Washington, DC – Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) released the following statement after President Obama issued an Executive Order imposing tough economic sanctions against Syrian officials and others responsible for human rights abuses in that country:
"We have all grown increasingly alarmed by the violence unleashed against the Syrian people. The world should condemn these actions in the strongest terms possible. Syrians are every bit as deserving of human rights and dignity as the Libyans, Tunisians, and Egyptians and the government should have met their protests with responsiveness not repression. That the government would continue to respond to the courage of its people with indiscriminate killing and the use of tanks in population centers is unacceptable.
“Democratic aspirations are universal, but every country is unique and every situation in the Middle East is different. The status quo in Syria is unacceptable. What is clear is that we need to increase the political and economic pressure so President Assad understands that he must end the violence and embrace reforms. The Administration's imposition of tough economic sanctions against the perpetrators of these grave human rights abuses is appropriate. It puts Syria’s leaders on notice that decisions to kill unarmed civilians have consequences. Because a rigorous U.S. sanctions regime is already in place, steps by the European Union, Turkey, and the Gulf countries will have even more impact.
“This afternoon, the UN Human Rights Council passed an American-sponsored resolution that condemns the violence and calls for a UN investigation. This was an important step and we should continue to coordinate our actions with the international community and press for action by the UN Security Council, oppose Syria’s candidacy to the UN Human Rights Council, and urge the Arab League and Organization of the Islamic Conference to increase their political pressure."
Friday, April 29, 2011
Washington, DC – Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) released the following statement after President Obama issued an Executive Order imposing tough economic sanctions against Syrian officials and others responsible for human rights abuses in that country:
New York Times - Editorial
When Bashar al-Assad succeeded his father, Hafez, as Syria’s president in 2000, the United States and many others hoped that Syria might finally stop persecuting its people and become a more responsible regional power.
That didn’t happen. Now Mr. Assad appears determined to join his father in the ranks of history’s blood-stained dictators, sending his troops and thugs to murder anyone who has the courage to demand political freedom.
More than 400 people have died since demonstrations began two months ago. On Monday, the Syrian Army stormed the city of Dara’a, the center of the popular opposition. Phone, water and electricity lines have been cut and journalists barred from reporting firsthand what is really happening there.
Mr. Assad finally outlined a reform agenda last week, abolishing emergency laws that for nearly 50 years gave the government a free hand to arrest people without cause. But his bloody crackdown belied the concession, and he is fast losing all legitimacy.
President Obama came into office determined to engage Syria and nudge it away from Iran and toward political reform. Even after the violence began, Mr. Obama and his aides kept quietly nudging in hopes that Mr. Assad would make the right choice.
In retrospect, that looks naïve. Still, we have sympathy for Mr. Obama’s attempts. Years of threats from the George W. Bush administration only pushed Syria further into the arms of Iran — and did nothing to halt the repression or Syria’s support for Hezbollah.
The president’s patience has apparently run out. Last Friday — the bloodiest day of the uprising — he issued a statement condemning the violence and accusing Mr. Assad of seeking Iranian assistance in brutalizing his people. That is a start, but it is not nearly enough.
Let’s be clear: Another war would be a disaster. Syria has one of the more capable armies in the region. And while there is no love for Mr. Assad, he is no Qaddafi, and the backlash in the Arab world would be enormous.
What the United States and its allies can do (British, French and Italian leaders have also been critical) is rally international condemnation and tough sanctions. They can start with their own unilateral punishments — asset freezes and travel bans for Mr. Assad and his top supporters and a complete arms embargo.
Washington and its allies need to press the Arab League and the United Nations Security Council to take strong stands. Muammar el-Qaddafi had no friends, so the league had little trouble supporting action against Libya. Syria is far more powerful, and Mr. Assad’s autocracy uncomfortably familiar to many Arab leaders.
So far, all the Arab League has been willing to do is issue a statement declaring that pro-democracy protesters “deserve support, not bullets” — conspicuously without mentioning Syria. If the Arab League and its leaders want to be taken seriously, including in their own countries, they are going to have to do better.
The Security Council hasn’t even been able to muster a press statement. Russia and China, as ever, are determined to protect autocrats. That cannot be the last word.
The International Criminal Court should investigate the government’s abuses. And we welcome the Obama administration’s push to have the United Nations Human Rights Council spotlight Syria’s abuses in a session on Friday. Ultimately, Syrians will determine their country’s fate. Mr. Assad commands a powerful security establishment, but he cannot stifle the longing for freedom forever.
The White House issued the following statement:
Today, President Obama signed an Executive Order imposing sanctions against Syrian officials and others responsible for human rights abuses, including through the use of violence against civilians and the commission of other human rights abuses.
This Order provides the United States with new tools to target individuals and entities determined to have engaged in human rights abuses in Syria, including those related to repression; to be a senior official of an entity whose property is blocked pursuant to the Order; to have provided material support to, or to be owned or controlled by, persons blocked under the Order.
The United States strongly condemns the Syrian government’s continued use of violence and intimidation against the Syrian people. We call upon the Syrian regime and its supporters to refrain from further acts of violence and other human rights abuses against Syrian citizens seeking to express their political aspirations.
In signing today’s Order, the President imposed sanctions on the following individuals and entities listed in the Annex to the Order:
• Mahir al-Asad: The brother of Syrian President Bashar al-Asad and brigade commander in the Syrian Army’s 4th Armored Division, who has played a leading role in the Syrian regime’s actions in Dar’a, where protesters have been killed by Syrian security forces.
• Atif Najib: A cousin of Syrian President Bashar al-Asad, Najib was the head of the Political Security Directorate (PSD) for Dar’a Province during March 2011, when protesters were killed there by Syrian security forces.
• Ali Mamluk: director of Syria’s General Intelligence Directorate (GID).
• Syrian General Intelligence Directorate (GID): The overarching civilian intelligence service in Syria. The GID represses internal dissent and monitors individual citizens, and has been involved in the Syrian regime’s actions in Dar’a where protesters were killed by Syrian security services.
• Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – Qods Force (IRGC-QF): Iran is providing material support to the Syrian government related to cracking down on unrest in Syria. The conduit for this Iranian material support to the Syrian General Intelligence Directorate is the IRGC-QF. Despite the Government of Iran’s public rhetoric claiming revolutionary solidarity with people throughout the region, Iran’s actions in support of the Syrian regime place it in stark opposition to the will of the Syrian people. The IRGC-QF is a branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which is considered the military vanguard of Iran. The IRGC-QF was designated by the Treasury Department in October 2007 for providing material support to terrorist groups around the world, including the Taliban, Lebanese Hizballah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command.
As a result of this action, any property in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons in which the individuals listed in the Annex have an interest is blocked, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them.
Despite the Assad regime terror, Syrians took to the streets in several cities on Friday April 29, 2011, (Anger Friday) demanding that Assad be toppled. In Daraa, snipers on rooftops shot anything that moved, according to witnesses, therefore imposing a curfew.
Thursday, April 28, 2011
Syrians protest in the city of Banias holding up a sign that reads in Arabic, "The first results in lifting the state of emergency is over 100 deaths" on April 26, 2011. (AFP photo/STR)
Since the outbreak of the Syrian uprising five weeks ago, President Bashar al-Assad has been forecasting a civil war should his regime fall. This scare tactic is hardly original and more in line with similar threats from Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi.
Assad suggested the possibility of war during his speech before parliament in late March. Assad apologists, such as academics Joshua Landis and May Akl, followed suit, warning the world that if Assad falls, Syria will be either ruled by radical Islamists, or will turn into another ungovernable Iraq.
Meanwhile, opposition supporters dismiss the possibility of a civil war because Syria, unlike Lebanon or Iraq, is exceptionally homogenous. In Lebanon and Iraq, there are no clear demographic majorities. In Lebanon power is divided between Christians and Muslims, whereas in Iraq the Shia make up 60 percent of the population, while the rest is split between Sunnis and Kurds.
Syria's clear Sunni majority means it is nowhere as diverse, and subsequently as fractious, as Lebanon and Iraq.
Also unlike Lebanon and Iraq, civil strife has no significant historical precedents in Syria. Over the past few centuries, Iraq has been the fault line between the region's Sunnis and Shia. The Arab-Kurdish frontier also passes through Iraq. In Lebanon, inter-communal conflict dates as far back as the sixteenth century. The Druze often took on Maronites and at times raided the Shia of Baalbek and Tripoli. The Sunnis of northern Palestine often invaded the Shia villages in South Lebanon. On the other hand, the Ottoman states that later merged into modern-day Syria rarely saw similar wars.
