FRONTLINE

S2011 E18 | FULL EPISODE

Syria Undercover

Magazine airing November 8, 2011: "Syria Undercover" and "The Regime."

AIRED: November 08, 2011 | 0:53:40
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TRANSCRIPT

.

>> Tonight, two stories about Syria

in this special edition of Frontline.

>> There are thousands of people chanting, "Freedom, freedom!"

>> First, undercover reporter Ramita Navai

with never-before-seen footage smuggled out of the country.

>> All of the activists we're with are wanted men.

The army is here looking for them...

>> ...inside safe houses and secret hospitals.

>> A boy was killed.

A sniper shot him in the head.

>>Frontline takes you inside the opposition movement.

>> These people are back on the streets.

They're absolutely fearless.

>> And in our second story tonight...

>> The regime has a playbook.

You have a protest, you have an uprising, you suppress it.

>> Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad,

the man behind the crackdown.

>> Those who believed in President Bashar al-Assad

lost all their faith

when the first bullet was fired at a civilian.

>> This is how the Assads, both father and son,

deal with domestic threats.

>> Can this regime stop today's revolution?

>> There's no question, at this point,

that the Syrian government thinks it's won.

>> These two stories on this special edition of Frontline.

>> NAVAI: I began my investigation

in the capital, Damascus, in September.

Traveling with my producer, who speaks Arabic,

we entered the country posing as tourists.

Careful, the cops.

Before my trip, I'd spent weeks arranging access

to opposition leaders inside Syria.

I'd been given a local cell number to call.

After using a code word, I was told to go to a location

where my underground contact would be waiting.

The plan was to travel ten miles from Damascus

to the town of Douma,

into the midst of the uprising.

My contact was a young businessman.

Like other opposition activists, he uses an alias.

His is Abu Khaled.

Abu Khaled is meeting with another activist now to see

if the roads are safe and they can get us in.

Abu Khaled's also told us that,

at a funeral of a protester today, seven people were shot.

He said protests were happening along the road to Douma

and he'd take me to see them.

But there were army checkpoints everywhere.

Abu Khaled used a network of lookouts

to find the safest route.

This happens every five, ten minutes or so--

one of the cars guiding us in front will change

and another car will join us.

The regime, Abu Khaled told me,

feared the protests reaching downtown Damascus.

(chanting in Arabic)

>> NAVAI: The protestors considered Syria's President,

Bashar al-Assad, a tyrant.

>> NAVAI: Further along the road,

we heard there was a funeral

for a young protester who'd died in prison.

We stopped to film.

Abu Khaled said we had to be quick

as there were government informants everywhere.

>> NAVAI: There are thousands of people at this funeral here,

and they're all chanting, "Freedom, freedom!"

The crowd was outside the cemetery

where 22-year-old Ayman Zaghoul had just been buried.

After being shot in the leg at a protest,

he was arrested by the security forces.

A week later, Ayman's body was returned to his family.

He had received no medical treatment

and had been terribly tortured.

One of his eyes had been gouged out.

Abu Khaled said we needed to leave.

He told me, nearly every day, in towns like these,

security forces shoot and kill protestors.

>> NAVAI: In the next town, 2,000 people had gathered

to mourn the deaths of more protesters,

including that of a 14-year-old boy.

He'd been killed in nearby Douma.

Every now and again, we get rained on by sweets,

and this is people in their houses and apartments

throwing sweets out at the protesters,

showing their support.

The protestors burned the Russian flag,

angry at Russia for being one of the regime's closest allies.

Abu Khaled thought we may have been spotted by informants.

We had to leave immediately.

Finally, we arrived in Douma.

I wanted to see where the 14-year-old boy had been shot.

The 14-year-old boy was killed at a protest on Friday,

and they're taking us to the spot where he was killed.

You can see the trail of blood.

They said there was so much blood that

they had to put sand on it to soak it up,

and you can still see where the blood was.

And here are the bullets.

Bullet there.

Bullet hole here, bullet hole here, bullet hole here.

He poked his head around the corner,

and they say a sniper shot him in the head.

The boy's father agreed to speak with me

as long as I didn't identify his family.

