“Perhaps one or two months,” he told Babylon & Beyond in an interview in neighboring Lebanon, where he recently arrived with the help of smugglers. “The international sanctions are hitting and the internal situation is very bad. In my area and in other places people are not paying their electricity and water bills anymore -- let alone taxes -- because they started to despise the regime. People are only buying food and necessities."
Ahmad, who did not want to give his last name, is from Baniyas, the Syrian coastal city that became a protest hub before coming under siege by the Syrian army and security forces in May. Large protests haven't been reported there since.
Ahmad says he participated in protests from the start and became involved in a Syrian activist group that documents the uprising against Assad. He often spoke to Arab and international media, including the Los Angeles Times, about the situation on the ground during the upheavals. It didn't take long before his name ended up on the Syrian authorities’ black list of activists.
"They started listening to my phone from the beginning. My family had to flee the city and I haven’t seen them in six months. I can’t talk to them. I have a friend in Damascus whom I spoke to once on the phone. They took him and held him for two months."
Before the army and security forces started cracking down on demonstrators months ago, Ahmad said, protesters did not call for the downfall of the regime. In the first week, protesters complained about sporadic and expensive electricity and wanted a corrupt local government official fired, he said. Then demonstrators called for prisoners to be freed.
The violence had not begun yet but security forces were trying to impose an economic siege as protests gained strength in Baniyas; the forces banned the entrance of various goods and necessities into the city, according to Ahmad's account. Then phones and electricity were cut late one night, prompting residents to fear that something bad was coming.
Ahmad recalls groups of people standing in the city streets that night, nervously talking to each other.