The city of Sweida in southern Syria has been the epicentre of ongoing protests since 20 August with the immediate cause being the Syrian government’s decision on 16 August to remove fuel subsidies, resulting in price rises of over 150%. “We demand improved living conditions, and our demands are legitimate,” one protester was quoted as saying.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), the scope of the protests has expanded beyond economic grievances. Some demonstrators are calling for the overthrow of the regime, and there are demands for the implementation of UN resolutions, notably Resolution 2254 from 2015, which advocates for a ceasefire and a political settlement in Syria.
Sweida holds a unique position among Syrian regions under the control of the Syrian regime. It is a stronghold of the Druze minority, which constitutes three percent of Syria’s population. Historically, the Druze community has neither taken up arms against the regime nor engaged in opposition, with only a few exceptions.
As reported by VOA, Marwan Hamzeh, a leader of the protests, told Saudi-owned al-Arabiya TV that the government has “not appeared to make any use of its security forces to crack down on the latest protests.” Joshua Landis, who heads the Middle East Studies department at the University of Oklahoma, stated, “Most of the protesters are calling for more government activity in the economic life of the country, rather than a collapse of the government.”
Support for the protests has extended beyond Sweida. On Sunday, dozens of residents from Jadidat Bakarah town in the eastern countryside of Deir ez-Zor (Dêrezor), an area held by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), staged a demonstration demanding the toppling of the regime. The demonstrators also chanted slogans supporting the popular movement in Sweida and Daraa. On 24 August, a sit-in protest was staged in the town of al-Hassan in western Deir ez-Zor, expressing solidarity with the residents of Sweida. The protesters held banners reading: “The Syrian Revolution will continue until victory,” and “We will never forget the chemical attack on Al-Ghotah.”
Several Kurdish leaders, including Ilham Ahmed, have expressed support, stating, “Peaceful protests are the correct path to achieve democratic change.” The Saudi-owned Asharq al-Awsat newspaper reported that the movement has spread to the Bedouin tribes in the south of Syria.