Kofi Annan’s negotiated ceasefire between government and opposition forces in Syria may have taken hold today. It’s reported that most violence stopped and both sides were holding themselves mostly in check, a few scattered incidents with no reported casualties aside. However, in contravention of the agreement, the Syrian regime has not made any effort to pull back its tanks and other forces. It also imposed some extra conditions in the eleventh hour, like written agreements from the opposition groups to surrender their weapons.

Writing for the Council of Foreign Relations, current Director of Brookings’ Saban Center for Middle East Policy  Tamara Cofman Wittes (former US State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs, before than, Brookings Fellow, before that Director of Programs at the Middle East Institute, where she once turned me down for a job but gave me some splendid advice while doing so) says that the “one thing that could make a real difference is if there were a more unified and concerted pressure from the international community.”

The case of Libya shows what a difference international intervention can bring, but outside support is not the only thing that could change the balance inside Syria. The biggest problem Syria’s opposition faces is not the disunity of the international community but the disunity of its own members. There are several opposition groups, the largest of which is the Syrian National Council (SNC), formed in January as an umbrella group along the lines of the National Transitional Council in Libya and headed by the Paris-based sociologist Burhan Ghalioun, but it is unclear how broad or study an umbrella the SNC truly is and there are other opposition groups besides. The SNC was partly coerced into blessing the main military opposition, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), but the two don’t work as one and there are many in the SNC (including Dr. Ghalioun) who dislike the sectarian, Sunni/Salafi character of the FSA (Josh Landis has argued that this can only increase). Unlike what transpired in Libya, the various opposition groups have not genuinely joined forces and the militias are not following any real chain of command. Unless they do, it would be difficult for them to have much chance of success.

Another thing that could shift the balance is for the business elite within Syria to abandon the regime. They have stuck with Assad and his crew thus far because they have benefited tremendously from their patronage; however, if they were to be convinced that the regime is not their only or best means to prosperity, and that switching sides would secure their futures, then the Assad regime would be in real trouble.

There are also the other minorites to consider. The Christians and Kurds (both Shia and Sunnia) have largely stayed out of the fighting, unsure of how things will go and not wanting to incur the regime’s wrath should the opposition fail. Bringing them into a more-unified opposition camp would change the calculations of success.

Several things could change the situation inside Syria and give the opposition a better chance of success, but the Annan plan – praised by all with the dubious qualification of being the only plan there is – is actually a pretty good deal for the regime and has little to offer the opposition. Still, it doesn’t answer all the regime’s concerns either. Were the regime to give ground to the opposition, it perhaps fatally undermines its own ability to survive.

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