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.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
July 29, 2015
Mike Whitney
The Politics of Betrayal: Obama Backstabs Kurds to Appease Turkey
Joshua Frank
The Wheels Fell Off the Bernie Sanders Bandwagon
Conn Hallinan
Ukraine: Close to the Edge
Stephen Lendman
What Happened to Ralkina Jones? Another Jail Cell Death
Rob Wallace
Neoliberal Ebola: the Agroeconomic Origins of the Ebola Outbreak
Dmitry Rodionov
The ‘Ichkerization’ Crime Wave in Ukraine
Joyce Nelson
Scott Walker & Stephen Harper: a New Bromance
Bill Blunden
The Red Herring of Digital Backdoors and Key Escrow Encryption
Thomas Mountain
The Sheepdog Politics of Barack Obama
Farzana Versey
A President and a Yogi: Abdul Kalam’s Symbolism
Norman Pollack
America’s Decline: Internal Structural-Cultural Subversion
Foday Darboe
How Obama Failed Africa
Cesar Chelala
Russia’s Insidious Epidemic
Tom H. Hastings
Defending Democracy
David Macaray
Why Union Contracts are Good for the Country
Virginia Arthur
The High and Dry Sierras
Jon Langford
Mekons Tour Diary, the Season Finale, Mekonception in Redhook
July 28, 2015
Mark Schuller
Humanitarian Occupation of Haiti: 100 Years and Counting
Lawrence Ware
Why the “Black Church” Doesn’t Exist–and Never Has
Peter Makhlouf
Israel and Gaza: the BDS Movement One Year After “Protective Edge”
Carl Finamore
Landlords Behaving Badly: San Francisco Too Valuable for Poor People*
Michael P. Bradley
Educating About Islam: Problems of Selectivity and Imbalance
Binoy Kampmark
Ransacking Malaysia: the Najib Corruption Dossier
Michael Avender - Medea Benjamin
El Salvador’s Draconian Abortion Laws: a Miscarriage of Justice
Jesse Jackson
Sandra Bland’s Only Crime Was Driving While Black
Cesar Chelala
Effect of Greece’s Economic Crisis on Public Health
Mel Gurtov
Netanyahu: An Enemy of Peace
Joseph G. Ramsey
The Limits of Optimism: E.L. Doctorow and the American Left
George Wuerthner
Bark Beetles and Forest Fires: Another Myth Goes Up in Smoke
Paul Craig Roberts - Dave Kranzler
Supply and Demand in the Gold and Silver Futures Markets
Eric Draitser
China’s NGO Law: Countering Western Soft Power and Subversion
Harvey Wasserman
Will Ohio Gov. Kasich’s Anti-Green Resume Kill His Presidential Hopes?
Jon Langford
Mekons Tour Diary, Episode 4, a Bowery Ballroom Blitz
July 27, 2015
Susan Babbitt
Thawing Relations: Cuba’s Deeper (More Challenging) Significance
Howard Lisnoff
Bernie Sanders: Savior or Seducer of the Anti-War Left?
Martha Rosenberg
Big Pharma’s Profiteers: You Want Us to Pay What for These Meds?
Joshua Sperber
What is a President? The CEO of Capitalism
John Halle
On Berniebots and Hillary Hacks, Dean Screams, Swiftboating and Smears
Stephen Lendman
Cleveland Police Attack Black Activists
Zoe Konstantopoulou
The Politics of Coercion in Greece
Patrick Cockburn
Only Iraq’s Clerics Can Defeat ISIS
Ralph Nader
Sending a ‘Citizens Summons’ to Members of Congress
Clancy Sigal
Scratch That Itch: Hillary and The Donald
Colin Todhunter
Working Class War Fodder
Gareth Porter
Obama’s Version of Iran Nuke Deal: a Second False Narrative