Lebanon's divisions continued. When the French formed Greater Lebanon, it took Muslims a long time to recognize the existence of their new nation-state. As recently as the 1960s, lawmakers from Baalbek signed a petition demanding cessation from Lebanon to join Syria.
Unlike divided Greater Lebanon, the four states the French created in Syria were quick to merge, despite some reluctance from the Alawite state. While the Syrians created Syria, the Lebanese and the Iraqis were coerced into their states, which they have since been trying to divide.
With a less diverse and less fractious population, the chances of Syria entering into a civil war are slim. So what would a post-Assad Syria look like? The answer depends on how the ruling Baathist Alawites behave. Being the best-funded and best-trained – although smallest – Syrian community gives them short-term advantages. In the long term, however, the Alawites will be outnumbered and eventually outmuscled if they choose to fight for their position in power.
They could learn from the Baathists in Iraq, who embraced Islamism and initially received support from the world's radical Sunnis to fuel a civil war, until the radical elements started calling the shots and alienated their hosts, who in turn ejected them and joined the political process.
In Syria, the Baathists have no international radical network to fall on.
The Alawites might decide to overrule Assad if he decides to fight. Sparing the sect a suicidal adventure might emerge as the most viable option for the Alawites. Assad realizes his demographic handicap. That's why he was swift in trying to co-opt the Kurds, though he ultimately failed.
Post-Assad Syria will not be another Lebanon or Iraq. And while it is difficult to predict what it will end up looking like, there are promising indications that Syria after Assad will neither turn Islamist, nor head into a civil war.
Hussain Abdul-Hussain is the Washington Bureau Chief of Al-Rai newspaper
Lebanese ambassador to the US Antoine Chedid is being sued by his family’s former Filipino maid on claims he failed to pay minimum wage and verbally abused and mistreated her. (See the lawsuit here)
Araceli D. Montuya, reportedly the mother of 10 children, says she was made to work for $3 per hour as a full-time housekeeper and nanny for approximately 16 hours per day, six days a week, for a period of 26 months from August 2007 through September 2009.
At a status hearing on April 19, Chedid’s lawyer denied the allegations and argued the ambassador and his family are entitled to diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Convention.
The judge is now considering the pending motion to dismiss the case.
Ok Lebanon, we really need to get a grip on ourselves and ditch this repeated association with the essential enslavement of foreign domestic workers. C’mon now.
Update: NOW Lebanon removed this story, but Mustapha at Beirut Spring did a good job pointing it out.
US President Barack Obama makes his way to board Air Force One shortly before departing from Los Angeles International Airport. Obama is returning to Washington, DC after visiting California and Nevada.
After more than 80 Syrian demonstrators were reported killed on Good Friday, Barack Obama merely called on Syrian "President [Bashar] Assad to change course now, and heed the calls of his own people." None of the "now means yesterday" that Egypt's Hosni Mubarak got from the White House to step down. No advice to supervise the transition of power like the one Washington gave to Yemen's Ali Abdullah Saleh. Staying on America's bad side today, like Syria and Iran, seems to be a better bet for world leaders.
Barack Obama's foreign policy has so far been ambiguous at best and amateurish at worst. Obama the president did not stick with any of the foreign policy promises Obama the candidate made. He did not withdraw troops from Iraq six months after his election. He authorized a surge of troops in Afghanistan, something he had voted against for Iraq as a senator.
Obama's record on Iran has also been shaky. He let the Iranian regime repress a nation-wide uprising in mid 2009, then in 2010 decided to support popular opposition to the regime, a bit too late. He approved talking to Iran without conditions that Tehran stop enriching Uranium, but then Iran decided to pass on negotiations with the world community and there was nothing Obama could do, not even show resolve or flex a muscle.
Worst of all has been Obama's half war in Libya. While he authorized US fighter jets to take out Libyan targets, the administration said it did not plan to get rid of Gadhafi. How can America wage a war on Qadhafi's army, but spare Qadhafi himself?
In dealing with popular Arab uprisings, Obama's positions have been inconsistent. One day he supported Mubarak; the next day he insisted that Mubarak should go. But for some reason, despite all the Syrian deaths, estimated at more than 300 in five weeks, Obama only said Assad should behave.
The only US president that might come to mind on account of foreign policy reluctance is Jimmy Carter, who planned a rescue operation of hostages in Iran with eight helicopters. Thankfully, no Obama helicopters have crashed yet, but in the remaining year and a half of his presidency, and given his foreign policy, no one should be surprised if Obama pulls a humiliating stunt that might cost him his second term.
Friday, April 22, 2011
Nile TV International interviewed analyst Hussain Abdul-Hussain who said that Bashar Assad has conceded all he can, and now he is left with violence alone to use against his people, therefore this is the beginning of Assad's end, because no regime can survive on violence alone.
WARNING SENSITIVE VIEWRS: Video contains some graphic images
The Syrian Revolution announced the holding of rallies on Good Friday, April 22, 2011. Massive protests took to the streets across Syria in more than 30 cities, towns and villages. People chanted slogans against the regime and demanded that Assad be deposed. Even though Assad had signed the abrogation of Emergency Law a day earlier, Assad's operatives openned fire on demonstrators killing more than 72 people of them (as reported by 20:00 GMT).
Thursday, April 21, 2011
Syria's Bashar Assad regime has blamed the death of civilians and security personnel, since March 15, on so-called terrorists instigated by a Zionist conspiracy and funded by Lebanon's Future Movement.
This video shows armed thugs, or "terrorists," celebrating their raid on one of the squares, where they probably assaulted and arrested peaceful unarmed citizens. The thugs are shown as chanting "God, Syria, Bashar," and "Oh Bashar never mind, you have men who drink blood."
Bashar Assad and his regime drink Syrian blood then lie about it. The only party that is killing unarmed Syrian civilians protesting in the streets and demanding that Assad be toppled are the regime's thugs and security personnel, not foreign conspirators. Bashar's gangs have also killed military officers and troops either for not shooting at demonstrators or for fear that senior officers might eventually play a role in post-Bashar Syria.
-- The Arab Spring
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
The Arab Spring
In an article in Foreign Policy, the Press Secretary of Lebanese lawmaker Michel Aoun (number one on Syria's Wall of Shame), tried to argue that Syria was "different" and therefore democracy-proof compared to Tunisia or Egypt. Akl called on the United States to "try to understand the subtleties of situations in different contexts," given of course that Akl understands these subtleties.
In Syria, this is what is happening, according to Akl. "Turmoil in Syria" broke out a few days after April 1 (not since March 15 as is actually the case), mainly encouraged by the Syrian Muslim brotherhood, whose boss Riad Shaqfeh called for more protests in a press conference in Ankara. Further proof that the "turmoil" in Syria is Islamist can be found in the anti-Assad statements from the Qatar-based Egyptian cleric Youssef Qaradawi. These statements, coupled with Damascus locking international media out of Syria (which Akl did not mention), are proof that the Syrian "turmoil" is Islamist. When the "turmoil" failed to topple Assad, Akl said, the Islamists reverted to ambushing "a Syrian army patrol in the coastal town of Banias," which to Akl "is proof that a Jihad-like approach is a force behind the movement." So Akl's proof is based exclusively on reports from Syria's state-owned media.
Despite the Islamist calls and the ambushes, the Assad regime will not fall, according to Akl, because "most Syrians simply think that there is no better alternative to the current regime." Another factor, Akl wrote, "is that the Syrian people are generally proud of, and have high hopes for, their president." When reading "most Syrians" and the "Syrian people," once cannot but wonder who died and made Akl Syria's King. Where are the independent survey's to prove Akl's allegations, and how does Foreign Policy run such an unsubstantiated article?
Now that Akl has "objectively" established that the Syrian "turmoil" is Islamist, and that the majority of Syrians want their regime to stay, the question becomes whether the world "want(s) to see Syria fall into the hands of the Brotherhood." After all, "democracy and people power can actually be used as a cover for extreme groups to access power," Akl argued. So now, even democracy is not good enough for this Lebanese writer and therefore, the world better stick with Assad, the Syrian autocrat.
Defending Assad is one thing. Arguing against democracy is another. Such an article could have been a blow for the Syrian Revolution and democracy at large, had it come from someone known for their smart arguments. But coming from Akl, misinformation and fallacies are expected.
