Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Syrian protests enter second week with calls for Assad to go

 People gather in Suwayda in Syria to protest against Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

People gather in Suwayda in Syria to protest against Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Syrian protests enter second week with calls for Assad to go

 Demonstrations have grown steadily throughout the south, centering around the province of Suwayda

Ruth Michaelson in Istanbul and Asmaa al-Omar

Mon 28 Aug 2023 11.11 EDT

·        A spate of protests and strikes across government-held areas in southern Syria have continued into their second week, with demonstrators increasingly unafraid to call for the removal of the president, Bashar al-Assad.

Protesters gathered in the southern city of Suwayda on Monday, closing provincial roads. The province of Suwayda has remained under government control since Syria’s 2011 uprising and is home to much of the country’s Druze minority.

Video shared by the activist-led organization Suwayda24 showed several hundred people gathered in a central square waving Druze flags and chanting “long live Syria, and down with Bashar al-Assad”.

Another video circulating online showed activists chanting on Sunday evening after welding shut the doors of a branch of the ruling Ba’ath party in the town of Melh in the east of Suwayda province.

One protester explained that they targeted the building due to its role in suppressing previous protests calling for an increase in basic services such as water and electricity.

He then directed his cries towards the Syrian president, who has worked to stamp out all dissent since protests against his rule first erupted in 2011. “From Melh we call on you, Bashar al-Assad … we say leave, we don’t want you, you’re going to fall.”

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He added: “You have two options: either you leave with your dignity, or you are destined to die.”

Protests spurred by a rise in fuel prices and anger at economic corruption and mismanagement quickly morphed into anti-government demonstrations, including repeated calls for Assad to leave. Demonstrations have grown steadily throughout Syria’s south.

In Suwayda, people held signs citing a UN security council resolution demanding a transitional government, or calling for the release of thousands that have been forcibly disappeared by the Syrian security apparatus since protests first gripped the country 12 years ago.

“Suwayda hasn’t witnessed a civil strike and movement like this before. People don’t want reforms. This regime is not able to provide people with any of their needs,” said Rayan Marouf, the exiled head of Suwayda24.

“These protests have awakened hope in Syrians. Their demands are clear, and no one is making economic demands. People in Suwayda also protested over the past few years and nothing changed.”

Marouf emphasised that the renewed protests were about calls for political change, rather than economic grievances that saw smaller protests in Suwayda in previous years.

“If they wanted economic reforms they would have protested differently, they would have taken to the streets, for example, and tried to break into banks, or called for a change of ministers and to bring back fuel subsidies. They wouldn’t have attacked the Ba’ath party offices, one of its few functioning branches in Syria. People want Assad to go,” he said.

The demonstrations in majority Druze areas, which have drawn support from local clerics and other groups in the area, like Bedouin, represent a further blow to the Assad regime, which has long touted its defence of the country’s minorities.

The Syrian pound has hit historic lows throughout the summer, plummeting to almost 15,000 to the dollar on the black market, depreciating threefold since its value late last year. The government continues to hike wages amid a costly restructuring plan on subsidies for basic goods, including bread and petrol.

The United Nations said in June that Syria’s 12-year conflict had pushed 90% of its remaining population over the poverty line, amid rising food costs and cuts to electricity and fuel.

Despite efforts by Assad to oversee a return to the Arab League and re-establish relations with former foes in the Gulf, his control over Syrian territory remains fractured and a profound economic crisis persists.

The government has offered little comment on the protests, apart from the state’s head of reconciliation, Omar Rahmoun, who posted on social media to accuse protesters of acting as a conduit for extremist groups.

Damascus has blamed its collapsing economy on western sanctions, which increased following documentation of war crimes committed by the Assad regime as well as its role in the regional drug trade.

Marouf said the protests show Assad’s efforts at control have done little to quell public anger, even in government-held areas. “People want a fair government, and al-Assad’s regime is incapable of giving his people that. Whatever this regime does it won’t be enough for his people,” he said.

“The world thinks that Bashar al-Assad has won after being readmitted to the Arab League, but it’s those on the ground who decide whether he’s a legitimate ruler or not.”

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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs



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