A US official spoke with a Druze spiritual leader to express support for protests against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that have been taking place in Syria’s southern Suwayda governate.
The US Embassy in Syria wrote on X that Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Ethan Goldrich “spoke with Druze spiritual leader Sheikh Hekmat al-Hajari reiterating our support for Syrians’ freedom of expression, including peaceful protest in Suwayda.”
According to The Cradle, the protests in Suwayda, a Druze-majority area, broke out on August 16 after the Syrian government raised civil servant salaries but cut fuel subsidies amid a collapse in the value of the Syrian pound. The demonstrations have continued since then with calls for the overthrow of Assad.
Three members of Congress also recently spoke with al-Hajari to express bipartisan support for the protests, Reps. Joe Wilson (R-SC), Brendan Boyle (D-PA), and French Hill (R-AR). Boyle told The National last week that he “reaffirmed bipartisan congressional support for the peaceful protests in Suwayda” during his conversation with al-Hajari.
The support for the protests comes as the US is looking to exert more pressure on the Assad government as more countries are normalizing with Syria. Assad recently traveled to China for the first time since war broke out in Syria in 2011. Back in May, the Arab League voted to readmit Syria despite opposition from the US.
On Wednesday, Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Jim Risch (R-ID) introduced the Assad Regime Anti-Normalization Act of 2023, a bill that would expand sanctions on Syria in an effort to stop more countries from normalizing with Damascus.
While US officials claim to support the Syrian people, US sanctions on Syria are specifically designed to prevent the country’s reconstruction and have had a devastating impact on the civilian population, creating the economic conditions that sparked the Suwayda protests. On top of the sanctions, the US backs the Kurdish-led SDF in Syria, allowing the US to occupy about one-third of Syria’s territory in the east, where most of the country’s oil and wheat resources are located.