Pious Plans and Porous Borders: Rebel Governance and Cross-Border Sanctuary in the Syrian Civil War

Plapinger, Samuel, Foreign Affairs - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Waldner, David, Department of Politics, University of Virginia
Schulhofer-Wohl, Jonah, Department of Politics, University of Virginia

A recent trend in civil war scholarship focuses on the variants and dynamics of local-level governance by armed groups, examining how rebels rule in territories under their control in the midst of conflict. This pattern is present in the ongoing Syrian Civil War, where rebels have established various structures and institutions in the areas they have wrested from the regime. A particular focus in the Syrian conflict has been on how Islamist armed groups, such as Jabhat al-Nusra (JN) and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), have dictated the lives of civilians under their control. The majority of news and policy reports paints a monolithic picture of these groups' modes of governance, attributing such behavior to the extremist ideology of these rebels. However, the reality seems to be less clear cut and uniform. In the northern city of Raqqa, JN and ISIS exhibited variation in the way they governed the local population from March 2013-January 2014. While JN exhibited restraint in its attempts to reshape local society and opted for a more limited mode of rule from March-April 2013, ISIS sought to impose its ideal governance strategy on the city's population in a ruthless and recalcitrant manner in the subsequent months through January 2014. Existing explanations of rebel governance cannot account for this puzzling variation in local-level rule across the two groups. Instead, a dual focus on armed group ideology and cross-border sanctuary provides the basis for explanation in the Syrian case. This theoretical framework provides the foundation for future research on both governance and armed group behavior in multiparty civil wars.

MA (Master of Arts)
Civil War, Syrian Civil War, Insurgent Governance, Rebel Governance, Armed Group Behavior, Syria, Insurgency, Rebel Rule, Cross-Border Sanctuary, Ideology

Acknowledgements: David Waldner, Jonah Schulhofer-Wohl, Deborah Boucoyannis, John Owen, Michael Poznansky, Susan Brewer, Jon Forney, Jeff Jackson, Kenneth Lowande, Andrew Clarke, the participants of the Spring 2014 Graduate Development Seminar, my family, and SSS.

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