Between freedom and fear… What is the future of demonstrations in As-Suwayda?
Enab Baladi – Yamen Moghrabi
People of As-Suwayda have returned to use their cell phones to post live broadcasts from protests against the Syrian regime on their Facebook accounts. Recently, protesters have been rallying across the province of As-Suwayda in the face of the Syrian regime and chanting “Long live Syria and Bashar al-Assad fall,” and “The people want to overthrow the Syrian regime.”
These chants recall the voices of demonstrators who took to the streets in 2011, demanding the removal of the Syrian regime. This is not the first time where people of As-Suwayda hold demonstrations, as they did that at the beginning of this year against the backdrop of the deteriorating economic conditions in Syria.
However, the difference this time is that Syrians responded to these demonstrations widely, both on the ground, with protests in the governorates of Daraa and Idlib, as well as in the Israeli-Occupied Golan Heights and via social media users including citizens, politicians, and artists.
The constant demonstration and people’s extensive interaction with them arose the question of whether protests would break out in other cities controlled by the Syrian regime, or would end, amid security forces’ uneasy calm.
Demonstrators’ demands: Bread and Freedom
As-Suwayda has seen demonstrations before; people of As-Suwayda held rallies in 2011, so did they in 2017 and the following years.
Moreover, on 7 June, dozens of citizens came out to denounce the dire living conditions and held the Syrian regime responsible for that. The demonstration recurred several times even though the Syrian regime organized a pro-regime rally, in which it tried to mobilize the most significant possible number of students, and administrators of the university and institutes in the governorate.
Yahya al-Aridi, the spokesman of the Syrian Negotiation Commission (SNC), in an interview with Enab Baladi, pointed out that people of As-Suwayda held demonstrations for numerous reasons, the most important of which is learning lessons from the past. The Syrian regime is no longer able to direct the previous accusations of terrorism and Salafism to the demonstrators, who have been suffering severe living conditions.
According to 2019 estimates, the UN reported that 83 percent of Syrians live below the poverty line.
From Israeli-occupied Golan to Idlib: Demonstrations break stereotyped images
People in Idlib, Daraa, and the Israeli-occupied Golan have rallied in solidarity with protesters of As-Suwayda. Tens of photos for demonstrations that took place in Tartous, Latakia, Damascus, and Homs have gone viral on the social media sites. During these demonstrations, people revitalize the anti-regime slogans, which were chanted in the past demonstrations at the beginning of the Syrian uprising.
Ahed Murad, a journalist from the province of As-Suwayda, highlighted people of As-Suwayda’s backlash against the Syrian regime, saying that the demonstrators are outraged, even the al-Assad supporters, by the Syrian government which has let them down due to its mismanagement of the various crises the country is experiencing. In other words, there is no real will to defend the regime in the Syrian street.
Yahya al-Aridi, the SNC spokesman, believes that the slogans chanted by the protesters of As-Suwayda were an essential factor in creating this intense situation, as they called for the expulsion of Iran, the unity of the Syrian people, the overthrow of al-Assad and the protests against dire economic conditions.
Al-Aridi “addressed all the entire Syrian street and its current sorrows.”
A night demonstration took place in the city of Tafas, which is part of Daraa, close to As-Suwayda. Besides, the residents of the occupied Syrian Golan Heights organized a protest on 13 June in support of the people’s uprising and their demands in As-Suwayda.
Activist Aram Saleh, who lives in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights, told Enab Baladi that opposition activists organized a demonstration in order to support the residents of As-Suwayda and their demands. The demonstrators emphasized their awareness of the importance of the occupied Golan and its role by dropping the regime’s discourse about it—the Syrian regime is trying to exploit the issue of the Golan Heights for its own advantage— deliver direct support to the people of As-Suwayda and all Syrian regions.
Saleh added that the current demonstrations eliminate stereotyped images of the people of the Golan “as loyal to the regime,” and it is a totally wrong image, especially after the Israeli occupation and al-Assad loyalists suppressed the revolutionary movement in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights in 2013.”
Saleh pointed out that a great interaction was seen by the people of the Golan, amid fears of the Syrian regime loyalists and the occupying forces, which could resort to arrests and investigations against the participants in the demonstrations.
The demands of the Golan demonstrations are not only about toppling the Syrian regime, but in the future new demonstrations might take place where people might focus on their own issues, which might be met by different reactions from all parties.
As-Suwayda in Idlib
With the chanting of national slogans in As-Suwayda demonstrations, the people of Idlib governorate went out in a protest calling for the fall of the regime and saluted the people of Suwayda.
Speaking with Enab Baladi, Bilal Biyush said that As-Suwayda demonstrations today are a renewal of the popular Syrian uprising in 2011 and a primary point of reference to the demonstrations which were stopped and suppressed by the violent practices of the Syrian regime.” Biyush hoped that the residents of other provinces would organize new protests.
Ibrahim al-Zeer, a demonstrator from Idlib, believes that the problem of Syria is “Bashar al-Assad only,” and that there is no problem with any Syrian sect or race, and that the Syrian revolution is a “comprehensive national revolution.”
What is the future of the protests?
The Syrians interacted greatly with the demonstrations of As-Suwayda from various regions, amid depreciation of the Syrian pound against the US dollar: The Syrian pound reached 3,100 per USD. Then, it decreased to reach 2,250 per USD. This resulted in the closure of dozens of stores in separate areas in Syria, including the capital, Damascus, for fear of high prices, amid the ongoing protests in As-Suwayda. So the question arises here: What is the future of these protests?
Yahya al-Aridi believes that people held demonstrations, and their voices were heard in all areas of the regime, indicating this by dozens of photos that spread widely on social media networks, stressing that the Syrians might protest in other areas controlled by the Syrian regime.
On the other hand, Ahed Murad sees that no one can anticipate the future of these demonstrations. Still, the most significant thing, according to Murad, is that the demonstrations have caused a drastic change in the public mood among Syrians, waiting for an echo in return from the rest of the governorates.
Murad added that popular movements might take place in new areas across the country but not necessarily in their current form, as each area experiences widespread protests within its capabilities and conditions.
As-Suwayda has not seen any direct military or security escalation, except a storm that resulted in the arrest of activist Raed Abdi al-Khatib, one of the organizers of the demonstrations, on 9 June following the protests which took place in the city.
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