A notable moment in Syria’s Presidential campaign on Tuesday — challenger Hassan al-Nuri (pictured) dared to criticize the Assad regime over the 2011 protests.

Speaking to the French agency AFP, the businessman and former Minister of Administrative Development said the uprising began because of poor economic management and “the country’s wealth…monopolized by 100 families”: “The way the social market economy was developed was according to whim and personal favors”.

“Today there is a nationwide war and a foreign plot, but in the beginning, people took to the streets to demand rights. We mustn’t forget that,” al-Nuri said. “A lot of things could have been avoided.”

He said he wished “the current President had visited Daraa” — the city in southern Syria where protests started in March 2011 — as Assad could have “organized meetings, not at the Presidential palace, but in Daraa itself”.

Al-Nuri continued, “Assad succeeded on the political side of things, but I cannot agree with his economic, social and administrative performance.”

However, al-Nuri’s criticism was strictly limited to the past. He told AFP, “Now…we need to take into consideration that there is a global conspiracy….What happened at the start of 2012” — the start of the insurgency — “made me feel like they had been waiting to pounce on Syria.”

And, of course, the candidate was not making his comments to Syrian media but to a foreign outlet, a far safer option in the first multi-candidate election since the Assad family took control of the country more than 40 years ago.

Al-Nuri is one of two challengers to Assad in the June 3 vote.

He portrayed the election as “a test for real change”, but then admitted: “People are afraid to vote for anyone other than Assad.”