President Assad's defiant speech stuns Syrians who call for more protests
In a long-awaited speech to the nation following multiple deadly protests this past week, Syria's President Bashar al-Assad failed to announce concrete changes or meet any of the protesters' expectations.
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Those words disappointed many. Protesters have been calling for the repeal of the emergency law that permits arrest without warrant and gives sweeping powers to the security apparatus, and also for the repeal of the political parties law that limits the formation of opposition groups.Skip to next paragraph
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“The emergency law and political parties law have been under study for a year,” Assad said today. “There are more, unannounced reforms… but giving a time frame is a matter of logistics.”
But even Syrian authorities and state-run media had indicated in recent days that Assad would use his address to announce a raft of reform proposals, including the repeal of the state of emergency law in place since 1963 and a loosening of media restrictions. The leaks of promised reforms ahead of the speech created a heightened sense of expectation that has been dashed by the vague content of the speech.
“It would have been better if he had said nothing than to raise everyone’s hopes beforehand only to crush them again,” says one Syrian activist who requested anonymity.
Protesters' repeat demands
Radwan Ziadeh, a Washington-based Syrian human rights activist, said that Syrian opposition figures were in agreement on several key demands:
- a new democratic constitution
- ending the state of emergency
- release of all political prisoners
- a new political parties law
- reform of media laws
- a new elections law
- the formation of a truth and reconciliation committee to investigate past human rights abuses
- granting full political rights to Syrian Kurds
- restructuring the security and intelligence apparatus
Initial reactions carried by Twitter revealed considerable disappointment in Assad’s speech. “There’s nothing of substance here, nothing at all. Promising to do what he’s been saying he’ll do for 10 years already,” tweeted karimmb.
Anne-Marie Slaughter, a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University, tweeted “Short version Bashar speech: reforms maybe. Foreign conspiracies definitely. Satellite channels are bad.”
The Syria Revolution 2011 Facebook page called on protesters to take to the streets immediately following Assad’s speech. “Go down into the streets now and announce the uprising – control all the cities and declare civil disobedience from this moment onward,” it declared.
The question now is whether the opposition will redouble its efforts by escalating the unrest that has left dozens dead and shaken the country. A litmus test may occur in Friday, Islam’s holy day and usually a focal point for street demonstrations following noon prayers.
According to opposition activists, a new young leadership is beginning to emerge and coordinate after two weeks of demonstrations. If the uprising intensifies and spreads it will almost certainly lead to greater bloodshed.
Mr. Ziadeh says that the Syrian president “was very clear in saying that there is no neutrality – either you are with us or against the country.”
“We ask the international community to act now and not to wait for more victims from the Syrian side,” he adds.
(Editor's note: The original article has been updated with additional comment.)