Princes and pashas: Syrian regime co-opts Druze with honours
The Syrian regime has handed out noble titles to loyalists in the Druze stronghold of Suweida province in an apparent attempt to garner support from the religious minority.
Officials in the southern Syrian province have given out the titles of "pasha" and "emir" over the past two weeks to pro-regime figures, in an attempt to attract Druze support.
However the ham-handed move has angered some locals, The New Arab correspondent Ghalia Shahin reported on Wednesday.
"Security officials gave the title pasha to a Druze elder Sitan Murshid, who is well-known for his close connections with the regime, Iran and pro-regime Lebanese Druze Wiam Wahhab," Shahin said.
"Locals have accused Murshid in the past of smuggling oil produced by the Islamic State group," she said.
Regime loyalist Abu Kamal Assaf was also granted the lesser title of emir for his services to the regime, she added.
Members of the Druze community - which have been neutral or supported the regime throughout the war - have complained that the newly titled figures are an affront to the legacy of Druze leader Sultan Pasha al-Atrash.
Atrash led the Great Syrian Revolt of 1925 and was awarded the Ottoman title of pasha - an honour that was revived for the leader's heroics.
"These ranks used to hold much respect in our community. But the regime has dished them out to its allies, turning them into a farce," said Nora al-Basha, an activist from Suwieda.
Mansour al-Ayyash said: "The title pasha can only be given the revolutionary leader Sultan Pasha al-Atrash and the title emir to the owners of large mountain meeting houses, who mostly came from the Atrash clan or other large families."
"To become a pasha you must have led a revolution and freed the country from occupation," Ayyash added, referring to the rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Druze Syrians live across Syria, but their historic heartland falls in the Jabal al-Arab region in Suweida, with another sizeable presence in the Golan where thousands live under Israeli occupation.
In June 2015, a commander from al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front led a massacre of dozens of Druze in a village near Idlib, as an embattled Assad no longer could provide them with shelter.