As remarkable as they are, the protests unfolding in Suwayda are merely a symptom of a far greater crisis striking at the heart of the Assad regime and its prospects for survival. Assad’s decision to sack his prime minister, Imad Khamis, on Thursday was a clear indication that economic collapse and newly vocal opposition posed a real challenge to his legitimacy.
For some time, it has become commonplace to declare Assad the victor of the war in Syria—a dictator who managed to survive nearly a decade of rebellion and civil war by brutally suppressing dissent and exploiting the support of Russia and Iran to keep his grip on a burning country.
But that has never been an accurate way to see Syria. Assad may have crushed the opposition to his dictatorial rule in 60 percent of the country, but in 2020, every single root cause of the 2011 uprising is not just still in place, but has worsened. Challenges to the regime’s prosperity, credibility or survival remain in place in every corner of the country. For the first time in nearly a decade, the millions of Syrians who outwardly support Assad or who have remained quietly loyal to his rule have begun to share whispers of their own exasperation. For most, life in 2020 is a great deal worse than life at the peak of nationwide armed conflict in 2014-15. In holding on to power, Assad has effectively—and purposely—destroyed his own nation and economy.