Middle East

Syria views: Can regime contain unrest?

President Bashar al-Assad of Syria has made his first public appearance in front of parliament since protests began two weeks ago to back reform, though without giving any timetable.

BBC Arabic has spoken to a number of Syrians about whether reforms are enough to overcome tensions in the country.

Tarik, 43, Sweida (full name withheld by request)

Syrian authorities are not only responsible for what went on in Deraa [the southern town where protests first started], they are directly responsible for any sectarian tensions that occur. The authorities' repressive policies have always targeted certain communities over others.

Since the arrival of Bashar al-Assad in 2000, arbitrary arrest and detention has been the usual response to anyone who demands their legitimate rights, as was the case with the Kurds of Qamishli city in 2004.

The president said previously that Syria is not Egypt or Tunisia. Is Syria really different? Is the president popularly elected, or did he inherit his power like many Arab leaders? In the midst of this turmoil in the region, he should have treated us with less arrogance and utmost respect when it comes to legitimate demands.

The president and his adviser Bouthaina Shaaban blame foreign elements for causing sectarian strife. But, I ask, who stormed the al-Omari mosque a day after Shaaban promised an investigation. Sectarianism has no place in Syria, however, recent tensions were not caused at the behest foreign TV satellite channels. Tensions are caused when you arbitrarily detain children and kill unarmed civilians.

Syrian citizens deserve as much, if not more, than the rights Egyptians have secured for themselves and I hope that the authorities realise this fact before it's too late. The legitimate demands of Syrians cannot be ignored for ever.

Hadi Matta, 30, Pharmacist, Damascus

I welcome the sacking of the government and I would like to see other changes recently announced… particularly taking tougher measures against corruption.

Reforms should be introduced as fast as possible and the authorities must hold all security officials responsible for what happened in Deraa and other towns. Mistakes should be admitted and rectified in order to calm the streets down.

I do not think that any Syrian is against reform, greater freedoms and peaceful constitutional changes. But what happened in Syria recently was not a revolution for reform or a revolution for freedom.

It was a revolution that started out from under the domes of mosques. Such revolutions do not represent me as a Christian Syrian and secular nationalist socialist. I do not trust any revolution that attacks others for simply holding different point of views, destroys public facilities or attacks security personnel.

As for the issue of sectarian strife, it has not been a problem in Syria. However, some satellite channels have raised this issue in their broadcasts, which has made communities wary of each other in a way that is strange to most Syrians.

Fatima, Housewife, Deraa (full name withheld by request)

I hope President Bashar's speech will calm the country. I also hope the regime will start real reforms rather than pay lip service, as has been the case previously.

The most important change I would like to see is lifting the state of emergency which has been in force since the 1960s, and has contributed significantly to the deterioration of relations between the people of Deraa and the security authorities.

The removal of the governor was a welcome step, but not enough. But the fact that the central government has submitted its resignation shows that Damascus cares about what happens, and takes our demands seriously.

The people of Deraa are not complaining about poverty and hunger; their complaints are more fundamental. The situation came to a head when security forces surrounded the city and attacked peaceful demonstrators with tear gas and live rounds.

Ansaf Saad, 39, civil engineer, Latakia

Comparing the situation in Syria with other Arab countries is not right. The president has initiated radical economic reforms since coming to power. This is obvious in recent times. For example, food prices have become more affordable for everyone. Also, the president's spokesperson has announced further steps such as raising salaries in April.

The recent incidents in Latakia indicate the presence of foreign elements aimed at destabilising the security and stability of the country. Peaceful demonstrations are guaranteed by law but in recent days there have been attempts to stir up sectarian strife and this was apparent when we saw groups of unidentified young people roaming the streets in their cars chanting sectarian slogans.

Military intervention was warranted to stop the agitators who set alight and damaged public and private property, including my office which is located downtown. Youth groups were forced to form neighbourhood watch committees to protect their homes and their streets.

Latakia is a living example of tolerance that exists between the spectrum of the Syrian people. All communities live here in peace, which is the most beautiful thing I love about this country and the government has the right to maintain this unique melting pot, if endangered.