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Syrian tribal leader praised Assad at gunpoint | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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London, Asharq Al-Awsat – Sheikh Nawaf al-Bashir, head of the prominent Baqara tribe in Syria, revealed that the Syrian authorities forced him to conduct an interview with a Syrian satellite television channel “with a gun to his head”, before releasing him 20 days later. The Baqara tribe is one of the largest tribes in Syria, and estimates indicate that the tribe’s membership stands at 1.2 million Syrian nationals.

In a telephone interview with Asharq Al-Awsat from Istanbul, Sheikh Nawaf al-Bashir revealed that he spent “72 days being detained by the Political Security Directorate in Damascus, including 20 days in solitary confinement.”

Sheikh al-Bashir said “they took me from solitary confinement to the headquarters [of the Political Security Directorate], where they allowed me to meet with one of my sons who informed me that my home in Deir Ezzor was surrounded by tanks. A Political Security Directorate colonel assured me that my home would be turned to rumble unless I conducted an interview [with a Syrian satellite television channel] and spoke about the achievements and glory of President Bashar al-Assad. They forced me to talk about the importance of giving political reform a chance, rather than engaging in the demonstrations that are taking place in Syrian cities.”

In this interview, Sheikh Nawaf al-Bashir called on the Syrian people not to pay attention to the “inflammatory” opposition media, and give reform – and president Bashar al-Assad – a chance. He reportedly said “everybody knows that Syria is privileged to be ruled by President al-Assad, who knows humanitarianism and dialogue.”

In a press conference held on Tuesday in Istanbul, the Syrian tribal leader said “I apologize to the Syrian people for the words I have said. I now declare that we want nothing but to topple the regime.” Criticizing Russian and Iranian support for the al-Assad regime, Sheikh Nawaf al-Bashir said “they are nothing but mafia; they are tyrants, sinners and murderers.”

As for Sheikh al-Bashir joining the opposition Syrian National Council [SNC], the tribal leader told Asharq Al-Awsat that he arrived in Istanbul 5 days ago, and is set to meet with SNC president Burhan Ghalioun when he returns from Paris. Sheikh al-Bashir stressed his commitment to the Syrian revolution, and also revealed that his 6 sons have joined the revolution and are in hiding in Syria.

Sheikh Nawaf al-Bashir is known as a long-standing opponent of the Bashar al-Assad regime. He is from Deir Ezzor in east Syria, and he was arrested on 31 July 2011. He is a member of the General Secretariat of the “Damascus Declaration”, which was formed in 2005 by secular Syrian opposition parties and calls for “democratic change” in the country.

As for life in Deir Ezzor following the outbreak of the Syrian revolution and the al-Assad regime’s attempts to crush the protests, Sheikh al-Bashir told Asharq Al-Awsat “there is suffering, and the children and the elderly are facing a difficult time, particularly as there is a shortage of food…and electricity is cut off for at least 12 hours every day.” He added “life is unbearable. Everybody is suffering.”

As for how he managed to leave Syria and enter Turkey, al-Bashir said “it was an adventure, but God Almighty delivered us. I crossed the Turkish border by night…and from there went to Istanbul.”

He also revealed that he was in contact with many Syrian MPs who have been banned from travelling and have had their passports seized for fear that they might defect from the regime and join the Syrian revolutionaries. He claimed that the majority of Syrian MPs want to flee from the “hell” of the Bashar al-Assad regime but they are afraid for their families. He also claimed that many government administrations are ready to defect from the regime, and area waiting the opportunity to do so.

As for his views regarding the possibility of other Syrian citizens seeking to flee the country, Sheikh Nawaf al-Bashir told Asharq Al-Awsat “I believe that 70 percent of the Syrian people will flee to Turkey or other neighboring countries, unless a buffer zone is established, after the Syrian file is transferred to the UN Security Council, for example.”

He also revealed that “many army officers and non-commission officers have defected and joined the Free Syrian Army [FSA].”

Al-Bashir was released after rumors abounded that he has been tortured to death in prison by the Syrian authorities; this was just days after the announcement of the death of Kurdish opposition figure [Meshal] Tamo, which fueled a wave of protest and unrest across Syria. Since his release, Sheikh al-Bashir has been seen in many videos taking part in demonstrations, and has appeared on Arab satellite television condemning the al-Assad regime and expressing his support for the Syrian revolution.