In recent months, Southern Syria, Damascus, and Latakia have become hotbeds of dissent, with mass protests and demonstrations spreading throughout the areas under the control of Assad and his regime. People have taken to the streets for weeks, not complaining simply of a spiraling economy or a lack of services but demanding regime change. Syrians, weary of years of conflict, economic hardships, and political repression, have found renewed hope and determination to voice their grievances and call for a new era of governance, the banner of the revolution is raised and the cry that the Syrian people and their revolution are one fill the streets.
Assad regime’s authoritarian rule and suppression of political freedoms have fueled widespread discontent. Syrians are tired of the corruption, theft of wealth and resources, often given or sold to Assad’s Russian and Iranian allies, raids, arrests, and torture, and the absence of development and services. In recent years, none have felt this more than those forced to live in the shadow of the regime. Those in the liberated north, suffering from siege, sanctions, and ongoing attacks from Russia and Assad, have managed to adapt under harsh conditions to provide necessities for the people, while the regime areas remain in a state of decline and decay.
Compared to many other parts of Syria, the liberated areas have better electricity, water, and medical services, and have slowly rehabilitated the economy and education sectors, providing hope and opportunities to the people. Meanwhile, those in the regime’s areas have faced a continually deteriorating society, despite the regimes receiving aid and resources from many Arab nations, allies like Russia, Iran, and China as well as organizations like the UN and Red Cross Red Crescent Society.
Mutaz from the southern province of Daraa spoke with L24 about life under Assad, “The situation is bad,” he said, “There are very few job opportunities, and most young people engage in smuggling or join smuggling groups. Those who cannot do that leave for Europe and send money to their families. As for services, they are still the same as before. There’s no electricity and water comes intermittently.”
It’s not only the poor infrastructure and services that are unbearable but a life of terror and repression, the need for an end to the regime’s oppressive tactics, arbitrary arrests, and human rights abuses. L24 spoke with Muhammad Ali al-Aboud, originally from Deir Ezzor, he fled to Idlib when life under Assad became untenable, “The difference,” he says, “between the liberated areas and Assad’s regime-controlled areas is vast, with no room for comparison. In the liberated areas, there’s safety, freedom, and dignity, while there (under Assad), fear, oppression, and restrictions dominate our lives.”
(Protesters in Suwayda – Day 17) [TheDiplomaticInsight]
One might wonder how or why, someone would live under such conditions Mutaz told L24 what led him to stay despite initial difficulties, “I used to think I should stay in my hometown, in my house because there were assurances from the reconciliations and the central government. But then I had to leave because there was nothing for me there. I was trapped. There were no job opportunities…”
The dire economic situation in Assad-controlled areas, including soaring inflation, high unemployment rates, and a lack of basic services, is among the top reasons for life becoming unbearable, yet the seeming mismanagement and corruption allowing Assad, and a small number of those close to his regime, to thrive while others suffer has further fueled frustration among the population. Syrians across regime areas are demanding economic reforms and improved living conditions, with many seeing the best means to attain that goal is the removal of Assad and his regime.
This erosion of support among once staunch supporters has significant implications for the regime. The economic crisis has weakened the regime’s social base and eroded its legitimacy. The middle class, including, government employees, doctors, engineers, and teachers, have also been hit hard by the economic crisis.
The Syrian Pound (SYP), which has fallen to record lows, plummeting to nearly 17,000 SYP to the dollar has created a climate of hyperinflation; coupled with corruption, exploitation, and baffling economic policies from the regime, like raising the prices of fuel by 300% after doubling salaries of government employees, caused roughly a 30% increase in market prices. This leaves the majority of people to suffer under the burden of a crumbling economy, often unable to attain basic necessities despite being employed.
(Children Play on Hafez Statue – 2013) [Unknown/Reuters]
One resident from Daraa, Abdullah, spoke to L24, saying about the economic situation, “There’s a significant increase in prices due to the soaring dollar exchange rate and exploitation by traders, resulting in price differences from one shop to another,” he continued, “There’s a near constant absence of electricity, high costs of medicine and fuel, and low wages for workers, making the economic situation extremely challenging.”
Salaries have become insufficient to cover basic needs, and the lack of job opportunities has forced many to seek employment abroad or rely on aid. This decline in living standards has fueled resentment and frustration towards the regime and its inability to provide economic stability and protect their interests has led to disillusionment and a loss of faith in Assad’s ability to govern effectively.
