Introduction. The emergence of civil society institutions in their current form can be considered a new phenomenon in Syrian Society as the political and social changes and the availability of funding opened new horizons for civil work through it, it was able to play a prominent role in addressing societal needs, from humanitarian aid to human rights issues. Although northeastern Syria provides a good space for civil work if it is compared with the rest of the different areas of control, at the same time, it suffers from many difficulties related to the availability of a safe environment, the legalization of work and the governance of organizations alike, not to mention the shrinking of that space day after day for security and political reasons. we cannot deny that civil society has fought many wars in order to address the needs of the internally and externally displaced, and that it faced many challenges for it. However, the neutrality of civil society towards societies and its members remains in great question and suspicion, which applies to its political independence as well. This paper deals with the reality and space of civil work in northeastern Syria and based on the opinions discussed in the dialogue session held by TEVN Kurdi virtually via the Internet on November 23, 2020, with the participation of / 26 / civil society organizations operating in northeastern Syria, Kurdistan Region Iraq and the European Union countries.
The reality of the work of organizations First of all, civil society carried out the tasks of the state due to the urgent need and the weakness of service institutions, as it delivered humanitarian aid, documented violations, resolved conflicts, sought gender equality, conveyed reality in voice and image, and many other roles. However, a lack of experience, limited capabilities, and shifting war dynamics hindered its ability to achieve integrated successes. No organization has been able to document all the violations in northeastern Syria and has not yet been able to build a database supported by reliable evidence that can be used in trials one day, according to some participants.
For relief field, it has managed to cover a large proportion of the needs of the displaced and those affected by the war. but it gradually declined in recent years due to the lack of funding and political decisions by the member states of the Security Council, which hindered the capabilities of civil society at the humanitarian level, such as Russia and China, which has used its veto against a series of decisions related to the delivery of humanitarian aid. The most recent of which was the failure to renew United Nations Resolution No. 2165 on the delivery of aid across the border, which led to the closure of the Iraqi border crossings with Syria (the Yaroubia crossing). As for mobilization, advocacy and gender equality, the number of implemented projects was many, but some organizations believe that they did not achieve the required change at the social level or at the level of local government institutions , most of the reasons are attributed to the lack of experience and the lack of acceptance by local communities of a tribal and religious nature of these changes and also to the short period of time for this pattern of change as it may take many years to give the desired results.
The work of civil society in resolving conflicts and building peace is considered a positive development after a set of circumstances came together that contributed to the emergence of a favorable climate for them. the Syrian war itself is considered a catalyst, as it weakened the security grip of the Syrian government and opened small windows, but local communities still suffer from deep divisions as a result of intense political polarization. Despite the many roles, civil work is still a reaction to the reality we live in, which is a form of response to the changes that have occurred and are happening, the negative thing is that many organizations do not have effective and applicable theories of change, and most of their strategic plans have not been transformed into a complete business plan and have often remained confined to discussions and workshops. faced with this critical reality, the question remains, "Has civil society succeeded in achieving what it sought in the required manner?" Constraints and challenges.
Civil society has worked in its various sectors in northeastern Syria in a difficult, insecure and unstable environment that witnessed many fluctuations, especially in recent years, donor policies and restrictions have also contributed to undermining the civil society’s response to the big changes, in addition to the absence of vision, intense competition, corruption in some cases, and the absence of oversight, polarization, and division between inside and outside the country. the absence of organizational law also contributed to weak independence and affected the integrity of civil society. Despite the efforts exerted, it notices a clear weakness in the structure of civil society at the administrative and financial level, as well as the lack of experience, the lack of cadres and the lack of adoption of the principle of governance as a means of directing the civil work compass, which constitutes the most prominent challenges that must be solved. In addition to the great political polarization, what led as a whole to weak confidence at the social level and negatively affected its legitimacy and ability to respond to the social responsibility entrusted to it. The lack of international funding and the lack of alternative local financial resources constitute the biggest challenges, and its impact is exacerbated by the weakness of the volunteer work culture due to high unemployment rates, low per capita income, and the modernity of the civil work culture.
