Reconstructing Authoritarianism: The Politics and Political Economy of Post-Conflict Reconstruction in Syria

Steven Heydemann, Smith College & The Brookings Institution 

This memo was drafted for POMEPS Studies 30,The Politics of Post-Conflict Resolution.” 

Policy and academic debates about Syria and other war torn countries in the Middle East routinely invoke the concept of reconstruction. In the literature on conflict resolution and development, post-conflict reconstruction is regularly defined in terms of transformation.[1] The aim of post-conflict reconstruction is not to return war-torn societies and states to their pre-war conditions, but to make use of the space that violent conflict is presumed to create to put in place institutions, norms, and practices that address the causes of violence and provide a basis for effective governance and sustainable peace. This includes transforming frameworks of economic governance so that conditions of economic “normalcy” can be established—conditions that differ from those that operate during conflict. In this literature, reconstruction succeeds by “transforming post-conflict countries into functioning states that can offer their citizens basic public services.”[2] We know reconstruction is working when “the main features of an economy no longer stem from the war but from the normal conditions of the economy.”[3]

No one imagines that these transformations are fast, or easy. There is wide recognition among scholars and practitioners of the enormous variation that exists among countries exiting conflict, and of the daunting challenges that post-conflict reconstruction confronts. There is little naiveté among specialists about the many ways in which post-conflict reconstruction can go wrong. Yet the underlying assumption that successful reconstruction requires the transformation of pre-war systems of governance, political economies, and social norms remains central to the worldviews of both practitioners and scholars. So too does the assumption that the political economies that emerge during violent conflict are abnormal and impede the functioning of “normal” post-conflict economies that are essential to the success of reconstruction.  

How helpful are these assumptions in explaining the politics and political economy of reconstruction in a case like Syria, which appears to be entering the end stages of an exceptionally brutal and destructive civil war? I argue that they are of limited value, and can actively distort policy and academic analysis alike. Defining post-conflict reconstruction in terms of transformation tells us relatively little about how it is understood and will be pursued by the Assad regime. Moreover, the benchmarks or indicators for assessing the success of reconstruction suggested by this literature offer little insight into the effectiveness with which the Assad regime is advancing its own, very different, conception of how to rebuild Syria’s political economy.  

To assess the experience and likely trajectory of the Syrian case – and perhaps other, similar cases, including Libya and Yemen – will require a different understanding of what reconstruction is and how it operates. Efforts to rebuild the country are taking shape as critical pieces in a larger strategy of authoritarian reconstruction. This strategy has three interconnected aims: to restore the regime’s capacity to extract resources from an economy fragmented by violence; reassert its authority over the economic networks that constitute core elements of the regime’s ruling coalition; and reestablish the regime’s sovereignty over all of pre-2011 Syria, in part through the reconstruction of a fractured national market.  

This understanding of post-conflict reconstruction as a process of authoritarian reconstruction does not ignore the extent to which conflict has reconfigured Syria’s political economy, or that reconstruction will require the adaptation of pre-war modes of economic governance to post-conflict realities. Yet it begins from the observation that everything the regime does to advance post-conflict reconstruction is intended not to put in place the kind of “inclusive social contract” that has come to be seen as the preferred outcome of reconstruction processes,[4] but to reinforce and reassert its authority over economic activity, both formal and informal, and revitalize and renew the predatory coalitions and bargains on which the regime has historically depended.  

The approach suggested here builds on my ongoing research into the political economy of civil wars in the Middle East. It builds on, but challenges, the emergent literature on conflict economics, rebel governance, and post-conflict reconstruction (often situated as a subfield of development studies). These studies have tended to conceptualize wartime political economies in terms of the intentions and incentives that shape the behavior of state elites, both during conflict and in the post-conflict period.[5] They tend to define civil war as marking the collapse of pre-war economic institutions, norms, and practices. 

My argument instead highlights the high degree of continuity that is evident in frameworks of economic governance from pre-war to wartime periods in predatory, corrupt authoritarian regimes such as Syria’s. Indeed, I would argue that continuity in modes of economic governance, rather than rupture or breakdown, is the defining feature of the wartime economic order that has become consolidated in Syria since 2011.  

