Assad Needs to Give Much More Than a Speech to Halt Syria Protests

Syrian president's address to public shows rare kind of self-criticism, but reactions by Syria opposition show the people are unimpressed and have no intention of ending protests.

Is Syria turning to democracy? Will its regime structure change? Will Assad step down? President Bashar Assad has answered each of these three questions, which stand at the heart of the Syrian civil rebellion, with a definitive no.

Assad's more than hour-long speech to the Syrian and international public on Monday showed that Assad believes that Syria is being subjected to an attack of schemes which can be prevented by the government's planned reforms, scheduled according to the regime's timetable.

Free Syria protestrs - AP - May 24, 2011

The main principle of the reform he suggested deals with a series of laws that have yet to be written or approved and are meant to better Syrian bureaucracy, not the actual structure of the regime. He suggested changing the law regarding political parties, without mentioning whether the opposition will be allowed to have a vote, and to (maybe) change the constitution, without announcing a change of regime structure.

The initial reactions to the speech by the Syrian opposition show that Assad's address failed to convince the people, and they do not intend on ceasing their protests until Assad and his staff step down from power.

Assad's main outlook, that the state is the "merciful mother" whose citizens need to be loyal to at any price, has not changed. According to this view, Syrian citizens are divided into three types: citizens with legitimate demands which the state must answer; felons prepared to break the law (he even mentioned the number 64,000 felons) but who the state can rehabilitate, and a minority of terrorists acting according to a foreign agenda whose purpose is to destroy Syria and bring it back to the days when it was a "village country."

Assad abstained from specifically mentioning the foreign conspirators, and did not mention the U.S., Israel, or Turkey even once, but "every loyal Syrian citizen" knows well who the enemies of his state are.

Assad offered the "good" public a national dialogue through which the demands will be outlined and then be transferred to the operational stage by drawing up laws or handing out administrative instructions. The dialogue is also commanded by the same "fatherly" outlook: several hundred public officials chosen by the regime will be the participants and a committee set up by the regime will be choosing the topics and which subjects will be passed on.

Assad also said the crisis could last months and even years and that Syrians will just have to learn to live with it. His call on the public to support the military and to cooperate with it shows that even Assad is not deluding himself that his speech will end the rebellion.

Assad's descriptions of Syria's bureaucratic and economic failures and his recognition in the need to change laws and battle corruption illustrate a rare self-criticism by the Syrian president not only in face of his staff but also in the face of Syrian history, including the period of his father's rule, Hafez Assad.

This is the most serious and perhaps most critical crisis in four decades that the Assad family's reign has been entrenched in – and much more than a fatherly speech will be needed to put a stop to it.