Syrian Protesters Wanted More From Obama's Speech

May 20, 2011
Originally published on May 20, 2011 6:24 am
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PETER KENYON: I'm Peter Kenyon in Beirut. President Obama may have used some of his strongest language, yet, to pressure Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, but for embattled anti-government rebels in Syria, yesterday's speech represented an incremental improvement, not the breakthrough policy shift they were hoping for.

From a Western viewpoint, the president's assertion that the Syrian leader must lead a transition to democracy or get out of the way had the ring of a hardening position that could soon lead to calls for him to step down. But opponents of the ruling Assad family first Hafez and now his son Bashar have heard American calls for reform before, and the regime has always managed to remain in power.

Analysts say Washington may be giving Assad a chance to demonstrate that this time he intends to follow through on his reform proposals, but activists remain skeptical. Assad maintains a tight grip on the army and the security forces, and he may be getting assistance from Syria's chief ally Iran. President Obama repeated that charge yesterday.

For pro-reform activists, perhaps the most promising parts of the president's speech were his demand that Syria stop shooting protesters and allow human rights workers into besieged cities and villages.

Anti-regime websites, meanwhile, are calling for another round of demonstrations today, which will provide the first indication of whether Syria intends to heed Mr. Obama's call to end violence against the protesters.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Beirut. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.