Syrians interviewed for this study remain deeply negative about the situation in their country, but differences about the country’s direction are evident according to their political views. Regime opponents were despondent about the current situation, expressing little optimism and placing their hope in the Free Syrian Army’s (FSA) success. Assad supporters have seen signs of improvement following Syrian army gains. Government services are functioning in regime-held areas and are absent or ad hoc in other areas. Few wanted to discuss the current situation with others of different persuasions, except in regime controlled-areas, where regime supporters feel free to speak out, or in refugee camps, where people feel confident they are among regime opponents.

Regime Opponents Say Situation Ever Worsening

For those against the regime, the situation in Syria has worsened beyond imagination and shows no sign of improvement. Threats appear from every side and trap ordinary people amid death and destruction.

The current situation is extremely bad. I do not think it could become any worse than it already has. I have to feel that way because there is not a single home in Syria that has not lost one, two, or even three individuals. The families in Syria have all been destroyed.
— Sunni man (anti-regime), 30, refugee, Jordan

The situation in Syria is tougher than it is in Africa at its worst. If you die there you know it is because of hunger or poverty. But here in Syria there are many reasons for that: hunger, poverty, murder, rape, arrest, slaughter, and many things. And it hits us from many sides.
— Sunni man (anti-regime), 29, Deir al-Zor

Some blame the deterioration on the emergence of ISIS, whose brutal tactics have split and weakened the rebel cause.

The situation has gotten worse than it was a year ago because, as you can see and hear, ISIS is many different groups. Killing and murders, they even kill their own. Didn’t you hear when they slaughtered people from Jabhat Al-Nusrah? I really have no idea who brought these criminals.
— Sunni woman (anti-regime), 34, Deir al-Zor

What makes the situation even worse is the appearance of Da’esh (the Arabic acronym for ISIS) terrorists among our decent rebels, a fact that affected the world’s view of us negatively. The scenario is gloomy. My heart is broken. Our country was one of the best countries in the world, yet, sadly enough, now we are displaced.
— Sunni woman (anti-regime), 23, refugee, Turkey

Pro-Regime Respondents Credit
Army Gains with Improvements

In contrast to opponents, most regime supporters said Syria’s situation, while still very bad, has improved. They attributed this to gains made by the army in some areas and its success in “killing terrorists.”

The situation a year ago wasn’t reassuring or stable at all. We didn’t know where we were going or how the future of this country was going to be. The situation now has definitely changed. Everything is ours again because our courageous army is working very hard to defend the citizens.
— Alawi woman (pro-regime), 55, Damascus

The situation became much better after our army, the heroes, is freeing areas in eastern Al-Ghouta like Adra Al-Balad and Adra Omalia. They are besieging terrorists in Duma until they attack them one time and move beyond Al-Ghouta to other areas.
— Christian woman (pro-regime), 21, Tartous

Some regime supporters said that President Bashar al-Assad’s victory in the June 2014 Presidential election was evidence of his legitimacy. This was the first multi-party presidential vote since his Ba’ath party took power in a coup decades ago, but was massively dominated by the incumbent, who won with 88% of the vote. A pro-regime Alawite woman, 55, in Damascus said, “It is also a great change that our president has won the elections with a very high number of votes.”

Regime Opponents Continue
to Place Hopes in the Rebels

Many regime opponents still hope that the rebels – in particular, the Free Syrian Army – will remove Assad and bring peace and freedom to Syria, despite the armed opposition’s limited battlefield success and serious divisions. For them, it is the only way forward: there is no alternative.

I feel bad for every drop of blood from our people, the walls that carry stories of generations before being destroyed, old neighborhoods being wiped away from the map, but there is no third solution now. The Free Army cannot back down from achieving the demands of the people.
— Sunni man (anti-regime), 29, Deir al-Zor

We are being attacked from every side. We do not see anybody standing beside us except the Free Syrian Army.
— Sunni man, (anti-regime), 27, Aleppo

Some regime opponents fear that division caused by ISIS and other foreign forces have hindered the revolutionary cause.

