“The Implosion,” by Jon Lee Anderson in The New Yorker

Jon Lee Anderson, Letter from Syria, “The Implosion,” The New Yorker, February 27, 2012, p. 58

Before the observers left, hundreds of townspeople gathered in the main square to shout slogans and call for freedom.

Anas told me he knew that Zabadani’s moment of “freedom” wouldn’t last; the Army could come back in whenever it wanted to. “It will be a black end,” he said flatly. “But we will have to face it.” He added, “I’m sorry to say this, but the Alawites are involved in the repression, and there will be a sectarian civil war.”….

But at other times it was evident that the regime could not entirely control what we saw. Clock Tower Square, in central Homs, is where the first demonstrations were bloodily suppressed; reportedly, scores of protesters died there in April, when the Army attacked during a sit-in. When we visited, the large plaza was almost deserted. The bus let us off three blocks away, in front of an old café, but before I had walked a block the minders nervously called everyone back. A tall, burly man with a salt-and-pepper beard was bellowing, in English, “Why are you here? This is not where you need to be.” He waved toward the neighborhoods that were held by the rebels. “Go to Baba Amr, go to Khalidiya, that’s where you should go!” The minders tried to herd us back onto the bus, but the bearded man, who I later discovered was a prominent lawyer, had everyone’s attention. He shouted that terrible things were happening in his city. When asked who was responsible, he suggested that the regime was using thugs to intimidate people. “Army or security or military, I don’t know!” he yelled. “They are wearing sports shoes! You know a military wearing sports shoes?” He added, “I trust the men in uniforms with helmets and boots. I don’t trust these men with sports shoes.” Men in long black leather jackets appeared at the edges of the crowd: Mukhabarat or Shabiha. They stood close together and whispered, and some moved in toward the bearded man. A few old men emerged from the café and tried to coax him inside, but he shook them off. A reporter asked, “How is life here?”

“Life?” the man shouted, waving his arms. “There is no life! There isn’t life here in Syria.” Men crowded around, yelling angrily in order to drown him out. One of them called to us, “You can go anywhere you like in Homs! Everything is fine.” Another man challenged him: “You want NATO to come to Syria? Is that what you want?” There was shouting and pushing; the secret police swarmed. The bearded man called to the reporters, “Take my name! Tomorrow my name will be on the board,” referring to a list of Homs’s daily dead. Then the crowd descended into chaos, and he was pulled away….

Out on the street, a number of men had gathered, and one of them, a wiry, forthright man in his forties, said his name was Maher. Like the shopkeeper, he was a Christian. He had worked abroad for years on oil rigs owned by an American company, but he decided a few months ago to return home to protect his family; the rebels, he explained, were occupying houses, to use as bases from which to attack the government. A few days before, though, the Army had taken control of a few streets, and some shops had reopened; people could go to work, and their children could attend school. Gunfire broke out from the direction of Khalidiya, and Maher’s eyes roved up and down the street. “I am not a supporter of the President or a member of the Baath, my friend,” he pronounced. “But I have seen the truth.” Echoing the government’s line, he said that the rebels were drug dealers, criminals, members of Al Qaeda. He spoke of their torture and execution

houses, where they slit victims’ throats like sheep. Once, he said, an old man and woman were asked for their I.D.s at a rebel roadblock, and the two were shot dead merely because they were Alawite.

“The government should be tough,” he said. “I don’t mind staying in my house for three days to let the government clear all the houses, because they are hiding in innocent people’s houses.”….

Over the rooftops, I saw columns of black smoke rising from where the fighting was taking place. A government minder who had accompanied me was shocked. He asked worriedly, “Is Syria going to be like Iraq?” Until that moment, he hadn’t really understood the extent of the country’s problems; he confessed that he had never seen an anti- government demonstration. He asked, “Are we in denial?”

The same day, the diplomat in Damascus told me that it was too late to stop Syria from sliding into civil war. “We’re watching a country go off the edge,” he said. “This is going to be ugly.” He had hoped that there could be a negotiated settlement, similar to the recent one in Yemen—a “soft landing, whereby the Assads can get in a plane with all of their toys and fly to Dubai or wherever.” But Russia was stubbornly opposed; no one knew how to negotiate with the rebels amid the violence; and, until the opposition convinced the Alawites that they were not the targets of the uprising, a détente with the Army seemed unlikely.

