Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Local Coordination Committees (LCCs)

We devote this report to the powerful Local Coordination Committees. The engine of the Syrian uprising and its genesis.

·         The Local Coordination Committees (LCCs) are the grassroots of the Syrian uprising. They started it and they sustain it. By comparison, at street level, to this point in time, all other political groups have been relatively inactive and are (or so some would argue) irrelevant and will remain so until there are negotiations with the government in Syria and/or free elections.

1. The LCCs: What they are

When the uprising began in March last year, young people in Dera’a started organising themselves into local committees both to sustain the uprising and, as time went on, also to fill the power vacuum left by the government. These local committees provided aid, protection and shelter to the population. These activities soon spread to other towns and cities across Syria; hence the creation of the LCCs. These other LCCs started organising meetings, demonstrations and other activities with people from their own communities.

These local committees have evolved, becoming more organised and active at local level whilst also becoming more difficult to define and, at a national level, becoming considerably less coordinated. The LCCs were not set up with a specific political agenda beyond that of changing the government and anyone from any political or ethnic group could join the committees. Since the beginning they have been very active and effective on the ground. One of their most important activists, and perhaps their most important hero, was Ghiath Matar, a 22 year old who was killed by the Syrian government last September. He had been at the forefront building coordination not only locally but also regionally. During his time the Local Coordination Committees (LCCs) attempted to form a national network to enable greater coordination between the local committees.

In practise an umbrella organisation failed to evolve as a true coordinating body (and arguably does not exist though there is a website in its name). The LCCs are very unlike other organisations as they have no headquarters or leadership but all the committees have a degree of coordination with one another, while still very much acting as individual organisations. The LCCs are extremely difficult to define as they have a very loose structure. A Syrian activist described the LCCs as a phenomenon, as they emerged spontaneously throughout the country and continue to do so. The LCCs are a cross-country platform for peaceful activists, as well as a cyber entity through which communication can be sustained, statistics collaborated and statements published. 

2.             The LCCs: Their structure

Trying to describe the LCCs is a very difficult task. According to one Syrian activist the LCCs best resemble an onion: many layers and no real core, in other words, many committees and people but nobody to coordinate it all. The structure of the LCCs is not the traditional and hierarchical one, but horizontal with no leaders or headquarters. This loose and very fragmented structure makes them very difficult to track by the government’s forces and thus they remain very successful in their activities. The government no longer has any one person or leader to deal with. The LCCs are mostly formed by university students and young people (often of school age) and these are mainly Sunni Arabs.

The largest element of those protesting in the streets is Sunni Arab, arguably because the poorest and most marginalised elements of the population are Sunni Arab. However, the LCCs claim that they do not have a sectarian political agenda and that anyone from any religious or ethnic group can be part of the committees. 

These are the coordination committees nominally under the LCC Syria umbrella:
  • Committee  Dera’a
  • Committee  Homs
  • Committee  Banias
  • Committee  Saraqeb
  • Committee  Idlib
  • Committee  Hasaka
  • Committee  Qamishli
  • Committee  Deir Ezzor
  • Committee  Syrian Coast
  • Committee  Hama
  • Committee  Raqqa
  • Committee  Swayda’
  • Committee  Damascus suburbs
  • Committee  Damascus
The organisations continue to expand horizontally with further subgroups (for instance in the Damascus suburbs there may be an LCC for every neighbourhood); and in the process they increase the safety of their members as they become increasingly fragmented. The above committees typically have three subcommittees responsible for:
-          Cross-community relations
-          Logistics and support
-          Technical team (used to upload videos to the internet etc.)
NCF note: There are LCCs outside of the above network (i.e. in the Kurdish areas)
NCF note: In some areas LCCs may be even more sophisticated. In Homs they even created their own media centre for a while (the location where Marie Kolvin was killed).
NCF note: Do not confuse the LCCs with the NCC (National Coordinating Committee for Democratic Change headed by Dr Haitham Manna) which is an entirely separate organization.

3.             The LCCs: Relations with others

With the exception of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the LCCs seem pretty sceptical with regard to the credibility of any of the multitude of Syrian opposition groups. They have strong connections with the FSA. The FSA claims it was originally created to protect demonstrators in the streets but “due to the escalation of violence” they have been “forced to be involved in the fighting”. Although they have grown in strength the FSA is not currently capable of overthrowing the government.

