Posted by Joshua on Saturday, February 12th, 2011
Here are a few responses to a journalist on Egypt.
– What’s the US role to play if any
The US has been running to keep up with this revolutionary process. Washington will become very concerned should the revolutionary process begin to dismantle the top military command in Egypt. It is hard to see how this can be avoided. The military high command is part and parcel of the Old Regime. Like the Iranian, Russian, and French revolutions before it, the Egyptian revolution is likely to take years to unfold completely. Various layers of the Old Regime must be peeled away. The military high command is only the next layer of the onion.
– Is there a true risk of Islamists taking over.
I expect Islamists to have a large voice in any democratic government. They have always done well in elections. They are organized. They will not be able to rule alone. Too many other sectors of society and the army would coalesce to stop them from ruling alone.Arab society have learned too much from the Iranian revolution and have been horrified by Ben Laden.
– Risk or opportunity for Isreal/Peace process (depending if scenario A or B)
Democracy in Egypt should be good for the Israeli/Arab peace process. What we have seen since Camp David in 1979 is a very skewed balance of power in the Middle East with Israel having become a superpower. It has no incentive to compromise and make hard sacrifices for peace. If Egypt begins to cooperate with Syria and Palestinian leaders who represent the majority of Palestinians, Israel is likely to reevaluate its present refusal to return to the 1967 borders in the Golan and West Bank.
– If after Tunisia and Egypt, do you expect a domino effect, to which countries potentially
I do not expect a domino effect. When no one turned up to the “Day of Rage” in Syria a week ago, the wave was at an end. All the same, the success of the Egyptian people is a game-changer for the Middle East. The opposition in all other Arab countries have learned many lessons from this. They are already thinking of ways to become more effective and to educate the people to stand up and demand their rights. There will be a pause, but only for a time. All Arabs want a say in their governments. Most Arab opposition groups are too small and divided to work effectively. Egypt’s people provided a model of restraint, civility and cooperation.
One friend asks: “It seems to me that if Mubarak goes, US diplomacy in the region becomes basically a one trick pony – support for Israel and not much else.”
Among the stash of secret diplomatic cables recently unearthed by WikiLeaks was one from the U.S. embassy in Cairo in 2008. It told of “a disgruntled mid-level officer corps” within the Egyptian army, “harshly critical of a defense minister they perceive as incompetent and valuing loyalty above skill in his subordinates.” The cable might prove more prophetic than its author could possibly have imagined.
That same WikiLeaks cable from the U.S. embassy in Cairo reported that the military views efforts at privatization “as a threat to its economic position, and therefore generally opposes economic reforms.” To the extent the military does retain power in Egypt, the people’s “rising expectations” may be frustrated, regardless of the outcome of this current clash. Whatever happens in the coming days and weeks, Egypt, once the emblem of Arab stability, might be locked in the dynamics of revolution for a long time to come.
Syria’s Minister of Health has come out in favor of a family planning initiative in Syria on days after George Saghir published his widely circulated article on the Future of Syria, which underlined the deleterious effect of galloping population growth in Sryia.واعتبر الوزير تسارع النمو السكاني مشكلة كبيرة، وسيتم التعامل معها بجدية في هذه المرحلة، من خلال التعاون مع هيئة تنظيم الأسرة للعمل على تخفيض نسبة الولادات، مشيراً إلى أن هذه المشكلة لا تؤثر على القطاع الصحي فحسب بل على كافة القطاعات، ولذا فإن معالجتها لا تنحصر بوزارة الصحة لهي قائمة على تعاون جميع الوزارات مع بعضها البعض، ولا يكفي تحديد النسل بل يجب نشر الثقافة والتوعية من خلال السلطات الدينية
Syria: ‘A kingdom of silence’
Analysts say a popular president, dreaded security forces and religious diversity make a Syrian revolution unlikely.
09 Feb 2011
A key factor for stability within Syria is the popularity of President Bashar al-Assad
Despite a wave of protests spreading across the Middle East, so far the revolutionary spirit has failed to reach Syria.
Online activists have been urging Syrians to take to the streets but the calls for a “Syrian revolution” last weekend only resulted in some unconfirmed reports of small demonstrations in the mainly Kurdish northeast.