“Most of the officer class is Alawite, and there are very few senior officers defecting,” the diplomat said. But the government could not hold on forever. With unrest all over the country, the Army was spread thin, and on the front lines food and fuel were running short. The troops were tired and increasingly demoralized. Even though the regime had cut off electricity, food, and medical care to rebel areas, the opposition was gaining confidence. Another diplomat in Damascus said, “Fear has gone from the people and it has not been reintroduced. People have come out on the streets, and they’ve stayed out.” He added, “I never had any doubt about the regime’s capacity for violence, but I didn’t realize how stupid its leaders were. We warned them that, once they started shooting people, sooner or later people would start shooting back. Even if they were to try a reform process, it wouldn’t fix things now. They’re now obliged to carry it off with repression.”

The newspaper editor in Damascus suggested, conversely, that the country was stuck with Assad. “The collapse of the regime will lead to atrocities, communities targeting communities, as in Rwanda,” he said. “You can blame whom you like, but this is a fact. The state has to continue functioning, because, if it doesn’t, then, as in Homs now, there will be sectarian violence. That’s why the decision was taken to go strictly, heavily, into the suburbs, with all the loss of life that we’re seeing. So this idea of Assad stepping down won’t happen, because he is the Army. The only way to save the country is to support the regime to change itself. All the other scenarios lead to civil war, sectarian violence, and a failed state.” Assad’s best hope, he suggested, was a combination of unrelenting violence toward the active rebels and greater reforms to persuade the moderates…..

In Damascus, I met Aimad al-Khatib, a Sunni businessman in his fifties who embodied the chaotic interplay of Syria’s factions. He had recently been abducted, in Homs, by three men who forced their way into his car at gunpoint. After making him hand over his money, his I.D. card, and his cell phone, they took the car and drove off. Khatib went to the local rebel authorities, and, in an hour, they caught the culprits. “They handed me the keys to my car, the money, everything except the cell phone, but gave me money to reimburse me for it,” Khatib said. “They showed me the men they had caught, and, after I identified them, they began beating them in front of me. The people that robbed me are the same ones killing people with I.D. cards that show them to be Alawites.” Khatib is a leader of the Syrian National Solidarity Party, one of four new parties granted legal status in December.

He told me that he had been part of an attempt to broker a dialogue between the government and the opposition, but had given up when it became obvious that the regime was intent on using force. He expressed a kind of cynical resignation. The Russians were supporting Bashar, in order to preserve their international prestige; Saudi Arabia was against him, in order to weaken Iran; Turkey wanted to bring the Muslim Brotherhood to power. Khatib hoped for “a real national-unity government, in which not even the Alawites will be excluded.” But, with violence spreading across the country, it seemed too late for that. “What will happen? ” I asked.

“There will be a civil war.”

“When will it begin?”

“It’s already begun.” Few people in Syria were so outspoken, and I asked Khatib if he was concerned about his safety. He smiled wanly and said, “If God wants to take my soul, let him have it.” 

Read more http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/02/27/120227fa_fact_anderson#ixzz1mwYpQlDF

Comments (7)


1. Anton said:

Dear Mr. Joshua Landis

Can you please explain to me/us why you are labeling/labeled President Assed as dictator from your point of view?

Thanks in Advance.

PS: I just re-post, as I am really interested to hear your argument

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February 20th, 2012, 1:29 pm

 

2. Mina said:

Thank you, Jon Lee Anderson, for this impartial article. One should mention that the New Yorker has always been a serious paper, as was seen during the post September 11 Afghanistan and Iraq wars. I hope the US will manage to stop the bloodshed and will let the EU and its new propaganda tools (BBC, The Guardian, Le Monde) to face what they really are: who…es sold to whoever pay more. There ARE progressive currents in KSA too, and it is no time to let them down, now that the Salafists have made their way in both Egyptian chambers.