Relations. It is said that the civil society relationship should be in competition with any government or local authority in all countries, whether they are deep-rooted or emerging democracies. This competitive and balanced relationship is achieved in a stable country in which there is an agreed constitution that protects everyone and separates the authorities, which is not available in northeastern Syria. Therefore, the existing relationship between the Autonomous Administration on the one hand and the organizations on the other hand marred by many doubts and mutual distrust as a result of the great political polarization that led to the outbreak of many conflicts that were mostly soft. The lack of competitiveness and the required balance in the conflict has led to a narrowing of the civilian work space, especially in the field of freedoms and human rights. This relationship based on lack of trust can be traced back to the parties ’lack of belief in the role and importance of civil society. On the contrary, they view it as a competitor and an obstacle to their efforts. On the other hand, the organizations - as a result of the political polarization - lost much of their neutrality and political independence, which further deepened the gap and It led to more distrust, mutual suspicion, and great competition in relationships within civil society itself as well.
Funding. Local organizations depend for their funding on international bodies and organizations, donor governments, and donations from Syrians abroad, the latter of which are of a small percentage. Despite the availability of funding during the past years, it is considered low due to the increasing needs produced by the war machine, not to mention the existence of a large gap in the direction of funds and the development of the programmatic strategy by donors. Donor priorities have always been, to a high degree, different from those of civil society, and closely linked to government political priorities it was a reaction to the military conflict, and as a result of its side effects, it led to an imbalance in the distribution of funds to different geographical and work sectors. Focusing on restoring stability in Raqqa contributed to creating a gap in the work on human rights and gender issues, and created a work environment similar to that of businessmen, Moreover, the funding distribution policies among the three governorates have led to the creation of a conflict between the governorates and even between the different components.
Covid – 19. The beginning of the emergence of the virus in northeastern Syria, the Health Authority in the Autonomous Administration, in cooperation with the Kurdish Red Crescent and the World Health Organization, has taken several measures, the most important of which is the decision to establish a "Covid-19" hospital in the countryside of Hasakah , It is a hospital equipped with 120 beds to receive suspected cases and cases of infection with the Corona virus 19 emerging with moderate symptoms, in addition to imposing a total and partial curfew. Exceptionally, the organizations affairs bodies have facilitated the work of organizations, exempt them from the ban, and provide them with the necessary assessments and schedules, especially for the areas where the injuries appeared, and civil society has devoted 60% of its activities to confronting the Coronavirus and mitigating its effects. The closure and quarantine measures led to donors and international organizations to stop some projects and reduce their funding for civil society, as the latter was forced to reduce the number of its employees and reduce salaries. These measures weakened the capabilities of local organizations to respond in proportion to the scale of the disaster, restricted the movement of organizations, and also greatly weakened the ability of financial organizations, one of the managers of the organizations says that the project that we were implementing with 25 thousand dollars, we are now implementing it with 5 thousand dollars, which is a number through which we cannot maintain the quality of work or the quality of the service provided. Despite the efforts made by civil society to address Covid-19 at the beginning, it has been noticed recently that its effectiveness in combating the virus has decreased and its awareness-raising role, and there are concerns that the work environment within civil society institutions may shift to an environment that carries the virus due to the decline in the level of prevention measures within the institutions themselves.
Conclusions and recommendations. i. The current reality is witnessing a crisis due to the emergence of the Corona-19 pandemic on the health and living levels, and it requires concerted efforts to overcome this crisis and avoid dangerous scenarios and limit its repercussions by involving everyone in the planning and decisions that are formulated by the Self - Administration. Political parties must also make more efforts to contribute positively to finding solutions, and they should separate the services file, especially the health sector, from the political file. ii. The Self-Administration must provide a legal work environment that establishes a competitive relationship that safeguards the rights and roles of everyone and helps expand the civil workspace and strengthen its role away from political polarization and it should involve it and include it in re-evaluating the labor laws of civil society and listening to their views. Political parties and frameworks should be more open to the role of civil society and bridge the gap between them in order to enhance confidence, and they must provide all forms of community support to organizations in order to carry out their duties. iii. Donors and the United Nations must conduct a reassessment of their local plans and strategies at the program level and adopt the local approach in providing funds needed by local communities away from their political positions and they must change their financial procedures and policies in providing grants in terms of form and content, and they must stop the project financing policy and start financing the fund Essential for organizations to build sustainability. iv. The Self- Administration shall provide local financing to local organizations from the economic revenues of oil and others in accordance with the rules of integrity and transparency that guarantee equality for all in obtaining financing without any privilege, and measures must be proposed that help provide the greatest degree of neutrality. v. The involvement of civil society in the work does not allow it the time to stand up and look back and study the development that has been achieved in depth, especially at the level of sustainability. Therefore, it must conduct a comprehensive review of the past years and determine what it has and what is on it in a transparent manner according to the dictates of its social responsibility.
This paper was based on the discussions that took place between / 26 / local and international organizations on 23-2020-10, and it does not represent the views of all participating organizations.