The Suwayda Uprising

The Suwayda uprising didn’t emerge abruptly from thin air. It was a culmination of preceding stances. Suwayda, predominantly inhabited by Druze monotheists, witnessed a sequence of evolving positions since the onset of the Syrian uprising in 2011. During this period, the governorate distanced itself from aligning with the regime. It demonstrated this by refusing to send its youth for military service, citing a desire not to contribute to the suffering of their fellow Syrians. However, it also refrained from openly supporting armed opposition factions, the Syrian National Council, or the National Coalition. However, some factions within Suwayda adopted more radical positions in their hostility towards the regime, notably, “The Men of Dignity,” led by Sheikh Al-Balous, who was killed by the Syrian regime on September 4, 2015. Similarly, an armed faction led by First Lieutenant Khaldoun Zain al-Din was formed of Suwayda natives. Lacking the same level of support that was given to other Islamist factions, the group eventually suffered losses in battles against regime forces who killed its leader.

Despite the fluctuating nature of Suwayda’s anti-regime activities, they have surged over the last two years as living conditions have deteriorated to an unbearable extent. The prospect of improved living conditions, promised by Assad in government-controlled areas during lulls in violence, has dissolved. The situation has further worsened due to declining public services, persisting checkpoints, ongoing citizen extortion, widespread corruption, and deteriorating quality of life in all its aspects. Such circumstances have become nearly unbearable, resembling conditions worse than slavery. The escalating exodus of Suwayda’s youth, mirroring the trend in other regions, threatens Syria’s population continuity. Meanwhile, Iran’s involvement in real estate acquisitions, its various operations aimed at converting Syrians to Shiism, as well as naturalizing them has jeopardized the nation’s demographic balance. All this unfolds amidst a lack of foreseeable political solutions, the failure of the “action for action” project, and a prevailing sentiment among Syrians that the conflicting parties have completely abandoned them.

Due to the worsening circumstances, opposition factions in Suwayda have intensified their operations over the past two years, even to the point of dismantling militias associated with Syrian security services and Iran. The populace has consistently vented their frustrations in public spaces, channeling their grievances into political demands that extend beyond mere requests.

Salary Increases Add Fuel to the Fire

In response to Assad’s apprehensions regarding the potential social upheaval due to the dire circumstances, he swiftly issued decrees No. 11 and 12 of 2023, mandating a 100% increase in the salaries of both state institution employees and retirees, based on their basic salaries. [1]  This move aimed to quell the growing discontent among Syrians residing within the territories under the regime’s control. Notably, the salaries of state institution employees in those regions serve as a benchmark for salaries in the private sector.

Because the regime lacks genuine resources for such an increase, owing to the economy’s devastation throughout the years of the Syrian war from 2011 to 2023, no margin is left for salary increases. This economic devastation has been compounded by myriad factors: severe Western sanctions; entrenched corruption that repels investments; restrictions from both the United States and Arab nations on the regime’s Captagon trade — a potential alternative financial source; the regime’s ongoing substantial need for expenditures on a still-large military; a bloated administrative apparatus; and insufficient aid from its supporters, Iran and Russia. The regime, adhering to its customary approach, turned to heightening energy carrier prices, reducing subsidies for select goods and services, and even to decreasing the number of reserve service personnel in its army. These results echo what Syrians have witnessed, for over half a century under Assad’s rule, with salary increases; they often translate into diminished purchasing power for wages.

Syrians have consistently reiterated that their aim is not to secure salary increases but rather price stability. Consequently, following the two issued salary increment decrees, the salaries of state workers now range between $12 to $17 per month, a stark reduction from 2022 when it was around $22. For instance, after the increase, the basic salary for a doctoral degree holder amounts to 224.2 thousand Syrian pounds (approximately $16). Diploma holders now receive 209 thousand Syrian pounds (about $14.9), while high school graduates are entitled to 196 thousand Syrian pounds ($14) and those with a preparatory certificate receive 190 thousand Syrian pounds ($13.6). This is particularly notable considering the current exchange rate of the Syrian pound, which hovers around 14,000 to the US dollar.  

