"No place for al-Qaida in Syria"
In Maarat al-Numan in 2016, for example, residents protested for more than 100 days against an HTS-precursor militia; in February 2017, they took to the streets chanting "No place for al-Qaida in Syria". There are regular protests in other places too, above all when the jihadists attack institutions.
In Atareb, HTS wanted to gain control of the police headquarters, the courts and the administration. The alliance also offered to take over the insolvent local bakery. Broad social resistance, which involved local rebel commanders, dignitaries and elders, succeeded in heading off the takeover. Activists drummed up donations to save the bakery.
Sometimes, civil resistance also demands compromise. In Kafranbel, famous since the beginning of the revolution for its political caricatures, the Nusra-Front stormed the radio broadcaster Fresh FM in January 2016. It confiscated equipment and temporarily detained the manager of the station. The reason it gave for this course of action was that the broadcasting of music is "haram" (forbidden). Radio Fresh FM went on broadcasting. Now, however, activists broadcast animal noises instead of music in between the commentaries.
"We've learned from the mistakes of the past," says Mustafa, a freelance trainer working in the peace sector, in Haid's study. Putting up resistance to Assad and IS has been a kind of "training on the job" and has prepared them for the confrontation with HTS.
Demonstrations are organised via closed groups in social networks or messaging services such as WhatsApp. Ideally, the initiators cannot be clearly identified and are therefore protected from persecution. Although most of the protests are still directed against the regime, demonstrations for freedom and human rights in Idlib also show the jihadists that they cannot control the local people.
In actual fact, HTS does allow most of the demonstrations to go ahead in order to avoid a direct confrontation with local residents. Human rights trainer Kareem is quoted as saying that HTS knows that clashes with the population cannot be won by military means. Haid says this makes it all the more important to mobilise people by creating a long-term political awareness, allaying their fears, calling on them to show unity, and recruiting them to civil institutions.