After two months of remaining silent as his people fell loudly in the street, Syrian President Bashar Assad delivered a speech Monday intended to placate the populace.
If waiting heightens anticipation, then those in Syria calling for reform, as well as those in the international community watching the country with ever-growing worry, would end wallowing in bathos.
Granted, Assad’s speech at Damascus University was more sober in tone than his previous efforts, in front of a parliament so obsequious as to resemble a movie set audience. But tone is irrelevant without substance and the president’s address disappointed greatly on this level.
It was a speech filled with vague promises of reform, spattered with lofty – and, in all probability, false – proclamations of a desire to create a state akin to Plato’s Republic. Reforms were promised, but in a way so devoid of specificity as to make such pledges sound meaningless. The world has heard this before, two months ago, in fact.
The level of trust in Assad has fallen so low that it is now virtually mandatory to question the authenticity of his desire to make good on reform oaths.
Judged by past behavior, when promises of development, of ending emergency law, of greater media freedom and of increased rights to hold public protests resulted in an increase in violence, in human rights violations and heightened international sanctions, the president hardly instills confidence in those keen on a better, freer Syria.
In a monologue aimed predominantly, so it seemed, at the international community, Assad failed to pronounce any mooted cures to that which is causing his country folk to despair.
The only reaction that really matters to such a speech is the internal one, and the initial fallout didn’t look promising.
With protests popping up again throughout the country – even among Syrian refugees in Turkey who can voice their disapproval without fear of an instant security reprisal – it became clear, unsurprisingly, that a list of indistinct and timeless platitudes will not assuage the red heat of protest.
It showed that talk of reform is cheap, that the real capital comes in the doing, something Assad has so far eschewed.
The president’s problems shall not be solved by the formation of yet another committee. Syria’s rage at decades of corruption and emergency law cannot be interminably discussed away by man sat around desks. The only option for the regime is immediate, comprehensive and relevant reform.
The time for talk ended far before Monday. Now is the time for Assad to decisively grasp the issue, in a way that truly considers the people’s demands, before such issue becomes too hot to handle.