At the same time, however, the scale of the current rebellion suggests that it won’t be as easily contained by the brutality unleashed in Hama, in 1982, to suppress an insurrection by the Muslim Brotherhood. The economic and social despair of too many Syrians has stripped them of their fear; for a traditionally authoritarian regime the past month has seen previously unthinkable public defiance — and it’s not showing any sign of ending.

As a result, Landis predicts, the opposition will quickly turn to arms, as it did in Libya. The result, at least in the short term, may prove quite different. An armed rebellion is likely to eventually be led by the most intractable and battle-hardened opponents of the regime, which would be the Islamists. And at least in the short term, a turn to a more violent confrontation would likely reinforce the reluctance of the urban elites to back the rebellion. In the long term, he argues, their calculations will be changed by the likely economic collapse, which will eventually bring down the regime. But it could be a protracted and bloody demise.