Posted by Joshua on Thursday, July 7th, 2011
City of Hama tests will of Syrian regime; at least 16 dead after protests Activists in Syria’s city of Hama have set up dozens of checkpoints and are using barricades of burning tires and trash bins to block the path of security forces. The city has emerged as a potentially serious challenge to the Syrian regime, as the town has been the site of the largest Syrian protests yet. The government’s decision to withdraw its military from Hama last month has turned the streets over to protesters, where residents say they are working in small and large groups to clean up the city and organize for its defense. At least 16 people were killed by security forces in the last two days in and around the town after peaceful demonstrations broke out on Friday. “There’s no easy solution to Hama,” said Peter Harling, a Damascus-based analyst with the International Crisis Group in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “The regime made significant progress in terms of convincing people in Syria and abroad that there was an armed component to this protest movement and that its security forces were very much focused on that component…Hardly two weeks later, the regime gets embroiled in the exact opposite, once again undermining its own case.”
Hama Relatively Quite, Al-Watan:
July 7 – The security forces have removed the roadblocks and burned tires from the roads, while a prudent calmness is prevailing over the city.
U.S. Ambassador to Syria in Hama to Show Support for Protesters
2011-07-07, By Flavia Krause-Jackson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. ambassador to Syria has traveled to the restive city of Hama to show solidarity with protesters as Syrian security forces step up efforts to isolate the area, the State Department said on Thursday.
Ambassador Robert Ford has met with about a dozen Hama residents during his trip, and hopes to stay in the city through Friday when more protests are planned, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said.
“The fundamental intention … was to make absolutely clear with his physical presence that we stand with those Syrians who are expressing their right to speak for change, who want a democratic future and who are expressing those views peacefully,” Nuland said.
Nuland said the U.S. embassy in Damascus had informed the Syrian government that an embassy team — without naming Ford himself — planned to travel to the city and that they were allowed to pass through a military checkpoint to get there.
She said Ford had reported “a very warm welcome” and visited a hospital that has been treating people injured in earlier confrontations between protesters and Syrian security forces…..
Opposition Builds in Syria’s Capital, a Key Battleground Wall Street Journal, By Nour Malas, 7 July 2011
Protests in the capital haven’t exploded like in other large cities Homs or Hama, where tens of thousands have demonstrated around public squares. …
Damascus has seen small protests since the early weeks of the four-month-long uprising, both in the belt of underdeveloped suburbs around the city and in urban neighborhoods aside from the capital’s wealthiest districts. The military has locked down at least nine suburbs at various points and parts of Douma, Daraya and Moadamiyeh remain under a security siege, residents and activists say.
In the past few weeks, protests have become larger, closer to central Damascus and as frequent as nightly. This past week, two separate protests marched through central Baghdad Street, not far from the parliament building.
With pervasive security and intelligence surveillance making it difficult to organize, activists have turned to less-overt expressions of dissent. Unlike calls for a nationwide general strike—which have fallen flat in Damascus and Aleppo—they hope boycotting products and places will allow more people to support the protesters….Protests are expected to grow in August, when people gather at mosques for prayer daily—rather than weekly—during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
For now, protesters have abandoned attempts to gather at the capital’s two large squares, Omayyad Square and Abassin Square, after a march toward Abassin in April was violently dispersed by security forces….
“Damascus is likely to be the last place where there will be large scale antiregime protests,” the diplomat said. “The regime’s continued strong grip on [Damascus and Aleppo] also sends a powerful symbolic message to Syrians and outsiders that the regime is still in control of the country.”
The capital’s long-held loyalty to Mr. Assad is pronounced in a growing number of portraits and posters of the president around the city. Pro-regime rallies have also grown in recent weeks.
Some say antiregime protesters are still limited to disgruntled residents of cramped, lower-class neighborhoods even when they march through the boutique-lined streets of al-Shaalan. Others say surprising constituencies have joined. Unable to gather in public squares, secular activists and even Christians have found sanctity in mosques as a place to gather for protests.
“My Christian and Communist friends and classmates come to the mosque with me every week, just to protest after,” a university student said. “They don’t know how to pray, but they ask me what to do when we’re on the way.”