Numbio[2], a website specialized in gauging cost of living and quality of life, approximates that an individual in Syria requires over $4 per day to sustain a dignified life under normal circumstances. This translates to needing more than $130 a month per person, while a family of five would need $650 monthly. Even if we hypothetically reduce an individual’s daily requirement to two dollars, the present conditions dictate that a family of five would still require $300 monthly to maintain a basic standard of living. In contrast, the average monthly salary barely exceeds $25. This makes it hard to imagine or explain how such households can survive. This renders the Syrian situation highly precarious, a powder keg ready to explode at any moment across all corners of the country.

The regime finds itself bereft of resources to bridge the chasm between the income of Syrian families and their essential expenditures. Its options for generating new resources are scarce, leading it to resort to raising prices—a strategy that essentially cancels out its concessions and further exacerbates the situation. This is compounded by the erosion of health, education, and transportation services, along with the proliferation of corruption and crime. Consequently, the quality of life in Damascus sinks to the lower rungs when benchmarked against major cities globally.

Instead of pacifying the Syrian populace, the salary increases, which triggered even greater price hikes, has made the movement in Suwayda stronger this time around. The momentum of the movement, which now bears an overt political message demanding the regime’s departure, remains unabated and has extended beyond the confines of Suwayda city to encompass numerous towns and cities within the governorate. This expansion poses a threat of contagion to other governorates, a prospect that is simultaneously frightening and unsettling to the regime.

Amidst the gravity of these unfolding events, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian is scheduled to arrive in Damascus on the evening of August 29, 2023, following his visit to Beirut. His visit is official and aims to engage with senior officials. As reported by the pro-Syrian newspaper “Al-Watan,” the Iranian minister is set to convene with Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Faisal Mekdad on the subsequent day to deliberate on the latest developments[3].

Remarkably, the Suwayda movement has been able to capture the attention of various stakeholders within the Syrian landscape, garnering their endorsement and support. For example, Stefan Schneck, the German special envoy to Syria, has applauded the resolute spirit of Suwayda and Daraa’s inhabitants who participated in demonstrations advocating for freedom and justice, and has urged the Syrian regime to abstain from employing violence against peaceful protests. Likewise, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, has highlighted the serene protests unfolding in Syrian cities, particularly in these two regions. During a session of the UN Security Council, she underscored the situation on Suwayda and Daraa saying, “These are areas where the revolution started, and it is clear that peaceful demands have not been met.”

Meanwhile, EU spokesperson Luis Miguel Bueno has said that Syria grapples with a challenging economic predicament caused by mismanagement and the regime’s creation of a wartime economy alongside its allies. He proposed that a political resolution could potentially ameliorate the situation for all Syrian citizens. Meanwhile, Brigitte Karmi, France’s special envoy to Syria, commended the revived demonstrations demanding the regime’s fall. Anne Snow, the UK’s envoy to Syria, affirmed, “As we observe the protests in Syria, it’s evident that Syrians will never capitulate. I applaud their courage.”

Implications of the Suwayda Uprising

The Suwayda uprising bears a multifaceted significance. Despite arising in response to worsening living conditions, it has not manifested solely as a hunger-driven revolution; its scope has been extended to include political aspirations, advocating for a solution aligned with Resolution 2254, the regime’s departure, and broader political reform. In Al-Karama Square in the heart of Suwayda, demonstrators resoundingly chanted, “The people demand the fall of the regime.” Remarkably, the movement has declined negotiations with the regime’s representatives, and the religious institution of the Druze, the so-called Mashayikh al-Aql (Sheikhs of Reason), have thrown their weight behind the uprising. Protesters raised flags representing the Druze community, displaying the three-red-starred opposition flag very occasionally.

