“Do Syrians Want To Fight Until Victory or Do they Want a Ceasefire?” by James McMichael

Do Syrians Want To Fight Until Victory or Do they Want a Ceasefire?
by James McMichael [jamesmcmichael.dc@gmail.com]
for Syria Comment, March 26, 2014

A recent survey results show clear-cut differences between the views of civilians and those of rebel fighters with regard to the war and the political future of Syria. Simply put, civilians want a negotiated peace as quickly as possible, while rebel fighters are determined to fight on for military victory. Moreover, civilians want a postwar government with limited religious influence, while rebel fighters want a religion-dominated postwar government. The survey results also contradict some existing theories as to the nature and origins of the war. Three researchers, Vera Miranova, Loubna Mrie and Sam Whitt conducted surveys of civilians in rebel held areas and rebel fighters in Aleppo during August-September 2013 and Idlib during November-December 2013. See the Voices of Syria project.

Civilians and rebel fighters were asked to select the best from several options with respect to negotiating with and fighting against Assad. “Continue fighting until Assad defeated” was selected by an overwhelming majority of 89.29% of rebel fighters but by only 36.36% of civilians. Conversely, “Immediate cease-fire to begin negotiations” was selected by 45.45% of civilians and by a mere 3.57% of rebel fighters. If the “civilians” could be represented in peace negotiations, then perhaps a result different from Geneva II could occur. However, while the views of rebel fighters and the external opposition are heard by Western and Gulf governments, the views of Syrian civilians apparently are heard by no one outside Syria.

Civilians and rebel fighters were asked how large a role religion should play in future Syrian politics. Of civilians, there is nothing approaching a majority position and 39.3% favor a very important role, 22.2% favor a not very important role, and 6.2% favor no role at all. Of rebel fighters, a majority of 53.3% favors a very important role, just 13.3% favor a not very important role, and none favor no role at all. It appears that, if civilians determine the nature of a postwar government, then it possible that a balance might be struck between religion and secularism in government. In contrast, if rebel fighters prevail as to the form of postwar government, then theocracy seems to be in store.

The view that the war is a political revolution appears to be incorrect. Rebel fighters were asked their main reason for joining rebel groups. Revenge against Assad was given by 46.3%, support for the group’s goals was given by just 18.5%, defending their community was given by 13%, and defeating Assad was given by 11.1%. With a majority of 57.4% fighting against Assad, and just 18.5% fighting for their group’s goals, the rebel fighters care whom they are fighting against, but are quite unconcerned as to what they are fighting for. This indicates that the war is not a revolution seeking a new political order but is, instead, an identity-based civil war like Biafra, Northern Ireland and past and present Iraq.

One explanation that has been offered for the 2011 uprising, aside from emulation of the Arab Spring in other countries, is economic deprivation caused by a moribund economy, a high birth rate, a bloated public sector, and a multiyear drought. The survey results rebut that hypothesis. Rebel fighters were asked their pre-war occupation. Pre-war, 35.59% of rebel fighters were students, 27.12% were professionals, and just 13.56% were unemployed. The ranks of the rebel fighters were not filled by the economically deprived.

Although not discussed above, the survey results provide extensive information as to the social effects of the war. Those social effects are, in a few words, physical, personal, economic and psychological catastrophe. This catastrophe goes a long way toward explaining the civilian preference for a negotiated end to the war as quickly as possible and aversion to fighting on for military victory. If only Secretary Kerry and his counterparts in Europe and the Gulf were aware of and amenable to the potential for peace in bypassing the rebel groups and external opposition and providing to Syrian civilians the means to become the “sole legitimate representative” of the Syrians. However, nothing of the sort appears to be on the diplomatic agenda.

A few caveats are necessary. Security concerns prevented the researchers from using certain sampling techniques. The surveys were limited geographically. The total sample size was just 150 individuals. No margin of error is provided. Nevertheless, these surveys are an important advance in understanding the nature of the war, the prospects for peace, and the possible forms of a postwar government.
The researchers report as works in progress three papers analyzing their survey results. These are sure to be of value to those trying to understand Syria.


  1. It was not possible to use standard survey sampling techniques.
  2. The limited geographical area.
  3. The sample size was just 150 individuals.

The research interest was rebel held areas and the surveys were conducted accordingly.

