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Dispatches From Damascus: Regime Supporters Keep the Faith

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As the civil war in Syria continues, a significant number of Syrians remain loyal to the embattled government of Bashar Al-Assad. Some of the government's supporters have no real affection for the regime, having seen clearly its corruption and repression, and merely continue to voice their support for it out of fear of the alternative. One Christian friend explained to me that although they didn't like the current regime, they considered it inevitable that, should it fall, Syria would descend into a state of violent chaos reminiscent of Afghanistan or Somalia.

Others fear that the government could be replaced by a more religious and Sunni-dominated regime that would have little interest in defending the rights or the physical safety of members of religious minorities. I have heard of a number of young Christian Syrians who participated enthusiastically in the demonstrations at the beginning of the uprising, but who withdrew their support for the movement as it took on what seemed to them an increasingly Sunni character and as the peaceful protests developed into an armed insurgency in the face of government repression.

Still others seem to have come to support the government as a direct result of their experience of oppression. Some time ago I was watching an American movie on television with a young local friend from a Sunni background who had hitherto only expressed strident pro-government views. At one point a scene depicting an American prison cell happened to come on screen and my friend said that the cell looked nice and that he would like to live in a country where prisoners were accommodated in such conditions. I asked him what he meant by this and he told me that he had taken part in an anti-government protest at the start of the uprising and as a result he had been arrested and spent 40 days in a crowded cell.

There remain other Syrians, however, who seem to maintain a deep ideological or personal bond with the regime, and who believe the narrative presented by the pro-regime media and wholeheartedly support the actions of the regime in its fight against the uprising. Recently I have spent some time speaking to a Sunni woman who is the wife of a military officer and a particularly staunch supporter of the government.

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She told me that she considers herself to be free under the current regime, and scoffed at the idea of herself or the rest of Syria being "liberated" by the forces of the opposition. She sees the constitutional reforms and elections that have taken place in Syria since the start of the crisis as evidence of democratic freedom.

She also contrasts the freedom of Syrian women to choose for themselves whether or not to wear Islamic head coverings, such as the hijab and the niqab, with the situation in countries such as Saudi Arabia in which Islamic dress is mandatory, and in those such as France and Turkey where the wearing of such garments has at times been restricted.

Having visited Europe, and apparently having been struck by the seeming ubiquity of closed-circuit surveillance cameras, she expresses skepticism at the genuine level of freedom enjoyed by citizens in such countries.

Like many supporters of the regime, she considers the revolution to be entirely the result of a conspiracy orchestrated by the United States and Israel alongside various European countries and their middle-eastern allies such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey.

Their aim is to bring down the government and change Syria from a "Resistance" state allied with Iran and Hezbollah, to one compliant with the interests of the west. These foreign powers have been assisted in their designs by numerous Syrian traitors, such as the defectors Manaf Tlass and Riyad Hijab.

She sees the various armed opposition units as leaderless and murderous groups of Islamic extremists that seek to create sectarian divisions in a previously harmonious Syria, so as to facilitate the regional designs of western imperialist powers. The ranks of these groups have been swollen, she has heard, by the actions of countries such as Libya, who have emptied their prisons of Islamist fighters and sent them to Syria.

Given the nature of the armed groups, then, it is only natural that the government respond as it has, and as any other government would in such circumstances -- with unyielding force. Should so much as one bullet be fired from a building at government forces, she told me, then it is only right that that building be levelled.

This particular woman also expressed skepticism with regard to the victims of the civil war. The beggars, for example, that have proliferated on the streets of Damascus as the crisis has continued to eat away at Syria's economy are not as they seem, but are instead paid agents of the opposition, deployed to fool foreign journalists and to create an exaggerated air of chaos and misery in the city.

The many refugees, meanwhile, who have fled Syria to escape the violence and have taken refuge in camps in neighbouring countries such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, are not, apparently, genuine refugees. Instead they are merely the relatives of the armed insurgents who were sent outside the country in order to be safe from government retribution. The real refugees are those who have become displaced inside Syria, their love for their country being such that rather than flee their homeland they have sought refuge in parts of Syria that have so far remained safe.

It is not clear how regime supporters such as this woman will reconcile themselves to a new government should, as seems increasingly likely, the Assad regime eventually fall. For the most part it seems that they refuse to even countenance such an eventuality, instead maintaining, at least outwardly, a defiant faith in the strength of the regime and its military and in their ability to prevail against their opponents, both foreign and domestic.

Another regime-supporter I know claims to be able to sense that things are starting to turn in favour of the regime, while the other day the owner of my house told me that everything should start to calm down after a couple of weeks.