Yielding to unremitting public pressure for reform, Syrian President Bashar
Assad dismissed his cabinet on Tuesday, as thousands of Syrians rallied in
support of his continued rule. Meanwhile, Syrian citizens and observers abroad
waited for the embattled leader to deliver his first address since large-scale
unrest erupted last week.
“President Assad accepts the government’s
resignation,” the state news agency SANA said, adding that Naji al-Otari, the
prime minister since 2003, would remain caretaker until a new government was
State television showed Syrians in Damascus, Aleppo, Hama and
Hasaka, waving the national flag and pictures of Assad, chanting: “God, Syria,
“Breaking News: the conspiracy has failed,” declared one banner,
according to Reuters – echoing government accusations that foreign elements and
armed gangs were behind the unrest. “With our blood and our souls we protect our
national unity,” another said.
Employees and members of unions controlled
by Assad’s Baath Party – which has been in power for nearly 50 years – said they
had been ordered to attend the rallies, where there was a heavy security
The scene in Deraa, the epicenter of recent protests that have
killed 61 people in recent days, was markedly different. More than 200
protesters gathered in the southern city, chanting, “God, Syria and Freedom” and
“O Hauran rise up in revolt” – a reference to the plateau on which Deraa
Assad is expected to deliver a long-awaited address on Wednesday,
in which he will likely lift the emergency law that has been in place for nearly
50 years, since his Baath Party took power in a coup.
emergency law could mean little in practice, although it could represent a
significant symbolic victory to a populace long accustomed to having virtually
no say in their country’s leadership.
As protests continued this week,
Syria watchers scrambled to ascertain what a post- Assad Syria might look
“If things go south in Syria, blood-thirsty sectarian demons risk
being unleashed, and the entire region could be consumed in an orgy of
violence,” wrote Patrick Seale, author of a book on former leader Hafez Assad,
on the Foreign Policy blog. “If Syria were overrun with internal strife,
Hezbollah would be deprived of a valuable ally – no doubt to Israel’s great
Elliott Abrams, a Middle East fellow at the Council on
Foreign Relations and former deputy national security adviser to president
George W. Bush, wrote Friday in the Washington Post that Assad’s ouster would be
good news both for the US and for regional allies like Israel.
government dominated by Syria’s Sunni majority – the Assad clan is from the tiny
Alawite minority – would never have the close relations with Hezbollah and Iran
that Assad maintains; it would seek to reintegrate into the Arab world,” Abrams
wrote. “Iran will lose its close Arab ally, and its land bridge to Hezbollah,
when Assad falls.”
MK Einat Wilf (Independence), told the AP on Tuesday
that should Assad fall, “it could be a really good message that benefits Israel
– that trying to go against Israel and America doesn’t give you eternal
On the diplomatic front, the US and France condemned the
Syrian government for its harsh response to the demonstrations.
series of side meetings, I also had the chance to discuss a number of issues,
including Syria,” US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday, after a
London meeting of international powers on Libya.
“I expressed our strong
condemnation of the Syrian government’s brutal repression of demonstrators – in
particular the violence and killing of civilians in the hands of security
forces,” she said.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Assad must
make more progress on political reforms and should meet the needs and
aspirations of his citizens.
France urged Syria to adopt political reform
and open dialogue with its people, but said it was not time for sanctions or UN
intervention, its foreign minister said.
When asked what France expected
from Syria’s decision to create a new government, Minister of Foreign Affairs
Alain Juppe said he condemned all violence and repression of public
“We call for reforms and a dialogue,” Juppe told
reporters in London, while carefully highlighting the difference in the Syrian
and Libyan cases. “We’re not at the stage of studying sanctions or a UN Security