This selective display of flags has drawn criticism within opposition circles, as they fear that some will interpret the failure to raise a Syrian flag as an expression of an implicit desire for independence. However, according to some residents, who are well-acquainted with the situation, opinions about the flag are divided: whether they must raise the flag of the opposition or the official flag of the regime. This nuanced choice is seen as an attempt to mitigate regime provocation while Suwayda remains under its jurisdiction. Furthermore, given that large portions of Syrians in regime-controlled territories do not respond favorably to the opposition flag, this decision reflects a recognition of their sentiments regardless of their position on the regime.

Another significant implication is that this uprising has mitigated the effects of the othering that the regime has systematically cultivated over the years of the Syrian war, lessening the feelings of fear that exist among the various communities. The regime has sought to create a divide primarily between the Sunni majority and various minority groups, including Druze, Ismailis, Christians, Alawites, and Shiites. The animosities that had been escalating between different sections of the population began to recede as military clashes tapered off in 2018. This shift coincided with the deterioration of living standards, leading to a convergence of the living conditions of all Syrians at comparably low levels, except for a few warlords, war profiteers and a select group of the ruling elite along with their affluent associates.

The prevalent sentiment is that the Syrian war was a calamity for all. The shared hardship has unified Syrians, and collective anxieties have become the fragile thread that binds them together. Followers of the various sects have ceased to view each other as enemies, a perception that had been pervasive a few years prior, except in some extremist circles. Syrians across the board recognize that they have collectively borne the weight of the same dark destiny, serving as joint stakeholders in the Syrian catastrophe, while a select few have reaped its benefits.  

Another significant consequence is what was once seen as a stronghold of the regimehas begun to separate itself from it. An uprising from within what the regime perceived as an enduring bastion now poses a substantial existential threat to its very existence. Unlike before, Assad cannot attribute this to external manipulation, although a faction within his administration has begun to promote this narrative. It is widely recognized that the catalyst for this unrest is the unbearable and dire deterioration in living conditions. The regime’s stronghold has come to realize that all the promises of improved living standards after the war’s end were nothing but an illusion; in fact, the opposite has occurred. The plummeting exchange rate of the Syrian pound against the dollar serves as a stark indicator of this crisis.

The following table shows changes in USD/Syrian Lira exchange rate

Assad is acutely aware of the perils posed by the Suwayda revolution, as it aligns with a burgeoning political consciousness and a radical stance against Assad and his regime, with the resounding message of “He Must Go.” Wider sectors within what was considered the regime’s stronghold have come to realize that the Syrian crisis will persist as long as Assad and his regime hold sway. This sentiment is gaining more explicit expression, most notably from Suwayda, and the threat of its spread to other areas looms large. The courage to voice these views is cautiously surfacing, albeit tinged with fear of the regime’s historical brutality, endured over more than five decades.

Moreover, the Suwayda uprising bears an additional implication that mirrors the well-guarded secret of most Syrians. While their active participation in the uprising might not be prevalent across other towns and cities at this stage, the simmering anger within Syrians living under regime control is palpable. This includes what was previously considered the regime’s stronghold. A mounting number of Syrians now hold Bashar al-Assad and the closely-knit elite accountable for their dire situation, rampant corruption, and abysmal governance. Assad’s legitimacy has eroded significantly in their eyes, rendering his claims of being cherished by “his people” and seeking their welfare empty rhetoric. The legitimacy of a ruler erodes when the ability to provide necessities and dignified life falters, and even more so when ensuring food and safety for the populace proves elusive. Additionally, the regime’s suppression of freedoms, which began under Hafez al-Assad’s reign in 1970 and was perpetuated by his successor Bashar, further undermines its credibility.

