Ceasefire Efforts Unlikely to Work; Government Pursues Rebels; Muslim Brotherhood’s New Convenant

A mass grave for the dozens killed in today’s regime raid and bombardment on Taftnaz, Idlib. Over 2000 refugees walked to Turkey Thursday.

The Assad government on Sunday April 8 set new conditions for the April 10 cease-fire. It won’t withdraw troops from civilian areas unless all rebel groups provide written guarantees they will lay down their weapons, a further blow to efforts to arrange a cease-fire and implement a peace plan backed by the United Nations.

A reporter asked me these questions the other day:

(1) Do you really think Assad is in the “mopping-up stage” or do you think he is being overconfident?

Landis: I believe that Syria is in the midst of a broad based revolution and Assad will not be able to destroy it. The revolutionary forces have suffered a grave defeat in facing the full force of the Assad army, but I also suspect that they will regroup and devise new tactics. Much of the international community has dedicated itself to their success, the Gulf states have promised to finance and arm them. The US and Europe have place crushing sanctions on Syria and are promising non-lethal aid with the promise that they are considering new methods of aid. This makes any efforts by the Assad regime to put Syria back together again impossible. Syria is likely to become a North Korea of sorts – cut off from the world, with lots of hungry people and repression.

(2) What do you think Assad envisions as the “end game”? In other words, when will he stop military operations? Once all dissent is quelled, nearly every last protester shot?

Landis: Assad, I suspect, understands what is going on in Syria even if he paints the opposition as an externally driven conspiracy. I doubt he and his commanders are stupid; although, they are probably lying to themselves about the extent of Salafist influence and the army’s ability to quell descent. I imagine he understands that he is facing a real revolt that will require the Syrian security forces to carry out counter-insurgency operations for a long time. Isn’t the common wisdom of “coin” that it takes 10 years or so to defeat an insurgency? Someone in Syria must be reading the handbooks and wisdom published by the US during its efforts to quell insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Do I personally think he can succeed? No. I don’t. I doubt he will have a lot more success than the US has had in Iraq or Afghanistan, although, his army probably understands Syrians a lot better than US troops and commanders did Iraqis. But they will likely be provoked into over-reacting to terrorism, road-side bombs and demonstrations as they have already been. They can only lose the battle for hearts and minds. The Alawites cannot regain the battle for hearts and minds. They can only instill fear and play on Syrian anxieties about turning into a failed state, such as exists in Iraq. That is what worked in the past for the Assad regime. The regime has no new tricks up its sleeve. Syrian State TV is now trying to demonize the Saudi monarchy for being descended from Jews and backwards.  That says a lot about the regime’s tactics.

Hafiz al-Assad was able to isolate the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1980s because they were extremist and violent. Most Sunnis remained on the sidelines, if they didn’t actually support the suppression of the MB. Today, Bashar faces a much broader movement. His effort to depict the activists as terrorists motivated by a foreign hand has not succeeded. The Saudi remarks that they would pay opposition militants salaries did not help the propaganda war very much and the growing violence on both sides is turning the battle much uglier, which may help the regime in the short run. Economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation make the task of returning Syria to normalcy impossible. As the economic situation grows more desperate so will increasing numbers of Syrians.

All the same, for the opposition to win will be very difficult and require much more unity than it can muster today. This will be a long and bloody contest.

The Muslim Brotherhood

When the Muslim Brotherhood published their latest covenant a week ago, I suggested that it was new. Two friends wrote to correct me and point out that in fact the new covenant does not say much that is new. Here is what they wrote:

The first friend wished to remain anonymous.

