What strikes me most about Assad's third speech

Bashar al-Assad just delivered his third public address since the uprising began in Syria. The previous speeches were cocky and confident, arrogant even. In this one he seemed uncomfortable and nervous, gone was the joking and swagger of a month ago. He even appeared to have lost some weight.

Assad offered a bunch of technocratic reforms: a new electoral law, a commitment to root out corruption, media reform, reform of municipal government, and the launch of a national dialogue for reform that will include 100 personalities. It was a technocrat's speech, not a leader or politician's speech, and he appeared rambling and perhaps even weak. Its contents were vague, and simply did not address the very serious crisis between the Syrian people and their state.

It's hard to interpret what this all means, because it was difficult to understand what Assad was pitching. He just didn't sell it, and we don't know who is supposed to big part of this national dialogue (although I've heard that longtime dissident Michel Kilo might be a part of it.) But it still feels too half-hearted, there was no grand gesture such as calling back security forces or addressing the refugee situation in Turkey (for instance by offering an amnesty and guarantees that they will be unharmed if they return and that the incidents that led to their flight will be investigated.)

It's very hard to judge from the outside where Syria is headed. This speech further muddles the picture, with Assad making a half-hearted conciliatory gesture that simply does not convince.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.