Among young activists in Damascus, there is pessimism. When I asked the group that organised my trip to Qudsaya if they wanted Nato to bomb the regime’s military assets, as happened in Libya, they all said no. What did they expect to happen? There was a nervous laugh. ‘We are secular,’ Anwar said, ‘but we just hope in God – though that’s not a solution.’ Their confusion reminded me of the mood among Iraqis before the American invasion. While Saddam’s regime was widely detested, Iraqis feared chaos, upheaval and sectarian conflict and suspected they would be victims of the whims of outside powers.
The tragedy of Syria’s arrested revolution is that last year’s optimism and energy have been undermined by the gradual militarisation of parts of the opposition. If the regime wanted to provoke its opponents into taking up arms, it has succeeded. ‘I feel a great opportunity has been lost,’ said a European intellectual who has lived in Damascus for the last decade and a half.