Syrian President Bashar Assad promised on Saturday to lift a nearly five-decade
old emergency law by next week, but ignored popular demands to curb the security
apparatus and dismantle his regime’s authoritarian system.
“Next week is
the maximum [time] limit for completion of these laws regarding the lifting of
the state of emergency,” Assad said in a speech to a new cabinet he named last
week, broadcast by Syrian state television.
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“When the lifting of the
emergency law package is issued, it should be firmly enforced. The Syrian people
are civilized. They love order and they do not accept chaos and mob rule,” he
said. “We will not be lenient toward sabotage.”
Some 200 Druse residents
of the Golan Heights demonstrated on Saturday in solidarity with their
coreligionists in Syria.
Recent weeks have seen two large rallies on the
Golan in favor of the Assad regime, but Saturday’s was the first opposition
rally since the Syrian uprising began last month. It too came following a pro-
Assad rally in the Golan village of Bukata, where demonstrators sang the Syrian
national anthem and observed a moment of silence for the
Saturday’s anti-government rally was held in the main square of
Majdal Shams, the largest of the four Druse villages on the
“Change now seems inevitable. It’s true Assad spoke about change,
but that was only after slaughtering our people. It’s true not a lot of people
turned out, but there are those at home who support us as well,” one protester
told the Ynet website.
“We on the Golan are united around the fact that
we’re an indivisible part of Syria, but we’re divided over what kind of
government should lead the country. There’s no doubt that change needs to come,
and we saw that in Tunisia, Egypt and now in Libya.”
The growing tension
between pro- and anti-Assad camps on the Golan has reportedly already caused one
casualty – the cancelation of the annual parade marking Syria’s
Sunday is Evacuation Day, the day in 1946 that France
withdrew the last of its troops from the country and Syria proclaimed full
Assad’s address on Saturday was his second since protests
first erupted last month.
Speaking to parliament on March 30, he blamed
the unrest on an American and Israeli “conspiracy” and gave no indication of
plans to lift the country’s four-decade-old state of emergency.
on Saturday, Assad again made no mention ofthe main demands by protesters to end the tight grip of security services on
everyday life, release thousands of long-serving political prisoners, most of
whom have been held without trial, and do away with a clause in Syria’s
constitution that enshrines the Ba’ath Party as “leader of the state and
He said corruption was a problem, but announced no measures to
curb his family’s dominance of the Syrian economy. Assad said stability remained
his priority but that reform was needed to “strengthen the internal front,”
following unprecedented protests against his authoritarian rule over the past
“We do not want to be hasty. Any reforms have to be based on
maintaining internal stability,” he said.
Thousands of people also
protested on Saturday in the southern city of Deraa, the fount of the protest
wave, chanting: “The people want the overthrow of the regime,” two witnesses
Demonstrations swept into the capital, Damascus, on Friday for the
first time and thousands of protesters marched elsewhere.
France said on
Saturday it was “extremely concerned” by the ongoing violence in Syria and
Yemen, but stressed its Middle East policy was not aimed at removing governments
in the region.
Speaking at a conference in Paris, Foreign Minister Alain
Juppé said France would stand firm against acts of excessive human rights abuses
in the Arab world and use all means available to it to stop them, although he
did not elaborate.
“[In] Yemen and Syria, the situation is extremely
worrying,” Juppé said at a Paris conference titled “The Arab Spring” that
brought together French ambassadors to the Arab world, Arab ambassadors in
France and academics.
“These countries must realize that no path other
than dialogue brings a clear answer to the aspirations of their people, who need
to express themselves with complete freedom,” he said.
Asked if there was
a chance things could escalate in Syria, Juppé told reporters: “There is a risk.
The only way to prevent it is to reform. There is a need to go further in
As protests persist, analysts are trying to predict the
diplomatic fallout of the unrest. Andrew Tabler, a Syria expert at the
Washington Institute for Near East Policy, wrote on Thursday that after already
ordering his security forces to fire on protesters, Assad “is not likely to risk
further alienating his supporters by signing on the dotted line with Israel
Itamar Rabinovich, who was Israeli ambassador to the
United States and chief negotiator with Syria from 1993 to 1996, wrote last
week: “Israeli leaders believe that Syria and the Iranian axis have been
weakened by the domestic unrest plaguing Assad’s regime. But like others in the
region, they wonder what the alternative to Assad might be.
precious little ability to affect internal developments in Syria, Israel can
only watch with apprehension as events unfold,” Rabinovich wrote on the Foreign
“Going forward, Israel may wish it had as much power to
influence Syria as Assad claims it does.”
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