The first involved no more than a few dozen people and lasted 30 seconds or a minute — the thrill of showing defiance against the state, their confidence buoyed by the progress of the Arab Spring in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. His arrest came in August 2011 after a protest in which he stood on the front line and led anti-government chants.
Now Ghaibeh says he believes that what would be best for Syria might be a political compromise, one that could even allow Assad to stay in office, though with diminished powers.
He said the activists he trains are becoming increasingly frustrated, and he worries that some are becoming increasingly hard-line.
“I feel upset to see more and more of them becoming radical in their views, in their social media posts,” he said. Another activist, a 22-year-old from Damascus with bleached-blond hair, said that in the early days of the revolution he would never have imagined himself to be an advocate of a group such as Jabhat al-Nusra, designated as a terrorist organization by the United States.
“I thought they were bad people,” said the activist, who would give only his first name, Mahmoud, for security reasons. “But after what I’ve seen from them, I’ve changed my mind. They are Islamic, but they work with the Free Syrian Army. The Syrian regime portrays them as terrorists, but they are good people.”
However, even Mahmoud said he regarded the growing role being played in Syria by allies as of al-Qaeda as the biggest threat to the secular opposition. The groups include foreign fighters under the umbrella of a group that calls itself the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an expansion of what was once known as al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Those groups’ involvement, Mahmoud said, can lead only to an escalation of infighting among rebel groups and to wider Western uneasiness about providing arms for the anti-government rebels.
The other activist, Ghaibeh, said he might return to political activism if he can find a group whose aims are in the best interests of the country. For now, he busies himself with the needs of more than 670,000 of his fellow Syrians who have fled to Lebanon, and he says he continues to hope for the day when Syria will achieve a secular democracy.
“You have to have hope,” Ghaibeh said. “If we are hopeless, it would be surrender.”