The Syrian Sweida protests continue for the fifth day, and there are chants of Assad’s departure

Hundreds of Syrians – yesterday, Thursday – in the city of As-Suwayda (southern Syria) took to the streets for the fifth consecutive day to protest against the worsening economic and living conditions, and to demand the departure of the regime’s president, Bashar al-Assad.

Witnesses and civil society activists said that residents gathered in a main square in the city, located in the southwest of the country, in protests that erupted last week due to a sudden sharp rise in fuel prices, which worsened living conditions.

Prominent religious leaders of the Druze community met on Thursday for the first time since the protests erupted, and recognized the right to peacefully protest against government policies.

The “spiritual leader of the Druze monotheistic sect,” Sheikh Hikmat al-Hijri, told members of the sect to which most of the province’s residents belong – that this movement is the voice of truth for the Syrian people. But he denounced vandalism or acts of violence.

The sheikh of the “Aql of the Druze community” in Syria, Hammoud al-Hinnawi, confirmed – in a speech to demonstrators in As-Suwayda two days ago – that the protests taking place in the province “stem from the core of reality.”

Protesters, who had burned a huge poster of Assad hanging in the main square, chanted, “We want to eat, Bashar” and “Leave, Bashar, leave.” Such chants were heard at the beginning of the revolution against Assad’s rule in 2011, which faced a violent crackdown by the regime’s security forces and ignited a conflict that has been going on for more than a decade.

As-Suwayda protesters carried out strikes and blocked streets with burning tires during the past days (communication sites)

50 pretend points

The day before yesterday, the protest coordinators in the governorate counted – within 24 hours – more than 50 demonstration points, as they began a few days ago with demands and protests against the deteriorating economic conditions in the governorate, the loss of basic materials, and the high inflation rates.

As-Suwayda – which includes most of the Druze of Syria – distanced itself from the protests that took place in most regions of the country in 2011, calling for the overthrow of the Syrian regime. However, this southern governorate witnessed several times protests against living conditions, and the regime worked every time to contain them.

Syria is going through a stifling economic crisis that led to the depreciation of its currency to a record high of 15,500 pounds to the dollar last week, in an accelerating collapse. The currency was trading at 47 pounds to the dollar at the beginning of the conflict 12 years ago.

Security sources and diplomats said – according to Reuters – that the As-Suwayda protests are fueling officials’ fears that they will spread to the coastal areas overlooking the Mediterranean, which are strongholds of the Alawite minority to which Assad belongs, where activists recently launched rare calls for a strike.

State media did not mention the protests, but pro-government commentators accused foreign powers of fueling the unrest and warned of chaos if it continued.

Last week, the head of the regime issued a decree to increase wages by 100%, and the government also announced decisions to raise fuel prices by up to 200%.

The issued decree included an increase in the minimum wage for workers in the private sector to approximately $13, while the salary of a public sector employee ranges between $10 and $25, according to the black market exchange rate.

The majority of Syrians live below the poverty line, while more than 12 million of them suffer from food insecurity, according to the United Nations.

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