Authoritarian rule, corruption and economic hardships are characteristics Syria share with both Egypt and Tunisia. However, analysts say factors such as a repressive state, a popular president and a religiously diverse society make an uprising unlikely.
“First of all, I’d argue that people in Syria are a lot more afraid of the government and the security forces than they were in Egypt” Nadim Houry, a Human Rights Watch researcher based in Lebanon, says.
“The groups who have mobilised in the past in Syria for any kind of popular protest have paid a very heavy price – Kurds back in 2004 when they had their uprising in Qamishli and Islamists in the early 1980s, notably in Hama.”
The so-called Hama massacre, in which the Syrian army bombarded the town of Hama in 1982 in order to quell a revolt by the Muslim Brotherhood, is believed to have killed about 20,000 people.
“I think that in the Syrian psyche, the repression of the regime is taken as a given, that if something [protests] would happen the military and the security forces would both line up together. I think that creates a higher threshold of fear.”
Demonstrations are unlawful under the country’s emergency law, and political activists are regularly detained. There are an estimated 4,500 “prisoners of opinion” in Syrian jails, according to the Haitham Maleh Foundation, a Brussels-based Syrian rights organisation.
‘Kingdom of silence’
As pages on Facebook called for demonstrations to be held in cities across Syria in early February, more than 10 activists said they were contacted by security services who warned them not to try and mobilise.
“Syria has for many years been a “kingdom of silence,” Suhair Atassi, an activist in Damascus, says when asked why no anti-government protests were held.
2010 WORLD RANKINGS
Democracy Corruption Press freedom
Algeria 125 105 141
Egypt 138 98 130
Jordan 117 50 140
Syria 153 127 178
Tunisia 144 59 186
Yemen 146 146 173
Sources: Economist Intelligence Unit, Transperency International, Freedom House
“Fear is dominating people’s lives, despite poverty, starvation and humiliation … When I was on my way to attend a sit-in against [the monopoly of] Syria’s only mobile phone operators, I explained to the taxi driver where I was going and why.
“He told me: ‘Please organise a demonstration against the high cost of diesel prices. The cold is killing us’. I asked him: ‘Are you ready to demonstrate with us against the high diesel price?” He replied ‘I’m afraid of being arrested because I’m the only breadwinner for my family!”
Fawas Gerges, a professor of Middle Eastern politics at the London School of Economics, says Syria is one of the Middle East countries least likely to be hit by popular protests, because of its power structure.
He says the allegiance of the army in Syria is different than in both Tunisia, where the military quickly became one of the main backers of the president’s ouster, and in Egypt, where the army still has not taken sides.
“The army in Syria is the power structure,” he says. “The armed forces would fight to an end. It would be a bloodbath, literally, because the army would fight to protect not only the institution of the army but the regime itself, because the army and the regime is one and the same.”
But even if people dared to challenge the army and the dreaded intelligence service, the “mukhabarat”, analysts say the appetite for change of the country’s leadership is not that big.
Many Syrians tend to support Bashar al-Assad, the president who came to power in 2000 after the death of his father Hafez, who had ruled the country for 30 years.
“An important factor is that he’s popular among young people,” Joshua Landis, the director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma and author of Syria Comment, says.
“Young people are quite proud of him [President al-Assad]. They may not like the system, the regime, they don’t like corruption … but they tend to blame this on the people around him, the ‘old guard'”
Joshua Landis, author of Syria comment
“Unlike Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, who’s 83, Bashar al-Assad is young. Young people are quite proud of him. They may not like the regime, they don’t like corruption and a lot of things, but they tend to blame this on the people around him, the ‘old guard'”.
A Syrian student echoes these comments. “The president knows that reform is needed and he is working on that”, she says.
“As for me, I don’t have anything against our president. The main issues which need to be addressed are freedom of speech and expression as well as human rights. I believe that the president and his wife are working on that. New NGOs have started to emerge.
“Also, many things have changed since Bashar came to power, whether it has to do with road construction, salary raises, etcetera. Even when it comes to corruption, he is trying hard to stop that and limit the use of ‘connections’ by the powerful figures in Syria. However, he won’t be able to dramatically change the country with the blink of an eye.”