As regards other opposition groups, whether internal or external, the LCCs seem quite sceptical about their activities and effectiveness on the ground. They believe that this is the revolution of the youth and “the main opposition figures seem to be completely disconnected from reality and do not understand what people in the streets want or what they are protesting for”. According to our source, “The young people are the force behind the uprising and their protests and demands are different to those from the past”. It seems to them that the mainstream opposition is outdated and living in the past. The mainstream opposition, “haven’t realised times have changed, as have the people’s demands, and as such people do not listen to them or respect them”. The LCCs are especially critical of the role of the external opposition. They even disown some LCC figures that are part of the SNC “because they left the country and joined the external opposition abroad”. The SNC has, according to them, “lost the spirit of the revolution” and staying within the SNC umbrella could “harm their credibility”.

4. The LCCs: What they want politically

In June 2011, the LCC Syria website published a proposal for a political solution to the situation (in those early days there was a little more coordination between the groups). They suggested a transitional period in order to transfer power. They have a clear united aim to remove the current president from power as they hold Assad responsible for “crimes committed against the Syrian people”. The LCC do not advocate western military intervention in Syria but instead would like increased western pressure, initiating no fly zones and further sanctions on the Syrian government. Most LCCs believe militarisation of the rebels alone is not enough to topple the government (though even this is a generalisation).
There is no clear opposition leader that can garner LCC support to be put forward to replace Assad and there seems not to be any desire to find one at the moment. They say that this attitude is as a direct result of the public rejection of the ‘cult of personality’ forced upon them by the Assad government. Some minority blocks are frightened by the idea that a post Assad government may be Sunni Arab dominated. However, the LCCs claim that they aim for all Syrians to have “equal rights and duties without discrimination”. Our source attributes the lack of minority involvement in revolutionary activity to a general trend because “Christians and other minorities tend to be better off and as such have more to lose from joining the revolution”.

It is worth noting the exceptional degree of confidence expressed by the LCCs: “The regime has fallen. We have to get the elite to give up the idea that they can stay,” we were told by one LCC source. On their failure to as yet become truly cross cultural, our source stated, “After one-and-a-half years the Syrians have done well – we expected the people to slaughter one another. But we are doing better. Now the Druze are becoming involved.” Note also that many regard President Bashar al Assad as relatively unimportant, but want the entire system gone, symptomatic of which is the behaviour of the demonstrators “They don’t curse Bashar, they curse his father”.  

5. The LCCs: What they do

The LCCs throughout Syria work on a local level, meeting in their communities. Communication between different communities occurs through the use of satellite phones and, preferably, the internet (local cellphones are not used – but they would use a Jordanian sim in Dera’a, a Turkish sim in Idlib, a Lebanese sim near that border). Actions taken by the LCCs can vary from symbolic activities (e.g. erecting banners opposite the offices of an intelligence organisation), to protests large enough to be viewed as a threat to the government. In rural and suburban areas, protests and demonstrations are less vulnerable and can be full scale, while in the urban centres such as Damascus flying demonstrations are preferred. Locations are publicised last minute and demonstrators assemble and disperse quickly (a flying demonstration may last little more than ten minutes). The LCC have stronger support in rural and provincial areas where they have more control and influence.

The LCCs claim to also work to expand and reduce conflict between communities in Syria. “The wider implication of the revolution includes the need for communities around Syria to overcome their differences and coexist”. Another primary role of the LCCs is to compile casualty figures (though these figures were criticised by our source for a lack of objectivity, “allowing emotions to influence the reports rather than verifying facts”). The LCCs do not actually condone violence and claim to believe the best way to overcome the Assad government is through the use of media as a weapon, opening channels of communication, as well as publicising the situation to the Western world in such a way that will force them to put greater pressure on the Assad government and provide greater support to the uprising.  

6. The LCCs: What they need

In the immediate future, our source insisted that the LCCs needed people on the ground in Syria to help organise and train communities, establish platforms for civil society and “increase cross-communications between different regions to overcome their issues”. Additionally, western help could be used to “identify activists in localised projects” and help them to be more effective. “Adopt them” was the phrase used by our source.

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