Security and social factors keep women away from Idlib protests

Protests on the 12th anniversary of the Syrian revolution in Idlib - March 15, 2023 (Al Jazeera channel)

Protests on the 12th anniversary of the Syrian revolution in Idlib - March 15, 2023 (Al Jazeera channel)


Enab Baladi – Reem Hamoud

The participation of women in the civil protests against the policies of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) in Idlib is noticeably absent, while their presence continues in other activities such as commemorating the Syrian revolution in its 13th year.

Idlib is witnessing a state of rejection towards the policies of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, which holds the military control in the region, amid ongoing demonstrations. In these protests, demonstrators have expressed their demands to bring down the faction leader Abu Mohammad al-Jolani, to release detainees, cleanse the prisons, and hold accountable those who have assaulted detainees.

Despite the civil engagement of women in northwest Syria within the framework of civil society organizations, in civil, developmental, relief work, emergency response, and women empowerment, there have been no female participants in the protests against Hayat Tahrir al-Sham policies. This is amidst societal and military pressures and restrictions that women in the area face.

Fears of the security grip

The civil activist, Shatha Barakat, told Enab Baladi, that fear of imprisonment has haunted the Syrian people since childhood, citing the Syrian regime’s “creativity” in using methods of torture, killing, and enforced disappearances since the beginning of the Syrian revolution in 2011.

The fear of imprisonment did not end with the Syrian regime but is recurring in areas governed by the Syrian Salvation Government (SSG). She pointed out that Syrian women are frustrated by what they have experienced from displacement, the arrest of their children, and sacrificing everything for former protests whose benefits should be reaped now. They are afraid of going out again in a revolution, the results of which may occur in the same manner to the people.

Barakat, who dedicates her efforts to supporting the displaced and empowering women, sees that the current situation is repeating but in a worse way, especially after the experiences of displacement, arrest, and killing without achieving meaningful results so far.

From the perspective of the human rights activist Hala Ibrahim, there is no rejection of women’s attendance in demonstrations, and the absence of any entity adopting the public movement makes it accessible to everyone, both women and men, without the need to issue formal invitations for participation.

However, the fear of the security grip first and the society second, are reasons that prevent women from participating in the popular movement against al-Jolani in Idlib, according to Hala Ibrahim, who works with the Free Syrian Lawyers Association.

According to the report issued by the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) on the occasion of the 13th anniversary of the start of the Syrian revolution, at least 156,757 people, including more than five thousand children and ten thousand women, are detained or forcibly disappeared at the hands of the regime and other controlling parties.

Among these figures, more than 2,500 people, including 47 children and 45 women, are detained or forcibly disappeared by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.

Exploitation of demands

The human rights activist Hala Ibrahim told Enab Baladi that another reason for the lack of participation is also the fear of the presence of women being exploited for the benefit of the Liberation Party. Women related to party detainees in Hayat Tahrir al-Sham prisons periodically protest in various areas of Idlib.

Ibrahim spoke about the fear that if women participate in the demonstrations, they may be attributed to the Liberation Party, which does not reflect reality.

Demonstrations by the Liberation Party, which are separate from civil demonstrations demanding changes to the policies of Tahrir al-Sham and the overthrow of al-Jolani, take place regularly in Deir Hassan, Killi, al-Saharra, Babka, al-Atarib, and other areas by relatives of detainees in the party, to demand their release from HTS prisons and to reject the policy of “arbitrary arrests” carried out by it.

On May 7, 2023, the General Security Service operating in Idlib launched a campaign of arrests and raids targeting party members, without official or legal warrants, according to testimonies from residents of Deir Hassan village, which then led to the mobilization of the detainees’ relatives.

Members of the Liberation Party (an Islamic political party that does not recognize national borders and calls for the return of the Islamic Caliphate) accuse Hayat Tahrir al-Sham of “muzzling voices, mimicking the repressive style of the regime, and freezing the fronts,” while Tahrir al-Sham accuses the party of “causing divisions, betrayal of those stationed on the frontlines, and spreading rumors.”

Security and social factors

The participation of women in protests against the de facto authorities differs from their participation in commemorations of the Syrian revolution and other activities and protests. These carry various dimensions explained by Hala Haj Ali, a social researcher at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies.

The researcher told Enab Baladi that there is no security dimension in the participation of women in the Syrian revolution protests in northwest Syria, whereas joining the current popular movement causes fear of the danger of arrest by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. It also has a social dimension regarding the acceptance of the idea of arrest, noting that the HTS is keen not to arrest women for fear of the societal unrest that might arise from it.

Women’s reluctance to participate in the protests is due to two reasons: the society and the fear of the security grip, following previous threats to women involved in public affairs, some of which led to murder. This makes them avoid participation for fear of the movement ending without any change or fulfillment of demands, and constantly exposing themselves to danger if identified by the authorities, according to the social researcher.


In northwest Syrian areas, women do not have family stability, and if they participate and have an opinion or activity, their immediate family circle is put at risk, especially since the society is still patriarchal and holds men accountable for women’s actions.

Hala Haj Ibrahim, Social researcher at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies


The researcher believes that the fear of the security grip is the main reason for the absence of the female element from these demonstrations, and there is no relation to the fear of being affiliated with the Liberation Party, as its supporters do not constitute a large percentage.

The researcher sees, as a future vision for the popular movement, that the area might witness a movement of women’s participation if it expands further and takes on a larger dimension regularly, without being subjected to a security clampdown.

Protests against the HTS 

The protests follow a state of anger among civilians and the military that has been witnessed in Idlib, in the wake of the death of a member of the Jaish al-Ahrar faction in the prisons of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, after being subjected to torture on the background of the “treason” file that has been storming through the ranks of the HTS since last year.

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and its political umbrella, the Salvation Government, have launched several promises and reforms, including a general amnesty with conditions and exceptions, the formation of committees to listen to the locals, cancellation of building fees with a partial waiver under certain conditions, but this did not prevent the outbreak of demonstrations.

The Minister of Interior in the Salvation Government, Mohammad Abdul Rahman, stated that the ministry has released 420 prisoners, under the amnesty decree, promising the release of other numbers covered by the amnesty.

The Salvation Government was formed with the push from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham on November 2, 2017, and it manages the various aspects of life for Syrians in Idlib province, and parts of the western and northern countryside of Aleppo, an area of the northern Latakia countryside, and a part of Hama’s countryside as well.

On March 10 of the current year, the Syrian Islamic Council supported the popular movement, confirming the criminalization of all forms of injustice from imprisonment without right, torture, imposition of taxes, to the exceeding of judicial powers, considering that demonstration is a “legitimate right for all citizens”.


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