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The Region-Syria Sept 18

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By Ahmad Barbour & Rania Kisar 

Sweida Protests Surge, Shaking Assad’s Regime: Unprecedented Uprisings and International Involvement Signal Turning Point

The protest movement in Suwayda, primarily led by the Druze minority, has gained significant traction, evolving from economic grievances to calls for political reform under UN Resolution 2254. Sheikh Hikmat Al-Hijri, a Druze spiritual leader, endorsed the movement and engaged in talks with U.S. Representative French Hill, signifying growing international attention. Support extends beyond borders, with Lebanese Druze leader Walid Junblatt endorsing the uprising. 

Economic issues, including Assad’s lifting fuel subsidies and the depreciating Syrian lira, continue to galvanize protestors. These developments make the current demonstrations the most impactful in Suwayda since the 2011 Syrian crisis. The protests also spread to regions like Deir Ezzor and Daraa, symbolizing a unified stance against Assad. Solidarity movements have emerged in Afrin and Al-Bab, posing a national challenge to the regime. 

As the movement escalates, there are reports that Assad’s allies are considering temporary measures like military diversions and economic relief. The situation marks a significant juncture in Syria’s protracted conflict, drawing international and domestic focus.

Timeline of Events: 

(August 16, 2023- September 18, 2023)

Aug 16, 2023: Suwaida Crisis Deepened – Economic Collapse Spurred General Strike and Impacted Local Aid (Al Suwayda 24). The collapse of the Syrian lira led to partial market closures and skyrocketing prices in Suwaida City. Despite salary hikes, residents called for a general strike. The crisis exacerbated transportation issues, halted bus services between Shahba and Al-Suwayda, and affected the local Syrian Red Crescent’s volunteer attendance.

Aug 17, 2023: Druze Protest Economic Woes in Sweida (Swiss Info). Hundreds of Syrians, primarily from the Druze minority, had protested against worsening economic conditions and fuel price hikes in government-controlled Sweida. Demonstrators blocked roads and chanted anti-government slogans. Such protests were unusual in areas under regime control. According to authorities, the economic downturn, marked by currency depreciation and high inflation, had been exacerbated by Western sanctions.

Aug 19, 2023:Protesters in Al-Quraya Announced a Sweeping General Strike Against the Regime (Syria TV). Protesters from Al-Quraya in southern Sweida had held a protest in front of the monument of Sultan Pasha Al-Atrash, announcing a general strike to start the following day. Their demands included closing the main road, shutting down Syrian government offices in the town, and urging traders and craftsmen to join the strike. The protesters had raised banners condemning the living, service, and security conditions while calling for freedom and rescuing children from drugs.

Aug 20, 2023: Spiritual Leadership Endorsed Syrian Protests, Amplifying Call for Change (Aljazeera). The Spiritual Leadership of the Unified Druze in Syria, represented by Sheikh Hikmat Salman Al-Hajri, had issued a statement endorsing the “legitimate” popular movement in Al-Sweida. The statement criticized the Syrian government’s policies, condemned deteriorating living conditions, and called for the suppression of those responsible for the unrest. It highlighted the dire situation Syrians faced inside and outside the country and stressed the need for international support for a political resolution to the Syrian crisis.

Aug 22, 2023: Mass Uprising in Al-Sweida Demanded Regime Overhaul (Asharq News). Mass protests erupted in 25 towns in Al-Sweida, marking the largest local demonstrations since the Syrian crisis began in 2011. Protesters targeted government buildings, expelled officials, and called for political transition and free elections under UN Resolution 2254. The economic turmoil further fueled the unrest.

Aug 24, 2023: Lebanese Druze Split Over Al-Sweida Unrest (Alquds). The Druze community in Lebanon was divided over the unrest in Syria’s Al-Sweida. The Progressive Socialist Party had backed the uprising and criticized journalist Luna Al-Shibl, while the Lebanese Democratic Party had supported the Syrian regime and condemned external interference. Both parties had acknowledged the impact of the Caesar Act and international pressures on Syria.

