As of August 17, many citizens in Suwayda province have been taking the streets to protest the deteriorating economic situation, corruption, nepotism, and the political situation in the country. The demands are fourfold; the immediate improvements of living conditions, more transparency and efforts to battle corruption, a fairer distribution of wealth and opportunities within society, and political change.
This article aims to delve deeper into the causes, objectives, and tactics characterizing these protests, as well as to discuss their (possible) impact and what should be done on a national and international level.
Two main arguments will come to the foreground: firstly, the belief that the current protests may contribute to a transforming political landscape that strengthens citizens' roles and puts pressure on authorities to change their policies. Secondly, the insistence that national and international stakeholders take these legitimate demands of civilians seriously and act quickly to improve living conditions and give civilians a chance to live in dignity.
Since the start of the nationwide protests in 2011, Suwayda has been characterized as a province who remained, despite some educated elites and Druzes opposing the regime, rather neutral. Specifically, protests that erupted generally involved only a few dozens of activists and hundreds on some occasions.
This does not mean, however, that Suwayda has not been spared from violence over the past ten years. Particularly ISIS has been responsible for hundreds of casualties and the abduction of dozens of civilians, including women and children, throughout the region.
Currently, Suwayda mostly experiences security chaos, weapon proliferation, crime, and drug trafficking. The capacity of the government to protect civilians from these tendencies and provide good living conditions is limited.
Deteriorating Economic Situation: Suwayda inhabitants are experiencing the worst living conditions in their history, with rising inflation and the Syrian pound losing more than 99% of its value. At of the time of writing, the currency rate rose to almost 15,000 Syrian pounds per US dollar (remember that it was 48 pounds per dollar in 2011). Inflation has surpassed 4000%, while prices have increased nearly 60-fold.
Furthermore, career prospects are few. As a result, many residents are out of work, and the cost of living is expensive. Those who find a job will see their pay fall. Besides that, the Syrian government decided to stop offering subsidies on numerous vital food products and increase fuel costs by 250%. Following the raise, the average salary is now $13, or 40 cents per day for a household of five.
This means that the vast majority of the population lives significantly below the World Bank's definition of extreme poverty, which is $2.15 per person. It is critical to recall that more than 12 million people in Suwayda have fallen into extreme poverty as a result of decades of economic marginalization and underdevelopment.
Corruption, cronyism, and nepotism: on top of that, corruption, cronyism, and nepotism have expanded throughout both the public and private sectors, as has trafficking and looting. As a result, investments into and out of the country have decreased, as has trust in the political system. This, in turn, have had an influence on the economy overall and employment opportunities in specific. It also contributed to the decline of the quality of public services such as education, health care, and infrastructure.
Political situation: finally, the country has reached a political impasse, which is characterized by a dysfunctional Constitutional Committee and the Syrian government's failure to constructively participate in all initiatives for a political solution, including the most recent Arab "Step by Step" initiative. Syrians were disappointed by President Bashar al-Assad's comments in an interview with Sky News Arabia in August 2023, as it dashed hopes for a breakthrough in which the population can express their views and participate in political decision-making.
Based on the aforementioned causes, the movement's objectives can be summed up in four demands. Firstly, the immediate improvement of living conditions. This includes providing sustainable job opportunities and enhancing local development.
Secondly, more transparency from the government and state institutions, and more efforts to battle corruption on all fronts. Thirdly, a fairer distribution of wealth and opportunities within the society. This involves improving infrastructure, healthcare, and education services. Fourthly, political change. This means the removal of the Syrian government, the implementation of UN Resolution 2254, the reveal of the fate of prisoners and disappeared people, and the end of the Turkish occupation in northern Syria.
Overall, the protests can be characterized as peaceful and inclusive. All social groups in Suwayda, including Bedouin and supporters of the Syrian government, have participated. The protests are also supported by the spiritual leader of the Druze Muslim community Sheikh Hikmat al-Hijri as well as by social leaders, political forces, and civil society organizations. On top of that, many women have been participating.
Especially social media platforms have been used to spread messages, organize events, disseminate news, and counter accusations made by both the regime and radical Islamic forces in opposition areas.
Although some observers portray the protests as temporary or limited in scope, others find that the scale and nature of the current movement has been distinct from all previous ones. More than 42 protest points in the cities and villages of the province have been recorded by the Suwayda 24 network. This is a unique number for a province that remained rather neutral over the past decade.
Moreover, the demands of the protestors are not limited to Suwayda but have spilled over to other areas in the country. The protests in Suwayda namely reflect a deteriorating reality across all sectors of life throughout Syria. They embody the just demands of the people, calling for a life of dignity after more than 12 years since the start of the protests. Therefore, it is evident that these protests resonate with the broader Syrian population.
It remains to be seen how far these protests will succeed in bringing all relevant parties to the negotiating table in order to implement Resolution 2254 and begin political transition. TEVIN is especially worried that military figures could take advantage of the circumstance to form a military council and turn the demonstrations into a military operation. Especially given that there isn't a single, united leadership directing the protests at the time of writing. These worries are made worse by the region's ongoing internal strife, which has sparked confrontations, and by the presence of ISIS in the province’s outskirts.
However, TEVIN is convinced that these nation-wide protests are leading to increased political awareness among the population. This has become evident through several demands, most notably the call for a comprehensive political transition in accordance with UN Resolution 2254. This includes rejecting military government and the presence of militias in contested areas, as well as advocating for the separation of religion from the state.
Additionally, TEVIN finds that the fact that citizens from all regions in the country show solidarity with each other, shows that cooperation and dialogue between citizens in different provinces is (and should continue to) foster(ing).
Finally, TEVIN beliefs that this protest movement may serve as a model that can be used to better understand social and political issues in the Middle East, as the demands and challenges from and faced by the people in Suwayda and Syria are often similar to other communities in the wider region.
This paper aimed to expose the current state of affairs in Suwayda and Syria by firstly explaining the causes and motivations behind the protests. Then this paper delved deeper into the objects and tactics used to obtain those. Finally, this paper addressed their (potential) impact.
Based on TEVIN’s observations and arguments addressed in this paper, TEVIN urges local authorities to take these legitimate demands of civilians seriously and act quickly to improve living conditions and give civilians a chance to live in dignity.
On the international level, the United Nationals and Russia especially should put pressure on the Syrian government to respond to the demands of the Syrian people and work towards implementing UN Resolution 2254, in addition to forming a transitional governing body leading to genuine political transition in Syria.
Governments and authorities must be prepared to engage constructively with such movements to bring about positive changes in societies. They should continue efforts to understand their goals, tactics and impact. Only in this way policy and decision makers can address the demands of citizens and contribute to a better future for all.