The New Wave of Protests Against Bashar al-Assad in Syria

Hundreds of Syrians in the mainly Druze city of As-Suwayda took to the streets for a fifth consecutive day on Thursday, protesting at worsening economic conditions and demanding the departure of Syrian President Bashar al Assad.

Sadaf Yarmal
30 Aug 2023
The New Wave of Protests Against Bashar al-Assad in Syria

The demonstrations have been centred in the government-controlled province of Sweida, the heartland of Syria’s Druze, who had largely stayed on the sidelines during the long-running conflict between Assad and those trying to topple him.

The protests have rattled the Assad government, but don’t seem to pose an existential threat. They come at a time when government forces have consolidated control over most of the country. Meanwhile, Damascus has returned to the Arab fold and restored ties with most governments in the region.

For some, the final straw came two weeks ago when the Syrian president further scaled back the country’s expensive fuel and gasoline subsidy program.

Osman, one of the protesters, says: “Our desire is a peaceful transfer of power, and we launched these protests without bloodshed. Assad, please step aside! The issue is over.”

The protesters also demanded the release of thousands of citizens of this country who were arrested and imprisoned by the Syrian security apparatus since the beginning of the anti-government protests 12 years ago.

Another protester, M. al-Binin, emphasized the unity of Syrians and said that the fall of the regime is the only solution.

“We are all united, religion does not separate us. We Syrians are all united. We do not accept anything but the fall of the regime.”

Over the past decade, Sweida had largely isolated itself from Syria’s uprising-turned-conflict. The province witnessed sporadic protests decrying corruption and the country’s economic backslide.

This time, crowds quickly swelled into the hundreds, calling out political repression by Assad’s government and stirring echoes of the protests that rocked the country in 2011.

“People have reached a point where they can no longer withstand the situation,” Rayan Maarouf, editor-in-chief of the local activist media collective Suwayda24, told The Associated Press. “Everything is crumbling.”

While Assad’s political fortunes have been on the rise in recent months, life for much of the country’s population has become increasingly miserable. At least 300,000 civilians have been killed in the conflict, half of Syria’s prewar population of 23 million has been displaced and large parts of the infrastructure have been crippled.

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