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  • 2022Abdulsalm DallalPhD

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The NGOization of the Syrian Revolution 2011-2021

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

  • Abdulsalam Dallal
Publication date2022
Number of pages278
Awarding Institution
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


In March 2011 the Syrian Spring arrived. Syrians had lived under the totalitarianism of the Asad family for forty years. This included a state of emergency since 1963, involving the notorious detention, torture and execution of political prisoners and the 1982 Hama massacre. The Syrian Spring took off with spontaneous, simultaneous demonstrations across the country and increased after the state fired on and killed peaceful demonstrators in the southern city of Daraa. Many Syrians called this massive emancipatory, non-sectarian popular mobilisation AL-Thawrah Al-Souriyyieh (the Syrian Revolution). Four months in it was attracting a million protesters on the streets despite 1,500 killed and 15,000 detained. The ‘Kingdom of Silence’ had been ruptured.
The revolution was met by the bloodiest national and international counter-revolution of the Arab Spring, leaving a million Syrians dead and the largest global refugee and humanitarian crisis since the second world war. Aid poured into the country. This thesis examines what happened when international humanitarian non-governmental organisations (NGOs) first arrived on the Turkish-Syrian border in late 2012. It is unique in that it applies the theoretical
framework of NGOization to analyse how international aid undermined the political institutions and culture of the Syrian Revolution. First, grassroots revolutionary local councils had been painstakingly established in the liberated areas of the country. Instead of supporting them, international donors set up and funded a parallel NGO service provision structure. Second, international aid came with bureaucratisation, professionalisation and the transfer of power to external funders, leading to the weakening and depoliticisation of organisations and activists. A revolutionary political culture and praxis was thus transformed into the international humanitarian discourse of ‘impartiality’ alongside the re-emergence of authoritarianism and corruption. This led to a new class of NGO compradors, at odds with the values and aims of the Revolution and the people they serve.

The thesis is based on a lifetime of insider knowledge, first under the repression of Asadism, then with the transformatory political and cultural liberation of the Revolution followed by the relentless bombardment, death, destruction and trauma of a decade of counter-revolutionary violence. Since 2012 I have worked with a range of revolutionary local councils and international and Syrian humanitarian organisations in Syria and Turkey. This has provided me with observant participant experience as well as a network of over ninety key actors, built on trust, to draw on for semi-structured interviews. Epistemologically, this thesis foregrounds the unheard voices of those who played a central part in the Syrian Revolution and its subsequent NGOization. It thus enhances indigenous knowledge production within the academic literature on Syrian politics and the globally documented phenomenon of NGOization.