DAMASCUS, Syria – Facing an extraordinary wave of popular dissent, Syrian President Bashar Assad fired his Cabinet on Tuesday and promised to end widely despised emergency laws.
The overtures, while largely symbolic, are a moment of rare compromise in the Assad family’s 40 years of iron-fisted rule. Security forces monitor and control nearly every aspect of society in Syria.
But with the protests that erupted in Syria on March 18, thousands of Syrians appear to have broken through a barrier of fear in this tightly controlled nation of 23 million.
“Syria stands at a crossroads,” said Aktham Nuaisse, a leading human rights activist.
“Either the president takes immediate, drastic reform measures, or the country descends into one of several ugly scenarios.”
The coming days will be key to determining whether Assad’s concessions will quiet the protest movement, which began after security forces arrested several teenagers who scrawled anti-government graffiti on a wall in the impoverished city of Daraa in the south.
The protests spread to other provinces and the government launched a swift crackdown, killing more than 60 people since March 18, according to Human Rights Watch.