There is a known story about a man that finds a magic lamp, from which a genie comes out ready to grant him a single wish. The man asks for a bridge from San Francisco to Hawaii. The genie tries to reason with him regarding the structural problems, maintenance, etc. The man relents and then asks for peace in the Middle East, to which the genie responds: "Let's review your first wish. How many lanes do you need in it?"
Ajami is not the genie, but he tells this story a lot better and in great detail.
Nobody can doubt Ajami's impeccable credentials when reading this still evolving conflict. But to cut to the chase, I'll quote a very candid admission in the afterword, where he states: "To state the obvious, I did not hide my sympathies in this book." And to state the obvious, his sympathies don't rest with the Assad dynasty or the Alawites, for that matter.
The book is easy to read and engaging, although he sometimes dwells on too many details. Statements made by Assad and others, banners seen on demonstrations, etc.
There is a very interesting analysis on the fragmentation of Syria, which curiously had a lot to do with geography: People from the mountains as opposed to urbanites. Obviously, religion and sub-religion is as usual the eternal ingredient of dispute.
Ajami explains how the Alawites came to power. Syrians saw the military as a vocation of the uneducated, the people of the mountain, a title Alawites didn't mind bearing. This position eventually became the decisive factor to power. Of course, the political skills and machinations of Hafez Assad (Bashar's father) are and have always been a material of admiration and a decisive factor as well that brought the Alawites to power for over 40 years.
Perhaps the most disturbing element in Ajami's analysis is that this conflict won't be solved without a lot more spilled blood. And consider that his last prognosis was made in April 2012, well before the rebellion metastasized and became uglier with time. Ajami clearly proved to have semi-prophetic powers.
Alawites have had the best positions in government and government-controlled industries for decades. This culture of entitlement has had the seeds of its own destruction. But the alternatives to relenting power to Sunnis are not clear, nor pretty. Alawites, representing 10% of the population, won't go back to the mountains, and the resentment fermented through decades won't fade away. This perhaps explains the tenacity with which the regime is holding to power. They simply don't have another place to go.
The other minorities see with justified apprehension the course of this rebellion. Despite all evil that came with despotism, minorities have had some protection. Now this protection is anything but guaranteed.
Regarding the rebels themselves, Ajami describes some interviews he had with some charismatic leaders living in exile. I wish Ajami analyzed and/or spent more time describing the nature of the rebellion, its leaders, who among those groups is likely to succeed the Alawites and what he thinks a new government will look like.
Most if not all Muslim rebellions have ended very bad. I wish he had added a chapter, despite his stated loyalty, regarding the outlook once Assad leaves, but I guess this is too much to ask, even of a prophet.