Views of Key Figures and Organizations

The perceptions of key individuals and groups involved in the conflict conformed more to the image of Syria as a highly polarized country, but even here there were some important nuances. Views of key figures and organizations generally divided along pro-regime and anti-regime lines. However, there was some ambivalence among both regime supporters and opponents about some leaders and groups on their sides. When it came to the external opposition, both pro- and anti-regime respondents tended to share negative views.

Assad Praised by Pro-Regime Respondents, Condemned by Opponents

Pro-regime respondents were mostly positive, describing him as “loyal,” “honourable,” “putting the interests of the country first,” and a “pan-Arab leader.” The relationship is described in strikingly personal terms — the president is frequently referred to by his first name only. However a few said that though he may have made mistakes, his regime is legitimate, trying to reform, and better than the alternative.

Bashar is the president of honour and loyalty. He is the one chasing terrorists who violate the safety of this country.
— Sunni man (pro-regime), 38, Raqqah

He is the best president ever. No president is like him. Sincerity, faith, [he] loves people, cares about his country, may God bless him and keep him for us.
— Sunni man (pro-regime), 34, al-Qamishli

[The president leads] a legitimate government, unlike what some outside parties try to promote. And by the way I may not agree with it in everything, but still it is a legitimate government in the country.
— Sunni man (pro-regime), 33, Aleppo

Bashar is indeed a statesman but those around him are a gang of thieves. Bashar al-Assad replaced many of his father’s men and the situation now is better than before.
— Christian man, (pro-regime), 42, Homs

Regime opponents were intensely negative, relying on graphic language and animal analogies to describe the president. “Criminal,” “gangster,” and “traitorous” were common descriptors.

Whatever else comes to my mind, criminality overshadows everything. Criminality, criminality, criminality literally.
— Sunni man (anti-regime), 50, refugee in Jordan

A fetid, parasitic government. It is fed from others’ efforts, a bloody government that drinks from Syrians’ blood.
— Alawite woman (anti-regime), 30, Tartous

Syrian Army’s Reputation Tarnished

The Syrian Army was once held in high esteem, even by many regime opponents, but is no longer. They say it was the protector of their homeland but is now protects only President Assad, his regime, and his sect.

Unfortunately, the Syrian Army that we were proud of killed its people for a person, for a regime. The Syrian Arab Army, it is the one that should defend the Syrian Arab Republic, not the Syrian regime. This is not the Syrian Army anymore. This is an occupying army.
— Sunni man (anti-regime), 36, IDP in Aleppo

It was something and become another, opposite thing. It was the homeland’s protector, but it turns out that their allegiance is not to their homeland, it’s to a specific category that they belong to, thus they destroyed our land.
— Sunni woman (anti-regime), 28, IDP in Damascus

Since the time of Hafez al-Assad, the Syrian Army has been prepared to fight the people, not protect them. The scoundrel father was preparing for this moment, and that is why he installed commanding officers from the Alawites only while the troops are from the people and like them.
— Sunni man (anti-regime), IDP, 41, in Hama, from Rif Hama

A few make distinctions between officers, whom they describe as “criminals” and “killers,” and ordinary conscripts, who are of the people. “Here I want to clarify that the regular soldiers are our children, they are powerless like the people. They are afraid to be killed in case they split from the army,” said a Sunni man IDP from Raqqah.

Regime supporters are consistently positive and view it as a defender and unifier of the nation from all types of external and internal threats.

The Syrian Arab Army is the most sacred national authority that protects its homeland borders. The army is doing its best to protect Syria from all threats, whether the Israeli threat or the Islamic armed groups as the opposition groups.
— Alawite man (pro-regime), 25, Damascus

God protect the Syrian Arab Army, they provide peace and safety in the region. God willing they will take over the other regions that are not living in peace and relieve us from those armed militias.
— Sunni man (pro-regime), 38, Raqqah

A few, however, acknowledged that the Army has also been involved in abuses. Thus a pro-regime Sunni woman, 58, in Damascus said: “Everyone acknowledges the power and greatness of the Syrian Army. However, there have been some excesses by Army officials.”

