Manbij has been liberated from ISIS, but is economically wounded. The Economic Committee of the Democratic Administration of Manbij is working on new projects to develop the local economy on a more stable foundation.
From 2014 until July 2016, Manbij was occupied by the jihadist organisation Islamic State. Not only were people oppressed and social life stifled, the economy was as well. Before the Islamist militias occupied the city, Manbij was one of Syria’s trade hubs. Under ISIS, business in the city stalled, agriculture was stopped and even small shops were under serious pressure. The people of Manbij had to endure extreme violence and murder under ISIS, but another way in which ISIS oppressed the locals was also the exacerbation of economic conditions. During the two years that Manbij was occupied, ISIS confiscated the production facilities and transport vehicles used by people who did not support them. They tried to break the will of the people with extortionate prices.
Despite the destruction that Manbij went through, its economy is slowly coming back to life, a little more with every passing day. Directly after the liberation of the city, the Democratic Autonomy of Manbij opened an Economic Committee, which is working to create a stable foundation for a people’s economy. All ethnic and/or religious groups of Manbij are represented in the Committee, and it focuses its efforts on creating an economic model that promotes sisterhood and equality between all people.
Co-chair Muhammed Sabri Mustafa is a Turkmen representative of the Manbij Economic Committee. He answered all questions we had about the economic situation in Manbij and the projects of the Economic Committee.
After living under ISIS occupation and their policy of economic oppression for so long, how is the economic situation in Manbij now?
Before ISIS, the economy of Manbij had three foundations: Agriculture, industry and business.
With the occupation, the situation changed. Down to food and drink, ISIS controlled everything to do with the economy and with people’s personal lives. Agriculture and business stopped. ISIS militia members took food from the people for themselves. Some locals continued to run their shops, but it was very hard for them. The militias just took hold of bread and other food, so the prices for the locals rose a lot. The price of bread rose from 50 or 60 cents to 350 or 400 lira.
After being liberated, our city came back to life. Most who had fled came back. The violence of ISIS has stopped, and the city can be repaired. Business has gone back to normal and people’s needs can be met again. The trade routes have re-opened. Bakeries have started making bread, and prices have gone down. An autonomous self-government has been founded that has taken measures to increase stability and justice. Now, the people of Manbij can go on with their lives, no one oppresses or exploits them.
How are the industrial and agricultural fields doing, are they getting back onto their feet?
After the liberation of Manbij, agriculture started again:
- The agricultural association distributed tools for irrigation and fuel
- Cheaper seeds, like barley, were handed out, as well as fertilisers
- Agriculture started again: wheat, barley, lentils, pistachios and olives are being produced
The factories that had been closed during the occupation opened again:
- 2 medicine factories
- 3 sweet factories
- 2 plastic bag factories
- 5 animal feed factories
- 1 bulgur factory
- 20 chicken farms
- 9 olive factories
All the above are private property and are running again. As the Economic Committee, we support their work and production.
- Then, there are 15 to 20 flour mills in Manbij.
These belong to the people, but we run them as the Economic Committee. We make bread and and deliver them to the people for a very accessible price. We don’t make any profit from it.
Manbij also has a lot of refugees. How many people came and how does this affect the economy in Manbij?
Around 120,000 refugees arrived, most of them from Shehba. Because there are no other institutions to help with this, the Democratic Autonomy of Manbij provides for them. All this has an economic burden, but we do what we can. We, too, have experienced the horrors of war, and we understand what they are going through. This is our reality: on the one hand, we are trying to get back onto our feet ourselves, and on the other hand, we have to deal with the problem of a refugee crisis that would cause even big states despair.
Can you tell us a little bit about the committee? Is the committee able to meet the economic needs of the people of Manbij?
After Democratic Autonomy was announced in Manbij, an Economic Committee with six members was founded. We are setting up sub-committees for agriculture, industry and business. The committee is a pioneering management mechanism for all these departments. We need to start branching out into villages and towns.
What plans and projects does the Economic Committee have for the near future?
- Firstly we will found sub-committees. That’s how we will reach villages and cities with our work.
- We will continue our efforts to develop business, agriculture and industry
- There are new projects to develop a women’s economy
- We will create co-operatives in the areas of agriculture and stock raising
- There will be co-operatives in gastronomy
- We will develop communes and co-operatives to promote stability and unity among the people
Why do you think it necessary to found communes and co-operatives?
We have looked at the system of co-operatives in Rojava and analysed it. There had never been co-operatives in Manbij before, yet people’s material situation was good. We think that co-operatives and communes can strengthen people’s solidarity as well as their economic production, and that it can lower unemployment rates. A communal economy based on co-operatives will also lower the greed for profit. We think it is a model that will create more equality in society.
One of the effects of the all-out destruction under ISIS was unemployment, although the rate is low. Those who own land work on it. Those who have shops run their shops. The people of Manbij are hard-working. When communes and co-operatives are developed, it will be easier for people to pursue their economic goals.
5% of revenue from customs will be allocated to our agency. We will issue permits for projects and open an office for pesticides and other chemical compounds used in farming. The money made from this will go to the Economic Committee. Once we have a budget, we want to continue with our projects step by step.
We must not forget Rojava’s support. They send us fuel and wheat without taking any money.
I want to underline that in Manbij there is a democratic administration that represents everyone. We strive to create an economy worthy of our ideals, an economy of justice. With time our economy will flourish.