Al-Assad’s tough stance towards Israel, with which Syria is technically at war, has also contributed to his popularity, both domestically and in the region.
Analysts stress that Syria’s mix of religious communities and ethnic groups differentiates Syria from Egypt and Tunisia, countries which both have largely homogeneous populations. Fearing religious tensions, many Syrians believe that the ruling Baath party’s emphasis on secularism is the best option.
“The regime in Syria presents itself as a buffer for various communities, essentially saying ‘if we go, you will be left to the wolves’, Houry says. “That gives it ability to mobilise large segments of the population.”
Syria is home to many different religious sects
Sunni Muslims make up about 70 per cent of the 22-million population, but the Alawites, the Shia sect which President al-Assad belongs to, play a powerful role despite being a minority of 10 per cent. Christians and Kurds are other sizable minorities.
Landis says Alawites and Christians tend to be al-Assad’s main supporters.
“If his regime were to fall, many of the Alawites would lose their jobs. And they look back at the times when the Muslim Brotherhood targeted them as nonbelievers and even non-Arabs.
“Then of course the Christians, who are about 10 per cent of the population, are the biggest supporters of al-Assad and the Baath party because it’s secular. They hear horror stories of what has happened in Iraq, about Christians being killed and kidnapped.”
The proximity to Iraq, another ethnically and religiously diverse country, is believed to play a major role in Syria’s scepticism towards democracy and limited hunger for political change. About a million Iraqi refugees have come to Syria since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
“The Iraqi refugees are a cautionary tale for Syrians,” Landis says. “They have seen what happens when regime change goes wrong. This has made Syrians very conservative. They don’t trust democracy.”
Syria is essentially a one-party state, ruled by the Baath Party since 1963. Many political groups are banned. But Landis says the lack of political freedom does not appear to be a major concern among the people.
“I’m always astounded how the average guy in the street, the taxi driver, the person you talk to in a restaurant or wherever, they don’t talk about democracy. They complain about corruption, they want justice and equality, but they’ll look at elections in Lebanon and laugh, saying ‘who needs that kind of democracy’?”
“The younger generation has been depoliticised. They don’t belong to parties. They see politics as a danger and they have been taught by their parents to see it as a danger. They look at the violence out there, in places like Iraq.”
Sites on Facebook have called
for a ‘Syrian day of anger’
Tunisia and Egypt both have a longer tradition of civil society and political parties than Syria and Landis describes the Syrian opposition as “notoriously mute”.
“In some ways being pro-American has forced Egypt to allow for greater civil society, while Syria has been quite shut off from the West,” he says. “The opposition in Syria is very fragmented. The Kurds can usually get together in the biggest numbers but there are 14 Kurdish parties … And the human rights leaders – half of them are in jail and others have been in jail for a long time.”
Facebook sites calling for protests to be held in Syria on February 4 and 5 got about 15,000 fans but failed to mobilise demonstrators for a “day of anger”. In fact, countercampaigns set up online in favour of the government garnered as much support.
Ribal al-Assad, an exiled cousin of President al-Assad and the director of the London-based Organisation for Democracy and Freedom in Syria, said the people calling for protests were all based abroad and he is not surprised that nothing happened inside Syria.
“The campaign was a bit outrageous. First, they’ve chosen a date that reminds people of the uprising of the Muslim Brotherhood [the 29th anniversary of the Hama massacre],” he says.
“People don’t want to be reminded of the past. They want change, they want freedom, but they want it peacefully. And the picture they used on Facebook, a clenched fist and red colour like blood behind, it was like people calling for civil war and who in his right mind wants that?
“But of course people want change, because there is poverty, corruption, people get arrested without warrants, the government refuses to disclose their whereabouts for months. They are sentenced following unfair trials, a lot of times with stupid sentences such as ‘weakening the nations morale’ for saying ‘we want freedom and democracy’. But the only one weakening the nations moral is the government itself.”
‘Not holding hands with Israel’
One Syrian who became a “fan” of a Facebook site opposed to protests says he cannot imagine, and does not want, anti-government rallies such as those in Egypt to spread to Syria.
“I love Syria and I don’t want to see people fighting. I can’t imagine the events occuring in Egypt to happen in Syria because we really love our president, not because they teach us to love him”, he says.
