Last weekend, various brigades ruling opposition sections of Aleppo city united to form a Hisbeh, or Islamic morality police, along the lines of the bearded men who patrol Saudi malls and the like searching for women whose veils have slipped back, among other “violations.”
But Aleppo is not Saudi Arabia, and residents pushed back, both rejecting and ridiculing the formation of a Hisbeh.
One day later, on Sunday, the major rebel factions participating in the Hisbeh released announcements denying any involvement by their leadership.
“With fighting at most of the fronts of the city and its countryside it is the time to fight, not to regulate civil and sharia matters,” Aleppo-based journalist Basel Abu Hamzah tells Moutasem Jamal.
Q: What is the Dar al-Hisbeh that was formed on Saturday?
It replaces the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice that existed previously [which multiple factions including Jabhat a-Nusra had supported].
Its role is to regulate matters of sharia [Islamic law] in Aleppo, such as covering women completely, preventing songs along with smoking cigarettes and argileh in the streets.
Q: Several large rebel factions in Aleppo denied any relationship with the Hisbeh and said it did not represent them. Why did this happen, in your opinion, and does it point to divisions between the factions?
Some of the city’s largest factions, like Harakat Nur a-Din a-Zinki, the Sultan Murad brigade and Fastaqim Kama Umirt, despite being mentioned as participants in [Sunday’s] announcement, found justifications to withdraw from it after they saw the complete rejection of the Hisbeh in Aleppo’s streets.
The FSA wants a popular base of support right now, and doesn’t want to alienate people, so these factions immediately withdrew from the Hisbeh.
There are no divisions between Aleppo’s rebel factions. On the contrary, the FSA is familiar with everyone, and in Aleppo we have seen many small FSA factions join with larger ones. Regime attacks in the southern and northern countryside have united 60-70% of the FSA brigades.
Q: Is the Hisbeh different from the police?
We hope that the Free Police in Aleppo will be successful, but they haven’t really found their footing due to a lack of support [by local factions].
A number of strong rebel groups on the ground tried to form the Hisbeh to regulate matters of sharia before regulating civil matters such as those under the purview of the Free Police: organizing security and conducting patrols in the streets day and night to prevent robberies, kidnappings and killings.
Q: What has the civilian response been to the formation of the Hisbeh, to your knowledge?
The people of Aleppo adamantly rejected the formation of the Hisbeh. Most residents and activists ridiculed it, saying that with fighting on most of the fronts of the city and its countryside, it is the time to fight, not to regulate civil and sharia matters.
The Hisbeh’s rejection in the streets of Aleppo also comes from residents’ fears of the regime attacks on the city and the implementation of a blockade.
The first [priority] for rebels and fighters is to turn to the fronts and prevent the regime from advancing and taking control of the Aleppo’s arteries, like the Castello road, or advancing towards the city from the southern countryside. This would pose a great danger to Aleppo’s residents, who have endured bombardment, destruction and death since the outbreak of the revolution.