Syria’s Assad a work in progress

Quote in: The Star, MITCH POTTER MIDDLE EAST BUREAU

“I’m still waiting for him to be presidential. We need to hear his vision while there is still time,” Syrian dissident Ammar Abdulhamid told the Star.

“Either he will come out with a real re-creation of the entire modus operandi of this government, or he will pave the way for international sanctions and internal dissent, leading to implosion, eventually,” added Abdulhamid, the leader of a minority rights project who has been banned from travelling aboard.

Abdulhamid scoffs at what he views as lost decades dedicated to pan-Arab hopes.

“We have Palestinian refugees in Syria but no success to show for it. We have a half million Iraqis now, and prices for everything are going up. We spent 30 years in Lebanon and all we get is hatred,” Abdulhamid said. “Syria has always been the heartbeat of Arab nationalism, and where has it got us?”

But for all its problems, Assad’s Syria feels nowhere near as claustrophobic as Saddam’s Iraq. Here, mobile phones are everywhere, and rooftop dishes draw down satellite television on a scale that would have led to mass arrests in Baathist Iraq. And while the estimated 500 Internet cafes in Syria remain subject to state surveillance, young Syrians have become experts at improvising their way onto sites banned by the government.