Some time ago, Akl was a speaker at a panel for Lebanese women's rights at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. She was asked how, as member of Aoun's Christian movement, she could handle the alliance between Aoun and Hezbollah, an Islamist movement that oppresses women. Akl responded as follows:
The role of women in Hezbollah is important. We in the Aoun Movement resisted Syrian occupation of Lebanon (that was before Aoun turned coat from an Assad basher into an Assad admirer in 2005), and we understand best the role of women in resistance. When men go resist, women play a vital role because they have to protect the food they cook for resistance fighters, otherwise the enemy might slip poison into this food, Akl said.
This is May Akl. She joins women liberation movements but thinks women should cook for men and guard the food. She writes in support of Syria's dictator and argues that democracy brings radical Islamist movements which means the Assad autocracy should be protected. Like Aoun and his followers, Akl fails to make sense and is now using her non-sense to defend Assad. Syria's dictator should be proud of Akl and her ilk.
A Syrian man reads the daily state-run newspaper Tishrin in a cafe decorated with portraits of President Bashar Al-Assad in Damascus
The Syrian government has spent a lot of time either denying reports of popular rallies in the streets or accusing the demonstrators of being an armed insurgency and part of a foreign conspiracy. If all the popular rage was imaginary, then what protests was Syrian President Bashar Assad talking about when he said that rallies will not be tolerated after the 1963 Emergency Law is lifted?
Since the outbreak of unrest on 15 March, the official Syrian account of events has been very distorted, and even the distorted version is full of contradictory narratives. During the first weeks, Syria's state-owned TV and newspapers insisted that there were no protests of any sort. Then, in his speech before parliament, Assad said a foreign conspiracy aimed at igniting civil war in Syria by sending incendiary SMS messages to one sect and a different set of messages to another.
Meanwhile, the official Syrian propaganda was adamant on proving that security forces were not shooting at rallies. It was simply an armed confrontation between an "armed gang" and security personnel. Syrian TV showed arms and money, allegedly found on the conspirators in the southern town of Dara’a. Then there was an Egyptian-American who was arrested and later released. After that Syrian TV showed presumed culprits "confessing " that they were promised arms and money by Lebanese lawmaker Jamal Jarrah, member of former Lebanese Prime Minister Sa’ad Hariri's bloc. The culprits said Jarrah had promised to smuggle from Lebanon arms, money and tanks.
Then stories started surfacing of the death of Syrian troops and officers. While Syrians on social media reported that the deaths were summary executions of soldiers who refused to shoot at demonstrators, the Syrian media insisted that military personnel were targeted by "terrorists" and "insurgents." On 17 April, the website of the Syrian interior ministry reported that Assad planned to release all those arrested against the backdrop of recent "events." Whether the events were a foreign conspiracy, a civil war, or an insurgency, the site did not say.
The Syrian propaganda machine has been trying to skew every bit of news. By putting the different contradictory accounts together, the line of events in Syria would look something like this: There are no protests in Syria, but a foreign conspiracy, with arms smuggled from Lebanon, that is targeting Syrian officers and soldiers, while President Assad rushes to implement reform, after which the non-existent protests will not be tolerated.
The confusion of the official Syrian media in reporting events is evident. Keeping international media out of Syria only adds insult to injury and makes the world suspect that there is something in Syria that the regime wants to hide.
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
G20 Finance Ministers and Bank Governors meet April 15, 2011 at the IMF Headquarters in Washington, DC
Hussain Abdul-Hussain and Jacqueline Shoen
The global financial crisis, coupled with popular uprisings across the MENA region, has forced many western actors to rethink the nature of their engagement with the Arab world. One such actor is the World Bank, which for decades has been the target of heavy criticism for its one size fits all neo-liberal policies that have largely failed to accomplish their goals. Can the bank’s new direction save it from irrelevance as the western world faces the rise of other powers vying to take its place?
Though the long-term impact of the popular uprisings in the Middle East is largely unpredictable, we can be sure that every aspect of society—from economy to education, from health to government and the way in which western institutions engage with them—will be feeling the effects for years to come. Already we are seeing high fiscal and external pressures, rising inflation, surging debt, severe reduction of the tourism sectors and volatility in stock prices. Like the period after 9/11, this changed economic, political and social environment will form the backdrop for all subsequent analysis set in the Middle East, such as the major policy shift announced by World Bank (WB) President Robert Zoellick at the beginning of April.
Zoellick’s address at the Patterson Institute for International Economics, entitled “The Middle East and North Africa: A New Social Contract for Development,” laid out the organization’s plan for aid spending reform. He acknowledged the failure of WB initiatives to alleviate poverty in the Arab world, and instead emphasized the need to redirect programs on long-term good governance and citizen participation rather than solely on infrastructure projects and food aid. “In one way or the other, a modernized multilateralism needs to recognize that investments in civil society and social accountability will be as important to development in the Middle East and beyond as investments in infrastructure, firms, factories, or farms,” Zoellick told his audience.
He made a list of promises, including that the World Bank would “work with governments in the region and around the world to help strengthen their effectiveness and their accountability.”
This announcement also comes at a time when the World Bank and other western-dominated financial organizations like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) appear to becoming more or less irrelevant to world affairs today—a trend that mirrors the gradual balancing of western power with that of growing powers elsewhere. Realizing the need to adapt to these shifts, in March, the bank invited youth groups, women's groups and change agents to a forum on development in light of the Middle East's ongoing unrest. And following Zoellick’s speech at the Paterson Institute the bank released a world development report on 11 April, which “looks across disciplines and experiences drawn from around the world to offer some ideas and practical recommendations on how to move beyond conflict and fragility and secure development.”
The report makes the following three assertions: Institutional legitimacy is the key to stability; investing in citizen security, justice, and jobs is essential to reducing violence; confronting this challenge effectively means that institutions need to change. In other words, the prevention of conflict rather than its alleviation will be the World Bank’s primary focus moving forward.
Yet another more curious sign of this waning relevance is the absence of vocal opposition to WB and IMF policies. This week, the two organizations are holding their annual Spring Meeting. Over the past few years, it has become customary for young protesters to descend on Washington every spring to protest what had become these two organizations’ staple recipe to developing countries: They promised needy world governments loans, grants and development programs only if these governments implemented reform. Reform, however, was narrowly defined as swallowing the bitter pill of the “Washington Consensus.” Namely, disband workers unions, scrap governmental social safety nets, downsize bureaucracies and open markets for free trade. At the same time, the IMF and World Bank have failed to see the connection between funding reform and actually propping up corrupt governments unaccountable to the people, who, incidentally, have until now seen little to none of the development aid originally intended for them. This spring, however, no serious protests seem to be in the offing.
The disconnect between the WB and the IMF, on one hand, and the public, on the other, runs long and deep. Throughout the 1990s, one country after another, such as Turkey and Argentina, implemented the WB and IMF "reforms" and saw hyperinflation hit their currencies and other ills befalling their economies. The WB and the IMF never apologized for the wreck that they caused to these and other countries and continued with suggesting one-size-fit-all reform schemes tied to loans and grants that world governments were in desperate need for.
In 2008, however, "reform" models failed their designers as the world watched Washington—along with its so-called consensus—sink into deep recession. A credit crunch and a real estate bubble burst in America and Europe saw nations, such as Greece and Ireland, beg the more prosperous ones, like the US and Germany, to come to their rescue. Reform, as prescribed by the WB and the IMF, lost its appeal as the world turned its eyes East.
Writing in The Washington Post, Moises Naim argues, "Since 2000, the economies of developing countries have grown by an average of 6.1 percent every year; in contrast, the advanced economies have grown by a meager 1.8 percent on average." He added: "As a result, while in 2000 developing nations accounted for one-fifth of the global economy, today their share has grown to more than a third of the world's total output."
Needless to say, the WB and IMF are not throwing their towels in just yet. Zoellick, at least, seems to understand that revamping the World Bank’s image will not be enough—as is evident in the world development report. A perusal of this report is reassuring. Its author, Sarah Cliffe, addresses many of the familiar criticisms of the bank’s long-standing development policies, including the necessity to use markers other than growth and poverty rates to determine need; the formulation of programs that tackle severe income inequality; the need to weigh the short and long-term social impact of recommended policies; the creation of stricter mechanisms with which to measure success of WB programs; and the need for a new incentive structure within the organization that does not judge professional success on the amount of aid given and the achievement of quick results, but rather on quality programs that are capable of achieving long-lasting results.
The challenge now is to implement these reforms without collapsing from within, however, reform may also not be enough. Changing times force long-standing institutions to adapt, yet many are simply unable to do so, and instead, become more entrenched in a bureaucratic system that does not allow for the forging of new paths. This scenario could very well be on the cards for the World Bank, which certainly faces a tough road ahead during which time we may still see in the coming springs protesters returning to voice disagreement at its doorsteps.
