Governance in Aleppo is a tale of two cities. On the regime-controlled side, there are three state governing institutions that provide municipal services and basic management. These are systematically denied to nearly all neighborhoods in opposition-held Aleppo, where delivery of services and other local management is a chaotic frenzy of ad hoc governance and coordination among Civil Society Organizations (CSOs). There are five basic characteristics of governance that emerge between these efforts within opposition-held Aleppo in particular.

aleppo's neighborhoods

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Governance in Aleppo


1. Civil Society Organizations are small and impermanent.

More than half of the 62 CSOs identified in Aleppo were mentioned 4 or fewer total times. In a four-month study with monthly reports, this means more than half of all CSOs either work in one neighborhood for several months, or multiple neighborhoods for short periods.

2. Scramble for governance ongoing in the outskirts.

Governing environments are particularly chaotic on the outskirts of the northeastern and eastern Aleppo. This is likely for two reasons: first, it is more easily accessible from opposition-controlled highways running north to Turkey and east to Raqqa and Iraq. Second, these neighborhoods are removed from the front line so they spend more time struggling with governance than they do fighting the regime. Sakhour, in northeastern Aleppo, has 15 different CSOs, more than half of which appeared in only one month. Tareq al-Bab, on the eastern outskirts of the city, has had 18 different CSOs in the past four months.

This map shows the concentration of CSOs we identified working in Aleppo.
The highest concentration of CSOs is in the east and northeast - not necessarily the neighborhoods in greatest need of aid (see "Humanitarian Conditions" section).

Syria csos

3. Rise of Islamic CSOs as powerbrokers.

Islamic CSOs are the most powerful charity groups working in opposition-held Aleppo. Three groups: the Sham Islamic Commission, the General Islamic Services Association (GISA), and the Sharia Commission are among the top ten most named groups in opposition-held Aleppo.

4. Free Syrian Army strongest on the front line.

Neighborhoods on the front lines of the conflict in central/north central Aleppo exhibit the strongest pro-FSA loyalties. These neighborhoods have a great deal in common: they represent one of the few, if not the only, areas in Aleppo still exclusively controlled and governed by those who are pro-opposition and local to the city. Other opposition areas increasingly contend with foreign influence.

5. Islamist influence is a complex, mixed picture.

There is no simple answer for why different neighborhoods support Islamist groups. One area fits a profile one might presume to be pro-Islamist: their governance landscape was messy and convoluted before ISIS took over, imposed order in the community, and built support through coercion. But another equally pro-Islamist area was protected by a single armed group with FSA ties or other non-extremist ideologies. A template or pattern describing this influence is not yet discernable.

This map shows the neighborhoods in Aleppo where five key armed groups are strongest in the city.

Syria armedgroups