Aug 25, 2023: Assad Kin Float Military Option to Quell Sweida Unrest (Orient News). Wisam al-Assad, a cousin of Bashar al-Assad, suggested a military strike against U.S. and SDF forces in eastern Syria to divert attention from Sweida protests. A regime-affiliated consultant, Luna al-Shibli, supported this, pitching economic relief via oil field recovery. Both aimed to sideline the Sweida movement’s calls for Bashar’s departure.

Aug 26, 2023: Defiant Activist Against Assad Captured (Enab Baladi). Syrian activist Ayman Fares was arrested en route to Sweida for his vocal criticisms against the Assad regime. Gaining fame for challenging Bashar al-Assad and decrying Syria’s economic woes, Fares was detained along with another individual. Calls for his release echoed in Sweida protests.

Aug 30, 2023: Sweida Tribes Amplified General Strike (Suwayda24). Residents from Al-Mansoura village in western Sweida had joined the general strike to protest dire economic conditions. They had planned to shut down the village’s Transport Directorate as part of the action. The town, tied to the Sweida Bedouin tribes, stressed national unity against economic struggles.

Sept 1, 2023: NW Syria Cities Rally Behind Sweida Uprising (Syriahr). Influenced by Turkey and “National Army” factions, Northwestern Syrian areas joined in solidarity with Sweida’s 13-day popular movement, demanding regime change and adherence to UN Resolution 2254. Cities like Afrin, Mare’, and Al-Bab participated, highlighting a unified call for political transition and challenging local despots.

Sept 4, 2023: Suwayda Protests Hit Day 16, Assad Symbols Toppled (Suwayda 24). Suwayda protests entered their 16th day, focusing on Assad’s removal and International Resolution 2245. Monuments to Assad were destroyed; the movement reached Shahba city.

Sept 5, 2023: Syria Faces Multi-Faceted Crisis as Assad Regime’s Governance and Economic Decisions Fuel Nationwide Protests; Russia Blames U.S. Influence (France 24, Kremlin Media, Suwayda 24). Economic struggles and discontent are sweeping across Syria, challenging the Assad regime on multiple fronts. Protests have spread beyond Suwayda and Daraa to northern and northeastern regions, involving Arab clans and demanding UN-supervised elections and constitutional changes. The crisis deepened after Assad lifted fuel subsidies, igniting unprecedented protests in Suwayda. As public trust erodes, Russia remains silent on the Suwayda uprising but implicates U.S. influence in Lebanon’s financial crisis as a possible instigator. Meanwhile, Arab clans have mobilized against the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), accusing them of resource plundering in coordination with the regime. Observers highlight Assad’s inaction, describing the regime as “economically cornered.”

Sept 6, 2023: Suwayda Protests Evolve to Demand Political Transition; Global Support Grows (Step Agency, Baladi News). On its 18th day, Suwayda’s protest movement took a decisive political turn, calling for the implementing of UN Resolution 2254 and regime change. Plans for a governing body in Suwayda were discussed, involving parties like the Syrian Brigade Party. Concurrently, Rayan Al-Shibl, a former Suwayda resident now serving as the German mayor of Ostelsheim, expressed solidarity with the movement, advocating for political and economic reforms in Syria under UN Resolution 2254. The dual developments highlight the increasing international and political dimensions of the protests.

Sept 7, 2023: Clerical Involvement Marks Turning Point in Syrian Protests (Meo, Al-Watan, Suwayda 24). Clerics in the Syrian town of Al-Qurayya released statements urging protesters not to target state institutions, signaling a new phase in ongoing demonstrations. This clerical stance partially contradicts three leading sheiks of the Druze community in Suwayda, who previously voiced support for the protests. The Syrian government refrained from suppressing the demonstrations, extending across multiple governorates. Initially localized in Suwayda, the protests gained momentum against a backdrop of lifted fuel subsidies and deteriorating living conditions. Clerics emphasized protesters’ demands as “justified” but did not specifically address calls for regime change under UN Resolution 2254.

