Nasser, Rabie; Mehchy, Zaki; Alsaba, Khuloud (2014). 'Development Roots, and the impact, of the Crisis in Syria' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, 2-5 September 2014, Athens, Greece.

Development Roots, and the impact, of the Crisis in Syria

Key words: Syria, development, capability, conflict (crisis)

This research paper attempts to provide a diagnosis of development situation in Syria before the beginning of the crisis in the country in March, 2011, and to explore the roots, and the impact of the crisis on the Syrian population and society. Syria made significant improvements in main indicators used traditionally by governments and international organizations, a trend found in number of other countries in the Arab region that witnessed a massive wave of protesting, known now as the 'Arab Spring'. An average of 4.45% growth in GDP, and sound macroeconomic fundamentals, these are associated with structural change in the economy in the last past ten years, prominent economic and social reforms were undertaken over the same period of time. Additionally substantial achievements were made across education and access to information. , the same can be seen through social sectors as population health national indicators were improving, and among the highest in the Arab countries.

The wide protesting movement in the Arab region that erupted by the end of 2010, and escalated further in 2011, demonstrated strong frustrations, especially among the young individuals. In Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Syria, and seen to a lesser degree in Morocco, Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, the popular aims seen across the movements were similar in seeking freedom, more political participation, more equal societies, and better living conditions. Eventually, events played out differently across the different countries due to many factors, including: differences in political structures, roles taken by international and regional powers, and geopolitical importance of these countries to the international powers. In Syria, the once nonviolent social and political movement was overtaken, and then marginalized by dominant political subjecting powers: locally, regionally and internationally, causing the beginning of a tragic violent conflict. The conflict in Syria is impacting the human development achievements adversely, draining the cultural heritage of the society, damaging the social cohesion and identities, not only in Syria but also across the region, as the conflict metastasizes progressively.

Our research explore the root causes of the crisis in Syria using the capability approach developed by Amartya Sen (Sen, 1985; 1999), thus provide in-depth analysis of human development situation in Syria before the crisis. The capability approach helps in providing a framework of analysis that take in consideration the political and social ethical conceptions that focuses on what we see as core aims of people movement through the last years: the freedom to be, and the freedom to achieve. The paper takes up multi methodology approach, as depends on multiple background papers produced by the authors for the Central Bureau of Statistics in Syria, UNICE, UNDP, and Syrian Center for Policy Research. In addition, we applied counter factual modeling and projections to estimate economic and social impact of the on-going conflict in the country.

Through capability approach, we present an analysis of development situation in Syria, which differ in many ways with what provided before by development assessments popular in the region. Our research finds what we called 'institutional bottlenecks' as a feature of development in Syria, as formal and informal institutions failed to develop along with individual development and changing perspectives, experiences and expectations. Institutional bottlenecks failed to allow progressive and responsive social, political, and economic development of Syrians and caused the marginalization of large segments of the population socially, politically, and economically. Both formal and informal institutions yielded and maintained a development at low equilibrium favoring the interests of political and economic minority. We diagnosed the development of Syrians kept at its low equilibrium depending on the capability approach, which depends on broad conceptualization of human development. The economic growth that was often praised, by the World Bank and the UNDP, did not reach the majority of the population as data of household expenditure shows decreased households real expenditure in 2009, compared the past years. Economic growth was enjoyed by an elite emerged in the 1990 dominating the corrupted and monopolized business sphere, while the majority of Syrian lagged behind. The wide government reform agenda that started in the 1990s, and escalated in the 2000s, maintained the universal access to basic services for the Syrian like education and health services. However the depth of this universality was continuously jeopardized by reforms intended to modernize both sectors, opening them to commercialization and passive privatization. This distorted environment both clashed with a rapidly changing Syria society: more healthy, educated, and connected to its global surroundings; and restrained individuals and society from aspiring and exercising the freedom to be and achieve. The counter factual modelling generated estimated loss of human, social and economic Syrian capital due to the on –going conflict in the country. We projected the loss of HDI at 26.9 per cent of its value provided by the UNDP, and 28.9 per cent from its potential estimated value in the counter factual model in 2014. We extend our estimations beyond the HDI, and explore massive loss in human security, social cohesion, trust and connections.

The ongoing conflict in Syria is not only intensifying the pre-existing inequalities and exclusion, and loss of freedoms and capabilities; it also draining development achievement of the post independent Syria. The conflict is reshaping the country and society formal and informal institutions, and creating new ones, to manage the conflict and extirpate violence, and reproduce violence in different ways. The once nonviolent social movement was over thrown and different social groups became subjects and tools of violence, to maintain the dominance of subjecting powers through old, and newly evolved, war elite. The research concludes that violence was actually institutionalized, not only to maintain old subtracting powers and wide people exclusion and freedom deprivations, but also to create even more constraining reality and environment for Syrians.