Calling for a Suwayda Governorate Independent from the Regime

A noteworthy development emerged when retired officers from the Suwayda governorate, who support the uprising, led by Brigadier General Nayef al-Aqil, advocated for the establishment of an “interim board of directors” to oversee the administration of the governate, and the opening of the border crossing with Jordan. In their statement, the retired officers emphasized their backing for the aspirations of the popular movement until its objectives were fulfilled, asserting that they are an “integral part of it.” They further underscored the unity of Syria’s land and people, advocating for the resolution of all problems through a peaceful political solution aligned with UN Resolution 2254.[4]

However, this proposition faced criticism from many of the opposition leaders, as it seemingly entails isolating the governorate from the broader shared concerns of Syria. Implicitly, it suggests the potential creation of a canton for Suwayda, possibly in conjunction with Daraa. This has also triggered speculation among some that the call might have external origins or coordination. However, this call has not garnered significant resonance among the protesters, and the spiritual leadership of the Druze in Suwayda refrained from endorsing it, regarding the call as a collection of individual opinions. Meanwhile, Sheikh Hikmat al-Hijri, addressing the people of Shahba, has unequivocally stated, “We reject the idea of separation.”[5]

Assad Fears the Spread of Protests:

What Assad fears most is the potential spread of protests to other cities within the areas under his control, for he is well aware that the suffering in those areas is widespread. Moreover, regions like Homs, Hama, Aleppo, Deir ez-Zor, Daraa, and Quneitra have deep-seated grievances against the regime, having been subjected to bombings resulting in substantial casualties, the displacement of countless inhabitants, and the apprehension and disappearance of tens of thousands.

While these areas may not have witnessed large-scale demonstrations akin to those in Suwayda, there are indications that an eruption is possible at any given moment, reminiscent of the tense atmosphere that prevailed in the February before the March 2011 explosion. For example, concurrent with the Suwayda protests, there was a demonstration in the vicinity of the Jaramana area near Damascus, voicing grievances over the deteriorating living conditions. On August 17, within the Daraa governorate, shops shuttered, and tires were set alight in the cities and towns of Nawa, Tafas, Sheikh Saad, and al-Shajarah. On August 18, demonstrations unfolded in the towns of Eastern Karak, Giza, Busra al-Sham, al-Hirak, Inkhil, and Nawa. Similarly, on August 19, a demonstration took place near the Omari Mosque in Daraa al-Balad. By August 22, banners were displayed in Khirbet Ghazala in a show of support for the Suwayda protests. Demonstrations were held on August 23 in the neighborhoods of al-Firdaws, al-Sukkari, and Salah al-Din in Aleppo city, accompanied by heightened security measures. August 24 saw the Bedouin clans of Suwayda announcing their alliance with the demonstrators in Suwayda. Moreover, in the western countryside of Deir Ezzor, a demonstration emerged in solidarity with Daraa and Suwayda. However, these gatherings largely remained small-scale and transient.

The regime’s greatest fear is the spread of protests to the coastal area, its incubator, where signs of a strongly muffled protest have begun to surface. On August 17, a message of solidarity came out of the coastal city of Jableh in solidarity with the people of Suwayda, alongside a statement from “Al-Tajamu Al-Shababi” [6] —a group of young men and women engaged in civic and cultural initiatives along the Syrian coast. Additionally, individual voices of dissent have become more audacious, where outspoken condemnation of the prevailing circumstances, is criticizing Bashar al-Assad himself and calling for his departure. Notable figures like journalist Kenan Waqaf, who has sought refuge outside of Syria, encouraged residents of regime-held areas to participate in sit-ins and strikes. Activist Ayman Fares from Tartous openly criticized Bashar al-Assad and his wife in a circulated video clip, accusing them of causing hunger among the coastal population and demanding his departure. Subsequently, he became a target of the regime’s security apparatus. Similarly, Firas al-Assad voiced criticism of the regime’s handling of those who express grievances about the dire economic reality. [7]

Assad’s concerns over the potential spread of protests to the Syrian coast are deeply rooted in the complex dynamics of the region that present a formidable challenge to his regime. What makes this region so perilous for Assad is the fact that a significant portion of those who have fought valiantly to safeguard it, with over 100,000 lives lost in the process, hail from the very heart of the coastal communities. Many of these currently serve as soldiers protecting his rule and have borne the brunt of destitution for the survival of his regime.

