Just as most reportage of the Syrian uprising against the Assad dictatorship in the imperialist media focuses on the role of “jihadists,” and presents a false picture of a largely “jihadist”-dominated armed opposition, in which democratic and/or secular armed rebels are marginal,weak and “fractured” at best, if not non-existent; so likewise an equally false picture is usually presented of the struggle being entirely military, with the civil uprising that launched the revolution in 2011 being allegedly long gone. In reality, the ongoing civil uprising is at the base of the Free Syrian Army and other armed groups that genuinely arose from the grassroots of the Syrian uprising and their connection remains vital to understanding the situation as still a revolution, however imperfect, rather than mere undefined “civil war.”
Without time to write an article on this very important issue, I have here simply gathered some links and snippets from a number of only very recent articles on this issue. Obviously, what this means is that going back into the archives, many more could be gathered, showing the lie that the civil uprising does not exist. And these are only the articles – if I were to present here every minor report of every demonstration going on in Syria, the blog would soon run out of space.
Syrian activists are repairing the fabric of civil society, even as it comes undone
Hania Mourtada 13 November 2015
Syria has seen the emergence of a powerful culture of resistance, from subversive graffiti to makeshift hospitals, which continues to operate despite the violent and politically fractured terrain.
The power of the state has already been contested, and we’ve seen the emergence of a powerful culture of resistance which continues to operate despite the violent and politically fractured terrain. When the uprising erupted, political truth-telling emerged out of the shadows and boldly re-entered the public sphere. People who once operated in underground
meetings are now establishing organisations in broad daylight. In every town or village that fell out of Assad’s control, small civil society groups are working tirelessly to lay the foundations for democracy, justice and a pluralistic society.
Young people, in particular, are determined to show the world that they can build solid institutions from scratch and reinstate order in opposition-controlled towns. Centres concerned with women’s rights and women’s well-being have opened their doors, offering language courses to illiterate women and useful marketable skills to the young. Subversive
graffiti, revolutionary pamphlets, magazines and radio stations, groups offering psycho-social support and makeshift hospitals are all initiatives made possible by Syria’s new and burgeoning civil society. Syrians are experimenting with what might be made possible. Areas that the regime has lost are filled to the brim with possibilities.
Total collapse of state services in certain provinces has paved the way for experimenting with self-governance. In those areas, civil society is not just protesting against the regime, it is also resisting radical Islamists, the corruption of local militias and ISIS. This new culture of resistance and political truth-telling cannot now be eradicated unless a large-scale massacre permanently wipes it out of existence. And this may very well be what Assad is striving for with his unguided indiscriminate bombs.
With Authorities Gone Local Councils Take Charge in Syria
November 11, 2015 7:33 AM
In rebel-controlled parts of war-torn Syria, where the forces of President Bashar al-Assad have been expelled, a new breed of local councilors has emerged, administering what relief they can and striving to provide civilians with basic services.
Across parts of Syria, 416 local councils are now functioning in towns and villages and are under the control of neither the Assad regime or Islamic State extremists.In some towns, council officials have been elected in rudimentary-run polls.
For the councils to keep on running, they have to navigate complex politics and negotiate with armed groups, and they are always short of funds. Their work amid Russian and Syrian airstrikes and skirmishes on the ground often leads them to defy Islamist and other rebel militias who want to control civilian as well as military affairs
Why is Russia bombing my town?
By Raed Fares November 6 at 8:27 PM
Kafranbel residents have worked hard to advance women’s rights since Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s forces left the town three years ago. We have established centers to teach women skills such as reading, computing, emergency care and civil activism. We have children’s centers that give our youths some relief from war and take them off the streets,
where extremists could reach them. We even have a radio channel, called Radio Fresh, that reaches many thousands of people and broadcasts a popular program stressing that Islam is a religion of love and peace.
Yes, we still have problems with extremism here, even after kicking out the Islamic State. Unknown attackers planted a bomb next to my car last fall. In January, Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda, attacked our radio offices and the Kafranbel Women’s Center. Jabhat al-Nusra militants also arrested and beat me in December, but they could find nothing to charge me with and they had to let me go. Extremists arrested the director of the women’s center in April, but we were also able to free him. Despite the difficulties, civil society remains strong in and around Kafranbel.