In highlighting the importance of continuity in the economic norms and practices that shape Syria’s political economy, I do not mean to minimize the extent to which the country’s economy has been affected by almost a decade of violent conflict. What was once a national market has been shattered. Industrial, manufacturing, and agricultural sectors have collapsed, and will take years to rebuild. The war has also caused a reshuffling within the business elite, and reshaped to some extent the social ecology of economic inclusion and marginalization. My use of the term continuity does not imply, therefore, that nothing changed. What have been stable, however, are the underlying norms and practices that structure economic behavior. Syria’s political economy was, and remains, corrupt, predatory, and personalistic. It was, and remains, anchored in transactional networks of economic exchange that cross political, sectarian, and geographic lines—and cross conflict boundaries and national borders, as well. The structure of these networks has changed. The goods and services that move through them have changed. Their composition has changed. Yet the fundamental principles on which Syria’s economy operates have not changed. War did not, as much of civil war literature assumes, cause a break between a pre-conflict economy defined in terms of “normalcy,” and a conflict economy defined as exceptional in its characteristics.[6]

State Legacies, Wartime Economic Orders, and Post-Conflict Reconstruction[7]

Civil wars are typically understood to mark the breakdown of state authority over contested territory, and bring about both political and economic fragmentation and the displacement of state institutions by insurgent or rebel actors. Recent research has made significant progress in challenging the notion that civil war produces political and economic chaos and the collapse of order. Scholars have emphasized the complex ways in which state authorities and non-state challengers interact even in the midst of conflict.[8] In addition, the extent to which states extend their authority across territory before conflict has been linked to the capacity of rebel groups to build governance systems during conflict.[9] The view of states as neutral actors in the context of ethnic conflict between non-state actors has been sharply and persuasively critiqued.[10] These literatures treat conflict economies as a separate species, zones where “normal” economic practices are suspended and violence-centered economies with “features unique to civil war” take hold.[11] In contrast to state-based economies guided by policies designed to spur economic growth and improve social development, civil war economies are viewed as distinctive in the extent to which they lack rule of law, accountability, and transparency.   

Syria’s experience of civil war challenges theories that view violent conflict as causing a rupture in economic governance. Wartime economic orders in Syria exhibit significant continuity with pre-war economic practices. They also display striking similarity across regime- and opposition-held areas of the country. To be sure, there are notable differences between the wartime economic orders that have emerged in areas under the control of the Assad regime and those in rebel-held territories—including territories that the regime has now retaken from the opposition. Perhaps most important, the Assad regime continues to benefit from its standing as the recognized sovereign authority in Syria, with all of the opportunities and benefits this confers.[12] In many important respects, however, civil war in Syria amplified and expanded the predatory, illicit, and corrupt economic logics and practices that were commonplace before 2011. These legacy effects flowing from the political economy of Syria under both Assad regimes highlight the extent to which wartime economic orders are influenced by and sustain pre-war economic practices. 

The central flaw in arguments that view peacetime and wartime economic orders as exhibiting sharply distinctive logics and practices lies in their characterization of pre-war conditions in terms resembling those of the advanced capitalist economies of the West, where the rule of law functions, formal institutions of economic governance are relevant, and elements of accountability are present. These attributes are far less meaningful, however, for understanding the pre-war political economies of Syria, or of other repressive authoritarian regimes, or of weak and failing states that have the highest probability of experiencing violent conflict.[13]

Instead, pre-war Syria can best be defined as a corrupt, predatory, crony capitalist political economy with low accountability and transparency, and weak rule of law.[14] The political requirements of regime survival trumped concerns with economic and social development.[15] State elites engaged routinely in illicit practices to enrich themselves at public expense. Criminal economic networks were tightly integrated into, and operated as prominent features of, state-regime-business relations among both civilian elites and the Syrian military, which itself was a powerful economic actor.[16] Economic policy, anchored in long-term mistrust of the private sector by the regime and Ba`ath Party, was designed to make private economic activity legible to, controllable by, and subject to the intervention of state authorities.  

