Monday, April 4, 2011

Reform U-turn irks Syria ally

Guest post by Middle East publisher F. Najia

A prominent supporter of Bashar Assad is disenchanted with the Syrian president’s stance on reform. He is Lebanon’s Talal Salman, publisher of the pro-Syrian Beirut daily Assafir.
Here is the gist of what he writes today in his leader on the paper’s front-page:

Talal Salman
The speech of President Bashar Assad to the People’s Assembly on March 30 was “bitterly disappointing” to his supporters and critics.

Dr. Assad succeeded at a time in posing as “a young reformist aware of goings-on in the world.” He later realized “a few successes, some of them surprising.” He soothed the West’s boycott of Syria and “started building special relations with Turkey to top up his alliance with Iran. He burst through the wall of isolation that existed with Europe, opening a skylight with France. At the same time, he resumed boosting ties with Russia, Ukraine and several other parts of the now-defunct Soviet Union. He burst into Latin America, where he established some bilateral relations that proved rewarding economically and politically.”

But success outside the country lacked concurrent reform of the regime at home, a regime that President Assad earlier described as “outdated.”

Syrians waited for a longtime to see their president deliver his promises on reform, often seeing him hesitate then stop. Some believed he was holding back because the cost of reform was bound to undermine pillars of the regime. Others thought he discovered the regime was so obsolete that it could not withstand reform.

President Assad continued for a longtime to meet with opinion shapers, hearing their positive criticisms and well-intentioned demands. He not only agreed with them, but often went further. He used to admit the “regime’s joints” simply “calcified” and societal corruption mushroomed in the last years of his father’s rule.
He also used to say the (ruling Baath) party had turned into a prop for parasites and opportunists and could no longer play the role of a “vanguard” party.

He regularly said the Syrian people were entitled to a decent life commensurate with their national sacrifices.

That’s probably why the Syrians, the Lebanese and Syria’s friends and opponents across the world, were surprised by the absence of serious reform decisions in the Syrian president’s speech. They were taken aback by resurrection of the Baath Party Command as the headspring of decision-making.

They were bewildered by the decrees that sacrificed the government of Najia Otari and named a former cabinet minister, Adel Safar, to head a new government. The only credentials of would-be ministers whose names are now being bandied about are that they are all “homegrown.” But the prespeech promise was of root changes liable to overhaul the regime completely...