News / Middle East

    Syria's Popular Uprising Fails to Force Authentic Reforms

    Syrian immigrants shout slogans in front of the Syrian embassy in Sofia, Bulgaria, to protest Syrian president Bashar al-Assad after violence was used on a group of anti-governmental protesters who allegedly were tortured and held hostage in Syria, March
    Syrian immigrants shout slogans in front of the Syrian embassy in Sofia, Bulgaria, to protest Syrian president Bashar al-Assad after violence was used on a group of anti-governmental protesters who allegedly were tortured and held hostage in Syria, March


    Mohamed Elshinnawi

    A wave of anti-government protests has swept through several cities in Syria in recent weeks, with demonstrators calling for political reform and an end to the country’s 48-year state of emergency. Syrian security forces have dealt harshly with the protesters, at one point killing a reported 60 demonstrators in the southern city of Daraa.

    Emboldened by uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, Syrian protesters took to the streets hoping they could force President Bashar al-Assad to ease his harsh rule and enact the political reforms he had been promising for 11 years.

    And after violent confrontations with in several towns, Syrians were eagerly awaiting the president’s address to the parliament this week, expecting an announcement on major reforms. Instead, Assad made no mention of reforms and warned of foreign conspirators using television and the Internet to incite violence in the country.

    He said, "Our enemies are consistently and systematically working on a daily basis to target stability in Syria."

    The Syrian president said the country’s enemies were using social networking websites and pan-Arabic satellite TV news channels to incite confrontations. And instead of announcing expected policy changes, he said all members of the ruling cabinet would be replaced.

    Edward Djerejian is a former U.S. Ambassador to Syria. He said dismissing the Syrian cabinet is not enough to satisfy the people. Djerejian said if Assad really wants to assure stability in Syria, he will have to implement serious changes in government policies.

    "The resignation of a government is a sign by President Bashar al-Assad that they are going to try to accommodate the calls for change by getting rid of the current government that obviously represents the status quo, and then follow up with broad reforms," he said. "What is important is what specific policies the president of Syria will take in order to meet the demands of the people for political, economic and social reforms.”

    Djerejian said Syria has some unique problems compared to most of its Arab neighbors. Among them is the threat of sectarian strife among the country’s Sunnis, Shiites, Alawites, Kurds and significant Christian minorities. He said this issue will have to be addressed first to ensure stability.

    But Ammar Abdulhamid, a Syrian human rights activist living in the United States, said it may be too late for Assad to offer any acceptable reforms.

    "That is not enough anymore," he said. "The only thing that can stop the revolution is his departure. Demonstrators sort of put a list of nine demands saying: 'First of all we want end to corruption and they mention the president’s cousin by name. We want free presidential elections, free parliamentary elections, and an end to the state of emergency, release of all political prisoners.' When you go down the list, you realize these amount to regime change."

    Ammar predicts especially large anti-government protests on Friday and said the protests will continue despite the government’s crackdown.

    The United States has consistently urged the Syrian government to begin reforms immediately, but State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Assad’s speech this week was not encouraging.

    "I think it’s clear to us that it didn’t really have much substance to it and didn’t talk about specific reforms as was suggested in the run-up to the speech," said Toner. "We understand that protests are scheduled, I believe, for Friday and, obviously, we would strongly condemn any violence against those protesters."

    Robert Hunter, a former U.S. Ambassador to NATO, says Washington has increasingly less leverage, however, to use against Assad if the Syrian leader continues his harsh measures.

    "It is obvious that we are not going to use force, and something like a no-fly zone would not be applicable because the [Syrian] internal security forces don't use aircraft. And who knows what will happen if the brutality continues and if there is an outcry about massive murdering of people," said Hunter.

    Hunter’s cautious assessment is shared by many U.S. experts, who point out that Syria’s central role in the search for Middle East peace makes it an especially delicate problem for Washington policy-makers.