These economic practices had significant implications for the organization of wartime economic orders post-2011. From 2011 onward, these skills and knowledge facilitated clandestine strategies of popular mobilization for anti-regime protests.[17] They proved highly adaptive in the development of insurgent funding networks that linked armed opposition groups in Syria to sympathetic governments and populations in other parts of the Middle East, notably the Gulf Cooperation Council states. Further, these same attributes contributed to the emergence of fragmented, highly localized economic orders across opposition-held areas of Syria. From 2011-2015, the retreat of the regime from large parts of the country gave rise to highly localized wartime economic orders that lacked formal frameworks of regulation or governance.[18] The Syrian state remained a presence in many opposition-held areas where it continued to pay some public sector salaries.[19] It was almost entirely absent, however, as a source of economic regulation, predation, coercion, and taxation. Where the regime had previously exerted significant influence over how local markets were organized, the armed groups that controlled various “free areas” were often predatory and exploitative, but cared little about regulation of local markets, how local economic activities were organized, and who could enter the market to engage in specific economic activities—all aspects of economic governance the Assad regime controlled more tightly.  

With few exceptions, armed groups devoted little attention to economic governance beyond assuring that their own economic requirements were met.[20] In some instances, battalion commanders preferred to outsource economic governance to civilian counterparts in local councils and civil society organizations to avoid navigating fraught and complex matters among civilian populations, like the distribution of humanitarian assistance or the adjudication of economic disputes.[21] The result was the rapid emergence of virtually unregulated markets, essentially economic free zones, especially in the areas adjacent to the Turkish border. The absence of the state and the regime created space for large numbers of new economic actors to emerge not tethered to regime patronage or crony networks and thus able to develop small-scale businesses not linked to the regime. In opposition areas, wartime conditions tended to reinforce the privileged position of regime-connected local elites who could leverage their networks to manage access to goods and markets beyond the boundaries of an armed group’s control.  

These features of wartime economic orders in opposition-held areas had their counterparts in regime territory. Similar elements of fragmentation, the absence of central authority, and the consolidation of increasingly autonomous economic networks were present in areas nominally held by the regime, but governed in fact by local militias led by de facto warlords. In these areas, as well, with formal economic activity ground to a halt, the coercive and predatory economic norms and practices that defined the regime’s pre-uprising mode of economic governance were well suited for the purpose of extracting resources from populations. Predation, coercion, and corruption, it turns out, are scalable, dispersed, and can function effectively both through more tightly-coupled predatory networks—such as the pre-war networks dominated by the inner circles of the Assad regime—and through the more fragmented, loosely-coupled, and dispersed predatory networks that developed in regime-held areas as the civil war ground on. As one analyst noted in 2016, “the regime’s force structure today is not entirely different from that of opposition militias . . . . As the once totalitarian Syrian central state atrophies, its constituent parts — be they sectarian, rentierist, or simple brutes — have gained a stunning degree of political and economic independence from Damascus.”[22]

At times, moreover, the similarity of economic practices among regime and opposition factions facilitated cooperation and coordination among them, despite their status as adversaries. The informal, often clandestine and networked character of Syria’s pre-war economy enabled communications flows, and eased bargaining and negotiations among adversaries and competitors that mitigated the economic effects of war in some areas, at least temporarily.[23]

What the civil war has produced, therefore, across regime- and opposition-held areas, are parallel political economies that are constituted by highly localized and fragmented wartime economic orders, loosely knit together through network ties among individual actors, with economic links that extend in haphazard ways across both conflict lines and state borders. Perhaps most important, while they are organized around the predatory and coercive economic norms and practices that were in widespread use in pre-war Syria, these wartime orders have thrived as a result of their autonomy from the regime and have exploited conflict conditions to enrich themselves on a scale that was not possible during peacetime. Conflict has expanded the scope and scale of predatory activities, and the understanding among regime loyalists that the conflict represented a short-term opportunity to accumulate wealth has no doubt contributed to the escalation of predatory activity in regime-held and recaptured areas.  

Wartime Economic Orders: Implications for Post-Conflict Reconstruction 

The economic legacies of a corrupt predatory regime were evident in how wartime economic orders came to be constructed. In turn, the organization of wartime economic orders—the continuity they have exhibited in the norms and practices of economic actors in both regime and opposition-held areas—can be expected to ease the post-conflict reconstruction of authoritarianism by the Assad regime.[24]

Post-conflict reconstruction will begin from the presence of these autonomous, fragmented, and largely self-reliant wartime economic orders. Yet we should not exaggerate the extent of this challenge. Loyalists are less likely to resist the reassertion of regime authority than they are to use this process to strike deals and establish bargains with Damascus that will preserve the wealth they accumulated during wartime and validate their standing as local power brokers who act on the regime’s behalf. Reconstruction, for them, offers a promising opportunity to put looted wealth to new uses, to launder it and legalize it through participation in regime-sanctioned reconstruction projects.  

