here's my humble view on the issue, being a descendant of a middle class family from Damascus:
1- Damascus ad Aleppo are the hubs for merchants and middle class, public service, clerks and workers.. we will get to each one of them separately
2- The historical significance of soul crushing:
the 80's in Syria have been nothing but a long nightmare for anyone who can remember it.
- The almost impossible access to food, toilet paper, bread, and notebooks...
- The random detention and street terror by the militias of Rifaat Assad in the streets
- The whole Muslim Brotherhood story, people were torn between sympathy and anger for the 30,000 people who died in the Assad ethnic cleansing (a.k.a. revenge from the MB), and the fear from the MB's revenge from the regime by targeting leftist intellectuals and blowing up buses and bus stations.
- The civil war in Lebanon, which has been largely orchestrated by the Assad political machine
These days brought the country to a financial and economical disaster, making the intellectual and educated middle class go out of their ways to feed their families or provide the necessary.. some had to sell out, others just developed heart conditions
then, big Assad was gone, and the small Assad comes in. and people genuinely believed that the young western-educated doctor would make things right..
Young Assad played his cards right.. he opened the economy (a.k.a gave the country's economy to his cousin Rami Makhlouf to control).. gave the middle class the opportunity to get the money and wealth they were once denied from, and suddenly they were living comfortably again
also, he acknowledged the level of education of those old university graduates (most of those were Europe graduates, no Soviet Union envoys were sent back then).. this brought back some of the confidence they missed having in the 80's
of course, this blinded them (intentionally or otherwise) from the real political and economical agenda that made Syria a family-run hore-house. They accepted this blindfold in exchange for very expensive cars and fancy western food chains and coffee shops
it scares the living hell out of anyone from the middle class to even think of going back to the 80's and working hard to put food on the table again (and not being able to).. it scares them to death to think that the MB could come back, and potentially shake their life security.. and it scares them to death to go to jail again.. cos being jailed when you have nothing is not as bad as being jailed and being denied access to your favourite TV show
it is the security and life steadiness that they were happy to get back after two decades of humiliation.. they sold out in exchange for getting more things (flat screen TVs, cars, DVDs, etc...) and those who have things don't revolt.. you only revolt if you have nothing to lose
3- New-Nationalism... but that's another story that I will leave to part 2 of this post