BEIRUT — It was on a bus ride home from college that Ahmed lost his faith in the Syrian revolution.
The trip was long, about 400 miles across the desert from Damascus. As Ahmed swayed in his seat next to another man, the bus slowed and then stopped. Ahmed looked out the window. There were about 50 black-clad militiamen at a checkpoint, rebel fighters whose cause he had passionately supported.
Several entered the bus, gripping their rifles. They told the women on board, some without head coverings, to hide their faces. They told the men to take out their IDs and fold their hands behind their heads.
"We won't joke about this anymore," one warned. "This time, it's not a problem, but next time, women should cover their hair and behave like good Muslims."
Until that moment, Ahmed, a journalism student at Damascus University, had believed in the revolution. But as he watched the rebel soldiers, he saw his dreams of a democratic Syria being hijacked by extremists.
For Ahmed, at least for now, the revolution was over.
Many Syrian young people have followed a similar path in recent months. Excitement about the uprising that began in the spring of 2011 has turned to skepticism and fear as violence has grown and opposition militias, some funded by foreign extremists, have become increasingly influenced by Islamic fundamentalism.
As much as they may hate the violent, repressive regime of President Bashar Assad, these young people — largely educated and middle class — are horrified by the opposition's alliances with radical groups such as Al Nusra Front, which has ties to Al Qaeda.
They, along with many of their elders among Syria's educated urban class, feel caught between two unacceptable extremes. The opposition movement once offered hope of a more democratic future. Now, in much the same way that many "Arab Spring" sympathizers in Egypt feel betrayed by their revolution, many Syrians worry that they could be trading one repressive regime for another.
"We won't be with the regime, but neither are we with the opposition," said Ahmed. Like other Syrians in this article, he was interviewed from Damascus, the capital, through an Internet audio connection and asked not to be identified by his last name for fear of retribution.
"People like me are still here," he said, "but who listens to the voice of reason when guns are shooting all the time?"
Many Syrians still support the uprising, and some welcome the shift toward religious fundamentalism. Activists close to the opposition's umbrella military group, the Free Syrian Army, reject the notion that the population is losing faith in the revolution.
"The regime kills more people, so the people support the FSA," activist spokesman Abu Hamza said by phone from Dariya, a contested Damascus suburb.