[Photo: Assad supporters’ expression of love.]
We are used to hearing all sorts of propaganda from regime sources and its allies about how much support Assad supposedly enjoys among the Syrian people. From the beginning, it was all about massively staged demonstrations, with numbers drastically swelled by ordinary people who were involuntarily brought in with buses from schools, factories, and state institutions. An abundance of fabrications. Imams were forced to proclaim their support for the regime on TV, interviews were held with ordinary people on the street under threat, and with others were not so “ordinary” at all.
It was one big show, with a very uglier reality to it. The “Shabbih” sought to outdo the “Mnhebbakji” in displaying adoration for the great leader, second only to the “eternal leader” Hafez. Assad supporters writing “mnhebbak” [we love you] on their faces, waving flags with his face on it, draping themselves in them, hugging his posters and whirling with them into ecstasy, kissing his picture, prostrating to it and even proclaiming him to be God was to show everyone how much the Syrian people loved Bashar al-Assad. “In Syria, we worship Bashar al-Assad before we worship God” one supporter infamously said. This was and continues to be Assad’s true support base.
Today, a greater sectarian force in the form of warrior `Alawism and Khomenist Shi`ism, local and foreign, has outgrown the personality cult. Assad now represents something bigger than himself and the Ba`athist mythology that defined his regime.
For the rest of Syria, Assad continues to have the same message: he is the backbone of the resistance against Zionism and imperialism, the leader of Arab nationalism, the enemy of religious extremism and the protector of minorities. A conspiracy related to all of the above has descended upon Syria and only Assad can save the country.
Many Syrians would have and may have bought this line, were it not that more than two years have passed in which death and destruction has defined people’s lives while the culprit and the reality of his nature became exposed. Things became clear to the overwhelming majority of people who were not among his fanatic adorers. The sympathetic, easy going, Western educated eye-doctor with his Homsi princess who was able to hid his failure of a political career, was a tyrant willing to kill until the last man and flatten until the last building, just to stay in power.
Certainly not all did draw that conclusion, or at least admit to it, from the majority and minorities and for different reasons. But the overwhelming majority did, something most Syrians can attest to from their own families, friends and acquaintances. And despite all the horror and suffering, this has not fundamentally changed.
To claim otherwise, in essence, is to either deny peoples’ existence and what has befallen upon them for the past two years, which is the case as far as Assad and his supporters are concerned; or, if admitting to the genocide and mass destruction Assad inflicted upon them, it is to portray the Syrian people as either defeated or suffering from Stockholm syndrome.
The notion of Assad enjoying popular support has outgrown its propaganda roots, and has recently been masqueraded as journalism on several media outlets. One such report was published by World Tribune and titled “NATO data: Assad winning the war for Syrians’ hearts and minds” A brief look quickly reveals the nature of its content and its lack of substantiation. It starts off wrong with the title, as “Nato data” does not imply data “compiled by Western-sponsored activists and organizations …relayed to NATO“, but data actually belonging to the organisation. Moreover, if this is followed with the main claim that “Assad is winning…” it does not imply that Nato merely “has been studying data …” but rather that it concluded something from this study.
The article refers to Middle East Newsline, no specific reference is given but the particular article Syrian Support for Assad Skyrockets linked here is the most likely one to have been used as the source; it’s the same topic and came out the same day. Since it remains unavailable, to me at least as I’m not going to spend a dime on purchasing it, any claims made about any data and its source being “a range of activists and independent organizations that were working in Syria, particularly in relief efforts” along with the identity of the “Western source familiar with the data” who is quoted, cannot be verified. It seems that this “Western source” is someone who bought the article, because the author is apparently not familiar with the data supposedly in it. So what we have here is an unnamed person being familiar with certain data that other unnamed people have given to Nato, which they have apparently looked at. In other words, there is no news.
