As I expected, Bashar al-Assad’s speech today was completely reactionary and devoid of any bold conciliatory gestures…
Ok, so that’s not exactly what I expected. Let me be the first to admit that I was surprised by Bashar al-Assad’s disappointing (and, in my opinion, dangerously conservative) address to the Syrian people, earlier today. Rather than inaugurating a substantial step in the direction of reform — as many Syrians had been hoping he would do — Bashar offered only a few vague promises sprinkled in a bland stew of boilerplate pronouncements on Syrian unity and foreign conspiracies.
For other reactions to the speech, I suggest you check out the comment section of Joshua Landis’s blog, as well as his latest post. As in the case of QifaNabki‘s readership, the speech seems to have united both former supporters and critics of the regime (in Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and beyond) in condemnation of Bashar.
See also this interesting video of a protester attacking Assad’s car following the speech (although I’m sure the Syrian state media will claim that she was throwing herself at his BMW in a gesture of adoration):
What happens next? It all depends, I would imagine, on whether a credible opposition can coalesce and gain momentum in Syria’s urban centers. If the demonstrations remain in far-flung places like Deraa, the regime may gradually suffocate them. But if they find their way to places like Homs, Hama, and Aleppo, then all bets are off.