Comments (26)

Tara said:

Continue fighting until Assad is defeated is what I choose. One is fooling him/herself if one thinks an animal who used chemical weapon against his people can ceasefire and negotiate . Stop the deception,

March 26th, 2014, 6:50 pm


Observer said:

The mere sample size in a country with 9 million displaced of just 150 is simply not acceptable to make any conclusion whatsoever about what the civilians want or anyone else wants.

Now to go back

Mjabali I do not care what kind of creed your family adheres to. Define yourself as a person not through your family or your history.
1. So what are you if you are not Shia?

2. I do think that every sect and every religion has stupid parts to it. These do not make sense and are internally inconsistent: for example the trinity does not make sense in Christianity and the Church has gone into a pretzel logic to define the trinity when it would have been much simpler to declare Jesus as human. Likewise the Shia faith has the awaiting of a Mahdi after the Imam disappeared when he entered a cave some 1200 years ago. He probably fell into a sinkhole and is dead but the 12there Imamate creed is a bunch of illogical abracadabra BS. Their apostatizing of Sunnis en masse is not only stupid but criminal to say the least.

3. I challenge you to show the percentage of Syrians willing to live together today or better still the percentage of Syrians who do not think in sectarian terms. I would estimate less than 1% of Syrians are willing to live together based on a national identity. No one is talking about Syria: Armenian, Turkmen, Kurd, Sunni, Alawi, Shammar, Shia, Christian is what people are talking about.

4. I can assure you that after the demise of the regime not only the supporters are going to suffer but Damascenes are going to have most of their property confiscated and the suburbanites are going to exact revenge on the urban population of Damascus. I for one think that moving the Capital to Homs or Tadmur is far better. As a matter of fact the economy of Tadmur would improve with all the ministers and the state structures living there.

5. Let us assume for a minute that this study is valid with a majority fighting for revenge; I can assure you that revenge is what will be delivered and no matter how long it is going to take these people have nothing left to lose and will exact this revenge on the regime and its supporters. The other group that will follow are the Sunnis that supported the regime especially in Latakia and Damascus.

6. The chance to establish Alawistan is over now. The coast is not secure. The South is not secure. The oil fields are out. The center with Hama province dealing a big blow to the regime today is not holding either. He takes one spot and loses two more. He takes a big area and loses three smaller ones. If it is attrition that he is playing he is in for a surprise. His coup de grace he tried and he failed.

7. The conversation that was taped with Moudar and Souleiman clearly show that the wall of fear is completely gone and forever.

8. The Sunni creed is stupid and the Shia is stupid and the Alawi is stupid and there is not one point you have made that did not make me even more convinced than ever that all are stupid. The worst of the worst is the Monotheistic God that has a Universal Nature on the one hand and A Chosen People on the other hand. Chosen to lead humanity: the essence and source of ever continuing racism and discrimination. You and I know what we are talking about. This is the Zionization of the Monotheistic Religions.


March 26th, 2014, 7:27 pm


Observer said:

By the way Mjabali please name me the philosophers of the Alawi creed I would love to read them.

March 26th, 2014, 7:28 pm


Tara said:


I will name you a philosopher of the current Alawi creed: علي الكيالي

March 26th, 2014, 8:02 pm


Observer said:

Thanks Tara

Arabic Wikipedia has a summary of his books.

March 26th, 2014, 8:25 pm


Ghufran said:

There is no doubt that most Syrians want a cease fire but a similar majority want all foreign fighters to depart or be confronted. It is nauseating to hear people who are not fighting or sending their sons to fight call for this evil war to continue until the bitter end, the same people are ignoring the daily shelling of civilian areas including Damascus where women and children are being killed daily by random mortar bombs, I guess it is easy to discount the death of civilians if you are living in the west and spending more money on pizza than what most Syrians can spend to stay alive and feed their kids.
You can not condemn the regime for throwing barrel bombs on Aleppo while you consider the murder of civilians by terrorists fighting under the opposition flag to be a form of resistance. Some Syrian expats are worse than other Syrians who are trapped in the bloody fight in Syria.

March 26th, 2014, 8:43 pm


sami said:

First glaring flaw of this study is it does not take into effect what the Assadi fighters and the various militias fighting for Assad want.

