Assad supporters
Assad supporters, with their fingers painted in the colors of the Syrian flag, at a rally in Damascus. Photo by AFP
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When leaders begin "broadcasting to the nation" quite frequently and address the public in overly intimate language, it's possible to smell the thick smoke coming out of the volcano. That's been true in Syria, Yemen and Egypt, where speeches to the nation, directly or indirectly, had always been fairly rare. There was no particular appreciation of public opinion as deserving explanations about the wisdom of the leader.

None of the leaders of those countries have a magic formula. The two who were removed, Hosni Mubarak and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and the two who are left, Bashar Assad and Ali Abdullah Saleh, all believed the public was willing to make do with reforms, with an economic plan promising jobs, with a show of force against corruption. The only one who appears to have clearly understood what he was facing was Muammar Gadhafi. From the first minute, Gadhafi perceived the public as the enemy and went to war.

Assad's speech yesterday suggests that he senses the upheaval, but he believes that the situation can still be controlled. He offers gifts to the citizens. Two weeks ago, he avoided offering a timetable for reforms; however, yesterday he promised that within a week he would cancel the Emergency Law that is still in effect. He has ordered his new ministers to conduct a dialog with the citizens and to prepare a new law on parties and to set up an anti-corruption agency.

The Syrian public, which has seen dozens if not hundreds of citizens killed by the security forces, hears these promises, but it also sees troubling scenes on Al Jazeera: Syrian soldiers are caught stepping on Syrian citizens, beating them with their weapons, spitting on them and torturing them. The dramatic change in the way events in Syria are being covered by Al Jazeera, from a neutral stance to a critical one - as it changed in Egypt, Libya, and Yemen - may suggest what lies ahead in Syria.

As in Egypt, the demand for the regime to go is now being heard in Syria, and that demand is fueled by the scenes of state violence against the citizenry.

Could these be the final days of the Assad regime? These days are certainly difficult for the West, and especially for the United States, which till now had not demanded the removal of the regime. Unlike the case of Mubarak or that of the expelled Tunisian leader, Assad has his finger on the valve that controls Iranian influence in Lebanon; its support for Hezbollah and Hamas; and also ON the gate from which terrorists enter and exit Iraq.

Gadhafi's importance is mostly political, and Mubarak was seen as an essential axis in the peace process. Assad, however, is important in terms of preventing war.

So, the West sent warplanes to Libya, and Mubarak was asked to step down. Bashar Assad has, for the time being, only been criticized for using violence because removing him is perceived to be a "strategic threat."