Posted by on April 19, 2011 in Blog

After 17 protesters were killed by security forces in Homs last night, the Syrian government has finally passed a bill lifting the 48 year emergency law, in what appears to be an attempt to appease the demonstrators who are demanding reform, following weeks of unrest in the country. The government also passed a new law that grants the right to peaceful protests, and abolished the state security court which handled the trials of political prisoners.  In a twist that could be described as humorous were it not associated with an ongoing tragedy, the interior ministry then imposed a comprehensive ban on political gatherings, which can only be circumvented through a special permit issued by the ministry.

Human rights groups estimate that some 200 demonstrators had already been killed, & footage of brutality against protesters by security forces continues to flood the internet. Nevertheless, the Syrian President continues to enjoy a fair bit of support, with large pro-government rallies also taking place in Damascus. Another interesting aspect is the conversation taking place on social media. During the Egyptian uprising, for example, Egyptian and Egyptian-American voices were virtually unanimous in opposition to Mubarak’s regime. This is not the case with the regard to the unrest in Syria. While more voices are critical of the Assad regime and the brutality unleashed on the protesters, there is no shortage of Syrian and Syrian-American voices who believe the government’s claim that the unrest is essentially a foreign plot to undermine the country. Indeed, there are rumors of increasing tensions within Syrian American communities between pro- and anti-government sympathizers.

With each new phase of the Arab Spring, it appears that the regimes are becoming more sophisticated at suppressing the opposition: Presidents were successfully toppled in Tunisia and Egypt; Qaddafi and Saleh have barely managed to hold on to power so far despite the utter depletion of their legitimacy; Bahrain’s government successfully repressed its opposition with the assistance of neighboring governments; and Assad has apparently managed to mobilize a considerable segment of his population against the aspirations of the pro-democracy demonstrators. But while the increased effectiveness with which the old guard is fighting to hold on to power may slow down or influence the region’s transformation, it will most certainly not be able to deter it entirely. The status quo is no longer an option because the image of the indestructible political order has already been shattered, and the people of the region are now empowered and determined to play a meaningful role in shaping their political future.

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