The Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, is proving to be a true son of his father, Hafez. Around 30 years ago, Hafez al-Assad crushed an armed revolt by killing 30,000 people across his own country. Confronted with the 11-week-old people’s revolution in Syria, the younger Mr al-Assad first tried to make cosmetic concessions. He lifted the emergency laws, which have ensured the uninterrupted supremacy of the al-Assad family for close to four decades. Then he released some important political detainees, though the oppression of the secret police remained undiminished. Mr al-Assad seemed to believe that he had earned his reprieve with these ‘compromises’ and refused to step down from power. Now finally, with the insurgency spreading right across Syria, Mr al-Assad has dropped all pretence of cooperation, and at least 70 people were butchered by government forces in Deraa recently. Clandestine killings, tortures and detentions have been taking place in Syria all this while. But the death of 13-year-old Hamza al-Khatib, who was found with appalling injuries all over his body, seemed to have unleashed the hitherto suppressed discontent of the masses. The entire nation has erupted.
Such is the level of anger among ordinary Syrians that even the West, which is habitually reluctant about meddling with the internal affairs of the country because of its good relations with Iran, appears all too ready to speak out against the atrocities of the regime. Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state of the United States of America, has gone so far as to dismiss Mr al-Assad’s political moves as empty gestures. There is mounting pressure within the United Nations to hold Mr al-Assad and key members of his regime’s security apparatus accountable for crimes against humanity. The final option before the president — who has tried in vain to salvage his credentials as a reformer — is to let the foreign press enter the country and talk to the common people. That would be the only way he could still prove himself clean.