Since they were evacuated and forced to resettle in Idlib from Darayya in late August, several activists began to draw comparisons between the two cities. Darayya witnessed four years of siege. This siege was mitigated by the city’s local council, which helped it withstand regime attacks and lawlessness, in stark contrast to what Daraya activists have witnessed after their arrival in Idlib. One of them, Rami Abu Mohammad, wrote on his personal Facebook page the following:
“Despite the vastness of the liberated (i.e., opposition-held) areas in the north and the variety of different groups and ideologies, the area lacks a real administrative system. This is a shortcoming of the revolution that generates fear of life after the fall of the regime, where one walks down the street to find a checkpoint belonging to one group, then a second, then a third, to the extent that there is no system and factionalism overshadows local interests. All this makes those who rule over us believe that we are not ready for the time after Asad.”
SyriaUntold reached out to Abu Mohammad to expand upon the weaknesses he witnessed in Idlib. He responded saying: “This is not dependent on the activists but rather on the cooperation of military factions to create a local, civil administration separate from military influence and factional quotas. The real power in liberated areas are military factions and not the interim government. There needs to be a documented understanding between the local councils and the military factions to distribute powers and clarify responsibilities.”To illustrate the aforementioned point, it is worth noting that in Darayya's local council offices, well after the start of the uprising and its subsequent militarization, the judicial and security institutions were still distinctly separated from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) battalions, and the FSA was itself controlled by a civil administration. However, this efficient civil administration was largely disrupted in early 2016 due to a military offensive launched by regime forces, which has resulted in the evacuation of the besieged residents in late August.
Darayya’s activists realized that the chaos in Idlib is a byproduct of the environment as well. In Darayya, there was a lack of foreign fighters and the city received less crucial funds than other areas to assist local activists. In Idlib, its geography as a vast province with many small towns and villages led to it being controlled by various paramilitary groups, all of whom feud with each other, feature many non-Syrian fighters, and have a shared vision of establishing an Islamic state that is at odds with the original aims of the Syrian uprising.
Not all agreed with what Abu Mohammad had to say. Sami al-Qarji, an activist from Kafranbel, told SyriaUntold “There is a major contradiction in this idea; the local councils are for the administration of liberated areas and not for the unification of military groups. In every small village in the province of Idlib , there is a local council that oversees the administration for that town, and runs multiple projects that benefit civil society. These local councils all belong to a regional body known as the provincial council.”Unlike Abu Mohammad, al-Qarji considers the separation of military force from the local councils - which represent civilian life - as a normal phenomenon, though he is equally critical of military factionalism. “Ultimately, this is a power struggle and a show of force by the military factions in front of the civilians. The checkpoints put up by their supporters only serve as an inconvenience to citizens and block their way. Some factions attempted to gain name recognition by spray painting their brigade name on the walls of the city. The lack of unity between these factions is a sore spot within the revolution, for the Syrian question could be solved if they unified. However, their lack of unity is due to the factions’ backers.
“There is no magic in Daraya, and those who escaped to us did not escape from a movie," continued al-Qarji, "the only difference is that the factions’ backers did not bother Daraya nor did they incite factional violence there.”
Idlib was thus susceptible to the machinations of Syrian and foreign actors, who engined agendas at the expense of the revolution, whereas Daraya remained largely immune to that, because of its geography and possibly because of its administrative and budgeting skills.
[Main Picture: "We're Condemned to Hope", words written on the walls of Saraqeb - Idlib (Saraqeb Walls Group's Facebook page)].