Anti-government protests in Syria have grown bigger than ever over the past week—and have spread to the capital Damascus and the country’s largest city Aleppo.
Protesters have been emboldened by the presence of Arab League observers in the country. Mass demonstrations have taken place during a month-long strike wave involving thousands of workers.
But the Syrian regime is stoking up sectarianism in a desperate attempt to terrorise the movement for change that is sweeping the country.
Security forces loyal to dictator Bashar al-Assad continue to fire on unarmed protests, killing some 40 people every day. These killers are known as the Shabiha—Arabic for “ghosts”.
The regime has also unleashed sectarian death squads who murder Sunni Muslims and dump their bodies in Alawi neighbourhoods.
Assad hopes that any act of revenge by Sunnis would guarantee the loyalty of the minority Alawi community, from which the ruling clique, senior army officers and the Shabiha are drawn.
But the Syrian revolution has remained firm in its call for unity across the country’s many religious and ethnic groups.
In response to the death squads, many well-known Alawi figures have now openly declared support for the revolution.
The rising revolutionary wave is putting increasing pressure on the regime. The Syrian army has become fractured and fragile. There are growing numbers of defections and mutinies.
These rebels have formed the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Their primarily goal is to defend rebel neighbourhoods from security forces. The FSA launched some attacks on security forces before agreeing to a ceasefire.
But this force has no hope of defeating the Syrian army at this time. Any attempt to militarise the revolution will play into the hands of the regime.
The appearance of the Free Syrian Army and the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) mark a dangerous development.
They are a challenge to the grassroots revolutionary leadership inside the Local Coordinating Committees (LCC).
The LCC has recently regained the initiative by calling for a mass campaign of civil disobedience known as “dignity strikes”. These strikes have proved to be highly effective and have spread to all the major cities.
The committees emphasise that the success of the revolution has rested on spreading the mass protests, rather than on making alliances with the West.
Supporters of Assad’s regime point to his role in supporting Arab resistance organisations. They claim the revolution is part of a plot by the West and by pro-Western Arab regimes.
But this slander of the popular movement suffered a setback when Hamas, long considered an ally of Assad, abandoned its support for the regime.
The Palestinian resistance movement has opted to move its headquarters from Damascus to Cairo and Qatar.
Nevertheless it is clear that Western powers hope to gain from Assad’s demise. Fears of Western interference were given credibility when the Arab League joined in the international campaign of sanctions against Syria.
But the notion that ordinary Syrians struggling to change their country are the pawns of a “Western plot” is absurd.
In fact the Arab League is attempting to throw the regime a lifeline. Assad agreed to allow Arab League observers into the country to help endorse his programme of “reforms”.
But the plan backfired. The arrival of the observers has boosted the confidence of protesters, with huge demonstrations breaking out whenever the observers appeared.
And after a week the observers declared they had seen no evidence that the regime was easing its repression.
More troubling for the regime has been the shift in opposition to Aleppo and Damascus—major cities which until recently were considered “loyal”.
Assad’s security forces are now at war with the working class neighbourhoods of the capital. Meanwhile students in Aleppo are becoming increasingly bold in their public shows of defiance.
The revolution in Syria is part of the wave of change sweeping the region. Its future lies in the deepening of the revolution, not in deals with the West.
With Damascus and Aleppo slipping out of regime control, it looks like the writing is on the wall for Assad.