August 10 Movement': Who are Syria’s new opposition group linked to protests in Suweida and elsewhere
The 10th of August Movement, which says it has thousands of members within regime-held areas, promises that it is a new type of Syrian opposition, having learned from the violent aftermath of the 2011 Syrian uprising.
The movement is decentralised, online and primarily led by Syrian youth. It is attempting to give a voice to those who "don't have a voice in the current Syrian picture," Youssef Wannous, a spokesperson for the movement, told The New Arab under a pseudonym.
The opposition group started first in Latakia – a coastal city generally thought to be supportive of the regime – but has since spread all over Syria and encompasses a range of sects and ethnicities.
The group claims to now have a "cell" in every city in Syrian regime territory. These cells are meant to operationalise the instructions of the movement's internally elected central committee.
Thus far, The movement's activities focus on "building political consciousness among the Syrian people," Wannous said.
He explained that the movement does not want to call for protests on the streets until it has reached a critical mass of support, fearing the regime will violently snuff out the movement before it gains momentum.
"The regime is very good at using violence against people. We are trying to reach a point in Syrian society where we don't give them a chance once we decide to start a revolution," Wannous added.
The regime has not publicly acknowledged the group's existence, but its security services are rattled. Syrian outlet Enab Baladi described a wave of arrests in Latakia and other regime loyalist areas aimed at ferreting out members of the movement.
Wannous said he knows of at least 30 individuals arrested in the coastal cities on suspicion of their affiliation with the 10th of August Movement but denied that any of them were actually members.
Where did the movement come from, and what does it want?
The movement publicly launched at the beginning of August, issuing a list of demands ranging from an increase in the minimum wage to US$100 to the release of the almost 136,000 detainees in regime prisons.
At the movement's core, however, is a plea for a life of dignity for Syrians and for a way out of the country's spiralling economic crisis.
The movement's slogan echoes this: No to humiliation, no to arms, no to blood, no to extremism, no to division.
"We are a group of thousands of young people who reached a decision that we can't just wait and hope that something will happen. You have no choices in Syria, you can either escape or you get stuck in a vicious cycle," Wannous said.
At least 90 per cent of Syrians live in poverty, and over 60 per cent of the population in regime-held areas are struggling to secure their daily food needs, the latest UN statistics reveal.
President Bashar Alassad’s recent @skynewsarabia interview ignited whispers of revolution. From Suwayda to Aleppo, #Syria’s spirit renews its call for change. #UN Resolution 2254 promised progress, but where’s the #accountability?— Sarah Hunaidi (@SaraHunaidi) August 26, 2023
Idlib📷: @AliHajSuleiman pic.twitter.com/7VpTCZqdA7
Though the country's economy has been steadily worsening since 2019, renewed anger was sparked this month after the Syrian lira fell to an all-time low of 15,000 to the US dollar.
In tandem with the nosediving purchasing power, the government has slashed subsidies on basic goods and hiked the price of fuel.
In the country's restive south, simmering frustration has exploded into the most enduring and intense protests seen in years. In the Druze-majority province of Suweida, protesters have burned pictures of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and raided local branches of the ruling Baath party.
Members of the August 10th Movement knew that open confrontation with the regime would not work in areas like Damascus and the coastal cities, so they launched a more subtle form of resistance.
Online, they are attempting to spark conversation between residents of a country fragmented by years of bitter civil war.
Revolutionary activists have said that the regime weaponised ethnic, sectarian and geographic divisions to fragment the opposition, which was borne out of the 2011 revolution.
Wannous says that the first step is healing these divisions and helping create common ground between Syrians.
"We are broadcasting our ideas and opinions and reaching out to anyone who shares these ideas," he explained.
Activists posted pictures of their slogans written on pieces of paper deep within regime territory: in front of security services' buildings and of posters of Bashar al-Assad.
The idea, it seems, is to remind Syrians that resistance exists even in places where it would least be expected.
Offline, the group has distributed leaflets containing slogans and revolutionary material across different parts of the country.
Targeting the security services, linking with other groups
The movement is still in its infancy, and Wannous acknowledges that its members are inexperienced and some of its goals "might not be realistic."
Even so, it has laid out a concrete set of steps to follow to bring it closer to its revolutionary goal.
It has started to make inroads among the army and the country's security services. Members of different security branches who are frustrated with the economic and political situation have reached out to the movement to offer their support.
In the near term, members of the security services offer up information about upcoming raids or particular patrols so that 10th August members know where it is safe to gather and spread their leaflets.
In the longer term, however, the movement hopes that it will take root even within the security services and that when the time comes for popular revolt, there will be no resistance from the regime.
"This might not be a realistic way to look at things, but in the ideal world, we will get the army and the security services out of the picture," Wannous said, explaining that he wants to avoid the bloodshed that came with the 2011 revolution.
The movement has also been linked with "at least five" other underground opposition groups across the country. One of these groups plays an active role in the Suweida protests, trying to steer the demonstrations away from sectarian or separatist rhetoric.
Moving forward, the group will have to contend with threats to its own security, with the regime's security services actively searching for movement participants and leaders.
To avoid this, the group mostly communicates via encrypted apps and has designed internal communication protocols designed by its own cybersecurity expert.
Perhaps even more daunting than external threats to the movement will be the challenge of overcoming the culture of fear surrounding Syrian political life.
Wannous describes how the movement's social media reach grows daily, with posts receiving over "1.5 million views" but only a few hundred likes.
Syrians are regularly arrested for social media posts or comments interpreted as expressing dissent. On 19 August, agricultural worker Ahmad Ibrahim Ismail was detained for a post in which he complained about the country's miserable economic decision.
This culture of fear makes it difficult to judge how popular the movement is, mainly because its activities mostly occur online.
In private, however, the movement receives "thousands" of messages a day from Syrians.
Some messages are threatening, accusing them of trying to destabilise the regime, being regime intelligence plants, or being funded by Israel.
Some are messages of support from people who are frightened of publicly expressing solidarity with the movement.
Other messages are those who want to engage in debate, disagreeing with something the 10th of August Movement has said.
It's these messages where the work can begin, Wannous said, explaining that "engaging in conversations, inviting them to have a discussion, has so far been a useful tactic."