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The New Republic: The Twisted, Terrifying Last Days of Assad's Syria

Author: Theo Padnos
October 4, 2011

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Theo Padnos explains how the Assad regime exacerbated the Alawi-Sunni rivalry, bringing the country to the brink of today's sectarian war.

Many Damascenes these days prefer to watch the government-run TV stations. Elsewhere, the news is bad. The local channels, with local announcers, speaking in proper Syrian Arabic, are often sweet. Often the broadcasters on these stations are beautiful young women. They smile a lot. Their channels say that in some outlying districts, vandals and religious fanatics have moved in, and have had to be removed by the army. But now all is back to normal.

One cannot trade one's Syrian pounds for dollars in Damascus anymore. One cannot travel to the outlying districts on Thursday nights without a local ID. But otherwise, life, for most people in most places, continues as normal. There have been no nationwide general strikes, no camp-ins, as in Yemen, and no major splits in the army, as in Libya. The buses run. The internet works, if slowly. The merchants who sell you pistachios still utter lovely phrases of piety and brotherhood, as they've always done, and if you tell people that you love Syria, and especially love the Syrian people, they will sometimes cry in front of you on the street.

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