Hi Josh,

Thank you for your post today.  I appreciate your posts, as always.  I wanted to check with you to see where you got the “and not from  God” part of this sentence: “They say that the Muslim Brotherhood has now embraced the notion that political authority emanates from the people and not from God.”  Based on the Arabic, they don’t so much eliminate God from the equation in this statement; in fact, they make the point in the first paragraph of their statement to say that freedom, justice, tolerance, and openness stem from the principles of Islam ( منطلقين من مبادئ ديننا الإسلامي الحنيف، القائمة على الحرية والعدل والتسامح والانفتاح  http://goo.gl/Jn8OV), although Google translate translates mintalqiin as “departing from” which is incorrect in this context, it’s more like “stemming from” or “emanating from”).  They do make room for pluralism and governing by the will of the people and they affirm political rights for everyone irrespective of religion.  These values can coexist with Islam and other religions as opposed to these values supplanting them and likewise, the religions would co-exist with the will of the people.  Otherwise I don’t think they would have made the point of linking the values to Islam in the first paragraph.
As I’ve heard several say before, the MB is very practical in Syria and open to dialogue.  This statement supports that view. There was also coverage here as well: “Muslim Brotherhood says it will not monopolize power”: http://www.nowlebanon.com/NewsArticleDetails.aspx?ID=380002

The second friend is Thomas Pierret, who has written intelligently about Islam in Syria for some time.

Pierret has a new interview posted, here in La revue Politique étrangère intitulé L’islam dans la révolution syrienne : 3 questions à Thomas Pierret.

This is what he says about the MB covenant:

“The MB covenant formally states a position that was first formulated by Mustafa al-Siba’i in 1950. It’s been reiterated by MB officials since the 1990s.

On the issue of equality between citizens. This is not new since it was actually part of the draft constitution proposed by the MB in 1950, but it is stated more clearly here than in their last political platforms.

However, when I read the Arabic text, it is not clear to me that the MB endorses the principle of human law vs. divine law. It says that the constitution emanates from the will of the people (which is obvious since it has to be written by an elected constituent assembly), but it seems to me that the covenant does not say anything about law as such. I should re-read the text after sleeping, but I think there isn’t anything new by comparison with their 2004 platform. Do you know the attached article of mine on that text? It shows that the MB acknowledge the fact that political authority emanates from the people, but it is part of a hierarchy of sovereignties:  (God/Law/the Umma):

  • الحاكمية فيها الله
  • السيادة للقانون
  • السلطان للأمة
Concerning the MB’s covenant, I don’t think they’re being dishonest. They’re simply formulating a set of basic principles on which everybody can agree. As a party, they would still have the right to promote sharia-inspired legislation through democratic means.
MEMRI has recently published a translation of the new Covenant.

Syrian Muslim Brotherhood: We Will Establish a Democratic, Civil, Egalitarian State once Assad Is Ousted
Special Dispatch No. 4631. Memri

On March 25, 2012, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood (MB) published a document titled “A Pledge and Charter by the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood,” which details the movement’s views regarding the character of post-Assad Syria. In the document, the movement committed to strive for a modern civil state with a civil constitution and a parliamentary republican regime, chosen in free elections; a state that practices civil, religious, denominational, and gender equality and in which every citizen has the right to reach the highest positions; and a state based on dialogue, partnership, commitment to human rights, and combating terrorism, which will become a source of regional stability.

Following is a translation of the document:

“For the sake of a free homeland and a free and dignified life for every citizen, and at this crucial moment in Syrian history, in which dawn is delivered from the womb of suffering and pain by the heroic people of Syria – men and women, young and old – in a national revolution that encompasses all sectors of our nation; for the sake of all Syrians, we, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, based on the tenets of our faith, Islam, which are anchored [in the principles of] freedom, justice, tolerance, and openness, present to all of our people this pledge and charter, and commit to it, in letter and spirit. This pledge [aims to] protect rights, to allay concerns, and to [guarantee] security and satisfaction.

“This pledge and charter represents a national view and the common denominators espoused by the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, and is submitted as the basis for a new social contract that will lay the foundations for a stable, modern, national bond between the elements of Syrian society, including all religious and ethnic [groups], and all [Islamic] schools and streams of thought and political [orientations].”….

