Here is my take on the speech: first, he is probably the best speaker among all Arab leaders, and has by far the best command of the Arabic language (although he does not use that old-fashioned style of flowery expressions). As my mom says about him: he is the best educated among Arab leaders (many of whom are illiterate) and it shows. Secondly, the expectations were high by virtue of the statements by Faruq Ash-Shar` and Buthayna Sha`ban: his own aides. But personally, I don't think that you should have expected much. The Asad's school of Ba`thist repression in Syria is that you never show weakness and that you deny facts that are contrary to your interests. Bashshar did not want to believe that the Lebanese people wanted the Syrian army to leave Lebanon. And when hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets, he believed otherwise and gave a speech from that same podium arguing that the crowds were nothing other than a camera trick. The following massive pro-March 14 demonstration answered him back, loudly. And Arab tyrants are stubborn: they simply dismiss facts and realities that run contrary to their interests. But I also have argued that Bashshar is not running the show anymore: the narrow `Alawite minority military-intelligence elite felt threatened in its control as it did back in 1982 and it struck back and will strike back. Bashshar can only follow, and yesterday he seemed to be convinced of the argument of repression and more repression. The speech was a lousy failure by all measure: form and substance. I did not think that a repressive regime is capable of change or reform: it just can't happen. They all privately use the example of Gorbachev. They feel that reform is a slippery slope that would lead to their downfall eventually. I know from a person close to Bashshar that the latter has always argued against free elections because the Muslim Brotherhood would win all the seats, as he would say. He used to argue, privately, that preparing the Ba`th Party and building it up, would be the prerequisite to allow a measure of free elections. Of course, the Ba`th Party is as weak and hated as it has always been. Bashshar never succeeded in building it up, because it can't be built up. The speech offered nothing: except the conspiracy theory about the protests. I am big on conspiracy theories in the Arab world, and I do believe that Israel/Saudi Arabia have been involved in fomenting trouble and subversion in Syria. But that does not mean that there are no real and genuine protests (the bulk of the protests are real and genuine). Bashshar offered that there are sincere protesters but that they were duped by Fitnah scenario from outside. He wanted to appear strong and determined, and in that he succeeded. He was speaking not to the Syrian public, but to his Alawaite minority base. Let us not forget the narrow sectarian base of the regime, the secular inclusive rhetoric of Bashshar notwithstanding. The speech was actually grotesque and repugnant: at a time when unarmed protesters were shot and children were arrested, he made silly jokes (I commented on Facebook yesterday that one of the (additional) problems in the Arab world, is that the entourage of our tyrants convince them that they are funny: so they make jokes and they crack themselves up). His humor was tasteless and unfunny. He seemed arrogant and insensitive. And the cheers and clownish behavior of his lousy puppet parliament will be saved for future plays in free Damascus, to mock the Syrian Ba`thist tyranny. The Syrian parliament and the Saudi Shura Council: are somebody's idea about satire of parliament. What jokes they are those two. And the statements of their members should be preserved to account for their behavior later. They were like penguins: and how undignified. But tyrants appreciate that kind of behavior. Bashshar today announced the formation of yet another committee to investigate: add that to his committee to investigate the murder of lousy Rafiq Hariri. Has a committee in Ba`thist Syria ever reached conclusions ever? He got intoxicated with scenes of massive demonstrations in his support. Those demonstrations surprised me really and I don't buy the Hariri media notions that they were all forced. I do believe that there are Syrians who for whatever reasons like Bashshar and want him to succeed. A pro-Syrian politician called me last week upon returning from Syria and told me that the situation is serious and that it could easily get out of hand, if Bashshar did not deal with it skillfully. He added that Bashshar is well-liked by his people, unlike neighboring Arab countries. That may be true, but his speech was offensive to all Syrians, or it should be. Those regimes are hopeless: they can't be reformed. As-Safir and Al-Akhbar should have been more, much more, negative about the speech. It deserves only scorn.