Syrian President Bashar al-Assad blamed foreign conspiracies and Israel Wednesday in his first speech about the unrest plaguing his country since March 6. While he also acknowledged the need for reform, he provided no specifics and did not lift the emergency law in place in Syria since 1963.
"Syria is a target of a big plot from the outside…. Its timing, its format has been speeded up," said Assad of the riots, which have killed over 60 since March 6. He also stated that some protesters had been "duped" into protests while others had legitimate demands. "There are no hurdles to reforms, but there are delays," he noted. The people "have demands that have not been met."
"Implementing reforms is not a fad. When it just a reflection of a wave that the region is living, it is destructive," Assad said, clarifying that he would not be pressured by mass protests which toppled other Arab leaders.
The general tone of the speech showed a leader in denial of widespread grievances facing his regime. The president rejected revolutionary fervor, pushing the message that it "doesn't need to be followed because Syria doesn't suffer from the same problems," said Ahmad Moussalli, a political science professor at the American University in Beirut. "He was rejecting the American domino theory, saying it doesn't work in the case of Syria."
Like his people, the international community isn't buying Assad's lack of specificity about reform. "We believe President Assad is at a crossroads. He has claimed to be a reformer for over a decade but he has made no substantive progress on political reforms and we urge him to ... address the needs and the aspirations of the Syrian people," State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters. "He has claimed the mantle of reform and he has implemented some economic reforms but on the political side he needs to make more progress frankly -- substantive progress."
"We call for reforms and a dialogue," stated Foreign Minister Alain Juppe of France, the nation's former colonial power. However, he also acknowledged that "we're not at the stage of studying sanctions or a U.N. Security Council resolution." The same stance against U.S. involvement in Syria had been previously stated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Israelis and Palestinians, two opposing peoples who are likely to be strongly affected by changes in Syria, appear to prefer al-Assad maintaining power. "Both sides would prefer Assad to stay in power. It is a case of 'better the devil you know'," Gabriel Ben-Dor, director of national security studies at Haifa University, told the Jerusalem Post. "Neither side thinks that anything better will necessarily come out of these particular disturbances, and they fear that if Assad goes there would be a long period of instability."