Since September 2015, the Assad regime has re-taken large swaths of territory, including the vast majority of what the French termed “La Syrie utile,” useful Syria—the western spine of the country encompassing all of its major urban centers. As the regime has gained ground, it has also worked to advance a process of post-conflict reconstruction, not simply of the war-ravaged economy, but of the regime’s sovereignty and authority over all of pre-2011 Syria. For the regime, these two elements of reconstruction are inextricably linked: economic reconstruction is first and foremost an instrument for the reassertion of the regime’s authority and sovereignty. The extent to which economic reconstruction will serve this end is the principal criterion guiding the politics and political economy of post-conflict reconstruction.  

In keeping with this sense of reconstruction as a jealously guarded preserve of the regime, in early December 2017 “the government met to discuss what it has called the National Development Programme for Post-War Syria (NDP).” According to one report, “[u]nder the NDP, some 200 local experts are working in 12 separate working groups. . . . to provide a vision for the future of Syria ‘that will be presented to the citizens, investors and the international community so that they can all contribute to the reconstruction of Syria.’”[25] Moreover, with Russian support, the regime has successfully fended off Western attempts to link reconstruction funds to progress on a meaningful political transition. It has moved to prevent reconstruction funds from entering areas under its control through non-regime managed channels. It has also imposed broad restrictions regulating the in-country operations of the UN and international NGOs, affirming that only the Assad regime, as Syria’s sovereign authority, is empowered to oversee reconstruction programs.  

The regime is not waiting, however, for the NDP to complete its work to make use of reconstruction to reassert its authority and sovereignty. It has vowed to offer reconstruction contracts only to governments that have supported it during the civil war: Russia, Iran, and China are the principal beneficiaries of regime contracts to date. It has established regulatory and legal frameworks that privilege leading economic actors linked to the regime, expanded the authority of public sector agencies to invest in “public-private partnerships,” and consolidated the regime’s control over all reconstruction-related activities.[26]

These legal and regulatory frameworks provide the regime with the tools to reward supporters and punish opponents—among whom it includes not just active supporters of the opposition, but large segments of Syria’s pre-2011 population that happened to reside in areas that fell under opposition control—and to engage in demographic engineering to create what Bashar al-Assad described as a “healthier, more homogenous society.”[27] The regime has also exploited existing and new property rights laws to seize land and housing on a massive scale.[28] It has expropriated neighborhoods of Damascus and Hama that were known as pro-opposition areas and largely destroyed during the war.[29] It is also expropriating property of displaced persons it suspects as having supported the opposition. Properties seized are being offered to regime cronies (and, allegedly, to Iranian citizens) for redevelopment projects, some of which are being characterized as rivaling Beirut’s notorious Solidaire project in scale. The state bank is funding large reconstruction efforts, including, notably, the demolition and rebuilding of the Basateen al-Razi neighborhood of Damascus. They are designed not only to reward cronies and rebuild damaged infrastructure, but to prevent the return of displaced citizens whose loyalty the regime views as suspect.[30]

Even as the Assad regime consolidates its legal and regulatory control over post-conflict reconstruction, however, Syria’s wartime economic orders pose intractable challenges to its use of reconstruction to reimpose and affirm its authority and sovereignty. The obstacles do not stem from the need to undo alternative systems of economic governance built by opposition forces. Because opposition groups reproduced the regime’s predatory and corrupt economic norms and practices in the areas they controlled, and continued to rely on personalistic networks of economic exchange, the regime’s ability to reimpose its authority faces fewer obstacles than might otherwise be the case. Nonetheless, the wartime transformation of Syria’s political economy has thrown up significant roadblocks to the regime’s control over the post-conflict economy that the regime is struggling to navigate. 