“In the formation of ministries he’s made use of 100 per cent talent with the multiplicity of religions. There are not Alawites only, there are also Sunnis and Kurds and Christians. The president is married to Asmaa and she is Sunni. He shows the people we are brothers.
“The Syrians, like any other Arab household today, have their TVs turned on to Al Jazeera. They’re seeing what’s happening in Tunisia and Egypt. Freedom is an infectious feeling and I think people will want more freedom”
Nadim Houry, Human Rights Watch
“And he is the only president in the Arab region that did not accept any offers from Israel, like other presidents. I, and most Syrians, if not all, can’t accept a president who will hold hands with Israel.”
As in Egypt and Tunisia, unemployment in Syria is high. The official jobless rate is about 10 per cent, but analysts say that double is a more realistic estimate. According to a Silatech report based on a Gallup survey last year, 32 per cent of young Syrians said they were neither in the workforce nor students.
Since the current president took office, the Syrian economic system has slowly moved away from socialism towards capitalism. Markets have opened up to foreign companies and the GDP growth rate is expected to reach 5.5 per cent by 2011.
The average Syrian salary stands at 13,500SP ($290) a month, an increase, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics, of six per cent on last year.
But like in some other countries in the region, state subsidies have been slashed on various staples, including heating oil, and analysts say the poor are feeling the pinch.
“The bottom half of Syrians spend half of their income on food. Now, wheat and sugar prices have gone up in the last two years by almost 50 per cent,” Landis says.
“Syria is moving towards capitalism. This has resulted in a greater growth rate but it’s expanding income gaps. It’s attracting foreign investment and the top 10 per cent are beginning to earn real salaries on an international scale because they’re working for these new banks and in new industries. But the bottom 50 per cent are falling because they’re on fixed incomes and they get hit by inflation, reduced subsidies on goods, coupled with the fact that Syria’s water scarcity is going through the roof.”
However, Forward Magazine recently quoted Shafek Arbach, director of the Syrian Bureau of Statistics, as saying there is nothing in new data to suggest a growing gap between the rich and the poor in Syria.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal late January, President al-Assad acknowledged the need for Syria to reform and but also said his country is “immune” from the kind of unrest seen in Tunisia and Egypt.
“We have more difficult circumstances than most of the Arab countries but in spite of that Syria is stable. Why? Because you have to be very closely linked to the beliefs of the people. This is the core issue. When there is divergence between your policy and the people’s beliefs and interests, you will have this vacuum that creates disturbance,” he said.
But Ribal al-Assad says it is obvious that the government is worried in the light of the discontent and anger spreading in the Middle East.
“Right after the Tunisian uprising they reduced the price for ‘mazot’ for the heating. They were supposed to bring up the price of medicines but then they didn’t. They distributed some aid to over 450,000 families. They should have started this process a long time ago but better late than never.”
Khoury says the lesson from Tunisia, which has been hailed as an economic role model in North Africa, is that economic reform on its own does not work.
“It will be interesting to watch how things are going to unfold over the coming few months,” he says. “The Syrians, like any other Arab household today, have their TVs turned on to Al Jazeera. They’re seeing what’s happening in Tunisia and Egypt. Freedom is an infectious feeling and I think people will want more freedom.”
Also very good.
Outside opposition groups had called for protests in Syria over the weekend. Why did only security forces and hopeful journalists show up?
Why Syria Squeaked
By James Deneslow
(Huffington Post) Across the Middle East and North Africa the winds of change continue to blow, with the battle between governments and the people continuing, and governments apparently losing.
Yet those hoping to add Syria to the list of countries in transition were as disappointed as last Friday’s ‘Day of Rage’ in Damascus failed to materialise. So what explains Syria’s seeming invulnerability to the most dramatic events to have struck the region for decades?….
WASHINGTON (AFP) – An aide to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday welcomed Syria’s decision to give its people direct access to Facebook and You Tube, but voiced fears that users would run risks without freedom of expression.
“Welcome positive move on Facebook & YouTube in #Syria but concerned that freedom puts users at risk absent freedom of expression&association,” Alec Ross said on the microblogging website Twitter.