Since the outbreak of unrest in most Syrian cities on 15 March, state-owned Syria TV has accused Lebanese lawmakers of funding troublemakers and arming them. While such claims have not been substantiated, especially with Damascus imposing a blackout by locking international media out, Hezbollah has endorsed the allegations and pointed fingers at these lawmakers, who are members of former Prime Minister Sa’ad Hariri's bloc. By doing so, Hezbollah raised inter-sectarian tension inside Lebanon—and Syria—to alarming levels, even if the party is not expected to make good on its threats since a Shi’ite beating of Lebanon's Sunnis might undermine the position of Alawite minority Syrian President Bashar Assad, who rules over a predominantly Sunni population.
Despite the unmatched power of its militia, Hezbollah is increasingly finding it counterproductive to employ its forces, whether against Israel or against its domestic opponents. The Lebanese-Israeli border has been living its quietest days since 1969, when the Palestinian Liberation Organization broke a twenty-year old truce between Lebanon and Israel as launched cross-border guerilla war. Since then, Israel has responded with several punitive campaigns, including two invasions in 1978 and 1982. Until its withdrawal in 2000, Lebanese military operations against the Israeli occupation, monopolized by Hezbollah starting 1992, were justified in the eyes of the Lebanese.
After 2000, Hezbollah claimed Israel was still occupying an uninhibited sliver of land, the Shebaa Farms, and occasionally launched attacks against the Israelis in a ceremonial ritual that was aimed at reminding the Lebanese that "the resistance" was still alive and needed. But after the war of 2006, Hezbollah was forced to stop all kinds of cross-border operations or risk provoking Israel into another full scale war. This time, the Lebanese—and mainly Hezbollah's supporters the Shi’ites—did not believe inviting Israel's devastating wrath against their villages, houses and infrastructure was warranted. Therefore, since 2006, Hezbollah has sent messages to the Israelis, according to WikiLeaks memos of meetings of US officials with their Syrian counterparts, to the effect that Hezbollah's intent is not to attack Israel unless Israel attacks first.
With the Lebanese-Israeli border as calm as the Golan Heights since 1974, Hezbollah has employed its force mainly domestically in twisting arms to force the collapse of the government, change parliamentary majorities and appoint prime ministers. With the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad in trouble and facing growing popular discontent with his rule, Hezbollah has decided to come to the rescue, mainly by lending its propaganda machine to Damascus and accusing Hariri of supporting Syria's rebels. However, Hezbollah realizes that any move against Hariri will only aggravate the situation for Assad, an Alawite minority who rules over a predominantly Sunni population, which might make common cause with Hariri and his supporters, should they face a beating from Hezbollah.
The powerful Hezbollah finds it harder today than ever before to transform its power into political success. Such transformation is usually possible through states. But since Hezbollah has undermined the Lebanese state, it will be stuck for a while with a military power that it can find little use for.
Sunday, April 17, 2011
This image from an amateur video captured on Sunday, April 17, shows young Syrian men in Latakia hiding between two cars, in an ally, taking shelter from live rounds of fire shot at them by Assad's operatives. One of the men was raising the Syrian flag.
Bashar Assad delivered his second speech since the outbreak of the Syrian revolution on March 15 in which he told his newly appointed cabinet that emergency laws, in effect since 1963, will be lifted by next week.
Despite more concessions and promises, Syrians are now demanding that Assad step down. On Sunday, massive protests broke out in several cities, on the nation's 65th anniversary of independence from the French. Demonstrations swept Damascus's suburbs in addition to the cities of Daraa, Baniyas, Sweida, Latakia, Hama, Idlib, Douma, Homs and remarkably Aleppo, the biggest Syrian city.
Even though Assad had promised more reforms, his operatives fired at protesters in Latakia according to this video and this one. According to other reports, security on Sunday was heavily cracking down on the village of Talbeeseh, in the vicinity of the northern city of Hama, the site of a 1982 massacre by Assad's father Hafez that resulted in the death of 30,000 Syrians.
Meanwhile, the Assad propaganda machine remains fixated on one single line of argument: Either Assad stays or chaos will hit Syria. As part of this always unbelievable propaganda, the official Syrian TV showed caches of arms presumably confiscated from a truck travelig from Iraq into Syria.
-- The Arab Spring
Saturday, April 16, 2011
Dictatorships are built on myths. When people begin to see the lies for what they are, the psychosis of fear melts away. Living in Damascus, one could not help but notice the intricate tapestries of illusions that the government had so carefully woven. The ever-present posters of various potentates across the Arab world are not just the machinations of arrogant and egotistical men but rather serve as daily reminders of the fact that everyone is under constant surveillance. I remember sitting in a coffee shop in Damascus with some friends when the owner came and sat with us because we had begun to discuss Arab politics. The café was empty and we were sitting at the back. The owner asked us if we had switched off our mobiles and taken the battery out. I, being the only foreigner, asked why, to which he replied that the Syrian government could listen into the conversation even if the phone is not making a call.
Obviously not all Syrians believe in these kind of stories but it is helpful in illustrating how the ostensibly mysterious and the brutal nature of regimes compels people to take part in creating these myths, thereby strengthening the hold of the regime over people. Another more popular ‘fact,’ which many foreign visitors write about, is how a large percentage of taxi drivers work for the mukhabarat or the intelligence service. Of course, there will always be people who are willing to provide information to the government that they deem to be important. Much of it in reality is inconsequential, but again it helps perpetuate the mystery of tyranny. Although the Syrian intelligence services have a fearsome reputation, largely because of their reliance on a massive network of human and not electronic intelligence, the recent events in Syria have started to show fissures and cracks forming in the regime.
Revolutions are unpredictable and hundreds of people can be killed before a small act ignites everyone into taking to the streets. As we saw in Egypt, the ‘uprisings’ built up momentum for many weeks before finally exploding, although it remains to be seen if the revolution is over yet. There seems to be a similar momentum building up in Syria. There has been much speculation about the role of electronic media, facebook and twitter in catalysing the various movements across the Arab world. Although there can be no denying the fact that facebook and twitter allow for instant dissemination of news and important information, I have also seen them being manipulated by some people. One friend posted a video of a ‘protest’ at a mosque in Syria with a short clip of people shouting “Allahu Akbar - God is great”. However, when another friend found a longer version of the same clip, it turned out to be a group of people who were chanting the takbir (Allahu Akbar) after the Friday sermon of one of the state-vetted clerics.
Over the last few weeks I have watched with great interest a debate take place amongst my friends in Syria about their future. Some people made their profile pictures black as a sign of protest, others have used a Syrian flag and yet others have put up a picture of Bashar al-Assad. When I was living in Damascus, opposition to the government was not as widespread as one might have expected and indeed Syrians might be slower than others about coming out to protest. Indeed, there was even an implicit understanding about what was perceived to be a trade-off between rights and security. However, high corruption and the brutal crackdowns are fast depleting any goodwill that Bashar al-Assad has. Fadi as-Saeed, a chemistry student at the University of Damascus, was beaten to death on Monday and it seems the administration is now pointing their guns at students, often the most vocal demographic in protests.
Heading for civil war?
Syria is wracked with internal divisions, which have often been exacerbated by the heavy-handedness of the government. The largely secular ruling Ba’ath party has been at odds with the Muslim Brotherhood since the 1940s. After a particularly violent few years of assassination attempts and car bombs, in 1982 Hafez al-Assad’s brother Rifaat, who now lives in exile in London, surrounded and bombed Hama. The town was known for being a base of the Muslim Brotherhood and the bombing killed thousands of people. Subsequently, the Brotherhood and indeed all other opposition have effectively been stifled while the Alawi minority has strengthened its position.
The Alawis are the spiritual progeny of a movement started in the 9th century when Ibn Nusayr announced himself as the bab or the hidden gateway to truth (God). Very close in terms of practice to Christians, Alawis or as they also known Nusayris believe in a kind of holy trinity comprised of Mohammad, Ali and Salman al-Farisi, one of the first Persian converts to Islam. The reason they are viewed as non-Muslims is because of their belief in the divinity of Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet, who was the fourth Caliph and the first Imam for Shi’as. In a bid to consolidate their power the Alawis managed to secure recognition from the Shi’a leader, Musa as-Sadr, in 1972, declaring them to be Muslims. As early as 1936 they procured a decree from the Sunni Chief Mufti of Palestine, al-Haj Amin al-Husaini, recognizing them as Muslims. However, many Sunnis and some Shi’a ulama, or scholars, continue to view the Alawis as non-Muslims, or even sometimes as apostates.
