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Saturday, 19 October 2019

Syria's 'Bashar generation' shaken by protests

They are in their 30s, lead prosperous lives in Damascus and expect security under the state, but for a month and a half the 'Bashar generation' has been disorientated by clashes against the regime and talk of 'armed gangs'

AFP , Tuesday 3 May 2011
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Dinner conversations centre on the demonstrations seeking reforms from President Bashar al-Assad.

For Luay, a 41-year-old doctor, "the positive thing is that for the first time we can have open discussions, even with our neighbours. This was unimaginable a month ago."

Since the regime came to power in 1963, all criticism was liable to be reported to the widely feared "mukhabarat," or secret police.

"We demand the freedom of not being afraid any more, of saying what we think without having to worry about the person we know in the inner circle of power who can free us from the grips of the mukhabarat," said Ahmed, a 37-year-old engineer.

Faruq, a 34-year-old musician, was arrested after taking part in the first Damascus protests.

"I took to the streets to call for freedom and because I was disgusted by what happened in Daraa. I never thought I would be marching in solidarity with a village I've never been to."

Daraa, 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of Damascus, has become the epicentre of protests since the heavy-handed treatment of teenagers suspected of spraying anti-regime graffiti in the town.

Assad sacked the regional governor and local intelligence chief in a failed attempt to restore the peace.

For the men and women of the Bashar generation, the 45-year-old Assad who has ruled since 2000 is a modern president operating in an obsolete system.

"Syrian television broadcasts have not changed in 40 years. It ignores the demonstrators who were killed, even though they are martyrs, because the regime insists that they were murdered by armed gangs," said Ahmad, a 35-year-old merchant.

Many believe Assad's reformist intentions are hamstrung by the old guard of the Baathist regime, who fear their incompetence will cost them their positions.

"A building cannot be renovated in one day and a state takes even longer. We must give him time," said Omar, a 39-year-old businessman, having dinner with friends.

The dinner conversation then heated up.

"Time! He's been in power for a decade and nothing has changed. A Syrian proverb says 'clouds bring rain, but we still haven't seen any clouds'," said Faruq, a 35-year-old merchant.

But that failed to placate Omar who answered: "You kept your mouth shut for 20 years and now you're demanding freedom immediately. Just be patient."

Assad promised reforms, including lifting the state of emergency, a law on pluralism and the liberalisation of the media.

But despite lifting emergency rule, he has still pursued a deadly crackdown on protesters.

Anwar, a 44-year-old doctor, was puzzled by the appearance of the words "armed gangs" in official terminology.

"There was a tacit agreement: we give up our freedom and the regime provides security. Now we find that there are armed gangs. The intelligence services should have been told to track them instead of spying on our private lives."

Assad has portrayed the protest movement as a conspiracy against Syria, and the government blames "armed gangs" for stirring the dissent.

For Osama, a high-ranking civil servant, the authorities must first tackle corruption to wipe out the "terrorists."

"In order to crush the terrorists we must eradicate corruption, because if weapons are rife it is because smugglers are able to get them through" the borders, he said.

In a chic cafe in the Mazzeh neighbourhood of Damascus, the wife of a banker talked about her family's plans to leave the country.

"My husband and I are thinking about leaving. We can't stay if civil war breaks out. We're thinking of going to Dubai, Barcelona, Paris or Beirut," said Bushra, 28.

"Beirut? Don't even think about it. If it gets worse here, Lebanon will be the first place to feel the heat," a friend warned.

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