As some feared, Wahid al-Balous, a prominent anti-regime Druze sheikh, was assassinated on the morning of Friday, September 4. A professionally prepared car bomb was powerful enough to kill the leader of the “Karama sheikhs” (clerics of dignity), a religious youth group independent from the Assad regime. A few days previously, Balous had vowed not to allow regime forces to arrest any of the protestors on the streets of the town of Sweida as they were demanding essential services such as electricity and fuel; none was thus arrested thanks to Karama sheikhs under Balous’ leadership, who protected the protestors.
A few hours after the bloody car bombing, young Druze men stormed and took over numerous government buildings including intelligence service bureaus and Baath party offices. What was more significant, however, was that they destroyed Hafez al-Assad’s statue in the downtown area. In response to the Druze protests, the regime used its old tactics of cutting Internet service and the roads to Sweida.
Three days have passed and the rage still grows amidst the Druze communities. Most people, including regime loyalists, believe that only the regime is capable of carrying out such a hit operation with total disregard of innocent deaths.
For now, the regime does not formally exist within the city. For Karama sheikhs, however, it has proven be a huge challenge to win the hearts and minds of the people and to convince civil activists that they are on the same side. Securing administrative positions is not enough; they need to establish an alternative government that can guarantee their safety so that they can go on with their daily tasks.
False rumors of Druze attacking Alawites in Sweida have spread rapidly. No such incident has taken place yet but many pro-regime Facebook activists began to describe the Druze as traitors.
Today, Sweida is in the line of fire as never before. People are very anxious and no one knows what is going to happen next. Many, especially old men and women, and kids, are staying in their homes.
For Karama sheikhs, the following few days will be very difficult if they fail to win popular support. If they decide to relocate to a new area, they will not be able to hold on to the checkpoints under their control despite their strategic importance.
More than 45 people were killed during the assassination of Balous, but his body has not been buried yet.
Of course, the regime has dealt with the Druze as if they were a group of imbeciles. The unrest is far from over as there are many enraged protestors roaming on the streets, tramping on the ruins of the destroyed statue and asking for revenge. For them, the city of Sweida post-September 4 will be never the same again – the date will become a new watershed on the calendar of the Syrian revolution.