A NEW ERA dawned in Syria in July 2000, when the long-standing president, Hafez al- Assad, passed on the mantle of government to his son, Bashar. Cynics hardly raised an eyebrow. They expected business as usual: a Syrian society kept oppressed, as it had been for years, and characterised by human rights violations, no freedom of expression, and the detention, in their thousands, of political opponents. Optimists, however, celebrated the new president's inauguration and called it the 'Damascus Spring'. A new climate of openness began to take hold, forums for the discussion of Syria's future were formed, outspoken human rights advocates emerged. For a brief moment, hope seemed justified. Then, in February 2001, Bashar's government imposed a set of heavy restrictions on free speech. This move was followed by a wave of detentions. Amnesty International released a report, 'Smothering Freedom of Expression: the Detention of Peacehl Critics', in which it noted that the authorities 'might be trying to turn back the clock' by imprisoning the new activists. The cynics, it seemed, were right. Bashar al-Assad's Syria did not look very different from that of his father.
Marwan Osman, a Kurdish writer and activist, is one casualty of the Damascus Spring's demise.