Thousands of supporters of the Alawi leader have poured into Sabi’a Bahrat (Seven Seas) Square whose access roads are under tight control of anti-riot police.
Men, women and children, waving Syrian flags and holding pictures of the president and his father, Hafez al-Assad, chanted, “The people want Bashar al-Assad” as well as “God, Syria and Bashar are enough” in response to anti-regime protesters whose slogan is “God, Syria and freedom are enough”.
In reporting pro-Bashar demonstrations, state TV said that “millions of citizens” from “every region” of the country came out, with live footage from Damascus, Homs, Aleppo in the north, Hasake in the north-east and Hama in the central part of the country. No images were broadcast from Deraa (Daraa) in the south or from Lattakia, Syria’s main port, where government repression resulted in many casualties.
These demonstrations follow president’s statement that the state of emergency in place since 1963, when the Ba‘ath party took power, would be lifted. Assad, who succeeded his father in 2000, is expected to address the nation a few hours from now to announce a string of reforms.
This is the worst political crisis facing Syria since the early 1980s when the regime crushed a Muslim fundamentalism movement.
Events in Syria are also being closely monitored in the region. For many analysts, if Syria collapses into Libya-style chaos or if Assad is ousted like his counterparts in Tunisia and Egypt, there will be major strategic ramifications for Syria’s close regional allies—Iran, Hizbollah and Hamas. Even Israel, which views Syria as a hostile but predictable neighbour, is watching events with some trepidation, waiting for the outcome.
Any change in power in Damascus would have an immediate effect in Lebanon and on the regional balance of power between Shias and Sunnis.