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The New Yorker: The Syrian Problem

May 30, 2011


The New Yorker's Steve Coll looks at the past decade of oppressive rule by the Assad regime and argues that the time for Washington to negotiate has passed.

The Damascus Spring of 2001 was so called because Syrian democrats hoped that President Bashar al-Assad, a mild-mannered doctor trained in London, who had been installed as the successor to his ruthless father, Hafez, might forswear tyranny. That Spring ended, and some of the hopeful landed in torture rooms. Four years later, activists issued the Damascus Declaration for Democratic National Change, which called on Assad to hold free parliamentary elections, “launch public freedoms,” and “abolish all forms of exclusion in public life.” Instead, he imprisoned the document's leading signatories.

Last Thursday morning, Radwan Ziadeh, a signer of the Damascus Declaration, went to the State Department, in Washington, D.C., to hear President Obama assess the current Arab Spring, which has brought forth popular revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt as well as mass protests elsewhere, including in Syria, where Assad has responded by shooting demonstrators. Obama arrived late, after doing last-minute rewrites at the White House. On Syria, the President offered just eight parsed sentences. He accused Assad's regime of murder but did not call forthrightly for the President's departure, as he had when Libya's dictator, Muammar Qaddafi, ordered that protesters be shot. Syria's ruler “has a choice,” Obama said. He can lead “a transition to democracy . . . or get out of the way.” But Ziadeh was pleased, he said, because Assad now “has to understand that he has to step down.”


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