The movement in Suwayda: A new scene increases pressure on the Assad regime
- updated: September 9, 2023
It seems that the recent appearance of the head of the regime, Bashar al-Assad, on Sky News was the spark that announced the beginning of a new phase in the revolution of Syrian women and men against the Assad regime. This is due to its failure, evasion of responsibilities, and failure to provide effective solutions to the successive internal livelihood crises. With his usual stubbornness, he refuses to make any concessions or even consider engaging in any political process. He burns all bridges, including recently with the Arab and Turkish sides that were open to him.
Assad’s empty statements left an angry echo among Syrian women and men in the areas under his control. This was further emphasized by the decision to increase salaries by 100%, accompanied by a rapid collapse of the currency against the dollar. There was an uncontrolled rise in prices, and more than 80% of Syrians lost their purchasing power. A decision was made to lift subsidies on some basic goods, materials, and fuel, which forced many businesses to close to avoid losses due to price and exchange rate instability. There was also a noticeable reluctance of state employees in some sectors to go to work, and transportation was disrupted in some areas.
The fire is flaming again, and the angry voices of Syrian activists on social media in several cities (Masyaf, Jableh, Rural Damascus, Homs) expressed dissatisfaction with the catastrophic living conditions. They criticized the regime’s neglect of offering constructive and effective solutions, as well as the spread of corruption. The participation of the people of the coast areas in the waves of demonstrations may be considered a significant turning point reflecting the erosion of the popular base that the regime relied on and abducted for years in its war against its opponents.
Since 2011, the kingdom of fear has collapsed for Syrian women and men, even for those who did not join the initial revolution. The security grip and the system of terror failed to silence those angry voices seeking vengeance for the mafioso economic policies of the Assad governments. These policies contributed to impoverishing the population and depriving them of the basic needs of life. Criticisms extended to the betrayal of allies (Russian and Iranian) and targeted the head of the regime and his inner circles.
The Syrian street, seething with anger, seized the historical opportunity to change the forced path imposed on it after a decade of conflict. The current situation, which Assad believed had stabilized for him after recent regional and Arab rapprochements and the world’s preoccupation with the Ukrainian war, causing a shift in international priorities.
Amidst the accelerating pace of popular anger, publications from the August 10 Movement, the Civil Labor Movement, and individual popular protest movements emerged. These were accompanied by calls for civil disobedience, raising urgent demands to address the living crises of Syrians. The government and the ruling head ignored these and made arbitrary decisions. The movement escalated to another level of effectiveness, indicating the presence of a youth-civil movement attuned to the requirements of the phase, gradually adjusting the scope of demands and methods of action according to the sensitivity of each region’s situation and circumstances. We saw peaceful, non-violent initiatives and calls that harked back to the activism of the beginnings, informative paper clippings, livelihood and social demands, solidarity between cities, calls for the necessity of political change, and combating corruption and drugs. There were calls for civil disobedience, urging the security forces and army not to engage again in shedding Syrian blood. Many banners and hashtags were spread, photographed in various cities, bearing slogans demanding a political solution and affirming the peaceful nature of the movement and the legitimacy of the demands. They rejected all occupations and divisive projects, signed in the name of the young men and women of Syria in Damascus, its suburbs, Tartus, Latakia, Suwayda, Daraa, Homs, Aleppo, Idlib, Jazeera, and Hasakah, representing all nationalities and sects, to bring down the fragile fig leaf with which the regime conceals itself as a protector of minorities and a guarantor of coexistence among the diverse Syrian factions.
The movement in southern Syria has taken a different direction, given the unique situation of the neighboring provinces of Suwayda and Daraa, and the imbalance in their security grip compared to the rest of the provinces, the new popular uprising had an immediate impact on the ground. Peaceful demonstrations spread across both provinces, demanding livelihood improvements closely tied to the political solution in Syria, as per the panorama of banners. The demonstrations in Daraa and its countryside were met with live ammunition and shelling, leading to clashes between regime forces and local factions, while the popular protests in support of the movement in Suwayda continued, calling for a political solution in line with UN Resolution 2254, the release of detainees, stopping drug trafficking, ending Iranian influence in the region, and other demands embraced by the new movements.
In Suwayda, where thousands of protesters took to the streets and public squares to demand improved living conditions and the repeal of recent decisions, the protests quickly transitioned into demonstrations with political demands. At the forefront were Resolution 2254, the departure of the Assad regime and the Ba’ath Party from power, ending various occupations in Syria, stopping the sale and depletion of Syria’s wealth, halting the export and manufacture of drugs, and many other demands.
Noteworthy in these protests were the statements of support from religious figures for the just demands and placing the demands within their national framework by the street. An official statement was issued on August 19, 2023, in the name of Sheikh Al-Hajri, reflecting the demands of the street, affirming the legitimacy of the popular movement, and rejecting any concessions in an unprecedented shift in the stance of the religious leaders and their political alignments.
