In a move supposedly meant to placate protesters, Syria has abolished its 48-year-old ‘emergency’ rule law. But this isn’t a sign that the regime is totally giving in. (It seems instead that the regime just wants the world to think that it’s meeting the demands of the protesters, without actually reforming.) For the last few days and even longer so-called security forces have been firing upon peaceful protesters. In the city of Homs alone, 14 protesters were killed on Sunday (more have been killed since).
The New York Times is calling it a “mix of concession and coercion”:
The government in Syria tried to placate protesters with declarations of sweeping reform Tuesday while warning its people to end more than a month of demonstrations, a now familiar strategy in one of the Arab world’s most repressive countries that has failed to blunt the most serious challenge to its 40-year rule.
The mix of concession and coercion came hours after police, army and the other forces of an authoritarian state were marshaled to crush one of the biggest gatherings yet by protesters bent on staging an Egyptian-style sit-in in Homs, Syria’s third-largest city. At least two people died, protesters said, as the government cleared the square by dawn.
Indeed, it seems that these are merely signs that the regime isn’t really sure how best to deal with peaceful protesters:
Since the uprising began, the government has vacillated between crackdown and suggestions of compromise, a formula that proved fatal for strongmen in Tunisia and Egypt. But the combination Tuesday was most remarkable for how divergent it was. Even as protesters buried those killed in Homs, the long-promised reforms ostensibly granted civil liberties, curbed the power of police and abolished draconian courts. It legalized peaceful protests — coded language for those approved by the government — as the Interior Ministry warned in a statement carried by the official news agency that it would bring to bear the full breadth of the law against any other kind.
Yet the Syrian regime, when not entirely sure what to do, always ends up resorting to killing its citizens:
Security forces made some attempts to disperse the crowds but relented until after midnight. Then, protesters said, a mix of soldiers, security forces and police encircled the square and attacked the demonstration with tear gas and live ammunition after the crowds had dwindled to about 2,000. Videos posted to Facebook and YouTube showed scenes of chaos as volleys of gunfire echoed over a square faintly lit by yellow streetlights. Mattresses and the canvas of tents were strewn across the square, where a portrait of Mr. Assad superimposed on a Syrian flag read, “Yes to living together, no to strife.”
“This is reform? This is reform?” asked a protester in one of the videos.