Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters
Two men ride a motorcycle past the infantry college in the countryside in Aleppo, Syria, Friday, Dec. 21.

Aleppo's fledgling government reflects a society shaped by war

Representation on Aleppo's Transitional Revolutionary Council will be determined partially by the number of each community's residents killed in the uprising and the level of destruction there. 

Members of the Syrian opposition in Aleppo are preparing to unveil what will be the most ambitious transitional government effort to come from inside Syria since the revolution began 21 months ago.

Aleppo’s Transitional Revolutionary Council, a civilian effort to provide government services in areas of northern Syria under opposition control, has created a 224-person Grand Assembly with representatives for every area of the province, even those still under government control. The new legislative body plans to have its first meeting within a month.

The creation of the opposition’s Grand Assembly comes on the heels of weeks of major rebel gains in northern Syria and is emblematic of their growing confidence in Aleppo. But the new legislature faces challenges finding sufficient funding and securing locations to meet, underscoring the challenges that remain despite recent progress.

“What makes this project successful here in Aleppo is that most of Aleppo is liberated,” says Rafat Rifai, a freelance journalist who works as a consultant for the Transitional Revolutionary Council. Still, he adds, “the main financial resources are still with the regime so if the new assembly tries to take on the same role of the [Assad] government, it will need the same budget.”

The assembly has only limited funding. It comes from a mix of sources including Syrian expatriates and local businessmen, and the new Syrian opposition coalition formed in Doha last month is said to be considering offering assistance. The modest budget will force the group to prioritize its efforts on essentials such as repairing the electric grid and addressing bread shortages.

Throughout opposition-controlled areas in Aleppo province, citizens have formed a variety of ad hoc councils to manage their villages and neighborhoods in the absence of a central government, but the Grand Assembly is the first attempt to create a representative body that can begin to operate more like a traditional government body.

The new legislators were chosen in town hall style meetings by their communities. In areas still under control of the Assad army, representatives were selected from residents of these areas who had fled to opposition-controlled territory.

“We try to push them to choose the best and most qualified person to be the representative, not just the most popular,” says Shekary, who does not use his full name to protect his identity and serves as the media coordinator for the General Assembly.

Organizers say that with fighting still ongoing in Aleppo and reliable communication by telephone or Internet often impossible, a popular election to choose the 224 representatives would not have been feasible.

Seats apportioned by sacrifice

The number of representatives each district receives is proportional to both its population and level of participation in the revolution. The latter is determined by a matrix that uses measurements such as the number of residents killed in the uprising and the level of destruction the community experienced. 

Responding to a question about whether giving less representation to those who did not participate as heavily in the revolution could appear as a punitive measure, Hakeem Halabi says this current council is meant to serve as a transitional revolutionary government, which, for the time being, is run by those who started the uprising.

“We agree in the future we will have to have a popular vote,” says Mr. Halabi, co-leader of the temporary presidential committee for the Transitional Revolutionary Council, adding that the goal of the forthcoming assembly is to help achieve the goals of the revolution. "There are people with guns on the street and they deserve to get representatives.... If they don’t have a big enough voice, it will be hard to convince them to put down their guns.”

The assembly will hold its first meeting in Gaziantep, Turkey, just north of the Syrian border. Originally the group wanted to hold the meeting in Syria along the border where government jets seldom bomb, but a recent air strike against a border town made them reconsider. 

The group says that they will conduct their meetings in Turkey, but return immediately upon their conclusion. Opposition forces have long criticized their leadership based outside the country for being out of touch with realities on the ground. The newly created Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces, founded in Doha, enjoys more support within Syria, but still faces criticisms for operating outside the country.

“We consider ourselves more legitimate than the Doha coalition itself because this transitional council is 100 percent in Syria,” says Halabi.

Currently, there are no other provinces firmly enough under rebel control to consider something like the Aleppo Grand Assembly there, and there are no plans to use it as a model for temporary government in provinces that come under opposition control in the future.

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