Second glaring flaw is the deliberate cherry picking of facts to skew the rebels as the only ones with an extremists ideology. The various shia militiamen from Iran, Hizballah, and Iraq would beg to differ.

While a support a negotiated settlement, it must start with holding accountable the criminals regime that has destroyed so much of my country. Having Assad and his henchmen at the negotiation table is worse than having Daesh in that very same seat. Both are extremist filth that have no room in any society let alone post war Syria.

March 26th, 2014, 8:49 pm


استطلاع للرأي في حلب وإدلب يظهر أن غالبية السكان يريدون الهدنة | مدونة هاني said:

[…] هذا مقال يتعلق باستطلاع للرأي أجري قبل بضعة أشهر في محافظتي حلب وإدلب. […]

March 26th, 2014, 11:16 pm


omen said:

Dan Byman Social science research Is clear: Victory in civil war far more stable than negotiated settlement.

March 27th, 2014, 1:29 am


omen said:

Simply put, civilians want a negotiated peace as quickly as possible

i bet james mcmichael’s researchers go out of their way to avoid informing respondents of these known conclusions i cite in #8 before steering them towards picking a choice blindly.

is it ethical to pressure people to pick a choice while failing to give them precursory background? and this serves whom, i wonder? will these misleading conclusion be given to policy makers in yet another campaign to lobby against intervention?

If the “civilians” could be represented in peace negotiations, then perhaps a result different from Geneva II could occur.

yeah, that was the problem with g2; lack of civilian representation.


March 27th, 2014, 2:10 am


omen said:

Where is Tal Al Malouhi?!

Where is Tal Al Malouhi? The Syrian blogger who has been detained since 2009, was missed and held incommunicado after the approval of the Criminal Court in Damascus on 24 October 2013 on the request for an exemption from a quarter of her original sentence which is five years in prison as ruled by the Supreme State Security Court on February 14, 2011 on charge of “disclosing information to a foreign country that must remain a secret for national safety”, and to be released immediately in case her detention is not required in any other case.

However, Tal Al Malouhi is taken from Damascus Central Prison – Adra- to the National Security Bureau whereas juristic sources reported on October 26, 2013 that (Tal was transferred to the Office of National Security to be released from there). Note that so far there were no news that confirm her release.

Tal Al Malouhi was arrested at the age of eighteen (Born in 11-April 1991) by the Department of State Security after being summoned for questioning on the background of her activity in blogging and websites. Tal Al Malouhi spent eleven months of enforced arrest, during that she was exposed to torture and ill-treatment, with no announce for her location or fate, without allowance for her family, lawyers or other destination to visit before being passed to the women’s prison (Doma previously) where she was put in solitary confinement as reported by several sources. before she presented to the Supreme State Security Court on November 10, 2010


look at her. she could be your daughter. is she a terrorist? locked up since 2009. what if she were you? if you have any influence with regime insiders, press for her release. at least allow her family to visit.

March 27th, 2014, 3:24 am


Mina said:

The sofa warmongers want (others) to fight it to the end? No surprise here. But what kind of Syria do they want and what is their great plan against the militias? Ideas are needed to help the West solve the mess created in Libya.
A picture that says more than a long speech

March 27th, 2014, 3:40 am


Salma said:

Even if we disregard the sampling and methodology by which statistics were gathered, Mr. McMichael’s analysis of the statistics is quite flawed.

First, only 45% of people support a negotiated settlement, that’s hardly a majority. Second of all, suggesting that if Syrian civilians were represented, as opposed to the ‘opposition’ and rebel fighters, would lead to a settlement, implies that the problem is with the opposition and not with the way the government is actually negotiating in bad faith, if you can call it negotiation.

Third, there is clear and extensive documentation of the radicalisation of rebel groups, from the lack of support from Western ‘democracies’ which led many to adopt more religious agendas, to the support from Jihadi groups that were better funded and organised, to the use of sectarian discourse by government…. The implication here is that the rebels have some foreign agenda that is not supported by civilians, which while partly true, does not reflect the complexity of the situation and the fact that most rebels are Syrians, whose views may have become more extreme due to the conditions they have faced.

Fourth, saying that people took up arms because they wanted revenge or to overthrow assad, reflects what may have radicalised a non-violent popular movement, i.e. the violence and sectarianism of the regime, not that these fighters were originally motivated by an identity based ideology.

