As demonstrators gather in Damascus to hear the speech by president Bashar al-Assad I think one needs to point out that this speech will be a defining moment in Syria. Will genuine reforms be unveiled and quickly enacted or will this speech be about ‘rally around the flag’, about raising the spectre of sectarianism á Lebanon and Iraq and promulgating that the protests in Deraa, Latakia, Damascus and other cities in Syria were instigated by foreign agents (Israel, Saudi, Jordanian, KSA, USA – take your pick…) as opposed to Syrians with real grievances. This will give us an idea if those in power in Syria – Bashar al-Assad – and a majority of people around him – are bent on reforms or not.
If true reforms are not presented I think it is safe to say that the big crowds who have gathered and the many people in Syria who genuinely like and admire Bashar al-Assad, and in him see the best hope for reform, will get their hopes crushed. In the short run his will mean little to nothing. But in the long run, when hopes and dreams are finally shattered, the support for the president and his wife – they who gives legitimacy to an otherwise authoritarian hereditary regime from a religious minority who few outside those circles have any love for or loyalty to – will dissipate. In the long run this will spell the downfall of the house of al-Assad.