As Joshua Landis has cogently argued, there are also strong voices in the administration urging military action against Syria. [See also his column on Thursday]. Aside from the threat of more social turmoil, there is no obvious reason for Bush to leave Damascus alone. An attack on Damascus would make both the Turkish and the Israeli hawks happy. Syria's only patron is Iran, which could do little about it except foment guerrilla resistance. Europe and Russia would complain, but would do nothing. The one brake on such a move might be Egypt and the Arab League, which don't hate Bashar al-Asad the way they hated Saddam and may finally find ways diplomatically to intervene with Washington to stop the Bush demarche.
Washington threw down the gauntlet yesterday when Secretary of State Powell announced that "The U.S. wants to see the disarmament of Hizbullah and Hamas beginning at once along with the withdrawal of the Syrian army from Lebanon... "We believe that the time has come for the Lebanese to be able to decide their own future without the presence of the Syrian army, which is operated from Damascus," Powell said in an interview aired by the U.S.-run Al Horra satellite network from Dubai late Tuesday night.
It was headline news in several Beirut dailies Wednesday morning. Powell's tough position coincided with signals from Paris that France would no doubt seek a new Security Council resolution tougher than 1559 if current consultations among the ambassadors of the 15 member-states fail to produce unanimity over a Chairmanship Statement on the issue.
An Nahar's Paris correspondent George Sassin quoted French officials as asserting that President Chirac is adamant about having the process of the Syrian withdrawal and Hizbullah's disarmament be monitored by the U.N., with Secretary-General Kofi Annan making quarterly reports about the progress. The mechanics of the new resolution Washington and Paris have drawn up are explained here.
French officials also shrugged off reports that the United States would seek the withdrawal of the U.N. peacekeeping force from south Lebanon if Syria fails to begin a time-tabled withdrawal from the rest of the country.
This new resolution, if it should pass, will mean confrontation between Damascus and the US. The fact that Powell issued the ultimatum adds to its import and finality. Damascus has long sought comfort in the institutional infighting in Washington. It has provided Syria considerable wiggle room in the past. When the Vice president's office and Defense have been tough, State and the CIA have often been soft, providing Bashar the hope that he can avoid the worst. Today CIA is disfunctional and State has bowed to the forces of confrontation. This time Damascus has no wiggle room in Washington.
The stakes for Lebanon are high. In a long speech, Bashar defended his nation's role in Lebanon by arguing that if Syria pulled out, the Lebanese would slip back toward civil war. As Neil MacFarquhar of the New York Times reported, Bashar implied that forcing a Syrian withdrawal could reignite Lebanon.
"Do they want to throw this region, with no exception, in the heart of lava inside the volcano?" he asked, suggesting that the main lesson that should have been learned from the Sept. 11 attacks is that violence in the region feeds extremism.
Mr. Assad also contended that Syria had done more to stabilize Lebanon than any other country. Although he did not cite the United States and France specifically, he referred to particular low points in the past, like the period when the United States deployed peacekeeping forces here and the United States Navy shelled the country after 241 Americans died in a suicide bombing in 1983.
"What did these forces which have been expressing their attachment to Lebanon do for this country?" Mr. Assad asked, saying the attempt to push through the United Nations resolution was blatant interference in Lebanese affairs.
The United States and its other allies believe that Lebanon is stable enough to stand on its own feet, and that Syrian interference is retarding the emergence of a true Lebanese democracy.
General Aoun, who has been working the halls of the US congress on this issue, is energized by Powell's remarks. In a telephone interview from Paris with The Daily Star Tuesday, he said "It's just a matter of time before I am able to visit a free and sovereign Lebanon."He has been working closely with Lebanese and other neocon groups in Washington to get congress to force the Lebanon issue on government. "The liberation of Lebanon from Syrian hegemony is very near, especially after the United Nations Resolution 1559. UN Resolution 1559 was the second step on the road to freeing Lebanon from any foreign supremacy, namely Syrian, and hopefully this will happen soon," said Aoun.
The Syrian Accountability Act was the first step. "It was not an easy task to get the SAA to be endorsed by the United States," he said. "Although the act evoked sharp protest from the Bush administration, it was eventually passed, and formed the first step on placing Lebanon on the international political map," said Aoun, who testified before congress in order to get it passed.
"The Syrians will have to comply with this international pressure on them to withdraw from Lebanon," said Aoun, who added that he believed the upcoming parliamentary elections in Lebanon will be free from any external interference. "They (the Syrians) will not be able to meddle with the elections because it will be under international supervision," he said.
Sectarian tensions in Lebanon have already begun to rise because of the growing fight between Washington and Damascus over Beirut. The BBC reports on the increased tensions between the pro- and anti-Syrian factions in Beirut. Even Walid Jumblatt, the Druze leader who resigned his cabinet post after the Lahood affair in protest against Syria's meddling is warry of the latest escalation. "The withdrawal of Syrian troops should be discussed between Syria and Lebanon," said Walid Jumblatt, "We went through a civil war, we don't want to risk that again."
For the past 15 years, the US has been content to let Syria do what it wants in Lebanon, figuring it would ultimately get ironed out in any final Middle East settlement. But in a post-Sept. 11 world and with the development of the Bush administration's Forward Policy on Democracy in the Middle East, it has reversed that stand. No longer does Washington seem to count on a Syrian-Israeli peace. By accepting Sharon's Gaza plan and his refusal to reopen the Golan issue despite Syria's pleading, Washington has signaled that it no longer counts on getting the Golan back for Syria. Thus it will no longer accept the tacit agreement that Syria can hold Lebanon as a card to force Israel to the bargaining table. Washington, in effect, is announcing that it is taking both Lebanon and the Golan out of play. Should Washington succeed in Lebanon, Damascus will have to kiss the Golan good bye as well.
So the stakes are very high for both the Syrians and Lebanese. Syria will not withdraw from Lebanon without driving the issue to the limit. Hafiz al-Asad snatched Lebanon from Israel's and America's grasp following the 1982 invasion at great cost to Syria. Should Bashar lose it without a Golan deal, his presidency would never recover. He won't let it happen; neither will the generals that surround him who are past masters at playing the Lebanese against each other.
Washington must know this. But according to Jim Lobe, the Neocons are Stoking the Future Fires of confrontation never the less. He believes they are hell bent on a confrontation, perhaps even military confrontation for ideological reasons. Rami Khouri of the Daily Star is not so pessimistic. He notes that Cooperation and pressure define US-Syrian ties. And writes that sources say the UN resolution last month was not aimed at preventing the extension of President Emile Lahoud's term, but rather starting a process of pressuring Syria and Lebanon to hold a more credible parliamentary election in spring 2005.
