A multilingual former military officer, he says he is among many friends and colleagues who feel trapped: disenchanted with President Bashar al-Assad, disgusted by the violence engulfing Syria and equally afraid of the government and the rebels, with both sides, as he puts it, ready to sacrifice “the innocents.”
Mr. Assad remains in power in part because two years into the uprising, a critical bloc of Syrians remains on the fence. Among them are business owners who drive the economy, bankers who finance it, and the security officials and government employees who hold the keys to the mundane but crucial business of maintaining an authoritarian state. If they abandoned the government or embraced the rebels en masse, they might change the tide. Instead, their uncertainty contributes to the stalemate.
The Egyptian and Tunisian rebellions that inspired Syria’s initially peaceful uprising reached tipping points within weeks, with far less bloodshed. In those cases, widespread desire for change overwhelmed the fear of the unknown, and toppled governments — or rather, the dictatorial cliques that headed them. But in Syria, each side has bloodied the other while many stay on the sidelines, and a core contingent of supporters feels obligated to stick with the government even as their doubts grow. That is in part because the government’s ruthless crackdown has made protest far more risky than in other uprisings. But it is also because of doubts, among the urban elite and others, about the direction of the revolution and how a rebel-ruled Syria would look.
“Me and my neighbors, we were the first to go down to the street and scream that we want a country, a real country, not a plantation,” said Samar Haddad, who runs a Syrian publishing house. “But this armed revolution, I refuse it as much as I refuse the regime.”
Ms. Haddad, who is in her late 40s and now spends much of her time outside Damascus, said that she and her circle of intellectuals and professionals embrace unarmed Syrian protesters as heroes, but believe that the armed rebellion is creating warlords and cycles of revenge that will be hard to uproot.
The fence sitters include government employees, security forces, intellectuals and wealthy Syrians. Some, including members of Mr. Assad’s minority Alawite sect, say they fear the rule of Islamists, or the calls for vengeance from some factions of the Sunni Muslim-dominated uprising.
Joshua Landis at Syria Comment has long been putting out this kind of analysis.Some are former soldiers who say they defected only to be disappointed by rebels who lack discipline or obsess about religious ideology. One young man, Nour, said he gave up on revolution when he tried to join an Islamist brigade, Al Tawhid, but was rejected for wearing skinny jeans.