Free Syrian Army Gets Mixed Reviews from Regime Opponents

Most regime opponents recognized the Free Syrian Army (FSA) as the strongest fighting force against Assad. Some offered unwavering support.

May God be with the free, brave, sacrificing army, who fight for freedom and dignity. It’s the one that’s going to return us back our rights and let us get rid of this slaughterer, so that Syria will return to its original people.
— Sunni man (anti-regime), 34, Raqqah

The protector of Syria and Syrians. Its youth are faith; they carried their souls to defend their brothers’ dignity and to liberate the country from the brutal regime. May God protect them and give them victory.
— Sunni woman (anti-regime), 37, al-Qamishli

However, many had deep reservations about the criminal elements that operate under its banner and threaten to hijack its activities.

In some areas it is really free, but in other areas it is neither an army nor free. In some areas they fight and protect people and in some areas they play the role of warlords.
— Sunni man (anti-regime), 24, Damascus

Today there are brigades that I cannot describe with words. There are abusive brigades and brigades who steal. There are brigades far worse than the regime of al-Assad. At the same time, there are brigades that love the country and work for its best interest. I respect those brigades.
— Sunni man (anti-regime), 28, Aleppo

Regime supporters view the FSA as mercenaries funded from abroad who have no ability to run the country.

The Free Army is from outside Syria. It was paid to kill our children and youth with no mercy. The Syrian Free Army came from outside and is unqualified to run a country or control a country. They even don’t have a head or a leader to come out and talk on behalf of them.
— Sunni woman (pro-regime), Aleppo

It’s called an army while it is armed terrorist groups — not a free army because it follows money, America, and the West.
— Sunni Man (pro-regime), 32, Hamah

Syrian National Council Receives Little Support

Regime opponents and supporters alike described the Syrian National Council (SNC) as an organization that has achieved nothing and has little support from ordinary Syrians. Refugee respondents were more likely to describe it as a “meeting organization” or a “hotel group” and note its internal discord.

It is a useless body whose members do nothing but eat, drink, and hold meetings.
— Sunni man (anti-regime), 41, IDP in Hama

I do not know anyone in it and it does not matter to me. Every day they hire someone and they are in disagreement among themselves.
— Shia man (pro-regime), 40, Damascus

Some also accused it of being a puppet of foreign powers, primarily Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

They can do nothing and can’t make a decision. In the National Council, two countries — Qatar and Saudi Arabia and Turkey comes after — each country moves whatever it needs.
— Sunni man (anti-regime), 35, IDP in Aleppo

It is a Council formed outside Syria, as some of its members had never set a foot in Syria. This council hasn’t any authority or power. All of its decisions are governed by foreign decisions and resolutions. I’m sure that this council does not represent the Syrian people.
— Alawite man (pro-regime), 25, Damascus

A few respondents were mildly positive about the SNC. “They stay up all night to find solutions to this crisis with the lowest possible losses. God give them strength. They deserve the term ‘faithfulness to the country’,” said a pro-regime Sunni man, 38, in Raqqah.

SNCROF Less Well-Known, Also Viewed Negatively

The Syrian National Coalition of Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (SNCROF) was less well known than the SNC and opinions about it were softer, but still mostly negative. Anti-regime respondents criticize it for being ineffective and directionless.

They are thanked for their efforts but we have seen nothing, only speech. I advise them to make considered acts to be more effective and to have a role in ending the crisis.
— Sunni woman (anti-regime), 37, Al Qamishli

I do not think they are capable of doing anything for these poor people.
— Sunni man (anti-regime), 38, Aleppo

Pro-regime detractors complained about its foreign backing. “The Coalition leadership are a group hired by Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and oil groups. Those who want to lead a revolution should lead it in the country’s territory, and not from France, Qatar, and America,” said a Sunni man in Hama.