He told me his son had been excited

about going to a protest.

>> NAVAI: A protester filmed the wounded boy

being taken for help.

>> NAVAI: The activists then took me to one of the hubs

from where they organize the resistance movement.

I met one of the leaders of the uprising,

who uses the alias Abu Hazem.

He's known as a coordinator or, in Arabic, tansiqiyat.

He showed me what had happened to his friend.

>> NAVAI: His name was Mohammed Bashir Al Shami.

He had been arrested just days before

and interrogated for the names of fellow coordinators.

>> NAVAI: Abu Hazem has been collecting evidence

of atrocities in the area.

He had buried DVDs of the violence in his garden.

>> NAVAI: He hopes this evidence will one day be used

to prosecute President Assad for war crimes.

He wanted to show me video of an earlier incident

that had provoked the revolt in Douma.

>> NAVAI: Hundreds had gathered outside the mosque

to mourn the death of men killed at a protest.

They were met with gunfire.

So, we've just seen the funeral procession taking place,

and they're carrying two bodies,

and the activists are pointing to the top of a building

they say is the Department for Military Security.

They say the shooting's coming from there,

and there are snipers on top of this building.

Abu Hazem keeps meticulous records of those killed,

tortured, and injured in Douma.

Abu Hazem says that the man who owned the printing shop

that was printing lists like this,

of dead protesters,

and printing banners that are held up by the protesters,

was killed by the authorities.

Nobody is safe here.

I'd been told we could meet three key activists

on the run from the government.

I was given instructions to go to the town of Madaya,

30 miles northwest of Damascus.

The activists have told us

there may be two military checkpoints on the way,

and that soldiers have been searching cars

and confiscating all laptops and cameras.

At each checkpoint, we were searched

but our camera wasn't discovered.

When I reached Madaya,

I was rushed to the safe house where the activists were hiding.

Just two hours later, the town was surrounded by the army.

The activists were terrified.

All of the activists we're with are wanted men.

They've had word that the army's here looking for them.

Like all the other activists I'd met,

they used aliases for safety.

Engineering graduate Abu Jaffar

organizes demonstrations in Madaya,

setting times, dates, and locations.

>> NAVAI: Syrians have established opposition groups

in towns across the country.

The men were members of one of the biggest groups,

the Syrian Revolution General Commission.

22-year-old law student Malek

said Syrians were no longer willing to tolerate

the one-party state.

>> NAVAI: President Assad

belongs to the Alawite Muslim sect,

a minority group in a mostly Sunni nation.

But the men insisted the uprising wasn't about religion;

it was about democracy.

>> NAVAI: Malek explained how he became an activist.

He'd been arrested by security forces

at one of the first protests back in March.

>> NAVAI: Malek's six weeks in prison

led him to join the opposition movement full-time.

He and the other two men

now move from safe house to safe house.

Several times, they'd only just escaped arrest.

With Madaya surrounded,

I had no option but to stay the night with them.

It's really hard to sleep when you know that a soldier

can break down your door any minute,

and I'm constantly anxious and scared

that we're going to be tracked down.

And this is just a fraction of what these guys go through

as wanted dissidents.

They've been living like this for the past five months.

For the next two days and nights,

we were holed up in the safe house.

(dog barking)

Our food supplies started to run out.

To get clean drinking water,

Malek was forced to venture to a nearby spring.

We all watched news coming in from Arabic satellite channels

on the protests and erupting violence.

On the third morning, Abu Jaffar tried to find out

the latest news on the militia and army.

This is the first Internet login of the day.

He's just checking in with all the other coordinators

and activists around Syria to find out what the news is.

Activists from outside the town

had posted footage of the armed forces entering Madaya.

So now you can see some white pickup trucks filled with,

it looks like, armed men,

and he says that that's Syria's militia.

These militia gangs, locally called Shabiha,

are Assad loyalists.

The opposition accuses them of terrorizing their neighborhoods.

Three hours later, Abu Jaffar received a call from a lookout.

>> NAVAI: They confirmed the Shabiha

were conducting violent house-to-house searches.

The lookout warned they were kicking down doors

on our street.

