While attention remains focused on a potential military operation in Syria’s northern Idlib Province, parts of southern Syria, which are currently under Regime control, are witnessing increased discontent and unrest. Locals have spoken of arbitrary arrests, the Regime’s repressive rule, and local council incompetence. In recent months, a new insurgency group has also emerged targeting people affiliated to the Regime. All this threatens to soak the region in a new wave of violence and echoes the conditions when protests first broke out in southern Syria in 2011.
When the rebel held parts of Syria’s Daraa Province, along with neighbouring Quneitra and Suweida provinces, fell under the control of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) last year, it was expected that this was the end for the “Cradle of the Revolution”, known as the place where protests first started back in 2011.
The Regime portrayed itself as the bringer of stability and citing the reconciliation agreements as proof that the people of southern Syria wanted the regime’s return. With the Regime opening the Nassib Border Crossing with Jordan and calling on Syrian refugees there to return, it would seem that its efforts to normalise the situation and establish its rule were in full swing.
However, there are developments brewing that could challenge this attempt at normalisation. In November 2018, the formation was announced of a group calling itself the “Popular Resistance in the Houran Region” – “Houran” being the area that encompasses much of southern Syria. The group claimed to be a response to the “continued violations against the people of Houran” and vowed not to “repeat the mistakes of previous factions and hold traitors accountable”.
The announcement of the group coincided with increasing numbers of anti-Regime slurs graffitied on buildings and streets across the region. This was followed by a number of bombings and assassinations targeting Regime officials, as well as reconciled Opposition fighters. The group, which has also claimed the killing of a militia member in Damascus City, has so far eluded capture.
Showing that it hasn’t learned from the past, the Regime has resorted to the same methods that it has historically used to quash dissent. Despite signing reconciliation agreements that offered amnesty to former rebel fighters, the Regime has nevertheless arrested hundreds of such individuals for no clear rhyme or reason. Other former rebels and activists have been arrested for links to the “Popular Resistance”, with the Regime lumping all those arrested as “terrorists”.
Similarly, hundreds of other former Opposition fighters have been swept up into conscription despite the reconciliation agreements. Absent the rule of law, many locals have been forced to bribe or utilise connections to clear those that have been arrested. There is now a sense of paranoia pervading the region, with friends and neighbours suspicious of each other.
When it is not malice, it is incompetence, with local departments failing to communicate with one-another over who has been cleared and who has not. Those swept up in arrests have witnessed the full brutality of the Regime’s security apparatus regardless of guilt or innocence, mirroring the brutality seen years before the eruption of conflict.
Reconstruction, meanwhile, is absent at best. Months after the Regime took over Daraa City, the city centre and its southern half remain utterly destroyed from the brutal bombardment it experienced. Absent any active reconstruction efforts, most people rely on themselves, but most locals do not have the means to support these efforts.
Ultimately, what many people here have come to see is that the Regime has not brought true stability but merely an absence of conflict amidst continued oppression and scarcity, with even its flimsiest assurances of providing security being challenged by an insurgent group.
No doubt, resumed fighting in Daraa would be disastrous for the locals who have already suffered so much. But surely the people here deserve something better than a state whose only qualities worse than its oppression is its incompetence and corruption.