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Threat and arrest … Anti-government protests face “repression” in Syria’s As-Suwayda

Anti-government protests in the city of As-Suwayda are renewed for the second day in a row, amid an increasing number of protesters calling for conducting further demonstrations (Suwayda 24)

Anti-government protests in the city of As-Suwayda are renewed for the second day in a row, amid an increasing number of protesters calling for conducting further demonstrations (Suwayda 24)

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As-Suwayda – Rayan al-Atrash 

In the square facing the governorate building in As-Suwayda, several activists gathered for their frequent rituals; protesting over worsening living conditions at times and severe security measures taken by the Syrian regime at other times. 

The protesters, whose numbers “decreased from usual, could not hold for a longer time on Sunday afternoon, 25 October, because some armed security personnel and unidentified armed men surrounded them.

The goal of the activists’ gathering was not to protest “high prices,” such as the calls of the “We Want to Live” campaign,” which escalated last June to demand the fall of the Syrian regime. Still, it was in response to the circulation of the arrest warrant of about 150 names of activists and citizens charged by the Syrian regime with conducting unauthorized march two weeks ago.

The protesters moved back on 25 October; however, this does not mean the stoppage of the call to demonstrate again, spread on social media sites on 31 October, to demand better living conditions. The protesters could not manage to meet and had to move back because of the arrival of military reinforcement surrounding the square and closing off all the roads leading to them.

Arrest “not the end”

The issuance of an arrest warrant in As-Suwayda is “not new,” lawyer Muhannad Baraka told Enab Baladi, who indicated that the security prosecution against the activists has not stopped since 2011.

According to Baraka, “The issuance of an arrest warrant was expected,” adding that the circulation of names, including his name, will only affect university students who have to cross military checkpoints to reach their colleges, while the rest of the protesters are often wanted by previous research warrant, and they have already stopped moving between provinces.

Those participating in the demonstrations “know well that they expose themselves to persecution,” which happened a few months ago when dozens of people were arrested and then released gradually by the government to calm protests. The demonstrators in the neutral governorate of As-Suwayda raised their demands since the beginning of the Syrian uprising. Baraka pointed out that these protests, whether they will lead to a productive result or not, are regarded as good signs; people at least broke through their fear and started to ask for their rightful demands. 

As-Suwayda has been spared the worst effects of the war’s violence, which most Syrian governorates faced due to the opposition and the Syrian regime’s repression policy to put down the protests by force. 

In As-Suwayda, local factions were formed that prevented the forced recruitment of its residents into the Syrian regime’s army. Plus, no anti-government protests took place in As-Suwayda as happened in its two neighboring cities; Daraa and Quneitra, whose residents have suffered from bombings, killing, and displacement. 

The Syrian regime and its security apparatus’s injustice is “ the primary motivation for the university student, who spoke with Enab Baladi on condition of anonymity for security reasons, to participate in the protests last June. In addition to that, he wanted to object to “the systematic starvation policy” that has in place in the governorate. 

The young man was not afraid of the circulation of the arrest warrant because what he expected was more than that, “especially since we saw what happened to those who protested against the Syrian regime before we do,” he told Enab Baladi

The university student added that he would not stop participating in the protests until achieving  “freedom and ending the corruption and injustice,” noting that the Syrian political opposition bodies are no different from the Syrian regime.

“Special case” does not mean “mercy”

The Syrian regime has used the excuse of “defending minorities” since it began promoting the fight against the opposition factions, which it described as “extremists” and “terrorists.” The  Syrian regime wanted to cooperate with the As-Suwayda governorate, whose people belong to the Druze sect, which was its goal from the beginning.

“The  Syrian regime has reached a dead-end in the governorate’s adaptation of its agendas,” according to the political researcher Rashid Hourani. He describes the Syrian regime’s dealings with As-Suwayda as “ebbs and flows.”

The residents of As-Suwayda were able to form local factions, with the support they received from the Druze community in Palestine and Lebanon that allowed them to resist the Syrian regime, Hourani told Enab Baladi. 

He added that the Syrian regime relies on abetting sedition among the residents of As-Suwayda with the Daraa factions and the governorate’s people and facilitating the entry of “Islamic State” forces, which committed the “Black Wednesday” massacre against them in July 2018.

Hourani believes that the Syrian regime will not escalate its response to the peaceful protests in As-Suwayda, due to the presence of local factions first and the security reality that Russia and Iran govern. Furthermore, the Syrian regime has been under the watch of Israel regarding this area. 

On the other hand, the Syrian journalist Ahed Murad, who is originally from the governorate of As-Suwayda, disagrees with the statement that the Syrian regime allows As-Suwayda what it does not allow to other governorates, referring to the situation of Daraa, which the Syrian regime has not yet been able to control over fully. This is because of the developments in the Russian Iranian relations. 

Murad believes that the protests in As-Suwayda and its neighbor, Daraa, are on the rise. If Russia and Iran do not want to escalate the regime’s reactions, the region may experience a special divisional status in the future, particularly if the remaining Syrian governorates are not granted similar privileges. This “does not necessarily reflect a good national condition, ”as he put it.

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