>> NAVAI: Malik, Mohammed, and Abu Jaffar all hid in the attic.

They told me not to hide,

but to have my passport ready to show that I wasn't Syrian.

We can now hear them right outside the door,

so we're putting the camera away.

We hid our camera, but used a cell phone to film.

I could hear the screams from next door

as the militia raided the house.

A mother was pleading with them not to take her son.

After six hours, I could no longer hear movement outside.

Abu Jaffar.

A lookout had just called Abu Jaffar.

>> NAVAI: We waited 12 more hours

before we got definite news the militia had left.

The coast is clear outside the safe house,

the soldiers are gone.

They think that the army is retreating from the town,

and so the guys are frantically packing everything up now.

We'd been trapped in the safe house for 72 hours.

As I left, I saw the smashed windows next door.

The militia had sprayed slogans on the walls.

There's graffiti everywhere, on all the houses.

The guys are pointing out that it says,

"We love you, Bashar al-Assad.

We love you, our president."

Before I left Madaya,

one of the activists took me to his family's home

to see the aftermath of the raids.

Dozens of people had been arrested in the town.

The United Nations estimates

more than 3,000 protestors have died.

Thousands more have been badly injured.

I was told it was no longer safe

to take wounded protesters to public hospitals.

Instead, secret hospitals have been set up in safe houses

across the country.

In a location on the outskirts of Damascus,

I met an opposition doctor.

He spends every night tending to the injured.

The doctor says this man was shot three times.

You can see this is a superficial wound here

from where he was shot.

The bullet is still embedded in his vertebrae.

They haven't been able to take it out.

The doctor told me government security forces raid hospitals

in search of injured protesters.

>> NAVAI: He was scared.

Ten of his fellow doctors had been arrested.

Despite this, he continued to help all those he could.

To cope with the sheer number of casualties,

activists have established a medical supply chain

spread across dozens of locations.

We have just been brought to another building

near the secret hospital,

and this is where they store

the medical supplies and equipment.

The activist in charge of coordinating the hospitals

told me most of the medical supplies are smuggled in

from Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan.

Here there's bandages.

Over here, there's a box of drugs, medicine,

surgical scrub solution,

doctor's gown for operating.

There's even a heart monitor.

And all of this has been hidden away in this warehouse

because they're so scared of being raided by the militia.

I was taken to another secret hospital.

A man was treating his brother

using improvised medical equipment.

There's a man lying in his bed in the safe house,

and he's looking very, very upset and bewildered.

Mohammed is a 36-year-old father of three.

His brother told us they'd been protesting together.

>> NAVAI: Because of the delay,

Mohammed's brain was starved of oxygen, causing brain damage.

Nearby, in another secret location,

I met a 19-year-old student shot in the leg

while protesting days earlier.

Do you feel safe here?

>> NAVAI: I traveled to the countryside

to meet some soldiers who had defected from the army.

About 70% of the Syrian Army

is made up of men who have been drafted.

The opposition claims thousands of them are deserting.

I met with four of the soldiers who are now on the run.

He was stationed in Rif, Damascus,

the suburbs of Damascus.

These two were stationed in Deraa in the south,

and he was stationed in Tartous,

which is on the coast in the north.

The men claimed they had deserted because they were

forced to fire on protesters.

What were your orders?

>> NAVAI: This man said he'd seen other soldiers killed

for disobeying orders.

>> NAVAI: These soldiers,

whose stories can't be independently verified,

claim many deserters are joining the revolution.

>> NAVAI: Some deserters have formed a group called

the Free Syrian Army.

They claim to be at least 10,000 strong and warn, without war,

Assad will not fall.

But they face security forces totaling more than 300,000.

The UN says nearly 200 children have now been killed.

I was taken to meet one child caught up in a protest.

His father said his 15-year-old son was lucky to have survived.

>> NAVAI: On his way to the shops,

the boy had excitedly joined a demonstration.

The security forces opened fire and he was shot in the head.

>> NAVAI: The only way the boy can communicate

is by raising his hand and blinking his eyes.

Will you tell him I think he's very brave?

