Syria Notes No. 15 focuses on Idlib, and on the ongoing struggle over governance between local councils, civil society, and armed jihadists in this opposition-held province of Syria.

Illustration: Election workers in Saraqib, 18 July 2017.

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In this issue:
  • Two Syrian women
    Thanaa Jabi and Nora al-Shaalan
  • Saraqib’s local elections show democracy can break through
    Manhal Bareesh
  • HTS storms Idlib City Council
    Noura Hourani and Avery Edelman
  • The role of jihadi movements in Syrian local governance
    Ayman Al Dassouky

Printing of this issue has been funded by Lush Charity Pot.

Civil society between jihadists and Assad

Over the past year, the Assad regime and its allies have forced several tens of thousands of people out of besieged towns and cities, with most of them sent to Idlib province.

Last year 8,000 people were removed from Daraya, 3,000 from Moadamiyeh, 2,000-3,000 from Al-Tal, and 34,000 from eastern Aleppo city, according to Siege Watch reports. This year, the distinctive green buses continued the forced displacement with several thousand transported from Wadi Barada, over 3,000 people from Madaya, and between 12,000 and 20,000 from Al Waer.

Over 900,000 internally displaced people are estimated to be in Idlib province according to IDMC, in an area which had a pre-war population of just under 1.5 million. An even greater number of internally displaced people are in neighbouring Aleppo province.

As this forced displacement has continued, Idlib has seen fighting for military control between Al Qaeda-linked jihadists of Hay’at Tahrir a-Sham (HTS) and other armed opposition groups. HTS has also been trying to take political control from the many local councils that have arisen since the 2011 revolution.

In some parts of Idlib, most famously the town of Maarrat al-Nu’man, there has been a strong civil resistance to HTS’s power grab, with daily street protests against the jihadists sustained over several months.

Now NGOs and civil society groups are fearful that the rise of HTS will lead to cuts in humanitarian aid from abroad. Martin Chulov of The Guardian reported at the end of August that ‘officials in Whitehall are examining whether Britain will continue to honour up to £200m in aid for local populations in Idlib and communities exiled from elsewhere in Syria,’ and that Germany is also considering suspending its aid program to Idlib province.

Speaking on the BBC’s Today programme on 25th August, Dr Ghanem Tayara of UOSSM described the situation as a ‘huge crisis’ saying that ‘the big donors have stopped any sort of support for the north part of Syria including Idlib.’

‘That’s what they’re saying: it’s because of security, because they’re not quite sure where the donation will go. I don’t think that’s really a fair reason because there’s always many ways of securing that the aid will go in the right way, and to the right persons.’

Dr Tayara argued that cutting aid out of fear of supporting extremists was likely to have the opposite effect. ‘I think by restricting the humanitarian aid in general, and medical aid specifically, I’m afraid we are pushing people to radicalise, we are cornering people into having no option but to seek an alternative way.’

In this issue we focus on the political effort within Idlib to resist jihadist extremism and develop democratic governance.

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