The Syrian President's Speech: Surprise! There's No Surprise

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Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad addresses parliament in Damascus, March 30, 2011.

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The protests had kicked off in the southern Syrian city of Dara'a, which has since borne the brunt of the repression. According to Human Rights Watch, more than 60 people have been killed in the Dara'a province alone. Assad said he mourned the loss of life, because "the blood spilled was Syrian. It is our blood, the victims are our brothers, and their parents are our parents."

He promised a quick investigation into the killings and to hold those responsible accountable. He absolved the people of the city, claiming they played no role in the uprising and were "duped" into taking to the streets. "The people of Dara'a are the people of patriotism and the people of pan-Arab nationalism," Assad said. "Dara'a is a frontline region against the Israeli enemy. It is impossible for a person to, at the same time, defend the nation and then try to harm it!" In response, a lawmaker on the floor shouted, "Dara'a is with you for eternity!"

It's unclear if Assad's conciliatory gesture will quell the seething streets of the southern city. Abdulhamid says he fears Assad's scant attention to sweeping changes suggests that he may resort to violence to stem dissent. "I think internally, within the [Assad] family, a decision is made for confrontation, in that they didn't even feel or realize or think it's not the protesters they should appeal to, because they won't be appealed to anyway, but at least their support base should have been firmed up, they wanted to see Bashar as a reformer, as a person capable of rising up to the challenge, as a person able to deliver to the country something."

The emerging Syrian opposition is calling for large nationwide rallies on Friday, following afternoon prayers. Assad has played his hand. On Friday, the people will likely play theirs.

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