The regions of Deir al-Zour in eastern Syria have been witnessing extensive and unprecedented clashes since late August 2023, between members of the Arab tribes on one hand, and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on the other. These confrontations erupted in the wake of a security campaign carried out by the SDF against its affiliate, the Deir al-Zour Military Council, during which the latter’s leadership was arrested and random attacks were launched on towns and villages in the eastern countryside of the province. This has resulted in civilian casualties, including both deaths and injuries.
Yet, the clashes between the two parties in Deir al-Zour have not ceased, and current indications point to a likelihood of their persistence for an extended period. Notably, the underlying causes for these confrontations extend beyond the SDF's security breaches and policies against the inhabitants of Deir al-Zour. There are also significant economic factors that warrant attention, as they serve as key drivers in fueling and exacerbating public discontent which are:
- Deprivation of Resources: Since the end of military operations against ISIS, the oil and gas fields have come under the management of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) cadres. They largely monopolize the profits from oil sales, sidelining the Arab tribes of the region. These tribes are currently facing the repercussions of rising prices, and their means of living have been disrupted by droughts and regional disturbances. Although resource allocation wasn’t a direct focus during the negotiations between the two sides, it loomed large as an underlying demand for the region's resources to be managed by its inhabitants. Notably, prior protest waves had emphasized the management and control over these oil and gas fields .
- Administrative Corruption: The issue of administrative corruption in Deir al-Zour is exacerbated by the pervasive presence of PKK cadres in all civil institutions. Their dominance over hiring decisions in civil administration and local councils effectively denies local residents their right to choose their own representatives in these bodies, as well as their right to hold them accountable for their actions. This demand for greater local control has been a consistent feature in both current and past waves of protests, as well as in negotiations between the two sides.
- Financial Corruption: The PKK cadres have been instrumental in fostering and shielding local corruption networks in Deir al-Zour. This has severely depleted the resources of essential service and humanitarian organizations, undermining their ability to deliver crucial services to the region's residents. Additionally, it has stymied efforts to construct and repair vital infrastructure. This financial corruption has been a significant trigger for previous protest waves across various rural areas of the province.
- Smuggling: PKK cadres, in collaboration with local military leaders, have set up smuggling networks that operate across the Euphrates River. These networks illicitly move essential goods from SDF-controlled areas in Deir al-Zour to those under Syrian regime control. This activity has resulted in the depletion of subsidized essential items like flour, sugar, and fuel. The cessation of these smuggling operations and the dismantling of the facilitating networks have also been key demands in local protests.
In conclusion, whether a détente is achieved between the warring factions or one side emerges victorious, the economic landscape will continue to cast a long shadow over the future and stability of the Deir al-Zour. The recurring themes of financial misconduct, administrative corruption, illicit smuggling operations, and resource deprivation have been potent catalysts in both past and present grievances and protests, signifying their enduring relevance in shaping the area's destiny.