Popular Protest in North Africa and the Middle East (VI): The Syrian People’s Slow-motion Revolution
International Crisis Group, Executive Summary. Full Report
Middle East/North Africa Report N°1086 Jul 2011
The Syrian uprising has defied conventional expectations and patterns established elsewhere in the region from the outset. It happened, first of all, and to many that in itself was surprising enough. The regime was not alone in believing in a form of Syrian exceptionalism that would shield it from serious popular unrest. Once the uprising began, it did not develop quickly, as in Egypt or Tunisia. Although it did not remain peaceful, it did not descend into a violent civil war, as in Libya, or sectarian affair, as in Bahrain. To this day, the outcome remains in doubt. Demonstrations have been growing in impressive fashion but have yet to attain critical mass. Regime support has been declining as the security services’ brutality has intensified, but many constituents still prefer the status quo to an uncertain and potentially chaotic future. What is clear, however, is the degree to which a wide array of social groups, many once pillars of the regime, have turned against it and how relations between state and society have been forever altered.
The regime’s first mistake in dealing with the protests was to misdiagnose them. It is not fair to say that, in response to the initial signs of unrest, the regime did nothing. It decreed an amnesty and released several prominent critics; officials were instructed to pay greater attention to citizen complaints; and in a number of localities steps were taken to pacify restive populations. But the regime acted as if each and every disturbance was an isolated case requiring a pin-point reaction rather than part of a national crisis that would only deepen short of radical change.
Over the past decade, conditions significantly worsened virtually across the board. Salaries largely stagnated even as the cost of living sharply increased. Cheap imported goods wreaked havoc on small manufacturers, notably in the capital’s working-class outskirts. In rural areas, hardship caused by economic liberalisation was compounded by the drought. Neglect and pauperisation of the countryside prompted an exodus of underprivileged Syrians to rare hubs of economic activity. Cities such as Damascus, Aleppo and Homs witnessed the development of sprawling suburbs that absorbed rural migrants. Members of the state-employed middle class, caught between, on the one hand, low salaries, shrinking subsidies and services and, on the other, rising expenses, have been pushed out of the city centre toward the underdeveloped belt that surrounds Damascus. The ruling elite’s arrogance and greed made this predicament more intolerable. Meanwhile, promises of political reform essentially had come to naught.
Much of this has been true for a while, but the regional context made all the difference. That the Syrian public’s outlook was changing in reaction to events elsewhere might not have been manifest, but telltale signs were there. Well ahead of the mid-March 2011 commencement of serious disturbances, the impact of regional turmoil could be felt in the behaviour of ordinary Syrians. In what had long been – or forced to become – a depoliticised society, casual discussions suddenly assumed a surprisingly political tone. What the regime used to do and get away with came under intense and critical public scrutiny. Subtle expressions of insubordination surfaced. Previously routine – and unchallenged – forms of harassment and extortion by civil servants met unusual resistance on the part of ordinary citizens, emboldened by what they had seen in Tunisia, Egypt and beyond. More broadly, Syrians – who like to imagine themselves as the Arab vanguard – increasingly were frustrated at being left on the sidelines of history at a time when much of the region was rising up.
Taking small steps to coax the population, the regime also repressed, often brutally and indiscriminately. That might have worked in the past. This time, it guaranteed the movement’s nationwide extension. Wherever protests broke out, excessive use of force broadened the movement’s reach as relatives, friends, colleagues and other citizens outraged by the regime’s conduct joined in. Worse still, the regime’s strategy of denial and repression meant that it could not come to terms with the self-defeating social and political consequences of its actions.
The regime also got it wrong when it tried to characterise its foes. Syrian authorities claim they are fighting a foreign-sponsored, Islamist conspiracy, when for the most part they have been waging war against their original social constituency. When it first came to power, the Assad regime embodied the neglected countryside, its peasants and exploited underclass. Today’s ruling elite has forgotten its roots. It has inherited power rather than fought for it, grown up in Damascus, mingled with and mimicked the ways of the urban upper class and led a process of economic liberalisation that has benefited large cities at the provinces’ expense. The state abandoned vast areas of the nation, increasingly handling them through corrupt and arrogant security forces. There is an Islamist undercurrent to the uprising, no doubt. But it is a product of the regime’s decades of socio-economic neglect far more than it reflects an outside conspiracy by religious fundamentalists.
