In Syria, President's Cabinet Resigns

Syria's president has accepted his cabinet's resignation and promised to introduce new reforms that would "make the people happy." The move follows a now familiar script: Tunisia and Egypt also saw mass departures among top government officials in response to protests — though in both cases, the president himself ultimately resigned as well. It's unclear if the change will appease protesters who have been demonstrating for two weeks in defiance of Syria's emergency laws, which have been in effect since 1963. Michele Norris talks with Al Jazeera English reporter Rula Amin.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

We turn now to the unrest in Syria where President Bashar al-Assad has accepted his Cabinet's resignation and promised to introduce new reforms that would, quote, "make the people happy."

The move follows a now familiar script. Tunisia and Egypt also saw mass departures among top government officials in response to protests. Though in both cases, the president himself ultimately resigned as well.

It's unclear if the change in Assad's Cabinet will appease protesters who've been demonstrating for two weeks in clear defiance of Syria's emergency laws in effect since 1963.

For more, we're joined by cell phone by Rula Amin. She's been covering the conflict for Al-Jazeera English.

Welcome to the program.

Ms. RULA AMIN (Reporter, Al-Jazeera English): Thank you.

NORRIS: I just want you to clarify something for us, Rula. This mass resignation, was it just that, or is this perhaps a grand sweep that was orchestrated by al-Assad himself, trying to hold on to power?

Ms. AMIN: Well, you know, the government here is not considered to be very powerful. Everyone knows that the prime minister and the ministers, at the end of the day, they don't have the ultimate say. However, the government became a symbol for corruption. It has become a symbol of the bad performance. So the fact that the government decides for many people here is just the start. It's a sign that he is serious about bringing change.

Now, people want to know tomorrow how serious is he and how far is he willing to go. We have to remember the government is also in an awkward position because they fear that if they give out too many concessions, they will look weak, and that would actually empower the demonstrators and the protesters to take to the streets in larger numbers.

That's why today, we saw hundreds of thousands of demonstrators take to the streets in support of the president. They were called upon by the ruling Ba'ath Party to come out and voice their support for the president. That way, the regime sounds strong, even if he - the president gives concessions, it looks out of strength, not weakness.

NORRIS: Since we're talking about concessions, can you quickly tick through the things that the protesters are demanding?

Ms. AMIN: They have the fear of the (unintelligible). They want an end to corruption. This is something that every protester we spoke to wanted. People want more political freedom. They want the right to express themselves. They want to be able to take to the streets, protest, voice their opinions without fearing the security police coming at night to pick them up, arrest them and that they can't be imprisoned for years without any trial.

That's why the lifting of the state of the emergency law, which hasn't strayed too much since 1963, as you said, is a basic, basic need. This is something at the top priority.

NORRIS: This seems to be a big test for President Assad. Help us understand the strategic relationship between Syria and the U.S. Because on one hand, the country has been trying to, at least, reach out to the United States and portray itself as a friend to the West, while also at the same time strengthening ties with Hamas and Hezbollah and Iran?

Ms. AMIN: Yes. They feel all these relationships actually makes them stronger to face the U.S. and say these are our demands. This is what we want. And either you give it to us, or we can be the spoiler in the region.

And the U.S. for a while, during the Bush years, thought that the way to go is to pressure Syria in order to give up all these cards.

When President Obama came, there was a shift in the policy. They said, okay, we have to engage Syria to lure it away from Iran, to make it seem so irresistible that they have to give up Hezbollah and Hamas because we're going to give it something in return. So far, it doesn't seem that the U.S. has given enough to the Syrian government, in their view, for them to give up these cards.

NORRIS: We've been speaking with Rula Amin. She's with Al-Jazeera English, and she's been talking to us about the unrest in Syria.

Thank you very much.

Ms. AMIN: You are welcome.

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