The participation of Bedouin tribes in the popular movement (the population groups of Sunni Muslim Bedouins residing in the province) was also a significant and supportive step after the era of tensions exacerbated by the regime between the two components. Representatives of the tribes visited Sheikh Al-Hajri and issued an official statement on August 26, endorsing the demands of the movement in full, announcing their participation in the protests, affirming the failure of previous regime attempts to divide the people of Suwayda and their Bedouin neighbors, and asserting that the new popular movement is a national one, not based on religious or separatist affiliations as attempted to be portrayed by official and unofficial media outlets close to the regime. Although some slogans raised the issue of community management of civil and service affairs independently of the authority of Assad and the Ba’ath, especially since the province has long suffered intentional neglect used as a weapon to punish the population in recent years for their rejection of the Assad regime and their non-participation in his war against the Syrian people after the 2011 revolution, the protesters emphasized their rejection of discussing a separate solution for the province. They clarified that its financial and economic resources, its geographical location, and the geopolitical situation of the region do not allow it to establish an independent self-administration. They emphasized their demand for a comprehensive and inclusive political solution in Syria, starting with the implementation of international resolutions and the political transition accompanied by transitional justice, rejecting any contribution to the Syrian fragmentation and giving the regime and its mouthpieces the opportunity to accuse the legitimate popular movement of separatism.
Syrians in exile (Europe, neighboring countries, and the occupied Syrian Golan Heights) also responded to what they likened to the second wave of their revolution. Demonstrations spread across several European cities, as well as in provinces and cities in Syria outside the regime’s control, under the influence of various dominant forces. Flags and banners of Syrian women and men were mixed for the first time in different geographical areas. The flag of the Druze was observed in Idlib and Aleppo and their countryside, and the flags of the revolution and its songs were present in Suwayda with the names of disappeared opinion detainees, forcibly disappeared in Assad’s prisons. The Kurdish flag was also present in all squares.
The banners carried expressions of solidarity between cities, rejecting regionalism and sectarianism, affirming the unity of the Syrian destiny, rejecting division, and emphasizing the necessity of a political solution in accordance with international resolutions to save Syria with all its components and identities, in an unprecedented spontaneous consensus.
The prominent role and steady progress in the scene was highlighted by the extensive participation of women and young girls, with them leading the way in mobilizing the streets from the very first day. They headed the protests and raised the demands of the street according to their vision and perspective. Many Syrian women, both independent and activists, worked with creativity and energy in directing messages and demands that express the desires of Syrians for justice, political transition, combating corruption, crime, drug trafficking, and the release of forcibly disappeared individuals. They addressed both local and international media positively, setting a precedent in the positioning of women in their natural place at the forefront of political work, expressing their opinions on societal issues, and participating in the battles of self-determination, especially after the systematic marginalization of women’s participation in politics in the first wave of the 2011 revolution. They were able to overcome these challenges with courage and confidence.
They directed messages directly to the international community, including a list of demands that fulfill the aspirations of the Syrian people for a pluralistic civil state according to their perspective. They also addressed local communities in a non-patronizing manner, using intelligent and clear language. The Syrian women’s movement has taken a new step in proving its effectiveness and organized presence in the political and civil spheres in the Syrian interior. We must look more into mechanisms to support this movement within the available tools according to our intersectional feminist political approach and to mobilize all our resources as women and men, democratic currents, and active forces in the civil society in exile. Each from their position should be supporters and advocates for the peaceful civil movements and try to benefit from the flexibility of these movements and invest in the energies of the new generation, especially the feminist youth.
Since August 17th of this year until today, the activists of the movement in southern Syria have taken an irreversible path against the Assad regime and his government. For the first time, the Ba’ath Party building was closed to employees, and some state institutions were disrupted, while some services like electricity and wheat for ovens continued to be provided. The movement took on a distinctive civilized urban form, declaring intermittent civil disobedience to avoid complete life disruption. This was achieved through consensus between merchants and protesters, who in turn transformed the Square of Dignity into a political, cultural, and artistic forum. It became a platform for dialogues, activities, and cultural events to address public opinion and convey their demands, while emphasizing the need to preserve private and public property, state institutions, and prevent the spread of chaos. There were serious efforts by activists of the movement to manage the affairs of the province by local communities, until the demands of the uprising were met. Especially since the regime has not yet issued any official statements clarifying its expected intentions to face this popular uprising, leaving the scenarios open and the future uncertain, while the only constant is the will of the people who desire change, peace, and freedom, and who have committed themselves in the squares and established the ceiling of their demands.
We, the Syrian Women’s political movement, we offer deep support and solidarity with the movement of our people in the Syrian interior, both in the south and across the Syrian geography. We endorse their legitimate and just demands and undertake the responsibility to convey those demands, and work on opening channels of communication and dialogue sessions – which we have already begun – with peaceful protesters to convey their recommendations to political partners and influential international actors regarding the Syrian conflict. This begins with transitional justice and political transition, represented by the departure of the Assad regime and the conflicting forces in control of the situation after years of bloody conflict, within a conditional framework of UN Resolution 2254, according to the agreement of Syrians themselves and not at their expense. We anxiously await the regime’s silent anticipation of the uprising in southern Syria, the echoes of which have been heard throughout the Syrian geography, repeating the scenarios of the past years with the treachery of the province by the hands of ISIS and the surrounding Iranian militias.
The Political Committee of the Syrian Women’s Political Movement