In Damascus, Internet users said that for the first time since 2007, Syrians could directly log onto Facebook and YouTube without going through proxy servers abroad.
The authorities issued no statements regarding the development, but Syria’s leading media and technology entrepeneur, Abdulsalam Haykal, told AFP that the request to lift the block “had reached Internet service providers.”
“The process of lifting the ban will take time and may extend for hours or days, according to the supplier,” he added.
WikilLeaks: Syria tried to sabotage Shalit deal
In 2009 conversation with US general, Egyptian President Mubarak claimed that Syria, Qatar offered Hamas $50 million not to release captive soldier, WikiLeaks paper suggests
Ynet – 02.10.11, 09:08 / Israel News
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak told US general David Petraeus in June 2009 that Syria and Qatar sabotaged the Shalit prisoner swap deal, Norwegian media reported Wednesday.
ccording to the report, which is based on a WikiLeaks document, Mubarak claimed that Syria and Qatar offered Hamas $50 million to keep soldier Gilad Shalit in captivity in order to impede a prisoner swap deal with Israel brokered by Egypt.
The US general quoted Mubarak in a cable sent to Washington. The document does not specify whether Hamas accepted the offer and does not contain details regarding the proposed payment method.
Mubarak apparently made the comments three months before Israel received a video tape showing Gilad Shalit in what then appeared as a breakthrough in efforts to release him.
According to the Norwegian report, which was quoted in Al Jazeera and Palestinian media, WikiLeaks papers provide additional details regarding Egypt’s involvement in the deal. Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman, the former intelligence minister, had a major role in efforts to free the kidnapped soldier.
The papers also suggest that in talks with Israeli and US officials, Mubarak and Suleiman blamed Syria and Qatar for providing Hamas with financial support. Mubarak said that Qatar had an important role in Hamas’s takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007.
In the same meetings, Mubarak also admitted that Egypt had set up a separation fence in the Gaza border to stop weapons smuggling.
What Israel Is Afraid of After the Egyptian Uprising
by Peter Beinart
” A day after Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Egypt could become a new Iran, British Foreign Secretary William Hague urged Israel to avoid ‘belligerent’ language.”
Syria lifts ban on Facebook
In surprise move, Syria lifts internet restrictions.
By Sakhr Al-Makhadhi
Published: February 9, 2011 11:16 ET in Middle East
Syria, Facebook, Twitter
A Syrian man walks past an internet cafe in Damascus on Feb. 4, 2011. Syria lifted restrictions on the internet, including Facebook and Twitter, on Tuesday. (Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images) Click to enlarge photo
LONDON — With Egypt in the midst of a revolution and Tunisia coming to terms with life after dictatorship, Syria’s government has surprised the region by taking a potentially significant step to soften its grip on power: it has removed many of its internet restrictions.
Jews in Damascus Restore Synagogues as Syria Tries to Foster Secular Image
By Massoud A. Derhally – Feb 6, 2011 4:01 PM CT
Rob Satloff of WINEP explains that the crumbing of Egypt means America must tighten and rely on its last true friend in the M.E. – Israel. [Of course, if the US is smart, it will rethink its policy of depending overly much on Israel which is leading to is increasing isolation in the region. It must strengthen is relationship with allies such as Turkey and not let them slip away because Washington blindly supports Israel and its more harmful policies, such as settling East Jerusalem and the West Bank, which stand in opposition to international law and the basic tenets of American values.]
The apparent crumbling of America’s Egyptian pillar, at least for the foreseeable future, underscores the importance of strengthening our other partnerships.
The U.S.-Israel relationship is at the top of the list, because of both the shock to Israel’s national security structure that just occurred and the critical role that U.S.-Israel relations play in the advance of U.S. security interests throughout the region. Leaders of our both countries should commence immediate consultations on ways to strengthen the strategic partnership between these two democratic allies, in substance and in perception…..
A show of strength or a sign of weakness?
Economist Blog – Feb 9th 2011, 17:35 by S.B. | DAMASCUS
ON TUESDAY the Syrian authorities lifted bans on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. The easing of restrictions comes despite the fact that Facebook, blocked in Syria since the end of 2007, has been instrumental in the recent unrest in Tunisia and Egypt.
