One of the most embarrassing things about Syria has been the pre-Baath denial of rights to Kurdish citizens. But that could be about to change in a very quiet announcement that’s just been made.
In 1962, the ‘Hasaka Survey’ was carried out, named after one of the country’s main Kurdish population centres. In that census, 120,000 Kurds were shamefully registered as ‘foreigners‘. They have identity cards (with the word ‘foreigner’ written on it) but they and their decedents have been treated like second-class citizens.
Now, the government is ‘looking into’ giving them equal rights. It is the subject of one of three committees, but only two had been made public until today: the investigation the ‘incidents’ in Daraa and Lattakia, and the committee ‘looking into’ revoking the emergency law.
It is easy to dismiss this as a weak promise of reform (I have been the quickest to do exactly that, in the wake of Wednesday’s speech). But this is the way Syria works. The President doesn’t believe he can be seen to make concessions to the protestors. Instead, he delegates the reforms he would like to make to ‘committees’.
The key thing is that these three committees have very very short deadlines. Within two to three weeks they will have made their decision. And I am willing to bet that by the end of April, the emergency law will have been revoked, and the Kurds will have full rights.
Syria has a history of making quick decisions that end up saving the regime…as Robin Yassin-Kassab says, in the first of today’s must-read articles…
Mixed in with the brutality, the Syrian regime has often proved itself highly adaptable to changing circumstances. But not during yesterday’s speech. Bashaar missed his (already very belated) historical moment, revealing himself to be a cold and unimaginative operator. The president appeared to be in a state of denial. He appeared to enjoy the parliamentarians’ false applause far too much. He came across as an archaism in this new era, as a dinosaur. This doesn’t necessarily mean the regime is about to fall, but it does mean there’s a great deal of trouble ahead. Which spells disaster for Syrians of all backgrounds, as well as for anyone who cares about Syria’s vital regional role. …
The head of the regime – President Bashaar – enjoys a degree of genuine popularity. It’s the regime’s body – Bashaar’s corrupt cousins, and the stalwarts of the security services – who are much more fiercely hated.
Next, Brian Whitaker argues, exactly as I have in this post, that Bashar isn’t one to make hasty concessions, but will eventually give the protestors what they want.
So Assad is trying a different tack. Reform, yes, but all in good time. There will be no hasty concessions to protesters as happened in Tunisia and Egypt; that would be a sign of weakness and would only encourage further demands. Instead, the relevant ministries will announce their plans in due course, after full and careful consideration, etc, etc.
That is certainly a bold strategy, but in the midst of growing turmoil it’s either a sign of supreme confidence or extreme recklessness.
And finally, to The Economist, which continues this intriguing talk of divisions at the top.
A well-orchestrated demonstration in favour of Mr Assad on March 29th drew tens of thousands of people onto the streets of Damascus, many of them genuinely keen to support him. …
Rumours of discontent within the regime are swirling. Many Syrians blame the president’s brother, Maher Assad, who heads a crack army division, for the regime’s excesses. Outrage at the killings and propaganda has been compounded by Mr Assad’s defiant speech, which sorely disappointed his own reformers.