Syria did away with 50 years of emergency rule Tuesday, but emboldened and defiant crowds accused President Bashar Assad of simply trying to buy time.
Repealing the state of emergency was once the key demand of the monthlong uprising. But the protest movement has crossed a significant threshold, with increasing numbers now seeking nothing less than the downfall of the regime.
"They don't want to admit there's a Syrian revolution," said one protester in the city of Banias, among thousands who took to the streets in several cities and towns across Syria. "The people are not interested in small changes here and there anymore," he said.
If the regime in Syria wobbles, it could both weaken a major Arab foe of the West and exacerbate fearsome tendencies toward sectarianism and chaos in the Middle East. Instability in Syria also throws into disarray the U.S. push for engagement with Damascus, part of Washington's plan to peel the country away from its allegiance to Hamas, Hezbollah and Tehran.
The rejection by protesters of the lifting of emergency rule could pose a make-or-break moment for Assad. He has said that after this concession, there would be no further "excuse" for demonstrations. That could mean that the uprising -- in which more than 200 have already been killed -- could take an even bloodier turn.