Four such obstacles have already begun to take shape, each linked to the reimposition of regime authority over distinct sets of economic actors. The first concerns balancing the economic ambitions and interests of newly-empowered regime cronies—economic elites who rose to prominence through wartime economic activities on behalf of the regime—against its interest in persuading established cronies and business actors who left during the war to return to Syria, repatriate their capital and restore business operations disrupted by war.[31] Already, there is evidence that new business elites are pushing back against regime outreach to established business elites who left Syria.[32]

The second obstacle is associated with the challenge of regaining regime control over loyalist forces that represent the de facto authority in large areas of Syria that are nominally controlled by the regime. Local warlords and their militias have exploited conflict to consolidate their economic authority in many parts of the country. They have used criminal, predatory tactics to legalize their control over real estate, dominate smuggling networks, run protection rackets to extort from local businesses, and police local economies to ensure the exclusion of competitors, prevent displaced persons from returning, and marginalize local residents believed sympathetic to the opposition.  

The capacity of warlords to sustain their economic autonomy should not be exaggerated. The Assad regime has shown that it is able to reign them in.[33] Yet each case in which the regime moves to do so inevitably requires negotiation and bargaining over the terms under which loyalist forces will concede their autonomy—with regime coercion lurking not so far in the background as the ultimate bargaining chip. If we understand the Assad regime in general terms as a system of rule that rests on transactional loyalty and legitimacy sustained through a vast web of particularistic bargains, there are few structural obstacles to the regime’s ability gradually and incrementally to knit together a loosely-coupled national framework of economic governance in which it occupies the peak position. 

A third obstacle arises in the economic reintegration of formerly opposition-held areas. Where local markets have experienced an influx of new economic actors and patterns of unregulated production and exchange have taken hold, the regime has pursued coercive and punitive strategies. It has given virtually free reign to loyalist militias to loot homes and business and brutalize residents. It has discriminated against territories recovered from the opposition in its allocation of reconstruction funds.[34] Little progress has been made, and little visible effort seems to have been invested, in the reconstruction of basic services, schools, hospitals, power, and water. In some areas, such as eastern Aleppo, economic activity is slowing being restored. But the regime has not yet shown much inclination to reintegrate former opposition areas into a post-conflict national market, or to bring such areas under the regulatory and legal authority of the state. This is likely to unfold over the months and years ahead as the regime stabilizes its authority. However, its determination to exact a toll on areas that supported the uprising suggests that this will be a slow process and will come at a cost to remaining residents, and to refugees and IDPs from these areas. 

Finally, the regime confronts the longer-term challenge of balancing the economic ambitions of its foreign patrons against its interest in asserting itself as sovereign over all of pre-2011 Syria. Officials in Iran and Russia have expressed a sense of entitlement to priority in the award of reconstruction contracts. Both governments pursue their economic interests in Syria on the presumption of impunity and autonomy, if not outright authority over the Assad regime. Iran, for example, has exploited its support for Assad to secure title for its nationals to property seized by the regime. Mercenaries who fought in Iranian-backed militias have participated in looting and other forms of coercive, predatory activity but are rarely sanctioned.  

To date, the Assad regime has shown little inclination to confront its patrons or their local forces. It has accepted the dilution of its sovereignty as the price of survival, and in its formal statements expresses gratitude for, along with a willingness to reward, its foreign backers. Whether this will continue, however, is questionable. To the extent that privileging foreign patrons is seen to undermine the regime’s project of authoritarian reconstruction by appearing to erode legitimacy and sovereignty; imposes opportunity costs on regime cronies; works against the regime’s efforts to lure expatriate Syrian business elites back to the country; and is seen by the West as a reason to continue its policy of not providing funds for reconstruction, the likelihood of increasing tensions between the Assad regime and its foreign patrons is very high. 


Syria’s experience stands in stark contrast to widely-held views of post-conflict reconstruction as a process that will, ideally, transform state, society, and economy, address grievances that led to war, forge an inclusive social contract, and establish economic normalcy in place of dysfunctional, abnormal, conflict-based economies. In the Syrian case, violent conflict did not lead to the breakdown of a pre-war political economy. Instead, violence caused the reconfiguration and dissemination of pre-war economic norms and practices on all sides of a brutal conflict. Legacies of pre-war economic governance exerted substantial influenced in how wartime economic orders became organized. Continuity, not rupture, has been the defining feature of Syria’s wartime political economies.  

