According to Syria expert Joshua Landis, “Syrians have abandoned the regime in spirit, even if they have yet to defect in body”.
“Sunni Syrians continue to go to work and turn up in their offices in the morning, but they hate the Assad regime in their hearts. Assad’s army is being taken over by shabiha and security forces manned by Alawites. The massacres leave no doubt about that”.
Even in the capital, Damascus, where Assad’s control is strongest, shopkeepers have staged a week-long strike to protest against the massacre, by the army and pro-Assad Alawite sectarian militias, of more than 100 people in the village of Houla on 25 March.
The long rebellion is escalating into a sporadic civil war.
Well over 10,000 have died, and aid agencies say that at least 1.5 million people displaced people in Syria — besides those who have fled over the border to Turkey — need help.
Some people on the left refuse solidarity to the Syrian rebellion, citing two arguments. They say that the rebellion is a catspaw of the USA and allied powers which want to see Assad ousted, or at least that the most important thing is to campaign against big-power intervention, and that solidarity for the rebels could only confuse that primary message.
They also say that the rebels are sectarians, as guilty of atrocities as the regime or more so.
It is true that there are increasing reports of Sunni-sectarian militias in the rebellion. Some element of that is probably inevitable, given the lack of a widely-recognised leadership for the rebellion, and the Assad regime’s long-time manipulation of religious minorities (Alawite Muslims, Christians) to bolster itself.
It cannot be excluded that the Sunni-sectarian elements will eventually dominate. The Financial Times reports that “some ultraconservative Islamist Salafi sheikhs in Saudi Arabia suspected of running their own network of supplies to fighters”.
But an overview of the whole history of the rebellion leaves no doubt that its original driving force was revulsion against Assad’s tyranny, stimulated by the examples of Egypt and Tunisia, and aiming for measures of democracy and freedom. Solidarity from the left and the international labour movement to the rebellion, and to its democratic, secular, and working-class strands, is the best antidote to the danger of Islamist or Sunni-sectarian diversion.
According to most reports, the Free Syria Army, with its base in the border areas in Turkey where many Syrians have fled, is still largely secular in orientation. The rebels’ main military supplier is... the Syrian army, with many Assad-regime officials happy to coin profits from supplying arms to the rebels at high prices.
Although only a friend of the dictatorship could object to measures against the Assad family’s international assets, on many accounts the current sanctions hurt the Syrian poor more than they hurt the regime, which still has no trouble getting arms.
Big powers rule out military intervention less firmly than they used to, but the dominant bourgeois opinion is that intervention would cause them more trouble than benefit. If there is intervention, its character will have to be agreed and coordinated with the Turkish government, which clearly wants the Assad regime to go, but keeps quiet about the plans it must have to influence the opposition and shape a future regime.
To refuse to support military intervention is one thing: to identify the possibility US intervention as the main danger, while Assad is killing thousands, is to betray the Syrian people.