More than 12 years after the beginning of the Syrian Revolution the people of Syria have managed to reignite the fervor that drove hundreds of thousands of peaceful protesters into the streets during the Arab Spring uprisings. The heart of this new revolutionary wave is the governorate of Sweida, not far from the city of Daraa in the southern region of Syria where the popular protests calling for government reform began in March of 2011.
Sweida is mainly inhabited by the Druze, a minority sect that the Assad regime claimed to be protecting from revolutionaries and opposition activists they had labeled as “terrorists” in their propaganda aimed at getting international support and the support of minority sects in Syria, as they waged a brutal campaign of death and destruction against their own people. Despite the fact that many of the neighboring regions had been liberated by the opposition during the course of the revolution, Sweida had always remained under the regime’s control.
Eventually, with the aid of Russia, and Iranian and Hezbollah militias, the regime managed to regain control of Dara’a and all of the southern regions once held by the Syrian opposition, but the country itself has been in a serious decline ever since, financially, morally, and economically. Living conditions have become unbearable, even for those who once tolerated the continuity of the regime, and many have finally come to realize that the source of all of their problems is Assad.
Dr. Yahya Alaridi was one of the highest-ranking members of the regime to defect in the early years of the revolution and is also a member of the Druze community originally from Sweida.
Recently Syriawise connected with Dr. Alaridi, who over the years has become one of the major international spokesmen for the Syrian opposition, and asked him some questions about the recent developments in Sweida.
“The regime used its agents to indirectly create fragmentation inside the governorate of Sweida. It used threatening methods involving ISIS through its mouthpieces who said that members of ISIS had run away from jails and were probably heading towards Sweida to commit terrorist acts like blowing themselves up with explosives”Dr. Yahya Alaridi
Syriawise: In light of the fact that the Druze in Sweida are one of the minorities that Assad claimed to be protecting from “terrorists” since the beginning of the revolution, how do you think he is going to ultimately respond to those who have managed to reignite the revolution against him with their demonstrations?
Dr. Alaridi: The regime has already tried different ways and methods to suppress and finish such a unique protest. It is a reminder, an echo, and a continuation of the Syrian’s chants early on starting in 2011. The regime used its agents to indirectly create fragmentation inside the governorate of Sweida. It used threatening methods involving ISIS through its mouthpieces who said that members of ISIS had run away from jails and were probably heading towards Sweida to commit terrorist acts like blowing themselves up with explosives. A third method has been to claim that what is happening in Sweida is the result of foreign interference and that those people are traitors and connected with Israel. The fourth method involves some terrorist activities by its own agents which I should say continues to be a possibility because the regime felt that Sweida is back to Syria, and Syria is back to Sweida. But the Syrian revolution is back on track to topple this regime.
Syriawise: Why is this timing significant for Sweida to rise up again?
Dr. Alaridi: Actually, the timing is very important. The regime has actually proven that it is a real failure. It failed even those who have been keen on rehabilitating it, on recycling it, at the regional level or at the Arab countries’ level. Even its protectors; Iran, Russia, and some Western countries, have come to the conclusion that it has become unbearable and they are losing in this bargain with the regime. So it has become a liability rather than an agent to serve their purposes.
“I should say that the regime cannot use this religious connection to suppress people’s voices and prevent them from chanting for freedom”Dr. Yahya Alaridi
Syriawise: Does Bashar still have the support of the religious leaders of Sweida and how important do you think their influence is with the people there?
Dr. Alaridi: Concerning a relationship with the religious people, or the influence of the sheiks, the Sweida people’s voices and marches in the thousands have ruined this unnatural relationship and the vicious and cunning relations that the regime had used. The regime can no longer blackmail these leaders and turn them against their own people. They have recently made statements that were very sharp in their criticism of the regime, especially when Sheikh Hikmat al-Hajri (the spiritual leader of the unified Druze sect) said: “We did not authorize anybody to sell Syria’s resources. Those who want to sell their dignity can do that, but they do not have control over our dignity. We do not sell our dignity or freedom.” Moreover, I should say that the regime cannot use this religious connection to suppress people’s voices and prevent them from chanting for freedom.
Syriawise: Do you think the regime would be able to achieve its goals by dividing its ranks or inciting discord among the people who have tolerated, if not outright supported, Assad until now?
Dr. Alaridi: Regarding the divide and conquer principle that the regime inherited from foreign occupation, so far the fragmentation and discord that the regime has counted on and promoted with its surreptitious behavior are really diminishing. The waves of people and their rightful demands, especially their calls for rejecting the regime or to demand its stepping down, are also everybody’s demands in Syria. This is in harmony with what is happening in Syria.
“The present Syrian call coming from Sweida really wants to get rid of all the regime, with all its ranks, with all its branches, with all its dirt, along with, in particular, the Ba’ath Party the regime has been riding all these years”Dr. Yahya Alaridi
Syriawise: Bashar has proven time after time that he is beyond redemption as president of Syria. As a former member of the regime do you think that this applies to everyone that holds a government office in Syria? In other words, if he were to fall, would the entire slate have to be wiped clean or are there those who are more loyal to the welfare of Syria than they are to the survival of Assad as president?
Dr. Alaridi: The present Syrian call coming from Sweida really wants to get rid of all the regime, with all its ranks, with all its branches, with all its dirt, along with, in particular, the Ba’ath Party the regime has been riding all these years. Actually, Syrian courts will be waiting for those people. No revenge, nothing of the sort, but in a civilized way there are courts that would say their word towards such criminals. A political transition is a necessity as Syrians will determine their destiny in accordance with the constitution and elections and good governance, maybe in accordance with international legality resolutions concerning Syria.
“This regime’s continuity comes from the fact that foreign countries have interests and this regime in particular has proven to be the best servant for these interests. But that has been at the expense of the Syrian people and Syria in general”Dr. Yahya Alaridi
Syriawise: We know that for decades the Assads have managed to eliminate or drive every potential threat to their leadership out of the country making it hard to envision a viable replacement. Do you think there is a qualified entity that exists that would be able to assume the leadership of Syria that would be acceptable to most Syrians?
Dr. Alaridi: Concerning this excuse, this stupid excuse regarding the absence of a substitute or somebody who can be in the place of Assad, this has been a very long and sickening question posed by those who do not want to see a solution in Syria. Syria actually has lawyers, academics, politicians, economists, intellectuals of all kinds, and statesmen who can govern 10 countries, 10 states, very well. This regime’s continuity comes from the fact that foreign countries have interests and this regime in particular has proven to be the best servant for these interests. But that has been at the expense of the Syrian people and Syria in general. This has been the case and it is high time this situation comes to an end.