Fifth, the reasons for revolution have always been mixed, economically and politically. But to address the issue of economics, being employed may not represent being comfortable economically, as the value of earned income decreased and services to the country side deteriorated.

Sixth, those who took up arms do not represent the totality of people who were involved in the revolution and mass protests, which is one of the problems of this study. Why are civilians not asked about their views on the revolution, whether they were involved in protests and why that is?

Seventh, why certain people took up arms is not congruous with why they supported the revolution. Those are two different things.

March 27th, 2014, 4:44 am


omen said:

apologists have a skewed and disproportionate sense of balance.


one dinged up church is the equivalent of bashar reducing half the country to rubble.

March 27th, 2014, 4:51 am


omen said:

11. Mina said: But what kind of Syria do they want and what is their great plan against the militias?

let’s all first acknowledge assad as responsible for creating this mess in the first place.

Excellent read on how Assad turned Syria into a jihadi haven by years of aiding & abetting jihadi networks.

everybody in here already knows this. this is tedious to pretend not to know or refuse to acknowledge reality.

ghufran keeps asking this too. what’s your plan? what’s your plan? what’s your plan?

all this does is deflect responsibility off assad & onto the victims. the regime is the one with all the power. dont pretend the opposition could make things right if it wanted to when bashar messes up anything rebels try to organize.

first things first. first, assad & his family of thugs need to leave before syrians can set about rebuilding the country & putting together a new order.

for those who continue to cling to the status quo: where the hell is your plan? to help get rid of assad so this can begin to be accomplished? your refusal to let go is the reason why he’s still hanging on. stop blaming the opposition for lacking solutions when it’s you who are the problem.

March 27th, 2014, 5:28 am


Aboud Dandachi said:

“for those who continue to cling to the status quo: where the hell is your plan”

They do have a plan; Assad or we burn the country.

As a civilian refugee, I also would like to see a negotiated settlement; a negotiation on which Syrian city the Eye Doctor gets hanged in. Only a tiny fraction of the displaced and refugees would even consider going back to Syria as long as Assad and his ridiculously numerous mukhabarat branches are in power.

March 27th, 2014, 6:27 am


Syrialover said:


You see only never-ending revenge and Syrians unwilling and unable to live together again as a nation.

But why do you feel that Syrians are a different species of human than Cambodians and Rwandans? Both those countries suffered brutal, industrial-scale killings and mass displacement of citizens at the hands of feral “leadership”.

Rwanda and Cambodia went on to heal (or at least strongly plaster over) the fractures, draw a line under what happened and continue as nations.

Rwanda’s divisions were tribal and Cambodia’s ideological. Both those forces ran deeper than the alleged (and disputed) sectarianism being put forward as a driver in the Syrian conflict.

Like those and other countries that suffered deep trauma, I believe post-Assad Syria will see its citizens choosing to unite again, rebuild and recover, with everyone viewing what happened as a hellish ordeal inflicted on them by the Assad regime.

That’s right. The key to moving into the future will be people on both sides of the current conflict agreeing to blame the Assad regime and damn its memory.

That’s what human beings through history have done and how the species has survived. The Assad regime is just another diseased aberration, programmed to destroy itself.

March 27th, 2014, 6:52 am


Syrialover said:

Surveys are good. Surveys are interesting. And eventually, when the time is right, surveys in Syria will be significant and useful.

But not until the regime has gone.

Libya is a good example. Despite frustration with security problems, public opinion surveys show that most Libyans agree on what their priorities should be (conflict resolution programs, getting rid of militias, political exclusion of officials from former regime), are optimistic about the future and believe democracy is the best form of government.
(See for example: http://jmw-consulting.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/131104_November_multi_party_presentation.pdf)

March 27th, 2014, 7:37 am


Observer said:


To have a life together the war must end. I see no end in sight. As a matter of fact Cambodia ended when the Vietnamese toppled the Khmer Rouge as they created a massive killing machine and it became clear that genocide was being carried out.
In Rwanda the killing had to be stopped and to this day the ashes are still burning and it can explode anytime again.

