As the West discusses a “military option” in Syria, Simon Assaf examines how developments in the revolutionary movement are deepening the revolt
The massacre in Houla has re-ignited calls for outside military intervention in Syria. Britain’s foreign secretary William Hague warned the “military option” is on the table. His warning comes alongside the expulsion of Syria diplomats from most western capitals following the massacre by Syrian regime militia in the village of Houla.
Hague's statement is a reminder that foreign intervention remains a danger to both Syria and its revolution. But western attempts to pass a new “tough” UN resolution were blocked by Russia and China, which remain allies of the Syrian regime.
The most significant developments are taking place inside the revolution itself. The popular calls for outside intervention, beyond that of humanitarian aid, have faded. This week the resistance declared the UN peace plan a failure, while attempts to impose a “Yemeni solution” — that would allow Bashar Assad a dignified exit but leave in place his regime — have been widely rejected by the revolution leadership.
The weakening of support for intervention inside the revolution has accelerated the crisis in the western backed Syrian National Council. The SNC's exile leadership built its strategy on the west intervening as it did in Libya. But this failure, and its lack of any real influence on the ground, has forced Burhan Ghalioun, the head of the council, to resign.
The SNC, along with the 'formal' military command of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in Turkey, have been sidestepped by the development of revolutionary forces, both armed and civilian.
The massacre in Houla was a major turning point. A call for protest strikes by the revolutionary leadership inside the LCCs has tapped into growing mood of disgust with the regime among sections of the population that have, until now, remained passive.
The strikes began in the capital Damascus and spread quickly to other parts of the country, including the major industrial and commercial centre of Aleppo.
It is in this city that has seen the most significant development over the past week. On Friday tens of thousands poured out of Aleppo neighbourhoods and attempted to march on the city centre. These are the largest demonstration to date.
The scale of these protests, along with the growing strike movements, marks a deepening of the revolution among the mass of ordinary people.
Both Damascus and Aleppo are slipping further out the control of the regime. The street movements and city-wide general strikes have developed their own momentum, while attempts by pro-regime Shabiha militia to break the strikes have failed.
This movement is running parallel to a growing, and more effective insurgency. On Monday a new military formation, the Syrian Revolutionaries Front (SRF), was launched. The Front, which claims to control some 12,000 armed men, is outside the formal structures of the FSA.
Bashar Assad's military gamble is accelerating the crisis inside the regime, although it remains difficult to judge how deep this internal crisis is. There are now significant defections from the military, with more sophisticated weapons and tactics.
Despite these advances, fears of a sectarian civil war remain strong. However comparisons to the civil wars in Lebanon and Iraq are misplaced. Unlike its neighbours, Syria’s Sunni Muslims comprise some 75 percent of the population. If this was a sectarian uprising it would have been over by now.
The revolution has not targeted minorities, such as the Christians, Druze and Kurds. Significant funds for the Shabiha militia come from wealthy Sunni families with close ties to the regime.
The danger for the revolution is reaction to the Alawi Muslim minority, who are widely seen as loyal to the regime. The Houla massacre was said to have been carried out by Alawi gangs from neighbouring villages.
But the massacre has also sharpened the divisions inside the community, with growing numbers of Alawi soldiers defecting to the revolution, and rising support for the uprising in the Alawi heartlands of western Syria.
Modern Syria emerged out of a reaction to attempts by western powers during the colonial era to ferment sectarianism. Syrian nationalism remains a strong and potent force with long and historic traditions, and the slogans from the beginning of the revolution have been of unity. Sectarianism remains a danger, but it has not derailed the revolution.