“9 days in Raqqa” or the revenge of women on the big screen

(AFP) – She is a woman, in her thirties, and she co-chairs the city of Raqqa, former stronghold of the Islamic State (IS) group: “9 days in Raqqa”, in theaters Wednesday, tells of an experience of parity ” in the heart of the Middle East “.

Xavier de Lauzanne, the director of this documentary shot in March 2019 for nine days, shows Leïla Mustapha, a Kurd, co-chairing the former stronghold of the IS with an Arab man.

“What interested me a lot, it is to thwart certain stereotypes which one can have in particular on the situation of the women”, explained the realizer during the presentation of the film with the Bayeux Prize of the correspondents of war (in October).

“In this region, all the administrations managed by the Kurds are necessarily headed by a man-woman pair. (…) It’s still an incredible experience and we are at the heart of the Middle East”, had he continued.

“It’s surreal, it’s new but it exists. It was born in the chaos of 40 years of dictatorship, 10 years of war, four years of caliphate”, added the writer Marine de Tilly, that the director followed during these nine days in Raqqa. She drew from it a book “La femme, la vie, la liberté”.

Leïla Mustapha, both an engineer and holder of an administrative diploma, was brought to power by a civil council of notables set up a little before an Arab-Kurdish coalition supported by an international coalition dislodged the jihadists from Raqqa in October 2017, specifies the director.

The young woman is part of this Kurdish minority ostracized by Bashar al-Assad then expelled from Raqqa by the jihadists who threatened to “assassinate” the Kurds.

In the ruins of this city destroyed at 80%, where Daesh made reign of terror with rapes, executions, stoning, the young woman, who did not make the war, evolves in the film bareheaded, hair tied , in a world of men who listen to it with respect. She is fighting to revive a city without electricity, functional water network, or international aid.

– “feedback” –
The film shows a Leïla Mustapha of exceptional determination but far from being the only woman within the autonomous administration of northern Syria.

Under the caliphate, “women were not considered to be human beings. There was a positive reaction from women,” said an official in this administration in the documentary.

Insecurity remains, however. Leïla must live 50 km from Raqqa, with her parents. And the co-chair, like the team that follows her, cannot stay outside for too long.

The director and the writer explain having trembled at the news of the assassination in October 2019 of Hevrin Khalaf, a Syrian politician, on the roads taken by Leïla Mustapha.

Opponents? “We can imagine that there are some but it was not my angle which was to take sides with someone and go fully into their world,” explained Xavier de Lauzanne.

With Marine de Tilly, he returned to the site in March 2020, to “see if there were concrete results”. “We were dazzled again. We arrived at night in a lit city. We found Leïla with loose hair, less contracted than a year earlier”, as shown at the end of the film.

“And then it was March, it was Women’s Day. Her office was lined with flowers. She continues to unite,” he added.