The province of Suwayda' in southern Syria, known for its Druze majority, has recently witnessed some anti-government protests in the context of a deteriorating living situation in the country. There have also been reports of some arrests and attacks on demonstrators. While the protests are noteworthy, they have been sensationalised to some degree in external media coverage and analysis, with some portraying the protests as representing the wider stance/'message' of the Druze community. Such depictions are as erroneous as portraying the pro-government counter-rallying as representative of the community as a whole.
I am pessimistic that the protests will lead to a real positive outcome even if they continue. For one thing, it is very unlikely that they will lead to an improvement in the living situation. There are also valid concerns that partisanship on loyalist and opposition sides could give rise to mere internal strife/'fitna' with much bloodshed. Let us also suppose the state's authority were to be overthrown completely: what would occur next?
To talk more about the Suwayda' protests, I interviewed resident Rami Azzam, who identifies with the 'neutral'/'third-way' trend in Suwayda' but wishes to note that he is speaking here in a personal capacity. This interview was conducted on 17 June 2020. Any parenthetical insertions in square brackets.
Q: What are the reasons for the protests in Suwayda'?
A: The poverty and hunger that have befallen the people.
Q: And do you consider that the government is responsible for these problems entirely or there are other factors like the sanctions on Syria?
A: In general the people's aim is not to resolve the great political issues into which the government has fallen. These sanctions were imposed several days ago. As for the expensive cost of living and the hoarding by the senior businessmen who are close to senior figures in the state and the fact that the state is not holding these businessmen to account, this is one of the reasons [for the problems]. The second reason is the hoarding of goods in the businessmen's warehouses, and the important reason is the presence of the corrupt people in the state and the state's inability to hold them to account because they are of the foundation of the state. These sanctions are contributing to the deterioration of the economy but the corrupt people and the fact that the state is passing over in silence the holding of the senior businessmen to account are the main reason.
Q: Yes of course. Fine. The demonstrations that have called for the bringing down of the government: in your opinion do they represent the majority of the people of Suwayda'? Or are they representative of a small movement in the province only?
A: They represent a considerable group of the people of Suwayda'. There are many of those who criticise this situation but they have not gone out in the demonstrations in order to avoid the collision that has occurred or will occur.
Q: Yes, and likewise the loyalist demonstrations represent one of the contingents of the people, but the majority are quiet or want to avoid the fitna?
Q: Do you fear the outbreak of a war inside Suwayda' between the loyalists and oppositionists?
A: I do not expect that that will happen with the knowledge that the regime is trying to reach this result, but the people of Suwayda'- loyalists and oppositionists- continue to be adorned with fine manners and therefore this will not happen. Perhaps some mistakes occur from the two sides in this situation but the matters will not develop into an internal war if God wills.
Q: Yes right. Some people especially externally suggest that Suwayda' become independent of the authority of the Syrian state and join the so-called Autonomous Administration, but this talk is not realistic. Is that not so?
A: The issue is not one of realistic or unrealistic consideration. The issue is in the matter of belonging. The homeland is not the possession of a specific group, state, authority or sect. The matter is that Syria is for all Syrians. And this is a rejected thing [i.e. breaking from the Syrian state and joining the Autonomous Administration] for a number of reasons, the most important of which is that we will not let go to waste the efforts of our ancestors and especially the efforts of Sultan Pasha al-Atrash the general leader of the Great Syrian Revolt, who freed Syria from the French. After this effort of the Pasha and his companions, we will not accept abandoning the homeland. Sultan Pasha liberated all of Syria and did not liberate Suwayda' only.
Q: Yes. Lastly do you expect that the ongoing events will lead to any change in the livelihood situation in Suwayda'?
A: Currently I do not think that. The situation is very bad.
Q: And what is your advice to the people of Suwayda'?
A: The advice to the loyalists and oppositionists in Suwayda' in particular: the Syrian war is a sectarian war with distinction. We must avoid this war and we must follow our just predecessors in that the blood of the Druze on the Druze is forbidden so therefore do not allow any side, whether of the state or one besides the state, to compel us into Druze-Druze infighting.