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Syria's capital delivers strong show of support for President Assad

NBC's Ayman Mohyeldin speaks to supporters of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad who turned out Friday in Damascus.

Editor's note: Cairo-based NBC News correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin is reporting from inside Syria this week. Follow his updates on Twitter @Aymanm

Inside Syria, Day4

DAMASCUS, Syria -- It's part concert, part celebration, but ALL for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

That's what it was like attending a pro-government rally Friday in Damascus.


Here, there is no mistaking whom this crowd supports. His picture is everywhere, even draped on the side of a multistory building that belongs to the Central Bank.

There are some glaring observations that any one who comes to these rallies notices. First, they are extremely safe. Police block streets, volunteers usher people to the opens spaces, there is a nice stage and sound system set up. Flags and the president’s pictures are plentiful. The rallies are carried on State TV.

This is in stark contrast to the demonstrations against the president's rule. Those protests are often in tight side streets away from the eyes of security forces that have used force to disperse them. No high-quality cameras beaming the images on TV, the vast majority of anti-government protests are captured on amateur footage and shared via social media websites.

There was something rather disturbing I noticed during Friday's pro-government rally. Even my Syrian friends who were with me thought it was extremely distasteful and alarming.

People were openly professing their support for the "SHABIHA" - armed thugs that critics and activists say are used by the Assad regime, along with the military, to put down the nationwide uprising violently.

Related story: US considers shutting embassy in Syria

It's very difficult to gauge the support the president has across the country, but there is no doubt that here in the capital, there are still those who will come out to show their support for the leader. But what is even harder to tell is whether the president and his government enjoy support for their performance or fear out of the alternative that would emerge in a post-Assad era should he leave power.

Many people feel as the conflict drags on and becomes increasingly militarized, the wounds of a full-blown war between the government and armed insurgents would destroy Syria and that fear has paralyzed some into supporting the president -- for the time being.

AFP - Getty Images

A handout picture released by the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) shows Syrian demonstrators waving Syrian flags and holding pictures of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a pro-regime rally Friday in Damascus.

But I haven't seen too many pro-Assad rallies in the rest of the country and certainly not as big or as frequent as the ones held in Damascus.

Earlier in the day, we had requested permission to go to a square in another part of the city where anti-government protests are held. Surprisingly, the ministry of information granted us the permits relatively easily. Keep in mind we have been waiting for 4 days to get permission to film long lines at petrol stations.

See all of Ayman Mohyeldin's Inside Syria reports

When we arrived there was no rally … just plain-clothes security and pro-Assad supporters who coincidently showed up when our camera appeared.

Foreign journalists visiting Syria have been banned from traveling to areas where anti-government sentiment runs high. The government says it's for our own safety. Critics say it's to control the message. So because we can't get to them, activists are sending amateur footage out to the world showing what they say are atrocities the government is committing against civilians.

A reminder that in Syria's uprising, there now is a battle raging for the hearts and minds of viewers as well.

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