The Assad regime has operationalized the post-conflict rebuilding of Syria’s economy as a process of authoritarian reconstruction. It is exploiting reconstruction processes not for the transformative purposes hypothesized in the literature, but to reimpose its authority and assert its sovereignty over all pre-2011 Syria. The regime’s likely military victory, combined with the many ways in which wartime economic orders exhibited continuity with Syria’s pre-war political economy, have helped enable the regime’s approach to post-conflict reconstruction. Even as conflict remains active, and large areas of the country are still outside of regime control, it is building an impressive architecture of laws, regulations, and informal practices to reimpose itself over those parts of Syria it claims to govern. While the regime certainly faces obstacles and challenges in pursuing its project of authoritarian reconstruction, it has put in place elements of a reconstruction architecture that are likely to serve it well. Over time the regime’s approach seems likely to lead to a consolidated post-war political economy that will be similarly organized, if more repressive, more exclusionary, and comprised of transactional coalitions that include newly-enriched wartime profiteers and cronies, to the one over which it presided before the start of the uprising in 2011.


[1] For example, a 2002 study conducted for the US Army by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) defined three phases of post- conflict recovery as initial response, transformation, and fostering sustainability. CSIS and the Association of the United States Army, “Post-Conflict Reconstruction: Task Framework” (2002).

[2] Desha Girod, Explaining Post-Conflict Reconstruction (Oxford University Press, 2015), p. 1.

[3] Graham Brown, Arnim Langer, and Frances Stewart, “A Typology of Post-Conflict Environments.” CRPD Working Paper No. 1, Centre for Research on Peace and Development, University of Leuven (September 2011), p. 7.

[4] Bruce Jones, Jones, Molly Elgin-Cossart, and Jane Esberg, “Pathways Out of Fragility: The Case for a Research Agenda on Inclusive Political Settlements in Fragile States.” Center on International Cooperation, New York University (CIC), New York, UK (2012) 24 pp. See also “State Building in Post Conflict Countries.” UN DESA Policy Brief No. 7 (September 2008).

[5] Steven Heydemann, “Civil War, Economic Governance & State Reconstruction in the Arab Middle East.” Daedalus, Vol 147, No. 1 (Winter 2018), pp. 48-63.

[6] My thanks to the Project on Middle East Political Science and to participants in a workshop it sponsored with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Middle East Center in Beirut in January 2018 for comments and feedback that included the need for a clearer definition of continuity.

[7] This section is drawn in part from a paper in progress, “In the Shadow of the State: The Rise of Wartime Economic Orders and Economic Governance in Syria.”

[8] Kimberly Marten, Warlords: Strong-Arm Brokers in Weak States (Ithaca, NY.: Cornell University Press, 2012).

[9] Zachariah C. Mampilly, Rebel Rulers: Insurgent Governance and Civilian Life During War (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2011). Mampilly finds that Where state actors have invested most heavily in local governance, rebels are more likely to appropriate governance infrastructure for their own use.

[10] Lars-Erik Cederman, Kristian Skrede Gleditsch, and Halvard Buhaug, Inequality, Grievances, and Civil War (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013).

[11] Karen Ballentine and Jake Sherman, “Introduction,” in The Political Economy of Armed Conflict: Beyond Greed and Grievance, eds. Karen Ballentine and Jake Sherman (Boulder, CO: Lyne Rienner Publishers, 2003), p. 2.

[12] The effects of sovereignty in sustaining state actors during civil war is discussed in Nelson Kasfir, “Domestic Anarchy, Security Dilemmas, and Violent Predation: Causes of Failure,” in When States Fail: Causes and Consequences, ed. Robert I. Rotberg (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004), pp. 53-76.

[13] William Reno, Warlord Politics and African States (Boulder, CO: Lynn Reinner Press, 1998).

[14] Melani Cammett and Ishac Diwan, “The Roll-Back of the State and the Rise of Crony Capitalism,” The Middle East Economies in Times of Transition (Springer Publishers, 2016), pp. 63-98.

[15] Steven Heydemann, Upgrading Authoritarianism in the Arab World. Saban Center for Middle East Policy, Analysis Paper No. 14 (Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution).

[16] Bassam Haddad, Business Networks in Syria: The Political Economy of Authoritarian Resilience (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2012); Caroline Donati, “The Economics of Authoritarian Upgrading in Syria: Liberalization and the Reconfiguration of Economic Networks,” in Middle East Authoritarianisms: Governance, Contestation, and Resilience in Syria and Iran (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2013), pp. 35-60.