Bashar insists that the Americans don't give one wit for Democracy in Lebanon. He believes they are being led down the garden path by Israel and its supporters in the US. It's all about developing a bigger stick to use against Syria, he worries.
The Washington Post is jubilant about the brinksmanship and the bigger stick. It councils Bush to really whack that "rogue state" that is Syria. On the editorial page, it announces: "Syrian security forces are trying to appease Washington, promising better controls on the border and acting against some of the organizers of Iraqi resistance operating in Lebanon."
This, of course, is not enough: It merely demonstrates that concerted outside pressure can bring about changes in Syrian behavior. That pressure should be stepped up. The Security Council should renew its demand that Syria withdraw from Lebanon, and accompany it with the threat of sanctions. Arab states, which for decades have insisted on the sanctity of U.N. resolutions about Israel, should be pressed to take a public position on this one. The Bush administration and Iraqi leaders should make it clear that continued infiltration of insurgents and terrorists into Iraq will be considered a hostile act by Syria and subject to the responses usually given an enemy, from the breaking off of relations to -- in the last resort -- military retaliation. There are no reasons for continued toleration of Syria's rogue behavior; instead, there is an opportunity for insisting on change in the Arab state where it is most needed.
Syria is stuck. If it makes concessions, Washington will read this as weakness and demand ever more. If it doesn't make concessions, Washington will threaten military force. According to the Post's formula, it doesn't really matter how Syria behaves. It is going to get beat with a stick. If it it is nice, Washington should beat it. If it isn't nice, Washington should beat it. There is no knowing what Washington really wants or where it's demands will end. Damascus cannot expect Washington to stop the escalation short of regime change. That is what the neocons are demanding, and what the President has endorsed, in effect. Because of Washington's limitless ambitions, Bashar will be forced to put his foot down sooner than later.
This, of course, will have dire consequences for the Syrian economy and the well-being of both the Syrian and Lebanese peoples. Of course Washington may succeed where local governments have failed. US statesmen may have a better knowledge of the Lebanon and Syria than local politicians do. They may succeed in introducing the sort of robust sense of national brotherhood among Lebanese and Syrians that has been so absent in the past. They may awaken the long submerged respect for democratic institutions and practice that both Lebanese and Syrians cherish and have burried in their hearts. Who knows?
Washington hopes to add yet more sanctions to those already imposed on Syria. It is also fixing pro-Syria politicians in Lebanon in its cross-hairs. The same US congressmen from Florida and New York that authored and lobbied for the SSA are now pressuring Bush to up the anti. http://www.lebanese4ever.com reports,
U.S. Congress members are urging President Bush to 'freeze the assets and economic interests" in the United States of Beirut government officials "who collaborated scandalously and unblushingly with the Syrian regime to safeguard its tutelage over Lebanon," As Safir reported on Monday.
No specific names were mentioned in the letter urging the freeze from Democrat Congressman Eliot Engel and Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, which was separately seconded by Republican Senator Rick Santorum. But As Safir's Washington correspondent Hisham Milhem spoke of "large investments and vast financial and economic interests for many prominent Lebanese politicians."
It goes without saying that Lebanese officials with the biggest economic investments and financial interests in the United States are Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and Vice Premier Issam Fares.
"You can freeze the assets of anyone found guilty of contributing to the continuity of Syria's occupation of Lebanon or supporting terrorism," the two congressmen said. "Those Lebanese officials have turned once-democratic Lebanon into a police state and have provided official Lebanese government support and shelter for terrorist Hizbullah, which is backed by Syria," the letter charged.
"We believe this will be the most effective step to stop those persons from continuing to provide shelter for Syrian-backed terrorists and from providing quasi legitimacy to Syria's illegitimate occupation of Lebanon," the letter said.
During Assistant Secretary of State William Burns' talks in Damascus last month, Washington bluntly said Syrian non-compliance on the money-laundering issue would compel the U.S. to apply section 3-11 of the Patriot Act. This would totally cut off the Syrian banking system from any U.S. contacts, which would have a negative multiplier effect by dampening other foreign investments and transactions with Syria. Washington says Syria is hiding 3 billion dollars worth of Iraqi funds in its banks. Damascus says there are only 300,000.
There are plenty outside the region, who don't like where this is leading. The EU just granted Syria 80 million euros for 2004-2005 for the development of commerce, water, higher education, and the civil society sectors in Syria.
The British Ambassador in Beirut James Watt said on Wednesday that his country always seeks to have positive and constructive relations with Syria."There is a serious dialogue between Britain and Syria," he said, expressing hope that the Syrian-EU Association will come for the interest of both Syria and Britain. On Lebanon, Watt said no one has interests to hit stability in Lebanon.
In Israel, the Jaffe Center just issued its annual report that declared that Israel had shot itself in the foot by ignoring Syria's peace offer. Israel missed a chance to score strategic gains by passing up on the opportunity of holding peace talks with Syria last year, it said.
"Not one inch of the occupied territories will be returned to the Arabs using National feelings or any other secular ideology. The one and only way to win them back is to harness Islamic beliefs." So said the Sunni Vice President Abdel Halim Khaddam ten years ago while speaking with friends around the dining room table. According to a source close to the Khaddam faction in the Syrian government ( I will call him Khudr), Khaddam remains convinced that in an overwhelmingly Sunni and deeply religious society like Syria, Baathism will never mobilize the people so long as it remains a strictly secular ideology. The only hope for the Baath in the future, the Khaddam faction argues, is if it Islamizes.
You wrote yesterday that "Ahmad al-Hassan, the outgoing Minister of Information, is known to be quite ideological and a true believer in the special role of the Baath Party." I would add that he belongs to the Khaddam wing which staunchly believes that the Baath should integrate Islamist beliefs in its principles and be turned into a semi-Islamic Arab Nationalist party. They think that only with such a transformation can the Baath secure for itself a socially acceptable and leading role in an increasingly fundamentalist society.
Ahmad al-Hassan's objectives and vision for the Baath are certainly not in line with Bashar`s policies (supposing he really has one). So I was not a bit surprised that Bashar replaced Ahmad al-Hassan; rather, I was very surprised that he put him in that post to begin with, and still surprised that he keeps Khaddam in his post, although he has tried many times to divest him of power. [The government announced several months ago that Khaddam would retire in the near future.] Why was Mahdi Dakhlallah chosen to replace Hassan as Information Minister? For the same reason that Hassan was chosen before him: Bashar does not have a vision of his own; he listens to everybody, and makes arbitrary decisions.
