The overused phrase too little too late has seldom seemed more apposite than in its application to the current situation in Syria. Since mid-March President Bashar al-Assad has known that the Arab Spring influence had spread to his country and that, for instance, almost half-a-century of emergency rule was no longer acceptable to very large numbers of his citizens who were prepared to risk their lives to demonstrate in the streets. Twice, on 30 March and in mid-April, Assad has had the chance to deliver the reforms he has so frequently promised but on each occasion he failed to do so. This week he finally grasped the nettle and revoked the emergency legislation -- but, as yesterday's events in Damascus and throughout the country showed, his response was indeed too little too late. Other reforms-- the release of political prisoners and the right of opposition parties to exist -- remain unanswered and will now be demanded with increasing force.
Assad is in a difficult position. His own instincts are probably more moderate than those of his advisors and Syria's brutal security services but the dictatorial way in which the country has been governed for so long means that there is no alternative power base to which Assad could appeal for support in introducing a more moderate regime. But the protestors in the streets are now unlikely to yield.