Syrians interviewed are deeply negative about the country’s situation and direction. The war has touched everyone, even those in relatively secure places.
Refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) are the most affected, while religious minorities feel under siege from radical Islamic forces, and Sunnis are anxious about sectarianism and violence.
Blame splits along political lines: regime supporters hold mercenaries and foreigners responsible for the war, opponents blame President Assad.
Both sides are shocked by the extent and degree of violence and social disintegration.
Freedom of expression generally depends on allegiances — government supporters feel free, opponents do not. However, regime opponents in opposition-run areas feel freer, if wary of Islamic radicals.
Neither side expects the conflict to end soon.
Most respondents prefer a negotiated settlement as the only way to stop the killing, but there is skepticism about its possibility and mistrust among those on opposing sides.
Many regime opponents would accept exile for President Assad as part of a negotiated end to the violence. Those who rejected this insisted that he should be held accountable.
Regime supporters would not consider exile for Assad, even as part of a settlement.
Most said that after the conflict they would be willing to live with neighbours who had different political views or who had left their homes during the conflict.
But there were caveats: many said coexistence required that there be no violence or armed groups among them. Some also rejected coexistence outright or the presence of ex-members of armed groups.
Those displaced from their homes feared they may not have homes or livelihoods to return to.
Accountability for abuses during the conflict is vital. Regime supporters and opponents and all sects agree. Many respondents were concerned about Syria’s “culture of revenge,” and saw institutionalized accountability as the alternative.
Most respondents, whether pro- or anti-regime, want those who committed abuses on either side to be held accountable, preferably by the justice system, as an alternative to revenge.
Very few respondents are willing to “forgive and forget.”
Transitional Justice Alternatives
Nearly all respondents on both sides agree that the rule of law should be paramount in post-war Syria — though there was disagreement between the opposing sides on whether the rule of law already exists.
There is also strong support for bringing rights violators before the courts and for the notion that those who committed abuses on both sides should be prosecuted. Of the options presented (trials, truth commissions, and compensation), trials are the most popular approach.
Pro- and anti-regime interviewees differed on whether the trials should occur in the existing courts or in new ones, but most in both camps favoured Syrian courts and rejected international participation.
Compensation for losses during the conflict was widely supported. Those who lost earners, property, jobs, or businesses were seen as the highest priorities for compensation.
Compensation was seen as a means of redressing economic damage, but accountability is required for losses, such as the deaths of family members, that cannot be undone by money.
Very few respondents had heard of truth commissions, however they were receptive to the idea — particularly to the evidence gathering and compensation components. That said, the suggestion of a truth commission offering amnesty for confession, as in the case of South Africa, was unacceptable for many. Respondents felt that the prosecution of offenders was essential.
Views of Key Figures and Organizations
Views of Bashar al-Assad were extremely polarized, with supporters very favourable and opponents extremely negative.
The Syrian Army, formerly held in high esteem even by some regime opponents as the defender of the homeland, is now seen by anti-regime Syrians as serving only the regime. Regime supporters say it is still the protector of the country.
The Free Syrian Army receives mixed reviews from regime opponents: most say they are the strongest force taking on the regime, some offer unwavering support, but many worry about criminals hiding under its flag. Regime supporters view them as foreign-funded soldiers of fortune, incapable of governing a country.
The Syrian National Council (SNC) enjoyed little support from regime opponents or supporters, who mostly see it as ineffective and foreign-dominated. A few regime opponents were sympathetic to it.
The National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces is less well-known and opinions about it were softer than those of the SNC, but still largely negative, for similar reasons.
Jabhat al-Nusra evokes strong hostility among regime supporters, who see it as radical and fanatical. While regime opponents respect its effectiveness, many also worry about its radicalism, though some favour a temporary alliance of convenience.
Television is the most frequently mentioned source of information about the situation in Syria. Government supporters mentioned Al-Dunya, Al-Jadeeda, and Al-Ekhbariya Al-Suriyya. Opponents mentioned Shada Al Huriah and Deir-el-Zor, along with foreign stations (Al-Arabiya, Al-Jazeera, and Arabic versions of BBC, Sky News, France 24, and CNN).
There is strong discontent with most available information, seen as biased and partisan.
Syrians look to the internet for news that shows both sides or is objective, particularly Facebook, Twitter, and Al-Jazeera.net, as well as a site called Aleppo News, among Aleppo respondents.
Friends and family, especially for those displaced and refugees, were cited as the best source of objective information about what’s happening in their local area.
Other media: Few listen to the radio, read print publications, or get SMS news.
Given the strong desire for an end to the fighting and to see accountability for abuses, this is an appropriate time to work with Syrians who wish to develop civic education efforts to inform their fellow citizens about transitional justice mechanisms, and to encourage discussion and debate about which mechanisms will be most likely to lay the foundation for reconciliation and peace in the Syria.