Opinion Brief

Syria: Assad's 'failed' speech

Though many hoped President Bashir al-Assad would announce reforms, he lashes out instead. Did he miss a chance to quell anti-government protests?

In his first speech since protests erupted in Syria, embattled President Bashir al-Assad on Wednesday dashed expectations that he would announce the sweeping reforms demonstrators have demanded, leading some to say that he "failed." Instead of lifting a decades-old emergency law, Assad — whose cabinet resigned Tuesday in a bid to satisfy calls for change — spent the address blaming a foreign conspiracy for the unrest that has left 60 demonstrators dead. He later ordered a committee to look into abolishing the hated law. But has Assad missed a crucial opportunity to show protesters he's willing to make real concessions?

Yes, Assad blew it: At the very least, Assad should have promised to "relax the draconian emergency law," which was imposed when Baathists seized power 48 years ago, says the Telegraph in an editorial. Simply blaming others, instead of his own "repressive style of government," was unnecessarily risky. The protests already pose "the most serious challenge to the Baathist regime's survival" in nearly 30 years, and now they'll only grow more intense.
"Syria takes a risk"

And the Obama administration needs to get tougher: "The fact that Assad is digging in his heels" shows his true colors, says Alana Goodman at Commentary. Over the weekend, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talked about "the Syrian leader's reputation as a 'reformer,'" but it's now clear he's "completely unwilling to make even the smallest concession of his power." The Obama administration needs to start condemning Assad more strongly, because it looks like "a more violent crackdown may be looming."
"Assad not moving an inch on emergency law"

We'll see the protesters' response soon: Assad still insists he's a reformer, says Rania Abouzeid in TIME. He did promise an investigation into the deaths of more than 60 protesters in the Dara'a province, and he may be hoping the "conciliatory gesture" will buy him time. "Assad has played his hand." On Friday, when the opposition plans nationwide rallies, "the people will likely play theirs."
"The Syrian president's speech: Surprise! There's no surprise"

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