News Round Up

Syria: As his adversaries scramble for a strategy, Assad sets his terms,  03 Apr 2012

Tony Karon writes: That which has not been achieved on the battlefield can rarely be achieved at the negotiation table, and the harsh reality facing Syria’s opposition is that the regime of President Bashar al-Assad has not been defeated, nor is it in danger of imminent collapse. Assad has promised, former U.N. Secretary General Kofi […]

It is worth keeping your eye on the 50 or so militias that have taken shape in response to the Syrian revolt. This website of the Free Syrian Army of Maarat al-Numaan and its countryside is representative of the fundraising efforts of the militias:  http://almaara.com/

This is a broad based social uprising that the Assad regime will not be able to destroy, particularly if Gulf Arabs and wealthy Sunnis will provide large amounts of financial aid, or as the Saudis explained at the Friends of the Syria meeting, pay the salaries of the rebel fighters.

The New Mastermind of Jihad – Wall Street Journal by David Samuels

A recently freed Islamist thinker has long advocated small-scale, independent acts of anti-Western terror….

What is perhaps more disturbing, Mr. al-Suri was recently set free from prison in Damascus, Syria, and his current whereabouts are unknown. Turned over to Syria after his capture by the CIA in late 2005, Mr. al-Suri was released sometime in December (according to intelligence sources and jihadist websites) by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad—a move apparently intended to warn the West of the consequences for opposing his rule.

Barely noticed in the midst of Mr. Assad’s own brutal assaults on civilians, Mr. al-Suri’s release may well contribute to the emergence of more attackers like Mr. Merah in the West. “His videos are already being reuploaded. His audios, reposted,” wrote Jarret Brachman, a former CIA analyst and the former director of West Point’s Center for Combating Terrorism,….

 A few recent Landis appearances

Current Events in Syria, Illinois Public Radio – NPR
Thursday March 29, 2012,  Host: David Inge w. Joshua Landis

Why Religion is Fueling the Conflict in Syria: President Assad’s Religion Problem – Listen - NPR Interfaith Voices with Joshua Landis – Date: 29 March 2012

In Syria, Alawite Muslims are kind of like the Mormons of Christianity: they’re a branch Islam, but many Muslims, especially the Sunni majority, don’t consider them legitimate. That’s always been a problem for Alawite president Bashar al-Assad. Now that more than 9,000 are dead in a revolt against the Assad regime, we explore why theological differences are playing a huge role.

Syria’s sole fuel supplier halts deliveries over sanctions
PanARMENIAN: , 2012-04-02

Syria’s sole supplier of heating fuel has halted deliveries due to European Union sanctions, making it difficult for Syrians to cook and hear their homes and potentially widening opposition to the government of President Bashar al …

Syria Dismisses Notions of Foreign Intervention
By STEVEN LEE MYERS

ISTANBUL — The United States and dozens of other countries moved closer on Sunday to direct intervention in the fighting in Syria, with Arab nations pledging $100 million to pay opposition fighters and the Obama administration agreeing to send communications equipment to help rebels organize and evade Syria’s military, according to participants gathered here….

The moves reflected a growing consensus, at least among the officials who met here this weekend under the rubric “Friends of Syria,” that mediation efforts by the United Nations peace envoy, Kofi Annan, were failing to halt the violence that is heading into its second year in Syria and that more forceful action was needed…..

“We would like to see a stronger Free Syrian Army,” Burhan Ghalioun, the leader of the Syrian National Council, a loose affiliation of exiled opposition leaders, told hundreds of world leaders and other officials gathered here. “All of these responsibilities should be borne by the international community.”

Mr. Ghalioun did not directly address the financial assistance from the Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, but he added, “This is high noon for action.”

But for some inside Syria, the absence of promises of arms far overshadowed the financial and communications aid. Mohamed Moaz, an activist in the Damascus suburbs who coordinates with rebel fighters, held Mr. Ghalioun responsible for failing to unify the gathered nations on sending arms, calling him “a partner with the regime in these crimes.”

