The last free political forum - closed
Mukabaraat agents have closed the last remaining dissident political group in Syria - the Jamal Atassi forum - by arresting its eight leaders.
The arrest comes just days after one of the men read a statement in the name of the Al-Qaeda-linked 'Muslim Brotherhood' at an Atassi meeting.
The forums sprung up when President Bashar Al-Assad came to power in 2000. That period of growing political freedoms was called the 'Damascus spring'. Independent newspapers, dissenting politics, criticism of the government, and even open political groups - the 'forums' - were permitted until the security services felt their authority was being challenged. They slowly started clamping down, against the will of the President, in 2002.
Bashar still talks of reform, and the current 'hands off' period is starting to be called the second spring. It'll cumulate - say Western diplomats and analysts - with radical reforms at the Baath Party conference in June (the first conference since Bashar came to power). Others are more sceptical.
That's why the closure of the Jamal Atassi group seems so surprising - or maybe just a last gasp of the old guard? Ammar Qurabi of the Arab Organisation of Human Rights holds out hope that the closure and arrests are just an investigation.