    You May Like

    Video Pop Icon Prince Quietly Helped Afghan Orphans for Years

    He sent thousands of dollars to help an aid group rebuild a training center for orphan boy and girl scouts in Kabul, but kept his involvement secret

    Mali, a Way Station for Syrians Headed to Europe

    Another door may be closing for Syrians fleeing the conflict in their country, this time in Africa

    Britain’s Muslims See London Mayor Race as Victory

    Mere running of 45-year-old former government minister and son of Pakistani immigrants Sadiq Khan seen by many as turning point

    This forum has been closed.
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Donations Rescue Afghan Parents, Children From Forced Labori
    May 05, 2016 6:44 PM
    A Facebook campaign organized by a VOA radio host raised 150,000 Afghan rupees to rescue a family from forced labor at a brick kiln in Nangarhar province – the result of the father’s unpaid debt. Video by a VOA reporter in Jalalabad went viral this week and triggered the Facebook campaign.

    Video Donations Rescue Afghan Parents, Children From Forced Labor

    A Facebook campaign organized by a VOA radio host raised 150,000 Afghan rupees to rescue a family from forced labor at a brick kiln in Nangarhar province – the result of the father’s unpaid debt. Video by a VOA reporter in Jalalabad went viral this week and triggered the Facebook campaign.

    Video Kurdish Troops Recount Firefight Which Killed US Navy SEAL

    A U.S. Navy SEAL killed Tuesday, when Islamic State fighters punched through Kurdish lines in northern Iraq, was part of a quick reaction force sent to extract other U.S. troops trapped by the surprise offensive. VOA's Kawa Omar spoke with Kurdish troops in the town of Telskuf -- the scene of what U.S. officials called a "dynamic firefight."

    Video British Lawmakers Warn EU Exit Talks Could Last A Decade

    Leaving the European Union would mean difficult negotiations that could take years to complete, according to a bipartisan group of British lawmakers. While the group did not recommend a vote either way, the lawmakers noted trade deals between the EU and non-EU states take between four and nine years on average. Henry Ridgwell reports on the mounting debate over whether Britain should stay or exit the EU as the June vote approaches.

    Video NASA Astronauts Train for Commercial Space Flights

    Since the last Shuttle flight in 2011, the United States has been relying on Russian rockets to launch fresh crews to the International Space Station. But that may change in the next few years. NASA and several private space companies are developing advanced capsules capable of taking humans into low orbit and beyond. As VOA's George Putic reports, astronauts are already training for commercial spacecraft in flight simulators.

    Video US Worried Political Chaos in Iraq Will Hurt IS Fight

    The White House is expressing concern about rising political chaos in Iraq and the impact it could have on the fight against the Islamic State. The U.S. says Iraq needs a stable, central government to help push back the group. But some say Baghdad may not have a unified government any time soon. VOA's White House correspondent Mary Alice Salinas reports.

    Video Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limited

    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.

    Video Taliban Threats Force Messi Fan to Leave Afghanistan

    A young Afghan boy, who recently received autographed shirts and a football from his soccer hero Lionel Messi, has fled his country due to safety concerns. He and his family are now taking refuge in neighboring Pakistan. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.

    Video Major Rubbish Burning Experiment Captures Destructive Greenhouse Gases

    The world’s first test to capture environmentally harmful carbon dioxide gases from the fumes of burning rubbish took place recently in Oslo, Norway. The successful experiment at the city's main incinerator plant, showcased a method for capturing most of the carbon dioxide. VOA’s Deborah Block has more.

    Video EU Visa Block Threatens To Derail EU-Turkey Migrant Deal

    Turkish citizens could soon benefit from visa-free travel to Europe as part of the recent deal between the EU and Ankara to stem the flow of refugees. In return, Turkey has pledged to keep the migrants on Turkish soil and crack down on those who are smuggling them. Brussels is set to publish its latest progress report Wednesday — but as Henry Ridgwell reports from London, many EU lawmakers are threatening to veto the deal over human rights concerns.

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora