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Saturday, February 24, 2024

Ahed NASR: A poetic young voice of Syria’s Sweida uprising

Ahed NASR

Ahed NASR is an activist in social and political affairs in Syria. NASR is also an active participant in the uprising in Sweida that began in August of 2023. He is currently working on a degree in civil engineering. He is also a poet who composes both classical and popular poetry. He writes lyrical poetry as well.

Ahed NASR recently spoke to SYRIAWISE from his home in Sweida. 

SYRIAWISE: It’s been more than 150 days since the uprising began in Sweida. What is the current plan and what are your aspirations?

Ahed NASR: Before delving into the plan of any revolution, it is essential to explore its reasons, that is, why there has been a revolution in Syria since 2011.

“the elder Assad emptied the party [ba’ath] of its content, removed its founding leaders, or eliminated them, becoming the secretary-general of this party, which remained in name only”

Starting from the 1960s, the Assad family seized control of the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party by force, which held the broad popular base in Syria at that time. The party’s priority was to prevent the emergence of any civil or military coalition within it. Thus, the elder Assad emptied the party of its content, removed its founding leaders, or eliminated them, becoming the secretary-general of this party, which remained in name only. From that time, it became a party of power.

Through the display of military force and intimidation, all other parties in Syria were forced to align under the so-called National Front parties led by the party of the new authority. Leaders who opposed this process either spent their lives in the depths of prisons, like Riad al-Turk, or were liquidated in various ways. All Syrian parties were now in Assad’s grip, isolating all Syrians from engaging in politics and confining power to the dictator.

Similarly, the Syrian army saw the dismissal of all its military-educated leaders, replaced by those close to Assad, since he took over the Ministry of Defense.

“To be a citizen in Assad’s view, one must praise him morning and evening and commend his security system”

In this context, only Syrians affiliated with the ruling party were entitled to all positions in state institutions and leadership roles. Non-affiliated Syrians were denied any rights, adhering to the idea of a nation based on a single ideology – the totalitarian regime’s. The Syrian parliament, supposed to represent the voice of the people to the authorities, only allowed those known for their loyalty to Assad, whether independents or the majority, as long as they belonged exclusively to the ruling party or its National Front parties. Thus, in this homeland, all legislative and executive powers are in Assad’s hands, with all parties under his control, including the army and even the judiciary, where the president leads the Supreme Judicial Council. This means facing a non-independent judicial authority, just as the media and press are pursued only by those affiliated with the ruling party or those willing to risk their lives for it. To be a citizen in Assad’s view, one must praise him morning and evening and commend his security system.

“The movement also gave rise to several political and national currents, with Sweida’s movement seeking to activate political action to solve the Syrian issue”

The uprising in Sweida began through its peaceful national movement, addressing the root cause of the problem – the ruling party. It peacefully and in a civilized manner, closed the offices of this party according to the Syrian Constitution for the year 2012, which abolished Ba’athist rule over the state and society. However, this has not been implemented on the ground by the authorities; the article was removed from the constitution to deceive the international community and the Syrian people. The closed offices, scattered in every village and city, are used to form civilian or armed security gangs, “Ba’ath Brigades.” Their task is to silence those opposed to Assad’s policies and select loyalists from society, placing them within state institutions through appointments. Similarly, civil free professional unions were formed, aiming to struggle within their respective fields. The movement also gave rise to several political and national currents, with Sweida’s movement seeking to activate political action to solve the Syrian issue, calling for the implementation of UN Resolution 2254 and related resolutions, most notably the Geneva I Communique, establishing a unified transitional governance body with full executive powers. This aims to prevent Assad and his allies from emptying the resolution of its content and to preserve Syria’s unity and independence, ending the suffering of the Syrian people.

A demonstration in Sweida countryside in December 2023; Credit: Ahed NASR

SYRIAWISE: The revolution in Sweida began with a great deal of enthusiasm. Do you think there will come a day when the people who are protesting will experience boredom or weariness?

Ahed NASR: The Sweida revolution is an extension of the first peaceful outcry in Syria in 2011 before Assad, his allies, and some ambitious countries managed to infiltrate the ranks of the rebels with extremists, militarizing the Syrian scene. Assad then used it as an excuse to fight terrorism, achieving the elimination of his opponents and ending the revolution’s goal. The Sweida movement today is not limited to peaceful demonstrations; it seeks to unify the efforts of Syrians inside and outside the country within a national framework. Regular meetings are held between activists and civil society in Sweida to discuss each new step Sweida can take. We are well aware that there are no shortcuts to freedom.

SYRIAWISE: This is the second wave of the Syrian revolution. So far no one has been able to create a fatal rift in the Assad regime. What has been the ultimate goal of your activities for the past five months?

Ahed NASR: Undoubtedly, the principle of a single ideology does not last, and there is no eternal life for totalitarian regimes. The Sweida movement is a Syrian national movement that rejects violence and extremism, calling for the implementation of UN Resolution 2254 and respecting human rights. It urges the international community to fulfill its responsibilities and work to implement the resolution to stop the Syrian bloodshed, achieve the desired political change, and establish a transitional governance body peacefully, ending the era of tyranny and laying the foundation for a new national era of justice, law, and equality.

