In Syria These Days, Just Getting Along Is Top Priority
June 18, 2013 by Sam Dagher
As the Syrian conflict has entered its third year, staying alive is the priority of most Syrians remaining in the country.
In rebel-controlled areas, residents do everything possible to camouflage any affiliation to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, which could be something as simple as collecting a meager pension or monthly government salary.
In regime strongholds, on the other hand, procuring the right kind of hawiya, or identity card, can mean the difference between coasting through the endless checkpoints within and between cities or being subjected to interrogation and possible detention. Nearly two dozen government checkpoints dot the road between the capital Damascus and the city of Homs about 100 miles (160 kilometers) to the north.
For Alia Abbir, a 40-year-old single woman living in Homs with her brothers and their families, survival has required honing the age-old art of flattery.
Ms. Abbir and her siblings are among the very few people who have stayed in the Homs neighborhood of Baba Amr through its many transformations and tribulations.
The neighborhood fell in rebel hands in late 2011. It quickly became a symbol of resistance in the face of a devastating siege and relentless bombardment by regime forces in Feb 2012. The regime captured it a month later but rebels returned briefly in March of this year before they were routed once more.
The regime is now building a wall around the battle-scarred streets of Baba Amrto keep rebels out. The Abbir home is located on the northern edge of the neighborhood in a section known as Jouret al-Arayees, meaning brides’ pit in Arabic.
Graffiti bears testimony to the struggle over the area.
“God wants Bashar al-Assad,” is scrawled on one wall. “Osama bin Laden: the martyr of Jabhat al-Nusra,” says a competing slogan on another, touting the militant leanings of some of the rebel fighters who were once in control of the neighborhood.
The area was crucial to securing rebel supply lines from Lebanon via the former rebel bastion of Qusayr to the south. Qusayr was captured by the regime and its ally, Lebanese militant group Hezbollah earlier this month.
On a recent morning Ms. Abbir hosted Abu Ibrahim, the regime security official in charge of the neighborhood. He is the de facto ruler here.
Dressed in a bright orange headscarf and a flowing black cloak ornamented with colorful trimmings, Ms. Abbir instructed her brothers to bring out dishes laden with fruit from the kitchen.
She peeled and sliced bananas, apples and oranges offering them to Abu Ibrahim and his assistant.
Teasing Abu Ibrahim, Ms. Abbir recalls how regime security forces fled the neighborhood when rebels came back this March.
“The gunmen were in control of the whole area, not a single security force member dared enter,” she says with a smile. “I kept calling [the security forces] but nobody answered.”
She said when rebels came back she was roused from bed at dawn by knocking at the front door.
“It was my neighbor Ali, the bear, telling me that they have come to liberate us,” says Ms. Abbir mockingly referring to one of the neighborhood’s opposition fighters by his nickname.
She said Ali politely requested that she remove the government flag she had hung from her balcony after regime forces captured Baba Amr in March of last year. She obliged and says she was never again bothered by the rebels, until they were driven out by government bombardment.
Ms. Abbir says rebels treated her well because she became briefly engaged to one of their commanders, a school friend two years her junior. This, she says, was another survival tactic.
“It was a trick to protect myself and my family,” she explains. “I kept coming up with excuses to delay the marriage.”
Ms. Abbir says she was rescued by circumstances from what she says would have been an unavoidable but unhappy and “loveless” marriage: her rebel fiancée was killed in the regime offensive on Baba Amr last year.
“Of course I (cheered) when I saw you and the army,” she says turning to Abu Ibrahim.
Source: The Wall Street Journal