So what about the content itself? That Assad’s cultist and sectarian supporters support him is obvious, and this article isn’t concerned with that even though the above image it uses expresses nothing other than that. The first paragraph of this entry therefore serves to remind what Assad support is truly about. The article, however, asserts that, during the revolution, the majority of people, Sunnis in particular, began to distance themselves from the revolution for a number of reasons, and opted to support Assad instead. Before going into that, however, it should be noted that a far more bizarre claim is also being made: the actual withdrawal from all Syrians from the armed opposition! In other words, the Syrian revolution no longer exists! I do not believe even Assad is claiming this but here we are with World Tribune.
A few things to take notice of here, first from the author himself:
1. “…a majority of Syrians were alarmed by the Al Qaida takeover of the Sunni revolt.” purports that, whether any Syrians perceive a “takeover” as such or not, this “takeover” is fact. The contrary is true, the fact is that there is merely one significant Al-Qaeda group [which may or may not have split in two] and together with smaller groups do not constitute more than 10% of the armed opposition in Syria. Al-Qaeda in Syria is smaller than the SIF which is smaller than the SILF, which is smaller than the remaining collective of FSA and non-FSA groups. Indeed, Qaedism is the smallest ideological minority among the armed opposition and it has taken over nothing but the TV screens and people’s phobias. Moreover, this is not a Sunni revolt but a popular revolution against tyranny in a country where the majority is Sunni.
Nevertheless, many Syrians were indeed alarmed by the Qaedist rise. Not enough, though, in my opinion. Many ordinary people of all creeds and ethnicity accepted Jabhat al-Nusra as a fighting force and did not consider them terrorists. They did not believe they were Qaedists until al-Jolani declared it to be so. Despite some minor conflicts at times, many Syrian Muslims joined them in their fight or aided them in their activism. This has fortunately been declining, for obvious reasons, and people are waking up and are not even close to allowing any takeover by the smallest of minorities in this revolution.
The rest of what follows relies upon this unnamed “Western source familiar with the data.” It’s likely that the above also relies on the same source, what follows however does so directly by quoting him:
2.”The people are sick of the war and hate the jihadists more than Assad.” First, this assumes once more it is all about Jihadists [Al-Qaeda more specifically according to the previous quote], for such an envisioned hatred would not turn anyone against the majority which are non-Jihadists. And as far as Qaedists are concerned, hate is a strong word as previously explained, and even stronger in the case of other Jihadists [if that is how one would term the SIF for example]. Furthermore, everyone is sick of the war, but are they defeated too? And how would that turn people at large into hating anyone in the opposition more than Assad? Is this the Stockholm syndrome diagnosed by this “Western source”? Or has the great leader taken good came of his people?
3. “Assad is winning the war mostly because the people are cooperating with him against the rebels.” First of all, Assad is not winning at all, he controls less than half of the country which means he lost the majority of it. Less than two years ago, he controlled all of it and only had to deal with peaceful demonstrations. Winning a couple of battles after losing dozens does not make one victorious. Secondly, where he is winning battles it is because these are lead by the foreign Jihadists of Hezbollah and others, not because of any help from Syrians. The mere fact that he has to rely on foreigners only emphasizes that there are not enough useful Syrian recruits, not even from his own support base. For example, if it was because of any help, there would have been no stalemate in Aleppo for so long. The free people of Aleppo clearly do not want Assad to take over their neighborhoods again, for very obvious reasons. Mind you, Aleppo would have been the poster child of this absurd “Assad is winning the hearts and minds” notion had it been a reality, since there is already a preponderant yet false notion that Aleppo sided with the regime or against the opposition in the first place.
