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The Syrian president speaks

March 30th, 2011 · 12 Comments · Politics

It was to be The King’s Speech. The words that could turn the situation around, or seal his fate.

After Buthaina Shaaban’s promising announcements last week, there was optimism, even among my favourite pessimists. Today, that all changed. Even supporters of Bashar Al-Assad are depressed.

We were expecting the revocation of the emergency law, at the least. A new political parties law, and the opening up of the media, at best. We got none of it.

Instead, we heard conspiracy theories, with the president blaming foreign satellite channels (Al Jazeera) and foreign forces (Israel?). And it sounded as ridiculous as when Ben Ali and Mubarak uttered those words.

But Bashar isn’t Ben Ali or Mubarak. He isn’t universally hated. Indeed, he is generally given the benefit of the doubt, even liked in many quarters. Which is why it was so disappointing that today’s speech will have only emboldened his opponents.

To his credit, Bashar did admit that mistakes had been made, and said not everyone who protested was a conspirator. And he did also say that not everything was the result of a foreign conspiracy.

Syria’s optimists are in mourning. Syria’s doom-mongers are partying.

The only good thing to come of this crisis is the amazing quality of writing on Syria. Here are some more essential reads (Josh Landis did get there before me on all three of these! Hat-tip). They were all written before the speech, and they give a sense of the hope being pinned on to today’s announcement:

Bashar Al-Assad’s Day of Reckoning, Simon Tidsall

“What we have in Syria is not yet a revolution. It is unrest in pursuit of legitimate reform,” a Syrian official said. “Assad is a popular president. If there was a vote tomorrow, I think he would win 60% or maybe more. We have the problem of economic corruption but not political corruption. Assad has a lot of credit in the bank. He needs to cash it in or else we are heading for the unknown … Whatever happens, Syria has changed. The wall of fear for expressing your views has collapsed.” …

Assad’s decision to sack his cabinet, even as pro-regime protesters filled the streets of many cities, may help answer these doubts – and help him achieve a clean break with Assad Sr’s era. But in his televised speech he will need to go further. His task is to convince the majority of Syrians who, if officials are to be believed, want reform rather than regime change, that the country can make a new beginning, that a new order is finally replacing the old.

The Syrian President I Know, David Lesch (author of the excellent biography of Bashar Al-Assad, The New Lion of Damascus)

I [saw Bashar] being consumed by an inert Syrian system. Slowly, he replaced those of questionable loyalty with allies in the military, security services and in the government. But he does not have absolute power. He has had to bargain, negotiate and manipulate pockets of resistance inside the government and the business community to bring about reforms, like allowing private banks and establishing a stock exchange, that would shift Syria’s socialist-based system to a more market-oriented economy.

Even with the escalating violence there, it’s important to remember that Syria is not Libya and President Assad is not Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. The crackdown on protesters doesn’t necessarily indicate that he is tightening his grip on power; it may be that the secret police, long given too much leeway, have been taking matters into their own hands.

What’s more, anti-Assad elements should be careful what they wish for. Syria is ethnically and religiously diverse and, with the precipitous removal of central authority, it could very well implode like Iraq. That is why the Obama administration wants him to stay in power even as it admonishes him to choose the path of reform.

Today, President Assad is expected to announce that the country’s almost 50-year emergency law, used to stifle opposition to the regime, is going to be lifted. But he needs to make other tough choices, including setting presidential term limits and dismantling the police state. He can change the course of Syria by giving up that with which he has become so comfortable.

The Syrian Time Bomb, Patrick Seale (author of the biography of Hafez Al-Assad, Asad)

By all accounts, the debate about how to deal with the growing protests has led to increasingly violent confrontations inside the regime between would-be reformers and hard-liners. The outcome of this internal contest remains uncertain.

Not any more…



12 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Phil // Mar 30, 2011 at 7.52 pm

    Tidsall’s piece is such twaddle. Economic corruption IS political corruption. Assad is just hoping his genteel veneer will not fall away.

  • 2 Ralph // Mar 30, 2011 at 9.58 pm

    Wow, suddenly I respect this blog and the author much more than a month or so ago. I did feel a change in the tone in the previous article, but now it is a real voltface and I’m pleasantly surprised.
    I feel your disappointment, now I know that you were a true believer in a regime that kept lying to you and misleading you. I feel bad for calling you names and making fun of your blog on several occasions, I’m very sorry, I thought you were a lost case, but I see now that logic is taking back control and I’m happy for you.
    PS: We are not doom-mongers, we might be dictators-mongers, but all we want is what is best for every human being on this earth, which is freedom and fundamental rights, and those are not what Bashar promised today.
    Good luck in your new path, it will be tough at first but at the end you’ll look back and see that you shifted to the right side of history, and may I add at the right time.

  • 3 Syria Almighty // Mar 31, 2011 at 12.30 am

    Ralph, you truly are the most ignorant of the ignorant, and the media loves people like you. The media is willing to sell you a knowingly-defective product, and you stroke their egos by calling it a top-notch piece of work. You are naive. Why not give the millions of Syrian who support the president a voice? Why not listen to them? Why do you listen to a handful of violent extremists and foreigners? To suit your agenda? Obviously. You truly are an idiot. All your country wants is freedom and fundamental rights for every human being?? HA!

  • 4 Mariam // Mar 31, 2011 at 1.48 am

    Is it bad that I still have hope? Even with the depressing speech. I really wish he didn’t depress everyone. He’s the ONLY leader I have a soft spot for.

