Feminist woman appointed co-chair of Raqqa civilian council

Layla Mohammed was appointed co-chair of the Raqqa civilian council. (Photo: ANHA)

A Kurdish feminist woman has been appointed as the co-chair of Raqqa to administer the northern Syrian city’s surrounding villages captured from the jihadist Islamic State (IS) group, which still holds the city centre.

31-year-old Layla Mohammed, the former co-chair of Tel Abyad, was appointed in a meeting on Tuesday alongside male Arab co-chair Mehmud Sewax Bersan. The civilian council also includes members from local Arab tribes, Turkmen, and Kurds, local agency Ara News reported

“This is a historic step for the people of the region, and a new birth for them,” Mohammed said, adding “We promise to manage Raqqa in an organised way.”

The co-chair said the people of Raqqa would manage the city and it’s countryside on the basis of “coexistence and the brotherhood of peoples,” and appealed to the local population to participate in the council’s work.

In an interview with Middle East Eye during her time as Tel Abyad co-chair, Mohammed had commented on her role and said it was difficult for people to accept a woman in government.

“It’s very strange for people to build a new system after they were suppressed by the [Assad] regime and it was difficult for them to accept the idea of being governed by a woman.”

“In the past, whether in military, politics, or even on the social side, women were not allowed to participate,” she added.

The civilian councils set up by the Kurdish-led autonomous administration (Rojava) have been much lauded for their co-chair (one female, one male) system in all areas of governance. The council will consist of 14 committees, including security, economy, justice and energy.

According to Washington-based analyst Nicholas A. Heras, a Bacevich Fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) the establishment of the Raqqa civilian council is backed by the United States government.

“With the establishment of the Raqqa Council, the SDF continues to faithfully follow the blueprint for post-ISIS stability laid out by the United States for Syria. The Trump administration has made it clear that it agrees with the U.S. military’s vision of supporting councils composed of local notables, supported in security matters by the SDF and the U.S. military,” Heras told Ara News.

There are concerns however that some major Arab tribes from Raqqa have not joined the council for fear of retribution from the IS or Assad government, a freelance journalist in the region said.

The Kurdish-Arab majority Syrian Democratic Forces are currently engaged in the fourth phase of the Wrath of Euphrates Operation to completely capture the outskirts of Raqqa from the IS.