Should these individuals choose to unite with the ongoing protests, Assad could find himself isolated, with no shield of protection to guard him from the mounting dissent. This will lead to a split within the Alawite sect, which he has long exploited relied upon for his protection throughout the years of war. In the face of this looming crisis, Assad might be left with no alternative but to turn to Iranian-backed militias, including but not limited to Hezbollah and the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces, as well as Pakistani and Afghan militias. Such a move would inevitably thrust Iran into the role of an occupying force, summoned by Assad to shield himself from the Syrian populace.

As a result, it comes as no surprise that the regime is aggressively pursuing and apprehending individuals hailing from the coastal areas, particularly those who express their dissent through videos advocating for Assad’s departure from power.

The Regime’s Reactions to the Suwayda Uprising

The regime’s ability to employ violence against the protesters is severely limited due to a host of constraints and considerations. Resorting to force in Suwayda, for instance, risks igniting hostilities among the Druze population in Lebanon, but more importantly the Druze community in Israel who play an influential role in government. There is a palpable fear that any use of violence in Suwayda could trigger a cycle of retaliatory violence, akin to the events of 2011. This apprehension is compounded by the potential for solidarity from neighboring Daraa, which has already demonstrated strong support for Suwayda, as well as Quneitra. Both these border provinces have extensive frontiers shared with Jordan and Israel.

At a time when Jordan’s anger at the regime is mounting, the use of violence may provoke Americans and Europeans, increasing their pressure on the regime, particularly within the current context of strained relations between the the Americans and the Russians.

Nonetheless, the regime might view the prolonged continuation of protests as a strategic lever to exert pressure on its Iranian and Russian allies. By allowing these demonstrations to persist, it can signal to these key backers the urgency of increasing aid to address the pressing needs of Syrians within its areas, to quell rising discontent.

The regime continues to employ a strategy of neglect and denial, with its media outlets largely ignoring the ongoing demonstrations and their underlying demands. At times, they even go as far as outright denial, exemplified by the loyalist newspaper Al-Watan’s response to the Aleppo protests, where they claim that Aleppo is peaceful and there are no protests there. Even some Arab media outlets, which had previously supported the Syrian people’s uprising, now seem to disregard the Suwayda movement and the broader Syrian crisis.

In contrast, international media outlets such as CNN and The Guardian have taken notice of the Suwayda protests. The latter published an article praising these demonstrations: “These protests have awakened hope in Syrians. Their demands are clear, and no one is making economic demands,” emphasizing the political nature of the protest. The newspaper noted that these protesters did not target banks and shops, but rather focused their actions on symbols of power, including the headquarters of the Baath Party, removing images of Bashar al-Assad. It also underscored a critical point: “The world thinks that Bashar al-Assad has won after being readmitted to the Arab League, but it’s those on the ground who decide whether he’s a legitimate ruler or not.”[8]

Pro-regime online propaganda attempts to tarnish the reputation of the protest movement by falsely claiming it is driven by external forces. It spreads rumors suggesting that the movement intends to advocate for the secession of Suwayda. For example, prominent loyalist YouTuber Bashar Barhoum vehemently criticized calls for civil disobedience asserting that the aim is to overcome hardship and not be used as pawns by Saudi Arabia or Turkey, that the coastal region will not be a conduit for their agendas. Meanwhile the regime has redirected public frustration towards members of the People’s Assembly and government, demanding their expulsion in a bid to exonerate Bashar al-Assad, fully aware that decision-making authority in Syria remains firmly concentrated in his hands.

In an attempt to showcase its support base, the regime organized rallies on August 23 in a show of support for “the leader of the homeland, Bashar.” These demonstrations featured luxury car processions in cities like Tartous and Damascus to bolster Assad’s image. Paradoxically, these displays backfired, provoking significant outrage among the population, particularly in Damascus, Tartous, and other coastal cities. At a time when most Syrians struggle to provide for their families, seeing people in luxury cars rallying in support of Assad ignited a sense of scandal, underscoring that only those who remained steadfast in their loyalty to the regime participated. Many have articulated the sentiment: Did our sons sacrifice their lives for this?

