Does this look like reform to you?

Guest post by DaveM

First the US and EU called on Bashar al-Assad to reform, and he responded with tanks.

Now even his allies are joining in the chorus calling for reforms, without actually specifying what that would involve.

They’re not calling for a non-existent Nu-Bathist Liberal Syria simply because it seems like a good idea; they’re appealing to Assad to do something otherwise he could lose everything.

This very point was brought up in the Arab news media.

It seems that the Syrian President’s allies in the region are now aware of the truth about what is happening in Syria today; they are now talking openly about the need to reform the situation, or rather rescue it, before something truly undesirable happens.

So far the Syrian regime’s response has been to cut the price of diesel fuel and set up committees to examine economic reform and media law.

Yet this is an example of what’s happening on the ground.

Al Jazeera: “The torturing to death of a number of people from Al Musayfrah, east of Daraa”

“A final goodbye for Nazeer Zoubia, aged 28. The last time he was seen alive was over 3 weeks ago. He was taking part in a demonstration against the government and didn’t return home.

“His family say that the security forces arrested him, then afterwards his corpse was returned, stained with blood, showing marks of having been beaten and marked with contusions, yet without any explanation of what happened to him or the circumstances of his death. They want answers, and some of them want revenge.

“According to the villagers Nazeer was one of among more than 50 men who were arrested on the 29th April. Twenty-five bodies have been returned, but the fate of the others is still unknown. Verifying these stories by way of an independent source is impossible due to the restrictions placed on the media.

(cries of) “The people want to overthrow the regime!”

‘But what’s certain is that during their funerals the streets were filled with anger.

“Hundreds took part in the funeral saying that they were there to send a message that the escalating violence being used against them will only increase their determination to achieve that which they set out to do.”

So even if Assad were to implement these unspecified reforms, does it look like it would even be enough? Would it be enough for you if that was your child?

Economically the EU has followed the America’s lead in freezing Assad’s assets, banning him from traveling and it has suspending European aid to Syria. And if Assad has assets in Switzerland, they’ll be frozen.

The Syrian foreign minister’s response to this was all too predicable.

Syria said the EU “erred when they attacked the president and when they adopted sanctions that harm the Syrian people”.

“Today, the Europeans have added a black page to their record of colonialism in the region,” Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said in an interview on state television, accusing Europe of fomenting violence and discord.

“These measures are going to harm us as they will the interests of Europe, and Syria will not remain silent to this.”

Some have scoffed at the effects of sanctions on the regime.

Others are starting to feel their effects.

[B]usiness leaders remain wary and even the most disaffected are more likely to leave the country than protest, according to [an] analyst: “It is easier to go to Dubai than try to turn against the regime – they have too much to lose.”

But Assad may only be putting off the inevitable. As the government seeks to appease protesters, it has reversed economic policy, stemming plans to cut subsidies and pledged pay rises and extra jobs in an already burgeoning public sector. This has found favour with some ordinary families but is unaffordable in the long term.

Inflation is almost certain to rise as the government signs up a company to print more money. Investor confidence has dropped and EU sanctions on [Assad’s cousin Rami] Makhlouf, who is already under US sanctions, will make people wary of dealing with him.

“I want stability,” says one shopkeeper in the new area of the city. “But if none of us can make money, maybe I will consider protesting.”

While sanctions may not directly affect the rulers or Syria’s poor, they will, in addition to the violence, exacerbate the situation for businessmen, traders and the middle classes.
These are the groups which initially benefited under Assad’s economic policies.

But if his economic support base turns against him, what then?

What if the Syrian economy is no longer sustainable? What options does he have left?