End of emergency rule in Syria unlikely to quell protests or stop arrests
The Syrian cabinet on Tuesday passed legislation lifting nearly five decades of emergency rule. The concession may embolden protesters to demand greater reforms.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was today expected to officially lift the emergency law that has allowed arbitrary arrest, banned demonstrations, restricted the media, and allowed eavesdropping for nearly five decades in the repressive Arab state.Skip to next paragraph
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But this milestone is unlikely to change reality on the ground, as Syria's cabinet on Tuesday also passed new legislation requiring demonstration permits from the Interior Ministry. And even without the emergency law the government has the legal authority to quash protests and arrest demonstrators, says Rime Allaf, a Syrian political analyst at London’s Chatham House.
"It will not change reality," she says in a phone interview from Vienna. "Plenty of laws in Syria allow the government to arrest citizens and accuse them of many different crimes."
President Assad has repeatedly made end-of-week concessions in an attempt to quell the violent post-prayer protests on Fridays. "It will not stop protests," says Ms. Allaf. "I used to be more careful with my predictions. Right now, I can say more strongly and confidently, I don’t think it will prevent anything. People are infuriated by the killings that the regime has done over the past few days. The mood is very defiant."
The government still rules with impunity, agrees Bilal Saab, a Middle East expert from the University of Maryland at College Park. If anything, he adds, lifting the emergency law will embolden protesters on Friday.
"If there is one trajectory of this dissent movement, it is they are no longer afraid," he says. "I think the window of reconciliation is rapidly shrinking, if it ever existed. I do not think this will stop the dissent movement. Quite frankly, I think it will most likely lead to greater societal unrest."
Hours after the legislation passed Tuesday, police arrested popular opposition figure Mahmoud Issa in Homs, where some 5,000 people protested on Monday until security forces opened fire on the crowd. At least 200 people have died since unrest began in mid-March, according to activists.
President Assad was slated to issue a decree today approving the draft laws, according to Al Watan newspaper. His cabinet has also asked officials to draft laws that would permit opposition parties and liberalize media.
Leading opposition figure Haitham Maleh told Reuters "this [announcement] is all just talk. The protests won't stop until all the demands are met or the regime is gone." US State Department spokesman Mark Toner agreed "this new legislation may prove as restrictive as the emergency law it replaced."