Nearly a year into its uprising, Syria's descent into civil war seems unstoppable. The regime of Bashar al-Assad is pursuing a relentless security campaign that is unlikely to deliver the outright victory that he seeks. As popular mobilisation continues unabated, rebel groups are mounting self-defence operations and challenging the security forces, though their effort has not been coordinated or powerful enough to weaken the regime decisively. Meanwhile, the stalling of international diplomacy is causing some countries to consider more direct involvement – but there remains widespread reluctance to intervene.
The balance remains in the government's favour. Key pillars of Assad's power are still standing. The threat to his regime's existence remains manageable in the short term, especially as foreign allies have demonstrated their willingness to extend political and material support. However, the erosion of its credibility, authority, resources and territorial hold is unlikely to be decisively reversed. To mobilise his own community and scare other minorities into supporting him, Assad has had to fracture the Syrian polity in irremediable ways: the state purposely cultivates tensions and rifts within society, and its security services often operate as occupation forces. Syrians of all political persuasions are finding ways of circumventing the state apparatus in order to cope, organise and survive.