If civil activism in Kafranbel declines, though, I will blame Russia. One reason for our thriving civil society is that we are being defended by Free Syrian Army fighters who grew up in the town and are firmly committed to democracy. These fighters, who have received U.S. assistance, serve as a check on any extremist groups that try to cause trouble. Russia is bombing the pro-democracy fighters of Kafranbel most heavily, almost as if it wants the extremists to grow stronger. For this reason, Russia has emerged as an enemy of civil society here. Local activists have taken the rare steps of burning a Russian flag and protesting alongside local Free Syrian Army fighters to highlight this point.
Going Home: An Interview with Tarif al-Sayyed Issa
Posted by: Aron Lund Thursday, October 22, 2015
(report from post-liberation Idlib city – which the imperialist media and the imperial left usually claim is “run by the Nusra Front or some such lie)
What has your role been in Idlib since the army was driven out?
I left Faylaq al-Sham [the rebel brigade he was a member of which was part of the Jaysh al-Fatah coalition which liberated Idlib – MK] once Idlib was liberated. Others continued on toward Jisr al-Shughour and other towns, but I stayed in Idlib and returned to my humanitarian work. There was a lot to do. We had to quickly get aid into the city, set up an administration, and try to activate civil society.During Ramadan, we prepared 7,000 meals and handed out thousands of food baskets. We distributed seven tons of dates in some of the poorer neighborhoods.
When you say we, who do you mean?
I am still employed by Sanabel al-Kheir, the aid group we created a few years ago. I am part of its five-person steering committee. As a member of Sanabel, I work on the ground with several big aid organizations. They include the Ataa Relief and Development Association, which is a Syrian charity registered in Turkey, the White Hands, which is also based in Turkey, the IHH, which is a large Turkish charity, and the Aid Coordination Unit, which is part of the National Coalition and is backed by the Western countries.
Among the other aid groups active in Idlib, there is one named Violet and an Irish one called Goal. These organizations have all been approved to work in the city and we trust them. The armed groups have no real humanitarian work of their own. Some of them claim to run their own aid groups that do all the work.
So far, the armed groups have not interefered with the humanitarian work. The Fath Army leadership has made it clear to them that this could lead to the international aid groups pulling out. It is a sensitive situation since the Nusra Front is active in the area and it is linked to al-Qaeda, while the population depends on donations from nations at war with al-Qaeda. There was an incident early on when some members of the Nusra Front interfered by trying to control the distribution of flour, but this was stopped immediately. After that, the Fath Army decreed that the armed units cannot be involved with the aid work.
Are you also politically active?
I am still part of the Muslim Brotherhood, of course. In the Brotherhood, we have a committee for each Syrian province and I am one of the members of the Idlib committee.
Part of my job now, as I see it, is to convince people of the need for a civilian leadership. I go around mosques and other places, meeting people and trying to explain to them that the country will never get up on its feet again without a strong civil society. I have met with all the workers’ unions in Idlib, with the professional associations, and so on.
The self-government revolution that’s happening under the radar in Syria
By Frederic C. Hof July 26
With Iran circling the wagons around an ever-shrinking Syrian statelet nominally headed by Bashar al-Assad, a key question is coming into sharp focus: Who might ultimately replace the ruling clan if Tehran cannot keep its clients afloat? The answer is both complex and hopeful:
Self-government at local levels is taking root in Syria and forms the basis for what should come next.
One of the few uplifting experiences to be had in any Syrian context these days is to meet with young Syrian activists, as I recently did in Gaziantep, Turkey. A young lawyer said something striking: “This is not just a revolution against Bashar al-Assad. It is a revolution for self-government. Replacing Bashar with someone else issuing decrees from Damascus — even someone much better than Bashar — is not acceptable.”
