Suwayda, 5 September 2023 (TDI): Protests in Syria’s southwestern city of As-Suwayda have entered their 11th consecutive day, reflecting growing discontent among the Druze minority population & their demand for a change in the regime’s leadership.
These demonstrations, taking place in areas under President Bashar al-Assad’s rule, have seen an unusual lack of intervention by security forces, with hundreds of residents participating, as evidenced in social media videos and local reports.
The ongoing unrest highlights persistent dissatisfaction with the Assad regime, even in regions that haven’t been directly opposed to it throughout the prolonged civil war.
The Druze community, which makes up 3% to 4% of Syria’s population, has largely refrained from taking sides in the conflict, and many have avoided enlisting in Assad’s army.
Charles Lister, the Director of the Syria program at the Middle East Institute, notes that these protests come at a critical juncture, underscoring the vulnerability and unsustainability of Assad’s rule.
While the regime has relied on the support or neutrality of Syria’s minority groups, the fact that the Druze in Suwayda are leading this protest movement signals a significant threat to the regime.
Assad, who had been isolated on the international stage for over a decade following the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings that led to a brutal civil war, eventually regained control of most of the country with the help of Russia and Iran.
However, he still faces opposition in some areas. The conflict has taken a staggering toll on Syria, with over 300,000 civilians killed and millions displaced.
Despite international efforts to hold Assad accountable, he was recently welcomed back into the Arab League.
This move was opposed by Western states and many refugees who fled his rule. Likewise, in spite of Syria’s readmission, its economy continues to deteriorate.
The United Nations (UN) Special Envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, reported that the economy is collapsing further, with a sharp devaluation of the Syrian pound and skyrocketing prices for essential goods.
Furthermore, the situation remains fragile, and if the protests spread deeper into regime-held territories, the risk of violence could escalate.
All eyes are now on Assad’s next moves. His potential attendance at the UN’s Climate Summit in Dubai would mark his first appearance on the world stage since the start of the civil war in 2011.
Also read: US sanctions militias in Syria
Lastly, the ongoing protests in Suwayda and other areas of Syria reflect persistent discontent with the Assad regime and growing calls for change, even in regions traditionally seen as supportive.