February 5, 2015

Long-simmering tensions in Druze-majority Suwayda province have begun to bubble over as residents organize protests and clash with regime forces over various grievances, particularly the mandatory recruitment of the province's young men.

A group of Suwayda residents stormed a regime recruitment center in early January and released a young man wanted for military service, reported pro-opposition All4Syria. Last November, Suwayda citizens conducted a similar raid on a military intelligence center and forcibly freed another 37-year old detained for military service, according to All4Syria.

“There is clear fatigue and anger [in Suwayda], so clear you can't ignore it,” Thair Salah, the alias of a pro-opposition Druze human rights activist living in Suwayda city, tells Syria Direct's Muatasem Jamal.

“The more prominent protests are against mandatory recruitment and the regime chasing down [those wanted for service] and storming houses.”

Beyond these immediate concerns, many Suwayda residents are convinced that they are fighting “a war that the regime created by itself, against its people.”

Q: How's the general atmosphere in Suwayda province between the regime and the Druze inhabitants?

Before the revolution the regime marginalized the province on all different levels...after the revolution started, you could say that the regime succeeded, to some extent, in playing the 'protect the minorities card' and inflating the sectarian dimensions of the revolution [to keep the Druze loyal]...as for now, the relationship is exceptionally tense.

Swyida Suwayda locals destroy a checkpoint in January. Photo courtesy of @shahedon

Q: Suwayda city residents have attacked the military intelligence branches several times in order to free young men who were taken for military service. Why are they doing this?

There are a lot of reasons for the attacks: first of all, Swuyada has become convinced that the regime is only protecting itself, and is using the sons of Suwayda as fuel for a war that it created by itself against its people.

More than 14,000 young men from the province are wanted for mandatory and reserve military service in a province whose population is no more than 400,000 people, most of whom are abroad.

The regime responds with deliberation and fraud. Deliberation, because it sees that it still benefits from the province of Suwayda, in the first place from a media perspective, by portraying it as a loyal province. Secondly, because it can still benefit from its human resources in its so-called war.

As for fraud: the regime continues to create dangers that threaten the security of the city in order to coerce it to stand with the regime, like the news that IS has a presence in the northeast of the province. Or the news about that Nusra brigade in Daraa, which kidnapped a number of sons of the province and claimed more than one missile launching operation against the city.

Q: How does the Druze sect view the war in Syria? What do they want for the future?

You can't claim that the Druze have a single, united view for the future of Syria, as is the case with all Syrians...but you can say that sectarian obsession, the security vacuum and fear of extremism is the axis around which the larger portion of the province's civilian population revolves.

Q: Seeing as there are continuous protests, why are some Druze still standing with the regime?

I'll answer your question with a question: has the revolution succeeded in presenting sufficient guarantees to all Syria's minorities in case Assad's regime falls?

The one guarantee [of safety] to minorities in any society is strengthening the concept of a civil, pluralistic state. The revolution has not succeeded in presenting this idea in a convincing and effective way.

On the other hand, you have all the repression, punishment and torture  that the regime has committed and continues to commit against anyone who raises his voice...it's worth noting that Suwayda was among the first cities to peacefully revolt, by staging union sit-ins and protests. But the sound of weapons, and anxiety of the revolution's increasing sectarian nature harmed the revolutionary movement--although it hasn't ended, of course.

Q: What happened to the young men who were freed from the recruitment stations and intelligence force buildings?

Residents freed just those young men who were wanted for mandatory and reserve service. They are now hiding out of sight, like any other individual who is wanted for service in Assad's army. As for the political prisoners and activists and those fleeing from service, they are on their way to becoming martyrs through torture—keep in mind, the city of Suwayda has 25 martyrs killed under torture in the security branches.

Q: How did Druze view military service before the revolution?

Before the revolution, any citizen looked at mandatory military service from the perspective of one trying to secure his daily bread, in light of lack of job opportunities and marginalization of the province on all levels—economic, social and in terms of services.

Keeping in mind that the percentage of Suwayda volunteers in the army and security services was very low...going abroad was the more stable option for these young men [in order to secure work]. 

Q: Why are there weekly protests against the regime because of the dead soldiers of Suwayda, whereas we don't notice this same phenomenon in other minority provinces?

I don't agree with your assessment. There aren't weekly protests against the regime because of the army's martyrs. The more prominent protests are against recruitment and the regime chasing down [those wanted for service] and storming houses.

But you could say that there is clear fatigue and anger, so clear you can't ignore it, as a result of the growing numbers of dead among the sons of Suwayda who are forced to fight with the regime.

Q: Is it possible for these protests to lead to an armed revolution among the people of Suwayda against the regime?

I think that as long as the regime is benefiting, even a little, from Suwayda province—in terms of the media and soldiers—it will try to absorb the province's anger and protests. But when it senses that it has lost all benefit from the province, it won't hesitate to suppress dissent with the techniques known to all Syrian civilians.

The situation in Suwayda is extremely charged...but I don't think that an armed confrontation with the regime is looming on the horizon.

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