Last month, Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, said he was serious about reform, and soon after that he scrapped the "emergency law", released political prisoners, gave citizenship to the Kurds and abolished the notorious, Supreme State Security court.
A few days later, however, the Syrian army rolled into Deraa, the southern city where the uprising began. Hundreds of people were killed, the city was besieged, communications were cut off and the nearby border with Jordan was sealed.
The apparent contradictions between words and actions have made people wonder about who Syria's real power-brokers are.
Is al-Assad a brutal leader putting on an act as reformer? Or is he a member of a ruling family that really holds the reins behind the scenes?
Inside Story, with presenter Nick Clark, discusses with Marwa Daoudy, lecturer at Oxford University's Department of Politics and International Relations; Murhaf Jouejati, Professor of Middle East Studies at George Washington University and former political advisor to Hafez al-Assad's government; and Haitham Manna, spokesperson for the Arab Commission for Human Rights.
This episode of Inside Story aired from Friday, May 6, 2011.