It was not the speech that Syrian protesters calling for reform had hoped for. A defiant and self-confident President Bashar al-Assad, surrounded by his loyal supporters, made no conciliatory gestures.
Despite raised hopes, there was no mention of lifting nearly 50 years of emergency rule. Instead, he blamed the recent weeks of unrest on a foreign conspiracy.
Reaction abroad has been dismissive. US State Department Spokesperson Mark Toner said:
“Leaderships of many of these countries need to respond to the legitimate aspirations of their people. It is far too easy to look for conspiracy theories than to respond in a meaningful way to the call for reform.”
Assad does enjoy strong popular support among the middle class and his extended clan who have benefited from a deregulation of the banking system and the telecoms industry. But not among the poor.
In recent weeks, more than 60 people have died in demonstrations against his rule.
Despite using his speech to tell protesters to go home, hundreds are said to have marched through the port of Latakia calling for freedom.