There are today hundreds of local councils throughout non-Assad parts of Syria. Some operate clandestinely in areas overrun by the so-called Islamic State. Some operate in areas where the Assad regime — with Iran’s full support — unloads helicopter-borne “barrel bombs” onto schools, hospitals and mosques. Some operate in neighborhoods subjected to Iranian-facilitated starvation sieges. These local councils are supported by a vast network of civil society organizations — the kinds of voluntary professional associations that undergird Western democracies. All of this is new to Syria. It is the essence of the Syrian Revolution.
This combination of local councils and civil society organizations is a cocktail of bottom-up, localized efforts. The women and men risking all for their neighbors are heroes. Yet these heroes are literally unsung. Everyone in Syria knows of Assad and his rapacious family. Many in Syria know the names of exiled opposition figures and leaders of armed groups
inside the country. Yet those who represent Syria’s future political elite are largely unknown. Getting these battle-tested leaders into Syria’s national political mainstream is essential
Women Key to Syrian Future
Interview with RAED FARES
21 novembre 2015
« Women have the most critical role in rebuilding Syria and raising the next generation of Syrians, » said Raed Fares, a community leader in Idlib whose plethora of projects aim to strengthen Syrian civil society through a combination of awareness, education and inclusivity
Syria Deeply: Aside from the continuation of your weekly protests in Kafranbel, what other kinds of community projects do you have going on at the moment?
Well, yes, our weekly protests are ongoing, but their number has decreased a great deal. People are afraid of large gatherings, which have been, and are, targeted by airstrikes. But we have many other projects.
The biggest project we have going is our radio station, called Radio Fresh FM. We broadcast 24 hours a day with different kinds of programming – news updates, women’s programming, children’s shows, breaking news updates and warnings about nearby airstrikes or incoming airstrikes. We warn civilians when there are regime or Russian helicopters flying in the sky. We let people know which direction they’re headed. The station is actually one of the most listened to channels in all of Syria. We have more than 400,000 returning listeners – which is a huge number.
The radio also has a few subsidiary projects. There are three affiliated magazines and a training center for media activists, journalists and presenters – all of which is facilitated under the auspices of the radio.
We also have a women’s division that is led by Ghalia Rahal, whom Reuters recently presented with an award for courageous journalism. She is now running seven women’s centers across the south of Idlib that provide vocational training, education, language and computer classes, etc. The point of these centers is to get women out of the home and into
public life, to get them more actively engaged.
Women have the most critical role in rebuilding Syria and raising the next generation of Syrians – that’s the idea behind the project. We also have educational projects aimed at getting kids more involved in their schools and promoting the importance of psychosocial therapy.
We built a small soccer field in Kafranbel – kids are playing on it from sunup to sundown. When they’re playing, everyone is screaming and yelling – it’s the one time of the day they can’t hear the roar of the jets overhead, or gunfire nearby.
These are all projects focused on awareness, but we also have projects focused on the provision of services. We brought running water back to Kafranbel and the surrounding villages. The goal with these projects is to provide people in serious need with the services they simply aren’t getting, in addition to building the credibility of alternative institutions so that people are more willing to work with us on and in our other projects.
Syria Deeply: So what’s your goal in facilitating all these projects?
Raed Fares: The goal is to build a homeland. Everybody knows that we live on a farm owned by Assad’s family. Our goal is to destroy that farm and build a homeland in which Syrians can truly live.
Interview with Joseph Daher On the Syrian Democratic and Revolutionary Opposition
Posted on November 17, 2015
Nevertheless, many individuals and small groups, although very much weakened, exist in some areas among local coordination popular groups. Pockets of hope and resistance still exist in Syria and are composed of various democratic and progressive groups and movements opposing all sides of the counter-revolution, the Assad regime and Islamic fundamentalist groups. They are the ones still maintaining the dreams of the beginning of the revolution and its objectives: democracy, social justice, equality and no to sectarianism. They can be found in Aleppo, Rural Aleppo, Idlib and Rural Idlib, in Rural Damascus, etc… You can find many examples on my blog Syria Freedom Forever of popular resistance.
