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Syria's streets boil with discontent: The wrath of a starving nation

Syria's streets boil with discontent: The wrath of a starving nation

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Politics Freedom of Expression Marginalized Groups

Thursday 7 September 202312:12 pm
إقرأ باللغة العربية:

أقلية تنتفض وأخرى مترددة والأكثرية تترقب... الاحتجاج السوري الجديد إلى أين؟

"The coast will not rise up, regardless of what unfolds. I'm not advocating for or against people rising up; I'm merely providing a precise depiction of the situation as I see it, along with the viewpoint of most individuals I encounter in this domesticated and tamed society," expresses Jaafar Mohammad, a 34-year-old resident of Latakia., to Raseef22 about what might unfold in his region in the future.

Jaafar's viewpoint is shaped by contemporary historical events that have made his sect, the Alawite community, more cautious, apprehensive, and simultaneously fearful. This community was led by war to play a pivotal role in confronting various elements of the country during the Syrian civil war.

Jaafar doesn't downplay the extreme gravity of the current situation, which he deems even more critical than past decades, including the dark years of the Syrian war. However, he believes that the narrative is exceedingly complex. Whatever direction events take in the aftermath is likely to result in a profound internal division within the community and sect.


It appears that this concept of division is increasingly prevalent. This notion itself carries with it concerns, given the limited prospects for the future and the growing fears about potential developments if genuine grassroots movements emerge along the coastal region.

Speaking about this potential division, Waseem Salama, a 37-year-old from Latakia, adds, "We have four categories within our society. The first comprises those who benefit from the existing authority, living inextricably tied to it. For them, its departure signifies not only a loss of economic, social, and authoritative standing but, at best, their elite privileges, and at worst, legal consequences, possibly even execution. The second group is quietly anticipating significant change, but with a strict condition: it must occur without shedding a drop of blood, and its members should not be subjected to security scrutiny for any reason should they engage in public discourse."

He goes on to explain, "The third category is intricately linked to the survival of the current authority, a complex matter that requires extensive elucidation but is deeply rooted in their collective consciousness. As for the fourth and smallest category, it's the one that has raised its voice and even engaged with the president personally. However, this category lacks a substantial popular base that could translate its aspirations into concrete action on the ground. Furthermore, some of its members have become security targets."

Breaking the barrier

In mid-August, the Syrian government withdrew its support from its citizens, effectively subjecting them to hardship as if seeking retribution from those who remained in the country, as some have begun to say. The government increased prices and salaries by a staggering 100 percent, but it executed an economically debilitating deception that would force the population to repay that increase multiple times over.

"The coast will not rise up, regardless of what unfolds. I'm merely providing a precise depiction of the situation as I see it, along with the viewpoint of most individuals I encounter in this domesticated and tamed society"

The issue isn't merely that the authorities declared this economic war; the real concern lies in whom they declared it upon. They declared it upon a population already suffering from hunger, including families and relatives of "martyrs" who sacrificed themselves to sustain the current regime. These families are left with nothing but patience, "resilience," and the struggle to make ends meet before they sleep hungry each night. Their numbers total in the tens of thousands. Their plight should serve as a stark reminder of the prevailing mindset in Syria, which has reached a level of callous indifference, allowing it to dismiss the very reasons for its survival.

The loosened bolt of safety

The streets are boiling; all of Syria is. It's boiling with anger and desperation in a scene far removed from 2011 when the situation was entirely different. The protests back then were rooted in theoretical demands, not driven by hunger. Syria wasn't a nation of the famished before that period. Today, it has indeed become a nation plagued by hunger. Hunger has spread across every corner of the narrow map, the "useful" map theoretically controlled by the regime and effectively governed as an economic territory. This is where the danger lies, the extracted bolt of safety.

Following those decisions, the country erupted as if some mystical force had seized its essence. It was as if people had been anticipating that night to unleash their pent-up anger, suffering, and at times, even "resentment." The Syrian authorities have been so successful that they no longer require allies who are rational, let alone allies who aren't grappling with hunger.

Recently, on various social media platforms, organized movements have emerged, equipped with structured statements and tight deadlines for the authorities to heed. When the authorities failed to meet their demands, these movements took to the streets, distributing pamphlets in several cities. However, it doesn't take much contemplation to conclude that these movements are likely to fade quickly. They lack a well-defined political agenda and are devoid of recognizable figures within their ranks, operating in strict secrecy and never disclosing their members.

While this may appear to be a sound security strategy in certain contexts, it's destined to render their cause stillborn. A truly popular movement must, first and foremost, be transparent and inclusive, making sure that the people understand how they can be an integral part of it. Unfortunately, these two fundamental prerequisites have not been fulfilled. Nevertheless, these movements did manage to stir the waters significantly, albeit fleetingly.

