Being the representatives of the local communities, the local councils in the opposition-held areas reflected a dimension of the democracy which Syrians have demanded, for they are formed through elections in which the area’s people have participated, to face the challenges of self-realization and performing an effective role in the absence of a real foster government. At the end, these council’s fate was similar to the people’s, since they have been included in the “reconciliation” agreements, which led to their forced displacement.
The local councils in the city of Darayya, Homs, Aleppo, Al-Zabadani and Wadi Barada have all had a similar destiny, and they were puzzled about their function, following the forced displacement according to the geographical changes imposed on them. They once more went to zero point, for they are coerced to gain legitimacy on a land that does not belong to them and are confused by the necessity to work as to organize the affairs of the displaced people, who used to be under their management.
Councils Turning into Committees in Search for “Legitimacy”
The local councils in the areas from which people have been displaced, including Darayya, Homs and Eastern Aleppo, have paved the way for 17 councils that were lately forcibly displaced from the cities and towns of Eastern Ghouta that are yet rearranging their cards in the northern parts of Syria at which they have recently arrived.
Engineer Mohammad Muzhar Sharbaji, guidance and building skills official in the Syrian “Local Councils Unit,” labeled under the opposition, said that the local councils in the opposition-held areas managed to prove themselves in the past seven years, despite all the challenges that faced them, becoming an entity that has the ability to compete with the military presence after they succeeded in offering public services to citizens, especially in the two sectors of education and health care.
Taking this into consideration, Sharbaji believes that the duty of these councils, being elected by the people, is to continue their work even in the area to which they have been displaced but under a new form and title, which have the ability to preserve the legal status and legitimacy of these councils.
The displaced local councils have actually lost massive aspects of their legitimacy and the basics of their foundations, for they have lost the “geographical” space while they preserved the “demographic” basis only. To keep their legitimacy intact, they must turn from councils into committees, similar to Darayya City council, which continued functioning after it was displaced to Idlib, under the title of “Darayya’s People Services Committee.”
About the duties that councils should undertake, Shrbaji said that they include all the services they used to offer, in the sectors of education, health care, the civil and real-estate registries, with the exception of the service-based sectors, electricity, water, construction, roads and streets’ services, which are the responsibility of the host local council.
“These committees’ action is necessary, and it must supplement the efforts of the local councils in the host areas, since the committees have all the displaced people’s data,” he added.
The Engineer Muzhar Sharbaji referred to the experience of the Darayya City Local Council, which dissolved itself, in November 2016, turning into a “consensual” committee that facilitates Darayya’s people’s affairs in Idlib, after the forced displacement that was imposed on the city’s people in August 2016.
Back then, the committee consisted of seven members, each of them represented an area, in which Darayya’s people are spread within rural Idlib.
Mohammad al-Habib, a member of the committee, defined its role with conducting follow up of the people’s need, in addition to making lists with the numbers and names of the families, as well as the place where they have been based, pointing out, in a former interview with Enab Baladi, that the committee is facilitating the people’s affairs only, but it does not represent a new council, for “we have not received anything from the previous local council but a car and the warehouse that contained a few blankets and relief baskets, in addition to a sum of money that has been distributed to the people who have lately exited the area.”
Eastern Ghouta’s Local Councils are Rearranging their Cards
The Syrian interim government is seeking to reorganize Eastern Ghouta’s local councils’ work in the areas to which they have been displaced in Northern Syria, in cooperation with rural Aleppo, Idlib governorate and rural Hama’s local councils.
Since securing stability for the displaced families is the priority, the fate of the Eastern Ghouta’s local councils came in the second place after stabilization, despite the many scenarios that place their work under the supervision of Rural Damascus Governorate Council, under which they used to perform before the displacement.
To have a comment on this, Enab Baladi has communicated with the Head of the Governorate Council Engineer Mustafa Saqer, who said that his council with the Interim Government are studying the needed method to activate the work of Eastern Ghouta’s councils, pointing out that there are a number of proposed mechanisms.
These mechanisms include preserving the title of local councils and the same structure, said Saqer that this would create more responsibilities for the councils’ members, for they need administrative procedures and financial and logistic obligations, “which we might not be able to cover,” as he said.
He added that the suggestions include the transformation of the Ghouta Local Councils into committees that directly work under Rural Damascus Governorate Council, which will remain active in the displacement areas in Northern Syria, providing that these committees spread in the areas in which Ghouta’s people have settled down, or to give them the names of Ghouta cities and towns, so that the people would automatically be able to follow the council carrying their area’s name.
Engineer Mustafa Saqer said that he prefers that displaced Eastern Ghouta’s local councils preserve their title despite the burdens they will be carrying, pointing out that no agreement about the councils’ fate has been reached so far.
As for the differences between the two titles, a committee and a local council, Saqer added that they are manifested in the idea that a committee is often formed through appointment or commissioning, unlike the local council that is elected, to enjoy, thus, a legal status that a committee does not have.
The local council is usually financially independent and has larger responsibilities and privileges than a committee, which, accordingly, intensify its burdens, as he said.
To conclude, Saqer said that “we are seeking to organize the affairs of the displaced people of Ghouta, as not to be a burden for the host local council, by specifying certain entities which they can directly follow.”
Local councils are among the most important outcomes of the Syrian revolution; they have been running the liberated areas in Syria for about seven years. Their main task is to secure the people’s needs and infrastructure in the liberated areas, being considered as a substitute for the government of the Syrian regime and its departments in these areas, trying to bridge the gap created by the Syrian regime’s establishments’ absence.