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

At Khmer Rouge Court, Long-Awaited Verdict Approaches

First phase of trial, which is coming to an end, has focused on forced exodus of Phnom Penh in 1975 - and now many are hopeful justice will be served More

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities More

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

Downing of Malaysian airliner, allegations of cross-border shelling move information war in war-torn country to a new level 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.
Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
July 31, 2014 8:13 PM
The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.

AppleAndroid