Druze youths protest in Syria’s Suweida

14/04/2016

BEIRUT – Students have been at the forefront of a recent protest movement in Syria’s Druze-populated Suweida province calling for comprehensive reforms in the regime-controlled region.

The newly-formed “You Broke Us” campaign called for Suweida residents to hit the streets early Thursday afternoon, the latest 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 overly 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.

Although the campaign has avoided anti-regime rhetoric, it launched an implicit broadside against local government figures in a March 22 post, saying: “We send a message to the concerned dirty and corrupt authorities that the people soon will direct their judgments against you, O criminals.”

So far, 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.

The first student protest over the matter was held on March 1 in front of Suweida’s Department of Education amid a heavy presence of security forces. Although the sit-in came over a week before the official launch of “You Broke Us,” the group has since claimed it organized the demonstration.

In the ensuing weeks, “You Broke Us,” dozens of students have gathered five subsequent times for marches and sit-ins, all of which were peaceful in nature and were not brutally suppressed by regime forces, as other protests in the early days of the Syrian uprising were.

Their latest protest on April 12 went beyond the local situation, with “You Broke Us” organizers saying the rally was in response to the situation in not only Suweida, but the country as whole. The call for action for the sit-in railed against “injustice, corruption and the violation of the rights of young people.”

Although Suweida is under regime control, a number of grassroots movements have sprung up in the past two years to protest decreasing living standards in the Druze-populated province.

In the fall of 2015, the short-lived “We Are Being Strangled” movement organized a series of protests, one of which turned into an unprecedented show of anger on September 2 when demonstrators went as far as storming the provincial government’s local HQ in Suweida.

Two days after the protest, the leader of the fiercely independent Sheikhs of Dignity Movement—the most powerful group challenging regime authority in Suweida—was assassinated by a massive car bombing in the provincial capital.

The Sheikhs of Dignity never made any official statement of support for the “We Are Being Strangled” movement, and the group has also remained mum on the recently-formed student protest group.

Although the Sheikhs of Dignity and its armed affiliates insist they are neutral, they have struck increasingly challenging positions against the Syrian government, and have announced they seek self-security.

Source: NOW.

Link: https://now.mmedia.me/lb/en/NewsReports/566869-druze-youths-protest-in-syrias-suweida.

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