>> NAVAI: Back in Madaya,

where I'd been trapped in the safe house,

it was now the scene of major protests.

Despite dozens of arrests,

whole families were out on the streets protesting.

They're all shouting "Freedom, freedom!"

There are some banners there that say Assad is a murderer.

The opposition has been fueled with hope

by Colonel Qaddafi's recent demise in Libya.

Despite the killings and torture, the people I met insist

they will continue their fight to overthrow the regime.

Their struggle may yet be a long and bloody one.

>> Coming up next on this special edition of Frontline...

>> People were giddy early on in Bashar's reign.

>> Those who believed in President Assad lost faith

when the first bullet was fired at a civilian.

>> Who is Syria's Bashar al-Assad,

and how is he holding on to power?

>> Bashar's mother is telling him to act like his father,

to crush this rebellion against him.

>> "The Regime" begins right now.

>> NARRATOR: What kind of government turns so fiercely

on its own citizens?

What kind of man is its leader?

And why does what happens here matter?

>> I think it would be easy to make the argument

that Syria's rebellion is the most important

of all the rebellions happening in the Arab world.

Syria is so embedded in the relationships in the region--

its longstanding alliance with Iran,

its longstanding alliance with Hezbollah,

the border it shares with Israel,

the border it shares with Turkey and Iraq.

And the idea that something

could spiral out of control very quickly

is not beyond the realm of possibility.

>> NARRATOR: The Syrian rebellion began

in a small farming town 60 miles south of Damascus.

On March 6, 15 young boys painted messages

on these school walls.

>> They were copying what they've been listening to

in Al Jazeera and other TV channels

covering the Egyptian uprising and the Tunisian uprising.

>> NARRATOR: Soon after, the boys were rounded up

by the government's secret police, the Mukhabarat.

Their fathers went to see the police chief,

a cousin of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad,

and begged him to release their children.

>> He refused.

And he said, "Forget that you have these kids.

Go and make other ones."

>> "And if they were not men enough to make children,

then bring us your wives and we will make children for you."

>> NARRATOR: One boy was never returned.

He is presumed dead.

Images of another circulated on YouTube.

>> Several of the children had their fingernails pulled out.

They were beaten.

And there are even reports

of rape being committed against these children.

And in a close-knit tribal society like that,

there was only one thing they could do: they rioted.

>> That very instance of repression, of torture

seemed to galvanize the town itself.

Here were the children of the town being mistreated

by a government that was distant,

that had neglected Daraa.

And almost from that moment,

the uprising seemed to gain momentum.

(chanting in Arabic)

>> It led to a major demonstration

that was put down brutally, by force,

with the killing of several civilians.

(shouting in Arabic)

And it snowballed from there.

>> NARRATOR: Many Syrians who hoped that

President Bashar al-Assad might intervene felt betrayed.

>> Those who believed in President Bashar al-Assad

lost all their faith when the first bullet was fired

at a civilian in the street in Syria.

>> NARRATOR: For over four decades,

the Assads have ruled Syria,

a fractious country of many tribes and religions.

The Assads come from a long- persecuted minority Muslim sect,

the Alawites.

>> The Alawites had traditionally been the repressed

and oppressed in the country.

In fact, a famous Sunni medieval philosopher

by the name of Ibn Taymiyyah

once declared that the Alawites

were worse than Jews and Christians, and were infidels,

and there should be a holy war carried out against them.

>> NARRATOR: But Hafez al-Assad found a path to power

through the military.

Under French colonial rule, Sunnis had resisted serving,

while Alawites like Hafez found opportunity.

The young Assad was also a rising star in Syria's socialist

Baath party.

At age 40, he engineered a coup to seize the presidency.

>> Hafez al-Assad rose to power from the bottom up.

He had to fight the battles that came with the coup d'etat,

that came with trying to corral

the different forces of the country into his camp.

>> NARRATOR: He ruled by putting trusted family members

in high government posts.

>> The brother is in charge of security;

the cousins, of the banking system;

in-laws, in security as well, in military.

So, the reality is this is a family business.

>> NARRATOR: And like Tito in Yugoslavia or Hussein in Iraq,

Assad also knew how to use force.

