That means prolonged internal violence under a weakened and failing – but neither defeated nor failed – Assad regime.
Under this framework, a better question to ask about Syria’s future would be: How long can a regime function in this “failing state limbo,” and how long can it endure massive internal violence before imploding?
In Syria, the answer depends on these three main factors:
1. Strength and cohesion of the regime - President Assad can count on a relatively strong and united regime and, specifically, he can count on the loyalty of the Army and coercive apparatus. Unlike in Tunisia and Egypt, the Syrian military and security branches are closely identified with and connected to the regime. The potential downfall of Mr. Assad directly threatens their own status and power, giving them a strong incentive to continue backing him.
Similarly, the patronage networks created in the past decades by the minority Alawite rulers now serve as an additional incentive for security personnel and government officials alike to stand by the regime. In this sense, the regime is still strong and internally cohesive, despite some defections from the security and policy offices.
2. Strength and cohesion of the civil opposition to the regime - In contrast to the relative unity of the regime, the opposition forces – although having risen in power and status and being able to seriously threaten the regime – still lack strong internal cohesion.
Judging from the little and not always reliable information coming out of Syria, the opposition forces have so far failed to create a truly inter-sectarian coalition (the opposition is mostly Sunni, with other groups – like the Kurds – remaining at the margins, fearing retaliation from the regime). The internal division is not surprising, considering the regime targeted and suppressed political opponents for decades.
Benedetta Berti is a fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies, a lecturer at Tel Aviv University, and coauthor of the forthcoming book, “Hamas and Hezbollah: A Comparative Study” (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012).
The above article was published in csmonitor.com on February 2nd, 2012 (12:19 p.m.).