Sunday,22 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1129, 3 - 9 January 2013
Sunday,22 July, 2018
Issue 1129, 3 - 9 January 2013

Ahram Weekly

Administering the tragedy

Revolutionary activists are now administering areas that regime forces have withdrawn from in Syria

Al-Ahram Weekly

The ongoing crisis in Syria has affected all aspects of life, and government institutions have now withdrawn or disappeared in large areas of the country. In order to fill the vacuum left by retreating state forces, the political and military opposition to the regime led by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad has started to administer some regions of the country. In the past few months, this has turned from ad hoc administration into an organised process abiding by as yet unwritten laws, reports Bassel Oudat.

State institutions in many Syrian cities under the control of revolutionary fighters have been paralysed, including in Aleppo, Deir Al-Zor, Hama, and some areas of Damascus. Their role has been greatly reduced in many other cities where daily clashes occur between the regime and the revolutionaries, such as Deraa and Homs.

Utility companies no longer send out bills, police stations are burned to the ground and the police using them have fled, fuel companies are not making deliveries, and flour is not being delivered to bakeries.

Civil record offices have closed their doors in these cities, as have courts and schools, notably because of damage or the risk of sending children to school. Meanwhile, the majority of state-owned industries have stopped production.

Fighting rages on between the Free Syrian Army (FSA), an umbrella group gathering together most of the armed revolutionaries, and regime forces for control of territory as the latter retreat and lose control over more villages and towns.

This has resulted in widespread disruption, and people now suffer from the lack of security, inadequate hospital care, lack of medicine, power cuts, and shortages of basic commodities such as fuel and flour throughout the country.

The situation threatens social chaos amidst prevailing poverty, destitution, fear and the absence of a central authority.

The opposition has moved to mitigate these risks by undertaking individual or group initiatives to take charge of security and administration in cities, towns and villages known as liberated areas, even if these areas are still being bombed by regime forces on a daily basis.

The fighters, in cooperation with local civilian groups, have started to provide basic needs for residents and have brought in flour and fuel to Damascus and Aleppo, for example. These goods are distributed for free as long as bakeries continue their operations and donate some of their production to the armed groups.

No one knows the source of these supplies, but some fighters claim they were seized from the government, while others say they were bought with money from donations.

The Islamic Vanguards Brigade in Bonsh in northern Syria has built a bakery from funds sent for weapons, saying that bread is its highest priority. The bakery distributes some of its production for free and some at reduced prices. It has also been distributing fuel and other supplies to local families.

The FSA has started forming police units in Hama and Aleppo in order to maintain security in towns not under regime control. It is a common sight to see fighters at FSA roadblocks checking laptops and inspecting the IDs of passers-by in order to spot regime agents. They have also set up courts and minor judicial councils manned by local people and retired military officers to arbitrate disputes and issue rulings.

Hundreds of doctors and nurses have volunteered to work in Syrian hospitals without pay, and activists have volunteered to bring in supplies by collecting donations from inside and outside Syria. The same has happened in schools, where volunteers teach classes in an attempt to distract children from the daily cycle of death and violence.

In Deir Al-Zor, revolutionaries have removed civil records from government buildings damaged by bombing and relocated them in safe areas to protect them from theft or damage.

Other steps have been taken by opposition activists in cooperation with civilian groups inside Syria to form civil administration councils in various regions to improve the administration of these areas.

These activists participated in forming the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (NCSR) that was created a month ago in Qatar and has been recognised by the 114 Friends of Syria states as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.

Their work is organised to provide services for people abandoned by the regime and to try to address the problems resulting from the bombing and other attacks. They provide milk for children, clean streets from debris, supply winter blankets and power generators and equipment for sterilising potable water.

They are also aiming to connect directly or through the NCSR with donor countries and other bodies in search of funds to provide relief for families, supplies for field hospitals, and repairs to power grids and mobile bakeries.

These groups operate away from the political and military dynamics in the country and provide support for all Syrians without reference to gender, religion or ethnicity.

Meanwhile, some hardline opposition figures have minimised the level of threat to state institutions. “There have not been any genuine state institutions in Syria for 40 years,” Faek Al-Mir, an opposition figure, told Al-Ahram Weekly.

“The regime swallowed up the state institutions and transformed them into regime institutions whose primary job is to serve and look after the regime not society. They have nothing to do with the needs of a modern state, and they rely on partisan and political loyalties. The majority of such state institutions need to be overhauled, while others should just be eliminated.”

The opposition’s administration of areas not under the regime’s control has thus far been done on an ad hoc basis, since they have not been entirely liberated and the various bodies trying to manage them are not always themselves coherent.

Despite the efforts underway to coordinate and institutionalise such action, it is still essentially volunteer work or individual initiatives carried out on a hit-or-miss basis.

Perhaps it is for this reason that such efforts cannot be directed by the opposition abroad, since no one abroad can claim to command local groups inside Syria.

However, Syrian activists say that the local administrative groups, evidence of a growing civil society, are emerging from the depth of the tragedy that has hit the country and that the deaths and the violence Syria has suffered should not be used to benefit any one party or ideology.   

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