Local Negotiation and Mediation Process

Syrians were interested in discussing local reconciliation efforts, and they displayed a surprising degree of agreement on the structure of such processes, despite their doubts about whether reconciliation efforts are even possible or acceptable now. Opposition supporters tended to regard the moderate rebels, and specifically the Free Syrian Army (FSA), as the most desirable primary representative in any talks if they were to talk to the government at all. Government supporters were also open to inclusive negotiations, but added provisos: the opposition must be Syrians; only unarmed groups can participate; and President Assad’s government must lead the talks. Significantly, both pro and anti-regime participants signaled support for respected community leaders to function as potential mediators in local negotiations. Furthermore, despite the mistrust between the pro- and anti-regime elements, many participants were open to efforts to begin rebuilding local government structures.

Opposition: FSA Should Take the Lead

Many regime opponents felt their natural choice to lead local negotiations should be the rebels in general, and in particular the FSA, as they considered it the leading fighting force against the regime.

If by armed, you mean the rebels and free individuals, then yes they have to participate (in talks). But the rest of the organizations must cease to exist, because the Free Syrian Army is the voice of the Syrian people, but with a gun.
— Sunni man (anti-regime), 29, Deir al-Zor

Until they bring another regime to rule this country, our representative is the Free Syrian Army and we can negotiate with them, but not with this ruling regime.
— Sunni man (anti-regime) 27, Aleppo

Regime Supporters Favor Inclusive Talks

Many regime supporters were open to the idea of including opponents in local-level negotiations, on the condition that they are Syrians and unarmed, and that the talks are led by the government.

All (local) negotiations should include people from all Syrian categories, the decision makers, and those who are concerned for the wellbeing of Syria. There is no place for armed groups who have killed Syrian people in these negotiations; they should only be put on trial.
— Kurdish man (pro-regime), 32, Al-Hasakah

Reputable people in all areas and neighborhoods should participate, and people who care about safety, stability, and the best interest of the country, not their own best interest. The government should try to understand them but be careful when dealing with them. It is in the opponents’ best interest to negotiate with the regime to settle the conflict and stop their violent acts.
— Christian man (pro-regime), 28, Damascus

The willingness to discuss local negotiations on both sides is encouraging; however, the fact that the opposition sees the FSA as its leading representative while the pro-government side rejects armed opposition groups in the talks could be a stumbling-block unless alternative negotiation channels or proxies can be found.

Local Mediators Respected by Both Sides

We tested reactions to a number of potential local-level mediators and found that quite a few received a generally positive response. Suggestions for possible local mediators included religious and tribal leaders, representatives from minority groups, and local council leaders. Educated elites such as lawyers, engineers, business people, and doctors were also mentioned. These groups were seen by both sides as wise, trustworthy, and able to solve problems.

Men of the cloth who are old and knowledgeable.
— Sunni man (anti-regime), 25, Hamah

Delegates of the Syrian community and representatives of the Kurds and the minorities, like our Christian brothers, because Syria is distinguished for the religious varieties to build a country of all religious and ethnic orientations.
— Kurdish man (pro-regime), 32, Al-Hasakah

Mediators are only religion’s top men, the educated, judges, country’s leaders like the village’s elected, doctors, and teachers.
— Alawi woman (pro-regime), 29, Hamah

Surely the educated who have studied, doctors, and engineers. Also, to have businessmen, religious people, you see? The problem will be solved because those are the ones who can solve it.
— Sunni woman (anti-regime), 39, Raqqah

Talks for New Local Government Structures
Welcomed by Some

Some respondents on both sides of the conflict welcomed the prospect of opening negotiations to build new local government structures for towns, cities, or villages even before the national conflict is resolved.

If [the participants] were from the honorable [people] of this area, and its true rebels, sure, I support such a step.
— Sunni woman (anti-regime), 25, Raqqah

Such negotiations should include the opposition from inside Syria to involve them in solving the problems of this country. We should respect their opinions.
— Alawi woman (pro-regime), 55, Damascus

However, a few on both sides again refused to even consider local negotiations or their accompanying processes.

As I have told you before, there should be no negotiations with one with thoughts and ideologies like the ones of Assad. The ones who deserve to lead should be the brave rebels who have humanitarian values, courage, strength, and the will (to lead), which is what any leader needs.
— Christian man (anti-regime), 29, IDP from Raqqah

Let them try to establish a new local government as much as they want. Bashar al-Assad has won elections for the last 10 years, and he will still win.
— Christian woman (pro-regime), 23, IDP, Homs

The impasse over national-level negotiations does not preclude efforts to resolve local conflicts and begin to rebuild the country at the local level. Beyond the interest in local talks expressed by some, many Syrian respondents were able to envisage talks in their localities led by respected community leaders, particularly the clergy, the educated, and minority leaders. In addition to seeking to wind down local struggles, there is some support for discussing how to reconstruct local government structures on more inclusive lines in negotiations, incorporating both regime supporters and opponents.

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