BEIRUT (AFP) – With regime troops and extremists battling for control of Syria, sidelined activists who led a pro-democracy uprising in 2011 say their revolution has died along with their dreams of freedom.
On the ground, where foreign fighters have flocked to join the Islamic State group and rival al-Qaeda-linked militants, the reality could barely be grimmer for the pro-democracy movement.
The extremists have expelled mainstream, “moderate” rebels from large areas, while many opposition fighters once revered as heroes are now branded opportunistic warlords.
Meanwhile President Bashar al-Assad still holds Damascus and is pressing on with his relentless campaign of aerial bombings and arrests.
Most of the peaceful protesters of the early days of the revolt have been killed, jailed, forced into exile or live under siege, said 28-year-old Sami Saleh from the central city of Hama, where the opposition briefly seized control for a month in 2011.
“The revolution is dead. The dogs have taken over… It’s total war,” Saleh said, speaking to AFP via the Internet from Turkey.
“You need a movement, protests, civil action for it to be a revolution. What we are witnessing now are battles for territory, resources and control,” he said.
The feeling of failure has pushed many to abandon their demand that Assad be ousted at any cost.
Instead, they long for an end to a brutal conflict that has killed nearly 200,000 people.
Nael Mustafa, who risks his life to document violations by the Islamic State (IS) group, is among the disillusioned.
“My revolutionary cry now is for the killing machine to stop,” said Mustafa, who lives and works undercover in the northern city of Raqa.
IS has overrun the city and proclaimed it their “capital”, having ousted the rebels who captured it in spring 2013.