It wasn’t until the Arab uprising began that I realized that practically every country in the Middle East and North Africa had some form of an “emergency law” in effect, typically for decades. The law would usually state that the country was under a state of emergency, which necessitated restricting free expression and free assembly. And they’ve gone on for so long to become normalized practice.

So a key demand of many of the protests in the Arab world has been to lift the emergency law. The cabinet of Bashar al-Assad in Syria has taken the first step on that front, after weeks of protests.

Syria’s Cabinet endorsed a draft decree to lift a 48-year-old emergency law, the main demand of protesters challenging President Bashar al-Assad’s rule.

The Council of Ministers also approved draft bills to dissolve the Supreme State Security Court and regulate the right to protest, Information Minister Adnan Mahmoud said today in a televised speech after the Cabinet session. The measures need the approval of the president or parliament to become law, former lawmaker George Jabbour said in a telephone interview.

Despite this being a major step, considering how long the law was in place, it will not chill the protest movement in the least. Basically the government is offering a concession that allows the protests which are already taking place to continue to take place. That’s not much of a concession, and throughout the protests and subsequent repression in Syria, the calls have shifted from generic desires for more freedoms to an overthrow of the regime. I don’t know if we’re at the point with the Syrian protests as we are with the Egyptian ones, where nothing less than Mubarak’s ouster was acceptable, but we’re getting to that point. And you remember that backpedaling by the regime in Egypt did nothing to stop the protests. I suspect the same will occur in Syria.

Agence-France Presse reports that four people died in the firing by security forces on sleeping protesters occupying the central square in Homs early this morning. The total death toll since the protests began is anywhere between 130 and 200.

UPDATE: More eyewitness accounts of the massacre in Homs today. I think the juxtaposition of the supposed concession of lifting the emergency law and the mass shooting and arrest of peaceful protesters will not be lost on the Syrian people.