The Raqqa Province in northern Syria is more or less entirely the domain of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), and as they have fought off rival rebel factions in the area they are moving forward with plans to set up an “Islamic State” in the provincial capital, providing a glimpse of what a AQI-ruled nation could look like.
The city of Raqqa and its 200,000+ people are now facing dramatic new restrictions on day-to-day life, including a full ban on public music and photography, mandatory Friday prayers, and full face veils for women.
The harsh interpretation of Shariah law is something al-Qaeda factions have been talking about for a long time, but Raqqa is the first major city held by AQI long enough for them to seriously try to impose the system on them.
It’s a big change for Syrians, who have for a long time enjoyed a comparatively secular society with religious freedom. Yet the civil war has left this city, and several others, in the hands of foreign Islamists with a starkly different view for how the city should be run, and with the recent infighting purging AQI’s rivals from the surrounding area, it could be quite a protracted period of al-Qaeda rule.