Hundreds of protesters rallied in Syria’s government-held southern Sweida province on Tuesday, demanding a better life and chanting anti-government slogans in a wave of increasingly political demonstrations, activists said.
Protests in the heartland of the country’s Druze minority began nearly two weeks ago after President Bashar al-Assad’s government ended fuel subsidies, dealing a heavy blow to Syrians reeling from 12 years of war and a crippling economic crisis.
In Sweida city, protesters carrying the multi-colored Druze flag chanted slogans including “Down with Bashar al-Assad,” according to video footage shared by local media outlet Suwayda24.
Activists told AFP several hundred people took part in the demonstration.
“Few (protesters) are still focused on economic demands,” one demonstrator in Sweida told AFP by telephone, requesting anonymity due to security concerns.
“There is no economic solution without a political solution,” the protester added.
Syria’s currency, the pound, has tanked against the dollar, losing most of its value since 2011, while Western sanctions have compounded the country’s economic woes.
Most of the population has been pushed into poverty, according to the United Nations.
In recent days, demonstrators have welded the doors of offices of the ruling Baath party shut in an act of defiance, while other protesters have removed photos of al-Assad in the city, two activists told AFP.
Protests against deteriorating economic conditions have erupted sporadically in Sweida since 2020.
The Druze, who follow an offshoot of Shia Islam, made up less than three percent of Syria’s pre-war population. They have largely kept out of the conflict.
Sweida has been mostly spared from the fighting, and has only faced sporadic attacks from extremists, which were repelled.
Syrian security services have a limited presence in the province, and Damascus has turned a blind eye to Druze men refusing to undertake compulsory military service.
Young Druze men have instead formed local militias to protect the region from assaults.
Abu Timur, a spokesman for the local Al-Karama armed group, expressed support for “the just demands of our people.”
“We will not allow any attack on the demonstrations,” he told AFP.
In recent days, smaller protests have also erupted in neighboring Daraa province, the cradle of Syria’s 2011 uprising, which al-Assad bloodily suppressed.
The war has killed more than 500,000 people, displaced millions and battered the country’s infrastructure and industry.