Anti-government protests in regime-controlled Syria continue

Anti-government protests have spread across large parts of regime-controlled southern Syria over the past week. Screenshot from Suwayda24

Aug. 24 (UPI) -- Mass protests that broke out across government-controlled southern Syria over the past week continued Thursday, as Syrians took to the streets to protest the slashing of fuel subsidies and the repressive actions of the regime and its allies.

Videos posted online over the past week show protesters taking to the streets of Suweida, which is home to a majority Druze population.

While limited protest against economic conditions have occurred in Suweida before, the size and sustained nature of the protests marks a significant departure from previous protests in the government-controlled city.

Protesters carried multicolored flags of the Druze religion and chanted slogans from the 2011 revolution, including, "The people want the downfall of the regime" and "One one one, the Syrian people are one."

Protesters have also been filmed chanting "Long live Syria, down with Bashar Assad," and burning a poster of the dictator. Protesters also called for the removal of Russian and Iranian forces from Syria.

The Syrian government has made efforts to avoid antagonizing members of the Druze religion but was blamed for the assassination of prominent Druze leader Sheikh Wahid al-Balous in 2015 by his followers.

Al-Balous called on Druze youth to refuse service in the regime military, supported the overthrow of the government and founded the militia known as "The Men of Dignity." Following his assassination six regime loyalists were killed in an ostensible retaliation, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

In 2022, members of a Druze militia defeated a pro-government militia headed by loyalist enforcer Raji Falhout, who was accused of terrorizing residents.

Unlike Suweida, the southern city of Daraa, which is majority Sunni, rebelled against the government in 2011, with rebels pushing regime forces out of the area. The area fell back under regime control in 2018 under a Russian-brokered deal that would allow residents to retain some control over local affairs.

This week, protestors in Daraa gathered at the Omari Mosque, which was a major protest site during the early days of the 2011 uprising before being partially destroyed during Syrian regime bombardment of the city.

The Assad regime also faces a challenge from members of the Alawite religion, which the Syrian dictator's family comes from. The Syrian government considers Alawite Syrians to be their main base of support, with members of the religion occupying key government and military positions.

Earlier this month, a group calling itself the "10th of August Movement," called for better wages and for more access to electricity. The group is believed to be comprised of members of the Alawite religion.

Additionally, a prominent member of the Alawite community, Ahmed Ibrahim Ismail, criticized the government in a TV interview earlier this month.

"You are flying away from reality. I am very disappointed. I haven't anything from you to tackle my pain," Ismail said.

Shortly after his appearance, Ismail was detained, according to a Facebook post from his daughter.