Monday, April 15, 2013

President Assad's army is starting to call the shots in Syria

    Monday, April 15, 2013   No comments

ROBERT FISK

Old Mohamed Said al-Sauda from Deraa, in his tawny gown and kuffiah headscarf, sat at the end of a conclave of tribal elders, all newly arrived in Damascus for an audience with no less than the President himself. They sat – only one woman in a blue dress among them – round a long table in the Damas Rose Hotel drinking water and coffee, rehearsing their anxieties. How should they talk to the young armed men who came into their villages? How should they persuade the rebels not to damage their land and take over their villages? "We try to talk to the saboteurs and to get them to go back to rebuilding the country," al-Sauda told me. "We try to persuade them to put aside their arms, to stop the violence. We used to have such a safe country to live in."

These men, middle-aged for the most part with tough, lined, dark faces, are the first line of defence of the Assad regime, the landowners and propertied classes of the peasants who benefited most from the original Baathist revolution and whose prosperity has been threatened by the mass uprising against the regime. They come from Tartus, Deraa, the Damascus countryside, from Hama and Latakia, and they speak the language of the Assad government – up to a point. "Syria is a mosaic unlike any other in the world," says Salman Hamdan. "The sectarian divide does not exist in our country. Muslims, Christians, they are the same. It is a conspiracy that is classifying people. Some have chosen the homeland; others have decided to be ungrateful to their country for personal gain."

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Ed Isr

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