Thursday, October 04, 2012

Syria under the FSA

Turkish journalist Ilhan Tanir travels to Syria to see what is happening in territories liberated from Ba'athist rule.  As a potential post-Assad Syria, I found the situation in an FSA-ruled area of Syria most instructive:
"Now under FSA control but lacking access to public services, residents have been making do. In order to reestablish Al Bab’s city council, the various facets of society have been conducting forms of consensus-building with new stakeholders: revolutionary youth, elders (who kept open channels with regime authorities until their departure), and 'educators' (some of the earliest backers of protests). I participated in three of the meetings where these various segments came together in sessions usually over two hours long. On the last day of my stay, August 11, mediations with the groups (conducted mainly by the youth team) seemed to bear fruit: the council’s 21 members agreed on a new structure of 36—twelve from each party—and concurred on issues to be tackled...
"Since declaring itself liberated, the city council has had—primarily out of necessity—to replace traditional state institutions. For example: in lieu of state courts (now vacant from the departure of Assad’s judges) the city council put in place 'sharia courts' to fill the vacuum and provide a structure for justice and rule of law. So far, the courts have not heard cases, nor made rulings—or administered sentences. However, fatwas—Islamic law-based decrees and official policy opinions—have been issued to aid in the city’s administration. Half a dozen qadis have stepped in, though court logistics are still being determined. Prior to the establishment of the sharia courts, the 15-battalion Umawiyeen Brigade set up a 15-member 'religious council,' with each battalion submitting a civilian representative from its respective town to provide oversight for the founding of the sharia courts and establish a roadmap for their functioning. With its mission complete, the fifteen-member body has since been disbanded.
"During a visit to the courts in August, I met one of these qadis, Mr. Osama Zo'aiter, who noted that one theft and one murder case are pending before sharia courts. According to Zo’aiter, members of the now-disbanded religious council were popular among the people and have been pro-revolution from the beginning; he did not, however, explain how its members were selected by the FSA battalion. Zo’aiter himself does not have any formal law training, nor was he a member of the religious council itself, but he insists that he has plenty of experience—enough to conduct judicial business according to his personal study of Islamic law. He was also more than ready to share his vision for the post-Assad period; Zo’aiter thinks that Syria should stick with democracy, though it should reject secularism and allow sharia to make up the essence of the new country. 'Alawis and minorities can run their own courts,' he said—conceding that, if it had to, Syria could 'live with' secularism (something that many citizens identify with Assad)."
One point I take away from this is that many Syrians are capable of organizing societies on a local level.  That shouldn't be worthy of comment, but perhaps it does bear repeating given the sorts of stereotypes many still have of the region.  The real problem in Syria will be national reconciliation insofar as the civil war there has taken on sectarian overtones analogous to those in Iraq.

The second point is a strong likelihood that post-Assad Syria will be Islamist in orientation.  In itself, that label is too broad to be a useful indicator.  Tanir finds activists saying they want to use Turkey's AKP as a model, but it's not clear they know what the AKP actually stands for, as Turkey certainly has no plans for shari'a courts.  Shari'a itself is a nebulous legal system that is arrived as through jurisprudence, as those learned in it try to apply the first principles and prophetic examples to concrete cases.  In contemporary Islamist politics it involves creating a modern law code using the derived principles, and this tends to be done very conservatively.  If Syria develops strong penalties for blasphemy and apostasy and restrictions on women's rights, then we have a problem on our hands, though it's not clear that problem is any worse than the problems of Ba'athist rule.



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