Dakhlallah is a Sunni born in 1947 in the province of Dara`a in the south-east of Syria. He received his BA in Politics from Zagreb University in Yugoslavia and a Ph.D. in Development there as well. On his return to Syria he began work in the Research Section at the National Leadership (Qiyada Qawmya) from 1983 until 2001. He rose through the ranks of the party and was respected for his intelligence and knowledge of the party`s ideology and history. He became the speechwriter for Abdullah al-Ahmar, Assistant Secretary-General of the Baath Party before he was appointed Editor-in-Chief of Al-Baath Newspaper. [See my previous post, "What Does the New Syrian Cabinet Portend? and the biography of Dakhlallah at All4Souria.org Oct. 6, 2004.]
Ahmed al-Hassan, an Alawi from Tartous, was an Auxiliary-Member (`udu-Ihtiyat) of the National Leadership. He was demoted from full-membership in 1984, when late president Hafez al-Asad decided to cut the wings of Khaddam`s faction after Asad's brother Rifa`at tried to take power. [See the new memoirs of ex-Defense Minister Mustafa Tlass for the dirt on a number of generals and Party officials who had their wings clipped after 1984.] Al-Hassan was born in a small village near Latakia. However, he moved as a child to Banias city, which explains how he met Khaddam, who is from Banias, and became one of his supporters. He later moved to Tartous city itself.
The Alawis of the coastal cities even under the French Mandate were the first to adopt the language of the Sunni nationalists of Damascus. Because of their intermingling with the Sunnis of the Alawite region, who only lived in the larger cities, they were the first to break away from the communal loyalties of the Alawis of the mountain towns. It should be remembered that in 1920 when the French extended their control over Syria, no Alawites were registered residents of the coastal cities - Latakia, Jable, Banias, or Tartus. They were effectively reserved for Sunnis and Christians.
In fact, the first French census shows that Alawis and Sunnis lived together in no town with a population exceeding 200 inhabitants! Discrimination against Alawis and social segregation were profound. Alawis shared towns with Christians but not Sunnis. Only after the imposition of French rule did Alawis begin to migrate to the larger cities of the coast. It was these Alawis, like Ahmad al-Hassan, who have become least fearful and distrusting of Sunnis and Islam in general.
Ahmad Al-Hassan was consistently and fiercely attacked by liberal opponents of the regime because of his attempt to enforce his views about Islamizing during his tenure as Information Minister. Nabil Fayad and his group at the annaqed website were leaders in this campaign and criticized him vigorously. They were particularly critical because he opened access to the TV and state media to religious sheiks and clerics in an unprecedented way. This may be one of the reasons that Bashar was not happy with him [Khudr refers here to al-Hassan, but it may also be a reason that Fayyad was arrested - the government's way of evening the score. By the way, a contributor just wrote that Fayyad's colleague, "Mr. Jihad Nasra is free now, but the Syrian Liberal Gathering http://www.liberalsyria.com/ was dissolved, and Mr. Nabil Fayad, its spokesman remains arrested." See my post of a few days ago about Fayyad's arrest] Another reason why Bashar may have replaced al-Hassan is because of his very close relations with the Iranian regime. [He served as Ambassador to Iran for 10 years, where he established good relations with the regime.] His close connection to Iranian officials continued after his return to Syria and throughout his tenure as Information Minister.
How much change can someone like Dakhlallah, an intellectual who spent his entire career writing, actually bring about? Very little, I suspect. The Information ministry, like all the ministries, is composed of mafias that are hard to break even for someone who is politically strong like Ahmad al-Hassan. What I mean by politically strong is that he has enough backing to stand against the enormous interference of security apparatuses and other power-groups. How long can someone with no factional backing, such as Dakhlallah, expect to withstand such power-groups? Even the very best of the technocrat ministers, such as former Industrial Minister Issam al-Zaim, failed to bring about change because of the powerfully entrenched interest groups in his ministry.
Ahmad Hassan has been involved in politics since 1960. He became head of the first Baathist School in the 1960s [The Baath National Preparation School -- Madrasset Al- Eedaad Al-Qaumi in Banias] and was very adept at navigating within the old power groups. All the same, he was powerless to change the culture of the Ministry of Information during his tenure. He looks on the new emerging power groups with disdain. I don't believe he was at all displeased to be relieved of his duties. He does not believe the new groups represent the best interests of the Baath, the Alawis, the Sunnis, or anyone. They are merely out to advance their own private interests. Ideological as Hassan is, he did not see a role for himself in this new system. I would bet good money that Dakhlallah will end up as frustrated as Hassan.
The recent changes broke a long lived power-distribution rule that Hafiz established: Information Ministry is for Alawis, Interior Ministry is for Sunnis. Bashar is obviously faced with a dilemma in his attempts to reform. He is trying anything. His is arbitrarily switching ministers around in desperation. Dakhlallah might not be a staunch member of the old guard. Most likely he belongs to no guard at all, which is worse in the long run, because that makes him powerless to carry out reform.
Kudr's description of the debate within the Party, which revolves around the question of how to change the party and reanimate public participation and faith in Baathist ideology, is telling. Many Sunni party members and even a number of Alawis, such as Ahmad Hassan, are convinced that the Baath will have a future only if it Islamizes in order to respond to the religiosity of the public. Saddam Hussein had been taking the Iraqi Baath down the road of Islamization since 1991. After the traumatizing experience of the Gulf War and the Islamist uprisings that ensued, he decided to abandon Iraq's secularism and embrace Islamic nationalism. He placed the logo "God is Great" at the center of the Iraqi flag. He introduced a number of Islamic laws and he began to inject more Islam into state rhetoric in order to appeal to Iraqis.
Bashar's problem is that he is an Alawi, and most Alawis will not hear of Islamization. They fear Islam. The Muslim Brotherhood pushed Syria toward civil war in the late 1970s and early 1980s and accused the Alawis of being neither Arab nor Muslim. My father-in-law, a retired Alawi Admiral of the Syrian Navy, was on the Brotherhood hit list and nearly assassinated by a neighbor who turned out to be a member of an underground organization. Needless to say, this had a profound effect on the family (a neighbor from a family they liked).
Many Alawi generals and officers still in power today experienced the same fear and danger in the 1980s. They will not permit the Baath to embrace Sunni Islam for fear that it would become fundamentalist and hostile to Alawis. Many are worried about Bashar's flirtation with the Iraqi resistance groups lest they get out of control, establish roots in Syria, and the whole thing backfires on them. When they think Islam, they see Jihadists and the Muslim Brotherhood of the 1980s, not some watered down and ultimately responsible variety such as we are seeing in Turkey who have turned out to be real democrats.
