Despite all the doom and gloom by analysts, many of them my friends like Hussein Ibish, David Igantius and Nicholas Blanford, who argue that civil war in Syria looks inevitable, I disagree. I rather believe that until this minute, there are no signs that Syria is heading to war. On the contrary, all indicators show that the main players in Syria are trying to keep war at bay, each party for its own reasons.
President Bashar Assad, who belongs to the minority Alawite group that forms 10 percent of Syria's 22 million people, has not abandoned the idea of his control of Syria, all of Syria. Civil war means that Assad's undisputed control will be checked by smaller militias.
Even though Assad's propaganda outlets, such as state-run Syria TV and his cousin-owned Dunya TV, have so far peddled the idea that the regime has been fighting Sunni extremist groups, they have done so only to justify Assad's usage of excessive brutality to quell peaceful protesters.
Assad wants demonstrators out of the streets. He realizes that the usage of mass scale killings will bring an even bigger international uproar against his actions. Therefore, with a few exceptions, the death toll in Syria has teetered on the verge of 15 daily. Despite the unmatched power of Assad's mechanized army, the Syrian president realizes that he cannot kill the revolution against his rule. He plans to slowly bruise it until it drops dead.
Syria's revolutionaries, for their part, realize that no matter how many Sunni officers and soldiers defect from army units, and even if these receive funds and arms from foreign powers, it will take a long time for them to train and form a militia that can stand on par with Assad's forces. The Libyan experience shows that a ragtag army is as good as foreign fighter jets pounding enemy targets, a lesson not lost on the Syrians.
Weakness of the revolutionaries has forced them to stick with their peaceful protests and there is no reason to believe that they will change course and abandon a tactic that has shaken Assad and his regime in favor of a military one that gives Assad the advantage.
But since six months have passed and international pressure has not caused any dent in Assad's brutal behavior, many revolutionaries -- and analysts -- now believe that it is time for armed action against Assad. Analysts argue that it is at this point that the Sunni extremist Salafi or Salafi-Jihadist elements will jump on board and turn the confrontation into a bloody civil war with suicide bombings hitting mosques and churches.
Civil war experience in neighboring countries such as Lebanon (1975-1990) and Iraq (2006-2008), however, suggest that civil war in Syria is least probable. For such a conflict to break out, central authority has to break down first. That is not the case with Assad yet.
Yet Assad cannot stand resilient forever. If the protests continue for a few more months, the economy might crumble and hyperinflation might hit the Syrian pound, which means that Assad will not be able pay his army and his growing band of thugs.
If Assad's power starts failing him in terrorizing big cities, occupying their squares and placing snipers on their high rises, towns might start slipping out of his control. Revolutionaries will start organizing in these territories to escalate their protest movement, in which case Assad and his lieutenants might fall back to the mountainous land of their ancestors in the North West. Assad might be able to hold his grounds in the Alawite Mountain for a while, but -- isolated and outnumbered -- his battle will certainly be a losing one, which might in turn invite the elderly Alawites to counsel him to give up and go into exile before dooming the community to an endless revenge cycle with Syria's other groups.
But what happens if Assad crumbles, yet decides to fight to the end? He will most probably go on the run, like Iraq's Saddam Hussein and Libya's Moammar Gaddafi before him. He will send out recordings instigating his loyalists to continue the fight.
Post-Assad Alawite behavior will then decide whether Syria goes to civil war or not. Better armed and funded, the Alawites might desperately fight to retain power. But they might also decide that, being outnumbered at 10 to 1, they better jockey politically for a better share in post-Assad Syria, just like Sunnis ended up doing in post-Saddam Iraq.
Civil wars don't just happen. In the more diversified Lebanon, civil war only broke out in 1975 when Yasser Arafat's Palestinian militias relocated from Jordan in 1970 and succeeded in undermining central authority. Syria then sent in its army and contributed to a stalemate and to rounds of fighting for another 15 years.
In Iraq, after Saddam's feared central authority collapsed in March 2003, it was an Al-Qaeda franchise -- joining forces with now outcast former Sunni regime elements -- that waged war first on American troops, then on Shiite Iraqis, and only managed to provoke the latter into war three years later. Intelligence networks of neighboring countries helped train, fund and plan Iraq's civil war, until America hit with force, wiping out the singled out Al-Qaeda and leaving Iraqis to live in a political stalemate and civil peace.
In Syria, there are no symptoms of civil war, only state brutality against peaceful protesters. Suggesting otherwise only helps justify such brutality and doubt the intentions of the protesters, even before these get a day in the sun without fear from Assad's repression.
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