Wednesday, June 22, 2011

"There’s a lot of orchestrating going on, but it’s not all orchestration"

"... While Mr. Assad still enjoys support in Syria — particularly among minorities, the middle class and the business elite — opposition figures said people were bused in and state employees forced to attend the pro-government rallies. Companies owned by figures allied with the government also insisted that their employees go, they said. Syrian television declared that millions had taken part in the rallies, though the numbers, at least anecdotally, seemed smaller...
But even within the rallies, there were voices of dissent. An employee of a private company forced by his manager to attend said he resented that at a time of economic crisis, companies and the government came to a standstill for a political ploy...
Had Mr. Assad’s speech come before the uprising, it might have been a turning point in the four decades of repressive rule by his family. But as a ferocious crackdown continues, sentiments have hardened, and protesters’ demands have grown. "Assad is trying to preserve exactly the same regime with minor tweaks and that’s not enough anymore, for most people,” said a Syria-based analyst who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “It’s impossible to decipher any strategy, any vision, any policy, and most importantly, any way forward — a credible solution to the crisis.”
But other analysts suggested Mr. Assad may be interpreting the lessons of Egypt and Tunisia, where concessions only emboldened protesters, who eventually succeeded in toppling longtime authoritarian leaders.
When genuine, the rallies Tuesday demonstrated sentiments that had “less to do with support for Bashar and more to do with not wanting to descend into the unknown,” said Bassam S. Haddad, director of the Middle East Studies Program at George Mason University. “There’s a lot of orchestrating going on, but it’s not all orchestration.”
As the rallies gathered in Damascus and elsewhere, the government offered a broader amnesty for any crimes committed until June 20, a move Mr. Assad hinted at in Monday’s speech. It was the second such amnesty in a month, and though rights groups say hundreds of prisoners were released under the first one, a ferocious crackdown that has killed 1,400 people and led to the detention of more than 10,000, by activists’ count, has overshadowed any real change that the amnesty may have represented.
“This decision won’t do anything to alleviate the pressure from the street,” said Khalil Maatouk, a lawyer and activist in Damascus. “The amnesty should release all political prisoners. That would mean good intentions and indicate something new."

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