Bashar faces a tug of war within his government and society over the issue of Islamization. When Hafiz al-Asad came to power in 1970, one of his primary goals was to establish a new balance between the government and Islam. One of the central planks of his "Corrective Movement" was to abandon the radical secularism and socialism of the Jadid regime that preceded him. Although he reached out to Sunni clerics, giving them greater leeway in society, he strictly limited their influence in politics. At the same time, he encouraged Alawites to embrace mainstream Islam. He declared the Alawites to be nothing but Twelver Shiites, forbade Alawite Shaykhs to venerate Ali excessively, and set the example for his people by adhering to Sunni practice. He built mosques in Alawite towns, prayed publicly and fasted and encouraged his people to do the same.
In short he tried to turn Alawites into "good" (read Sunnified) Muslims in exchange for preserving a modicum of secularism and tolerance in society. (For a better understanding of this process see my article on Islamic education in Syria.) To police this understanding, he squashed any semblance of democracy in Syrian political life, forbidding elections even within professional organizations and trade unions. As a result, civil society was crushed, ministries became havens for mafia groups, and any political life outside the secretive factions in the regime came to a standstill.
In order to reform and shake the corruption and incompetence out the ministries, Bashar must change the way the administration works. If he makes it more representative and allows for greater democracy, he may be swamped with Islamists and alienate the Alawite support that is the backbone of the regime. The same thing will be true if he really goes after corruption and the mafias in the ministries. He has no constituency save the Alawite generals and old guard that put him into power and maintain him there. If he pushes reform too hard, he will either undermine the generals and Baathists, causing the regime to collapse, or he will be replace by the generals. This is Bashar's Alawi Dilemma. Syria remains a deeply fragmented country, where the religious communities still do not trust each other.
Khudr, writes of these comments I have just added to his story:
Your analysis here at the end, and of course this is my personal opinion, but I really don`t think that if greater democracy is allowed in Syria the government posts will be swamped with Islamists. Although I agree with you that Bashar might be thinking this way. Look at the present presidential elections in Indonesia the land of the largest Sunni popluation; contrary to what many expected, among the five candidates, the two that won the most votes were the non- Islamist ones: Megawati and Yudhoyono, the latter won finally. As a BBC commentator puts it: people want Islam at home but not in the administration.
I personally believe this is true in Syria as well. Ahmad al-Hassan and his colleagues think that it is necessary to mobilize people through Islam to reach the goals of the Arab Nation articulated in the Baath ideology. People against Islam fear that such a mobilization would jeopardize civil rights and non-Islamic ideas. they fear it will endanger the Alawaites and other minorities. Both parties forget that 60% of Syrian population is under 20 year old (official census) and probably more than 85% less than 35 year old. These people don`t give one little damn for all the grand goals of the older generation and can not relate to them. As in Indonesia, in the end, people will elect representatives that can get them jobs and put food on their tables, not who promise to give them Qurans or librated lands.
The real problem Bashar fails to come to grips with is the political system in the Ministries and the government apparatus. This system, from the bottom up, is based uniquely on appointed posts. Appointments are determined according to security service reports and factional connections. Bashar is trying to break up these factions by attacking them only at the uppermost levels (Ministers and consultants), but he doesn't dare tackle them at the lower levels. This is what must be done to bring about real and necessary change. He probably thinks that empowering people on the lower levels, in the same manner as he is doing to people at the upper levels, would cause his regime to crumble. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of democracy that I personally believe most people in our area share. For the majority of Syrians, democracy means politics and presidential elections.
Hafiz al-Asad instilled a firm conviction in the regime that even the slightest empowerment of the people would lead to total regime collapse. That is why he so infamously dissolved all elected syndicates and civil organizations in 1982 after the Hama crisis. In there place, he established a system based solely on appointed officials. Everything became administered from the top-down and distrust of the people reigned supreme.
Bashar should look at the Korean, Taiwanese, and Indonesian models, rather than the Chinese one. Dictators were able to keep their rule while educating people about democracy by introducing democratic change at the lower levels. This did not challenge their rule while they remained alive and in control of the state. Certainly it brought great changes the moment they stepped aside. The Chinese model by contrast means trying to enforce the rule of the regime beyond the life of one ruler. This is what Bashar is effectively doing. He is not bold enough or does not have the vision or power to reintroduce democracy at the bottom of society because he and his generals want to stay in power indefinitely.
This is the same problem facing Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, and most of the Arab republics. Their leaders want to turn themselves into Kings like the rulers of Jordan or Morocco so they can rule through the generations and manage society into the distant future. They don't trust their people and fear unleashing the forces of Islam and the broader public. They fear giving up their privileges and control, knowing that the men that replace them may take everything away from them and seek revenge rather than enshrine the rule of law.
Khudr believes this is where the appointment of Ghazi Kanaan as Minister of the Interior comes in. The Alawite generals are frightened and dismayed by Bashar's floundering about. They fear that he is migrating away from the essential tethers of regime stability - the Alawite generals and their factions. Kanaan represents the old guard and whether he was appointed by the generals or imposed himself on them, his elevation to Minister is an expression of the old guard trying to protect its interests and those of the old regime as they understand it -- and it might be added that they probably understand it very well.
In my next post, I will discuss Khudr's analysis of the class tensions within the Alawi community caused by Bashar's presidency. I would also like to thank Khudr for his friendship and courage in coming forward with this most interesting analysis. It is only thorugh such insider accounts that we will ever begin to understand the very real and important policy debates going on within the Syria government and society.
Comments: On the inapplicability of the Syria - Indonesia comparison
From Lee Smith, Journalist for Slate and other Magazines.
Excellent post, Josh, and hugely informative. Thanks for it.
However, I have to say that I disagree with your informant's assertion that in voting for Islamists people will vote for candidates who can get them jobs, etc. I think his comparison to Indonesia is a very bad one: it does not matter that Indonesia is the most populous Sunni country; it is not an Arab one. It is strange that critics of Islamist movements, or sometimes so-called Islamophobes, are reminded that Islam is not a monolith, but different in every country, place, family, etc. advocates of Islamist movement should remember this as well: Islam is different in different places. Surely "khudr" doesn't think for instance that Saudi Arabia is like Indonesia just because it's Sunni.
