Syrian citizens in Daraa began protesting in March 2011, calling for democratic reform, increased political freedom and later for the fall of Syrian President Bashar al Assad's regime. During the course of the unrest, the protests spread to cities across Syria, including areas in and around Daraa in the southwest, Damascus suburbs, the coastal city of Banias, the Sunni stronghold cities of Homs and Hama in the interior, Deir el-Zour in the east and the Kurdish city of Qamishli in the northeast. Rebels and Syrian army defectors formed the Free Syrian Army, which has claimed responsibility for a variety of attacks on al Assad forces and security infrastructure. Despite the opposition protests and guerrilla-style attacks, the minority Alawite-Baathist regime remains in power. The Syrian regime benefits from the fact that its neighbors and Western powers would rather see the al Assad regime remain than deal with sectarian unrest spreading beyond Syria's borders. The Syrian regime rests on four key pillars — the al Assad clan's hold on power, Alawite unity, Alawite control of the military-intelligence apparatus and the Baath Party's monopoly on the political system. With the low appetite for foreign military intervention, all four pillars remain in place, and the al Assad clan and the wider Alawite population realize what is at stake should their community fracture and provide an opening for the majority Sunni population to claim power. If any of these pillars fall or if foreign militaries intervene, then the al Assad regime will face a much more serious crisis.