In an interview with the Wall Street Journal on Sunday, Syrian President Bashar Assad suggested that the pressure he will face from the Syrian people to institute reforms will be less than that faced by embattled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak because he has not pursued close diplomatic relations with the U.S. and Israel, a position that he said puts Arab leaders at odds with their citizens.
Assad also said that he will advocate for political and economic reform in Syria, following the massive protests that have recently swept the Middle East, which he said have ushered in a "new era."
"Syria is stable. Why? Because you have to be very closely linked to the beliefs of the people. This is the core issue. When there is divergence…you will have this vacuum that creates disturbances," the article quoted Assad as saying.
Assad said that after the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, Arab leaders will now need to do more to accommodate their people's mounting political and economic ambitions.
"If you didn't see the need of reform before what happened in Egypt and Tunisia, it's too late to do any reform," Assad told the American journal, signaling that he would attempt to pre-empt a popular uprising against his own regime before potentially destabilizing demonstrations reached the streets of Damascus.
Bashar Assad assumed the presidency of Syria in 2000, and prior to that his father Hafez Assad had occupied the office of president for three decades.
Demonstrations in Egypt have demanded the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, who has held that office for over 29 years, and in Tunisia, protesters succeeded in chasing President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali out of office, after 23 years of rule.
Assad said that he was open to negotiating with Israel over the transfer of control over the Golan Heights, but that he doubted that Prime Minister Netanyahu was as interested in reaching a deal as the previous Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had been, with whom Assad claimed that he had almost clinched a peace deal in 2008.
Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War.
Although he said that he planned to push through some specific reforms in the coming year, Assad admitted that relatively few changes have been made during his terms as Syria's president.
Despite this, he doubted that he would move at the speed that the protest movements in Tunisia and Egypt were demanding for their own countries, suggesting that some peoples were not ready for rapid reform.
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