“Protests continue to demand the release of political prisoners among the Syrians, and revealing their fate”

SYRIAWISE: We have perceived a significant momentum in Sweida with a lot of cooperation and coordination among a number of diverse organizations, associations, and unions. Is this increasing or decreasing? Are there still new segments of society that continue to join your movement?

Ahed NASR: Since the start of the Sweida movement there has been a constant effort to form free unions by civil society to confront institutionalized national work in any upcoming political event. Several civil political currents have also been established. We always emphasize the importance of preserving state institutions owned by the people, aspiring to achieve political change in the country to restrain the corrupt ruling party from controlling national institutions. Additionally, many activists and journalists work on monitoring corruption files, highlighting them to the public to socially besiege the corrupt. These steps, however, are first aid measures and do not fulfill comprehensive change, as the authorities will send new figures to these institutions, giving one of them the freedom to collect what can be stolen from the people’s money through bribery and embezzlement in these institutions without accountability. The judiciary, the army, security, and justice are in the hands of Bashar al-Assad himself.

The popular movement continues to gain momentum despite the winter, rain, and cold atmosphere in the province. Peaceful demonstrations have not stopped for more than 150 days. Protests continue to demand the release of political prisoners among the Syrians, and revealing their fate. This is a negotiable humanitarian issue.

A demonstration in Sweida in 2024; Credit: Ahed NASR

SYRIAWISE: The protests that were being held in Jabal al Arab (the Arab Mountain region called Sweida) in 2023 reignited the hopes of many Syrian freedom activists who suffered a lot for their own activism. Why do you think Assad did not punish the people of Sweida for their activism as harshly as he punished the people from other areas of Syria?

Ahed NASR: It is a very big mistake to think that Sweida has not been punished like the rest of the Syrian provinces. You are talking about a province whose people were displaced before 2011 due to the oppressive and repressive policies of Assad towards its sons, just like the situation of all Syrians. However, Hafez Assad and his son did not directly punish Sweida so as not to contradict their claim of protecting minorities before the international community. The Sweida province is predominantly inhabited by the Druze community, a secular community that bears the slogan ‘Religion for God and the Nation for All.’

As for Assad’s methods of punishing Sweida, he started by forming kidnapping and crime gangs within the community under the cover of security and with financial and weapons support from Assad’s military apparatus, Iran, and the Lebanese Hezbollah. This was done by exploiting the weaknesses of the individuals from this province, wherein they were given security cards and became a launching point for spreading terror and drug trafficking even to neighboring countries like Jordan. Many residents of Sweida and guests of the province fell victim to these gangs.

Ironically, these gangs, which civil society is working to combat, are bothered by the national movement in Sweida and constantly try to provoke peaceful protesters through armed displays or threatening them with death in videos posted on social media. Many of them received military training from Hezbollah militias in Daraa; the purpose of these training sessions is still unknown, but the Syrian experience confirms that the goal is to eliminate any opposition voice to the regime.

“ISIS attack was planned by Assad in response to the refusal of Sweida’s sons to join the Syrian regime’s army”

Sweida is also always threatened by extremist groups like ISIS. The Syrian regime, in previous years, transferred elements from this organization from the Yarmouk camp in Damascus to the outskirts of Sweida. These elements attacked many Druze villages, killing dozens of their residents without distinguishing between children, elders, or women. It is worth mentioning that the Druze were able, after the surprise ISIS attack, to repel the organization, confront it with primitive weapons, and cause dozens of casualties in its ranks.

This ISIS attack was planned by Assad in response to the refusal of Sweida’s sons to join the Syrian regime’s army. The number of those who refrained from joining reached thousands of young men, although teach individual, after taking this step, would live isolated in Suwayda’s geography, deprived of all his civil rights, including obtaining a passport or any official or legal document, as military conscription in Syria is mandatory.

A demonstation in Sweida on Dec. 29, 2023; Credit: Ahed NASR

SYRIAWISE: What is your message to the world?

Ahed NASR: I thank you for granting me the opportunity to shed light on the suffering of the Syrian people who demand freedom and their legitimate rights to life. My message to everyone who reads this article is to strive, through their positions, to bring attention to the Syrian issue, given the international negligence in finding fair solutions. The attempts by Assad and his allies to circumvent the UN Resolution 2254 issued in 2015 and related decisions, especially in Geneva, should not go unnoticed.

As Syrian people, we believe in the value of human life and seek to improve the humanitarian conditions that unite us across the globe, starting from our wounded Syrian homeland. I hope that together, as individuals, groups, human rights organizations, and international entities, we can work towards including a clear definition of terrorism within the United Nations laws. This should encompass the terrorism of regimes that may rule nations and peoples with iron and fire, so that justice and law prevail, and we achieve human development worldwide. From Jabal al Arab (Sweida) in southern Syria, we love you all in the name of humanity.

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