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Assad Not Moving an Inch on Emergency Law

Syrian leader Bashar Al-Assad was expected to announce the lifting of the country’s 50-year old emergency law late last night, but he didn’t even give up that one token concession during his speech:

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad defied expectations and dashed widespread hopes Wednesday when he made no mention of lifting a state of emergency in a national address.He acknowledged that Syrians want reform and that the government has not met their needs in a rambling 45-minute speech to the National Assembly, but he made few concrete promises after weeks of anti-government demonstrations that have left 73 people dead, according to Human Rights Watch.

The fact that Assad is digging in his heels on this issue will probably only further enflame the mass demonstrations across the country. The lifting of the law wouldn’t have been more than a symbolic victory for the protesters, but Assad’s rigidity suggests that he may be readying for a fight with the opposition.

The Obama administration needs to condemn Assad strongly on this. Over the weekend, Hillary Clinton spoke of the Syrian leader’s reputation as a “reformer” – those sort of statements need to end immediately. Lifting the emergency law would have been a simple (and not especially impactful) step for Assad to take. That he didn’t even do this shows that he’s completely unwilling to make even the smallest concession of his power, and it’s a troubling sign that a more violent government crackdown may be looming.