In a defiant show of resilience, Syrian protesters gathered in Freedom Square, pledging to continue their revolution against the embattled Syrian regime. The demonstrations, now in their 130th day, have taken on a particularly festive tone as the year 2023 draws to a close. The economic crisis worsened living conditions, and a devalued currency has fueled the sustained and populous protests, reminiscent of the initial 2011 uprisings met with brutal repression.
Lubna al-Basit, a 30-year-old protester, asserted that the revolution would persist, emphasizing their commitment to taking to the streets to attain their demands. The Syrian pound’s significant devaluation, currently trading at just over 13,000 to the dollar, serves as an indicator of the increasing economic turmoil, accompanied by a decline in public services and a worsening of living conditions described as deteriorating “from bad to worse.”
The protests have persisted despite the normalisation of relations between Syria and other Arab nations. Activists remain hopeful that accountability efforts, such as the International Court of Justice proceedings against Syria for torture violations and the arrest warrant issued by France against President Bashar al-Assad, may bring about positive change.
However, as the demonstrations persist, the Syrian regime and its allies have intensified attacks in the country’s northwest, exacerbating a humanitarian crisis. Mounir Mustafa, deputy director of the Syrian Civil Defense (White Helmets), emphasized the catastrophic consequences of continued bombing, pointing to the lack of funding for relief operations.
In a Security Council briefing, UN Special Envoy to Syria Geir O Pedersen highlighted the intense Israeli bombing of Damascus and Aleppo airports, hindering civilian movement and humanitarian operations. He urged the Security Council to refocus its efforts on achieving a political peace process, emphasizing the unsustainable nature of the current increase in violence.
The earthquake disaster in February, which claimed thousands of lives, triggered a brief increase in humanitarian aid response, but support quickly dwindled due to a lack of funding. Ahmed Hashem, social projects coordinator at Ataa Humanitarian Relief Association, emphasized that effective international intervention is crucial to addressing the crisis in Syria.
The World Food Programme’s decision to stop distributing food rations to 5.5 million people from the start of 2024 further compounds the looming humanitarian catastrophe. With economic decline, high inflation, and rising food prices pushing people into poverty, protesters in Sweida warn that the worst is yet to come if the Syrian crisis continues to be ignored.
As 2024 approaches, the United Nations estimates that 16.7 million Syrians will require humanitarian assistance, a stark increase from the previous year. Local humanitarian organizations find themselves unable to bear the burden, stressing the urgency of international intervention to avert a worsening crisis.
In the face of adversity, Syrian protesters remain resolute, vowing to continue their fight for a better future despite the difficult challenges and a regime seemingly determined to cling to power.