His Baath party repressed any ethnic or religious challenges.

>> The Baath Party promised to get rid of sectarianism.

He demanded, and for the most part,

the Syrian population was receptive

to this Faustian bargain, that the Syrian people

would accept a little bit less freedom and liberty

in return for stability.

>> NARRATOR: Assad also secured his power

by taking in millions in Soviet military aid

and welcoming thousands of Soviet advisors.

But in 1979, there was a revolution in Iran.

The dynasty of the Shah was replaced by an Islamic state

under Ayatollah Khomeini.

In Syria and across the Middle East,

Islamic fundamentalists rose up.

>> And there were attacks against the regime.

It was essentially almost a civil war.

>> NARRATOR: A bombing campaign targeted government buildings

and Alawite military officers.

The attacks went on for several years.

>> And in 1982, the regime basically said, "That's it.

"That's enough.

"We have to deal with this once and for all.

We have to show that we're in control."

(explosions)

>> NARRATOR: Their chief target

was the stronghold of Syria's Muslim Brotherhood, Hama.

>> In 1982, the Syrian regime

launched one of the worst massacres

in the history of the Middle East.

The regime used artillery to level large parts of the town.

Between 10,000 and 30,000 people were killed or were disappeared

by the regime.

>> NARRATOR: Bodies were buried

before these pictures were taken.

>> I just remember there was a lot of rubble

and a lot of destruction.

It looked like a war zone.

>> NARRATOR: Amr al Azm was studying archeology.

On his way to a dig, he drove through the city.

>> And the other thing I remember

were these neatly bulldozed areas where...

where areas had been cleared and bulldozed,

as we drove through the city.

These were probably also the mass graves

that everybody talks about.

>> That was a very stark moment

in which the Alawite-dominated regime, the Baath party,

made it clear to Syria that it would not brook any opposition.

>> It was a ruthless, obviously Machiavellian way

to deal with the problem.

But it did deal with the problem,

from the perspective of the Syrian regime,

because, until recently,

you really haven't had any serious Islamist opposition

to Hafez al-Assad or his son when he came to power in 2000.

>> NARRATOR: A phrase was coined, "the Hama Rules,"

the idea that you quash rebellion by making sure

that your citizens know that you play by no rules at all.

(crowd chanting in Arabic)

Almost 30 years later,

President Bashar al-Assad faces a similar test in Hama.

>> Hama looked like Cairo.

It looked like Tunis.

This was a popular uprising.

And the government was very threatened by that narrative.

I think there's a sense out there within the government that

what they're facing right now is redolent of what they faced

in the late '70s and early '80s.

And it helps feed that notion that we can deal with this

by security and security alone.

>> The regime has a playbook.

If you're faced with a crisis, go back to the playbook

and see what we did the last time we got through a crisis.

So, the last time they got through a similar crisis

was Hama.

So, you have a protest, you have an uprising, you suppress it.

The playbook does not say negotiate with the protesters,

so there's no negotiation.

(gunshot)

>> One very high-ranking Turkish official told me that

what's going on inside the leadership

is that Bashar's mother herself is telling him

that these are the same events, that they remind her

of what happened in the late '70s and early '80s.

And her advice to him is that he has to act like his father,

he has to be strong, he has to be decisive,

and he has to crush this element of rebellion against him.

>> NARRATOR: Bashar sent in tanks, armored vehicles,

and snipers.

>> This is how the Assads, both father and son,

deal with domestic threats.

They retreat into their Alawite fortress,

and there's this convulsive reaction

to put down any sort of domestic threats,

and to put them down ruthlessly.

>> NARRATOR: Many Syrians had hoped Bashar would be different

than his father.

During the first massacre of Hama,

Bashar was studying medicine at the University of Damascus.

The studious 17-year-old

expressed no political ambitions.

After graduation, he moved to London.

>> He was not earmarked for the presidency.

He was going to be an ophthalmologist.

And he was prepared to do that for the rest of his life.

>> NARRATOR: The heir apparent

was Bashar's older brother, Basil.

But in 1994, he was killed in a car accident.

