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Will Syria’s Assad resort to violence as Suwayda protests grow?

No longer neutral, Suwayda province's Druze minority now demand the ouster of Bashar al-Assad.
A man snaps a picture of a red rose raised by a protester.

A wave of unprecedented demonstrations continued for the 11th day Wednesday in Syria’s southwest province of Suwayda, which is mainly populated by the country’s Druze minority and has remained largely neutral throughout the civil war. Thousands of protesters have been out on the streets since Aug. 20 demanding the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and ransacking the local offices of his Baath Party. Sunnis in neighboring Daraa province have joined in the calls for “bread, freedom and dignity.”

The unrest has raised fresh questions about the viability of the Syrian government, just as Arab nations are resurrecting ties with Damascus and have welcomed it back into the Arab League amid crushing sanctions imposed by European nations and the United States.

A key narrative of the regime has been that not only the Alawite sect — of which Assad is a member — is loyal to it, but the Druze and other minorities are as well. “That narrative is now collapsing,” said Joshua Landis, who heads the Middle Center of the University of Oklahoma and closely follows Syria. It has also tied Damascus' hands.

Many believe it’s only a matter of time before government forces resort to violence, particularly if members of the security forces are targeted. “Initially, Assad probably thought ‘I have won and we can let this happen; we can let the Druze let off some steam,’” Landis told Al-Monitor. “It turned out to be a mistake from the Assad point of view, and Assad’s military will have to keep him in power.”

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