“I’m the only one who watched this conference in our neighborhood, because there was no electricity and people don’t care,” he said. “I only watched it because Al Jazeera wanted my comment.”

At the conference, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that Mr. Assad had defied Mr. Annan’s efforts to broker an end to the fighting and begin a political transition. She said that new assaults had begun in Idlib and Aleppo Provinces in the week since Mr. Assad publicly accepted the plan. It does not call for him to step down, but rather for an immediate cease-fire followed by negotiations with the opposition.

“The world must judge Assad by what he does, not by what he says,” Mrs. Clinton said …

Molham al-Drobi, a member of the Syrian National Council, said that the opposition had pledges of $176 million in humanitarian assistance and $100 million in salaries over three months for the fighters inside Syria. Some money was already flowing to the fighters, he said, including $500,000 last week through “a mechanism that I cannot disclose now.”

He expressed dismay on the lack of more material help in halting the onslaught by Syrian security forces. “Our people are killed in the streets,” he said on the sidelines of the conference. “If the international community prefers not to do it themselves, they should at least help us doing it by giving us the green light, by providing us the arms, or anything else that needs to be done.”

Mrs. Clinton announced an additional $12 million in humanitarian assistance for international organizations aiding the Syrians, bringing the American total so far to $25 million, according to the State Department. She also confirmed for the first time that the United States was providing satellite communications equipment to help those inside Syria “organize, evade attacks by the regime,” and stay in contact with the outside world. And according to the Syrian National Council, the American assistance will include night-vision goggles.

“We are discussing with our international partners how best to expand this support,” Mrs. Clinton said.

The countries providing most of the money for salaries — Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates — have long been the fiercest opponents of Mr. Assad’s rule, reflecting the sectarian split ….

Mr. Erdogan emphasized that Turkey, once Syria’s close ally, had no intention of interfering there, but that the world could not stand idle as the opposition withered in a lopsided confrontation with the government’s modern weaponry. “They are not alone,” he thundered. “They will never be alone.”

A final statement from Sunday’s meeting called on Mr. Annan to “determine a timeline” for the next steps in Syria. What those steps might be remains as uncertain as it has been since Mr. Assad’s government began its crackdown on popular dissent early last year.

Violence continued on Sunday, with shelling of the Khalidiyeh neighborhood in Homs and other areas of the city for what activists said was the 21st consecutive day. Clashes were reported in many areas of the Damascus suburbs, and activists reported government troops firing with heavy machine guns on several areas of the southern province of Dara’a. …

The United States and other nations agreed Sunday to set up a “working group” within the nations gathered here to monitor countries that continue to arm or otherwise support Mr. Assad’s government — “to basically name and shame those entities, individuals, countries, who are evading the sanctions,” as a senior American official put it. They also agreed to support efforts to document acts of violence by Syrian forces that could later be used as evidence in prosecutions if Mr. Assad’s government ultimately falls.

Syria Agrees to Troop Withdrawal, Annan Says
By NEIL MacFARQUHAR and RICK GLADSTONE

Syria’s government has promised that its armed forces would withdraw from population centers by April 10 and stop shooting within 48 hours after that date if rebels also stop, the special emissary attempting to end the violent year-old uprising in Syria told the United Nations Security Council on Monday….

Hassan Abdul Azim, the leader of the group, did not comment directly on the Istanbul meeting but warned that foreign countries should not accept the Syrian National Council as the lone representative of the opposition. He also said the Free Syrian Army should not be armed by foreign countries because such a step risked “militarizing the Syrian revolution and changing it into armed violence.”..

A new doctrine of intervention?
By Henry A. Kissinger, Published: March 30

Not the least significant aspect of the Arab Spring is the redefinition of heretofore prevalent principles of foreign policy. As the United States is withdrawing from military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan undertaken on the basis (however disputed) of American national security, it is reengaging in several other states in the region (albeit uncertainly) in the name of humanitarian intervention. Will democratic reconstruction replace national interest as the lodestar of Middle East policy? Is democratic reconstruction what the Arab Spring in fact represents?

