Dubai: Syrian President Bashar Al Assad describes the need of his country for reform, a real reform that includes new decrees, opening up society and starting dialogue so it will accommodate his people's rising political and economic aspirations.

"If you want to go towards democracy, the first thing is to involve the people in decision making, not to make it," Al Assad said.

"It is not my democracy as a person; it is our democracy as a society. So how do you start?"

He said: "We did not have private media in the past; we did not have internet or private universities, we did not have banks. Everything was controlled by the state."

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Al Assad describes the present unrest in the region, with the Tunisian revolution and Egypt's ongoing protest as a step towards a "new era" in the Middle East.

It was a new period that would change many things, he said, "at least in the way we think as governments and as officials regarding our people".

Blaming the uprising of the people on desperation, he said: "Whenever you have an uprising, it is self-evident that to say that you have anger, but this anger feeds on desperation."

Al Assad said he saw that the region and Syria needed to change, so to deal with the internal desperation, it was change that as a state, Syria and its institutions must keep up with.

But the greatest need in his opinion was to open up the minds of everybody from the state to the common people. He pointed out that: "Societies during the last three decades, especially since the 80s have become more closed due to an increase in close mindedness that led to extremism."

Grassroots support

He went on to say that Syria was not Egypt or Tunisia, because the Syrian administration was in much better shape in terms of its relationship with the nation's grassroots.

"We have more difficult circumstances than most of the Arab countries but in spite of that Syria is stable," he said.

"Why? Because you have to be very closely linked to the beliefs of the people."

Other states were not, he said. "When there is divergence between your policy and the people's beliefs and interests, you will have this vacuum that creates disturbance," he said.

Answering a question about whether there was any concern that events unfolding in Egypt would affect Syria, Al Assad said Syria was a different case. This was because first Syria was embargoed by many countries, whereas Egypt received financial support from the US.

Syria was growing econ-omically while Egypt was not, and even though Syria didn't have many of the people's basic needs, the state was very closely linked to their beliefs.

"This is the core issue," he said.

Regarding Lebanon, Al Assad said Syria hoped it would form a united government.

"We are talking about a divided country, not a stable government. So, without a national unity government, this means a conflict," Al Assad said.

On the issue of the tribunal, Al Assad wondered if it would be professional or just another political tool.

He said: "They are talking about accusing some people without evidence. How can you accuse anyone without having any evidence that they are involved or complicit?"

"They said they suspect some people who were close to the region, some people who used the telephone, and things like this, i.e. theories. But we do not have any concrete evidence," the President said.

Peace Process

"The leaks, recordings of some people who wanted to make fake evidence and fake witnesses are very clear now.

"Therefore, there was a lot of fuss about this tribunal and about the credibility and professionalism of this tribunal," he said.

Al Assad said this was why some thought the tribunal was politicised, and the only guarantee in this case was the role of the Lebanese government to refuse that indictment.

On the Middle East peace process, Al Assad said Damascus remained open to dialogue with Israel.

"No, the peace process is not dead, because you do not have any other option," he said.