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The Syrian business community is the key to the survival of Bashar al-Assad. Despite his brutality and widely perceived loss of legitimacy, Assad has not yet lost this critical constituency. The Damascus and Aleppo business establishment is still betting on Assad’s political survival, while his crony capitalist regime partners see their fate as tied to his. Unless they change their calculations, Assad may still hold on to power.

“We are seeing some defections but nothing near the critical mass that might indicate the beginnings of a serious mutiny by Sunni soldiers,” said Andrew Terrill, Research Professor of National Security Affairs at the U.S. Army War College.

“Creating splits in the Syrian army is not easy,” former Syrian state security official Samer Afndi told Reuters.

“The staffing structure has layers, like a Russian doll. A break in one layer is not going to affect the other layers.”

Discipline for lower ranks is brutally enforced.

Syrian exiles, citing accounts from relatives, say that in cases where Sunni troops are deployed on the frontline, they are coerced into firing on demonstrators because security agents positioned to their rear will shoot them if they disobey orders.

While it is almost impossible to prove the extent of the death toll, there is growing evidence that violent elements pledging allegiance to the opposition have carried out well armed and carefully co-ordinated attacks against government troops since as long ago as April.

The government views Aleppo and Damascus — though the capital has seen a certain amount of protest — as the two cities it cannot lose to the revolution and has implemented safeguards to ensure that, said Ala Sassila, a native of Aleppo and a board member of the Syrian American Council, which advocates for democratic change in Syria. The measures include an overwhelming presence of security forces, police and government enforcers, but also less overt tactics.

Construction code enforcement has all but disappeared as the city witnesses an illegal construction boom; electricians, plumbers and tile workers who have been unemployed for years are now barely able to keep up with the work. Roads in need of repair for years have been repaved. Traffic laws, which had become more strict, are no longer implemented. People steal electricity with no repercussions.

Similar relaxation of laws is occurring in Damascus as well.

“Go do whatever you want, go play, go steal, as long as you don’t go protest, this is what’s happening in Aleppo,” Abdulhamid said. “Stay quiet, don’t open your mouth.”

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Al Jazeera – not everyone’s favourite news channel in Syria

Anti al-Jazeera sticker on rubbish bin, one of several around Merjeh

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Boys at a pro-regime demonstration, sorry, ‘celebration’, just outside the Old City:

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