The issue of federalism is a very sensitive topic in Syria for many reasons, but most notably because of the divergent opinions of the political and economic elites about it.
A scenario where Syria is divided does not have any public support, nor will it be effective way to determine Syria’s political affairs. However, federalism has remarkable public support among some political forces, specifically the Kurds and some analysts and political scientists do support the idea, although quietly.
Some see a scenario playing out whereby local geographic borders are established, paving the way to a final division of the state. Others see in this scenario a salvation – if arranged properly – that will avoid a final division.
On the other hand, many overlook the fact that federalism carries with it risks and dangers for the state in how Syria’s resources are allocated between local and central administrations. Leading the country to federalism will only lead to fragmentation and division if it is not managed by the local authorities with faith in harmony with the other components of the federal state, and good planning at the early stages.
The biggest problem that may make the federalism scenario a problem is the economy The current crisis in oil export contracts between Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey may be a direct example of the potentials discussed above.
Why do we open the file of federalism now? This is due to two reasons that have already been discussed.
The first is that the Kurd’s political leadership have announced their preference for this scenario, either by imposing a de facto autonomy, as outlined by the Kurdish Democratic Union (PYD) leader Saleh Muslim, or through agreement with the other Syrian partners, as in the case of the Kurdish National Council (KNC) .
Muslim explicitly declared last week that they are seeking to establish an autonomous Kurdish region consisting of three provinces, within the framework of a federal system in Syria. The PYD have tried to implement this step, by announcing the formation os a transitional civil administration in “West Kurdistan" in three separated areas: Hassakeh , Ain al-Arab and Afrin.
The PYD leader even announced the formation of a committee to prepare a constitution and an electoral law, and to determine how to manage the Kurdish region, adding that the committee has already completed its work, and it will soon set the date for elections in the Kurdish areas.
The second is linked to what some analysts say – that federalism is the least bad option for Syria , if the different partied do not agree on the final method of administration.
Why is federalism sensitive? This is also due to two reasons, as we explained earlier.
The first is that the option of federalism has a public support from some effective Syrian political, field and research figures, and it is an option that does not receive a lot of condemnation and rejection. But the term “division” is a concept no Syrian has dared voice.
Federalism is an option, even just in theory, and if the Syrian parties reach an agreement on the political, geographic and economic aspects. Unlike the option of division, which has a lot of political, field, geographic and economic weaknesses, especially the economic vulnerabilities.
However the economy is also a key factor that threatens the option of federalism with failure to favor the option of division in the future.
Can federalism lead to a unified and powerful Syria?
The risks outlined above are the main reasons that frightens some observers from the option of federalism in Syria, and they look to Iraqi as the example that confirms their concerns.
But some specialists and experts say that federalism is possible if planned well to avoid the potential economic.
They say that there are 25 federal states that consist 40% of the earth's population, and that the oldest federal states are: The United States (1789), Switzerland (1848), Canada (1867) and Australia (1901).
According to a United Nations report on human development which ranks 180 countries, we find that there are four federal states among the top six countries in terms of quality of life, namely: Australia, Canada, Belgium, the United States; shortly afterwards come Switzerland and Germany.
Federalism has already produced strong and united states. But it is impossible to say whether it is the most appropriate option in Syria.
Translated and edited by The Syrian Observer