The evolving consensus is that the United States is morally obliged to align with revolutionary movements in the Middle East as a kind of compensation for Cold War policies — invariably described as “misguided” — in which it cooperated with non-democratic governments in the region for security objectives. Then, it is alleged, supporting fragile governments in the name of international stability generated long-term instability. Even granting that some of those policies were continued beyond their utility, the Cold War structure lasted 30 years and induced decisive strategic transformations, such as Egypt’s abandonment of its alliance with the Soviet Union and the signing of the Camp David accords. The pattern now emerging, if it fails to establish an appropriate relationship to its proclaimed goals, risks being inherently unstable from inception, which could submerge the values it proclaimed.

The Arab Spring is widely presented as a regional, youth-led revolution on behalf of liberal democratic principles. Yet Libya is not ruled by such forces; it hardly continues as a state. Neither is Egypt, whose electoral majority (possibly permanent) is overwhelmingly Islamist. Nor do democrats seem to predominate in the Syrian opposition. The Arab League consensus on Syria is not shaped by countries previously distinguished by the practice or advocacy of democracy. Rather, it largely reflects the millennium-old conflict between Shiite and Sunni and an attempt to reclaim Sunni dominance from a Shiite minority. It is also precisely why so many minority groups, such as Druzes, Kurds and Christians, are uneasy about regime change in Syria.

The confluence of many disparate grievances avowing general slogans is not yet a democratic outcome. With victory comes the need to distill a democratic evolution and establish a new locus of authority. The more sweeping the destruction of the existing order, the more difficult establishment of domestic authority is likely to prove and the more likely is the resort to force or the imposition of a universal ideology. The more fragmented a society grows, the greater the temptation to foster unity by appeals to a vision of a merged nationalism and Islamism targeting Western values.

We must take care lest, in an era of shortened attention spans, revolutions turn, for the outside world, into a transitory Internet experience — watched intently for a few key moments, then tuned out once the main event is deemed over. The revolution will have to be judged by its destination, not its origin; its outcome, not its proclamations.

For the United States, a doctrine of general humanitarian intervention in Middle East revolutions will prove unsustainable unless linked to a concept of American national security. Intervention needs to consider the strategic significance and social cohesion of a country (including the possibility of fracturing its complex sectarian makeup) and evaluate what can plausibly be constructed in place of the old regime. At this writing, traditional fundamentalist political forces, reinforced by alliance with radical revolutionaries, threaten to dominate the process while the social-network elements that shaped the beginning are being marginalized.

U.S. public opinion has already recoiled from the scope of the efforts required to transform Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Do we believe that a less explicitly strategic involvement disclaiming a U.S. national interest will make nation-buildingless complex? Do we have a preference as to which groups come to power? Or are we agnostic so long as the mechanisms are electoral? If the latter, how do we avoid fostering a new absolutism legitimized by managed plebiscites and sect-based permanent majorities? What outcomes are compatible with America’s core strategic interests in the region? Will it be possible to combine strategic withdrawal from key countries and reduced military expenditures with doctrines of universal humanitarian intervention? Discussion of these issues has been largely absent from the debate over U.S. foreign policy regarding the Arab Spring.

For more than half a century, U.S. policy in the Middle East has been guided by several core security objectives: preventing any power in the region from emerging as a hegemon; ensuring the free flow of energy resources, still vital to the operation of the world economy; and attempting to broker a durable peace between Israel and its neighbors, including a settlement with the Palestinian Arabs. In the past decade, Iran has emerged as the principal challenge to all three. A process that ends with regional governments either too weak or too anti-Western in their orientation to lend support to these outcomes, and in which U.S. partnerships are no longer welcomed, must evoke U.S. strategic concerns — regardless of the electoral mechanisms by which these governments come to power. Within the framework of these general limits, U.S. policy has significant scope for creativity in promoting humanitarian and democratic values.