Bashar was ordered to come home.

He joined the Republican Guard

and was sent to serve in Lebanon,

preparing for the day he would take office.

>> We all knew he was going to take over.

We all knew that Hafez al-Assad was on his last legs,

if you want.

You know, he was close to death.

It was very clear that he was very ill.

And the question was always,

"How well groomed has Bashar been?"

>> NARRATOR: He was inaugurated in July 2000.

The young doctor,

with his fashionable British-born Syrian wife,

a former banker at JP Morgan, promised reform.

>> People were giddy with the idea of reform

early on in Bashar's reign.

He opened up the country to the Internet,

he lifted exit permits,

which were required for Syrians to travel,

and he allowed more trade in the country.

>> He said, "We can open up.

"We're going to have some private newspapers,

private press, Internet."

And he believed that he could win

the hearts and minds of the people through modernization

and let a lot more light in.

>> He had allowed what became to be known as

the "Damascus Spring."

He promised reforms, and he promised political reforms.

And so, there were political salons that began to emerge,

and people began to talk about ideas.

"How is Syria going to meet the future?

Which path is it going to take?"

And there was an era, I would say, in the 2003-2004

in which there was an open debate, and a healthy one.

>> He was genuinely popular amongst the young people

who hadn't lived through his father

and who saw him as a potential reformer.

And he kept on telling them that life was going to get better.

And they could see fairly dramatic changes,

at least for the wealthy.

>> NARRATOR: In Damascus and Aleppo, the two largest cities,

the transformation was evident.

>> There's been a great deal of infrastructural improvement

in both cities.

It's very noticeable to anyone

who's been to Syria over the years.

There's been a nouveau riche that has been created.

>> There was a sense of commercialism.

People felt that they were seeing things in the street

that they might see in Beirut,

a much more prosperous city, in some ways.

>> NARRATOR: But the regime's old guard

watched the Damascus Spring with fear.

They urged Bashar to stop his political reforms.

They told him it would undermine the regime.

>> The political establishment, the Baath Party,

and those in the senior ranks of authority

decided that if this free political debate

was going to continue,

they were going to lose their heads.

And so, there was a sudden clampdown.

It was the return of authoritarianism.

>> NARRATOR: In 2005, hundreds of activists and intellectuals

were arrested.

The Damascus Spring was over.

For the next several years,

as Syria faced drought and high unemployment,

especially in the countryside,

President Assad's popularity eroded.

(chanting in Arabic)

>> NARRATOR: This year,

a popular revolt in Tunisia toppled a dictator.

Egypt was next.

It was unclear if the Arab Spring would spread to Syria.

>> There was a sense there was going to be a contagion,

that this unrest might spread

to other parts of the Arab world.

But even at that moment, I think there was a sense that Syria

was too authoritarian.

Syria wasn't at the point where it would have fed a rebellion.

And I think that's why, until now,

we've seen this uprising focused in the countryside,

rather than the big cities.

This is a movement of the rural parts of Syria,

this disenfranchised countryside that was stricken by drought

and neglected by the government.

And they had a lot less to lose, say, than the bigger cities

like Damascus and Aleppo.

>> NARRATOR: At first, in rural towns like Deraa, Homs, Latakia,

and Hama, workers and farmers were timid in their demands.

>> Initially, when the protests went out,

people were asking for dignity, they were asking for housing,

subsidized heating fuel.

"We want jobs.

We want cheap bread."

>> And it is only when the authorities

turned brutal on them, deadly,

that they began to chant that they want a change of regime.

(chanting in Arabic)

>> NARRATOR: A month after the uprising began,

President Assad came before Parliament.

Syria's business and political elites applauded him.

>> He walked in, and it was all very jovial.

There was a lot of clapping and cheering every time he spoke.

At one point,

one of the members of Parliament stands up and says,

"Sire, you are such a brilliant leader

"that you should not just be the leader of Syria,

you should be the leader of the world."

>> The expectation-- not only the popular expectation

but the expectation of those circles of power

were that Bashar al-Assad was going to stand there

and introduce a package of reforms

that hopefully would allay these grievances,

and would meet with the popular demands.