These are fractures that take several generations to heal and even at that there will always be a tension. All you have to do is to read Mjabali and his history of eternal oppression of the Alawis on this blog to understand that this kind of suffering is for every seared into the memory and perhaps DNA of the victims.

My friends in Syria tell me that there is no way they can live with the regime and its supporters.

The Alawi community deep down inside understood and realizes that its hold on the country is through pure sectarian brutal dictatorship and nothing less. They know that if the regime is defeated they are finished but they also realize that the strategy of attrition adopted by the regime to exhaust the opposition is double edged and they are getting exhausted as well.

The death of Hilal was because he wanted to establish a separate fiefdom on the coast independent of the leadership in Damascus. It was not the rebels that killed him.

This is a very dirty war and we are only at the beginning of it. There will be nothing left of the country for now the regime and the supporters are systematically destroying any part they do not control for the sole purpose of preventing the rebellion from establishing an alternative.

Assad or we Burn Balad is the slogan and the operative mode.

March 27th, 2014, 8:03 am


Amir in Tel Aviv said:


It is very convenient to armchair warmonger from the safety of Amrica, where your lovely family and you enjoy. Take your dear family and move to Syria to fight “until Assad is defeated”. Or shut up.

This ‘To The Last Syrian Child” fake / hijacked (so called) “Syrian-revolution” should be stopped.

Mina #11,

Totally agree with you.

March 27th, 2014, 8:35 am


ALAN said:

Dear JL!
SC Need a treat! waiting for your intervention!

March 27th, 2014, 9:11 am


Syrialover said:

AMIR IN TEL AVIV (#21) and MINA (#12),

OK, you are sitting on very different armchairs than you allege TARA and others are sitting.

But your armchairs must be far removed from any personal investment, experience and knowledge of what allowing the Assad regime to continue unchallenged actually means for Syrians.

I suggest your armchairs are very deep and plush with pleasant views of where you are living. You have the choice to switch off the Syria channel which you dip into now and again.

People like SAMI, TARA and ABOUD DANDACHI are sitting on uncomfortable chairs damaged by chemical weapons, cluster bombs and other horrors and their window views are straight into Syria.

They are desperate for the war to end, but they know it can only end in a negotiated settlement or military defeat which removes Assad and others directly accountable for the regime’s actions.

AMIR, those preaching from YOUR style of armchair are the ones who need to move to Syria and properly comprehend what is happening there or shut up.

March 27th, 2014, 2:56 pm


Syrialover said:


I still insist you are looking at Syria through a narrow and immediate lens, suggesting Syrians are different from other people.

Perspective 1. Read some of the stuff out there about the 100th anniversary of the first World War. You’ll learn nobody alive at the time foresaw or even imagined that it would last more than a few months or reach the incredible scale of destruction and suffering it did. Exactly the same with WWII.

Both conflicts dragged on for years, getting worse and worse with nobody seeing how they were going to end. But then came a post-war time where they rebuilt both their smashed-up countries and relations with their former battlefield enemies.

Perspective 2. You can read astonished accounts, even confusion, of eyewitnesses who visited Cambodia and Rwanda not long after the leading players were removed and violence subsided. They saw people rebuilding their lives by side with neighbors, friends and colleagues who had participated in killing their loved ones.

Overall, it seems people will make the miraculous decision to salvage their lives, accept what happened and get on with it. It seems when the “leaders” responsible are gone much of the searing fear and hatred in the community starts to dissipate.

Nobody claims that latent tensions, distrust, bitter resentments and so on have disappeared. They remain there like the physical damage to the country.

But at some level, people accept they were all victims of the same evil forces and acknowledge they all bear deep wounds. And that it’s over.

That’s what normal human beings are capable of when freed from sub-human aberrations like Pol Pot and the Assad regime.

March 27th, 2014, 4:06 pm


Amir in Tel Aviv said:


move to the newer thread

March 27th, 2014, 4:36 pm


Syrialover said:


Those who maintain ancient grievances and see the world in sectarian terms are those who want advantage over others and/or fear loss. It’s a cover story and excuse.

Their attitude spreads and creates a counter-response in those they see as rivals.

Everybody has prejudices, but not all people are sane,developed and rational enough to stop it taking over their mind and shaping their view of the world, wishing disadvantage and harm on ordinary fellow human beings.

March 27th, 2014, 5:30 pm


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