Mr. Assad, Tear Down This Wall!

02/07/2011 06:33 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said that he has nothing to worry about, that he is more in tune with his people.

"Syria is stable. Why?" Mr. Assad said. "Because you have to be very closely linked to the beliefs of the people. This is the core issue. When there is divergence... you will have this vacuum that creates disturbances."

He was referring to Egypt's close ties with the United States, and Syria's anti-American stance; Egypt's peace treaty with Israel compared to Syria's decades-long standoff.

Hold on, Mr. Assad.

You are missing the point.

The people in Tunisia and Egypt who are standing against Tunisian and Egyptian tanks are anti-dictatorship. Sadly, for the Syrian people, you have proven yourself as the worst among them.

Are you so confident in your ability to shut down free expression, to round up political opponents, to arrest bloggers, and imprison 80-year-old lawyers -- that you can muffle the voice of anyone with a different view from your own before they cause a "disturbance" in Damascus? Is this what you mean by "closely linked" with the people?

What is particularly distinctive about the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt today is that they are not about America -- or, for that matter, Israel -- but they are about the way Arab leaders govern.

They are about the right of people to make a decent living. The freedom to express differences of opinion from the state. The ability to elect leaders of their choosing. The desire for political systems to not be laden with corruption and cronyism. And for economies that allow for entrepreneurship, competition and innovation -- not filling the pockets of party loyalists.

Syrians want to be free of your oppression more than you think. You -- and your father before you -- have held a grip on a nation for half a century, during which you snuffed out even the merest competition to your authority.

Your regime's brutality has been rivaled only by Saddam Hussein's. Decades ago, your father's slaughter of 20-40,000 (the numbers of dead have never really been verified) quelled a challenge to your perception of close links with the people.

I doubt that Riad Seif and the 12 others who just spent two-and-a-half years in prison for daring to form a political party -- boldly signing their names and publishing their platform -- would agree that you and they see eye to eye.

Are the people of Syria anti-American -- or is your regime anti-Syrian? As in Egypt and Tunisia, America is not the issue.

In the time of satellite television and internet connectivity that puts people across the globe in communication with one another at a click of a button, your mistreatment of your own citizens does not go without notice.

You have become synonymous with tyranny, with fear, with a state security apparatus that suppresses even the most modest of expressions.

You have erected a wall of injustice -- not against the United States or Israel, but against your own citizens.

I won't be the first to utter these words, which herald political change that swept across a different region in a different time, but has as much meaning today as when they were first uttered in Berlin in 1987 to then President Gorbachev.

Mr. Assad, tear down this wall!

Richard Eisendorf is a specialist in media, democracy and human rights in the Middle East.