FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Assad Hopes Syrian Cabinet’s Resignation Will Defuse Protests

by PATRICK COCKBURN

President Bashar al-Assad yesterday accepted the resignation of the Syrian cabinet in an attempt to defuse protests against his rule as hundreds of thousands of people attended pro-government rallies in most of the country’s cities.

Syrians were awaiting a speech by President Assad, who has remained silent during the 11-day crisis, laying out reforms including the lifting of the 50-year-old state of emergency. Protesters will want to see a real reduction in the arbitrary power of the security forces and guarantees of greater political and civil rights.

The president has a core of support and many Syrians are fearful of sectarian divisions turning to violence. But the turnout for yesterday’s demonstrations, dubbed “loyalty to the nation marches” where marchers chanted “the people want Bashar Assad” was enhanced by schools and other state institutions being closed for the day.

The resignation of the cabinet is largely symbolic since it holds little power, which remains in the hands of the president, his relatives and senior officials in the intelligence apparatus. Naji al-Otari, the prime minister since 2003, is to remain caretaker until a new government is formed.

The government still appears divided on how it is going to respond to the unprecedented unrest which has so far led to at least 61 protesters being killed, mostly in and around the southern city of Deraa.

There has also been violence in the port city of Latakia on the Mediterranean coast, where the population is divided between the Sunni and the Alawites, the minority Shia sect to which the Assad family and other members of the ruling elite belong. Troops are patrolling streets in the centre of the city while unofficial vigilantes have set up barricades in the outskirts.

In Deraa people are increasingly calling for a change of regime, but it is highly unlikely that the state security apparatus will allow its power to be diluted significantly. President Assad, a 45-year-old British-educated doctor, was seen as a possible reformer when he succeeded his father, President Hafez al-Assad on his death in 2000. But the changes he introduced were largely cosmetic and those who took advantage of the more liberal atmosphere to criticize the regime later found themselves targeted.

The Syrian authorities have a long tradition of refusing to make concessions and fighting back vigorously against all opponents. So far this strategy has enabled them to withstand pressure from the US and Israel in Lebanon and to crush domestic opposition movements, such as guerrilla war by Sunni fundamentalists in the early 1980s and serious unrest among the Kurdish community in 2004.

In trying to seize the initiative from the protesters the regime is emphasising Syrian nationalism and a plot against the unity of the country. “Breaking News: the conspiracy has failed!” declared one banner waved by a demonstrator at a vast rally in Damascus. In addition there were the more traditional chants of “God, Syria and Bashar.” In Deraa protesters changed this to a chant of “God, Syria and freedom.”

The government is also clamping down on the foreign media, expelling three Reuters journalists. In all Arab countries affected by the pro-democracy protests governments have struggled to gain control of information and modern communications.

PATRICK COCKBURN is the author of “Muqtada: Muqtada Al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq

 

 

 

Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

More articles by:
July 27, 2016
Richard Moser
The Party’s Over
John Eskow
The Loneliness of the American Leftist
Arun Gupta
Bernie Sanders’ Political Revolution Splinters Apart
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Humiliation Game: Notes on the Democratic Convention
M. G. Piety
Smoke and Mirrors in Philadelphia
Guillermo R. Gil
A Metaphoric Short Circuit: On Michelle Obama’s Speech at the DNC
David Macaray
Interns Are Exploited and Discriminated Against
Norman Pollack
Sanders, Our Tony Blair: A Defamation of Socialism
Claire Rater, Carol Spiegel and Jim Goodman
Consumers Can Stop the Overuse of Antibiotics on Factory Farms
Guy D. Nave
Make America Great Again?
Sam Husseini
Why Sarah Silverman is a Comedienne
Dave Lindorff
No Crooked Sociopaths in the White House
Dan Bacher
The Hired Gun: Jerry Brown Snags Bruce Babbitt as New Point Man For Delta Tunnels
Peter Lee
Trumputin! And the DNC Leak(s)
Ann Garrison
Rwanda, the Clinton Dynasty, and the Case of Dr. Léopold Munyakazi
Brett Warnke
Storm Clouds Over Philly
Chris Zinda
Snakes of Deseret
July 26, 2016
Andrew Levine
Pillory Hillary Now
Kshama Sawant
A Call to Action: Walk Out from the Democratic National Convention!
Russell Mokhiber
The Rabble Rise Together Against Bernie, Barney, Elizabeth and Hillary
Jeffrey St. Clair
Don’t Cry For Me, DNC: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Angie Beeman
Why Doesn’t Middle America Trust Hillary? She Thinks She’s Better Than Us and We Know It
Paul Street
An Update on the Hate…
Fran Shor
Beyond Trump vs Clinton
Ellen Brown
Japan’s “Helicopter Money” Play: Road to Hyperinflation or Cure for Debt Deflation?
Richard W. Behan
The Banana Republic of America: Democracy Be Damned
Binoy Kampmark
Undermining Bernie Sanders: the DNC Campaign, WikiLeaks and Russia
Arun Gupta
Trickledown Revenge: the Racial Politics of Donald Trump
Sen. Bernard Sanders
What This Election is About: Speech to DNC Convention
David Swanson
DNC Now Less Popular Than Atheism
Linn Washington Jr.
‘Clintonville’ Reflects True Horror of Poverty in US
Deepak Tripathi
Britain in the Doldrums After the Brexit Vote
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Threats: Arbitrary Lines on Political Maps
Robert J. Gould
Proactive Philanthropy: Don’t Wait, Reach Out!
Victor Grossman
Horror and Sorrow in Germany
Nyla Ali Khan
Regionalism, Ethnicity, and Trifurcation: All in the Name of National Integration
Andrew Feinberg
The Good TPP
400 US Academics
Letter to US Government Officials Concerning Recent Events in Turkey
July 25, 2016
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
As the Election Turns: Trump the Anti-Neocon, Hillary the New Darling of the Neocons
Ted Rall
Hillary’s Strategy: Snub Liberal Democrats, Move Right to Nab Anti-Trump Republicans
William K. Black
Doubling Down on Wall Street: Hillary and Tim Kaine
Russell Mokhiber
Bernie Delegates Take on Bernie Sanders
Quincy Saul
Resurgent Mexico
Andy Thayer
Letter to a Bernie Activist
Patrick Cockburn
Erdogan is Strengthened by the Failed Coup, But Turkey is the Loser
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail