18 January 2014 –
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — For years, Jihad Makdissi was the urbane, outward-looking face of the Syrian government, proclaiming its views in perfect English as the Foreign Ministry’s spokesman. Then, about a year ago, he resigned and fled here, withdrawing his support from President Bashar al-Assad without throwing it to the opposition, quietly waiting, he said, for his chance to be of use.
Now, with long-awaited but shaky peace talks set to begin in Switzerland on Wednesday, Mr. Makdissi has resurfaced, a rare high-profile dissenter who is seeking to position himself as a voice for the many Syrians who remain on the sidelines, skeptical of the armed uprising but still wanting deep change in their country.
A feeling that he “could no longer change anything,” he said, drove him from his job nearly two years into a revolution that had evolved, amid a brutal government crackdown, from a largely peaceful movement against Mr. Assad into an armed rebellion that increasingly drew in foreign jihadists.
Over several hours of interviews in Dubai coffee shops recently, Mr. Makdissi said he spoke for a broad center of Syrians that includes many Christians like himself, a center that fears extremism within the rebellion and wishes the revolt had remained a peaceful one but still believes the rebellion was rooted in valid political demands.
“The aspirations of the Syrian street are totally legitimate,” he said.
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