Sept 8, 2023: Largest Gathering with Remarkable Presence by Women, Daraa Residents, And Simultaneous Protests Across Syria (The New Arab). Syrian protests featured female participants citing historical roles in past resistances. Suwayda and Daraa’s representatives united against regime tactics. In Shahba, a portrait of Bashar al-Assad was replaced by one of Sultan Pasha al-Atrash. Security was ramped up in Homs to preempt potential protests, mirroring southern Syria.

Sept 9, 2023: 21-Day Suwayda Protests Continue Against the Assad’s Regime:  From Suwayda to Deir Ezzor, Down with the Dictator’s Rule (Syria TV). Undeterred, dozens of protestors gathered in the same Karama Square, declaring a national stance on the Assad regime and demanding the release of detainees.

Sept 11, 2023: Suwayda Protest Leaders Unite on Political Aims, Reject Syrian National Coalition (The New Arab). A pivotal meeting involving 70 individuals was held in Suwayda to define the protest movement’s goals. Attendees, led by Sheikh Hikmat Al Hijri, committed to continuing the protests, countering separatist calls, and facilitating access to Al-Karama Square.

Sept 12, 2023: Regime Forces Fire on Civilians, Sheikh Al-Hijri Criticizes Iran (Al Hurra). On the 26th day of the Suwayda protests, regime forces opened fire on protesters attempting to close the Baath Party headquarters, resulting in injuries. This event led Sheikh Hikmat Al-Hijri to issue his first-ever criticism of Iran and its militias. 

Sept 13, 2023: Suwayda Protesters Shut Down Baath Party Centers After Gunfire Shooting (Enab Baladi). Following a shooting incident by a security group, protesters closed Baath Party centers in several Suwayda villages and towns.

Sept 15, 2023: Largest Anti-Regime Demonstration Sees Thousands Despite Recent Shootings (Agence France-Presse). Today’s demonstration in Suwayda saw between 3,500 and 4,000 participants, marking it the largest since protests began a month ago. The crowd in Karama Square chanted anti-Assad slogans and called for a democratic national state, rejecting Baath Party policies.

Sept 15, 2023: “Political Body for National Action” Issues First Statement Amid Suwayda Protests (Suwayda 24). In coordination with Hikmat Al-Hijri, the spiritual head of the Unitarian Druze sect, the newly formed “Political Body for National Action” released its first statement. The body aims to represent Suwayda in its calls for a unified, free Syria and for overthrowing the Assad regime. The news comes as today’s protests in Suwayda saw record participation, with calls for implementing UN Resolution 2254.

Sept 16, 2023: Momentum Builds in Anti-Assad Protests; International and Domestic Solidarity Intensifies (Orient Net, Al Mudon, Al Hurra). Republican Representative French Hill engages in unprecedented talks with Druze spiritual leader Sheikh Hikmat Al-Hijri in Suwayda, expressing concern over recent security incidents. Meanwhile, Suwayda activists emphasize the peaceful nature of their movement by serving traditional “mansaf” to local police. The action draws attention to the regime’s portrayal of protesters as separatists. Simultaneously, protesters in Hazano, north of Idlib, rally in solidarity with the Suwayda movement, advocating for a “National, Non-Sectarian Revolution” and Bashar al-Assad’s removal. The events collectively mark a turning point, showing growing domestic and international support for the anti-Assad protests.

Sept 17, 2023: Assad Regime Acknowledges Weapon Stores Amid Protests; Suwayda Demonstrations Evolve (Orient Net, Reuters). During a live broadcast, Rafiq Lutf, an Assad regime media figure, discloses the location of weapon storage sites in Suwayda. Lutf claims the demonstrators aimed to access these armories, raising questions about their peaceful intentions. The weapons were relocated following the onset of protests. This disclosure comes a month after hundreds in Suwayda initiated protests over deteriorating economic conditions and rising fuel prices, marking a shift from economic grievances to more complex concerns involving public safety and regime stability.

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