Reform, Syrian Style


This, from a Michael Slackman piece in the New York Times on the continued stifling of dissent in Syria:

"I may not be keen on early morning arrests, but this regime was being threatened," Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Dardari, a London educated technocrat charged with steering Syria's economic overhaul, said in an interview. "The survival of this regime and the stability of this country was threatened out loud and openly. There were invitations for foreign armies to come and invade Syria. So you could expect sometimes an overreaction, or a reaction, to something that is really happening."

Threatened? Mostly the Bush administration made rumblings about "behavior change" in Syria, but it never came close to threatening the regime. The U.S. does back a United Nations investigation into the murder of former Lebanese prime minister, Rafiq Hariri, but if Syria has something to fear there (and it does), that's because it was almost certainly behind the assassination. As for describing the jailing and beating of Syrian regime critics as an "overreaction", Dardari certainly did pick up one noted British trait: understatement.

Why is this important, after all describing the Syrian regime as thuggish is as original as saying that Arctic nights are cold? Very simply, because Dardari has been held up by many a naif on Syria, by those who are convinced that Bashar Assad is deep down a secret reformer, as the great hope of newfound Syrian openness. You see, if an Arab official speaks English, he must be a reformer. I recall similar optimism greeting the former information minister, Mehdi Dakhlallah, who was supposed to be a Baathist version of Peter Jennings. That is until a former guest in a Syrian prison reported that Dakhlallah had participated in his interrogation.

Well, maybe there is change in Syria after all. Dardari did admit to "early morning arrests." In the past, they tended to occur in the dead of night.