I think the problem in Syria, the Arab world generally, is that because politicians cannot make good on their promises of jobs, a higher standard of living, etc., that all they have are Korans and talk of liberating Muslim lands. That after all is why they're seen as authentic. so, maybe you'd wind up with a party on the lines of the Turkish model, but most likely you'd have something like Jordan’s Islamic action front, which blocks virtually every reform-minded motion in that government and makes a lot of noise in the press about it. It's not clear to me Bashar could withstand the level of criticism abdullah is able to deflect; but maybe if Bashar were super smart, he'd give them a role just so he could use them to deflect criticism. Anyway, great post!
From RAYYAN SOUKI (I don't know who he is.)
I think that your recommendation for the Syrian regime to adopt the Indonesian model is way off target. Syria is not Indonesia, and Indonesia is not the largest "Sunni" country as you claim.
The nature of Islam in Indonesia is eclectic. Clifford Geertz, one of the most important authorities on Indonesian religions and cultures, named the dominant religion in Indonesia as "Agama Jawa.” This religion is a mixture of Buddhism, Hinduism, Animism, ancestor-worship, and Sufi Islam. He explained this concept by describing a grace over meal prayer for an Agama Jawa follower. He said: "The prayer honored the guardian spirits of the village and of the master of ceremonies, the household angel of the kitchen, the ancestors of all the guests, and the spirits of the fields, waters, and a nearby volcano. The prayer ended piously with, "There is no god but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet!!!!"
He also realized that many Indonesians in Jawa used to chop off the heads of bulls and bury them underground before building a hut or house in order to scare away the Evil Spirits!!!The Orthodox Version of Islam which he categorized as "Santri Islam" is in the minority. I must admit, however, that the Wahhabi strain of Islam, which was encouraged by the Saudis during the 70's and 80's, has been able to attract a greater number of recruits. Let me also disagree with you in your attempt to make a correlation between the political conditions in Syria with those of Taiwan and Korea. The latter 2 examples represent racially and culturally homogeneous societies with clear national Identities.
Syria, on the other hand, is everything but a nation-state. Syrians still look at themselves as Sunnis, Alawis, Ismailis, Druze, Christians, etc.
The Chinese model is also a non-option. The Chinese elite belong to the Han Majority which represents 92% of the population. The remaining 57 minorities Groups represent only 8% of the population. The Ruling Alawite elite represent only 11 percent of the Syrian people. In addition, the Monstrous capabilities and potentials of the "the most populous nation on earth" can't be compared with those of a medium-sized, third world country.
I believe that the only way for the Alawis to remain in power is to stop courting the Sunni Fundamentalists and Keep the "Hama Option" always Present on their minds. The Alawis should try to reorganize the Syrian Army in a way that will always keep the most potent divisions of the armed forces in their hands. Sunnis must be sidelined and prevented from having access to sensitive military and security posts. Any signs of weakness would send the wrong signals and might be fatal.
NOTE ON THE MARGIN:
I really felt sorry for the detention of Nabil Fayad. I admire this guy a lot and share with him a lot of Ideas. I believe he is one of few enlightened Sunnis who is capable of de-constructing a lot of the Myths that have engulfed Orthodox Islam for Centuries. My prayers are with him, and I hope that he is not subjected to any type of torture.P.S. The torture Techniques that are employed by the Syrian "Mukhabarat" are among the worst worldwide because they combine the brutality of the German Stazi and Soviet KGB. May God be with Nabil Fayad!!!!!!!
Ammar Abdulhamid, Director of the Tharwa Project and presently Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institute writes:
This is a very thoughtful analysis, Joshua, you and Khudr have done a marvelous job. We often neglect the Sunni-Alawi dynamic in our discussion of the reform process in Syria, despite the fact that this dynamic lies at the heart of the process itself. I am eager to read the next installment.
From my Mother: Wonderful new Syria Comment. Thanks for sending. Whew. Will you be welcome in Syria for all this outing of truths? XXX Your loving mommy
I have received a few notes from readers that are smart. This was posted as a comment, but I fear it will be missed. There are other good comments as well on the last post. Tony zings me a good one.
At 1:58 AM, Anonymous said...
I would be interested to see what your thoughts are on removing Ghassan al-Rifai as minister of economy. It seemed to me that he was always regarded as Bashar's neo-liberal economic reformer. Or at least seen, by some publications such as the Oxford Business Group, as a person helping to break away from the old system. I remember talk in Damascus during the last reshuffle of September 03 that al-Rifai staying on (although his ministry was slightly hallowed) indicated he was Bashar's point-man following Issam Zaim's fall/sabotage as Industry minister.
They replaced al-Rifai with Amr Lotfi who although is regarded as "open-minded" and a long-term oriented (although I confuss to not knowing him). Nevertheless, Lotfi was still the head of a big state-industry meaning he is yet another Bathist (and subject to the screening process to be where he is currently at). So any thoughts the group may have on al-Rifai's exclusion would be appreciated.Two - I see Kanaan appointment to do as much with Syrian internal security as with the situation in Lebanon. Rustom al-Ghazaleh was Kanaan second-in-command during the twenty-years Kanaan ran Lebanon so it seems that this network allow Kanaan to have considerable sway in Lebanon and in Syria (no one seems to mention that Kanaan ran political intelligence in Damascus after he was called back in Oct 2002). Perhaps, Damascus is aiming for an unseen presence in Lebanon - that is few troops on the ground while maintaining the mukhaberat and the increasing integration of Lebanon and Syria (economically and politically).
Lastly, I don't see the appointment of Dakhlallah as really all that impressive. He was head of the Bath newspaper and although he is a good face to the west in terms of his reform discourse, I don't really see his appointment to Info minister as a significant departure structurally. It is reasonably recognized that the Alawi generals run the state newspapers and have made tons of money doing so. In this way the media in Syria is serving at the behest of those unnamed Alawi generals who have developed feifdoms. Thus, the M of Info was being regarded in Damascus as sort of a managerial post without much teeth. Dakhlallah's appointment maybe more "signal left, turn right" type of politics than has been set forth in the press.
Perhaps it is just my inexperience, but I do not see this latest reshuffle as a victory for the reforming wings of the Syrian governments - be they official or unofficial. Unfortunately most of the commentary in the press goes against this reading arguing change is coming. Or else understanding the reshuffle is so orientalist regarding Syrian politics to begin with that it falls into Pipe-sque type of analysis essentializing the Syrian system's complexity.
I continue to see the dynamic of the security services vs. the party being played out. I respect that Bashar is likely frustrated over the reform pace (which is really minimal to be honest) but his appointment of non-Bathist Sunni Damascans in the education sector don't seem to have the high policy impact one would expect to see from a consolidating president. As far as I can see, Bashar is not all that good at protecting his people or insulating his position. That is not to say I think the presidency is irrevelent. He does set the tone of the nation and receive the foreign dignataries - but I would not argue he is in institutional control of the system. Who is? Well that is always the mystery when dealing with Syrian politics, isn't it?