[17] Reinoud Leenders and Steven Heydemann, “Popular Mobilization in Syria: Opportunity and Threat, and the Social Networks of the Early Risers,” Mediterranean Politics, 17:2 (July 2012), 139-159.

[18] My insight into the political economies of rebel held areas in northern Syria draws on interviews conducted with Syrian traders conducted in Gaziantep, Turkey in June 2017.

[19] Kheder Khaddour, “The Assad Regime’s Hold on the Syrian State.” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, July 2015.

[20] The Islamic State was a significant exception to this general rule. It sought to impose a state-like approach to economic governance within its “Caliphate.” Other armed groups exhibited a wide range of approaches to economic governance, with some operating like “roving bandits” that treated the populations they controlled as objects of predation, to more benign approaches in which armed groups worked with civilians to build frameworks of governance to regulate economic activity in a relatively consistent and transparent fashion.

[21] Interviews with battalion commanders, Gaziantep, Turkey, May 2014.

[22] Tobias Schneider, “The Decay of the Syrian Regime is Much Worse than You Think.” War On The Rocks, August 31, 2016.

[23] Interview, Qutaiba Idlibi, Washington, DC, August 19, 2016.

[24] On the Assad regime’s approach to reconstruction see Steven Heydemann, Beyond Fragility: Syria and the Challenges of Reconstruction in Fierce States (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, June 2018. reconstruction-in-fierce-states/.

[25] Syria Report, “Syrian Government Announces Works on Long-Term Post-War Vision.” December 19, 2017.

[26] These laws and regulations include, most prominently, Presidential Decree 15 of May 2015 allowing state agencies to establish private investment companies; Law 5 of January 2016 regulating public-private partnerships (PPP) and creating a PPP Council headed by the prime minister; and Presidential Decree 66 of September 2012, authorizing the state to redevelop areas of informal and unauthorized homes. The latter has been used to demolish two neighborhoods of Damascus known as opposition strongholds and make them available for purchase and development by regime cronies, including Rami Maklaouf, Samir Foz, and others. In addition, the regime is using existing expropriation laws to seize ownership of property belonging to individuals suspected of support for or participation in the uprising, and exploiting the commercial codes and laws governing imports and exports to favor privileged business cronies of the regime. Syria Report, “Regime Crony Grabs Share in Controversial Damascus Development.” August 8, 2017.

[27] In a speech on August 20, 2017, Assad said “it’s true that we lost the best of our young men as well as our infrastructure, [built] at great cost and through the hard toil of generations, but in return we earned a healthier, more homogeneous society – in a literal sense, and not as flowery words or lip service.”

[28] Syria Report, “Government Planning to Expand Use of Expropriation Law.” January 10, 2017.

[29] Large-scale demolition in major urban centers began as early as 2012, where opposition areas were singled out for such activities, in violation of international law. See Human Rights Watch, “Razed to the Ground: Syria’s Unlawful Neighborhood Demolitions in 2012-2013.” January 30, 2014.

[30] Syria Direct, “Urban Planning Project Obfuscates Demographic Shift Unfolding in Southwest Damascus, Says LCC Member.” January 21, 2016. Syria Report, Funding by State Bank Confirms Importance of Mazzeh Project for Syrian Regime.” November 7, 2017.

[31] In discussing the strategic decisions of business elites to stay in Syria during the war or to leave, one wealthy businessman from a prominent family, who had sided with the opposition, pointed out that “not all those who left were against the regime, and not all who stayed were with the regime.” Interview, Gazientep, June 2017. See also Samer Abboud, “Social Change, Network Formation and Syria’s War Economies, Middle East Policy, Vol. 24, No. 1 (Spring 2017), pp. 92-107.

[32] Syria Report, “Regime Cronies Resist Government Attempts to Lure Back Investors into Syria.” February 27, 2017.

[33] Reinoud Leenders and Antonio Giustozzi, Outsourcing State Violence: The National Defence Force, ‘Stateness’ and Regime Resilience in the Syrian War,” Mediterranean Politics, 23:1 (2018), pp. 1-24,

[34] Syria Report, “Government Money Goes to Pro-Regime Communities. July 25, 2017.