Syrian regime. Addressing this reality plays a pivotal role in formulating many policies and managing the human and financial resources of the revolution. How can the revolution, represented internally by the Syrian Salvation Government (SSG), both lead its state of military confrontation with the regime – requiring invoking a state of danger – and build and sustain society, providing services and encouraging investment – requiring a state of stability and security?

Reconciling the foundations of stability with the obstacles of war is a problematic issue, and it is the focus of much discussion among revolutionary elites. How can the need to stabilize the situation by presenting a model of governance and administration be combined with the necessity of working on the primary goal of the Syrian revolution: overthrowing the Assad regime?

Idlib Administrative Model

Following efforts to distort the image of the revolution and Idlib, revolutionaries realized showcasing Idlib’s mini-administrative model demonstrates superiority over the regime, proving capabilities in management, development, safeguarding society, and benefiting regional and global interests.

Without a doubt, this strategy greatly improved the previously poor image of the liberated areas. Idlib has become a focus of interest for think tanks, researchers, human rights organizations, and those interested in the study of conflicts. Studies on Idlib’s administrative model were written and have indicated its successes and achievements on several levels. Many researchers have noted that the situation in Idlib is better than in areas under regime-control or the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Due to the attention given to the civil administration the ceiling of social expectations has risen, and with it the demands for services and increased political participation.

Between Well-Being and Mindfulness

The dynamics of conflict and stability are among the dualities affecting popular perceptions. Invoking a state of danger is an emotional inoculation bolstering the psychological immunity of the people, giving them strength and patience when facing adversity. While the state of prosperity and stability carries the attractiveness of investment and the drive of society towards development and progress under “normal conditions.” Conversely, it diverts attention from preparing for bouts of combat and conflict and distracts people from their (physical and psychological) preparations for times of difficulty. Prosperity and stability also lead to increased expectations regarding standards of living and participatory politics and unavoidably increase popular demands in such areas.

Prosperity and safety require the authority to address the demands and needs of society and work to achieve them. It is inconceivable that in a state of prosperity, there would be no public policies allowing room for community participation or without economic policies addressing the needs of the most vulnerable – due to the conditions of war and forced displacement. Meeting such demands will consume much energy, material, and human resources.

Governments usually search for a delicate balance between reassuring the populace and maintaining a state of vigilance against “ever-present danger” by providing an acceptable limit of subsistence requirements for all classes, especially the marginalized and destitute.

(HAC hosts conference to bolster humantarian services in Idlib) [Unknown/HAC]

Institutions play their role in raising the efficiency of society by investing in human resources and policies. Public projects spur a state of economic comfort so society is satisfied with the result of social justice among the people and the belief that none advances over the other, except through their own merits, and with recognition of the efforts of the government to serve it, even if these efforts do not meet all of its basic needs.

This is achieved at the cost of neglecting readiness, alertness, and mobilization of society. Thus, at the moment of military confrontation, the population lacks the political vision and the physical and psychological capabilities necessary in such times when patience and steadfastness are required.

Accommodating such a balancing act requires specialized bodies and agencies with the strategic vision to determine the precise balance between the pillars of stability and the obstacles of war in a way congruous with the principles of the revolution and reality of northwestern Syria.

Challenges require developing institutions transcending the frameworks of factions and groups and establishing civil governance models compatible with the reality of the region. Careful analysis of the political scene is required to determine suitable strategies.

Public Expectation Increases Proportional to Institutional Aptitude

We assume with the formation of a government in the liberated areas, power was transferred from the factions to government institutions, increasing expectations and demands in terms of first livelihood and then political participation. Demand and expectations increase proportionally to confidence in institutional capability.

Perhaps this is the reason for the current climate in Idlib, despite its distinction from the rest of the regions in Syria. Yet it remains a major responsibility that falls on the administration, as the demands of the people in a state of stability and prosperity increase – both in terms of their ceiling and their type. For reforms to satisfy the claimants, the institutions addressing them must be based upon sound intellectual foundations and political mechanisms.

The process of responding to such demands constitutes a major challenge at the core of the political system, as it is an emerging system new to the governance and management of society.

Intellectual Transition: From the Fiqh (jurisprudence) of Factions to the Bureaucracy of Institutions

Determining how to transition from the jurisprudence of factions to the jurisprudence of government constitutes an existential challenge for groups and movements with histories viewing such theorizing as a restriction to the openness of their movement. Should such a movement desire a position in governance and management, it must not see intellectual theorizing as a restriction, but rather as a guiding and determining framework for its path.

Theoretical frameworks must be established as infrastructures supporting and organizing the movement, not as restrictions hindering innovation and progress. Intellectual structures exist to establish success and define identity, thus easing understanding by others and giving meaning to the progress achieved.

