In a grainy video posted recently on Youtube, a group of Syrian army officers announced their defection to the “popular revolution”.
The officers, showing their ID cards, declared that they would no longer obey orders to crack down on the revolt sweeping the country.
Ominously for the Baathist government of Bashar Assad, the officers said that this “cruel and criminal regime must fall”.
The defections point to a deepening of the revolution when many feared it was running out of steam—and in danger of being exploited by Western powers and their allies.
Unlike in Egypt and Tunisia, the Syrian regime is considered to be the last stronghold of Arab nationalist opposition to imperialism and Israel.
And, as a “secular regime”, it is seen as a bulwark against the sectarian conflicts in neighbouring Lebanon and Iraq.
But this claim is now wearing thin, with mounting anger at the continued violent suppression of a popular movement.
This repression is now reaching a bloody climax with an
all-out military assault on the city of Hama in what has become known as the “Ramadan Massacre”.
Over 100 people were killed on Sunday as neighbourhoods attempted to stop rampaging security forces.
Hama, which was at the centre of a huge rebellion in 1982, had escaped government control and become proof that the revolution would not descend into sectarian conflict.
Huge demonstrations of solidarity have broken out across Syria.
The regime no longer trusts the army and relies on sectarian gangs and elite units to impose order. By playing the sectarian card the regime is attempting to spread fear that Syria will descend into a civil war.
Regime supporters denounce the movement as the work of Al Qaida backed Salafis and the Muslim Brotherhood.
They say the movement is limited to Sunni Muslim areas (the largest religious group) and that Sunnis want to sideline other groups.
But the movement has drawn in all religious groups from the first days. Funerals include the call of the mosques and the toll of church bells.
The mass demonstrations began in the southern city of Deraa five months ago, in protest at the arrest of school children who wrote graffiti in support of the Egyptian revolution.
They quickly spread to small towns and villages in rural areas.
The waves of repression, kidnappings and arrests by security forces fanned the flames of the revolt, eventually spreading to Hama and other major cities.
President Assad offered a series of reforms while unleashing his security forces. His pledges temporarily slowed the spread of the protests, especially to the capital Damascus and the major industrial city of Aleppo.
Threats of civil war, and the perceived ill-defined aim of the demonstrators, meant that the rebellion has not spread to the factories and key industrial areas.
Assad was able to play on fears that a new government would introduce neoliberal policies and undermine the vast state sector.
This uncertainty means that unlike in Egypt and Tunisia, Syria’s vast working class has not abandoned the regime. There have been city-wide merchant strikes and protests in working class neighbourhoods.
But up until now there have been no reported strikes.
This is beginning to change. Recent mass arrests swept up people not involved in the protest movement.
Then came news of the first strikes. It began when medical staff at an Aleppo hospital walked out to demand the release of a colleague who was wrongly arrested.
The strike at the Al-Razi hospital quickly won the promise that all detainees would be released. Hospital workers threatened an indefinite strike if the regime backtracked on the deal.
This strike spread to a neighbouring medical centre, then lawyers and engineers walked out over similar demands. Teachers in the eastern region of Hasaka also struck.
These strikes are the first real signs of the deepening of the movement. They change the nature of the demonstrations, as workers bring their own demands to the movement.
This revolution is part of the waves of revolts in the Middle East, but the stakes are very high. How the revolution develops depends on the movement deepening, and rejecting all attempts by Western powers to exploit it.
The threat of another Libya hangs over Syria, and Assad’s forces threaten further repression.
But far from delivering a victory for imperialism, this revolution is now taking its place alongside Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain and the growing waves of revolt in the Arab world.