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Syrian regime attempts to 'co-opt' protests in Suweida

Syrian regime attempts to 'co-opt' protests in Suweida by pressuring notables
2 min read
25 September, 2023
A prominent figure in the province called for an end to the protests that have gripped the province for over a month.
Protesters in Suweida have thus far been resolute in their calls for the fall of the Syrian regime, despite external pressures. [Getty]

A Suweida notable and pro-regime figure, Hassan Abdullah al-Atrash, called for a meeting of the province's leading families and religious figures on Saturday, 23 September, to demand the end of the more than month-long anti-regime protests in the Druze-majority enclave.

While a pro-regime figure himself, the Atrash family commands respect, and its members have historically been chosen to lead the city of Suwayda as its titular "Pasha."

Al-Atrash, the head of the ruling Baath party's economic office in Suweida, said that while the protesters' economic demands are legitimate, their demands that the regime fall are "unacceptable," local outlet Suwayda 24 reported.

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Thousands of protesters have occupied the southern province's main square for over a month, tearing down flags of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and storming regime buildings.

Protests were sparked by an over 150 per cent price hike in fuel, but demands quickly turned political, with protesters calling for the downfall of the Syrian regime.

The regime has not confronted protesters in Suweida directly, a contrast to its brutal and violent treatment of activists since the Syrian revolution started in 2011.

Instead, activists say it has attempted to foment internal division within the protest movement.

"This is not the first time, and this will not be the last time. There are attempts to divide the street … but until now, these attempts have failed. The movement is intensifying, its leadership is strong," Rayan Maarouf, the editor of Suwayda 24, told The New Arab.

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Previously, activists accused the regime of funding armed gangs to degrade security conditions and foment chaos in Suweida.

Druze militias, notably "the Men of Dignity" and "the Anti-Terrorism Force", expelled the most prominent of these gangs from the province in September 2022.

The current round of protests has been the longest-lasting since 2011, despite the regime's back-channel attempts to quell the movement.

"The people the regime are choosing have no credibility. Every day, they present a new person that is supposedly defending the demands of the people … but the street in Suweida today is the first and the loudest to speak," Maarouf said.