Protests in Syria continue for the second consecutive week as demands for economic reform and reducing Iran’s influence escalate into calls for the president’s removal.

Protesters, demanding an end to President Bashar al-Assad’s authoritarian rule, earlier closed the ruling Baath party headquarters in Sweida, a southwestern Syrian Druze city. Similar fervent rallies have also been reported in Aleppo, Daraa, Deir Ezzor, and Jableh.

Demonstrators are calling for sweeping political changes while decrying deteriorating living standards, the continued incarceration of political dissidents, rampant corruption, and poor governance.

The immediate trigger for the protests was the government’s decision earlier this month to cut fuel subsidies, a move that sent shockwaves through a populace already grappling with the precipitous decline of the Syrian lira. As the value of the currency plummeted, so did the people’s patience.

Ironically, Iran which has supported Assad’s regime since 2011 with troops and economic assistance to the tune of $50 billion, is also grappling with severe shortages of gasoline and mulling a hike in prices.

Youths sealed the gates of the Baath party building, led by Assad, with welding machines. This rising dissent in once-loyal areas poses a significant challenge to Assad’s hold on power after winning a more than decade-long civil war with crucial support from Russia and Iran. Scores of local branches of the Baath party whose officials hold top government posts were also closed by protesters in one province, with its cadres fleeing, Reuters cited residents as saying.

Civic activists and witnesses on the ground report that the protests show no signs of abating as the demonstrators demand reforms to address their grievances and to forge a more equitable future.

“Step down Bashar, we want to live in dignity,” protesters chanted in Sweida’s main square where Druze top spiritual leaders have given their blessing for their protests without endorsing calls for an end to five decades of Assad family rule.

Unlike in the past, Sweida’s elders and tribal leaders, previously aligned with Assad, are no longer neutral observers. They actively encourage the protests, marking a significant shift in their stance. The chants on the streets echo those from the 2011 Syrian uprising.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the living conditions are worsening in Syria, with about 90 percent of the population living below the poverty line and 12.4 million Syrians suffering from food insecurity.

Concerns have also grown regarding Iran’s influence in Syria. Demonstrators in Sweida demand the complete withdrawal of Iranian forces from their country, citing the presence of Iranian-backed militias as a contentious issue contributing to violence and instability.

Iran intervened in the Syrian civil war as early as 2011 to defeat a rebellion against Assad. Syria has become a key battleground between Iran and its enemies, and expands its presence in the region. Israel, which has vowed to stop Iranian entrenchment in Syria, has carried out hundreds of air strikes in government-controlled parts of that country in recent years, though it rarely acknowledges them.

On Thursday, Iran’s visiting Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said Syria is in its “best condition” today. “We are happy that the region and the world recognized the reality and power of Syria. Nevertheless, the enemies of Syria are seeking to pursue their own political objectives by subjecting its government and nation to sanctions and economic pressure.”

“The Islamic Republic of Iran will keep standing by Syria and its nation in the new situation, as it was the case in difficult times,” he added.

While the Assad regime has thus far refrained from resorting to a full-scale bloodbath to suppress the protests, the situation remains precarious. Some observers within Syria suggest that the Assad regime is still deciding on a course of action, while others fear an escalation of violence in response to the ongoing demonstrations.

Source » iranintl