ISTANBUL // Can the repair of a broken water pipe be a revolutionary act?
Bassam Imadi, a former Syrian diplomat turned opposition activist, thinks it can.
The regime of the Syrian president, Bashar Al Assad, has been battling an uprising since March last year and has lost control over some parts of the country, but his opponents have so far been unable to come up with a coherent plan of how to fill that vacuum.
Mr Imadi and other members of the rebel Central Commission of the Civil Administration Councils (CCCA) believe they can find foreign donors to sponsor infrastructure projects and provide basic services such as water, electricity or health care in rebel-held areas, such as in parts of Idlib province in western Syria.
"We will provide donors with a concrete project and a budget. It will be completely transparent," Mr Imadi told a meeting of the group in Istanbul this month.
Mr Imadi said the initial response from potential donors in Arab countries and aid groups was positive.
With its initiative, the CCCA is also making a renewed attempt to gain credibility for the fractured opposition and to provide some sort of central oversight over action on the ground in Syria.
Mr Imadi said there were several thousands of people across Syria working in local councils that had taken over administrative functions after the breakdown of government control in villages, towns and cities.
CCCA members in Istanbul said they wanted to gather as many local administration representatives as possible for a conference in Turkey within three months.
The Syrian National Council (SNC), an umbrella group recognised internationally as the main dissident organisation and one that many activists in the local councils in Syria belong to, has failed to unify the opposition.
In the absence of such leadership, different religious and ethnic groups have formed their own militias. Some areas of Syria along the border with Turkey are in the hands of Kurdish organisations linked to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a rebel group that has been fighting against the Ankara government since 1984.
Given the disorder and the heavy fighting, potential donors may be reluctant to part with their money.
"Even liberated regions are under the constant threat of aerial attacks by government forces," said Oytun Orhan, an analyst at the Centre for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies (Orsam), a think tank in Ankara.
In many regions outside government control, power rests with local armed groups, he said. "Today, the chances of a strong central government emerging in Syria are very slim."
Despite the failure of the opposition to unite, western officials say they are beginning to see tentative signs of progress.
Revolutionary councils in Damascus, Homs, Aleppo, Idlib and Deir Al Zour are becoming increasingly organised, US officials insist. In Idlib, in north-western Syria, and Deir Al Zour, in the country's east, local councils are taking charge of municipal duties, restoring power supplies and cleaning streets. It was unclear whether the CCCA played any role there.
The CCCA wants to speed up attempts by local councils to take over city and village administrations by providing a central channel for financial and logistical support to local councils.
But the group faces an uphill struggle. At the moment, money, weapons and other forms of aid are often distributed according to regional, ethnic and religious allegiances of donors to specific groups in Syria. That development could deepen existing divisions within Syrian society and complicate the creation of a new political order after a fall of the Al Assad regime.
"The new Syria will possibly look somewhat like Lebanon, where different groups have their own regions," Mr Orhan said. He said the CCCA initiative could be aimed at easing worries in the West that a power vacuum in Syria could lead to full-blown civil war or to a strengthening of extremist groups like Al Qaeda.
But CCCA members in Istanbul insisted their attempt had a good chance of success because it would not focus on one region, on members of one ethnic group or on followers of one religion.
"We want to make sure that, once we have liberated areas, people can live their lives," said Molham Al Drobi, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria and a CCCA member.
"The aid will be given regardless of race or belief," he said. "The aim is to avoid civil war and racism."
Mr Imadi said there were several thousands of people across Syria working in local councils that had taken over administrative functions after the breakdown of government control in villages, towns and cities. CCCA members in Istanbul said they wanted to gather as many local administration representatives as possible for a conference in Turkey within three months.
In a further effort to convince potential donors that their money would not be wasted, Mr Imadi underlined that members of the Central Commission were working as volunteers and did not receive a salary.
Although many members of local councils belong to the SNC, the CCCA was not allied with any specific political group, he said.