On the streets of Homs, where three Syrians were killed yesterday just as soon as a visiting UN humanitarian delegation had left, the crowd sang out their joy at the imminent fall of another Arab dictator with the expectation their own would soon follow.
"Al Qadaffi tar tar! Isha dorak ya Bashar!" which roughly translates as "Qadaffi flew Away! Your turn is next Bashar!" As they marched through the street the crowd of hundreds chanted out, “God damn your soul Hafez!” referring to Syria’s former dictator, Hafez al-Assad.
Things just don’t seem to be going Bashar al-Assad’s way. No sooner had he gone on state-run Syria TV for a scripted interview, the exact content of which had been revealed earlier by Syrian journalist Sami Moubayed, see here, but Libya’s rebels had stormed Tripoli and the 42-year rule of Colonel Muammar Qaddafi, one year longer than the Assad family’s rule over Syria, was coming to a swift end.
"As long as Qaddafi held on, the Syrian regime took comfort and felt it had a free hand to do as he wanted without fear of the international community, which had its plate full with Libya," said a pro-democracy dissident in Damascus, quoted in The National.
"Now that Qaddafi is finished, Syria will be the focus for the Arab Spring and international pressure," he continued. "That means those calculations [by the Syrian regime] will have to change; Assad has more reason to worry now than he did two days ago, the end is drawing closer."
Assad’s latest televised address, the fourth since the popular uprising against him began, contained no words of regret for the crackdown by his security forces which an emergency session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva said on Monday has now killed over 2,200 people. Assad did, however, seek to give succor to supporters who view him as a committed reformer.
By the end of this week, he said, it would be allowed for political parties to register in expectation of parliamentary elections in February 2012.
Other political parties already exist in Syria, such as the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, responsible for beating anti-Assad protestors in Lebanon, and a few very tired Communist and Arab socialist parties. But all parties in Syria must commit to the strictures of the National Progressive Front (NPF) of which the ruling Baath Party is the largest member.
Assad gave no details as to whether the proposed opening up of Syria to multi-party politics would involve the dissolution of the NPF but he did say that there would be no imminent cancellation of the amendment to Syria’s Constitution, made when the Baath Party seized power in a military coup in 1963, that assures the Baath the right to be the “leading party of state and society”.
How other political parties in Syria could contest an election where the winner is constitutionally guaranteed to be the ruling Baath regime certainly raises some doubts over just how far the dictatorship is willing to move towards democracy.
Indeed, one of the last big concessions Assad made, legalizing the right for Syrians to hold protests, was dramatically shown up as an empty gesture when a Kurdish lawyer, Fadel Salim Faisal, was detained by Airforce security after requesting permission to hold a protest in the north-east city of Hassake.
For the official run-down of the president’s interview, see SANA, here.
Moubayed, a Syrian historian and editor of Forward magazine who is familiar with regime thinking, writes in today’s Asia Times that contrary to the jubilant scenes in Homs, the Syrians he speaks to are now concerned that NATO’s apparent success in helping oust Libya’s dictator could, contrary to the consensus among diplomats and political analysts, increase the likelihood of a military intervention in Syria.
“Having succeeded in Libya, NATO might now rethink its options on Syria, where pressure has been growing from the international community for President Bashar al-Assad to step down,” writes Moubayed.
“Internationalizing the Syrian crisis militarily has to date not been on many minds in Syria - until now. Few on the Syrian street and within the opposition have contemplated any kind of foreign intervention, claiming that political escalation and sanctions headed by the Barack Obama White House is one thing, an armed attack by NATO quite another.”