Tansiqiyyat, or local coordination committees (LCCs), began as spontaneous meetings of young activists in neighbourhoods and towns across the country and were the main vehicle for mobilisation in Syria. LCCs coordinated with each other, rapidly creating a networked structure. One year after the beginning of the uprising, observers counted several hundred LCCs, many of them assisted by self-designated local councils.
Solidarity between activists and communities was forged as grassroots networks connected people in villages and towns, especially in peripheral and neglected areas, which became important centres of defiance against the regime. LCCs provided support for victims and families of prisoners, organised alternative hospitals, took charge of water distribution and bakeries, collected garbage and informed the population through a wealth of local magazines and alternative radio stations.
LCCs also became the interface between society and military actors (militias and government forces), in some cases even mediating local humanitarian access. More often than not they were left by hostile or powerless state officials to manage the settling of hundreds of thousands of war displaced among already devastated suburban communities.
By mid-2012, particularly in northern Syria, regime forces had withdrawn or been forced out of many areas by rebel armed groups. LCCs and newly formed local civil society organisations (CSOs) filled the void left by defunct regime structures, transforming their resistance function into local government responsibilities by establishing ad hoc administrative structures whenever they could – resuming some state services, but also providing leadership in communities threatened by disintegration.
This rapid self-organisation and self-rule proved that, contrary to Assad’s assertions, the regime itself had caused the chaos, not the people. Local councils, often aided by CSOs such as the Union of Free Students (established in September 2011) and the Kurdish Youth Movement (established in 2005), were able to deliver essential services in the most difficult conditions.
In the province of Aleppo they have reopened schools, run health-care services, offered legal services, and treated victims of rape and traumatised children in both government and non-government controlled areas. In the city of Raqqa many activists and youth-led CSOs have been striving to maintain normal life despite the heavy presence of Islamist jihadi groups and a scarcity of resources, for example by opening youth recreation centres and organising cultural events, such as art and traditional craft exhibitions and plays mocking the Assad regime.
CSOs and activists are also working on numerous peacebuilding initiatives among communities and sects. These call on people not to deviate from the original goals of the revolution and condemn the actions of warlords in multi-sectarian regions such as the province of Homs. They try to protect minorities such as Christians in the Euphrates valley or Alawites in Aleppo. For example, the Nabd (Pulse) Coalition for Syrian Civil Youth, a cross-sectarian movement with branches in several cities set up by young activists in mid-2011, addressed the increasing influence of jihadi fighters through activities promoting sectarian unity.
Women’s CSOs have also organised peacebuilding activities between opposition and regime supporters, bringing together female regime loyalists and opposition supporters in activities aimed at highlighting the commonalities between them. Still, such initiatives remain scattered and sporadic. They lack moral support from political leaders and material support from the international community, as international NGOs’ engagement in Syria is tightly restricted by the regime. Civil leaders pay a high price (imprisonment or even death) and many have to emigrate, leaving society adrift.