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May 18, 2005

SIGNS OF PROGRESS IN SYRIA?

Beset by U.S. attempts to isolate his country and facing popular expectations of change, Syrian President Bashar Assad will move to begin legalizing political parties, purge the ruling Baath Party, sponsor free municipal elections in 2007 and formally endorse a market economy, according to officials, diplomats and analysts. . . .

Emboldened opposition leaders, many of whom openly support pressure by the United States even if they mistrust its intentions, said the measures were the last gasp of a government staggering after its hasty and embarrassing troop withdrawal last month from neighboring Lebanon.

The debate over the changes comes during a remarkable surge in what constitutes dissent in this country of 18 million. For the first time in years, opposition figures and even government allies are openly speculating on the fate of a party that, in some fashion, has ruled Syria since 1963 in the name of Arab nationalism, and today faces perhaps its greatest crisis.

As Jonah Goldberg notes, the rush of democratization has reached the point where the Post isn't even treating this as big news.

UPDATE: Here's a report of pro-democracy protests in Syria, with photos.