Unity takes precedence

In Sweida, a southern city predominantly inhabited by the Druze community, the scene unfolds quite differently. Here, people gathered swiftly, organizing protests at 42 different locations during the peak of participation. They congregated, brandishing banners, blockaded roads leading to the capital, Damascus, by lighting tire barricades, and forcibly shut down government installations, including the provincial offices and the local party branch.

What does the term "civil force" signify? This is precisely the realization that dawned upon the residents of Sweida, albeit belatedly. They comprehended that any effective movement should abstain from the use of arms to avoid veering into territory that could lead to unrelated accusations and allegations. Consequently, the organizers assigned a group of civilian youths to seal off government facilities and offices without resorting to violent confrontations.

The Druze managed to break the barrier of fear associated with the Syrian security for several reasons. Over the years, they invaded the security apparatus, extracting privileges through pressure and their closely-knit "canton". How did they achieve this?

The Druze community in Sweida managed to surmount the long-standing barrier of fear associated with the omnipresent Syrian security apparatus. Several factors contributed to this newfound courage. Over the years, they garnered confidence, wresting concessions and privileges through the sheer power of unity and their closely-knit "canton." Consequently, a series of decisions were issued, including one prohibiting the conscription of Sweida's youth for service outside the city and another preventing the arrest of any criminal or security suspect beyond the borders of Sweida. These privileges set Sweida apart from any other region in Syria.

Two significant developments have emerged in Sweida. Firstly, the participation of Sheikh Hakmat Al-Hijri, the spiritual leader of the Druze community, alongside two other prominent sheikhs, in the protests. These religious leaders not only supported but actively joined the demonstrations. Sheikh Al-Hijri personally delivered a statement endorsing the movement's peaceful nature and underlining the importance of preserving internal security. This development can be interpreted from two angles: firstly, that Sheikh Al-Hijri is engaging under the weight of his religious and community responsibilities, ensuring that he doesn't become an outcast should the situation evolve. Secondly, Sheikh Al-Hijri is considered one of the closest religious figures to the Syrian government, rumored to have direct communication with the presidential palace. His presence could serve as a stabilizing factor, potentially preventing an escalation into open confrontation.

The second noteworthy aspect is that, initially, the protests in Sweida did not garner the desired numbers and mostly involved only hundreds or tens of participants. This initially put the authorities at ease, as there was no immediate need for a response or intervention. However, in recent days, the protests have escalated, expanding to include the majority of Sweida's villages.

An insider from the regime repeated a phrase reminiscent of 2011: "The number of participants in Sweida's protests suggests that these people do not represent the entire province, which is home to hundreds of thousands. This raises doubts about the legitimacy of their demands from the outset. Are these legitimate claims, or is there a hidden agenda backed by external forces, with a prominent Druze political party in a neighboring country playing a significant role?"

Initial missteps

In general, the Druze community enjoys considerable freedom of movement within their areas, where the presence of government and security forces is largely symbolic and devoid of real authority. Furthermore, in Sweida, there's widespread possession of personal firearms among the populace. This has caused a shift in the perspective of the residents, who are now cautious about the potential consequences of their current actions.

In all of Sweida's protests, the Syrian Republic's flag has been raised, albeit once. Alongside it, the flag of the opposition is also displayed. However, every day, they hoist the flag of the "Five Borders," a flag associated with the Druze community. This has raised concerns among other communities, which might have otherwise shared their sentiments and activism in the future.

Murad Fakhour, one of the young protestors in Sweida, explained to Raseef22, "Raising our community's flag doesn't signify an abandonment of other Syrian communities. We take pride in our heritage and values. For instance, we have a distinct status in the civil status law separate from Muslims and others, and all the components of the country are aware of our political, social, and religious positions. Our loyalty cannot be questioned."

He continued, "The absence of the Syrian flag is not a rejection of national identity; rather, the flag itself isn't the crucial matter. What matters is our tangible actions on the ground."

However, Murad's explanation doesn't resonate with Reem Salem from Homs, who asserted, "No, the national flag holds precedence above all else. There are certain principles that are non-negotiable. The emblematic discord in the Syrian war centered around the shape of the flag. We empathize with our fellow citizens in Sweida, and this pain is felt by all Syrians today. Everyone is grappling with poverty, hunger, and need. However, let's first agree to provide people with security, a sense of trust, and indications of a common destiny to avoid descending into a new spiral of disintegration."

