'Idlib city in northwest Syria is facing political, economic, and security challenges — but activists says there are signs of revival in one of the centers of the Syrian opposition in the 74-month conflict.
Although bombing has eased since Russia’s announcement of a “de-escalation zone” earlier this month, local authorities are struggling to provide water and electricity amid the influx of displaced Syrians and the ongoing attempt of the Assad regime to restrict any provision of essential goods. Four hours of water is provided every ten days to each of the ten sectors of the city, and electricity is available for about three to four hours per day.
But on Tuesday, local groups highlighted the positive in the city, circulating photographs of the inauguration of a Clock Tower, surrounded by the creation of an urban garden and fountain, and a store distributing free goods for women and children.
Writing for Waging Nonviolence, Julia Taleb portrays a city in which civilians have successfully challenged rebels for political and legal space:
"A state of repression was imposed, and there were continuous violations of basic human rights and freedoms under the pretext of applying proper Islamic Sharia law.
This brought activists and civil organizations into direct confrontation with the armed group, which assumed the administration of all public services, including education, health, security and justice. In response, residents and civil resistance groups have been working to establish a local council of qualified civilians to prevent military factions from interfering in civil affairs and protect peoples’ rights and freedom."
Quoting local activists, Taleb cites groups such as al-Idlibi House, with more than 400 members and weekly meetings on tactic to pursue the handover of civil administration to the community. She portrays demonstrators pushing back the efforts of the rebel bloc Jaish al-Fateh to put down the protests.
Women have established organization such as Women’s Fingerprints, Glimmer of Hope, and the Association of Educated Women. They have provided educational and vocational courses, set up orphanages and care centers for people with special needs, and initiated projects for women who cannot leave their homes.
Taleb says the women have also challenged the attempts by female preachers, recruited by rebels, to impose a strict Sharia law which prohibits women from walking outside without men or showing their faces. “We formed volunteer groups of female psychologists and sociologists to visit vulnerable women and raise their awareness of basic rights and freedoms to counter the extremists’ views,” says Shadi Zidani, a member of the Idlib Local Council.
Having held elections in January to establish the local council, managing most services in the city, activists are looking for further advances. Abd al-Latif Rahabi, the head of al-Idlibi House, says:
"Our next goal is to pressure armed factions to abandon the courts and security services and hand them over to civil entities, along with the rest of the directorates, including the civil and private land registries. We are working on uniting all local groups and organizations under one body to make our voice even stronger." '