Al-Zabadani city in southwestern Syria enjoys peace and calm unlike other cities embroiled in violence in a brutal crackdown by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces against protesters and dissidents.
Al-Zabadani managed to negotiate with the Syrian regime to get itself some form of autonomy with local committees overseeing the city.
The city does have protests against the regime taking place but it has not seen any deaths result from them nor any clashes between its people after it declared “victory” against the Assad regime forces on January 17. According to activists and opposition groups, Al-Zabadani’s death toll in the last 10 months is at 15 and 35 have been injured.
However, the people of the city still live in fear as Syrian regime forces are still garrisoning on it is outskirts, making an attack a possibility and an imminent one too.
People in the city have started organizing themselves to manage their localities, with the cooperation of the Free Syrian Army and away from any Assad regime’s intervention.
Abdulah Abdulrahman, an activist, said that the people have formed an elected local council to administer the city and without any outside interference.
Abdulrahman said that one elected person represents 1,000 constituents to form a council of 28 members. The council includes five committees, including a political committee focused on negotiations with the Syrian regime, relief and financial committees, the “revolutionary support committee” to organize protests, and finally the services committee which organizes public services which come under the council’s rule.
As for security issues, he pointed out that the council has formed a military committee to supervise the work of the free army and it includes security elements to protect and aid the people of the city, pointing out that the council will announce the name of their media spokesman within days.
The activist confirmed that the new independent police and security apparatus are found inside their respective headquarters inside the city and have not been given the right to form security barricades or patrols and that is in accordance to articles of agreement made with the authorities.
Kamal Libwani, a prominent dissident, who, Al Arabiya sources say, played an advisory role in forming the council, said the city has gained security and stability because of the people’s willingness as well as help from the Free Syrian Army, whose members are on the council.
Libwani said that the intelligentsia elite and political analysts have also played a vital role in forming the council in a “democratic” way, and they were able to organize their local issues without the intervention of the Syrian regime. He said the council is supported financially by local businessmen.
The opposition figure, who is a local, said schools have returned back to normal but flags are different as they are using protesters’ flags and students chant anti-Assad slogans calling for his downfall in the morning assembly.
There are no fears that the free army will turn into militias oppressing people, Libwani said, adding “the militias can form extremist ideas when they are secluded from the people,” and that is not the case in Zabadani, as most of the army members hail from the local families.
He said that the free army gives food aids to people, and that retired lieutenants and military men from the city are the ones that are leading the free army and giving orders.
Most of the young men from the city have joined the free army adding to the number of defected soldiers.
“The democratic experiences are difficult at first,” he said, expressing his desire for the Zabadani model to be followed elsewhere in Syria.
(Translated by Dina al-Shibeeb)