Moth or Flame: The Sunni Sphere and Regime Durability in Syria

(Hyvos and Amsterdam University)

This paper investigates relations between the Syrian regime and the Sunni sphere by providing a brief policy oriented analysis of regime – sphere relations and their role in the resilience of the Syrian authoritarian regime. It adds to the emerging appreciation amongst scholars and practitioners in the field of civil society that civil activism does not necessarily have a positive impact on processes of democratization and/or socio-political liberalization. It does this by questioning the extent in which civil actors are independent in the Syrian authoritarian context and assessing what influence this has on stabilizing the Syrian authoritarian system. It argues that Sunni civil activists can (unintentionally) support authoritarianism by being drawn to the very regime that suppresses them – mimicking a moth drawn to a flame. Second, based on the outcomes of the research it provides recommendations aimed at international NGOs that hope to engage with civil actors in Syria. The paper focuses on the Sunni sphere as this has proven to be the largest and most resilient sphere of civil activism in Syria and in the Middle East in general.