Syrian Expatriates Discuss Recent Violence

As the tanks roll into to the suburbs of Damascus and opposition activists release reports of more deaths at the hands of President Bashar Assad's regime, Syrians in neighboring countries say their families back home are beginning to turn against Assad.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

And we turn now to NPR's Kelly McEvers. She's monitoring the news out of Syria from neighboring Lebanon. And she has the stories of two Syrian living in Beirut. Both insist the more violence is used against civilians in Syria, the less people will support the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

KELLY MCEVERS: Ahmed is 30 years old. He studies political science here in Beirut. Ahmed isn't his real name. He comes from a large and prominent Sunni family living mostly in Damascus and Syria's second city, Aleppo. That family once opposed the ruling party, was exiled from Syria and then went back. The deal was, conduct your business but don't get involved in politics.

This is how Ahmed describes his family today.

AHMED: And we still have land. We are landowners. So we are better off than other Syrians. We're quiet.

MCEVERS: So quiet that when Ahmed started posting news of the protests and crackdowns to his Twitter feed and Facebook page, his relatives were angry.

AHMED: You're getting us in trouble. We don't want any part of this, so please quit your activities.

MCEVERS: Ahmed didn't want to quit so he just changed his name online. Then, as the violence against protesters increased, the family started coming around. First it was the young cousins who began to question Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

AHMED: They have gone into the point where they don't believe that Bashar can deliver on the reforms. They are not quite saying, okay, guys, we got to do something. They're just saying that, okay, you got to (unintelligible). You got to know what's going on.

MCEVERS: And slowly the older generation joined in, too.

AHMED: They are not very computer friendly, so you won't expect much from them. They haven't turned to activism yet. They won't go to the protests.

MCEVERS: But they have stopped watching state TV and they're now watching Al- Jazeera, which is usually more favorable to protesters.

Then, on Monday, Syrian tanks rolled into the town of Daraa, killing at least 20 people. That's when Ahmed's mother, who's in her late 60's, snapped.

AHMED: She came out and she said, okay, Bashar is not a reformer. He is a brutal murderer. I can't support him anymore.

MCEVERS: Ahmed still not sure what his mother and her generation are going to do with this anger.

Mohammed is 22 years old. He's also a student here in Beirut. He's from a middle class Sunni family in Damascus. Mohamed is not his real name either.

He says the debates between pro-Assad Syrians and anti-Assad Syrians here in Beirut are getting heated, and this makes him nervous. He says Syria is a country where the regime holds a lot of competing factions together.

MOHAMMAD: I think it's a critical point for Syria now. If the regime fell down, I don't think it's to the benefit of anyone. There are millions and millions of sects and many families, big families, who want their country to be there.

MCEVERS: If the regime falls, he says, these groups will start fighting for what they want. Mohammed says he's not willing to protest right now. Like many Syrians, he says he prefers stability to freedom. But he says the more the regime uses violence, like in Daraa, the less stability there will be and the less likely it is that the regime will maintain mass support.

MOHAMMAD: I know for sure that there are some people in Syria, once blood is spilled it will never be stopped. I know that for sure. I know. You know their revenge thing, you know, it's in their blood, that something, the family stuff.

MCEVERS: He says is the violence reaches Damascus, which so far has remained quiet, amid a major deployment of security forces, then the masses can strike back.

MOHAMMAD: Violence will lead you to a point where you can't handle it anymore. They're very do with the violence and go with the violence, go with the flow. And I would go with the flow 'cause I'm not going to be sitting at home while tanks are going under my home, you know.

MCEVERS: The question now is whether the crackdown will go that far, whether it will bring a majority of people into the streets like they did in Egypt.

Mohammad and Ahmed say this coming Friday will be another definitive day. Definitive in which direction, they do not know.

Kelly McEvers, NPR News, Beirut.

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