Every day peace: the ignored role of Civil Society in the Syrian Uprising

By Josepha Wessels
Submitted to Session P4970 (Civil Society and Social Activism, 2017 Annual Meeting
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Responding to the increasingly precarious humanitarian situation, Syrian activist groups and Community Based Organisations (CSOs) have become active in governance, distributing food aid and providing medical, educational and other services in areas under the control of the Free Syrian Army. This paper is focused on the role of civil society in the Syrian war between 2012 and 2016, specifically in the so-called “liberated areas” under the control of the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian opposition in northern Syria. A postdoctoral research project of Copenhagen University carried out between 2014 and 2016, has investigated the role of citizen video journalists and civil society activists in the Syrian uprisings. One of the methods used was the systematic observation of Arabic language video content uploaded by protesters and media activists from Syria, on a daily basis. Much of the audiovisual data set contains graphic footage of war events and experiences, however a sizeable part of the video material that was analysed during the research project, also contains local reports of community meetings, local elections and institutional buildup. This finding indicates that democratic experiments have been taking place on a day-to-day basis in certain geographical areas inside Syria. The aim of this paper is to shed light on the social political challenges and impact of the activities by Syrian civil society activists throughout the Syrian uprisings. The research methodology is based on media ethnography, semi-structured interviews with civil society actors inside and outside Syria and an observational fieldtrip in the Kurdish and FSA controlled “liberated areas” of Syria, during the summer of 2014. The research project has found that despite the major challenges, civil society groups are still active in Syria and continue to play a crucial role in bringing normalcy to a politically charged situation, resisting both the rule of extremist Islamic groups inside Syria, as well as the authoritarian regime of Bashar al-Assad.