The protests in Kafranbel, a town in Idlid Province in northwest Syria have become an iconic symbol of the Syrian uprising since Syria 2011. The vivid Arabic- and English-language banners and occasional videos from the town have combined black comedy, tragedy, and sharp commentary — criticizing the Assad regime, the Islamic State, and purported “friends” of the Syrian opposition.
Raed Fares, one of the driving forces in the protests, speaks to Syria Deeply about the current situation in Kafranbel:
Syria Deeply: How are you, Raed? How’s life in Kafranbel?
Fares: Acceptable. Putting aside the daily grind of living in a war zone, I can say that the situation is good here and that we’ve gotten used to it.
It’s definitely not normal, but I can say that after three years, it’s become normal. People go on with their lives: they go to the market and move around the city in a normal fashion. Most of them are looking for employment. The prices have gone up and it’s become difficult to make ends meet. The economic situation in the city is bearable and better than it was two years ago.
The city hasn’t had any running water for three years now, and no electricity for two. There have been no phones whatsoever for two years now.
We’re working on a project to provide drinking water to the residents of Kafranbel with the help of an American organization. We’re expecting to wrap things up in December.
Over the past three years, several people have dug up shallow wells up to 70 meters deep as a personal initiative. They built pumps and started selling water to the residents. It cost $50 a month to have access to water. We hope that our project would alleviate people’s worry that the wells might dry up soon, which would present a real problem.
There’s a power shortage of up to 20 hours a day, so residents started paying for generators, but these too cost $50 a month. This is a considerable sum for a Syrian to pay, so most people buy water but forgo electricity.
The Free Syrian Army is currently controlling the city, mainly the Fursan al-Haq Brigade, which is stationed in the southern section of the Idlib countryside. The brigade is responsible for protecting the city, and has set up five checkpoints at the city entrances and exits. Naturally, there are daily regime air raids on the city.
Syria Deeply: You were the one responsible for organizing protests and writing banners every Friday in Kafranbel since the beginning of the revolution. But you suddenly stopped demonstrating against the Assad regime. Was it because of the U.S.-led airstrikes?
Fares: We haven’t demonstrated in a month and a half, but not because of the airstrikes. There are several reasons that go beyond that, most importantly that the number of participating residents in the protests has declined sharply and then only the activists took part. While the essence of the protests is to show a popular sentiment, when I realized that it’s only the activists who are taking part in the demonstrations, I had to stop and think of something else.
I tried calling on people to demonstrate in Kafranbel and the surrounding villages. I talked to the residents there and we organized three consecutive protests under the slogan of “getting the revolution back on track”. The first demonstration took place in the village of Maarat Harma, the second in Maarat al-Numan and the third in Kfaraawi. These were all a success, and the demonstrators included civilians as well as activists.
Syria Deeply: So why did the residents stop from taking part in the protests?
Fares: They lost hope that the demonstrations would translate into change. They talk about the bleak reality that once they demonstrate, a few media activists take their photos or videos, people would watch them, but everything ends there. After three years of demonstrating, nothing changed, even when the situation in Syria has been widely publicized and the world now knows of the Syrians’ suffering. The world didn’t lift a finger.
The second and main reason is the shelling. Kafranbel is bombed at least three times a week, and the raids usually target large congregations, especially the demonstration square that’s been shelled twice. People are now scared and stopped demonstrating.
Another thing is that when I organize a protest, I tell the residents about it a week in advance so they can tell their friends and relatives about it. But the regime knows about the date and time via its informants and shells the demonstration. The three villages mentioned above were all shelled only a few hours after the demonstrations. Civilians had an extremely negative reaction to that.