True, areas with strong minority concentrations have been slow to rise up; likewise, Damascus and Aleppo have been relatively quiescent, and the business community has remained circumspect. But the loyalty these groups once felt for the regime has been under threat for some time. Most, in one form or another, have suffered from the predatory practices of a ruling class that, increasingly, has treated the country as private property. Even Allawites, a minority group to which the ruling family and a disproportionate share of the security services belong, long have had reason to complain, chafing at the sight of an ever-narrowing elite that does not even bother to redistribute wealth to its own community.
That leaves the security apparatus, which many observers believe constitute the regime’s ultimate card – not the regular army, distrusted, hollowed out and long demoralised, but praetorian units such as the Republican Guard and various strands of the secret police generically known as the Mukhabarat and disproportionately composed of Allawites. The regime seems to believe so, too, and has dispatched its forces to engage in ruthless displays of muscle, sometimes amounting to collective punishment. Over the years, these forces undoubtedly have served the regime well; in recent months, too, they have shown no mercy in efforts to crush the protest movement.
But here as well appearances can be deceiving. From the outset of the crisis, many among the security forces were dissatisfied and eager for change; most are underpaid, overworked and repelled by high-level corruption. They have closed ranks behind the regime, though it has been less out of loyalty than a result of the sectarian prism through which they view the protest movement and of an ensuing communal defence mechanism. The brutality to which many among them have resorted arguably further encourages them to stand behind the regime for fear of likely retaliation were it to collapse.
Yet, the sectarian survival instinct upon which the regime relies could backfire. The most die-hard within the security apparatus might well be prepared to fight till the bitter end. But the majority will find it hard to keep this up. After enough of this mindless violence, this same sectarian survival instinct could push them the other way. After centuries of discrimination and persecution at the hands of the Sunni majority, Allawites and other religious minorities concluded that their villages within relatively inaccessible mountainous areas offered the only genuine sanctuary. They are unlikely to believe their safety is ensured in the capital (where they feel like transient guests), by the Assad regime (which they view as a temporary, historical anomaly), or through state institutions (which they do not trust). When they begin to feel that the end is near, Allawites might not fight to the last man. They might well return to the mountains. They might well go home.
This report, part of a series on the popular movements in North Africa and the Middle East, is the first of two that will look in detail at Syria’s uprising. It focuses chiefly on the inception and makeup of the protest movement. The second, to be published shortly, will focus on the regime’s response.
Syrian national dialogue aims at pluralistic state: vice president
DAMASCUS, July 7 (Xinhua) — Syrian Vice President Faruq al-Shara said the forthcoming national dialogue is aimed to positively affect the Syrians and develop the political, economical structure to reach a pluralistic and democratic state.
The dialogue has become a popular demand and a national need that would contribute in solving the recent crisis, Faruq al-Shara said in an interview with the London-based Arabic al-Hayat newspaper published on Thursday.
He said the objective of the dialogue is also to turn the page of the past and open a new one for the future, adding that the recent opposition meetings held to figure out an outlet to the crisis, were positive, especially those that concentrated on the national unity and rejected foreign intervention.
The consultative meeting for the national dialogue will be held in capital Damascus on Sunday as a prelude for the national dialogue conference that would supposedly lay foundations for the transition of Syria towards a democratic state.
According to private al-Watan newspaper, the meeting would discuss three substantial issues, namely, laying down the bases for the national dialogue conference through presenting a clear vision for Syria’s economic, political and social future, reaching an agreement on the demanded constitutional amendments, and the endorsement of three draft laws that would introduce radical changes in the public life.
Invitations have been sent to some 244 figures, including opponents of the Syrian government, to participate in the two-day meeting that would tackle the current situation in Syria and the proposed constitutional amendments.
However, some Syrian opposition figures told Xinhua via phone on Wednesday that they will not take part in the forthcoming consultative meeting, saying the Syrian authorities didn’t consider their suggestions earlier about creating a suitable climate for national dialogue and still resort to security handling instead of political solution to the crisis.
Al-Sharaa to Al-Hayat: The national dialogue is for a pluralist system in which the ballot boxes play a prominent role
by Ibrahim Hamidi – al-Hayat, Thursday, July 7, 2011, Damascus –
The Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Shara said in an interview to Al-Hayat that the national dialogue in Syria aims at «changing» the general climate and affecting positively the mood of citizens. The participants will discuss developing the basic political, economic and social structure until reached a «pluralistic and democratic system in which the ballot boxes and fair elections have a prominent role »….
