Today, the space for civil society activity across Syria is being severely reduced once more despite variations in conditions between the northwest, northeast and government-held areas. As a result, Syrian diaspora civil society organisations (CSOs) are growing in importance. In fact, the reduction of civil space in Syria itself is putting much of the challenge of maintaining the civic spirit of the revolution for a democratic future for Syria, as well as the pursuit of peaceful resistance, on the shoulders of these organisations.
The report authored by Erwin Van Veen and Beatrice Noun of the Clingendael Institute and supported by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) examines what purpose support from EU-based actors for Syrian diaspora CSOs active in the area of governance can serve and how such support can be improved. It examines this question because the struggle for the political future of Syria remains in full swing, even though the military battle for Syria has been largely lost by revolutionary forces. Diaspora CSOs can still play a significant role in establishing ideational, social and conflict narratives, developing civic capabilities and mindsets, and supporting limited governance alternatives to the current options, but only if they are strategically supported and collaboratively organised.
The report focuses on diaspora CSOs because of the constrained scope for CSO activity inside Syria beyond the humanitarian sphere and because of limited access to government-held Syria. Specifically, the brief focuses on diaspora CSOs active in the area of governance – here, human rights, democratisation, media, women’s rights and accountability – because it is in this realm that crucial matters of collective and individual rights, freedoms and duties acquire meaning. In terms of its methodology, the report is based on a review of existing research into the evolution and role of the Syrian diaspora (focusing on CSOs) and interviews with Syrian diaspora CSO representatives and European diplomats, as well as a workshop.