News / Middle East

In Assad’s Defense - Syrians Speak Out

VOA asks Syrians supportive of their president to make a case for his regime

Supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad shout slogans holding their country's flag with a superimposed Assad portrait, Damascus, Syria, August 20, 2011.
Supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad shout slogans holding their country's flag with a superimposed Assad portrait, Damascus, Syria, August 20, 2011.

Check out the discussion this story sparked on our Facebook page,
VOA Middle East Voices
.


Given the massive international condemnation of President Bashar al-Assad’s crackdown against what much of the world sees as a pro-democracy uprising, public opinion on the issue looks something like this: Assad is the bad guy. Protesters are the good guys. But some Syrian citizens say their attitude toward their leader is more nuanced and that the outside world has it wrong. Assad is defending and preserving the nation.

The dichotomy can be illustrated with two nearly identical videos purportedly shot in Syria last month and posted on YouTube. Both clips show men unloading bloodied lifeless bodies of other men from a pick-up truck and tossing them from a bridge into a river. Both have Arabic titles, but it is the content of the titles that sets them apart. One of them claims the victims in the video were members of Syrian security forces. The other one implies they were protesters. An analysis of the clips’ Arabic audio provided no clues in support of one or the other.

Which images represent the larger truth? No one knows for sure, but the question has been overshadowing the unrest in Syria since its onset nearly six months ago.

The Assad regime has claimed time and time again that it is battling what it refers to as “armed gangs,” “terrorists,” “Islamists” or simply forces acting in the interest of foreign governments or foreign agents. But, even though foreign media access to Syria is limited, journalists and human rights organizations have been communicating with on-the-ground activists since the uprising began. These contacts have yielded a treasure trove of information, but what still remains unclear is the exact role “armed gangs,” protesters and security forces have played in the unrest and who pulled the trigger first in this year’s uprising.

Viewpoints from the Assad side

 

 


On VOA’s Middle East Voices Facebook page, three Syrian individuals regularly have been questioning video evidence posted there by other Syrians, while also stating their support for the Syrian president. VOA e-mailed these three individuals to inquire further about their motivation and their support for President Assad.

Responding to e-mailed questions, they gave their names as Dr. Ali Mohamad, Aline Alkhory and Syrian Jano (the latter wished to be identified with a pseudonym). All three said they were Syrian citizens, but denied any association with Assad’s government, membership in his Ba’ath party or that they were being paid to defend his regime.

A screen shot from the above mentioned YouTube video showing bodies floating in a river shorty after having been dropped from a bridge.
A screen shot from the above mentioned YouTube video showing bodies floating in a river shorty after having been dropped from a bridge.

“I know for a fact that these gangs exist,” claims Dr. Ali, adding that “my own family witnessed [them] in different parts of the country. Gunmen played an important role in triggering the events and in the way they cascaded.” Dr. Ali, who described himself as a 35-year-old medical doctor now living in the United Arab Emirates, did acknowledge that there is opposition to Assad within Syria, but said that its size is overblown.

Aline Alkhory blamed the unrest on a “conspiracy… planned by many forces” and triggered by “anger” that she acknowledges came as a result of some missteps by the Assad regime. Aline, who says she is a 27-year-old engineer also living in the UAE, said that “clearly… some rightful demands” are being voiced by protesters, but stressed that “some entities, including armed gangs, are abusing these demands to create a huge crisis.”

Syrian Jano, who describes herself as a 28-year-old working in Syria’s maritime shipping industry, agrees with Assad’s “armed gangs” and “terrorists” argument, adding that she has “witnessed their existence in many governorates in Syria, most of them Syrians and the rest [representing] other nationalities.”

The rising toll

With the United Nations now putting the death toll of the Syrian unrest at 2,600 (Damascus immediately countered with 1,400 dead, evenly divided between protesters and members of security forces), all three pro-Assad activists argue that the government has used mostly appropriate measures to quell the protests.

“Demonstrations were dealt with by the security forces with what I can describe as reasonable force, using temporary arrests, gas bombs, sticks and other things we witnessed the British police use in London,” Dr. Ali pointed out, referring to August austerity protests in the British capital. Jano added that “force was used against armed men only, not against unarmed protesters.”

None of the three activists specified in detail what they saw as the root causes that might have brought many of the protesters into the streets, speaking only in general terms of a need for reform and dialogue. They dismissed the notion that sectarian tensions were partly to blame. And, they all agreed that there were outside forces at play, among them the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Lebanon, al-Qaida as well as foreign media organizations.

“[Outside forces] incited protesters to reject dialogue and dismiss reforms, they used the media to give a sectarian [spin] to the events and they supported false claims of shelling civilians and destroying houses,” says Dr. Ali, adding that “a lot of blood could have been spared if it wasn’t for the foreign involvement.”