The Coalition did have some proponents, who said it is sacrificing to unite the country and is the link between the opposition inside and outside Syria. Raqqah respondents tended to be the most favourable toward it.

I think it is the golden gate to connect the outside opposition presented by the Coalition with the inside opposition, by joining the Coalition.
— Sunni man (anti-regime), 47, IDP in Raqqah

The National Coalition for Syria are the free people of Syria who are doing their best to let the world hear our suffering that we are living in, may God strengthen them.
— Sunni man (anti-regime), 34, Raqqah

Jabhat Al-Nusra is Polarizing

Regime supporters characterized Jabhat al-Nusra as fanatical, mercenary terrorist organization intent on imposing sharia and increasing sectarianism. It was seen as posing a major threat to Syrians’ unity.

Jabhat al-Nusra is a radical terrorist authority which uses religion as an excuse to kill and to win Syrians’ sympathy, as well as to fight against the country by bringing groups and individuals from distant countries who have the same radical doctrinal thinking based on religion. This authority is seeking to establish an Islamic emirate in Syria.
— Alawite man (pro-regime), 25, Damascus

May God curse them, the worst in the world. They are retarded, bloody, and fanatic. They should not exist in any part of the world. If there would be many of them, then they should go to Saudi Arabia.
— Sunni woman (pro-regime), 25, Aleppo

Among regime opponents, many also worried about its radicalism. Some respondents say they would accept Jabhat al-Nusra’s help now and worry about fighting it later.

It’s like the principle of “I like your talk but I see your actions and I wonder.” When they got stronger, they became like the regime. It’s either you are with them or you get killed, exiled, or vanished.
— Sunni man (anti-regime), 47, IDP in Raqqah

(It’s) bad if it intends to impose on us its bad ideas. We will fight it after Bashar Assad if it wants to impose on us. But if it came to remove Bashar Assad, I am with Jabhat al-Nusra and with Al-Qaeda too, not only Jabhat al-Nusra.
— Sunni man (anti-regime), 25, refugee in Turkey

Jabhat al-Nusra does have a number of supporters among anti-regime respondents, particularly in Hama and Aleppo, where views of it are generally favourable. Respondents appreciate the help provided to rebel forces and consider its fighters brave and effective.

Jabhat al-Nusra are courageous. They don’t have personal goals, only to protect people and end injustice upon them. You always see these people on the front line.
— Sunni man (anti-regime), 36, IDP in Aleppo

Jabhat al-Nusra is the most effective group in Syria, the one which gains the most results and victories for sure.
— Sunni man (anti-regime), 31, refugee in Turkey

Some credit Jabhat al-Nusra for being an effective fighting force while acknowledging its negatives. “Jabhat al-Nusra is a radical group. It adopts fanatical thoughts and fights injustice. Many of its ideas may be wrong but those people believe in a certain thing and fight for it,” said an anti-regime Sunni man, 38, in Damascus.

Thus, views of many of the central figures and groups in the conflict — such as President Assad, the Syrian Army, and the Free Syrian Army — split along pro/anti-regime lines. Yet there are noteworthy cross-currents of opinion within anti-regime respondents’ views on the FSA, SNCROF, and Jabhat al-Nusra, some of which suffer from as many mixed or negative views as positive. Support for the SNC and NCSOF is strikingly weak even among regime opponents. Likewise there is some acknowledgement among regime supporters of errors and abuses on the part of their leadership and army. While the divisions run deep, these differences also suggest that the pro- and anti-government blocs may not be totally monolithic, and perhaps can seek common ground.

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He Who Did Wrong Should Be Accountable: Syrian Perspectives on Transitional Justice Copyright © 2014 by the Syria Justice and Accountability Centre (distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license). All Rights Reserved.

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