Thursday, March 24, 2011

Assad - the beginning of the end

Look at me, says sweet Assad, do I look like a tyrant and a killer? My witnesses were God and Buthaina when I ordered the special units not to fire a single bullet at the demonstrators in Dara'a. Yes, 37 dead but it was all a terrible mistake, the dumb policemen just went too far.

I have been crying out for reforms ever since I returned from London but my stubborn and ignorant clan would not let me go down that path. Today though, I have triumphed over them. I can now press on with implementing all the radical reform plans that I have kept in my top drawer for many years: no emergency laws, no censorship, no one-party system, no kangaroo courts, no unemployment and what's more I am increasing your salaries by 30% straight away. Isn't this good news? There really is no reason for you to demonstrate and cause more trouble. Keep me in power for ever and I will look after you for ever. You will bask in freedom and wealth and life will be just wonderful from now on.

After the long stick, quickly came the carrot. The declaration of good intentions is a super-sized carrot dangled in front of an angry crowd. Far too quick and too good to believe. The purpose is crystal clear: to pacify and divide the Syrian people and pre-empt a major nation-wide uprising.

Will he deliver, can he deliver? The regime recognizes danger when it sees it and just has to do something. Assad will move quickly to present a reformist facade at home and abroad but proceed at a snail's pace in delivering anything real that can make a material difference to people's lives. Too much damage has been done to the country's social and moral fabric, institutions and infrastructure to be able deliver enough real jobs for the unemployed and under-employed millions to lift them out of poverty.

Syria needs US$80 billion of investment per year but is now getting just US$2.0 billion! Even if the world was persuaded to invest such a colossal amount in the country, not much of it would trickle down to the young man and woman in the street. Much of the investment over the last decade has been "taxed" away by the regime and its cronies. Is this likely to change? Perhaps but chances are any genuine change will be too little and too late.

Still, I am hopeful. Assad himself has good survival instincts but acts as a somewhat comic benevelont dictator with not enough money or real power among his clan or the mad dogs whom he depends on to protect the regime. The Syrian people are not stupid. They have learned all the tricks the regime has employed in the last 40 years to deceive them and deprive them of their liberty, deny them a dignified existence and rob them of their creative potential. The people do not want bloodshed and sectarian conflicts but have now broken down the wall of fear and the wall of silence. They will be no less vigilant and determined to see real reforms through than the good people of Egypt and Tunisia.

Let us never forget the 37 innocent citizens of Dara'a who have been murdered. All they were trying to do is make Syria a better country for their children and all of us.

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