Who speaks for Syria today? The regime of Bashar al-Assad has squandered in two short but bloody years what Syria's modern-day founder spent a lifetime building. Hafez al-Assad was determined to reclaim and protect the independence of Syrian decision making from the voracious claims of outside parties, for whom Syria was merely a way station on the path to grander aspirations, not a destination itself. The costs exacted in pursuit of this policy were high, far too high, but for decades most Syrians were prepared to suffer its grievous shortcomings in order to end the endemic instability that had ensnared Syria during its first postwar decades of independence. That bargain has now been shattered beyond repair, and a new Syria is waiting to be born out of the crucible of today's miserable war.
As the regime atrophied, the ghosts of the old Syria returned with a vengeance. The players are not unfamiliar. Whether national, transnational or sectarian, each seeks to seize a role in the country's future and in so doing undermine Syria's sovereign power to determine its own destiny. Some have Syria's best interests at heart, but many others are content to let Syria and its national identity burn, like Iraq. Where, amid all this, is the Syrian voice in today's battle for the nation's future, and how can it make itself heard above the din of the cannons? In short, what are the views of Syria's “silent majority”?