I hope that the rebels will have their victory, but with the terrorists like ISIS and the likes of it being in the area, I do not think that the situation will get better. They are putting obstacles in the face of the rebels, and they are distracting them from their true purpose.
— Christian man (anti-regime), 29, IDP, Homs

The interventions have made the situation a lot worse. Foreign forces are interfering with the Free Syrian Army. We no longer know who is right and who is wrong.
— Sunni man (anti-regime), 35, refugee, Jordan

Aleppo Residents Say Life Was Better A Year Ago

Aleppo respondents were extremely negative about the destruction and loss suffered by their city, with some noting worse conditions than last year when rebels were in control of their areas.

The situation is much worse than last year. The regime rules us again, and of course it is a dictatorship; it is taking our youth to prisons.
— Sunni woman (anti-regime) 30, Aleppo

It’s horrible humanity-wise. We just got electricity and water back, which was cut off before. [Compared to last year when] the FSA had control, rebels delivered aid; now the regime took over and made the situation very bad.
— Sunni man (anti-regime), 27, Aleppo

A year ago it was better; we felt freedom we hadn’t felt in a long time when rebels were here, but the regime’s planes bombarded us without mercy.
— Sunni woman (anti-regime), 28, Aleppo

In Tartous, Life is Mostly Normal

For our pro-regime respondents in Tartous, life has a sense of normalcy and security. Even there, however, the presence of the displaced is felt.

The current situation in the area is, thank God, good. We are the farthest from war possible. We are not living the war crisis, thank god. We have an army that protects us, and we have a country that solves our matters and we do not lack anything. Life is more than normal, our shops are open and everything is provided for us, and provided always at any time.
— Alawi man (pro-regime), 34, Tartous

The current situation in Tartous is excellent. Security is stable, because there are army and security checkpoints, but it is more overcrowded than before because of the internal displacement of many families who have come from their cities and villages.
— Alawi woman (pro-regime), 30, Tartous

Damascus Residents Note Some Improvements

In Damascus, pro-regime residents noted improvements in terms of greater normality. They recognized the local situation is still unstable but expressed confidence in government forces.

The situation isn’t great but life is getting back to normal like before. Bashar al-Assad is providing the nation with everything it needs. The situation is improving and our army is going to win. — Alawi man (pro-regime), 44, Damascus

It’s stable and calm, except for some bombs. It’s changed a lot (since a year ago), there are almost no terrorists in Damascus and its countryside.
— Christian man (pro-regime), 28, Damascus

Opposition supporters, however, had not seen improvements where they live. “[The situation] is not good, the regime is destroying and killing the people. There are barely any services,” said an anti-regime Sunni woman, aged 33, in Damascus.

Hamah and Homs Respondents
Feel Unsafe Amid Fighting

Residents of Hamah and Homs, particularly those with anti-regime views, reported living with the effects of the ongoing conflict in their areas.

Hamah is being bombed on a daily basis with explosive barrels. We won’t feel safe until this oppressive regime is finally overthrown.
— Sunni man (anti-regime), 26, Hamah

There is firing from mortars and missiles. Planes, tanks, and artillery attacks and so on. At first we used to go out; I would leave my wife home, and while I am walking I would not worry about a thing and not think of this whole thing. But now I am afraid; if I go out, how can I leave my wife at home and such. There is no safety like before.
— Sunni man (anti-regime), 25, Hamah

Pro-regime respondents in both areas said improvements in security have resulted from gains made by the Syrian army. But some of them, too, noted continued conflict.

It’s a lot better than a year ago. When the war first started in Hamah, they (rebels) controlled some neighborhoods. But our courageous army immediately eliminated them. And for more than a year, here in the city it is calm, and people are living normally.
— Alawi woman (anti-regime), 29, Hamah

The situation has gotten better but not that much. Everything is normal, people go to their work, but we do hear every now and then the sounds of some explosions.
— Sunni man (pro-regime), 37, Homs

Deir al-Zor and Al-Hasakah: Worsening Conditions Due to Extremists, Factionalism

The situation in Deir al-Zor and Al-Hasakah has deteriorated substantially with the arrival of ISIS in the region, bringing with it brutality and division.

