The government of Syria has agreed to life a five-year bank on Facebook in what is most likely a concession to its people amidst growing discontent across the Arab world over state repression.

In addition, President Bashar al-Assad told the Wall Street Journal last week that he will support political reforms this year, including the commencement of municipal elections, giving more power to non-governmental organizations and establishing a new media law.

Although it is officially banned in Syria, Facebook and other social networking like YouTube are reportedly popular across the country.

Haykal Media, publishers of Forward Magazine, online via Twitter, was the first to break the news. Abdulsalam Haykal is a Damascus-based technology and media entrepreneur, and social activist,

Mazen Darwish, of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression, told Western media: This is great news… The authorities now know that the Syrian people are not the enemy. We are not stupid and we know how to use these sites with intelligence. This is not just about Facebook, this is about a change in the mentality that the population needs somehow to be controlled. Things are changing. I hope this is the first step in a broader reform program.