In his second television appearance since the protest movement began in Syria one month ago, president Bashar al-Assad said Saturday that he expects the government to lift a "state of emergency" that has been in effect for nearly 50 years, the Associated Press reports.
The "state of emergency" has enabled the Syrian government to enact "emergency laws" since the 1960s that give the regime carte blanche to arrest people without charge and extend state authority into virtually every aspect of Syrians’ lives. Assad said the repeal will come "before the end of next week," reports the New York Times. He also promised to fight unemployment and study the legalization of political parties (which are banned), as well as laws guaranteeing the right to peacefully assemble.
Over the past four weeks, Syrian protesters have challenged the country's authoritarian regime, despite the government's crackdown, which has claimed 200 lives, according to rights groups. Friday was the largest gathering of protesters to date as tens of thousands marched towards Damascus.
Assad's pledge to lift the "emergency law" seems like a turning point as it's one of the first real signs the regime is showing of responding to the will of the Syrian people. Prior to this, the president made largely symbolic gestures such as forming committees and firing his cabinet, which had little power to begin with.
Nonetheless, despite making this concession, the president told the newly formed cabinet on Saturday that, "After that we will not tolerate any attempt at sabotage,” causing critics to believe that this would not be enough to satisfy protesters. Even if the law changes, it appears that Assad continues to believe in imposing order. “The Syrian people are civilized and orderly: they love order and they do not like chaos,” Assad said.