  • 5 Norman // Mar 31, 2011 at 2.13 am

    It was too optimistic for us to think that emergency law and dissolving the security services and establishing a multi party system with one speech our understanding of the system in Syria is too primitive, President Assad does not govern by himself he governs through the Baath party that he is his secretary general , The Baath party members of Syria saw what happened in Iraq and will never do anything under the gun, no matter what president Assad said he was going to be looked on as either weak or arrogant and in the Mideast the strong only survives, he had to show strength especially that after they claimed that Syria under attack , how can we expect them to lift emergency law without anti terrorism law, things has to be discussed and an agreement on multiparty law, anti terror laws press law and others , I am glad that he did not look gasping for approval, he just have to move on these problems with deeds not words, and i expect that soon , Take a deep breath everybody,

  • 6 Ralph // Mar 31, 2011 at 4.45 am

    Hey douche almighty, you have till Friday morning to change your discourse, if you don’t you and your father are going to be hanged in a public place and your bodies left for the dogs to feed upon. You know I’m right, you can feel it coming. Your bashar is over, call me an idiot, call me naive, a product of the modern media, call me whatever you want, that will not change the fact that you and the likes of you are doomed to the trash bin of history.
    Now you want voices to be heard you lowlife! What about the tens of millions of Syrians whose voices are only heard in the cells of your father’s ministry of torture?
    Why didn’t the security forces shot those pro-regime demonstrators? Because they’re paid to demonstrate, because they’re not free people voicing their true sentiment, that’s why they weren’t shot.
    Today I watched the most beautiful image, one woman armed with her only voice, attacking the convoy of your master. I couldn’t believe my eyes, who would have ever imagined something like that happening 2 weeks ago in Syria? Now that they are no longer afraid, the Syrians are unstoppable and their call has been heard, and by many of you petits bourgeois who by reading your comments are clearly disappointed by the tyrant’s speech.
    Your days are numbered.
    Syria and its people will soon be free.

  • 7 Phil // Mar 31, 2011 at 5.26 am

    Mariam: No, it’s never a bad thing to have hope. It shows you have humanity and love your people. I wish everyone would understand, though, that this type of power can ONLY be sustained through emergency power laws, bans on political parties and meetings, and corruption. I wish you well in finding a peaceful and just answer for Syria. Your people deserve it.

  • 8 Syria Almighty // Mar 31, 2011 at 5.40 am

    Wow, what a moron. Tens of millions? There are only 22,000,000 people in Syria. You are telling me that Syria paid millions of people to support the government, AND somehow had tens of millions in prison to spare??? Somehow, “Moron” just isn’t that strong enough of a word to describe slime like you; an individual who has absolutely zero insight into the country, a person whose only window into Syria is his TV which plasters lies and propaganda 24/7 by his government. You want to know why pro-government demonstrators weren’t being shot at? THEY WEREN’T TORCHING BUILDINGS, ATTACKING HOSPITALS AND KILLING PEOPLE. Those demonstrations are the REAL peaceful protesters, not the mobsters who go on killing sprees and arson rampages. Those are not the voices of Syria. Go ahead and let the Muslim extremists go on their mini rampage of a few thousand people on Friday; it most likely wont be bigger then any other protests they have had, because they do not have popular support. So let them show up, and let them start shouting their holy incantations and death threats against Shi’ites, Alawites and Christians. If it is a military confrontation they want, then they will get one, and the Wahabi scum will finally be wiped from existence. Like a hypocrite, you are supporting a group of people that would like to destroy the US. One of their main complaints is why the government hasn’t attacked Israel. From the response we have seen from the criminals in Washington and Tel Aviv, it appears that they do not want the Syrian government to go. Seriously, a grain of sand possess at least 100 times the intelligence that you possess.

  • 9 Ralph // Mar 31, 2011 at 2.45 pm

    Tic Tac! Tic Tac!

  • 10 Syria Almighty // Apr 1, 2011 at 3.12 am

    You should shove one of those Tic Tacs up your ass because you’re stinking this place up with your rectally-produced lies and stupidity.

  • 11 Syria Update | The Bawdy House Provisions // Apr 26, 2011 at 3.02 pm

    […] as this Syrian blogger notes, Bashar isn’t Ben Ali or Mubarak. He isn’t universally hated. Indeed, he is generally […]

  • 12 isam atasi // May 18, 2011 at 10.50 am

    To the Syrian opposition, after all the crimes and massacres and mass graves are not you still want to dialogue with the regime’s repressive fascist criminal Qubgm Allah, how can you judge, this system is not a way to dialogue with him after the shedding of blood and the violation of privacy and symptoms of Syria and the killing of children and abuse them, after all This does not you still want a dialogue with the killer your children and your children and violator Ahramatkm, this system only solution it is Uprooting all was Syria and the Syrian people, the opposition demand to all the Syrian people in the towns and villages and the desert off the streets and squares millions to overthrow the regime to is irreversible and this would be a disgrace eternal does not disappear from the face of all the foreheads of the Syrians from the balance of sharing different Ataiwaivo I know Aziza and held high and proud and I hope that you remain so forever, and to go this criminal regime and Almstbdaly hell lymphatic humiliation and humiliation and horror over forty years guys Yes, the people of Syria, men are always men and since time immemorial

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