The United States should be prepared to deal with democratically elected Islamist governments. But it is also free to pursue a standard principle of traditional foreign policy — to condition its stance on the alignment of its interests with the actions of the government in question.

U.S. conduct during the Arab upheavals has so far avoided making America an obstacle to the revolutionary transformations. This is not a minor achievement. But it is one component of a successful approach. U.S. policy will, in the end, also be judged by whether what emerges from the Arab Spring improves the reformed states’ responsibility toward the international order and humane institutions.

Charlie Rose Show with Former U.S Secretary of State James Baker

3/ Re the future of Syria

“Jim Baker: I think whatever we do, they’re now talking about provisioning nonlethal aid to the opposition. But I think we ought to think about several things, number one, don’t —

Charlie Rose: This is the recommendation of —

Jim Baker: Yes.

Charlie Rose: Even the Chinese may be involved in —

Jim Baker: Might. They might.

Charlie Rose: Might, yes.

Jim Baker: But my view is we ought to have a broad based multilateral coalition to do it. Don’t do it unilaterally or with just one or two. We ought to know a little more about who we’re going to give it to.

Charlie Rose: Right.

Jim Baker: We don’t know these people. Look what — you know, I’ve got to tell you, I’m not a big fan of what we did in Libya even though I’m glad to see Qaddafi gone. What do we got there? What — these — the people we helped are now fighting each other. We have a civil war. We don’t know who these people are, the free Syrian army and these other people. We don’t really know who they are. And Syria is a hell of a lot different case than Libya. Syria is at the crossroads there of Turkey, Iran, Israel… I think we just need to proceed very cautiously. We don’t — look, we’re broke. We don’t need another major engagement. We really don’t need that, that we can’t fund right now and can’t pay for. They’re not talking about military aid, and I think that’s good. But provisioning nonlethal assistance, humanitarian assistance is something that might. But we ought not to do it alone. And we ought to think too. You know, Assad has lost legitimacy. He’s — you can’t — you can’t murder your own people and expect to survive for very long. And when he goes, in my view, ultimately, he will go. That’s not all bad for us from the standpoint of the situation with Iran.”

Dawn (PK): As Syria’s currency devalues, locals shed some pounds
2012-03-28

With heavy steps, 45-year-old Ghada walks to her kitchen to prepare breakfast before her children wake up. She has nothing interesting to offer though. For weeks, she has been presenting olives, cheese and bread. Along with her husband Wael (49), …

Arab Spring Turns to Economic Winter as Unemployment Grows
Mariam Fam and Alaa Shahine, ©2012 Bloomberg News
Wednesday, March 28, 2012

March 28 (Bloomberg) — Amir Mohammed has been sleeping outside the Libyan Embassy in Cairo awaiting a visa for a week, his bed a layer of cardboard on the sidewalk. He has given up on finding a job in Egypt and is looking for a way out.

“I’m trying to just eke out an existence in my own country, but I can’t,” the 30-year-old hairdresser said. “There’s no work. Why did we have a revolution? We wanted better living standards, social justice and freedom. Instead, we’re suffering.”

The world’s highest youth jobless rate left the Middle East vulnerable to the uprisings that ousted Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and three other leaders in the past year. It has got worse since then. About 1 million Egyptians lost their jobs in 2011 as the economy shrank for the first time in decades. Unemployment in Tunisia, where the revolts began, climbed above 18 percent, the central bank said in January. It was 13 percent in 2010, International Monetary Fund data show.

Finding work for people like Mohammed will be the biggest challenge for newly elected governments, highlighting the rift between soaring expectations unleashed by the revolts and the reality of economies struggling to escape recession. Failure risks another wave of unrest in a region that holds more than half the world’s oil.

‘High Hopes’

“The advent of democracy brought with it high, high hopes,” said Raza Agha, London-based senior economist at the Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc. “Expectations are that new governments will bring prosperity, but when you look at the fundamentals, this does not appear to be the case.”

