The regime’s Reach

Analyzing Damascus’ Approach to Suwayda After 2011


In the Druze-majority region of Suwayda in southern Syria, a significant non-violent movement against the Syrian regime has emerged since August 2023. This development prompts an examination of the relationship between Suwayda and the Damascus regime over the past decade, particularly how this relationship has evolved to allow such a large-scale, peaceful movement without aggressive retaliation from the regime.

Despite remaining under regime control since 2011, Suwayda experienced periods of relatively lax governance, punctuated by civilian resistance. The region grappled with the hardships of a revolution turned civil war and the complexities of the post-conflict era. At several junctures, the regime depended on the Druze as part of a minority coalition in its war against the predominantly Sunni Muslim opposition. During these periods, the regime offered incentives and certain freedoms to the Druze for managing their affairs.

However, the relationship was strained when the Druze opposed mandatory military conscription, asserted their neutrality, or demanded better living conditions. In response, the regime employed varying tactics, which included force. Despite these tensions, the linkages between Suwayda and Damascus were not completely severed, leading to a dynamic and evolving relationship involving different mediators and actors. Recently, the peaceful opposition movement in Suwayda has marked a new phase in this relationship. The region has openly opposed the Damascus regime, which, in turn, has adopted a stance of apparent indifference and neglect.

This paper seeks to examine the strategies and policies employed by the Syrian regime in its dealing with the Suwayda region after 2011. It categorizes the regime’s approach into distinct phases: initial rapprochement with the Druze community (2011-2014), a shift to a harsh security-oriented policy (2014-2018), the era dominated by security thugs (2018-2022), and the period of deceptive calm (2022 to mid-2023). The focus then shifts to the current stage of peaceful protests against the regime, particularly centering around Karama Square in Suwayda city.

The paper provides a comprehensive analysis of the local community’s reaction to the regime’s policies and their methods of resistance. It delves into the functionality and impact of state institutions, the nature of governance in Suwayda with respect to security and public services, and identifies key local stakeholders throughout these stages. Lastly, the paper speculates on potential future developments in this unfolding situation.

This paper draws insights from a diverse range of sources, including interviews with local activists, journalists, dignitaries, religious leaders, and members of local militias in Suwayda. Additionally, it incorporates findings from a substantial body of published papers and research focused on this region. The primary audience for this paper includes decision-makers, experts in Syrian affairs, Syrians living in the diaspora, and the general Syrian public.

The regime's reach

Ezzi, Mazen

The regime's reach

Analyzing Damascus' approach to Suwayda after 2011
Beirut, 2023

Download publication (350 KB, PDF-File)

About the author

Mazen Ezzi is a Syrian journalist and researcher specialized in post-conflict social and economic dynamics in Syria. His work focuses on the rise of the new local actors, social order, as well as the emerging governmental and security structures in the reconciled areas of Damascus countryside and the outskirts of Damascus. He writes regularly about the developments in the Druze majority Sweida governorate, the local dynamics behind the emergence of the new local actors, armed groups and gangs, in addition to the changes that traditional religious clerics and social dignitaries have been going through. He is also the Editor of the “Housing, Land and Property” section of “The Syria Report”, focusing on governmental urban planning politics and the effects of their implementation on HLP rights of the Syrians, especially the inhabitants of informal settlements.

Syria Project

Berliner Häuser
Hiroshimastraße 17 and 28
D-10785 Berlin

+49 (0)30 26 935-7495
+49 (0)30 26 935-9244