Protests in Southern Syria: Statue of Late President Smashed
In the province of Sweida, located in southern Syria, hundreds of angry protesters have taken to the streets for the past three weeks. What initially started as demonstrations against surging inflation and the country’s deteriorating economy quickly turned into calls for the fall of President Bashar Assad’s government. On Monday, the protests reached a boiling point as protesters smashed the statue of Assad’s late father and predecessor, Hafez Assad.
The demonstrations in Sweida, where the Druze community represents the majority of the population, have gained momentum over the past few weeks. The province has largely remained unaffected by the 12-year civil war that has ravaged Syria, resulting in the death of half a million people and displacing millions more. However, the economic crisis and rising prices have pushed the people of Sweida to voice their discontent and demand change.
The protest on Monday marked the eighth anniversary of the assassination of cleric Sheik Wahid Balous, a prominent critic of Assad. Balous had urged the youth in Sweida to refuse military service and was a strong supporter of rebels fighting against Assad’s regime. He was killed in a bomb explosion in 2015, along with 25 others. Some have accused the government of being involved in his assassination.
Videos circulated on social media and opposition activists reported that several demonstrators stormed the local branch of the social security building and tore down a giant poster of Bashar Assad. They then proceeded to remove Hafez Assad’s statue from the municipality yard and carried it to a nearby street, where they smashed it. The anger and frustration of the protesters were evident as they kicked chunks of the fallen statue.
The Druze community, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, makes up about 5 percent of Syria’s prewar population. They are divided between supporters and opponents of President Bashar Assad. Sweida province has largely remained peaceful throughout the civil war, but the economic hardships and dissatisfaction with the government have united the community in their demands for change.
This recent wave of protests in Sweida follows previous acts of defiance against the ruling Baath party. In late August, angry protesters raided the local Baath party offices, expressing their anger and frustration. Additionally, some protesters blocked a major highway that connects Sweida with the capital city of Damascus.
The demonstrations in Sweida highlight the deep-rooted discontent and frustration among the Syrian people. The ongoing economic crisis, coupled with the devastating effects of the civil war, has left the country in ruins. The protesters are demanding accountability from the government and an end to the Assad regime.
As the protests continue to escalate, it remains to be seen how the government will respond. The international community must pay attention to the grievances of the Syrian people and support their calls for change. The statue of Hafez Assad may have been destroyed, but the demands for justice and a better future for Syria persist.