As the Syrian regime continues its bloody military assault on Hama--in a five-day crackdown so thorough that the Los Angeles Times can't get in touch with anyone in the city today--President Bashar al-Assad has issued a decree permitting political parties to function alongside the Baath party, which has ruled Syria with an iron grip since 1963. According to the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency, any new party must be committed to "democracy and the rule of law" and cannot be based on religious, tribal, regional, denominational, or professional affiliations. Another decree calls for candidates and judicial committees to supervise elections. A day after the U.N. Security Council condemned Syria's attacks on civilians, Foreign Minister Alain Juppe dismissed Assad's multi-party decree as a "provocation" devoid of "credibility." What France wants, he added, "is an end to the violence against the civilian population which is only defending its rights." Political pluralism is one of the major demands of Syria's protesters, but they'll likely side with Juppe nonetheless.
This pattern--Assad offering reforms to placate protesters, and protesters and the international community rejecting those reforms as insincere so long as the regime continues to use force--has repeated itself many times since the Syrian uprising erupted in mid-March. Let's take a look at some previous instances:
- Higher Salaries, More Press Freedom, and Release of Detainees In late March, the government announced that it would increase the salaries of public workers, draft laws to provide for greater press freedom, and release all those who had been detained since Syria's protests began. Syrian opposition leaders compared the proposals to the committees the Baath Party routinely establishes to study reforms that never get off the ground.
- Cabinet Resignation In late March, Assad accepted his cabinet's resignation.
- Kurdish Nationality In early April, Assad granted the country's Kurdish minority Syrian nationality.
- Lifting of Emergency Law In mid-April, Assad announced in a televised address that Syria would lift its decades-old emergency law, which had enabled the regime to arrest people arbitrarily. Activists are still reporting waves of arrests.
- General Amnesty In late May, Assad granted a general amnesty to all members of political movements, including the banned Muslim Brotherhood, for "crimes" committed during the uprising. The regime has generally blamed the unrest in the country on "armed gangs" and foreign conspirators.
- Opposition Conference In late June, Assad permitted some of the country's most prominent dissidents to meet publicly in Damascus and discuss how to transition the country to democracy, promising a "national dialogue" as well. But Syria's opposition parties and the organizers of street protests didn't attend. The regime also acknowledged for the first time that peaceful protesters were making "legitimate demands," though officials insisted extremists were hijacking those demands.