We mean movements concerned with the production of thought, anticipating events, and developing perceptions of social, economic, and political issues. The trap many groups fall into is limiting themselves to a movement theorizing in more partisan thinking, wherein the concern is the justification of the movement, while governance requires superseding and directing the movement itself.

This methodology creates a solid foundation for accurately understanding issues and creating a sound self-narrative, which will help it cross from the stage of organization to actual institutions, without trial and error. This directly affects the level of internal structure, political sentience, and its position in its societal surroundings – both regional and international – thus enabling it to determine the framework of its interactions with societal issues.

(GSS cordon area during a security operation in Idlib) [Unknown/GSS]

Groups are hierarchical by nature and thus do not need to account for approval in policy or actions, as there is an inherent obligation of obedience and allegiance from members. Conversely, governments must abide by such considerations when making decisions, as civil institutions exist to meet the needs of society. An inability to recognize and implement these differences, in function and relationship, will result in difficulty and conflict. While groups look to society as an incubator and means for mobilization and recruitment, civil governance relates to society as a shepherd to their flock.

Managing society is more complex than leading groups, and the process of moving from the jurisprudence of the group to the jurisprudence of governance and authority is one that most movements fail. The political and ideological approaches of political movements have always been numerous, some accumulated theoretical capital in preparation for heading a state, yet once they came to power found themselves inadequately prepared to bear the burdens of actual governance. Thus, the insufficiency of the intellectual and dynamic capital of such movements to cross from the “group” to the “state” became evident.

The liberated areas in Idlib provide a unique case study in the field of political transformation, as it was able to take advanced steps outside the scope of a closed organization into the field of governance and authority since 2018 when the SSG was formed, revealing the extent of its ability to learn and expand its horizons intellectually and as a movement.

While the SSG was able to maneuver and adapt to circumstances it has shortcomings in other aspects. Its kinetic development is matched by a weakness in the theoretical aspect. The SSG is dependent on trial and error to transform practical experience into effective political theory adequately realizing its goals and explaining its action and direction. It must learn to safely redefine itself without absolute dependence on such a methodology.

Transition of Power and Building Institutions

Political and social transformation witnessed by any movement transitioning from a group to a position of authority and governance means developing institutions concerned with receiving demands and proposals from society and creating mechanisms capable of addressing and actualizing them via policy. Such mechanisms serve as bridges of trust between the authority and society.

The precise distribution of roles between different institutions is a pivotal point in ensuring effective communication between the government and the governed, without neglecting any segment of society or presenting the demands of one portion at the expense of others. This is linked to what was mentioned about the structure and redefining oneself to achieve a beneficial transition from localized to community to state rule.

Success in transitioning from group to state rule depends greatly upon the internal structure of these movements and their ability to respond to the challenges and aspirations of their societies. If they adopt a “security outlook” when interacting with society often developed by groups as a result of the dangers imposed by hostile regional or international systems. This outlook will inevitably lead to the production of approaches that are primarily concerned with “security,” resulting in “security issues” taking precedence over the political and social dimensions of governance and dominating the formulation of public policies.

If the group transitions to the stage of governance, it will need to demonstrate a deep understanding of the needs of society. Which relies upon the role of political and social institutional structures for receiving, processing, and addressing; advice, complaints, and demands, via effective procedures and competent institutions. Such systems are necessary to transform public desires into reforms, legislation, and policies to achieve the aspirations of the people.

(Goverment must have the means to address the demands of the people) [Omar Albam/DW]

One constant of the Syrian Revolution are battles to liberate and protect territory, that is, the military dimension of war. This type of demand requires only a modest number of institutions due to the singular nature of its scope. As for the governing authority, society expects many things from it, including the provision of its basic needs. Technocrats and notables of society also expect to obtain access to political participation. Such increased expectation requires broader and more specialized institutions and mechanisms, thus the process of transition to power requires institutional building capable of gathering society’s demands according to scientific and professional methods.

The political system must engage in adopting innovative policies and decision-making methods while establishing new institutions capable of strategic interaction with social, economic, and political dynamics, commensurate with the growing ambitions of all segments of society.

Actors on the political stage must realize that official institutions, with all their bureaucratic frameworks, do not possess the same degree of flexibility or responsiveness that characterize revolutionary groups. Bureaucracy may represent a major obstacle preventing the adoption of effective strategies to address challenges and such systems may find themselves unable to implement their vision and manage institutions effectively.

Institutions must be developed and completed in a way developing influential and effective political systems capable of performing their roles efficiently, in the arena of public affairs, thus ensuring the ease of the implementation and plans and policies.

Stable and effective governance requires administrative structures and decision-making institutions capable of dealing with the escalating dynamics of a rapidly moving society and establishing systems capable of interacting efficiently with all societal levels. Only in this way can a sound transition from group to state administration be achieved.


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