Looking forward to further posts.
I also received this from Michael Young, the Opinion Editor at the Daily Star.
I read your post on SC, and, I think you have it wrong, This isn't a pro-reform cabinet at all; it's a more Baathist cabinet that, to me, confirms that Bashar's so-called reform effort has all but collapsed. The Kanaan appointment undermines your argument, and I would go further: we may be seeing the emergence of a new strong man in Syria (perhaps backed by the Alawite leaders), something Bashar has not been. Indeed, the mood in Damascus is that Bashar is fast becoming a figurehead, caught between the various poles of power and his own family.
I think at this point that we may be unwise to assume Bashar is the main mover of events in Syria. I suspect that power is so diffuse that resorting to Ghazi became inevitable. And my feeling is that Ghazi imposed himself (actively or passively) on the regime--he can help in Iraq, Lebanon, inside Syria and has ties to the US that he he started in Lebanon and pursued in Syria. He may have made himself uncircumventable.
Also, your wrong to see a link between the Syrian opposition and the Christian Lebanese opposition. In fact, it's broader than that: it's between critics of the Syrian regime in Syria and those in Lebanon, Christian or otherwise. For the moment, I wouldn't overplay that, though, since it largely takes place in the press, and I wouldn't consider the joint statement opposing Lahoud's extension signed a few weeks ago by Syrians and Lebanese as a Syrian-Christian thing; it was Syrians and Lebanese.
Just some thoughts, hope you're well.
See the article Michael wrote yesterday here. A more informal piece at Reason Magazine is here.
What do the recent changes in the Syrian cabinet mean? See the fine article by Nicholas Blanford in the Daily Star: "Questions remain after Syrian Cabinet reshuffle" for views of Ibrahim Hamidi and your humble servant among others.
The change of information minister Ahmad Hassan to Mahdi Dakhlallah is an important sign that Bashar wants more reform faster.
Dakhlallah is known as the pro-reform Baathist. He is editor-in-chief of the ruling Ba'ath party daily Al-Ba'ath. Whereas, Ahmad Hassan, the outgoing Minister of Information, is know to be quite ideological and a true believer in the special role of the Baath Party, Dakhlallah is a reformer, who insists he wants to make the Baath smaller, more democratic and less involved in day to day politics.
He has argued that the party is "too big, too meddlesome, and too removed from its founding principles of social justice, socialist economics and Arab nationalism." He doesn't have much respect for the new generation that is entering into the party, claiming they do so mostly in the belief that it will advance their careers. It is the promise of preferential treatment in university admissions and lucrative jobs in Syria's largely state-controlled economy that draws them to join up. He wants the party to return to its ideological roots. It should be smaller and more democratic, he says. Most controversial, he says he wants the party to play a smaller part in the government and believes there should be more democracy and a greater field of parties vying for political influence. See Scott Wilson's excellent article on the reform culture brewing within the Baath Party, which I reprinted several posts ago.
Bashar has been nibbling away at the influence and power of the party ever since he became president. Many of his education reforms, canceling militaristic school uniforms, dropping the requiremnet that students be members of the Baath in order to participate in campus politics, annulling the obligatory "national culture" classes in university, which formed the backbone of Baathi indoctrination for university students, starting four new universities may not seem like much on the surface. But they are very important in the long run. Smart students don't have to join the party today and I imagine they are not doing it. Down the line this will have a profound effect on Syrian culture and education. Dakhlallah's appointment will hasten such reforms and give teeth to the new culture of openness that Bashar has been gently pushing ever since he became President.
Bashar is anxious about the slow pace of reform. He has admitted to reporters recently that he has not accomplished much. All the pundits have been claiming that the old guard really controls things and that the official government doesn't really count. It is the secret government of security chiefs and Baath apparatchiks who really run things, they say. That is why the hundreds of new laws being passed change so little. Bashar pushes the buttons of government power, but nothing happens, is the standard complaint.
Bashar must get the buttons of government to work if he wants to be taken seriously. For too long governments have understood that they are largely window dressing. Bashar is frustrated with this paralysis. By changing the government, he is letting officials know that he expects results and that they will be responsible for performance. He wants action and accountability.
His father held fast to the same group of people for 30 years. He valued stability above all else. He proved this by staying extraordinarily loyal to his original friends who helped him to power. He stuck by them and they by him. This policy was good for Syria in its day. Every one wanted stability after so many decades of political turbulence. Syria was known as the banana republic of the Middle East in the 1960s. Many Syrians welcomed a change of reputation. But the cost was that Hafiz al-Asad produced a culture of caution, procrastination and extreme conservatism in Syrian politics and among bureaucrats.
Bashar knows he must break Syria's culture of caution and prevarication. He has been shaken by France's turn toward the US. Paris finally got tired of seeing no change in Syria. They had gambled on Bashar and worked with him, believing he was the best vehicle for change in Syria. After four years, Paris became disillusioned with the pace of change in Syria and the US insisted France was being made a fool of by Bashar. By taking French leave and joining with Bush to write resolution 1559, Paris gave Bashar a wake up call. He knows he must deliver on reform or he will fail to get out of the dog house the West has placed him in.
Mahdi Dakhlallah, devoted two editorials to the subject of reform recently: "Reform: Political or Economic?"  and "Developing the Social Foundation: Much Work Awaits." The following are excerpts from the editorials:
'Reform: Political or Economic?'
"All systems in Syria – political, economic, legal, and cultural – operate mutually and in agreement within the overall social system. Any significant change in one system directly affects the others and the overall social system… There is no doubt that it is impossible to bring about significant economic change without developing the entire political sector, especially in a country like Syria, in which the political regime is considered the primary motivating force in society.
"Giving temporary priority to economic reform being 'the first among equals,' does not change this truth. Rather, it is based on a different truth that raises a different question: Is the political system [in Syria ] – the most important factor in political life as a whole – still capable of bringing about [economic] development? Is there enough space in the infrastructure of the political system and its activities to absorb the innovations and advance together with them?
"The answer is definitely affirmative. It is the political and ideological system in Syria that began to raise the issue of [economic] development, and it is the primary force that promotes economic development and directs it… There is no doubt that the announcement of specific laws aiming at accelerating economic reform is thought to be a change in the content of the political system… however, this does not change the structure of the system itself.
"…There is no doubt that [more] advanced stages of [economic] reform will [also] demand [alterations] in the structure of the political system, which will help continue the push forward. What is surprising is that our political system [itself] is capable of developing its activities at the appropriate stage.