Apart from the Alawis, the Christians are a sizeable minority and form about 10% of the population and the Druze constitute about 3%. The Sunnis form the majority of the population. Syria also has a large Palestinian refugee population of 500,000 and more than a 1,000,000 Iraqi refugees.
The problems in Syria today are therefore exacerbated by the fact that Syria could be heading for a civil war, due to these old ethnic and sectarian tensions, and might follow the Libyan scenario rather than the Egyptian or Tunisian model. One factor however, that might hold back an all-out war is that there are a multitude of links between the regime and society through army, government and non-official ties. Bashar al-Assad, although seen by some to be a moderate and a reformer is still presiding over institutions that were created during his father’s time. This means that often the ‘old guard’ is the biggest obstacle to implementing reform. However, there have been some token gestures of reform from the President.
Among the small number of concessions that the regime has made are a few that were pushed for by a group of imams, headed by Ramadan al-Buti, perhaps Syria’s most famous cleric. A casino has been shut down and a ban on wearing the niqab, a veil that covers the face as well as the body, in educational institutions is being reversed just as France is implementing its own ban. In other ‘concessions’ the infamous 1963 Emergency Law is now finally to be lifted, but an ‘Anti-terrorism’ law is to be passed instead. About 200,000 Kurds who have hitherto not been granted any rights have been given citizenship. But a majority of the Kurds who form 11-14% of Syria’s population still suffer from various institutional biases. The Kurds have responded by protesting in Qimishli, in the north-east of Syria, under the interesting slogan, ‘we want freedom not citizenship.’
Foreign stakeholders and high stakes
The stakes that many foreign actors have in Syria are also crucial in determining the next steps in the Syrian uprisings. Iran and Hezbollah will fear the loss of an important regional ally and the possible rise of a predominantly Sunni government. Apart from this, even Shi’as who are not ideologically aligned with Iran will be afraid of the loss of the comfort in which the community lives. In particular, the network of religious schools around Sayyid Zainab’s shrine in Damascus are already fearful of what may happen if the Alawis lose power. Israel must worry because at the moment it has an enemy that it ‘knows’ whereas it will be harder to predict whether the new government shall be even more anti-Zionist.
As it is, there is already an air of uncertainty in Israel about what might happen on its western borders, in Egypt. Unlike in Egypt where the Muslim Brotherhood were social activists and not involved in politics (until now perhaps), the Brotherhood in Syria has been in exile for nearly thirty years - which means that they have little support on the ground and will need time to carve out a political space. Confessions on Syrian state TV from alleged Brotherhood members stirring up trouble seem manufactured so that the crackdown on protesters can be blamed on ‘outsiders.’ The Gulf countries and Saudi Arabia have had a deep interest in promoting Sunni interests and in the case of Saudi Arabia, their brand of Wahhabism. The growth of this school of thought in Syria has been aided by the fact that a large number of Syrian migrants live and work in the Arabian Peninsula. In the last few years, America has reached out to Damascus and sent various envoys and feelers in order to improve relations, but often with limited success. It is evident then, that current events and any change in Syria will have a far larger geo-political impact on the Middle East than Libya, though of course Libya might be more important to Europe financially.
History, repetition and farce
Following the killings and crackdown on various protests from the Southern town of Deraa to the coastal cities of Tartous and Lattakia, Bashar al-Assad has attempted a reshuffle of his government by firing various provincial governors and appointing new people to his cabinet. However, it seems that superficial changes coupled with a completely disproportionate clampdown on protesters will only exacerbate the situation. Although regarded as more sensible than his father, it seems that like all other dictators, Bashar is also out of touch with ordinary Syrians.
Vogue magazine, which seems to make a business out of glamorizing the lives of the wives of various Arab potentates, writes in a recent interview of the president and his wife that, “the household is run on wildly democratic principles.” It goes on to explain how Asma al-Assad - ‘we all vote on what we want, and where’ - and her husband are often ‘out-voted’ by their three children. This in turn explains the chandelier made of comics that hangs above the dinner table. To talk of democracy in their household while a large percentage of people are often detained without any recourse to the law is nothing more than an insult to all Syrians. It is precisely this kind of insensitive, indeed farcical, attitude that might catalyse the current uprisings into a revolution.
Ali Khan is a PhD student in history at the University of Cambridge whose areas of interest are South Asia and the greater Middle East.
Friday, April 15, 2011
This video is raw footage with English captions form 20 Syrian cities that erupted in protest on Friday April 15 demanding the toppling of the regime of Bashar Assad. The Syrian revolution broke out on March 15 and deaths, shot by Assad operatives, are estimated at 200.
A few quick observations:
1- Aleppo, the biggest Syrian city (yes bigger than Damascus) has finally joined the revolution.
2- Protests are becoming bigger and spreading to more areas.
3- The demands are shaping up. No more reforms. Syrians are now shouting "Bashar Assad must go."
4- Protests are becoming more organized by the day. Today, Friday, they held Syrian flags and well-designed banners and slogans.
5- The Syrian regime was not as brutal as the previous four Fridays, perhaps after advice from Turkey's Erdogan and John Kerry. The regime might have also opted to avoid causing more deaths, therefore more funerals which turn into anti-Assad demonstrations. The regime seems to be now trying containment and hoping by letting Syrians demonstrate, they will eventually get tired and go home. This might work. But Syrians, frustrated by 40 years of North Korean style Assad brutality, might get encouraged to show more defiance and really threaten Assad's rule.
UPDATE: Reports coming from Syria indicate that the Assad operatives shot at peaceful demonstrators in Homs, Latakia and possibly other places. The death toll is so far four people and could increase. Meanwhile, the number of protesters in Damascus has overwhelmed security and trying to come together at the main Abbasiyeen Square in Damascus, while security is still trying to seal off the area and keep them away.
Thursday, April 14, 2011
Picture to the right: The poster of "Friday of Persistence" as circulated by the Syrian Revolution 2011 Facebook page.
The brutality that the "thugs," secret police operatives and army troops of Syrian autocrat Bashar Assad are inflicting on peaceful rallies has not yet succeeded in subduing the Syrians, whose peaceful rallies are growing bigger and spreading across the country.
Today Friday (already midnight in Syria) marks the fifth Friday since the outbreak of the revolution on March 15. Activists inside Syria, usually using encrypted Skype to communicate with each other and with the world, are reporting that the Syrian rebels have organized themselves into several decentralized small committees who are stirring this leaderless revolution demanding an end to the rule of Bashar Assad, who in 2000 inherited his father, the ruler of the country since 1971.
Activists are reporting that they have not yet succeeded in turning demonstrations into massive ones because it is almost impossible to assign a rallying point without alerting the Assad operatives. Instead, small groups of people pretending to walk in the streets doing their business suddenly come together and start shouting anti-Assad slogans. One street leads to another and in 30 minutes, you get 2000-3000 people. The number makes it hard for the Assad operatives to overwhelm them or beat them in order to disperse. Therefore, the Assad operatives simply shoot volleys of fire from their AK-47s straight into the crowds. This has resulted in a much bigger number of Syrian deaths compared to Tunisian, Egyptian and Yemeni revolutions .
To counter AK-47 fire, demonstrators take shelter and wait until operatives try to reload, during which dozens of men chase the operatives who usually run away. Demonstrators then start knocking down Assad's statues and pictures.
The Assad regime is now placing snipers at tops of buildings next to probable points of rally. Therefore, the activists are taking their demonstrations to places where they know rooftops are secure.
When rallies breakup, the Assad operatives raid houses of several Syrians, whether involved in the rallies or not (better safe than sorry), arrest young men, and torture them for information. In many instances, the Assad operatives extracted Facebook and Twitter usernames and passwords from activists and used the accounts to connect with other unaware activists and preempt their moves.
Yet despite all odds, the Syrians are getting angrier and their revolution is growing in size and intensity.
Assad's tactics (other than shooting his way out of this uprising) have included offering "reform," presumably after receiving tips from his buddies, Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey and US Senator John Kerry.
On Thursday, Assad's new prime minister, a handpicked regime crony from the Baath party, announced his cabinet. The foreign and defense ministers are holdovers from the previous cabinet. The Interior Minister (responsible for security forces), however, is a newbie, but not new to the Syrians. Ibrahim Al-Shaar was the head of the notorious Tadmor Prison (reserved mostly for political prisoners), according to Syrian opposition figures.