When asked if Assad should resign in the face of anti-government protests and the international outrage events in Syria have triggered, all three agreed that he shouldn’t. Aline said, “[His] resignation [would] generate a huge political gap and a huge mess.” Jano said “Syria needs Bashar al-Assad now.” Dr. Ali said, “[H]is resignation [would] create chaos and may lead the country to a civil war.” All three also argued that Assad has the support of millions of Syrians and that proposed elections, scheduled for 2014, would ultimately determine whether he should continue to lead the country.

Dialogue - a way out?

All three activists also insisted that the current unrest in Syria is an internal matter and that it should be resolved as such. “I really don’t think any country really cares about the demands of the Syrian people or democracy; they only care about their [own] interests,” said Aline. She did indicate that she does not consider herself a typical Assad supporter, but “respect[s] him and support[s] his foreign policy and reform plans.”

As for a way out the crisis, Dr. Ali and Aline agreed on one approach - dialogue. Dr. Ali said, “Dialogue amongst different Syrian movements and parties, as well as representatives from different cities where unfortunate events took place, without any foreign involvement. This should be based on good will from the government and the opposition.” “Dialogue is the first step, but we need all parties to have some objectivity and be willing to [make] some concessions,” added Aline.

Jano called an end to “bias in the Arab and Western media” the “ultimate solution” to the unrest in Syria. She also asked that the world give “the government a chance to implement reforms, which takes time.”

None of the three replied to an e-mailed follow-up question asking them to gauge Assad support throughout Syria and respond to opposition claims that dialogue would only serve to identify activists for regime repression.

Counterpoint

So, what is one to make of those who defend what outsiders find indefensible? VOA posed the question to the Local Coordination Committees of Syria (LCCSY), an umbrella group uniting local opposition organizations within the country.

“Well, they are misled,” said Hozan Ibrahim, an activist and spokesperson for the LCCSY living in Germany. “If they knew the truth, they could not support a murderous dictator. Ibrahim characterized Assad’s defenders as “people who work in embassies, and their children, who have a good command of English and other languages; or members of families with close ties to regime.”

Responding to e-mailed question, Ibrahim also offered a different view on the root causes of the crisis in Syria.

“The unrest is because of the build-up of repression and authoritarian domination over everything in Syrian society - the security forces interfere in every aspect of Syrians’ lives. Also it’s because of the thousands of detainees who have been held for years….  The Syrian people have many reasons to demand freedom. They don't buy the lies on which the regime has built its propaganda over the years.”

Asked to gauge the oppositions’ support within the country, Ibrahim estimated it to be at 65 percent. He said that number includes those “who can’t demonstrate or are afraid to.”  Twenty percent, he said, are with Assad and 15 percent are indifferent.

When asked about the issue of foreign involvement, Ibrahim only pointed to the support the Syrian regime has received from other countries over the years, expressing disappointment that similar assistance was not offered to the opposition.

Rejecting claims of sectarian undertones of the conflict that have at times been invoked by the Syrian regime, the LLCSY spokesman said Syrians “have always been pluralistic.” He pointed out that the streets of Syrian cities and towns are today filled with Sunnis, Christians, Druze, Ismalis and Alawites (an offshoot of Shi’ites to which Assad and many in Syria’s ruling elite belong).

An alternative way out

As for a way out of the crisis, Ibrahim offered only one option – for Assad to resign.

“His only option now is to step down,” Ibrahim said. “We believe the solution should be a safe and peaceful transfer of power through a national conference after Assad steps down, and all those responsible for crimes committed during the uprising should be held accountable.”

Regarding the dichotomy, for Ibrahim there is none. “There's only one truth: Syrians are sick of the repression of the last five decades, and want freedom…,” said he.

So, who has it right and who has it wrong on Syria? To some the answer is self-evident. To others it is not.


* One video has been removed by YouTube for “shocking and disgusting content;” the other video, at the time of this story’s publications was age-restricted by YouTube, but still viewable.

Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
and discuss them on our Facebook page.
ويطلب من المواطنين السوريين الذين يؤيدون رئيسهم لجعل قضية لنظامه. يتحدث السوريون في الدفاع عن بشار الأسد والحكومة السورية. هناك ادانة دولية واسعة النطاق من الرئيس السوري بشار الأسد وحملته ضد انتفاضة في دعم الديمقراطية. الرأي العام حول هذه القضية يبدو شيئا من هذا القبيل. الأسد غير صحيح. والمتظاهرون هم الحقوق. ولكن بعض المواطنين السوريين يقولون ان العالم الخارجي وأنه من الخطأ. ويقولون ان الاسد هو الدفاع عن والحفاظ على الأمة.

You May Like

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threati
X
Greg Flakus
May 29, 2015 11:24 PM
Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threat

Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video New York's One World Trade Center Observatory Opens to Public

From New Jersey to Long Island, from Northern suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, with all of New York City in-between.  That view became available to the public Friday as the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in New York -- atop the replacement for the buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.  VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs