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Syrian President Bashar Assad delivered a speech at the People's Assembly  (parliament), in an attempt calm down days of widespread unrest.

 

The address came after days of bloody protests across the country, calling for the fall of the regime of Assad. Tens, possibly hundreds were reportedly killed in a bloody crackdown.

 

Shortly after the address, protest organizers announced they were resuming their protests, in a sign that the Assad address did not address their concerns head-on.

 

Assad had previously ordered the government to resign.

 

March 31, 2011

 

 

 

Analysis and Forecast: Increasing Risk


 

The Syrian regime has faced it most challenging crisis since Bashar Assad became president, following the death of his father, Hafez Assad. The key political and economic challenges facing Syria are as follows:

 

  1. The Constitution explicitly mentions the ruling Baath Party as the ruling party, thereby eliminating the legality of any anti-Baath Party opposition;
  2. The regime, including top army officers, is held by the Alouite minority, which has been accused of suppressing the Sunni majority. In 1980’s, it is alleged that over 20,000 Sunnis were killed in protests by the Muslim Brotherhood, the region’s leading Sunni opposition;
  3. Relations with Iran, Lebanon and Israel;
  4. Martial law;
  5. Rampant corruption;
  6. Failure to attract foreign investment needed to modernize the country’s failing infrastructure;

 

The regime therefore faces multiple challenges. The unprecedented demonstrations that erupted in Deraa and other cities across Syria call for reforms on all of those fronts, with most calling for complete regime change.

 

The Syrian regime responded by forcing the government to resign, and a speech by Assad failed to address the key demands of the protestors. This is despite earlier announcements that the President would introduce sweeping reforms immediately, including the lifting of martial law. The government has no real political power and is entirely controlled by the Baath Party apparatus.

 

The regime has cracked down on protestors and has largely succeeded in curtailing the flow of information into regional and international media. However, the situation is unlikely going to stabilize at this and an intensification of civil unrest is expected. The regime will likely resort to extreme violence to suppress protests should they resume. Western and Arab governments have largely been supportive of the regime, in contrast to the way they responded to the Libyan unrest. It is therefore expected that should the protestors continue their demands, as is likely, the road to reform and restabilization will be protracted. This will not only have implications on Syria, but also on neighbouring Israel and Lebanon.