In a bid to calm protesters calling for more democratic freedoms, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said last week that a government committee will look into lifting the nation's controversial emergency law, which has allowed Assad's Baath Party to stay in power for nearly four decades. The announcement came the day after Assad blamed foreign conspirators for the recent wave of opposition to his authoritarian regime. In his televised address before members of Parliament last week, Assad offered no immediate reforms and made no concession on the emergency law, the issue at the center of antigovernment protests that erupted nearly two weeks ago, leaving dozens dead in their wake. After Assad speech, thousands took to the streets in the northwest port city of Latakia to express their anger at his failure to act. On Friday, protesters organized in several cities, and clashes with security forces in the Damascus suburb of Douma reportedly left a handful of people dead.
Activists viewed Assad's announcement as another hollow concession. Assad fired his 32-member cabinet in a symbolic move to appease protesters, but he still holds the bulk of power, which he inherited when his father, Hafez al-Assad, died 11 years ago. The instability in Syria could have regional implications, as it might encourage Assad to further strengthen Syria's ties with its closest ally, Iran. This alliance, which already embraces Hezbollah and sees neighboring Israel as an enemy, could complicate U.S. hopes for a Middle East peace agreement.
Amid growing civil unrest and the concern that the protests could become more violent, the United States issued a travel warning on Syria and authorized free flights for U.S. government workers to leave the country.