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Albin Szakola

Syrian Druze protest against regime

"Syria is free, Iran get out! Syria is free, Russia get out!" protesters chanted in Suweida.

Protesters gather April 17 in Suweida. (Facebook/You Broke Us)

BEIRUT – Protesters have gathered in Syria’s Suweida to protest against the regime in the Druze-populated province, the latest demonstration to rock the southern region.

 

On Sunday morning, dozens of demonstrators rallied in the provincial capital’s main square to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of the French mandate over Syria.

 

The protest, which was organized by the newly-formed “You Broke Us” (حطمتونا#) movement, quickly took a politicized turn, with participants chanting against the Bashar al-Assad regime.

 

“You Broke Us,” for their part, termed the protest a “revolutionized sit-in” against “all forms of new colonization” in their call for action, the newest demonstration organized by the student-led group since the beginning of March.

 

In one video of the protest publicized by the “You Broke Us” campaign, youths raised a picture of Sultan Pasha al-Atrash, a Druze figure famous for leading the 1925-1927 Syrian rebellion against France.

 

 

They spray painted “Square of Dignity” over a pedestal in the officially named “Hafez al-Assad Square,” which once hosted a statue of the former Syrian ruler that an angry crowd toppled over following the September 4, 2015 assassination of Sheikhs of Dignity Movement leader Sheikh Waheed al-Balaous.

 

One of the crowd’s chants captured their independent bent, with protesters taking potshots against staunch regime allies as well as jihadist groups.

 

“Syria is free, Iran get out! Syria is free, Russia get out! Syria is free, ISIS get out! Syria is free, Nusra get out!” the crowd shouted.

 

In another video allegedly showing the rally, the protesters chanted “long live Syria, and fall Bashar al-Assad,” one of the most direct challenges issued against Damascus in a demonstration held in the Suweida province.

 

“Sons of Jabal [Druze] stomping ISIS and Assad,” the rally participants also shouted.

 

Despite the tone of the protest, regime forces did not attempt to quell the rally in a heavy-handed manner as was their practice elsewhere in the country during the early days of the current uprising.

 

The local Swaida Khabar website cited activists as saying that the protest came to a peaceful end, with regime security forces not intervening.

 

Another protest was held Sunday in the town of Mazraa, approximately 6 kilometers northwest of Suweida, according to the outlet.

 

The demonstrators in the town also called for the toppling of the regime, while hanging aloft pictures of heroes of Syria’s independence movement against French occupation.

 

Sunday’s protests come after residents of the town of Suweida town of Shahba gathered Thursday to denounce the arrest of two human rights activists from the Druze-populated province.

 

The same day as Shahba residents took to the streets, the “You Broke Us” campaign protested in Suweida city, the eighth protest organized by the movement making a raft of social and economic demands that implicitly blame the government with mismanaging the province.

 

“You Broke Us” announced its public presence on March 13 in an opening statement in which it vowed to organize a “long-term protest” until its demands to help “build a better future for the province” were met.

 

The organization’s manifesto is not overtly political and does not take any firm stance on the regime’s presence in Suweida, similar to a previous grassroots movement that briefly held a series of protests in the fall of 2015.

 

Instead, “You Broke Us” lists eight main problems it says are blighting the lives of the province’s residents: rampant corruption, poor electrical services, declining provision of fuel and heating gas, the firing of state employees who refuse military service, the fixed salary of state employees amid the inflation wracking the country, high prices for basic commodities, increased lawlessness, and poor healthcare.

 

Up until the latest rallies, the student-led civil society movement’s protests have focused on the dismissal of public teachers who refused to sign-up for state military reserve service, a heavy-handed regime move that ran contrary to Suweida residents’ long-running opposition to conscription in the Syrian army to potentially fight in far-off battlefronts.

 

Amin Nasr translated Arabic-language material.

Protesters gather April 17 in Suweida. (Facebook/You Broke Us)

Syria is free, Iran get out! Syria is free, Russia get out!