In Deir al-Zor (there is) destruction, murder and making people homeless. We got rid of the regime’s bombardment, but then ISIS came in and we started fighting each other.
— Sunni man (anti-regime), 40, Deir al-Zor

Nobody expected Deir al-Zor to become like this. ISIS does not offer mercy even if you are old, young, man or woman. Everyday somebody even worse comes along, and we think of before. The situation a year ago was definitely better than it is today. Today we cannot even speak up when there are groups that are far more unjust than Bashar al-Assad and his army.
— Sunni man (anti-regime), 29, Deir al-Zor

It only keeps getting worse, because a year ago, ISIS was weaker and the area they controlled was smaller and less significant. But now they have expanded and reached the Turkish border. They are helping the government kill Al-Nusrah, and now the Kurds. We do not know who is against whom.
— Kurd woman (anti-regime), 23, Al Hasakah

Raqqah Residents Fear ISIS Rule

The situation is grimmest in the one provincial capital that ISIS controls. Life in Raqqah under ISIS is violent, frightening, and unpredictable, marked by rebel infighting and ISIS brutality.

We used to live a certain life, and now we are in a totally different one; just like a nightmare. We have a war, we used to watch it on TV; the firing, the slaughter, and the dead. Now we see it for real. You see it on TV and we would get scared. Now we see it in public, the firing, death and slaughter happens in front of us, all in front of us, even in front of the kids.
— Sunni woman (anti-regime), 39, Raqqah

[We are in] a really difficult, bad, tragic and scary situation; ISIS on one side, and the regime on the other. Those ISIS, every day they execute someone, or whip someone. ]It’s] a situation that only needs God’s mercy.
— Sunni woman (anti-regime), 25, Raqqah

A pro-regime Sunni man in Raqqah, 29, said the situation has worsened in his area because the army is no longer in control. “A year ago, the situation was much better in the area; we were under the rule of the Syrian Army and its protection. But many countries ganged up on it and started sending the terrorist virus that is ISIS until it controlled the area.”

Both Sides Worry About Foreign
Influence over the War

Regime supporters and opponents alike complained that foreign fighters are playing too great a role in the war by intervening in the conflict and struggling for influence over various Syrian factions. Respondents believe foreign fighters are conspiring to dismantle Syria and, on both sides, respondents blame many of the same villains: fighters from abroad, Americans, and Israel. Regime opponents also blame Hezbollah.

Syria, in all of its denominations, is threatened by groups that come to Syria. They came with foreign agendas, and they came to implement them in Syria. They have goals in destroying Syria and erasing it. This is an American, Zionist scheme.
— Alawi man (pro-regime), 34, Tartous

The intervention of forces like Jabhat Al-Nusrah and ISIS have complicated the situation even more, especially the evil doings of the party of the devil, Hezbollah. All of this has made the situation a lot worse.
— Sunni woman (anti-regime), 25, refugee, Jordan

Service Provision is a Function of Territorial Control

Who provides services in a given area – as well as the level of service delivery – is largely determined by which group is in control there. Not surprisingly, government-held areas enjoy the best services, while services are ad hoc in opposition-controlled areas and worst under ISIS in Raqqah.

Pro-regime respondents say the regime is providing essential services like water and electricity in their areas. Even some Aleppo regime opponents credit the Syrian government for service delivery in their city.

[We receive] electricity, medical aid, water and food supplies like rice, sugar, dough, and gasoline. All supported by the government.
— Alawi woman (pro-regime), 29, Hamah

We just got electricity and water (following re-establishment of government control of our area). We did not have them before, everything was cut off.
— Sunni man, (anti-regime), 27, Aleppo

In Raqqah, ISIS has a poor record of providing basic services. Pro- and anti-regime residents there described electricity and water supplies as uncertain at best.