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February 20th, 2012, 1:48 pm

 

3. Anton said:

Dear John MUMU

Thanks for your positive response to my earlier request in the latest post (please see below). will be in touch soon.

Thanks

162. ANTON SAID:
Dear Syrian Patriots

Its time to help Syrian people not only hearing and looking them suffering

I am going to set up a new foundation to help Syrians in difficulties, it will be non political non partisan, social organization aims to help Syrian those needs help …
The aim is to raise funds during the next 3-6 months seeking the US and Europeans government support for fund and facilitate activities.

The foundation will be called “Syrian Christians charity foundation”

I am looking for people from this forum to help set it up and be active members.. any interest ?

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February 20th, 2012, 2:01 pm

 

4. areal said:

I read considerable comments about the art of quoting external sources on this blog.
I just noticed some interesting developments :
– In todays’s extensive quote of “The implosion ” article , the same paragraph “Out on the street …. innocent people’s houses” was copied twice !!!

– The interview of Faysal Al Qudsi in the BBC
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-17088270
commented here
http://www.joshualandis.com/blog/?p=13530&cp=all#comment-296829
is badly quoted , being mixed with analysis and comments.
You can listen to the “interview” imbedded in the BBC’s page where there is no mention of Iran.
It is my view that the use of Internet should permit to disseminate the full original documents not only edited excerpts because the additional cost is marginal.

Regarding the issue of license , no Syrian article is under copyright and many foreign sources are under Creative Commons :
The articles may be freely reproduced provided the source is cited, their integrity is respected and they are not used for commercial purposes.

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February 20th, 2012, 2:51 pm

 

5. teomax said:

The trick to get a rid of Assad is easy, if only Turkey wanted really to overthrow him and not only play a “game of big boy” on the block. They could easily overthrow his regime just by sending 20-30 percent of their army (6th strongest in the world against 33th strongest, not counting on defections) close to the Syrian borders and threating a bit Assad with invasion. Since regime operates only 30 percent of army as they are afraid of further defections, such situation would force them to put their army in 100 percent “modus operandi” and enormously drain the remaining resources.
I am sure that 70 percent of army forces, staying in barracks, are seen as not trustworthy by regime, otherwise they would already use them. To overthrow the regime, its therefore neccessary to put whole army in 100 percent “modus operandi”. Current estimates of 15-20 percent defections during previous operations could be much higher with “not so trusthworthy” rest of army.
But a chance for a normal society once this revolution is finished, is however much harder task. The sooner the regime fall, the better possibility of “normal” society in Syria. I am afraid we have already passed that point now…

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February 20th, 2012, 5:39 pm

 

6. Leo Syriacus said:

It seems that neither the regime nor the opposition groups are able of ending this quagmire, the regime is fighting for its life and fears that its symbols will be all executed and its supporters persecuted, the opposition has not yet gathered enough support to defeat the regime and has not come up with a proposed agenda for a post-Baath Syria that will preserve the state and its institutions, protect all Syrians from massacres and civil
war, rebuild the economy, and introduce democratic processes.

This long and protracted struggle continues and the average Syrian suffers

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February 20th, 2012, 11:13 pm

 

7. SC Moderation said:

Areal raises a good issue with regard to copyright, noting the case of Creative Commons license. Areal also raised the issue of copyright protection for Syrian-origin material.

Syria legislated on copyright and related matters of licensing in 2001, with Law 12. Law 12 has been amended to signal Syria’s adherence to international conventions. In Syrian law, copyright is assumed to adhere to the author, rests with the author, and Syrian law also notes its own fair-comment guidelines. See Articles 4. 5, 7 and 9. Here is an overview of Syrian copyright law and practice by UNESCO.

The issue of fair-use is both reference and courtesy — to both author and reader. Excerpts are encouraged. Short summary articles such as 6 or 8 paragraph Voltaire briefs are no problem. Thank you for for voicing your concerns.

Ghufran — please do not be concerned with the filter. It simply puts into moderation posts containing certain words. I will check the moderation queue.

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February 21st, 2012, 12:32 am

 

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