Meanwhile, Washington sinks in its foreign policy ignorance, coupled with President Barack Obama's now clear inability to lead, whether domestically or internationally, at least judging by the half war he waged on Libya's Gadhafi. This half war continues to boggle many minds, including those of people from the Obama administration.
Except for the Washington Post, which published on Thursday an excellent editorial calling for America to grow spine, US media is either oblivious or way too off in analyzing Syria's events (I guess since no readers are interested, there is no need to get smart on this issue). The Post wrote: "The cause for action [in Syria] would seem overwhelming — and yet the administration hesitates, seemingly because it fears that Mr. Assad’s downfall would trigger chaos, sectarian war or the rise of an even worse regime. Such thinking does a disservice to the brave Syrians who keep taking to the streets in spite of the regime’s gunmen. Let’s hope they keep proving the experts wrong."
A glimpse of US ignorance on Syria is evident in this Fox News "expert" piece by Martin Sieff with the following headline: "As Protests and Bloodshed Continue in Syria, I'm Betting on Bashir Assad." According to Fox website, Martin Sieff is former International Affairs Managing Editor at United Press International and author of “The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Middle East.” So this guy writes a guide to the Middle East and cannot get the name of Syria's president correct? (Hint: His name is Bashar not Bashir)
Another lousy article by Adam Entous and Matthew Rosenberg appeared in in The Wall Street Journal on Thursday, which argued that Iran was helping Assad in his crackdown. "We believe that Iran is materially assisting the Syrian government in its efforts to suppress their own people," an Obama administration official told the WSJ. Unfortunately, there is nothing dumber than this analysis. Syria does not need material help for its crackdown. It has all the thugs and bullets that it needs.
Assad, however, needs political cover. Had the world not been watching, Assad would have probably killed every single demonstrator without even blinking. In 1982, his father killed a whole town, Hama. Around 40,000 are believed to have perished then.
And since Assad needs political support, Senator John Kerry has been happy to oblige.
After his statement at Brookings on Tuesday that Assad is a reformer who only needs good ties with the US to reform, Kerry released this statement on Thursday: "Major protests are planned tomorrow in Syria and the world will be watching very closely. President Assad should insist that his police and military refrain from using violence against peaceful demonstrators and instead he should seize the opportunity to open a process of real discussion to address the aspirations of the Syrian people."
It added: "I have been particularly disturbed by the violence in Syria, given my visits there, and the private statements of President Assad that he wants to bring Syria into modernity and begin a new relationship with the community of nations. None of that will ever be possible unless President Assad’s government immediately ceases using violence against its own people and instead acts to address their concerns."
So Kerry calls on Assad to " refrain from using violence against peaceful demonstrators," or what? How about Kerry saying this: "Mr. Assad was elected president after the Syrian constitution was skewed to allow it (constitution set 40 years as minimum for president, Assad was 34). Assad has been in power with his clique for 11 years now." Kerry can add: "Since Assad does not own Syria (the regime forces its people to call it the Syria of Assad) or its people, it would be wise for Assad to step down and supervise a process of transforming the country from autocracy to democracy."
Perhaps the best thing that is going for the Syrians is that their revolution is happening with or without America and the world. Until when will the Syrians be able to hold their grounds facing Assad's brutal killing machine? Only time will tell.
-- The Arab Spring
Syrian "thugs" arresting an anti-Assad activist. For non-Arabic speakers, the words the thugs use in this video are: "You son of a bitch, you son of a whore... etc."
John Kerry, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, said on Tuesday: "When I visited with president Assad, what I heard from him was a man who understood the challenge of his country, in terms of those young people. he said to me, I have 500 thousand people turning 18 every year and I don't have the jobs to give them and I don't have the way to educate them."
Kerry added: "He understood where this was going to go months ago. But unless he can create a different bilateral relationship with us and with the West. Unless we move on the peace process with Israel. Unless we get this radicalism off the table for all of us, we make it so much harder to strip away the unholy alliances with Wahhabism, or Muslim Brotherhood, or whatever it is, and really face this challenge of the economy."
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
This amateur video shows young Syrian men throwing themselves on the road to their village of Banyas in an attempt to stop Assad's advancing tanks.
It has been a month and the Bashar Assad regime has so far spilled more Syrian blood than all of the Arab revolts combined (Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain and Yemen -- assuming Libya is a civil war).
What hurts more than Assad's unchecked criminality is the world's -- not only silence -- but its ongoing support toward Assad and his regime. In the near past, only China and Russia expressed support for dictators. The world used to reason that dictatorships like China and Russia do not value freedom or democracy, and therefore always take the side of the brutal autocrats.
But with Assad, support goes far beyond China and Russia to include US Senators, such as John Kerry, who said yesterday: "When I visited with president Assad, what I heard from him was a man who understood the challenge of his country, in terms of those young people. he said to me, I have 500 thousand people turning 18 every year and I don't have the jobs to give them and I don't have the way to educate them. He understood where this was going to go months ago. But unless he can create a different bilateral relationship with us and with the West. Unless we move on the peace process with Israel. Unless we get this radicalism off the table for all of us, we make it so much harder to strip away the unholy alliances with Wahhabism, or Muslim Brotherhood, or whatever it is, and really face this challenge of the economy."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has also said that the time is now ripe to push Syrian-Israeli peace forward.
Turkey, who is preparing another Flotilla to break the Israeli siege on Gaza, only has "tips" to its friend Assad advising him to "reform" while his troops seal off the cities of Daraa in the south and Banyas in the north. Qatar's Al-Jazeera, which has been a partner in the Egyptian and Yemeni revolutions and is almost leading the war on Gadhafi, does not give Syrian victims enough coverage that might push Assad to reconsider his wholesale killings. France only denounced Assad in soft statements.
Even Saudi Arabia, whom the Syrian TV and officials accuse day and night of fostering the ongoing violence as part of a bigger Saudi conspiracy against Assad, does not mind receiving Assad.
What does it take for the world to step up and protect Syrian civilians? It seems that the world, whether Iran and Iraq that cry foul for Bahrainis only, Turkey that champions the "Gaza cause," and Europe and the US that rush to rescue Libyan civilians, simply does not care about the Syrians. Staying friends with Assad seems to be a much bigger reward than protecting young Syrian men throwing themselves in front of tanks.
The good news comes only from Syrian cities. With more repression, more people are taking to the streets. When the Syrians topple Assad, their new government should shame all those who remained silent and thought it was wise to remain on the fence.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is using the specter of radical Islamism to scare the world into supporting his regime. (AFP photo)
Those involved in the Syrian uprising, whether on the ground or in cyberspace, might have noticed that, contrary to the Assad regime's propaganda and the international community’s fears, there are few traces of radical Islamism in Syria. While such an absence could be tactical, evidence indicates that should Bashar al-Assad fall, the chances of Syria turning into an Islamic state are almost nil.
Drawing parallels between Arab unrest and the Iranian Revolution was done in Egypt, where the regime, Western analysts and many Israeli writers warned of the consequences of President Hosni Mubarak's fall. The Muslim Brotherhood would turn Egypt into an Islamic state that facilitates terrorism, they argued.
The same argument is now being used in Syria, and this scare tactic is proving to be the lifeline for Assad and his regime.
When anti-Shah Iranians took to the streets in 1977, Ruhollah Khomeini had already been an opposition star. In fact, Iran's early protests took place partially as a memorial for the death of Khomieni's son Mustafa. Khomeini wielded immense influence through the religious establishment: a network of mosques, religious study rings and scores of moqallideen (followers of Shia marjaas).
Secular Marxists, socialists and nationalists were also part of Iran's revolutionary mix, and it took Khomeini until 1982 to consolidate his power and monopolize leadership.
If Egypt is like Iran, then where is its Khomeini? Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood has a small share in the state's corrupt machine and wields little influence outside the clientele network built around its lawmakers and senior civil servants. Egypt's Islamists in 2011 are nowhere close to Iran's Islamist revolutionaries of 1979. Syria's Islamic movement is even further away.
There are only a handful of Syrian Al-Qaeda members. These include Abu-Mosaab al-Souri (aka Mustafa Sit-Maryam), an Osama Bin Laden lieutenant believed to be behind the Madrid and London bombings. Souri has been detained since 2005 in an unknown location.
Born in Aleppo in 1958, Souri joined the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood's militant wing, the Fighting Vanguard, under Marwan Hadidi, and was forced to flee Syria in 1980. He was not radicalized until he joined the fight in Afghanistan, after which he moved to Spain and later back to Afghanistan.
