Revolutions collapse if they last too long, and revolutionary values can shift when there is diversity in the leadership based on them.
On March 18, 2011, the Syrian revolution erupted with three core goals: "freedom, justice, and dignity." However, these goals began to fade when some radical extremist groups took control in opposition areas. These groups undermined the goal of freedom by suppressing the media and shifted the idea of justice to religious laws that discriminated against various segments of Syrian society. This resulted in the violation of the dignity of many, effectively erasing the goal of dignity.
After the defeat of the Islamic State, the original goals of the Syrian revolution were largely ignored in the areas where the Syrian opposition had influence. The leadership in the self-administration areas of northeast Syria prioritized battling the Islamic State and defending against the Turkish invasion. They deviated from the 2011 demands of the Syrian people and allowed the oppressive Syrian regime to establish a presence in their territories.
This left those Syrians opposing the Assad regime feeling a lack of national identity, which once advocated independence from oppressive forces. The conflict led to the displacement of over 6.5 million Syrians and the death of 350,000 individuals, according to United Nations statistics that some consider questionable.
Similarly, the opposition linked with the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces overlooked the values of the Syrian revolution by settling in areas distant from their popular base. This caused their institution's elections to be limited to those already within their ranks, sidelining the principle of transparency. Consequently, their institutions became stagnant, with the same names frequently occupying leadership positions, and their narrative seemed dictated by the directives of international backers.
Overall, the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces lost their ability to act freely, fairness in decision-making, and the dignity inherent in the Syrian identity.
Meanwhile, the Syrian regime persisted in its suppression of freedoms and showed little regard for a constitution tailored to sustain Bashar al-Assad's rule. The judiciary was nothing more than a sham, offering a facade of justice. Furthermore, the regime neglected to take developmental initiatives in both the economic and social domains. After losing access to Syrian oil and cotton, the regime's economy pivoted to:
Manufacturing and trafficking drugs at local, regional, and international levels.
Exploiting civilians through military checkpoints managed by the Fourth Division of the Syrian Army, commanded by Bashar al-Assad's brother, Maher al-Assad.
Imposing steep taxes on residents despite failing to offer consistent electricity, water, sewage, and municipal amenities.
Levying hefty taxes on merchants and industrialists through the Economic Office, linked to the President's wife, Asma al-Assad, prompting many to leave Syria and invest overseas.
Manipulating the Syrian pound's exchange rate to monopolize foreign exchange.
Lowering the quality of consumer items, including different fuel types, medical supplies, and more.
These practices plunged Syrians, whether in opposition-held or regime-controlled regions, into a profound state of uncertainty. For many, illegal emigration seemed the only viable escape.
By the end of August 2023, Syria witnessed a significant turning point. Tens of thousands of peaceful protestors flooded the streets of the Sweida province, clamoring for the downfall of the Syrian regime. In mere days, this grassroots movement expanded to cover all social strata in the predominantly Druze Sweida province. Monuments of President Hafez al-Assad and his son were torn down, and numerous offices of the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party were shuttered.
The Sweida demonstrations were particularly striking for echoing the objectives and slogans of the 2011 Syrian revolution. Notably, the Druze community, known for its tight-knit social fabric, saw extensive participation from women. Unlike the conventional attire of their Sunni counterparts in Syria, the women at the Sweida protests did not veil themselves. Their appearance gave the protests an air reminiscent of European rallies. This presented a conundrum for the Syrian regime, which had often branded its adversaries as extremist Islamists dismissive of women's rights.
The Druze community's thought leaders, termed "sheikhs of the mind," also stood out for their unique perspectives. Sheikh Hikmat Al-Hajari stressed the importance of Syrian territorial integrity within a truly secular framework. He castigated Hezbollah and Iran for disrupting Syrian society, deeming them invaders of Syrian land. He also denounced the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party as corrupt and detrimental to the Syrian populace.
All these developments have put the Syrian regime in a precarious position. Just two weeks before the Sweida protests, the Syrian president asserted in an interview with Sky News Arabic that the number of protesters against his regime in 2011 "did not exceed 100,000, while millions supported him!"
While the president's claim is dubious, even if it were true, the percentage of protesters against his regime in 2011 would have been roughly 0.83% of the population, given a Syrian population of 24 million, half of whom were minors.
Currently, around 700,000 people from Sweida oppose Assad. This represents approximately 18.6% of the population in areas controlled by the Syrian regime, which numbers around 7.5 million. It's worth noting that half of this population is underage. Furthermore, 6.5 million Syrians are refugees outside of Syria, and another 10 million reside in regions controlled by the Salvation Government and the Autonomous Administration.
This percentage is undoubtedly higher, considering the growing popular dissent in regions under the Syrian regime's control. This discontent is fueled by deteriorating living conditions, inadequate public services, exorbitant taxes, and diminishing wages amidst unprecedented economic inflation in Syria. Limited protests have occurred in regime-affiliated areas like the rural parts of Daraa province and certain areas in Aleppo, Latakia, and Damascus. These protests voiced anti-regime sentiments but were quickly suppressed by security forces.
This climate has spurred Syrian opposition activists globally to amplify their protests in various capitals, standing in solidarity with the Sweida movement. On September 22, 2023, during the United Nations General Assembly, Syrian-American activists convened in front of the UN headquarters, holding a virtual meeting via the ZOOM platform. Participants included a defected minister from the Syrian regime and a representative from the Syrian opposition's negotiation body. Notably, the granddaughter of Sultan Pasha Al-Atrash, the leader of the Syrian revolution against the French occupation, also attended.
Additionally, a substantial demonstration was organized in Berlin on October 2, 2003. A striking feature of these activities was the display of the Druze flag alongside the Syrian opposition's banner. In Sweida, the protests showcased a diverse array of signs and symbols. Following the passing of novelist Khaled Khalifa on September 30, 2023, his images were prominently featured. This act underlined the pivotal role of art and intellect in unifying a Syrian society fragmented by sectarian and religious divisions.
The town of "Kafr Nabl", renowned for its compelling banners, featured a sign stating, "The people of Sweida, you are the people of the revolution."
To a Western reader unfamiliar with the intricacies of the Syrian context, these statements might not carry much weight. However, for Syrian society, especially the Sunni community, they are profound. The Sunnis perceive the Druze of Sweida as crucial allies against the regime's tyranny. They recognize the Druze's commitment to toppling the regime, provided its successor is a secular system without the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood—an organization they regard as a religious tyranny, akin to the military dictatorship Syria endured for over half a century.
Hence, among the most notable slogans from the people of Sweida were: "The National Coalition and the Muslim Brotherhood do not represent the Syrian people... We want to overthrow the regime."