The regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad is being
increasingly challenged by dissidents.
Syrian opposition sources said dissidents have become bolder under the
new regime. The sources said that despite a crackdown on reformers an
increasing number of prominent Syrians have pressed for democratic freedoms.
So far, more than 2,000 prominent Syrians have signed a petition to
Assad that urged an end to emergency law. [Syria has been under emergency
regulations since 1963, Middle East Newsline reported.]
"We, the signatories, herein demand the Syrian authorities lift the
state of emergency and annul all associated measures," the petition said.
The petition was drafted by the Committees for the Defense of Democratic
Liberties and Human Rights in Syria. Members of the group have not reported
any significant retaliation by the Assad regime.
Opposition sources said that under the regime of Assad's father, who
Syria from 1970 until 2000, protests and petitions for democracy were
quickly and brutally quelled. But they said the new regime has been
perceived as much weaker in wake of the U.S.-led war in
Iraq, which placed U.S. troops along the border with Syria.
Unlike his father, Bashar appears to have launched an effort to
reconcile with his Islamic opposition. Over the last month, the president
ordered the release of more than 120 prisoners, most of them Muslim
Brotherhood members detained since 1982.
Bashar, who has rejected the U.S. campaign for democracy in the Middle
East, has also allowed some political activity in Syria. They include the
operation of seven parties aligned with the ruling National Progressive
Front. The president has also allowed more than 170 Syrian supporters of the
Iraqi Baath Party to return from exile.
At the same time, Syrian authorities prevented the head of the human
rights committee, Haitham Al Malah, from traveling abroad. A statement by
group said Al Malah had sought to board a flight from Damascus to the
United Arab Emirates for a family visit.