The Legacy of Omar Aziz: Building autonomous, self-governing communes in Syria
Leila Al Shami,
Omar Aziz was in his sixties when he returned to Syria in 2011. He’d been working for an information technology company in Saudi Arabia but now he wanted to participate in the uprising raging against the four-decade dictatorship of the Assad family. Together with other activists, Aziz began distributing humanitarian assistance to displaced families from the Damascus suburbs under attack by the regime. He was inspired by the ongoing protests in the face of regime bullets and tanks, yet believed that demonstrations alone were not enough to break the regime’s dominance, and that revolutionary activity should permeate all aspects of people’s lives.
Before his arrest on 20 November 2012, and death in prison in February 2013, he promoted local self-governance, horizontal organization, cooperation, solidarity and mutual aid as the means by which people could emancipate themselves from the tyranny of the state.
Writing in the eighth month of the revolution, when protests were still largely peaceful and communities still lived under the authority of the state, he argued that “the revolutionary movement remains separate from daily human activities.” He continued: “there are ‘divisions of daily work’ between day-to-day activities and revolutionary activities.” The risk lies “in the absence of correlation between the spheres of daily life and the revolution itself.” 
Aziz advocated the establishment of local councils to narrow this gap. In his vision the councils, made up of volunteers with experience in various fields, should have a number of responsibilities: finding safe houses for the displaced, organizing on behalf of detainees in the regime’s prisons and providing support to their families. Aziz also believed that it was the role of the councils to promote human solidarity and cooperation by providing a forum in which people could collectively find solutions to the problems they face, and to build horizontal links between councils in different regions.