Until recently, life was normal in the busy northern city of Aleppo, popularly referred to as the "industrial capital" of Syria. The markets were still open, banks were still operating, merchants were still trading, families were dining at restaurants and young couples were getting married. Then, the snowballing revolt reached Aleppo, Syria's largest city, signalling a major challenge for Syrian rebels struggling to topple 49 years of Baath rule and a major blow for the regime, which until then, had considered Aleppo as one of its fortified strongholds.
Aleppo is no joke, with thousands of years of history looking over its shoulder. The city has legitimate political and economic needs that need to be addressed and has clearly parted ways, rather completely, with the Syrian regime. After having produced two presidents for Syria and a handful of historic prime ministers, it was reduced to a nonentity under the Baath party state and is keen on restoring its former status as a prime decision-maker in Syrian affairs, matched only by Damascus. Syrian state media is referring to the current battle for Aleppo, between the state-run Syrian Army and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) as the "Mother of all battles." Syrian authorities are promising that this will be the "final battle" after which, they will declare ultimate victory over what they claim is an "international conspiracy" being hatched against Syria. Syrian rebels, however, are promising "liberation" of Aleppo, within 2-3 weeks. Aleppo, after all, is extremely vital, both for the Syrian regime and the Syrian revolt. Throughout last week, regime troops were pouring into Aleppo for what seemingly was going to be a tough and long battle -- there were fully-equipped soldiers aided by tanks and helicopters.
The FSA is now focused on taking Aleppo, confident that if they succeed, other cities and towns will fall like the domino. Ultimately, they feel this will reduce the regime's authority to Damascus and the two port cities of Latakia and Tartous. A clear case from history surfaces here, being that of Adib Al Shishakli, who faced a popular revolt, backed by a military uprising, in late 1953. At first, he tried to suppress it by force, but slowly, cities began slipping away, one after another. When Aleppo fell, the regime quickly disintegrated from within, with the Druze Mountain, Homs and Latakia quickly following suite, shrinking Shishakli's power base to Hama and capital Damascus. Whether that will happen again or not is yet to be seen in the weeks ahead, as all eyes are trained on Aleppo for the rest of Ramadan.