Syrian society has never truly been studied scientifically, neither before nor after the revolution began. The reason is that researchers cannot move about the country freely to conduct individual interviews and opinion polls. There has also never been the freedom to conduct state-run research dealing with statistics on census and population distribution in Syria’s various cities, or on the economy and public finances.
Since the start of the revolution, though, a window of opportunity has opened to study the Syrian people as they are represented in migrant refugee and immigrant populations found in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. The majority of those who are displaced stand in opposition to the regime but Lebanon, in particular, has become a place of refuge for many Assad regime loyalists.
Prior to the presidential elections, the Arab Centre for Research and Policy Studies, managed by a team under the direction of Dr Mohammed Al-Masri, an expert on public opinion in the region, began conducting the first empirical survey that reveals Syrian refugee opinions on the use of explosive barrels in the conflict. The study also seeks to examine or determine public opinion prior to when the revolution took a violent turn for the worse and became an armed conflict. Although I am one of those who have been working on the Syrian file both before and since the revolution, I must say that the results have surprised me. This is not because more than 78 per cent of the people believe that the elections are a fraud but that many refugees still stand in support of the revolution despite the unimaginable cost, which quite frankly is contrary to most expectations.
The Syrians have surprised us with their courage, patience and steadfastness. Statistics show that 52 per cent of the population supported the revolution when it first started and that this number increased to approximately 60 per cent after three years. Moreover, the percentage of those who saw themselves as loyal to the regime dropped from 19 to 13 per cent. Those citizens who considered themselves to be neutral at the start of the revolution but would later support the opposition decreased from 28 to 15 per cent. There were many people who could not have possibly imagined that the regime was this bad and others who dared to believe that Assad was surrounded by old guard and capable of reform. There were also many people who were afraid of what they might lose and were surprised to find that the regime does not distinguish between a rebel and someone who is neutral, or even pro-regime.
What is even more surprising is that half of the respondents supported the idea of a civil state, whereas 30 per cent preferred a theocracy and 18 per cent said that they did not care whatever the outcome. This information gives us hope for the future.
Perhaps the most important question that must be studied is the question of arms. The opinions that have been collected in the survey thus far suggest two main beliefs. The first is that the regime’s repeated use of violence and murder forced the opposition to carry weapons in self-defence. The second view is that the Syrian people concluded that they cannot bring down the regime without armed action. Results showed 67 per cent of respondents agreed with the first statement while 20 per cent agreed with the second. Approximately 10 per cent of respondents disagreed with both statements.
The picture painted by the dictator is clear, from torturing the children of Daraa to attacking the children of Ghouta with chemical weapons: he does not want to leave a single city in Syria intact. As the Financial Times stated recently, this is a “dance of war” and no elections will change the reality of this.
Translated from Al Ghad newspaper, 4 June, 2014
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.