The World Mayor Jury Award for 2021 was conferred on Leila Mustapha, Mayor of Raqqa, Syria, for her efforts to rebuild Raqqa after the occupation and destruction by the Islamic State (ISIS).
Raqqa, an ancient city with Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, Islamic and Catholic histories, which served as the self-styled ISIS capital of its captured territories from 2014 to 2017, was devastated by ISIS and the war to evict ISIS.
Leila Mustapha, a Kurdish civil engineer, is the co-president of the Raqqa Civil Council (RCC), a council assembly that was created in 2017 to re-build and restore the city as ISIS was about to be defeated by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), with the logistics and air support of the International Coalition.
The World Mayor 2021 Project website, which announced her award, noted the manner in which most of the buildings in Raqqa had been destroyed in 2017 with no functioning infrastructure left. Since then, there has been a gradual restoration of electricity and water supplies across the city, the re-building of hospitals, local health centres and schools.
“The restoration of homes, street markets, businesses and local community life, all of which contribute to the rebirth of Raqqa as people return gradually to try to re-build their lives,” has been taking place, it stated.
“By 2020, Raqqa’s Museum, once the symbol of the city’s diverse cultural, religious and historical heritage was on its way to being rebuilt and restored as a symbol of Raqqa’s re-birth. (…) There is the reclamation of the equally symbolic Al- Naim Square, once ISIS’s execution and killing ground, with thriving shops, small businesses and a busy day-to-day community life.”
Mustapha was praised for her abilities in leading this spectacular restoration, carried out in difficult circumstances, even as a US aid funding programme was cut by the Trump administration in 2019: “Her civil engineering background is clearly a major factor in the leadership she has provided to the Council as joint President, but it is her ability to communicate with people, that really makes her an outstanding leader. Her ability to communicate together with her commitment to work long hours in the RCC and on the front line of Raqqa’s reconstruction has undoubtedly made her someone people will listen to, want to work for and deeply respect.”
Mustapha’s pioneering role both as a woman and a Kurd in a male-dominated society was noted: “In a society dominated by tribal rivalries and a tribal society dominated by Arab men, as a young woman and a symbol for all Arab and Kurdish women, Leila demonstrates on a daily basis with her communication and behaviour how traditional conflicts can be overcome by collaboration and a commitment to a joint enterprise.”
City Mayors Foundation was established in 2003 and it has been awarding the World Mayor Prize since 2004. It is an international research think tank which states that it is “dedicated to local government, and is maintained by professionals from Europe, Asia and the Americas who work to promote strong, just and prosperous cities as well as good local government.”