The best thing I’ve read on Syria in a long while is this New York Times opinion piece, written by Alia Malek. It provides an excellent survey of the lead-up to the current revolt and poignant anecdotes revealing how can everyday life differ from what one reads in the headlines. There is also an amusing discussion about varieties of beards (Hezbollah, Salafi, cosmetic, or now loyalist), amusing in part based on how important the beard identification can be.
More importantly, Malek makes a crucial distinction between what started the Syrian Civil War and what sustains it. To paraphrase her piece, what started the peaceful demonstrations was complaints about financial corruption ruining the economy and impoverishing the vast majority of Syrians. She makes that point that most beneficiaries of the corruption were urban Sunnis, while most ‘Alawis (the sect to which Bashar al-Assad himself belongs) were also impoverished, unless they were close to the President himself. What sustains the revolt now is sectarianism, which has been used both by those who would lead the rebels and by the government to claim legitimacy. Although Malek does not bluntly spell out the import of the distinction she draws, it holds out the hope that non-sectarian help (help provided across sectarian lines and contingent upon eschewing sectarian rhetoric) could de-sectarianize the movement. The success of such interventions, of course, would depend heavily on who was receiving the aid, and who else they hoped to receive aid from.
There is nothing I could say to improve this thought-provoking and excellently written piece, so I will just refer you to her words.