In tandem with rebel advances in Syria, there are significant and ongoing attempts to unify the opposition's political and military ranks in order to maintain and increase the momentum against Bashar Assad's regime and army.
On the political front, the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces - commonly known as the Syrian National Coalition - was formed last month. It includes opposition factions within Syria and abroad, and has garnered varying degrees of recognition and support from Arab states (excluding Algeria, Iraq and Lebanon), as well as Britain, France,
Turkey and the U.S., with other countries likely to follow.
On the military front, rebel leaders have just agreed to operate under a united command. On 7 December, some 500 delegates elected the 30-person Supreme Military Council and a chief of staff. A united command will bolster the opposition's fighting capability and effectiveness, as well as encourage and streamline arms deliveries against a better equipped and supplied enemy.
A meeting is planned between the unified military and political leaderships. These are crucial steps for the revolution, not just in terms of toppling Assad, but also to ensure security and stability once his regime falls. In the near term, military unification is arguably more important, because while politicians talk, the conflict is being directed and shaped by fighters on the ground. Political unity will be vital in filling the void following a military victory.
With this in mind, SNC head Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib called on 8 December for opposition talks to form a transitional government, saying efforts were underway to form a judiciary to be put in place immediately after the Assad regime's ouster in order to avoid chaos. He added that the coalition does not seek to hold on to power, and would dissolve after Syria holds free elections, in a similar scenario to that of Libya's National Transitional Coalition.
These tangible preparations for a post-Assad Syria serve four important purposes. They will embolden an opposition that until recently looked increasingly and hopelessly divided. They will help allay the fears of some, if not many, of those who do not support Assad but fear what might become of Syria when he is toppled. They will encourage domestic support, as well as foreign diplomatic and material aid.
Last but certainly not least, they will deal a further blow to the morale of the regime, from which soldiers and officials continue to defect (most recently Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi, the most senior Christian defector so far), and whose army "appears to be making an unsteady retreat" in the face of "significant gains" by rebels, according to former Guardian Middle East editor Brian Whitaker, who runs the website Al-Bab.com
"The trend now is clearly in the rebels' direction," Whitaker added. The regime "is now well beyond any point from which it can seriously hope to recover. And, as the rebels capture more and more of its own weapons, its decline is likely to quicken." All the more reason for the opposition to prepare adequately for the aftermath.
The SNC and the newly united military command are attempting to be broadly inclusive, but are not totally so. The Kurdish Democratic Union Party, which controls territory in northern Syria, has rejected the coalition.
However, the SNC is trying to woo Kurds - the largest ethnic minority in the country, comprising almost 10% of the population - by keeping vacant a third vice-presidential post for a Kurdish figure to be elected. The united rebel forces also need to reach out to Kurdish fighters, whose factions have also recently joined ranks, and have faced off against the regime as well as rebels.
Both the SNC and the united military command have excluded extremist groups. This is by no means a bad thing. They can only be so inclusive given the stubbornly rejectionist nature and absolutist outlooks of these jihadist groups, who are intent on imposing the draconian will of a tiny minority over the vast majority.
As these extremists have scant support among Syrians, having them co-opted would be harmful to these new coalitions that are trying to maximise domestic support, because it would render completely unworkable their vision of a cohesive, progressive, democratic and free country.
Sidelining such groups - many of whose members, if not most, are foreigners - should serve as a warning to them that there is no place for extremism of any sort in a new Syria, and that trying to enforce their agendas would be futile - even with their military prowess - against a unified people, polity and army.
Those who worry about Al Qaeda and its ilk dominating the country should bear in mind that wherever they have taken hold (Algeria, Iraq, Somalia, Mali, Yemen, to name but a few countries), they are quickly rejected by the local population because of their repressive, medieval rule. For all the Islamist talk of Western disregard for human rights, they are no better at winning hearts and minds.
With such a diverse society, there would be little support in Syria for such extremism, whether religious, sectarian or ethnic. Yes, these coalitions are untried and untested, but they are a necessary step in the right direction, not just for the opposition, but for the country as a whole. The end of the regime is a matter of when, not if, and all Syrians have a stake in what happens afterwards.
Sharif Nashashibi is a London-based writer and Arab commentator. @sharifnash.