As the Syrian conflict enters a new phase, recent events in the southern Druze city of As-Suwayda have reignited the attention of both the Syrian opposition and international observers. Once frustrated by the slow pace of change in Syria, opposition groups are now closely monitoring the unfolding protests in As-Suwayda. The city, still under the control of the Assad regime, has become a focal point of calls for change amid a challenging backdrop of economic deterioration and shifting regional dynamics.
Resonating Echoes of 2011
The echoes of the protests that shook Syria in 2011 have returned, this time resonating within the streets of As-Suwayda. The protesters’ demands, anchored by a plea for the departure of its President Bashar al-Assad, reverberate against the backdrop of an increasingly deteriorating economic situation. Yet, skepticism remains about whether the momentum generated in As-Suwayda can transcend the city’s borders and drive change at a national level.
Assad’s Calculated Approach
Since the emergence of the 2011 uprising, Syrian President Assad has exhibited a calculated approach toward minority-majority dynamics within the republic. By avoiding violent clashes with groups like the Druze and Kurds, Assad has sought to depict the opposition movement in large cities, mostly inhabited by Sunni Muslims, as dominated by jihadists, with minorities as his allies against such extremism. This strategy is evident in his handling of As-Suwayda’s protests, marked by restraint compared to the forceful response to Sunni-majority cities like Aleppo and Homs.
Parallel with the Kurdish Experience
Assad’s approach to As-Suwayda is similar to his approach to the Kurds in 2012. In the face of the Kurdish demonstrations a decade ago, Assad avoided direct military confrontation, which gave the Kurds a margin of freedom to develop their own governing system and eventually led to the creation of the autonomous government in northeastern Syria. As the protests in As-Suwayda intensify, Kurds in the region have expressed their strong support for As-Suwayda, hoping that another autonomous administration will emerge, this time in south Syria, to integrate the concept of strong local governments into the Syrian system.
Potential Benefits and Geopolitical Considerations
The prospects of As-Suwayda gaining autonomy and ousting Assad and Iran forces from the area hold various implications. Chief among them is the potential disruption of drug smuggling activities along Syria’s southern borders, in which the Assad regime has been implicated. A successful transition to a more secure and economically stable autonomous administration in As-Suwayda could also inspire the involvement of international actors, particularly the United States, to foster stability and prevent security vacuums.
It is time for the Syrians, the regime, and the international community to recognize the transformed dynamics of a post-2011 Syria. Reverting to the Syria of yesteryear is no longer feasible, as the people’s resilience and the passage of time have created an environment unwilling to regress. The impending economic crisis, exacerbated by President Assad’s recent admission in his interview with Sky News Arabia of limited Arab economic assistance, further underscores the urgent need for substantial political changes to facilitate recovery.
Syrians in every city will eventually oppose the current status quo due to the absence of any imminent political solution and the prolonged deterioration of the Syrian economy. The United States must stop neglecting the Syrian crisis, as recent events indicate that Assad’s partial military victory does not signal the conclusion of the conflict. Washington should play a role in assisting the Syrians in constructing a just political system before more turmoil leads to a resurgence of ISIS or more dominance for Iran-affiliated militants who are always eager to fill the vacuum. American decision-makers should learn from their poor handling of the 2011 Syrian insurrection in order to spare Syrian lives and the region from needless bloodshed.