Asked about the criteria upon which the participants were invited to the «consultation», Al-Sharaa said that ….The Committee conducted extensive contacts wherever necessary, until finally it was decided that the invitees will be divided into three categories “in balance most close to reality”: One third of the invitees included the Baath party and the parties of the Progressive National Front. Another third consisted of the opposition from various social strata, currents and spectra, and a third consisting of independents». In response to another question Al-Sharaa said that the independents in the dialogue have increased in number, but the overall envisaged picture will not change because a proportion of independents would be closer to the ideas and concerns of the opposition, whereas the other part will be closer to the ideology of the party (Baath Party) and the « National Front ». The participation of young people and taking great interest in their concerns was also taken taking into account. Responding to a question, Al-Sharaa pointed «Had President al-Assad been convinced otherwise, he would have issued all what is required with a signature without waiting for the outcome of the dialogue». Observers have interpreted inviting young people as a desire to reflect the tendencies of the street…..
The dialogue committee had invited opposition figures on the basis of their party affiliation such as the invitations that were sent to Hasan Abdul-Azim in his capacity as General Coordinator of the National Democratic Change and Luay Hasan the coordinator of the meeting “Syria for all in the shadow of a Democratic Civil State to attend the consultative meeting or send a representative, the thing which was regarded by observers as a recognition of the opposition.
Asked about the reason for not inviting figures from the Muslim Brotherhood to the dialogue and his opinion concerning Islamic movements, Al-Sharaa clarified «Islam is a great religion for all mankind and is spread across the globe. It embraces the basic human rights that were only adopted by Europe and America two hundred years ago. It is a religion that no one can monopolise or have exclusivity on, or register as his private property. since the 1980’s, America and Israel have been trying to link Islam with terrorism, and the Islamic resistance against the Israeli occupation to terrorism. Thus, we believe that true Islam does not accept to be dragged behind the foreigner in order to serve the enemy’s goals, neither does it accept seeking power from the foreigner. Therefore it is no surprise that our relations with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt during the reign of former Egyptian President Husni Mubarak were good, whereas we were at bad terms with the Egyptian regime. Furthermore, our relations with the Muslim Brotherhood of Jordan are based on our common keenness to support the resistance in Palestine, in spite of the misunderstanding between Hamas and the Jordanian Kingdom.
Asked about his assessment of the meetings that were held recently by dissidents and independents such as the “Syria for All” meeting and the Independent Parliamentarians conference, VP Al-Sharaa told Al-Hayat: “I see, as many do inside Syria and abroad, that the latest meetings by the opposition, including independents and neutral people, have been positive or contain positive points, particularly the meetings that focused on the country’s unity and rejected help of foreign powers”.
Syria postpones parliamentarian elections: report
DAMASCUS, July 7 (Xinhua) — Syria’s parliamentarian elections have been postponed to an indefinite time to allow the crystallization of a political pluralistic life based on new legislation, including the laws of parties and elections, in addition to the impending constitutional amendments, private al- Watan newspaper reported Thursday.
Quoting unnamed high-ranking sources, al-Watan said the parliament will convene next month to endorse new laws and constitutional amendments that would include an article, providing that the Baath party is the leader of the state and the society.
In another development, the paper quoted sources at a dialogue body recently formed by President Bashar al-Assad as saying that some of the invitations sent to opposition figures to attend the consultative meeting for the national dialogue, have been turned down.
The consultative meeting for the national dialogue will be held in the Syrian capital of Damascus on Sunday as a prelude for the national dialogue conference that would supposedly lay foundations for the transition of Syria towards a democratic state.
The sources said the body was keen that all opposition figures attend the meeting and has exerted enormous efforts in that direction, adding “the absence of some figures would never affect the decisions of reforms.”
Invitations were sent to some 244 figures, including opponents of the Syrian government, to participate in the two-day meeting that would tackle the current situation in Syria and the proposed constitutional amendments. Al-Watan said most of them have confirmed their participation.
EU lawmakers call for more sanctions on Syria
Thu Jul 7, 2011
STRASBOURG, France, July 7 (Reuters) – European Union lawmakers called on Thursday for EU member states to impose more sanctions on Syria’s government to force it to end a crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators.
