For prior parts in this series, click here.
The latest interviewee in this series is from the town of Busra al-Sham in eastern Deraa countryside. Busra al-Sham became prominent during the Syrian government's summer campaign to retake southern Syria as a reconciliation deal was struck with Russian mediation. Ahmad al-Awda, the leader of the local Shabab al-Sunna rebel faction, was a key figure in the reconciliation deal. Busra al-Sham has become a key nucleus of the Russian-backed V Corps project in the south.
This interview was conducted on 7 December 2018, with condensing of the general conversation for clarity. Any parenthetical insertions are in square brackets.
Q: Has national grid electricity returned to the town?
A: Electricity comes by night for a good time. And in the day, it came today for two hours or less. And in the evening it will come back. There is no heating. Diesel is more expensive than before, and gas is cut off. Firewood is expensive and green. It's of no use, regrettably. Had they thrown a chemical on us it would have been better.
Q: Is there [running] water in the town?
A: No. The main pumps have been stolen. The one who stole them is in hiding.
Q: Ohhh. By God from where do you bring water for example?
A: We buy from the wells neighbouring the town [i.e. water extracted from those wells and sold in tankers].
Q: I see. The municipal services have not returned? I mean cleaning for example.
A: Cleaning has returned gradually, but the vehicles are not all working. And the pesticides that are the most important thing have not returned. Pests have arisen among us: the first time we have been seeing them in our lives.
Q: By God?
A: Indeed. And especially after the situations we have gone through.
Q: Currently how many people live in Busra?
A: I don't have the precise survey of numbers. But no less than 30,000 as the minimum.
Q: What I know regarding the survey of numbers is that the Shi'a have not yet returned to the town.
A: They have not returned and will not return, my friend.
Q: Why will they not return?
A: So they say.
Q: I heard that this is an agreement with the Russians: that the Shi'a will not return.
A: I heard from the street, not from an official side.
Q: Generally life now is better than life before the reconciliation?
A: I refrain [from answering].
Q: Ahh. You mean you can't say at this time. It's fine.
A: I fear those who do not fear God.
Q: Yes. Strong caution is necessary by God.
A: Of course.
Q: What's the price of bread in the town currently?
A: 50 Syrian pounds: tolerable.
Q: At this price how many loaves?
Q: Hmmm. This is more expensive than before? I mean before the reconciliation.
A: No, cheaper.
Q: Very good. What's the price of tomatoes?
A: Since the borders with Jordan were opened their price has increased three-fold. It was 100. Now 300. And sugar, meat, and many things.
Q: Ahh. The opening of the borders with Jordan has led to an increase of prices?
A: Yes. And the beneficiary is Jordan. Jordan benefits from the Syrian people whether in their blood or livelihood.
Q: Yes. Those Jordanians buy goods from Syria and the Syrian people suffer from this.
Q: Now the Jordanians are visiting Busra al-Sham.
A: No. If God wills, they will not visit it or think of doing so.
Q: Hahahaha. Right now visitors are not coming to Busra al-Sham for the ruins?
A: They are coming actually. No one is barred on the contrary.
Q: But from where are they?
A: From all areas of Syria.
Q: Ah. I mean visitors from outside Syria.
A: At the international level I think no one has come yet.
Q: Yes I expected that. The matters need time for stability to return completely.
A: Not with such ease [can they visit]. Exactly.
Q: Is there much unemployment in the town?
A: All of the land is unemployment. There are no work opportunities. The people can't afford food and heating.
Q: Right now there are no projects in the town?
A: No, none. I wish there would be work. People eat rocks. But there is no work.
Q: The security situation is very good? I mean no problems of gangs etc.
A: Yes, praise be to God. No, no [there are no problems of gangs etc.], and there wasn't in the past. Only in Busra al-Sham, unlike all the land [where there have been problems].
Q: Ahh. You mean the security situation in Busra al-Sham was always good. Right?
A: Exactly. And no incident of kidnapping, assassination or explosion. And even theft did not last 4 days [before] being discovered.
Q: I believe that this is because of the presence of one faction or two only, not like Inkhil for example with multiple factions.
A: Yes. This is the main reason. And the people of the place here, most of them have agreed on one man. And he is the one who established protection of the place and did so by correct means. And he exerted much effort such that the place reached the state it is in now.
Q: Yes, you mean Ahmad al-Awda.
A: Exactly. Were it not for him, we would not have attained the state we are in now.
Q: Yes. And he is no responsible for the security in the city. V Corps.
A: The best leadership guy passing through the history of the past seven years of chaos. Yes. Had all the people responsible for the areas worked like him, Syria would not have lost this number of its people.
Q: Correct. And now there is no faction in Busra al-Sham except the V Corps. Correct?
Q: Brother, are youth in the Corps in Busra receiving salaries?
A: They say that they are receiving salaries. Most likely yes.
Q: There are not many arrests in the town?
A: No. There is nothing of this talk. I have not seen [it].