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Rooting for the Rebels, From Inside Assad’s Camp

Mohammad, 25, is a Syrian soldier who supports the rebel opposition from his barracks in Bashar al-Assad’s army.

Written by Sadek Abed Alrahman Published on Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Originally from the Syrian coast and the son of a traditional pro-Assad Alawite family, Mohammad has turned against the thinking shared by the majority of his sect, which is largely faithful to Assad. He says the only way to reach a solution is for Assad, to step down “along with his hooligans,” and he believes in the rebels’ right to bear arms.

Mohammad was optimistic about the protests at the beginning of the revolution, even though he was unable to take part from his largely pro-regime neighborhood. Instead, he got involved by gathering donations for the internally displaced and putting up posters that called for freedom and demanded Assad to step down.

Mohammad is aware of the increasing sectarian divisions and Islamization within the opposition, but he doesn’t hesitate in expressing support for the disjointed Free Syrian Army. To him, “it is a natural and necessary reaction to the regime’s violence.”

Summoned to Defend the Regime

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Everything changed for Mohammad when members of the military police notified his family that he was being called up for mandatory miltary service, like thousands of other Alawite men. At first, Mohammad refused to go. He had been unable to find employment after his graduation in 2011, and the deteriorating economic situation now prevented him from leaving the country.

Mohammad’s family implored him to join the army to defend “the country and sect” as well as to avoid punishment for draft dodging. No longer able to bear the pressure placed on him by his family and social circle, he joined and began wishing for his own death on the battlefield.

“I decided to march to my death,” he says. As soon as he started fighting with the army, “I wished to die in my first battle to leave all this misery.”

“We Are the Aggressors” 

After three months of serving on the front lines in rural Damascus, Mohammad returned for his first leave. Everything in his coastal town remained the same. So did his opinion of the government.

While still suspicious of the opposition brigades with the Salafist inclinations, he says, “the armed rebels have a right to fight us. We are the aggressors.”

Like fighters on both sides of the conflict, he says his time on the battlefield has inflicted a paradox of pain. “I love my brothers in arms, many of whom are from my town and my sect,” he says. “And they are dying at the hands of armed opposition members, who I hope are victorious in their war.”

Mohammad says he spends long nights crying. To him, the battle is a mere exercise in self-defense. “What makes me pull the trigger is my desire to stay alive,” he says. “But I’m not concerned about the Syrian army being victorious in this war. I wish defeat for my army, but I am unwilling to betray my brothers in arms.”

Mohammad believes he is waiting for his inevitable doom. Though Assad forces are making gains in the Qalamoun mountains and in Aleppo, he gives a strained smile at what he calls the impossibility of the Syrian army overtaking rebel forces in rural Damascus.

His friend, Ali, was shot in the forehead while in combat, and Mohammad cries as he describes the sight of bodies from both sides at the end of a fight.

More than once, Mohammad has considered defecting and joining the opposition forces. He says he always backs down because security forces would retaliate against his friends and family, putting them all in jeopardy.

He says he hopes to live to see the end of the Assad government but thinks that reaching a political solution to end the war is farfetched, and that he would be unable to return to his normal life, even if he survives to the conflict’s final day.

This article was translated from Arabic by Naziha Baassiri. 

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