Instead, he stands up there to accuse this entire uprising

of being a foreign conspiracy.

>> There was no sense of remorse.

That's what shocked people.

There seemed to be a complete detachment, as if,

"Everything's going to be okay, my people love me.

And look, my car is being mobbed as I leave the Parliament."

(applause)

(chanting in Arabic)

>> NARRATOR: Outside Damascus,

the calls for Bashar's resignation

were only getting louder.

As the uprising spread, demonstrators picked up a song

written by a bricklayer from Hama.

Then it was recorded by a popular Syrian singer,

Ibrahim Qashoush.

It became the people's anthem.

(singer and crowd singing in Arabic)

>> It's kind of a popular song.

The lyrics was carefully chosen,

and sometimes funny, sometimes humor, sometimes very deep.

And it was soon all over the country.

(singer and crowd singing)

>> NARRATOR: But in July, the singer was silenced.

>> Eventually, they got hold of him.

And they tortured him brutally to a limit

that they took off his...

his throat.

And they ditched him in the river.

When he was discovered, his throat was obviously cut out,

just to send a message that

whoever dares to chant against Bashar al-Assad

will face a similar destiny.

>> NARRATOR: The regime also organized

mass rallies of its own.

In Damascus and Aleppo,

government workers were called to the streets.

(chanting in Arabic)

>> There is a very strong well of support for the regime

in those cities.

And this is vital for the regime,

because the last thing they want to see

is a situation that occurred in...

in Egypt, in Tahrir Square, in the center of Cairo.

You know, if that happens, if there are large-scale protests

in Damascus and Aleppo, that's when it becomes, you know,

almost a certainty that the regime will fall.

>> Today, it's the upper-class Sunnis from the cities

who are hanging with the regime

and feel like things were going in the right direction.

And they don't see any alternative,

and they're frightened of the countryside

getting too much power and taking over,

and perhaps being too fundamentalist

and other things for them.

>> NARRATOR: For now, months after the uprising began,

Bashar al-Assad is holding on, even declaring victory.

>> Most people thought this regime would've crumbled

and fallen by now.

They gave it Ramadan,

everybody was saying that Ramadan's going to do it.

Six months, this sort of thing.

And now, we're in the seventh month

and the regime is confident.

>> There's no question, at this point,

that the Syrian government thinks it's won.

There's a sign in Damascus these days that says, "It's over."

Another sign says,

"Congratulations, Damascus, we won."

I think there is the mindset in that government

it does believe it's won.

(chanting in Arabic)

>> NARRATOR: But the opposition is not conceding.

They have formed a political party

and called for outside help.

Defecting military officers have established their own militia.

Syria's neighbors now worry that a Syrian civil war is imminent

and may overflow its borders.

>> When the Arab revolts began at the beginning of the year,

there was so much hope.

But what we're seeing with Syria is the danger,

is the flip side of those Arab revolutions.

Civil war in Syria is going to have reverberations immediately

in the rest of the region,

and I think everyone is bracing themselves for that.

>> Syria is the hub of this tinderbox,

and in a region which is extremely unstable.

And should it fall and there be civil war,

it could ignite flames of revolution

and undermine regimes which are extremely important.

So it's hard to see where this ends.

(gunshots)

>> Frontline continues online

with more on Ramita Navai's undercover journey in Syria.

>> A 14-year-old boy was killed here.

>> Learn more about Syria's minority Alawite community

and their perspectives on the rebellion.

Plus, a map of where the rebellion is occurring.

Find out how key players in the region

stack up on the conflict.

Read extended interviews...

>> ...Egyptian uprising and the Tunisian uprising...

>> ...Uprising seemed to gain momentum...

>> ...Hanging with the regime...

>> And follow Frontline on Facebook and Twitter,

or tellus what you think at pbs.org.

Captioned by Media Access Group at WGBH

access.wgbh.org

For more on this and other Frontline programs,

visit our website at pbs.org.

Frontline's "Syria Undercover" is available on DVD.

To order, visit shoppbs.org or call 1-800-PLAY-PBS.

Frontline is also available for download on iTunes.

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