Abu-Basira al-Tartousi (aka Abdul-Monim Halimeh) of Tartous was born in 1959. The fact that he had to flee Syria in 1980 suggests that he was another Muslim Brotherhood militant. Despite his popularity with Al-Qaeda on the internet, the man lives in London and argues against suicide bombing.
Tartousi's internet sermons reveal a man with little knowledge of today's Syria. His Facebook page, The Islamic Opposition to the Syrian Regime, has attracted around 400 members, compared to the Syrian Revolution page's more than 110,000 members. Tartousi is opposed to democracy and believes that after deposing Assad, the Syrians should create an Islamic state.
Like Tartousi, the exiled Syrian Muslim Brotherhood’s Facebook page has barely reached 400 members. But unlike Tartousi, the group's leader, Mohamed Riyad Shaqfeh, told Reuters that his party "strives to build a civil state where all citizens enjoy freedom and full citizenship rights" and that it believes in "a multiparty system, with peaceful succession of power.”
The ongoing Syrian revolution is all but Islamic. Like Lebanon, Syria's Islamists are few in number, perhaps due to societal factors that set the Levant apart from the Gulf or North Africa.
The Islamists of the 1980s were radicalized across the board, whether Syria's Muslim Brotherhood or Iraq's Islamic Daawa Party, whose former militants are now members of Iraq's multiparty democracy. Like the Iraqi Daawa, Syria's Muslim Brotherhood has evolved from believers in change through violence to supporters of democracy.
For his part, Assad, like Mubarak, has used radical Islam as a scarecrow, especially with the West. Assad went as far as fostering controlled Islamist violence and using it against his rivals, while later seemingly putting an end to it and winning favor with the world.
The world should not fear Syria after Assad, for the country will not become a monstrous Islamic state. The world should rather endorse and encourage change in Syria.
Hussain Abdul-Hussain is the Washington Bureau Chief of Al-Rai newspaper
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Syrian filmmaker, activist and intellectual, Omar Amiralay, never subscribed to the idea that Arabs had to choose between democracy and stability. If he were alive today, he surely would have joined the youth on the streets to call for reform as he had done so many times previously, fully believing in their potential to change their world.
Only a few Arab intellectuals have attained world recognition. Omar Amiralay, the ingenious Syrian filmmaker, has been one of them. Fate, however, had an ironic twist. Only 40 days before the outbreak of unrest in several Syrian cities on 15 March—for the first time in almost half a century—Amiralay passed away. Syria and the world lost one of the most illustrious minds who, despite his political activism, repeatedly insisted that he was not a politician but merely a member of Syria's civil society.
Amiralay was born in Damascus in 1944 to a former Ottoman army officer and a Lebanese mother. At age 21, he moved to Paris where he studied at the French state film school, La Femis. He tried to record the events of the French Student Revolution of 1968, but with little success. In 1970, he returned to Syria and produced a trilogy that proved critical of late President Hafez Al-Assad and his Ba’ath Party system.
In his first film, An Essay on the Euphrates Dam (1970), Amiralay presented a tribute to the dam. In his second and third films, Everyday Life in a Syrian Village (1970) and The Chickens (1977), Amiralay was so critical of the Ba’ath regime that his two films remain banned in Syria today. In the last of his more than a dozen documentaries, A Flood in Ba’ath Country (2003), Amiralay revisited the Assad Dam story and added to it two interviews, one with a parliamentarian, who was also the tribal chief of his village, and the other with his nephew, who was the village's school director. Amiralay's brilliance came to the fore when, without narration, he let his interviewees talk, and through their comments, viewers could clearly see the failure of the Syrian system, including parliament, government and schools.
As a member of Syria's "new civil society," in 2000, Amiralay was among 99 Syrian intellectuals who signed a petition urging the then newly elected President Bashar Al-Assad to lift the Emergency Law, instated in 1963. In 2005, Amiralay joined the Damascus Declaration that also demanded reforms and the transformation of Syria from autocracy to democracy.
The late filmmaker never subscribed to the idea that Arabs had to choose between democracy and stability. In an interview in 2006 with Youssef Hijazi on Qantara.de, Amiralay argued that, should there be regime change in Syria, he did not believe that the country would plunge into chaos like its neighboring Iraq. "I believe that the history of Syria and the Umayyad political heritage show to this day that politics cannot be allowed to ruin the country," he said. "That means that at some point a compromise must be reached. That is exactly what the story of the hair of Caliph Mu’awiya tells," he added.
Amiralay argued: "The Umayyad heritage differs from the Abbasid heritage. Baghdad was destroyed several times over the course of history, while Damascus has existed uninterrupted for more than four thousand years."
And because Amiralay believed in democracy, he signed—together with human rights activists and other Syrian figures—a petition in which they hailed Tunisia's and Egypt's revolutions. "The Syrian people also aspire to justice and freedom," the statement said, according to AFP. "The Arab people have found their route to freedom, namely peaceful, non-violent social resistance uniting the population against those who repress it and steal its wealth," the statement concluded.
The petition was signed on 30 January. Amiralay did not live to see Mubarak resign on 11 February. He was not fortunate enough to see Syrians take to the streets a month later, the Syrian government resign and Assad promising reform.
Also remarkable about this special Syrian intellectual was his willingness to practice self-criticism. "If I allow myself to criticize the Ba’ath Party, I must first practice self-criticism. I collaborated with this Syrian ideology of modernization," he told Qantara.de.
Amiralay was an optimist, even if he described his optimism as being "hair-thin." He, like his close friend, Lebanese journalist Samir Kassir who was assassinated in June 2005 for his anti-Syrian regime positions, was also a believer in the potential of the Arabs.
"[W]e [are] sick of European specialists providing a one-sided approach to the Arab world," Amiralay told Qantara. "People have to start accepting the fact that the Arab world has its own representatives," he said. "People who think according to western models and methods and produce rational, methodical examinations of their own reality. They reflect the position of people who are directly affected, rather than that of the observer or the analyst," he added.
"The West must accept that the Arab world has these capabilities itself and is able to present itself on its own," Amiralay concluded.
Now that Tunisia's Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt's Hosni Mubarak are gone, and a couple of other long-sitting Arab "presidents" are facing the risk of being deposed, it is up to Tunisians, Egyptians and other Arabs to show their class and "their capabilities," in the words of Amiralay, whose intellectual influence on Arab countries and the Arabs will remain part of the legacy of a man who—like many of his generation—had a dream but did not live to see it come true.
Monday, April 11, 2011
Syrian Revolution Update: Assad regime prepares for wholesale killings, Syrians prepare for Tuesday of Loyalty
Today Tuesday April 11 marks the fourth Tuesday since the Syrian Revolution first broke out on March 15, 2011. Since then, the number of Syrian protesters has been getting bigger and so has been the number of restless cities.
Since then, four Fridays have passed, with each Friday attracting more demonstrators. The demands are becoming more courageous too. On March 15, the first video came from the Hamidiyyeh market with a certain videographer commenting in a distinctively Alawite accent and showing a dozen Syrians marching down the market and shouting only "the Syrian people cannot be humiliated."
The Assad regime's reaction to the very first demonstration was as brutal as the last one. Since the protesters were only a few, the regime operatives could beat all of them and arrest them. The operatives also made sure to confiscate cell phones so that no word of protest leaks out of Syria. But the word spread out anyway on the internet even as the regime keeps all kinds of world media out of Syria. Those correspondents who work for different news organizations, including the BBC, are Syrians and are known regime operatives.
Of particular importance to spreading the word about the Syrian revolution has been the private Dubai-based Orient TV, owned by Syrian businessman Ghassan Abboud, who was forced out of the country after Assad's cousin, Rami Makhlouf, demanded a "92 percent cut" off profits, according to an interview with Abboud.
Al-Jazeera has been a partner in toppling Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and waging a domestic war against Moammar Gadhafi of Libya. But when it came to Syria, Al-Jazeera, like Al-Arabiya, either kept a lid on its coverage, covered in a way that downplayed the importance of events or propped up the regime's version of events.
Orient TV, however, has been helpful in interviewing outspoken Syrian dissidents, inside Syria (a few in their eighties or hiding from the regime are inside Syria) and around the world. Orient TV has also played pro-protesters clips and often labeled events as a "revolution," a name Al-Jazeera uses for Egypt and Libya but never for Syria where events are always depicted as a matter of division of opinion over possible governmental reforms.
Despite all odds, the numbers of anti-Assad Syrians have been growing exponentially and the protesters have grown spine. On Friday, thousands of demonstrators marched in Latakia shouting a slogan they had borrowed from Egypt: "The people wants to topple the regime." On Monday, this same slogan was heard in the heart of Damascus when a couple of thousand students of the Damascus University took to the streets demanding an end to Assad's rule.