4. “The Sunnis have no love for Assad, but the great majority of the community is withdrawing from the revolt,” the source said. “What is left is the foreign fighters who are sponsored by Qatar and Saudi Arabia. They are seen by the Sunnis as far worse than Assad.” First, it should be pointed out that Qatar and Saudi Arabia have provided nothing to “foreign fighters,” which clearly translates here into Jihadists and then Al-Qaeda going backwards through the article. It in fact implies that the US is actually indirectly funding Al-Qaeda. Besides becoming very conspiratorial, the fact is that any [rather minimal] support Saudi and Qatar have been providing has been to the FSA and mainstream Islamist groups. Al-Qaeda and its likes have an international Jihadi network of private funding throughout the world they get their money from, money might come out of Saudi Arabia but it is not through the state, which Al Qaeda is in fact at war with and whose rulers are not considered Muslims by general Takfiri standards, and which in fact restricts private fundraising by even their mainstream Salafi Shaykhs and organisations to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. Qatar is mostly interested in the Muslim Brotherhood, which has a horrible relationship with Qaedist movements around the world as well. Again, whether Syrians perceive all of this to be the case or not, the matter is presented as fact when it clearly is not.
A far more bizarre claim even is that the Sunnis are now physically withdrawing from the armed opposition, leaving only the foreigners remaining. Even if we would accept the almost as absurd claim that Al-Qaeda has taken over the opposition, where does this “Western source” see the mass exodus of fighters, retreating, laying down their arms, “withdrawing from the revolt”, tens of thousands of them, in order for there to only remain Qaedists who are also supposedly all foreigners? Who is this “Western source”, is he from the immediate West of Damascus? “The Syrian Revolution Is Over” should have been the title of this article.
An additional note to be made is regarding what the claim “Sunnis have no love for Assad” implies, which is that this is an acceptable condition for them to be in. It is not as far as Assad’s Syria goes. Sunnis who support the regime do love Assad, because not loving Assad is equal to treason. And one must love him dearly when asked to, not as much others who ought to worship him perhaps, but enough to be considered a reliable comrade deeply immersed in the world of Ba`athist mythology. One may get away with silence, but not with expressing such lack of love. “We love you” is the motto, “With our blood, with our souls, we sacrifice for You Bashar” the commitment. That is Assad’s Syria, the majority Sunnis supporting Assad that this “Western source” is speaking about must live somewhere else.
The remaining, main claim of the article is that the majority of the Sunnis, which make up 74% of the country’s population, are now opposed to the revolution and have in fact joined the regime. They would have to, if Assad’s support now stands at 70%. Considering all of the above and the blatant nonsense in these fantasy numbers being presented as some sort of relevant “Nato” data, the irony alone, there is really no need to go through them. Nevertheless, not to make a point but to try to provide at least some insight, it is worth exploring. This is to be done without denying the existence and significance of support for Assad from the Sunni community, or other communities, whether during the revolution or recent, based on the experiences of the Syrian people, in a logical manner and with common sense. There are no real numbers, this is not poll day.
The main assertion in this article is that 70% of Syrians support Assad, while 20% are neutral and 10% are with the opposition. The last mentioned must be largely the refugees living outside of Syria, nearly two million of them. There are 4 and a half million more internally displaced, it can be assumed that half of them live in regime controlled areas. Another 10%. The other half would live in liberated areas. Another 10%. The rest of the Syrians are not displaced, which the remaining 70% of the population. The vast majority of the country has been liberated but regime controlled areas are far more populated. A fair estimate might therefore be that 40% of the entire population lives in regime controlled areas without having been displaced, while 30% does so in liberated areas. In summary:
Displaced in liberated areas: 10%
Native to liberated areas: 30%
Displaced in regime areas: 10%
Native to regime areas: 40%
The data is claimed to draw from “a range of activists and independent organizations that were working in Syria, particularly in relief efforts.” As far as relief efforts are concerned, and the ability to interview people freely and safely, this could only be done with the refugees. Relief barely reaches liberated areas to begin with, while the freedom to conduct research in regime controlled areas, especially about support for the regime, is non-existent. It is, however, completely unimaginable that of all Syrians, the refugees have now turned to the regime. This is because most of them are women and children whose husbands are currently fighting at the front or have died doing so. Moreover, as anyone who has worked in the refugee camps can attest to, it is very hard to find Assad supporters there.
