Around a hundred young Druze men conscripted from Suwayda province defected this past Tuesday, fleeing regime training camps for the home of Sheikh Waheed al-Balaus, the leader of the Druze Sheikhs of Dignity movement, who has publicly denounced the regime for conscripting Druze to fight their battles.
The mass defection from mandatory military service is the second this month. Here, Noura al-Basha, a pro-opposition journalist and member of the Syrian Revolution Coordinators Union, tells Syria Direct’s Moutasem Jamal that after the defectors meet with Balaus, they return to their homes under his protection. “The regime doesn’t dare storm their houses” due to Balaus’ social and military clout, al-Basha says.
Q: This incident earlier this week is the second time young men in Suwayda have fled military service and sought refuge with Sheikh Balaus. Why do they go to Balaus, and what happens to these young men after they defect?
The defectors seek refuge with the Sheikh Balaus because he is the only one capable of protecting them. He commands the largest armed force in Suwayda, and enjoys great popularity among residents.
Additionally, he has announced his stance against throwing young Druze men into the fronts outside of Suwayda, and announced that he is against mandatory recruitment and service by force in this regime's army.
After young Druze men announce that they don't want to serve, they leave Balaus' house and return home because he promises to protect them. Consequently the regime doesn't dare storm their houses as long as they're under Balaus' protection.
Q: Has the regime reacted to the young men who have fled from mandatory service? Has it reacted to the Sheikhs of Dignity [Balaus' men] who protect these young men?
The regime doesn't dare to respond to the Sheikhs of Dignity aggressively. Were the regime to show open hostility towards these men, Suwayda would rise up all together. History is a witness to these types of events. Usually, the regime will respond either by blackening the reputation of these sheikhs by employing hired help, or sowing discord [fitna] and sectarianism with the rest of the Syrian people.