“Assad, or we burn the country,” Syrian government loyalists chanted in 2011. It was a statement of intent that proved to be prophetic.

In early 2011, the Arab Spring tore through Tunisia, then Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Oman, Yemen, and Jordan. Syria stood at the precipice as people rose up against the dictatorship of President Bashar al-Assad, who had ruled since 2000.

Assad had assumed power from his father who had himself taken power in a military coup and then ruthlessly cracked down on the opposition. Hopes that Assad junior would prove be a reformist soon dissipated as his regime too ruled with an iron fist: a security state that used terror and torture to keep control.

The regime responded to peaceful protests with force, gunning marchers down in the streets of cities like Daraa and Hama. The opposition – bolstered by mass defections from the army – turned to force. But the opposition was always fragmented, riven by internal dissent and a sharp divide between secularists, moderate Islamists, extremists, and the Kurds.