In a resolution on recent upheaval in North Africa and the Middle East, legislators in the European Parliament also said the EU should help Turkey and Lebanon set up a humanitarian aid corridor to assist refugees fleeing the violence in Syria.
“The Council (of EU governments) should continue to extend targeted sanctions to all persons and entities linked to the (Syrian) regime with the view to weakening and isolating them, paving the way for democratic transition,” the lawmakers said.
All’s ‘Fare’ in War by Philip Giraldi — Antiwar.com
The US Senate has already approved a bill that will cut off aid to the Palestinians if they seek statehood and the White House has let it be known that countries that support the Palestinians will not be viewed in favorable terms
by Washington when it comes time to renew trade agreements. Netanyahu also promoted his negative assessment of the Palestinians during a recently completed charm offensive in Europe, a tour that was tactically supported by every United States Ambassador along the way, even though the US is not in any way threatened by the creation of a Palestinian state. Throughout , Israel and the United States have made every effort to distort and defame both the Gaza Flotilla and the drive for Palestinian independence. The pressure exerted on the European governments to stop the flotilla and vote against Palestinian statehood has been both enormous and largely invisible. And it has been an effort fully coordinated between the United States and Israel.
WHY DOESN’T THE U.S. DO MORE TO BACK THE UPRISING IN SYRIA?
An Interview with Andrew J. Tabler by Lara Setrakian, ABC NEWS, July 7, 2011
Andrew Tabler’s….. solution involves beefing up sanctions, in particular on Syria’s energy sector, and working with the opposition inside Syria and abroad in order to ratchet up the pressure on Assad. ….Tabler says the recent experience in Libya has soured global opinion on the use of military intervention to defend civilians against a regime’s violence. The NATO operation in Libya is in its fourth month and Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi maintains a grip on power despite daily bombing runs on his defenses. Tabler says a military operation in Syria could face the same problems.
“It is unclear exactly what could we do militarily that would actually knock out the regime. Would it require just missile strikes? I think it would require more than that. So what would it be? Would it be an invasion? Are we prepared to invade Syria?” he asked skeptically…..
After 41 Years, Syria Begins to Imagine a Future Without an Assad in Charge By: Nidaa Hassan | The Guardian
A new idea of national identity free of oppression is driving the protests, which initially called for reforms rather than revolution.
Witness Saw Teen Beaten in Syrian Jail
By JAMAL HALABY and BASSEM MROUE, 2011-07-07 21:27:20.521 GMT
(AP) — Inside a filthy detention center in Damascus, eight or nine interrogators repeatedly bludgeoned a skinny teenager whose hands were bound and who bore a bullet wound on the left side of his chest. They struck his head, back, feet and genitals until he was left on the floor of a cell, bleeding from his ears and crying out for his mother and father to help him.
Ibrahim Jamal al-Jahamani, a fellow prisoner who said he witnessed the brutal scene in Syria in May, heard the interrogators demand that the 15-year-old proclaim strongman Bashar Assad as his “beloved” president.
The youth, later identified as Tamer Mohammed al-Sharei, refused. Instead, he chanted an often-heard slogan from anti-regime street protests calling for “freedom and the love of God and our country.”…
Florida’s Syrians and Libyans organize for change in their home countries, even if that means never going back, By Jeff Gore, Orlando Weekly: July 7, 2011
It was near the end of April when Dena Atassi, a 26-year-old Syrian-American teacher and Orlando resident, posted a graphic video to Facebook. “Watch Syria’s Secret Services dressed like street thugs as they get ready to beat peaceful protesters to a bloody pulp,” she wrote. “These devils will get what’s coming to them – maybe not from the Syrian people, but from the Lord who created them and the people they unjustly harm.”….
like many other Americans of Middle Eastern descent in recent months, Atassi has become a telecommuting activist of sorts – she says she puts in an average of six hours per day “working on Syria.” This includes translating first-aid tips into Arabic (she had noticed from YouTube videos that some protesters didn’t know to put pressure on wounds), organizing rallies and fundraisers, and getting the latest developments in Syria from a distant relative in Dubai who smuggled 150 smart phones to key organizers in the country. Atassi is convinced that the Syrian government is too busy with dissent within its own borders to worry about her activities in Orlando …..