Residents of the province of Soueida, cradle of the Druze minority in Syria, have been demonstrating since mid-August in the south of the country. An anger fueled by the dizzying rise in the cost of living after the end of government subsidies on fuel, but which has taken a political turn. Other regions are expressing support.
“Down with Bashar al-Assad the traitor,” protesters in Soueida, a Druze province in southern Syria, chanted in unison on Tuesday, August 29. Located in one of the areas under state control, the city has been the scene of protests calling for the fall of Bashar al-Assad’s regime since mid-August. In a context of sharp deterioration of living conditions in the country, the movement was triggered by the lifting of government subsidies on fuel. In a few days, the demands took a political turn.
So far, the demonstrations have not been repressed and the protesters have attacked symbols of power, closing the offices of the Baath party and tearing up portraits of the Syrian leader, two activists told AFP. “People understood that there would be no economic solution without a political solution,” said an activist who participated in the rally.
“Today in Syria, a teacher’s salary barely allows him to afford a gas cylinder,” denounces Franco-Syrian activist Firas Kontar, himself from Soueida. After twelve years of war, more than 90% of the Syrian population lives below the poverty line, according to the UN.
“The Syrians are slowly dying. The people of Soueida are wondering if there is still a future for them in this country and there is a massive flight of young people abroad,” continues Firas Kontar, the author of “Syria, The Impossible Revolution”. For the Franco-Syrian activist, it is not surprising that the Syrians are returning to demonstrations: “Everything that led to the 2011 protest is still there. Worse still. The causes of this protest are amplified by a country in ruins, infrastructure destroyed and a Syrian state that does not actually function.”
Soueida, land of resistance
So far, Soueida has been relatively spared from the bloody repression of pro-Assad authorities since the 2011 conflict in Syria. Protests took place there regularly, however, and in December a protester and a police officer were killed in the province when security forces suppressed a demonstration.
“Demonstrations took place in Soueida as early as 2011, but the regime organized very different repression between the minority areas and those of the Sunni majority to present itself as protector of these minorities. So there was no bloodshed in Soueida during these demonstrations”, recalls Firas Kontar.
For twelve years, the region has nonetheless remained a land of resistance to the regime of Bashar al-Assad. “Soueida is one of the areas where the regime’s influence is weakest,” explains Firas Kontar. In question, the formation of a local militia, the Men of Dignity, which took up arms to defend the province and prevent the recruitment of young people from the region into the regular army. “Every time Assad arrested a young person from Soueida, these militias also arrested Assad’s men and exchanged them for the person arrested from the Soueida region”, thus imposing “a balance of power with the regime”, details the activist.
Tens of thousands of young men from Soueida have refused to perform their military service since 2011, and the security forces still have a limited presence there today.
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From Soueida to Daraa, the cradle of the 2011 uprising
Only Soueida continues to be agitated by daily protests, according to AFP. But in recent weeks, demonstrations had also spread to other Syrian cities in the province of Daraa, the cradle of the popular uprising in 2011, noted the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (OSDH), an NGO based in the Kingdom. -United and with an extensive network of sources in Syria.
In Bosra, controlled by Syrian factions having concluded “reconciliation” agreements with Damascus since 2018, dozens of residents chanted slogans hostile to President Bashar al-Assad on August 25. Protesters carried banners proclaiming: “Get out, we want to live” and “To stay silent today is to perpetuate tyranny”, according to AFP.
Discontent with the high cost of living also briefly spread to the suburbs of Damascus, where residents demonstrated in mid-August against chronic power cuts, according to a witness.
Silence in the streets, but messages of support
“In other regions under security control, people continue to express their solidarity by sending messages of support to the revolutionaries of Soueida on small pieces of paper which they film in front of monuments in the cities of Homs or Latakia”, says Firas Kontar.
While it is difficult to predict how far the movement will spread, “the key will be to look at what is happening in loyal areas and in Damascus”, said Jihad Yazigi, director of the online economic site “The Syria Report”. .
For Firas Kontar, in permanent contact with activists in the country, it is not excluded that the movement extends to Syrian Alawite areas, which “suffer the same deprivations”.
Source: France 24