- Hevar Hassan
- BBC Arabic
3 hours ago
Four years have passed since the liberation of the Syrian city of Raqqa, in October 2017, which was taken by the so-called “Islamic State” as the capital of the alleged caliphate, and most of its victims were women, due to the captivity they were subjected to, the imposition of the veil, and the restriction of their work to tasks household, husband and children care.
As for the irony, it is that Laila Mustafa, the daughter of the same city, wins the International “Mayor of the World” award for the year 2021, which is presented by the “City Myers” Foundation to the most distinguished mayors of the world, who served their citizens with integrity, justice and equality at a time when the world faces the two most serious problems: Climate change and the outbreak of the Corona virus, in addition to them, for Syria, the civil war that destroyed most of its cities.
Who is this young woman?
The civil engineer, Laila Mustafa, is a 34-year-old Kurdish woman born in the city of Raqqa, and she is currently the co-chair of the Raqqa Civil Council in northeastern Syria, since Raqqa was liberated from the clutches of the Islamic State (ISIS) in 2017, at the hands of the forces of Democratic Syria supported by the International Coalition.
Under her leadership, thousands of men and women are working side by side to rebuild what the war has destroyed. The council is one of several regional bodies established by the Syrian Democratic Forces.
For her tireless efforts in the reconstruction of the city of Raqqa, which was once taken by the Islamic State, the capital of the alleged Islamic caliphate, which was almost completely destroyed, Mustafa was awarded the award in recognition of her dedication, sincerity and insistence on the reconstruction of the city, in which the militants of the organization planted mines in every corner and street inspiration.
The World Mayor project, which has been in operation since 2004, addresses different themes every two years. In 2016, he focused on the refugee crisis, followed in 2018, by the underrepresentation of women in local administrative positions, and this year, he addressed the situation of cities during the Corona pandemic.
This year, the award was given to nine mayors from different countries around the world, and Laila Mustafa was the only woman among them and the one with the most difficult task, who took upon herself the task of rebuilding a city from which nothing remains but the wreckage.
I spoke with this young woman to shed light on her experience in facing challenges and difficulties, in a city dominated by a tribal character and a conservative society, which is not accustomed to the management of the city by a woman on the one hand, and the presence of many planted mines and sleeper cells of the “Islamic State” organization in the city on the one hand. other.
After the defeat of the Islamic State
Hundreds of thousands of Raqqa residents fled the city, after the Islamic State took control of it in 2014 and declared it the capital of the alleged Islamic caliphate.
The population of the city declined, according to experts’ estimates at the time, to less than 200,000 people. Those who were able to do so fled and the rest were trapped inside to face their fate, under a regime that followed brutal practices and methods against the city’s residents who violated its system, such as penalties for cutting hands and necks and stoning to death. and other methods of murder and torture.
After the city was liberated from their grip in October 2017, Laila Mustafa assumed the position of co-chair of the Raqqa Civil Council – a council that was established by the Syrian Democratic Forces and the International Coalition – with the aim of returning life to it again and rebuilding the city.
Mustafa told BBC Arabic, that the Raqqa Civil Council is part of the Autonomous Administration project (the Kurds launched this project in the areas they control in northeastern Syria).
And she added, “I was chosen as the co-chair of the Raqqa Civil Council at the founding meeting that was held in 2017, with the approval of the attendees, who numbered more than 120 members from various components, segments, sheikhs and dignitaries of Raqqa, and the restructuring was then done twice.”
More than three men from the city of Raqqa rotated, along with Laila, in the joint presidency of the council, but she has remained a constant member of it since its establishment.
Mustafa sought to create a mosaic of relationships that unite and link the diverse communities in the city, to work hand in hand to restore life to the city, whose population is mostly Arabs and a smaller percentage of Kurds, Christians and Syriacs.
“A safe haven after a grim prison”
After ISIS took control of the city, nothing remained of the city’s infrastructure, no electricity, running water, or any other public services, with few health services.
By 2020, the Raqqa Museum, considered a symbol of the city’s diverse cultural, religious and historical heritage, had been restored as a symbol of its rebirth.
Mustafa says, “Despite the limited capabilities and the lack of available resources, we have made many achievements thanks to the solidarity of the people of the region as a whole, and we have developed plans and programs to suit each stage.”
She added: “If we want to compare with the extent of the destruction that Raqqa suffered, which reached 95 percent, and with the shape of the city today, we will notice that we have made many works and achievements in record time, as Raqqa is today considered a center and a haven for all Syrians from various Syrian governorates and cities. After the Islamic State turned it into a bleak prison for its residents.”
