Thursday, March 31, 2011

No Compromise For Syria's Assad

While the world has been largely watching Libya, Syria has become the latest government to face protests as part of the so-called Arab Spring. But despite sacking his government, President Assad this week signalled he wouldn't be offering much in the way of compromises to his internal opponents, as he insisted long-standing emergency laws would remain in place.

The resignation of the entire government wasn't nearly as big a concession as it sounds. Control of Ba'athist Syria has always been concentrated in the hands of the President and a few cronies, including those who run the country's security apparatus. It was ever thus. The last serious attempt at an uprising, 29 years ago, ended in an extraordinary massacre ordered by the current President Assad's father.

When Assad Junior came to power in 2000, there was some hope he might prove to be a reforming leader. Western-educated and with a British-born wife, he was considered a somewhat reluctant President, who only got his chance after his elder brother Basil died in a mysterious car crash.

But those hopes have been gradually extinguished during his decade in office. He might not be about to massacre opponents as his father did, but President Assad is clearly determined to retain as much personal power as he's always had. If his regime ultimately falls as part of the Arab Spring, and that prospect seems an awfully long way off despite the demonstrations, it'll be quite a demonstration of how the region is changing.

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