The libretto was repetitious and distinctly lacking in originality, and its delivery, a dull but bizarrely confident diatribe from a tired performer whose time has clearly passed but who insists on still hogging the stage. Although a handpicked, sycophantic audience lapped it up, cheering to the echo, reviews were not as flattering. The Damascus Opera House has seen far better.
The hour-long speech on Sunday by Syria’s president Bashar al Assad, saw him offering “dialogue”, albeit only with approved oppositionists, and both a new cabinet and constitution, while pledging to continue the fight in “a war to defend the nation” against “terrorist” violence. The dialogue would draw up a charter to be put to a national referendum, followed by elections and a general amnesty. He dismissed as foreign interference the mediation efforts of UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and made it clear he had no intention of standing down, the key prerequisite for all the opposition ahead of any transition talks.
The main opposition body, the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, rightly called the speech “a pre-emptive strike against both Arab and international diplomatic solutions.” For the international community and the UN it poses difficult questions about what to do now – Brahimi will certainly find it difficult to continue in his role.
Assad’s insistence on painting the opposition as fundamentalist – or foreign-inspired reflects profound self-delusion about the popular character of a rising that has now passed a point of no return. Even allies like the Russians have been telling him that he cannot defeat the rebels militarily. A prolonged bloody stalemate – 60,000 dead so far – is in prospect with the rebels also unable to deal a decisive blow, although they have come to control large parts of the north and east of the country and even the capital’s suburbs have become war zones. Assad’s empty promises will only mean more tragedy.