Friday, April 8, 2011
(Cartoon by Ali Ferzat)
Bashar al-Assad is promising change in a bid to placate Sunnis and Kurds – but how many people in Syria believe him?
A VERY GOOD COMMENT
guardian.co.uk, Friday 8 April 2011
"With the protests in Syria apparently growing, President Bashar al-Assad has begun announcing a series of "reforms" aimed at placating two key groups: the Sunni Muslim majority – especially the more conservative elements within it – and the marginalised Kurdish minority. If either or both of these groups were to swing firmly behind the street protests the regime would be in serious trouble....
Assad has also reportedly promised to allow a religious TV channel and an Islamist political party, and to establish an institute for training imams. The Assad family, along with many senior figures in the regime, belong to the minority Alawite sect (generally regarded as a branch of Shia Islam). To survive and avoid sectarian strife, they need to keep the Sunni majority on board. But by empowering religious elements the president may also be dabbling in a game that other Arab leaders have played very effectively over the years: scaring the public by presenting Islamists as the only alternative to their own dictatorship. Meanwhile, there is nothing very concrete in the reform area to appeal to the average Syrian. If the president wanted to do something truly popular, he would start by tackling privilege and corruption at the top – by ordering his cousin Rami Makhlouf, his brother Maher and his brother-in-law Assef Shawkat to leave the country. But that is a fairly forlorn hope......
Also, there is little point in anyone forming a political party and seeking to win seats in parliament when the parliament itself is a rubber-stamp body with next to no power. To change that, Syria needs a thorough overhaul of its constitution, something which does not appear to be on offer at the moment. The crucial question – which may be answered on the streets in the next few days – is how many Syrians believe that Assad is serious about change and able to implement it. They are already long-accustomed to government announcements of reform but less accustomed to seeing them put into practice."