Among the challenges faced under the regime is the oppressive authoritarianism limiting freedoms and the constant threat of arrest or conscription, “The overall situation is unstable,” comments Abdullah, about the insecurity in Assad-held areas, “the presence of check points makes travel between villages difficult. Cases of arrests from time to time and fear of regime raids aimed at detaining existing revolutionaries in the area, all add to the instability.”
“In the beginning,” says Mutaz, about life in Daraa after the 2018 Russian-backed “reconciliation” deal, “we were afraid [the regime] would start targeting us as rebels,” however, after two years Mutaz realized they wouldn’t be killed but he says, “I stopped going out into the city for fear of being arrested,” the regime often arrests men for conscription or on charges of “disloyalty” for having lived in previously liberated areas.
Abdullah elaborates, “The security situation has a significant impact on daily life, many are arrested for mandatory (military) service, reserve duty, or wanted by the regime based on reports from its informants.” Among issues further complicating security, especially in the south, are the numerous militias and gangs, many of whom are associated with foreign groups such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah or Iran.
Foreign Influences and Occupation
Iran’s influence in southern Syria has grown significantly in recent years. Tehran has established a strong military presence, supporting local militias and providing financial aid, weapons, and training, raising concerns among the Syrian population, as it has led to increased sectarian tensions. The Iranian-backed militias have been accused of committing human rights abuses, including arbitrary arrests and extrajudicial killings. Two such areas where Iran has heavily expanded its influence are in Daraa and Deir Ezzor.
“The presence of the regime,” says Mutaz of Daara, “has made it easy for the Iranians,” and this is likely due not only to the military and financial support provided to Assad by Iran but also the lucrative drug trade, upon which Assad has become increasingly dependent upon over the years. Reports suggest that Iranian-backed militias have been involved in facilitating the production and smuggling of narcotics, exploiting the chaos of the conflict for financial gain.
(Boy with Iranian Flag) [Unknown/AFP]
The growing presence of Iran in Syria has led to tensions between Syrians and Iranians. Many Syrians perceive Iran’s involvement as an attempt to exert control and influence over their country, which has fueled resentment and mistrust. Cultural and religious differences have also contributed to these tensions, as some Syrians view Iran’s Shia influence as a threat to their predominantly Sunni society. These tensions have strained social cohesion and hindered efforts towards national reconciliation.
Aboud, from Deir Ezzor, fled his home due to Iranian presence, “As for foreign intervention, it’s not just international involvement in the regime-controlled areas, but also the presence of militias and criminal gangs that caused chaos and contributed to spreading sectarianism.” Iran implements very aggressive policies promoting “Persian language and culture” and “religious education” which many Sunni Arabs feel threatens their cultural and religious identity. “I couldn’t bear to see my children being influenced by sectarianism and insults to the companions of the Prophet,” says Aboud about why he fled to Idlib.
Iran’s expanding influence in Assad-controlled areas of Syria, particularly in the south and Damascus, have far-reaching consequences for the people. Allegations of involvement in drug trafficking, religious tensions between Syrians and Iranians, and accusations of land grabs and intimidation have further complicated an already complex situation.
A Need for Change
The resurgence of mass protests and calls for regime change in Southern Syria, Damascus, and Latakia reflects the deep-seated discontent among the Syrian population. Syrians are demanding an end to political repression, economic hardships, failed reconciliation efforts, and a more inclusive system that respects human rights and allows for genuine political participation.
“We hope for a future free from fear and betrayal,” says Abdullah, “We long for our beloved country to be liberated from the grip of this criminal regime, and we aspire to a better future for our children. We all have hope in our Lord to deliver us from this regime, as there is relief after hardship.”
The regime’s response to the recent descent will be critical in determining the trajectory of the conflict. A violent crackdown could lead to further escalation and potentially reignite armed resistance, while a more conciliatory approach could pave the way for a peaceful transition. The international community’s support for the aspirations of the Syrian people could play a crucial role in shaping the future of the country and the region.
Aboud spoke of a Syria, “liberated from the clutches of the Assad regime and all militias, where dignity, unity, and freedom will return to all Syrian lands. Our hope lies in God, and the dawn of freedom will follow this darkness, and this criminal regime will fall.”