Syrians line up to buy bread in the town of Binnish in the country's Idlib province on June 9, 2020. - Syrians held a third day of rare anti-regime protests over deteriorating living conditions Tuesday in the majority-Druze city of As-Suwayda in southern Syria on June 9, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. (Omar Haj Kadour/AFP via Getty Images)

Syrian Druze Turn Against Assad Regime

Despite economic collapse, foreign actors will decide country’s fate, experts say

Hundreds of Druze attended a demonstration in the southern Syrian city of As-Suwayda on Saturday, demanding the overthrow of the Assad government, which they blame for the dire living conditions in the country.

The protest followed similar demonstrations in several Syrian cities last week.

On Saturday, associations and activists called on the people of the As-Suwayda Governorate to take to the streets as part of the peaceful movement that started on June 7, where citizens chanted slogans against the government, demanding the departure of President Basher al-Assad and the release of political detainees; demands similar to those espoused at the protests that ignited the civil war back in 2011.

Wisam al-Nasser, a Syrian social analyst and social media expert based in France, told The Media Line that despite what media outlets were reporting, the demonstrations in As-Suwayda were not entirely new, as there were protests in 2011, 2012, and bigger ones in 2015, “and at the beginning of 2020, in addition to what we are witnessing today.

“The reason most people don’t know about these is the media blackout on the events that obscured the activity of Syrians throughout the years,” he said.

However, Nasser said that what was new was that people were protesting in areas under the control of the regime, and were considered “heroic and daring.”

“We can say they protested in the ‘realm of fear and terror,’ in areas where the regime has several tools on the ground to repress and instill fear in people’s hearts, and to sow discord and division among the demonstrators,” he said.

The As-Suwayda protests broke through this “barrier of terror” as there was wide participation of young people in particular, “but most importantly, the slogans were of a political nature, a restoration of the Syrian revolution of 2011,” Nasser said.

“People chanted: ‘The people want to overthrow the regime,’ and, ‘Syria is ours, and not Assad’s house,’” he said.

The humanitarian situation was catastrophic, especially after the collapse of the Syrian pound, with many unable to afford food and medicine, he said. “There’s anger in general in all Syrian areas, which was reflected in the As-Suwayda demonstration, which was characterized not only by calls for economic and social reforms like at the protests seen at the beginning of this year but also by political demands directed at the government.”

The recent protests were not isolated events but represented a critical change, especially as they had gone on for days now. “The support in other regions of Syria for these demonstrations is a good sign. Especially as previous protests took place and did not continue, were not followed up,” Nasser said.

The regime tried to organize counter-marches to support it in response to the latest movement against it, but they were failures, he said. “The Homs marches were embarrassing, as the number of participants was very few, not more than 50 people.”

Despite all this, Nasser said that the Syrian situation was not governed by domestic conditions but was linked to external actors. “Syria is controlled by countries that have interests there, such as Russia, Turkey and the US. Syria is governed by the agreements with these countries; therefore, it’s not easy to predict the fate of these demonstrations,” he said.

We can say they protested in the ‘realm of fear and terror,’ in areas where the regime has several tools on the ground to repress and instill fear in people’s hearts, and to sow discord and division among the demonstrators.

A Syrian based in Latakia, who spoke to The Media Line on condition of anonymity and through a third party for security reasons, said he was extremely happy with the latest protests but at the same time afraid. “There’s a strong security presence and constant monitoring on social media but these demonstrations brought us hope that maybe the revolution is growing; even if it disappoints us at some point, it can return to life somewhere else.”

Another Syrian based in Abu Dhabi, who also asked The Media Line to withhold his name for security reasons, said that before the latest wave of demonstrations, the Druze community opposed and hated the regime but feared showing this due to the strong presence of security forces. “But when the conditions started to directly affect their daily lives, people rebelled; they don’t have money, and those who used to make $200 a month began making $100 [because of the fall of the Syrian pound], which does not cover their expenses.”

He added that because the citizens of As-Suwayda were mostly Druze, who traditionally were loyal to their country of residence, the government had been unable to employ repressive tactics as it had in other places under the justification that it was faced with terrorist or extremists. “The regime couldn’t even use weapons.”

As-Suwayda is the only governorate in Syria that has a Druze majority, as does its capital, As-Suwayda city. There are about 700,000 Druze in the country.

Moreover, he said that as sanctions included in proposed US legislation known as the Caesar Act took effect, the Syrian economy would be badly hurt, given that the regime owned almost all projects and businesses in the country. These sanctions could devastate the economy within a week, he said. “Therefore the Syrian regime has tried to push Syrians to blame the US, saying it stands against them as people, rather than against the regime that brought all of this mess to Syria.”

The Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act proposes sanctions on the Syrian government, including the president, for war crimes committed during the civil war. Although the bill has yet to become law, parts of it were incorporated into the National Defense Authorization Act of Fiscal 2020. The bill is named after an individual known as Caesar, who documented torture against civilians by Assad’s government.

One demonstration last week took place in the Izbat area in the northern countryside of the Deir ez-Zor Governorate, which borders Iraq, under the title: “Friday, there is no other alternative to change,” and demanded the fall of the regime, the expulsion of the Iranian militias from their villages, and an end to corruption.

The demonstrators chanted in support of As-Suwayda and in protest against the collapse of their economic conditions. The protesters in Deir ez-Zor raised the slogan, “The spring of As-Suwayda is coming with flowers of freedom.”

Whoever counts on a demonstration here, and the chanting of slogans there, for a resolution to the crisis is misreading the Syrian reality.

Another demonstration, in the Israeli-controlled part of the Golan, came out in support of participants’ relatives in As-Suwayda. Local Druze protested against the Assad regime, chanting, “You [their families in Syria] are the voice and we are the echo.”

Salah Qerata, a Madrid-based security analyst who until 2013 was a senior intelligence officer in the Syrian army, told The Media Line that once the first bullet was fired at a Syrian protester, the way was opened to internationalizing the crisis, and to its exit from the hands of the Syrians, whether they be government loyalists or opponents, whether they be poor or ordinary citizens.

“The repercussions of the events showed us that the opposition moved toward the Gulf and Turkey [for support], and the regime went toward Iran and Russia,” Qerata elaborated, “and all the parties … have acted according to their national interests and have begun to intervene in order to solidify their positions in Syria and, at the same time, to create deep footholds on Syrian soil.

“So whoever counts on a demonstration here, and the chanting of slogans there, for a resolution to the crisis is misreading the Syrian reality, Qerata said.

“Ever since a military solution was resorted to − as a matter of fact, in response to an American message, which was conveyed through the Iranian side in the context of misleading and strategic deception,” whether or not Assad stays in power has not been up to him or even to the regime, Qerata said.

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