A voice from Homs: "We do not want sectarian movements; we do not want symbols like crosses, crescents, swords, and the concept of five borders. We want one flag under which we can all unite, and feel we are equal in our demands and rights."

Will the coast revolt?

It's evident, without sugarcoating it, that everyone is seething with anger, and this sentiment is widespread, leaving no one untouched. Nevertheless, the likelihood of witnessing a broad, unified movement is rather remote. There exists a multitude of reasons for this, especially within a significant segment of the Alawite community: Fear of the state and security at the moment of confrontation. The security apparatus remains a formidable force. Security forces are not hesitant to resort to violence if they deem it necessary (figures like Rami Makhlouf are present in poeople's in minds). Additionally, there's a religious and sectarian dimension to this fear, with some holding the belief that were it not for the current regime, Alawites would still be residing in their mountainous enclaves (and this is a widespread and almost universal belief that has been worked on over the course of decades). Furthermore, there's a lurking apprehension that the Sunni population might turn hostile, potentially seeking vengeance against the Alawites in the most horrific ways.

"My brother is a member of the security forces, and my cousin serves in the army; could I possibly clash with them? I will never do so, no matter how dire the circumstances become. Who knows what might transpire? The story could commence with a protest and end in a river of blood. We've witnessed death and suffering in the Syrian war. Does anything in this world justify a million new casualties? These agitators fail to realize that a void leads to destruction, that a civil war will erupt, and that there is no guarantor of civil peace in the universe except for this existing regime," expressed Imran Nasr, 26, a young man from Tartus, expressing his dismay at the many conversations he hears around him advocating for an uprising, and describing those individuals as "naive."

Now the Alawites must fear an internal confrontation among themselves. Currently taking place on Facebook, it could spill onto the streets tomorrow, and the authorities will benefit, the sect will fracture, and this will delay the rebuilding of Syria's future

Mazen, an alias for a young man hailing from Homs, who chooses to conceal his identity for personal reasons, offers a succinct perspective, "There are no solutions under this regime. It's a scourge on our lives, and its departure would open the door to living decent lives once more. In conversations with people, the recurrent question is: 'How much longer? Let him go so we can live'. But no one will rise up or take to the streets; that's understandable. The prevailing belief is that the previous regime was responsible for relocating Alawites from their rural homes to urban areas. Without the current and past regimes, they believe Sunnis would have persecuted Alawites. They don't desire the regime, but they also hesitate to initiate any action. This is perhaps the most difficult feeling in the world: living the rest of your life subjugated because you're fearful of virtual threats. The state has succeeded in planting this idea."

Haidera al-Sheikh, a 29-year-old from Tartus, encapsulates his viewpoint concisely to Raseef22, "Alawites might mostly desire a revolution, but none among them will rise, not even in a thousand years."

Mu'ayyad, another alias for a young man residing in Damascus, provides an insightful analysis of the broader situation, stating, "The regime will ruthlessly quash any Alawite movement. Everything else it can tolerate, except a revolt within its own base. Alawites are cognizant of this fact, aware that the price could be a bullet or a shell. From my vantage point, the ruling power is presently focused on amassing funds in any way possible and channeling them overseas. The regime's departure is imminent, thanks to mounting international pressure. Nothing underscores this more than Arab nations pressuring for the implementation of Resolution 2254. So, sooner or later, it will be enforced, spelling the end of this era."

He adds, "Now, Alawites must be wary of internal discord within their community. Currently, it's confined to online platforms, but tomorrow it might spill onto the streets. In this climate of division, the regime stands to benefit, and the community could become fractured. All of this would considerably impede the rebuilding of Syria's future."

On the other side, within the community, there are more fervent and uncompromising opinions advocating for the regime's continued rule. Mahmoud Hayel, a 30-year-old from Latakia, asserts, "This state was founded to bestow glory, honor, and livelihood upon its people. Everyone should remember the way we lived before 2011. Now, every call for protest is viewed as a betrayal of the martyrs and the sacred, and an invitation for foreign occupation. The regime might not be comfortable, but it's a cross we bear to safeguard what little we have. Patience is our path to victory."

Amidst this complex landscape, someone within the realm of authority must discern the frustration that unites people across sectarian lines, as the state, in its so-called "victory," continues to oppress its own citizens, consuming the nation's resources and the lives of its people. It's a state "victorious" over its own populace, rather than its external adversaries or allies who are currently occupied with divvying up demographic shifts and oil reserves. Meanwhile, the Syrian citizen stands in queues for basic necessities, pondering: "Why did we sacrifice a thousand martyrs and two thousand wounded to liberate the oil fields, only for Russia to exploit them?"

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