Today we are ruled by the infidels of ISIS, and they cannot provide all that we need. They cut electricity whenever they want, and they monopolize food and water and leave it to them, and they distribute to us what is left. The situation is really bad with them.
— Sunni man (pro-regime), 29, Raqqah

There are completely no public services, and people of the neighborhood are the ones who offer electricity after it is cut. And the water, the people of the neighborhood procure it. My husband and son for instance, our neighbor’s sons as well as the other neighbor’s son climb the pole to make connections to bring us electricity.
— Sunni woman (anti-regime), 39, Raqqah

Kurdish respondents in Al-Hasakah reported that Kurdish organizations are providing aid and services, along with some support from the government. “Right now there are not many services,” said an anti-regime woman, age 23, from Al-Hasakah. “For a long time now there has been trouble with them, but the government alongside Kurdish associations help in providing these services when they can.” The Kurdish Red Cross was cited for its efforts.

Lack of Trust Prevents Dialogue

Polarization was also evident regarding whether Syrians said they felt able to speak freely to those with different political or religious outlooks.

Regime supporters in regime-controlled areas said they freely speak to others about the conflict, much as in our study last year. They feel secure and think events have vindicated their views.

Since I know I am right, I can talk to anyone no matter what their political affiliation or religion is. I would discuss things with them until they know what is right and what is wrong and start thinking about what is best for this country.
— Alawi man (pro-regime), 44, Damascus

Of course [I can speak freely], why wouldn’t I? Many of this country’s people started to understand what is going on around and they are taking a step back, for we made them understand that those terrorists carry a destructive ideology that would harm the country as well as our religion.
— Sunni man (pro-regime), 37, Homs

Refugees in Turkey feel free to speak their minds, at least with people who also oppose the regime. They also participate in discussions on Facebook pages.

We have freedom in refugee camps of Intab (Gaziantep Province) to communicate with people back in Syria. We discuss the conflict because most people are against the regime. Some with the regime think the rebels are connected to ISIS. I try to explain that ISIS doesn’t represent rebels, but it was created by the Syrian regime. Some listen, others don’t. It leads to disagreements.
— Sunni man (anti-regime), 38, refugee, Turkey

Sure. I communicate with different political and religious affiliations daily via Facebook. Facebook pages have lots of different opinions. I have friends who support the regime; sometimes we reach a hopeless point and sometimes we agree. Sunni man (anti-regime), 32, refugee, Turkey

Among those on both sides who said they do not discuss the conflict, the chief reason was a lack of social trust.

When I am outside I talk to no one. Because one cannot trust anyone; everybody is a traitor.
— Sunni woman (anti-regime), 30, Aleppo

No one knows what may happen in the future, so the less you say, the better. I rarely communicate with people from other areas, and you can’t really trust anyone these days.
— Alawi woman (pro-regime), 55, Damascus

Fear was particularly intense among members of Syria’s Christian minority as well as those living under ISIS in Raqqah.

You can’t trust anyone anymore; Homs is no longer the Homs we used to know; everyone is afraid of each other.
— Christian man (anti-regime), 29, Homs

In Raqqah, people are choking. If you hadn’t given me safety, I wouldn’t have said all this. Da’esh (the Arabic acronym for ISIS) is everywhere, and there are barriers. One has to be careful and awake, even if talking politics. We cannot let anyone conflict in opinions or any other way.
— Sunni man (anti-regime), 40, Raqqah.

Summary of Findings on Mood

Deepening polarization shapes respondents’ views of everything happening in Syria. This holds for their views on the country’s direction, the services they receive, and their perceived freedom of speech. It can also be seen as a reflection of the very different conditions that exist in areas under control of the government, the mainstream rebels, and ISIS. As we will see in the pages that follow, the polarization extends to the respondents’ views on the outcome of the conflict, their hopes for the future, and their thoughts on reconciliation with their neighbors.


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Maybe We Can Reach A Solution: Syrian Perspectives on the Conflict and Local Initiatives for Peace, Justice, and Reconciliation by the Syria Justice and Accountability Centre (distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.


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