The internally displaced who are currently living in liberated areas are, like the refugees, people who have greatly suffered from the regime and have in fact been the driving force behind the revolution and a main factor in its spreading throughout the country. It is therefore equally unimaginable that they turned back to the regime, and had they done so, they would seek to leave to the areas already safer areas under their control. There are nevertheless some who have left, but this is limited to specific places and incidents, and need not result into returning to the regime but rather leaving an area controlled by one group for another by another.
The internally displaced who did do so, from the beginning, did not do so out of support for the ones who drove them out of their homes. The areas they went to were not “occupied” in the sense they are now by the army; more importantly, these were places that were safe from the bombardments, which is why they left in the first place. People do not flee because of who is flying the plane, but because of the bombs it is dropping. Despite the fact that it is clear who is dropping them, this leaves room for a growing support for the regime, especially if living in its “world” inside the territory it controls.
All these displaced people are around 30% of the Syrian population, making at least 25% to be opponents of the regime and supporters of the revolution. If anything changed at all, the remaining 5% became largely “neutral”. Among the remaining 70% of the population are opponents, neutrals and supporters. The claim that “Assad is winning the war mostly because the people are cooperating with him against the rebels” implies that people in liberated areas have turned to Assad. These are clearly not the poor displaced who feel like they are haunted no matter where they go, so they would be among the natives.
There are some liberated areas that have felt the wrath of Assad less than others, where extremism from certain opposition claimants was felt far deeper to some at least; it has however nothing to do with the battle itself as previously pointed out. But it is true that some people in these areas may have become “neutral” or even turned to Assad. This could be the case in middle class areas and minority areas, though it is not the case for the most prominent of them, the Kurds. Their militias have largely abandoned the initial policy of neutrality and turned against the regime, while the people always opposed Assad and were in fact among the first to embrace the revolution. Azadi, Azadi! If among the liberated people that have not been displaced, 30% of the population, have lost a third [10%] to neutrality let alone Assad then this would already be far beyond the current reality.
In the regime controlled areas, there are also opponents, neutrals and supporters among the natives that make up the remaining 40% of the population. Of course, it is the home of Assad’s real supporters. It’s also where most of those fooled by him have resided. It’s also where you will find most “neutrals” in the various minority communities. However, it’s full of dissent and opposition. Take for example Hama, for obvious reasons regime support here is the lowest in the entire country, yet the city remains to be occupied. In the Damascus of the scholars, of which the Spring came years before the Arab one, opposition is strong. In Homs, Latakia, Tartous, where the strongest sectarian and cultist support can be found, but also of a Sunni majority and where the largest sectarian tensions lie. It has come out in Homs and it’s only likely to become worse on the coast. If 15% would be supporters, and 15% would be neutral, leaving 10% for the opposition this would not be an unfair estimate. In summary:
Refugees and displaced: 25% opposition, 5% neutral.
Native to opposition areas: 20% opposition, 5% neutral, 5% regime.
Native to regime areas: 10% opposition, 15% neutral, 15% regime.
These are all obviously mere estimates, but there is more substance to them than the outrageous claims made in the article in question sourced in mystery. If anything, these estimates are probably far too low. It could very well be that up to 75% supports to opposition. It could also be that neutrality barely exists any longer. What is clear, however, is that Assad has neither support nor tolerance from the majority of Syrians. The pre-revolution diaspora has not been included, according to Assad’s Expat. Ministry there are over 18 million, and though among them there is a loud media and internet presence of Assad supporters, they are a small minority. I have personally never met a single one, and not even heard about the existence of any from Aleppo, even though some of the largest “Mnhebbak” demonstrations took place in the city, which knows no shortage of so-called supporters.
Or one could go about it the typical, generalizing sectarian way, as this article does. The real support for the regime is found in the Alawite community, 11%, and among the Twelvers, 1%. A total of 12% regime support. The neutrals, assuming they still exist, would be typically Christian 10%, Druze 3%, and even Ismailis 1% [for the sake of it] a total of 14% neutrality. Let us say this neutrality is indeed only 10% as being claimed, and make the regime support go up to 16% covering all the minorities, this leaves the remaining Sunnis with a majority of 74%. In order for Assad to have 70% support, nearly 73% of the Sunnis would have to support him! Jihadis have apparently driven them into the hands of the regime, but in reality more of them have been driven by Assad into radicalism and sectarianism because of the regime instead.
