“Who/What is the alternative to Assad, what is the alternative to his regime?” A question many westerners ask. Who can take charge of shattered country the day after the conflict is over? Many think that the only alternative to Assad is either Jabhat al Nusra or Daesh. And while research and journalistic reporting covered extensively non-state actors that are thriving in the country since the start of the revolution, no one really paid attention to the rising civil society in Syria.
With the failure of the state chaos started reigning in the country. The secret service has been enhanced with “Shabiha” an Arabic term meaning Syrian regime funded thugs to designate the pro Assad paramilitaries that are ruling the streets in the Syrian cities. In the midst of this chaotic situation concerned and conscientious citizens have created local councils to secure the livelihood of their communities. People from different walks of life are getting together and helping each other to secure the minimal provision of services to citizens.
Scott Anderson the New York Times journalist said in a long article he wrote on the Arab spring uprisings that nowhere in the world he has seen stagnation as much he has seen in the Arab world under dictatorships. Syria, supposedly a republic, has endured for forty-six years the dictatorship of the Assad dynasty and suffered from this stagnation. However, the erosion of the autocratic state allowed a civil society to form and was driven by a social need to replace the rotten state that was collapsing. These Local Councils represent an alternative to the absent civilian government since the councils are run by the people living of the area. The governorates councils are 14 covering the 14 Syrian governorates. However, the active ones are 12 as the Lattakia and Tartous ones are inactive due to a complete presence of the Syrian Regime in these two governorates. There are between 400-500 sub councils providing the following services: Humanitarian aid in the form of food and shelter, medical aid and services, media services in addition to municipal services such as managing sewage, garbage disposal, education, securing water and diesel fuel, policing and other responsibilities.
Most of the financial support came from personal donations from individuals inside and outside of Syria. When the need became too high fundraising campaigns then began outside Syria aimed at individuals and organizations in nations near and far. The major funding partners are: GIZ, DFID funded organization “Tamkeen”, WFP. However, the funding is becoming scarcer as years pass by without a sustainable solution to build peace in Syria.
However, the local councils face several challenges such as the difficulty to manage and operate the projects and provide the services while the different cities are being bombarded by the Assad regime air force and Russia. Additionally, the local councils are struggling to administer municipal services since they were formed during a developing crisis and most of the people involved in the council had never been involved in such work previously. The difficulty to collect data is also one of the challenges that hinder the work of the councils, and the increasing demand for aid and services, which increases on a daily basis, and there is not a lot of room to verify information.
The international community should be vigilant not to repeat the Lebanese experience and include war lords in the post war political system. With the secular free Syrian army almost diluted by sectarian and fundamentalist factions taking a prominent role the local communities make the component that should be included in the post war political structure. In the transitional phase those local council who in dire circumstances have been securing the livelihood of their communities and preventing the social system from a total collapse should be ruling the country. Those are non-sectarian, have a civic spirit are in touch with the communities and represent the grassroots base that constitutes the fabric of the Syrian society.
The totalitarian Assad regime has prevented any civic activity in order to have a complete control of people’s livelihood. However, the war and the dilution of the authority of the state as well as the dire conditions led to the emergence of a civil society. These local councils are the alternative to Assad. Those councils can make the foundation on which the political system can be rebuild to pave the way for elections after few years once the country is rebuilt and once the basic services are restored.
Therefore, to those who see the only available alternative to Assad is either Daesh or Jabhat Al Nasru I say look again there is civil society you have not noticed. It is there just waiting for the day after.