The U.S. airstrikes in response to the chemical weapons attack in Idlib province last month triggered calls for greater outside military force against the Assad regime by some of the Syrian opposition. Yet, in a country exhausted by armed struggle and the presence of extremist groups, local civil initiatives have proven to be more effective at building peace than increased military involvement. In Idlib City, ordinary citizens have shown that they are capable of managing their civil affairs, alleviating suffering at the local level and rolling back extremism by themselves.
On March 3, 2015, an umbrella group of Islamic armed factions called Jeish al-Fateh expelled the Syrian government from Idlib City, sparking an ongoing struggle by citizens and civil resistance groups to gain control of the city’s administration. After it took control of the city, Jeish al-Fateh — which includes Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formally known as al-Nusra Front, a group affiliated with al-Qaeda — formed a Shura Council to manage the city’s military and civil affairs. The armed group appointed its members and loyalists to administer the city without paying attention to qualifications or proper recruitment procedures. A state of repression was imposed, and there were continuous violations of basic human rights and freedoms under the pretext of applying proper Islamic Sharia law.