Mount Hawran in the southernmost part of Syria, is better known as the Druze Mountain, after the name of the community who call the region home.
The Druze – an Arabic people named after their non-Islamic religion – did not live there before the 18th century, and have deeper historical roots across the Levant. But as the Ottomans controlled that part of the world, the empire’s opponents from there fled and set up homes in this highland stronghold in Syria.
Their rebellion was to last for more than two centuries and made the mountain ready for more resistance later in its history.
It went on to stand against the French Mandate, which set up control of Syria and Lebanon after the partition of the Ottoman Empire in the wake of World War I. The region was a direct factor in ending the rule of Colonel Adib Al-Shishakli, one of the Sunni army officers who turned against democracy in the 1950s.
On gaining independence from the French Mandate, the Druze community of Mount Hawran became the Sweida Governorate. It is made up of three main groups associated with three regions of the Levant, which stood firm against the Ottomans for so long.
Three groups, one identity
The first group – from Mount Shouf (Al-Shawafinah) – reached Mount Hawran in two major migrations. One came after the famous Battle of Ain Dara between the Qaysi and Yamani tribal-political factions in 1711. The other followed the events of the civil Christian Druze in Mount Lebanon in 1860.
The second group – known as the Safadiyah – came from Palestinian Galilee. Their migration to Mount Hawran began with the expansion of Sheikh Zaher Al-Omar Al-Zaydani (1695 - 1775) in the Galilee region from Safad to Acre. The Druze of those areas rebelled against him. He initially tried to appease them, but then he cracked down and drove them out after committing several massacres, including in Tarbikha in 1721.
The third collective migration took place after 1810 from Mount Al Summaq in what is now Idlib Governorate. This community – the Aleppo group – is fewer in number, but significant in terms of leadership. The Al-Atrash family, one of the Aleppo families, ruled the mountain from 1876, after wresting leadership from the Hamdan family, originally from the Shouf.
Knocking out the Mohammad Ali dynasty
After the army of Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt (1789 - 1848) took control of the Levant in 1831, the new ruler issued a decree enforcing conscription.
This led to an uprising among the people of the mountainous regions of the northern and southern Levant. The largest and most significant rebellion took place in Mount Hawran. It exhausted the Egyptian forces, inflicted significant losses, and marked the decline of the influence of the Mohammad Ali dynasty in the Levant.