The revolutionaries in these areas organise through popular councils at the levels of villages, neighbourhoods and regions. The popular councils have actually been the true spearheads of the movement that mobilized the people for the protests and organisation of daily life in areas where the regime disappeared. The regions liberated from the regime developed forms of self-organisation based on the organization of the masses. Youth and other form of coalitions also exist in Syria with varying types of activities.
Last Summer, protests were organised in the rural areas around Aleppo, Damascus and elsewhere like in the city of Idlib. In the small town of Al-Atarib in rural Aleppo, held by the Al Qaeda linked Jabhat al-Nusra there have been several demonstrations against its authoritarian practices. Thousands of people marched in the town of Saqba, in rural Damascus, for the aims of the Syrian revolution on 7 August 2015. A week later a group of women there protested for release of political prisoners held by the Army of Islam organization. They have been protesting for the past few months. Dozens held a sit-in at the office of the local council of Douma near Damascus in July after a councilperson was abducted. In the end of June, A demonstration was organized in the city of Idlib after the Friday prayer and demanded that the city’s administration hand over to the people, the private military headquarters of Jaysh al-Fatah led by Jabhat al-Nusra outside the city.
On November 10, 2015, civil disobedience actions were organised by activists protesting against the kidnappings of revolutionaries by Jabhat Al-Nusra in the neighborhoods of Aleppo. On October 18, 2015, a campaign of solidarity of revolutionaries in Douma was organised with the Palestinian People and the Intifada. In October 6, 2015, a demonstration was organised by the revolutionaries in Aleppo against Jabhat Al-Nusra and demanded that it exit Aleppo. In September 25, 2015, Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians & Turkmen marched against IS and Assad crimes in the neighbourhood of Sheikh Maqsoud in Aleppo.
Last Summer (2015) in the province of Suwayda, mostly inhabited by the Druze community, various popular protests were organized against the regime’s policies and lack of services. Demonstrations and protests continued following the assassination of Sheikh Wahid Bal’ous, who is a Druze Sheikh who defended them. Bal’ous who was known for his opposition to the Syrian regime and to the Islamic fundamentalist forces. Demonstrators protested in front of several regime and smashed a statue of the former Syrian regime dictator Hafez al-Assad.
Sheikh Wahid Bal’ous was a very popular figure among the Druze population and was leading a group called “Sheikhs of dignity”, which was committed to protecting the Druze in the province and was also fighting the Islamic State (IS) and Jabhat Al-Nusra. Sheikh Wahid Bal’ous also opposed to the Syrian army’s recruiting of men originating from Suwayda, to be sent to fight outside the province.
Regarding the three cantons of Rojava, many interesting things are occurring on many aspects (women’s rights, minority participation, secular institutions, etc…), especially in a war situation. These experiences of autonomy are moreover positive for a Kurdish nation oppressed for decades, especially as I support the self determination of the Kurdish people in Syria and elsewhere.
Plus this important recent report: ‘The Syrian Non-Violent Movement: Perspectives from the Ground’, available at https://dawlaty.org/en/blogs/syrian-non-violent-movement-perspectives-ground
From the Introduction:
The Syrian Revolution is today suffering from various predicaments, from the decline of the non-violent civil movement, which had been its civilizing force, to the complex continually shifting military reality, to the international and regional players which have become more influential and active within Syrian than Syrians themselves. Yet despite this grim reality, there remain a number of Syrian activists working in obscurity and in the public eye, at home and abroad, each according to their capacity and whatever margins, however narrow, reality allows them to keep the flame of Revolution alight and active. These activists explore their tools and roleanewin a series of discussions and dialogues facilitated by Dawlaty.
This report provides an overview of the reflections of Syrian activists on the reality of their movement, as well as the movement’s role, potential and ability to regain the lead. This report documents a process from and for activists, hence its value and significance. It aims to stimulate debate and critical thinking in light of the changing realities on the ground, and through its discussions and recommendations, inspire strategies to open up new spaces and opportunities for the non-violent movement in Syria.
And this, finally, on how important the physical destruction of all such alternative centres of power and authority by the Assad regime’s years slaughter has been to the survival of the regime:
The Assad Regimes Hold on the Syrian State
Paper July 8, 2015