How Syria and other countries use emergency rule to quash dissent

The concept of emergency rule has been at the forefront of much of the Mideast unrest. Some countries have been in a “state of emergency” for decades, long after their citizens felt any threat still existed. Others have only recently implemented the emergency laws, in an effort to quell uprisings turned too large and violent for the governments to rein in. Although meant to help a country in times of danger, emergency law has sometimes been turned into a political tool.


Syrian President Bashar al-Assad waves prior to his address to parliament in Damascus on March 30. President Assad defied expectations on Wednesday that he would lift Syria's decade-old state of emergency after nearly two weeks of protests that have presented the gravest challenge to his 11-year rule.

Lifting the country’s state of emergency, in place since 1963, has been a key bargaining chip in the ongoing protests in Syria that have focused on demands for reform rather than the end of President Bashar al-Assad’s rule. The emergency law permits arrests without a warrant, gives almost unlimited power to the security apparatus, and allows for the suppression of opposition groups.

In an effort to placate the protesters, Mr. Assad has hinted more than once at lifting the law, but has yet to do so. On March 30, he announced the creation of a committee to consider the idea of lifting the law and said a decision would be made by April 25.

Assad’s father, Hafez al-Assad, declared the state of emergency. The two have justified its continuation for more than four decades on the grounds that Syria is perpetually in a state of war with Israel and has to battle the constant threat of terrorism within the country.

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