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With Two Sons in the Army, Saying a Prayer for Assad

TARTUS — In a small village on the Syrian coast, a shopkeeper in her 60s tends to her customers. She wears the shimmering black abaya prevalent in the countryside, wisps of gray hair protruding from her headscarf.

Written by Sadek Abed Alrahman Published on Read time Approx. 3 minutes

She walks slowly as she fetches items from the shelves, grumbling about the deterioration of conditions here.

Um Ahmad, as she prefers to be known, inherited this small convenience store 11 years ago when her husband passed away. Now it is her sole means of supporting her three sons.

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She sees only one end to her country’s conflict: President Bashar al-Assad’s victory over his enemies.

As a single mother in hard times, she managed to raise her three boys, enrolling the youngest at Tishreen University in Latakia. The two eldest are fighting in the Syrian army, one on the front lines outside of Damascus and the other in Hama province.

Tens of thousands of young men from the Syrian coast, a majority Alawite region and Assad’s ancestral home, have enrolled in mandatory or reserve military service since the war began. Thousands have been killed.

But this has not shaken Alawite support for Assad. Many here believe that winning the war is critical to their future existence.

Um Ahmad cursed the armed foreigners that have entered the country and the Gulf nations that are supporting them, along with corrupt Syrian army officers who she believes are pilfering Syria’s resources while her sons fight. But she ends each string of complaints with a prayer for the president.

There are no definitive statistics showing how many citizens from Syria’s rural coastal areas have died in action, whether in the army, security services, the pro-regime militias known as popular committees or the national defense forces. Each time a funeral procession passes by her store in the village, Um Ahmad said she is sad for the loss and fearful that one day it will be a son of her own.

Ahmad*, her eldest, used to do farm work in a small orchard near the store. He was summoned to the military a year ago and has since been fighting in the Damascus countryside. Um Ahmad is more aware than most of the reality of life in Assad’s army. She tells her customers about war-hardened Lebanese Hezbollah militants fighting alongside the army and how the guerrilla fighters eat fresh meals while her son and other Syrian soldiers eat stale bread and leftovers.

Her middle son began his mandatory service following graduation from the engineering faculty two years ago. He was later transferred to the countryside of Hama, where ferocious battles are taking place. “He was a very quiet boy, a smart engineer. I was hoping he would occupy a prestigious position in Tartus after his graduation, but he became a fighter,” Um Ahmad said. Before the war, “he did not have the heart to slaughter a chicken. I wish I had made him leave the country after graduation.”

One day Um Ahmad heard that the Free Syrian Army had taken control over her son’s area of Hama. Unable to contact him, she went to the nearby recruitment center and started screaming at the employees who work there, asking them to disclose her son’s condition. She did not stop until she received a phone call from her son, telling her that he withdrew along with some of his comrades, and that they managed to escape.

Only then did she calm down and go back to praying for Assad.

Um Ahmad is not well educated on politics. She repeats the local mantra about the opposition, who she says are “sectarian militants who want to kill the Alawites.” She speaks proudly about her sons who are fighting in defense of “the president, the nation and the Alawite sect.”

But she continues to curse high-ranking army officers. Whenever one of them passes in front of her store, she says to her customers: “The sons of the Alawite sect are dying to defend them, while they ride infancy cars and send their children to study abroad.”

Once, the mayor asked her to stop cursing at the army officials so that intelligence wouldn’t arrest her. “I told him that if anyone comes near me, I will break his head with this stick,” she said. “My sons are fighting in Damascus and Hama [so] I have the right to say whatever I want.”

Um Ahmad watches Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya, funded by opposition backers Qatar and Saudi Arabia, more than state-run media. Shesaid this is because “these lying channels make up news about Syria and President Assad, but the Syrian channels never show any real news.”

She continues to work in her store to support the youngest son, who is still at university. One recent evening, she said she felt that she was “near death. I wonder whether the war will end and if my sons will come home before I die. I don’t think so. The government is lying to us, my son. This war will go on for many years.”

**Not his real name.*

Sadek Abed Alrahman is the pseudonym of a Syria Deeply contributor based in Tartus.

This article was translated from Arabic by Sara Berjawi.

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