The regime’s preference for the security solution remains firmly entrenched in Bashar al-Assad’s mind. While this approach has not been implemented thus far, Assad is actively preparing for its potential deployment. On August 21, the Syrian Minister of Defense issued an order suspending vacations for all military officers, non-commissioned officers, and personnel, effective from August 21, 2023, until further notice. This measure aimed to exert control over movement in Suwayda and prevent the spread of demonstrations, illustrating the regime’s reliance on security solutions to quash any potential protest in any governorate.

On August 22, following a demonstration in Nawa in the Daraa countryside, regime forces targeted the city with mortar fire. Simultaneously, violent clashes erupted in the vicinity of the region’s security branch and military security headquarters in the city. Reports from Aleppo activists indicate that the regime’s security forces initiated a wave of arrests in the Al-Firdaws and Al-Sukkari neighborhoods after protests emerged from these areas. Security forces utilized the “Shabbiha”, including residents of Al-Firdaws and Al-Heeb clans, who were armed with individual weapons and iron pipes.

Furthermore, the regime implemented an internet blackout in the entire city of Deir Ezzor, bolstered by intensified military and security patrols to prevent demonstrations on Friday, August 25, under the banner “We are suffocating.” Retired Major General Riad Issa Shalish, a cousin of Bashar al-Assad known for his alleged corruption, took to his Facebook page to call for a heavy-handed approach and zero tolerance in dealing with the situations in Daraa and Suwayda.

Notably, activist Ahmed Ibrahim Ismail, from the city of Jableh, was arrested for criticizing the regime and its government. As of now, his fate remains uncertain.[9].  Ayman Fares, a native of the Syrian coast, found himself in custody after attempting to seek refuge in Suwayda. This suggests that, thus far, the regime has opted not to resort to a full-scale security solution in Suwayda, instead employing a more restrained approach to contain the protests and prevent their spillage into other governorates.

In lieu of a strict security crackdown, the regime is banking on the eventual weariness of the demonstrators in Suwayda, hoping that this will not take too long. Simultaneously, it endeavors to appease the protesters by making them certain offers. However, despite all the regime’s attempts at reconciliation, the protesters remain resolute in their singular demand: the departure of the regime. Dr. Yahya al-Aridi, a media professor from Suwayda, revealed via a tweet that the promises made by the Suwayda governor on behalf of the leadership were dismissed as “empty.” He also said that there was an indirect reference to the threat of ISIS returning if the protest continued, with uncertain prospects for what the future holds.[10]  

Furthermore, Hussein Mortada, a member of Lebanese Hezbollah, released a video warning of potential “terrorist operations in Suwayda orchestrated by the United States.” He claimed that the American al-Tanf base in eastern Syria had allegedly introduced suicide bombers and terrorists into the Suwayda area with the intention of carrying out attacks within certain neighborhoods, subsequently blaming the Syrian state for intending to escalate the situation. The veracity of this threat remains unclear, leaving us uncertain regarding the regime’s response.


If the regime manages, against all odds, to temporarily pacify the situation in Suwayda, it will not be the end of the story. The regime’s inability to suppress the Suwayda uprising, fulfill the demands of its people or improve their living conditions guarantees that the situation will remain volatile. As long as living standards continue to deteriorate to the point of hunger, neither Assad nor Iran will have a viable solution. Syrians in Suwayda and elsewhere will likely return to the streets in protest. This reflects the enduring complexity of Syria.

With the absence of the Syrian opposition from the scene and the lack of leadership, the chronic weakness of the opposition, the Suwayda movement has emerged as the de facto voice of the Syrian opposition. It calls for a political solution in line with UN Resolution 2254, emphasizing the need for a political transition and the departure of the regime. This movement has the potential to serve as a catalyst for another peaceful uprising in various Syrian cities, offering a chance to break the deadlock of the Syrian crisis and finally bring it to the negotiation table—an outcome the Syrian people have eagerly awaited, having paid a steep price for their aspirations.

[1] 100% increase in the salaries