Ghazi Kanan as minister of interior suggests that Bashar wants a stronger grip on the interior situation. As a master Mukhabarat maystro, he will be dealing with the people as a policeman. See the interesting and informative biography of Kanaan done by the Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, which is on this page and written by Daniel Nassif.
This is consistent with Bashar's determination to follow the China model. He believes he needs internal stability and control in order to reform the economy and cultural life.
Also, the nature of the Syrian opposition is changing rapidly. It is no longer so much internal as it is, on the one hand, connected to the Christian opposition in Lebanon, who have won important US legislative backing and linked up very effectively with US pro-Israeli lobby groups, (also the new Jumblatt connection) on the one hand, and the very dynamic landscape in Iraq on the other, which is producing jihadists and a complex of new Iraqi resistance organizations. These changes are bound to have a profound impact on Syria if they turn inward. (witness the al-Qaida cell in Lebanon just cracked) Also Washington allegations that the Tikriti cousins are ensconced in Syria and running money, guns and men to Iraq. There is also a new and, as yet amorphous, network of civil society groups that are becoming very outspoken inside Syria. Managing this new architecture of opposition will take real dexterity and a new class of educated and worldly men at the top.
Kanaan may fit this picture. Having been responsible for Lebanon for so many years, one can expect him to be much more sophisticated than the traditional mukhabarat men of the 1980s, who were brutal and focused on the Muslim Brotherhood. Bashar has, by and large, made peace with the Brotherhood. He has released the scores of prisoners who were languishing in prison for the last 20 years. Brootherhood exiles have been permitted to come home on a case-by-case basis.
Dealing with the civil society groups will be a big challenge. All my friends in these groups are very anxious about the recent arrest of Nabil Fayyad - see my recent post on him. They are also looking at what has happened to Issa Touma, the gallery owner and artist-entrepreneur from Aleppo who has been battling against Baathist narrow-mindedness for several years in a very vocal fashion. Touma's gallery has been shut, his large international festival closed down, and his life made extremely difficult. His friends are worried that he may be arrested as well.
There seems to be a crackdown on intellectuals going on now because the regime has been shaken by events in Lebanon. A chill has spread throughout the community of civil society types. Their story needs to be told and the US embassy should stand up for them and insist that Kanaan discriminate between real opponents of the government and intellectuals like Fayyad and Touma, who are responsible for bringing the kind of fresh ideas and open debate that Syria needs.
Bashar has not indicated that he wants to shut down the civil society or the small cultural renaissance that has begun since 2000. The new quasi-"think tanks" that have cropped up in Syria are a god send. Perhaps Kanaan will not be ham-fisted in this regard. Bashar needs a very smart and educated Minister of Interior. I don’t know if Kanaan is that man, but his experience with the very smart Lebanon crowd may have taught him a thing or two about the much more sophisticated and complex architecture of Syrian opposition politics now emerging.
Kanaan's most significant achievement during the 1980's was his successful effort to lure collaborators within the predominantly Christian (and ostensibly anti-Syrian) Lebanese Forces (LF) militia. Kanaan has good relations with several American officials, particularly in the intelligence community, and has visited Washington DC on at least one occasion (in February 1992). His skill in dividing his enemies and his connections to Washington will surely make him a valuable minister of interior now that Syria has the opportunity to strengthen its relationship with Washington through cooperation on the Iraq-Syria border.
Nabil Fayyad, one of the most courageous and outspoken intellectuals in Syria, was arrested three days ago. Shaken by resolution 1559, the Syrian government may be seeking to intimidate anyone who calls for change. Fayyad, a Sunni Muslim who studied theology in Beirut, was a constant critic of Islamic obscurantism and warned against the growing power of fundamentalism in Syria. When writing on the widely read website, annaqed (The Critic) he could as often be as pointed as he was humorous. In the last few months he became a spokesman for the new "Liberal Gathering" Party in Syria. His smart editorials on the importance of liberalism, individual rights, and personal freedoms are as eloquent as they are moderate. His respect for humanism, learning, and tolerance colors everything he wrote. Several months ago I wrote about his refreshing point of view and exciting articles in my post, "New Voices from Syria."
Tony, at his site "Across the Bay," has written a fine article about Fayyad and the importance of his ideas. Read it here. It is smart and as challenging as Fayyad himself.
Yesterday I received this note from Bassam Darwich, the editor of www.annaqed.com
Dear Joshua; Nabil Fayyad was arrested 2 days ago. Another writer friend of his (Jihad Nasra) was also arrested just yesterday. Please, we need all the support we can get to expose the mistreatment of the intellectuals.
He added the following critique of the US attitude toward Nabil:
I somehow blame the government of the United States for the arrest of Nabil Fayyad. A month ago or so, Nabil applied for a visa to come to the United States for the purpose of giving lectures about the increasing influence of Islamic fundamentalism over the Syrian regime. His application was denied!
Without doubt, this encouraged the Syrian authorities to arrest him as they thought that no one would care much about him if arrested. The American embassy made a terrible mistake in denying him his visa.
The future of Syria depends on courageous people like Nabil who preferred to confront the regime from within rather than from without.
He wanted to come to the States for only one month to speak about what's going on in Syria. Now, the United States must interfere to secure his release and this man must be invited here and be treated like a real hero.
There are many good courageous men doing what Nabil is doing in Syria. Some have great aggressive web sites and still live there. Let us support them now as by supporting them we wouldn't need to sacrifice the life of one American soldier in another war.
Men like Nabil Fayyad are the basis for a secular democratic Syria.
A website about his case his here in Arabic
Bassam Darwich, is exactly right. Only by supporting true free thinkers like Nabil Fayyad does the US stand a chance of effecting real change in Syria. In the long run, it will be the Fayyads of Syria - the luminaries who work to educate at home by challenging old ideas and championing humanism - who change things. Guns can change regimes, but only ideas and education can change society.
In his article "Syria: Time for Pragmatism and Statesmanship," Abdul Rahman Al-Rashid argues that: "For decades, it was Syria’s pragmatism that set it apart from other revolutionary Arab countries and enabled Damascus to come out unscathed from many difficult situations." After reviewing the interesting history of Syria's twists and turns to navigate the international obstacle course it has confronted over the last 20 years, al-Rashid councils Bashar al-Asad to get limbered up and ready to do the pretzel.
David R. Sands of the Washington Times has a good article on how "Israel and Syria battle over U.S. ties." At the center of their struggle is resolution 1559 and the struggle over Lebanon, the legitimate use of force, and the Golan. (Full disclosure: He quotes me.)
