Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
World

Assad Regime Hopes Trump Will Cut U.S. Support To Syrian Rebels

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And our country's presidential election was, of course, closely watched around the world. In Syria, supporters of Bashar al-Assad's regime have greeted the results with optimism. They have faced hostility from the United States for years now. They are hoping a President Trump might cut U.S. support for rebel groups. Opponents of the government fear a Trump administration will abandon them.

NPR's Alison Meuse spoke to both sides from Beirut.

ALISON MEUSE, BYLINE: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump took starkly different positions on Syria's civil war. Clinton said she'd support Syrian rebels and consider a no-fly zone to counter regime and Russian air attacks. Trump said Syrian rebels were too unreliable to support and talked about working with Russia to defeat ISIS.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: She talks tough. She talks really tough against Putin and against Assad. She talks in favor of the rebels. She doesn't even know who the rebels are.

MEUSE: That's a familiar criticism in Damascus, where Syrian officials say the rebels are dominated by hardline Islamist groups no different than ISIS. I reach Fares Shehabi in the government-held side of Aleppo. He's a member of the Syrian parliament and heads the Syrian chamber of industries.

FARES SHEHABI: We are happy that Clinton did not win. This is for sure. She's the one who considered all these terrorists, Islamist jihadist groups as moderate rebels.

MEUSE: And would he reach out to his fellow businessman, Trump?

SHEHABI: If I have any chance to reach out to anyone in his team, I would love to do so.

MEUSE: An Assad adviser in Damascus, Dr. Bouthaina Shaaban was cautiously hopeful.

BOUTHAINA SHAABAN: We will wait to see what are the policies of the president-elect toward the rest of the world and especially and particularly towards terrorism.

MEUSE: She doesn't just mean ISIS. She also means U.S.-backed rebel groups threatening the state's hold on power. The view from the opposition side couldn't be more different. I reach Kenan Rahmani in Washington, D.C. He's a Syrian-American activist who last week visited Syria's rebel-held north.

KENAN RAHMANI: The Syrian opposition was really looking forward to Secretary Clinton coming to power and implementing some kind of civilian protection to protect the civilians from Russia and the Assad regime. And now, of course, that hope has been completely devastated.

MEUSE: Rahmani worries the U.S. will let Assad and Russia annihilate Syria's opposition. He says even if Americans don't care about the regime's war crimes, they should care about alienating - even radicalizing - Assad's opponents. Still, some opposition supporters are holding out hope that Trump may back them in the end. I reach Samir Nashar, a member of the opposition Syrian coalition in Istanbul.

SAMIR NASHAR: (Through interpreter) we have hope - we can't say more than that - that maybe he'll defer to his advisers when exerting his authority, especially since he'd be surrounded by a team of experts.

MEUSE: Nashar says the opposition already reached out to Trump's Middle East adviser. And they hope to get his ear.

Alison Meuse, NPR News, Beirut.

(SOUNDBITE OF BERRY WEIGHT'S "YETI'S LAMENT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.