Syria’s Ba’ath Party, in power since 1963, is feeling quietly confident. It is one of few countries in the Middle East in which people have not taken to the street. But it has also made concessions in the wake of regional unrest. ….. Syrians’ are unsure how to react to the loosening of restrictions. The optimistic see it as heralding the start of a programme of reforms—with rumours of more, including the lifting of travel bans on activists to come. Others see it as a one-off PR stunt to appease the Syrian youth, and evidence that only superficial change is to come.
For the moment, the president is safe. But this may change
Feb 10th 2011 | DAMASCUS | from PRINT EDITION
Under Assad’s banner—for now
BASHAR ASSAD, Syria’s president, has not been entirely immune to the unrest sweeping the region around him. Motley crews of mukhabarat, the secret police, are out in force. Syria’s surging population and high unemployment, as well as its curbs on freedom of expression, may appear to make it ripe for revolt. But Mr Assad has proved himself a tenacious leader….
There are no signs of the internecine divides that led to an attempted coup against Hafez, Bashar’s father, by his brother in 1983, or the defection of the vice-president, Abdul Halim Khaddam, in 2005. A tacit pact between the Alawite and Sunni elites is cemented by the skilful doling-out of the fruits of economic liberalisation….
The new generation of Syrians, brought up on a diet of Baathist propaganda, has become depoliticised. Bloody civil wars in Lebanon and Iraq have convinced them that security is more worth having. Moreover, many of them like Mr Assad. He is youngish himself, at 45, and his ten years in power are a short spell by regional standards. By adopting the rhetoric of resistance, he has made himself immune from accusations that he is a lackey of the West. Some in Damascus discuss the protests in Egypt with glee, believing that the fall of Hosni Mubarak, America’s friend, will only assist Syria’s rise.
But wily as he is, Mr Assad would be wrong to relax. The regime’s image, if not its core, has been rattled. “People now have an insight into alternatives, even if they don’t want them yet,” says one activist….
A basic spot-the-difference exercise leads to a most intriguing discovery. The 1979 Iran crisis produced a heated debate inside and outside the Carter administration over the appropriate U.S. policy response. Leading figures in the bureaucracy, Congress and the media, including the entire Republican foreign policy establishment, blasted what they considered to be Carter’s abandonment of the shah as part of his miscalculated effort to reach out to the Iranian revolutionaries.
Obama’s response to the Egypt crisis, on the other hand, has enjoyed wide bipartisan support in Washington, with Democratic and Republican leaders, including former presidential candidate John McCain, extolling the anti-Mubarak demonstrators and urging the Egyptian president to step down. The only criticism of the White House has been directed at Obama’s refusal to use the threat of cutting U.S. aid to Egypt to force Mubarak to quit.
To put it in simple terms, American officials and lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans alike, recognize that the policy being pursued by President Obama vis-a-vis Egypt is the product of an accurate cost-effective calculation of U.S. national interest in the Middle East today.
Erian – head of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt, writes, (Thanks to Helena Cobban)
If America is to restore its credibility in Egypt and the Arab world, it must respect the right of the Arab peoples to choose their rulers on the basis of democracy, and it should not rely on the power of the rulers to repress the peoples.
If it wanted to guard its interests, particularly its strategic interests, then it must respond to the desire of the people to build a democratic order marked by transparency and accountability…
America will lose its allies among the Arab rulers one after the other if it doesn’t change its policy and reconsider all its strategic alliances in the region. The wave of democratic change has arrived in the Arab region and the power of the winds of change and the people is endless. The false American attempts to do nation-building in Afghanistan and to build a democratic system in Iraq both failed. But the Egyptians have proved that they are able– without any help from America– to build a better future. And if God wills it they will build a truly democratic system in Egypt that will shine its light on the region.
America is the richest and most powerful state on earth, and for long decades it has claimed to be the leader of the free world and has raised great slogans [on this matter.] So how should it act if it were to honor the right of the peoples to self-determination and to choose their own leaders, and the fundamentals of democracy; and if it were to preserve world peace and international cooperation in the fields of economy, information, and technology, so that it could become an example to humanity that would earn the friendship of the whole world…
Firas Azmeh wanted to bring to your attention my post about the Egyptian uprising; I thought you, and maybe your readers, may find it of interest.