Projects of electricity and water supply and other infrastructure such as building hospitals, schools and health centers, were implemented gradually. Work on renovating homes, streets and other services is still in progress.
Among the projects that have been implemented so far are “rehabilitating the old Al-Raqqa bridge along with a number of other subsidiary bridges, activating more than 390 schools, reactivating more than 25 health centers, 10 private and public hospitals, rehabilitating 8 power stations, 30 drinking water stations and 27 An irrigation station, in addition to creating the appropriate conditions for the private sector to open nearly 70 factories, rehabilitate and maintain nearly 12 gardens, and many other basic service projects in the city.
Laila says that this is evidence of the extent of the development that Raqqa is witnessing, whether in terms of education, service, health or economics.
The population rose again to about one million, including the newly displaced, according to the local authorities.
Mustafa was able to gain the trust and respect of the city’s residents because of her continuous work to empower people from all social and cultural backgrounds, to bring life back to the city.
Self-management and women project
Like the owners of the self-administration project implemented by the Kurds in the north-east of the country, Laila Mustafa hopes that Raqqa will become a model for all parts of the country, especially with regard to gender equality in all sectors and areas of life.
The task that the young woman took upon herself was not an easy one, as the environment in which she worked was and still favors the tribal values and customs that attach great importance to the notables of the clans.
As a young Kurdish woman who runs this city council, Laila has inspired many women from the region of all backgrounds to play their role in building the community and the city.
Laila explained that the percentage of women occupying important and administrative positions in the council reached 40 percent, which is a very high percentage, which is applied only in the Autonomous Administration areas in the north-east of the country.
“The number of workers in the Civil Council of Raqqa is currently approximately 10,500 employees, including 4,080 women working in various institutions and sectors of the city. As for their number in the areas of democratic civil administration in Raqqa as a whole, it exceeds 7,000 women in all institutions, and this is evidence of justice and equality that we always strive for.” “.
Regarding the support and financial aid they received, Mustafa says that despite all the achievements they have achieved, there are still many vital projects and infrastructure that the city’s residents are waiting for, “but the international support provided to us is shy and almost non-existent compared to the volume of work to be accomplished, so We hope that the international community will fulfill its obligations towards Raqqa.”
“We still need to develop expertise and competencies and support from organizations and countries in order to make this experiment a success, and to achieve justice and equality by activating the role of women and empowering them in all areas of life.”
Mustafa wants to say to women in all countries where women’s rights are still limited: “A woman is able to prove her role in all fields if she possesses determination, determination and belief in herself, and she is present in every woman if she searches for her.”
Today, Mustafa’s presidency of the council constitutes an exceptional and distinguished case in the history of the city, which has been ruled over time only by men, whether it was under the Syrian government before the war, or by the Syrian opposition loyal to Turkey, or the “Islamic State” organization.
A timeline of what happened in Raqqa
Raqqa was home to more than 200,000 people before the war, and they were from different ethnic, religious and social backgrounds, including Arabs, Kurds, Kurds, Christians, Syriacs, and others.
The city is seen as socially conservative, heavily influenced by tribal values and customs.
However, the civil war in the country changed the policies in force in the region in turn.
In March 2013, Raqqa emerged from the control of the Syrian government after it was taken over by the “Free Army” opposed to the government of Bashar al-Assad, and the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front, which changed its name to Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, after the United States listed it as a terrorist organization.
Less than a year later, the “Islamic State” took control of it and made it the capital of the so-called Islamic caliphate. Hundreds of thousands fled from it to the neighboring areas.
After the organization was defeated in October 2017, by the Syrian Democratic Forces and the international coalition, the Raqqa Civil Council was formed to rebuild Raqqa, which includes lawyers, engineers, doctors, tribal leaders, and technocratic councils.
Mustafa is the first woman in the city’s history to hold the position of head of the city council.
Mine and sleeper cells
The city still faces many challenges, difficulties and dangers from all sides. On the one hand, there is a shortage of doctors, teachers and other people with basic professions and crafts, most of whom migrated to Europe or neighboring countries during the years of war in this region, and on the other hand, there is the danger of mines planted by ISIS throughout the city before its defeat, to In addition to the presence of ISIS sleeper cells that constitute a time bomb in the area, in addition to the Syrian government, which wants to regain control of the city.
But Laila Mustafa is determined to complete the task and refuses to be defeated in the face of the obstacles and threats she faces.
As co-president, Mustafa demonstrates exceptional leadership by continuing to build coalitions of local residents to cooperate in restoring life in Raqqa, and reconciling the region’s diverse people, to form a civil society based on democracy and mutual respect, as she puts it.