Syria: Protests continue in Suweida as pictures of Hafez al-Assad replaced with national figures

Syria: Protests continue in Suweida as pictures of Hafez al-Assad replaced with national figures
Demonstrations have continued across Druze-majority Suweida province in southern Syria, as people tore down posters of Bashar al-Assad's father and called for the end of his regime.
3 min read
20 September, 2023
Anti-regime protests have continued for over four weeks in Suweida [Getty]

Demonstrations have continued in southern Syria’s Suweida province, where protesters have defied regime attempts to intimidate them after a shooting last week left three people wounded.

Hundreds protested in the Karama Square in the centre of Suweida city - considered the heartland of Syria’s Druze minority – as they repeated calls for the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Druze spiritual leader Sheikh Hikmat al-Hijri said the gathering represented "the conscience of the people," calling for the safeguarding of protesters.

Monday evening protests also took place in other villages in Suweida province including Al-Jnenih and Dibin, according to The New Arab’s sister site, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed.

Protesters reportedly tore down pictures of former Syrian president Hafez al-Assad at the entrance to Dibin and replaced them with pictures of Sultan Pasha al-Atrash and General Yusuf al-Azma, two Syrian historical figures known for fighting against the French mandate of Syria in the early 20th century.

"The people want the overthrow of the regime," they chanted as they unveiled the new billboard, waving the five-coloured Druze flags.

Translation: Instead of a picture of Bashar al-Assad and symbols of the Baath Party, a picture of the leader of the Great Syrian Revolution, Sultan Pasha al-Atrash, and the martyr Syrian Minister of War, Yusuf al-Azma, was unveiled at the entrance to the town of Dibin in the countryside of Suweida, during a popular demonstration today, Monday.

The protests started over a month ago over the deteriorating socioeconomic conditions in war-torn Syria, especially after the regime’s decision to lift fuel subsidies ahead of the winter season.

Demands have now gone beyond living standards.

An activist who preferred to remain anonymous told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that the continuation of peaceful protests for a full month now without major interruptions indicates "structural and strategic collapse" in the regime and a state of confusion on how to deal with them.

"This regime is trying to hide it and show the opposite, by feigning complete ignorance in the official discourse," the activist said.

Suweida activist Hani Azzam thanked solidarity protests in other parts of Syria, but said this was not enough.

"The Suweida demonstrations, which continue to this day, are a real embarrassment to the whole world, and have placed the regime in a state of confusion and chaos, and the Syrians must seize this rare opportunity," he told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed.

Syria's Druze community has largely tried to disassociate from the country's more than 12-year war, and community leaders have heeded calls by authorities to limit and defuse protests in the past.

But rising unemployment and poverty, and an increase in activities by Iranian-backed militias and other extremist groups have led to tensions building up, with people in Suweida saying their complaints have fallen on deaf ears for years.

The Syrian conflict is believed to have killed well over half a million people and displaced around half of the country’s pre-war population since it started following an earlier nationwide breakout of anti-regime protests in 2011.

Most of the casualties have been as a result of regime bombardment of civilian areas and Syria's economy and infrastructure are now in ruins following over a decade of conflict.