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Amid Syria protests, businessmen remain loyal to President Assad

The economic reforms of President Assad helped earn the loyalty of businessmen. Without their support, his government would be in far greater danger of collapse due to Syria protests.

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Rana Issa, the owner of an advertising and marketing business in Damascus is struggling. She's had to lay off five of her 20 employees in the seven months of political and economic upheaval since Syria's antigovernment uprising began.

But unlike the street demonstrators, Ms. Issa doesn't blame President Bashar al-Assad's government for her woes. As a Palestinian, Issa expresses strong support for his government, which she says has afforded more rights to Palestinian refugees and their children than either Israel or other Arab countries.

“We feel secure with Dr. Bashar al-Assad as president,” she says. “He has achieved a lot of reforms. The opposition hasn’t given him enough time.”

Some Syrian cities have been persistently roiled by protests; today, at least 30 protesters were reported killed across the country – the highest toll in weeks – with the unrest focused in Homs and Hama. But the two biggest cities, Damascus and Aleppo, have seen much smaller demonstrations because the cities' business communities continue to favor the government, says Nabil Sukkar, a former World Bank economist who now heads an economic consulting firm in Damascus.

Drastic drops in tourism revenue and biting sanctions have taken a toll on the Syrian economy. While Syria's gross domestic product grew by 3 percent last year, the IMF predicts a negative 2 percent this year. However, large- and medium-sized businesses, which the West hopes to turn against the regime with its sanctions, remain largely supportive of the Assad regime.

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