Despite gaining momentum and shaping into a growing revolution, the world has remained silent and rather conspired with Assad. Apart from the cliché statements of denunciation from the White House and the Elysee, the world seems scared of going against Assad for fears of... well, simply change. The world hates change and -- especially when there is a slight chance that Islamists might have some influence in any given government -- the world bulks away from change and looks the other way while a dictator like Assad kills his people.
Assad understands this. But he also understands that the world might change if world opinion starts being swayed away by footages of massacres leaking from Syria into world front pages and news channels. Assad has been careful in measuring his response. He wants the protests to drag while his propaganda machine tries to depict it as an "Islamist insurgency."
Sunday and Monday April 10 and 11 saw the Syrian propaganda machine particularly focused on broadcasting news of deaths of security officers and personnel, claiming they were killed by unknown terrorists. While Syrians on the ground have reported cases of summary executions against officers and soldiers who refused to fire at protesters, the regime has insisted that these deaths were caused by "armed terrorists."
Of course Assad and his regime are lying. There are no terrorists or Islamists influencing the Syrian revolution. And even if there were, why did these terrorists decide to move against Assad only after the success of the popular revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. Even if there were Islamists instigating the rallies in Syria, which does not seem to be the case by most accounts, the Islamists would prefer to use peaceful rallies -- which the world is currently sympathizing with these days -- rather than ignite armed insurgencies where the regime clearly has a huge advantage.
Today Tuesday marks one month since the outbreak of the Syrian revolution, and the Syrians have depicted it as the "Tuesday of Loyalty" to those who have fallen so far by shots from the security of the Assad regime, Assad realizes that a fifth Friday with massive rallies might start shaking him and his regime. Assad is therefore preparing for wholesale killings and massacres, most probably in the Sunni cities in the north like Banyas and Homs because in his mind, these are the closest cities to his Alawite bastions in the mountains around Latakia, also in the north.
When will Assad start his massacres is now a question of when, not if. What will the world do? No one knows. Will the world that scrambled to prevent another Rawanda genocide in Libya let Assad commit his own Rawanda, or more like the Hama massacre that his father committed in the early 1980s? Will the Syrians be subdued if Assad commits one or more massacres? Assad knows that if a massacre fails to put down this ongoing revolution, he is certainly doomed and he will be forced to leave Syria, with or without international help.
-- The Arab Spring
Washington - April 11, 2011 - Freedom House strongly condemns today’s sentencing of Egyptian blogger Maikel Nabil to three years in jail for criticizing the Egyptian military and calls upon the military tribunal to release him without harm and to cease the prosecution of peaceful protesters and civilians.
The verdict was released today in the absence of Nabil’s lawyers. The charges were based on comments made in Nabil’s blog posts and Facebook page criticizing Egyptian defense minister Mohamed Husein Tantwai and the Egyptian military for abuses against protesters and conducting forced virginity tests on female detainees. Nabil also called for the end of forced military conscription in his blog posts.
“Bloggers have been a driving force for democratic change in Egypt,” said Daniel Calingaert, deputy director of programs at Freedom House. “This verdict against Nabil sends a worrying signal that the Military could be on the same path as Mubarak in making them an enemy.”
While the media environment in Egypt has improved significantly since the departure of Mubarak, tensions between the military and civilians have risen. According to Human Rights Watch, hundreds of civilians, including many peaceful protesters, have been sentenced by military tribunals since the military took control on February 13, 2011. Nabil is only the third civilian blogger to have been prosecuted by a military tribunal and the first to be prosecuted since the military took control.
Egypt is ranked Not Free in Freedom in the World 2011, Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties, and Partly Free in Freedom of the Press 2010.
Saturday, April 9, 2011
The Daily Star
Many publicists have excitedly described the liberating promise of Arab satellite stations. However, the stations’ utterly inadequate coverage of the current upheaval in Syria, particularly the Syrian regime’s ruthless suppression of peaceful demonstrations, belies that optimistic view. Their failing can be measured in human lives.
Why have the major satellite stations, Al-Jazeera but also Al-Arabiya, been so profoundly reluctant to highlight the Syrian protests? Why have stations like Al-Hurra and the BBC Arabic channel been so much more imaginative, thorough, and professional in pursuing the story? By way of an answer you might hear that the Syrian authorities control journalists very tightly; that there is no independent footage to broadcast; that those opposed to the regime risk arrest when they are interviewed; and so on. Perhaps, but that’s not convincing.
Take last Friday, when Syrian protesters had called for a “day of the martyrs,” in honor of those gunned down by the Syrian security forces in Deraa and elsewhere. The demonstrations were to begin after noon prayers, at around 1:30 p.m. Yet for two good hours, both Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya relegated the Syria story to a brief and distant third in their broadcasts, focusing instead on Yemen and Libya. And when the day was over and the bodies had been counted, Syria was still not a priority. Al-Jazeera’s nightly news satisfied itself with showing telephone videos from the protests, with little commentary.
Since then things have only gotten worse. It has become a rule of thumb for the stations that when they speak to someone opposed to the Syrian regime, invariably off camera, they must also talk to a pro-regime propagandist, usually some member of Parliament or a political analyst. In journalistic terms, hearing both sides of a story is reasonable. Yet how little that rule was applied in Egypt by the same stations during the movement against Hosni Mubarak. And if the Syrian authorities are imposing that stations contact their devotees, interviewers should at least make this known to viewers.
In his speech last week before the Syrian Parliament, Bashar Assad bluntly accused the Arab satellite stations of inciting the rallies against his regime. But what the Syrian president was really doing was sending a message to the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Qatar principally, informing them that if they really wanted him to stay in office, they were better off keeping a lid on their satellite journalists. That warning, or threat, appears to have had an impact. Despite purported disagreements within Al-Jazeera (and, I suspect, similar debates at Al-Arabiya) over how to handle Syria, what is going on in the country continues to be treated with troubling reserve.
Nothing prevents these stations from borrowing much more from social media to strengthen their anemic reporting. Twitter is an invaluable resource for keeping pace with the hourly specifics of the Syrian revolt. Facebook is even more essential for the protesters themselves, as they plan their next move. Not surprisingly, quite a few Syrians posting on the site have expressed outrage with the way the satellite stations, Al-Jazeera in particular, have ignored their plight.
Showing telephone videos of people marching, or being shot at, is useful. However, without a context, without an informed explanation of what is going on and what viewers are seeing; without playing these videos on air to Syrian officials and demanding that they explain the murder of unarmed civilians expressing themselves peacefully, the power of media is stunted. One gets a nagging sense that the coverage on Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya is an outcome of political compromises, but also, in Al-Jazeera’s case, of the station’s ideological agenda.
To toss Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya into the same basket is entirely justified here, because both Saudi Arabia and Qatar share a desire to avert a breakdown in Syria, fearing that chaos might ensue. Their views are echoed by a majority of Gulf states, whose leaders have called Assad lately to express their backing. Nor is there any quarrel with this in Washington, where the Obama administration has been baldly two-faced – praising itself for preventing human rights abuses by the Gadhafi regime in Libya while offering only pro forma criticism of the shocking number of deaths in Syria.
The hypocrisy of Al-Jazeera, the most popular Arab satellite station, is especially worthy of mention. In Egypt, Libya or Yemen, for instance, the station devotes, or has devoted, long segments allowing viewers to call in and express disapproval of their leaders alongside their high hopes for the success of the revolution. In Syria, nothing.
The reality is that the political allegiances and the self-image of Al-Jazeera make this thorny. Syria is part of the “resistance axis,” and the downfall of its regime would only harm Hezbollah and Hamas. The same lack of enthusiasm characterized the station’s coverage of Lebanon’s Independence Intifada against Syria in 2005. It is easy to undermine Ali Abdullah Saleh, Moammar Gadhafi, and Hosni Mubarak, each of whom in his own way is or was a renegade to the Arabs. But to go after Bashar Assad means reversing years of Al-Jazeera coverage sympathetic to the Syrian leader. Rather conveniently, refusing to do so dovetails with the consensus in the Arab political leadership.
So the Syrians find themselves largely abandoned today, their struggle not enjoying the customary Al-Jazeera treatment – high in emotion and electric in the slogans of mobilization. The televised Arab narrative of liberty has not quite avoided Syria, but nor has it integrated the Syrians’ cause. As the Arab stations weigh what to do next, they may still hope that the Syrian story will disappear soon, and their duplicity with it. Shame on them.