The Making of Syria’s Administrative Divisions’ Map

One Hundred Years of a Problematic Relationship Between the Centre and the Periphery


The London School of Economics' project; Legitimacy and Citizenship in the Arab World, funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, examines political legitimacy and identity construction in the Arab world, focusing on Syria.  The project’s key deliverable is a research report by our experts, titled "The Making of Syria’s Administrative Divisions’ Map," delving into the complex center-periphery relationship over a century.   

This publication is a pre-LUGARIT work by our experts.


A research report that delves into the intricate history and rationale behind the administrative divisions in Syria, particularly after its independence from French mandate. The study acknowledges the scarcity of research on this topic and aims to fill this gap by exploring the political, economic, and social drivers behind the establishment and renaming of governorates, while deliberately avoiding the complexities of city and town formations.

The research primarily focuses on the significant administrative transformations in Syrian governorates since the formation of the Syrian entity, with a particular emphasis on the period following independence. It raises critical questions about the nature of these transformations: Were they developmental, aiming to improve services and support countrywide development, or were they influenced by the interests of specific social, political, or economic groups?

To address these questions, the report examines relevant laws and decisions, parliamentary deliberations, and interviews with key figures involved in significant events in regions like Raqqa, Idlib, Tartous, and Quneitra. It finds that while some changes in administrative divisions had a service-oriented nature, influenced by demographic factors like population density and area size, political motives were also evident.

For instance, the creation of Quneitra was aimed at unifying civilian administration to align with military command against Israel. The formation of Tartous, predominantly Alawite following the loss of Alexandretta, suggests political and social motives alongside economic and service considerations. The separation of Raqqa and Idlib from Deir ez-Zor and Aleppo in 1957, despite opposition from Aleppo’s representatives, indicates political underpinnings, possibly linked to Nasserite influences in these governorates.

The renaming of governorates in the 1950s, such as Houran, Al-Furat, Jabal Al-Druze, and Al-Jazira, seems politically motivated to reduce regional extensions beyond national borders. This trend underscores the Syrian state’s centralization strategy, favoring a strong central government over empowering local administrations. The tendency to create new governorates linking remote areas to the central government, rather than decentralizing power, reflects this centralization ethos.

Overall, the report reveals a nuanced interplay of service, demographic, and political factors in the shaping of Syria’s administrative landscape, highlighting the complexity of governance and identity in the region.


Header Photo

Map of Ottoman Syria in 1851, by Henry Warren.  Photo © Henry Warren - via Wikimedia CommonsLink >