The protest movement initially limited its demands to reforms rather than regime change. But when the regime dithered over the reforms and then the security forces began using live ammunition against unarmed street marchers, the demands and the resolve of the protesters hardened.
At first, it appeared that sheer brute force could snuff out the embers of revolt, but the protesters have continued to take to the streets seemingly undaunted, even as the casualty toll mounts. Although the opposition has yet to win over the cities of Damascus and Aleppo, where half the country’s population lives, the security forces have proven unable to crush the uprising.
Today, in his first public comments in two months, Assad said that Syria was at a “turning point" and sought to persuade his listeners to patiently await promised reforms rather than siding with a small group of "saboteurs."
“We can say that national dialogue is the slogan of the next stage,” he said at Damascus University before an audience of invited guests. “The national dialogue could lead to amendments of the constitution or to a new constitution.”
However, Assad added that there could be “no development without stability, no reform in the face of sabotage and chaos.”
“We make a distinction between those [with legitimate grievances] and the saboteurs who represent a small group which has tried to exploit the goodwill of the Syrian people for its own ends,” he said.