There has certainly been a significant minority who continued supporting the regime deep into the revolution, as society dictated this. However, the trend was for this minority to decrease in size and be marginalized to the extent of becoming nearly useless to the regime. Society dictated this too. Religion has been made a mockery of, mosques have been massively destroyed, the scholarly elite eradicated, the entire socio-religious fabric disrupted. The middle class no longer exists, massive wealth has evaporated, factories destroyed, businesses ruined on a scale that has basically ended the economy. Most of all, the masses have suffered so greatly that not even the rise in pure and open sectarian hatred against Sunnis surprises. What could have possibly suddenly have happened that turned this around? Nothing, nothing did, and certainly not a sudden withdrawal of tens of thousands opposition fighters.
The question to be asked is not what has brought people back to Assad, but what is keeping them behind him? Assad is not winning any war, neither the one on the ground nor the one for hearts and minds. Instead, he has been increasingly and massively losing both. If there is now a stalemate as far as hearts and minds are concerned, which the immense foreign influx to his aid contradicts, then that is the real challenge Syrians have to deal with beyond him and his regime.
Since this article is trying to portray the support claimed for the reasons given as something acceptable, it is essential to point out that not only is it morally deplorable instead, but also that no amount of support can change this. Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin had far more support than Bashar al-Assad has today. I believe that if the Syrian people, of all creeds, would be exposed to the truth without fearing for their safety and without living in a mythological world that brainwashes them, 99% would oppose this regime. No upright, intelligent, sane, informed human being could support this madness in the name of government.
Finally, it is noteworthy to point out that 35% of the Syrian population is under 14. This is a revolution started by children, lived through by children, and whose outcome is decided as they are becoming adults. These children will never turn back to the monster who ruined their childhood, even if their parents would want to or would be able to force them to; they are too many for them not to return to it sooner rather than later. The current generations returned to it in March 2011, decades after the 1980’s, even though the massacres committed had not been included in history books and instead erased from peoples’ consciousness, replaced with the same myths we hear today. This generation grew up in silence and only vaguely remembers those who people called their “father”, “the eternal leader” Hafez al-Assad. It came back to haunt his son, Bashar, and it will come back to haunt the latter’s son Hafez lest it is ended now. May God grant victory to the Syrian people through ways that please Him most.
On June 6, a week after the “Nato data” article, World Tribune published Surge by Iran-Hizbullah-Syria axis stuns Israeli intelligence community which ends with:
But other officials sounded less sanguine. They said the rebels were collapsing amid a short of equipment, weapons and feuds among commanders. “Those fighting against Assad are mostly foreigners, paid by Qatar and Saudi Arabia,” another official said. “There is not much left of the indigenous rebel movement.”
Once more, from May 31: NATO data: Assad winning the war for Syrians’ hearts and minds ending with:
“The Sunnis have no love for Assad, but the great majority of the community is withdrawing from the revolt,” the source said. “What is left is the foreign fighters who are sponsored by Qatar and Saudi Arabia. They are seen by the Sunnis as far worse than Assad.”
Coincidence? Or are the unnamed source and the unnamed [Israeli] official basing themselves on the same unavailable source? For all we know, they could all be the same person who is trying to give weight to his bizarre opinion that the Syrian revolution has actually ended, that tens of thousands, in reality well over 100 thousand Syrian opposition fighters, have vanished into thin air, and left an average of 150 points of daily clashes with Assad throughout the country to foreigners, who have suddenly multiplied into the tens of thousands as well. And Assad still needs Hezbollah to claim only one victory on a small city close to Lebanon? These kind of articles leave little credibility to the kind of standards in journalism World Tribune upholds.