Most world papers cover Kofi Annan's much-awaited assessment of Syria's response to resolution 1559 demanding respect of Lebanese sovereignty. "Syria failed," is how most read the Annan's 17-page report. Annan said. "I cannot certify that these requirements have been met," Annan wrote. "The Syrian military and intelligence apparatus in Lebanon has not been withdrawn as of 30 September, 2004." Syria claims it's troops are stationed in Lebanon by the invitation of the Lebanese government, which is true. The UN says Lebanon is not free because Syria can manipulate it, which is also true. So what is the UN going to do about it? Annan finessed. He said there would be another follow up report in a week. The US is pushing hard to put some teeth into resolution 1559, and Annan is giving Washington extra time to see if it can agree with France on wording that will win UN backing. The US would like a permanent oversight committee, which would report regularly on the situation. Syria will pull out all the stops to avoid such a permanent thorn in its side. France occupied Lebanon for 28 years, Israel for several in the 1980s, and the US sent American troops into Lebanon twice during the past century in order to keep Lebanon out of Damascus' orbit and in the Western camp.
Syria may indeed be ready to make some small concessions in order to avoid paying a higher price down the line, but they probably won't be in Lebanon. Although, "the Syrian authorities have told UN special envoy Terje Roed-Larsen that they consider the Kofi Annan report honest and balanced." Sulaiman Haddad, a parliament member and former deputy foreign minister, said that solving the Lebanon problem is attached to solving the Middle East problem as a whole." George Jabbour, a former adviser of the late Syrian President Hafez Assad, said Annan's report was "tough," but "The Lebanese government is a legitimate government and the presence of Syrian forces can be decided only by the governments of Lebanon and Syria, not by the United Nations," Jabbour said.
US attempts to work with France for a Lebanon resolution may have been jeopardized, however. Didier Julia, an MP for French President Jacques Chirac's ruling party, said his efforts to release two French reporters kidnapped in Iraq failed after US troops opened fire on the convoy attempting to bring them out of Iraq en route to Syria. Six of the French journalists' Iraqi escorts were killed in the US bombing barrage near the Syrian border. Now the reporters disapeared back into the desert fastness. French authorities refuse to comment on the bombing, but they can't be very happy with the Freedom Fry eaters. (update: Sunday 10/3/04, This story appears to be fabricated. Le Monde has a front page article, "Mission Julia : l'hypothèse de la supercherie apparaît L'"opération de libération" des deux otages français détenus en Irak menée par le député français Didier Julia n'a peut-être été qu'un leurre." The Americans deny that they attacked the convoy. There doesn't seem to have been a convoy at all. See al-Nahar for added twists to the story. The head of French intelligence for the region seems to be traveling to Damascus and Amman to straighten things out.)
Meanwhile, the seriousness of the tug of war over Lebanon was driven home on Friday, when a car bomb nearly killed a Lebanese politician opposed to Syria's domination of his country. The intended victim was Druze deputy Marwan Hamadeh, one of four ministers to resign along with Walid Jumblatt in early September to protest the Lebanese parliament's three-year extension of pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud. The blame game has begun. Opponents of Syria do not doubt that it was a message from Lebanese and Syrian intelligence, angry over Jumblatt's vociferous opposition. Hizbullah and Syrian officials blame the bombing variously on Israel or the "context of resolution 1559." They have rushed to Hamadeh's bedside to pay their condolences.
Another storm cloud appeared on Syria's horizon, this time coming from Jordan. Officials of the pro-US Hashemite Kingdom are accusing Damascus of complicity in letting al-Qaida type jihadists infiltrate into the Kingdom in order to punish Jordan for its pro-West policies.
Rana Sabbagh-Gargour writes in the Daily Star that:
Jordanian authorities became alarmed earlier this year, when they detected what some called a "disturbing change in pattern," in terms of the profile of infiltrators, types of weapons and their final destination.
"In the past, infiltrators sent by radical Palestinian groups used Jordan to cross into the West Bank, carrying rifles and hand grenades, to stage attacks against Israeli targets as part of resistance operations condoned by these factions," said another source. "But in the first few months of this year, Jordanian authorities began detecting a worrying change in pattern, as several infiltrators were caught carrying more sophisticated weapons, such as anti-tank, and surface-to-surface missiles." "And they told interrogators that they were sent by Al-Qaeda to attack Jordanian and Western targets in the kingdom, to avenge Jordan's close ties with Washington, and its full support for the global 'war on terror,'" he said.
They also reportedly told authorities that their movement into Jordan was being facilitated by some members of the Syrian military intelligence.
Jordan is also demanding the return of some 125 kilometers of land that was "occupied" in batches after the Syrian Army rolled into Jordanian territory in 1970's, to assist PLO guerrillas fighting the Jordanian Army.
Only recently, with "Syria subject to U.S. and Israeli pressure," have Jordanian officials been emboldened to raise the topic of its "silent crisis" with Syria, writes Sabbagh-Gargour. But Jordanian officials are quick to make a distinction between President Bashar Assad and the old guard surrounding him, charging that the latter are trying to prevent a working relationship from developing among the new generation of leaders in Syria and Jordan. With such formulas, the Jordanians are keeping the door wide open for a diplomatic and face-saving solution. Due to strong friends, good timing, and cunning statecraft, Jordan may transform itself into a unintended beneficiary of resolution 1559. Once again the scrappy dynast in the desert may outdo the Lion of Latakia.
Another example of the difficulties Syria is likely to face in the coming months was exposed by the report a few days ago that Ismail Mohammed al-Khatib of the Bekaa suffered a heart attack in prison while being interrogated for his part in plotting with Islamist militant Ahmed Mikati. The two were charged a week ago with being part of an al-Qaida cell, which planned car-bomb attacks on the Italian and Ukrainian embassies in Beirut as well as the mid-city Justice Palace. The victim's enraged countrymen in the Bekaa went on a rampage, smashing and ransacking customs and police stations and blocking the Beirut- Damascus highway with burning tires in protest of what they claimed was his murder under torture. Samir Qasir in today's al-Nahar points out that Damascus' deadly game of encouraging jihadists in Iraq while repressing them at home is bound to backfire and build resentment.
Matein Khalid, a Dubai-based investment banker, writing in the Khaleej Times argues that the US should engage Syria in serious negotiations and not let its strategic vision in the region be blinkered by freedom based ideology. He argues convincingly that Syria is plyable and that it is important for "the US to engage Bashar in the geopolitical souk he knows so well." "Make deals, not war with Syria," he advises.