Tunisia’s gross domestic product shrank 1.8 percent last year, and the government this month lowered its growth forecast for 2012 by one percentage point to 3.5 percent. Tunisia’s economy hasn’t contracted since 1986, according to IMF data.

Egypt’s economy shrank 0.8 percent in 2011. The government pays almost 16 percent for one-year borrowing in pounds, up from less than 11 percent at the end of 2010, after four ratings cuts by Moody’s Investors Service effectively shut the country out of international debt markets. While the benchmark stock index has rebounded this year, it’s still almost a third below pre-revolt levels. The EGX 30 Index declined 6.6 percent this month.

The Egyptian Co. for Mobile Services, or Mobinil, the country’s second-largest and oldest mobile phone operator, posted its first loss for more than a decade last year, according to data copiled by Bloomberg, as customers cut spending. Profit at Talaat Moustafa Group Holding, Egypt’s biggest publicly traded real-estate developer, dropped 39 percent.

‘Extremely Difficult’

“Egypt needs growth, needs jobs, needs tourists and needs investment,” said Simon Williams, chief economist at HSBC Middle East. “This is an extremely difficult set of economic challenges for anyone to manage, let alone a newly-elected post- revolutionary government facing high expectations.”

Labor unions, which helped precipitate the overthrow of Mubarak and Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, are pushing successor governments to improve conditions and wages. The result in both countries has been a surge in strikes as tourism and investment decline.

Egyptians and Tunisians expecting more jobs a year from now outnumber those predicting a decline by almost four to one, according to a Middle East survey released this month by YouGov Plc and Bayt.com, a Dubai-based employment website. The only places with comparable levels of confidence were Qatar and Saudi Arabia, respectively the world’s richest country and its biggest oil exporter.

No Quick Fix

Public expectations pose “a communication challenge more than anything else,” said Ann Wyman, managing director at Tunis-based investment bank Maxula Bourse. “We know in economic terms you can’t solve unemployment that quickly.”

BY JAY SOLOMON – WASHINGTON—The Obama administration sanctioned an Iranian airline for allegedly ferrying machine guns and munitions into Syria to help President Bashar al-Assad put down a rebellion against his rule.

The shipments, according to U.S. officials, are part of an operation headed by Iran’s elite military unit, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, to help bolster the Syrian regime.

Iranian and Syrian officials have repeatedly denied that Tehran is supplying arms to the Assad regime. They have also accused the U.S. and its Arab allies of fomenting the revolution against the Syrian government.

The Treasury on Tuesday also sanctioned three commanders from the …

Farid Ghadry on the Free Syrian Army:

The FSA does not have any Islamist elements amongst its ranks because it would have never reached this leadership position under any Assad army.
How did the FSA respond to this pressure? In a very astute way.

First, a new three-star General named Adnan al-Ahmad defected few days ago to join the FSA (Video); but unlike the one-star General Mustapha al-Sheikh, al-Ahmad is asking for military intervention. This move by the FSA turns the tables on Erdogan because this is the highest ranking officer yet to oppose the Erdogan plans and because it keeps the FSA’s popularity intact inside Syria.

The other astute move the Free Syrian Army achieved was to create Military Councils inside Syria in every major city or town that has been hit hard by the Assad army (Video). These councils were announced just two days ago and their intended purpose is to free the FSA from any outside pressures or other councils the SNC may have planned.

The FSA is the legitimate defender of Syria’s interests. It has developed organically as a result of difficult circumstances rather than being manufactured by outside foreign governments. Although it is a paramilitary organization fighting a guerilla warfare, a new civilian leadership is forming inside Syria to be supported by the FSA as the legitimate new government. These civilians happen also to be doctors, lawyers, smugglers, and bureaucrats who have supported the Revolution by providing the FSA with services and intelligence information to better fight the Assad regime.

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Fragmented Syria opposition emboldens Assad
* Opposition quarrelling ahead of vital talks
* Assad profiting from opposition disunity
* Dissidents criticise Muslim Brotherhood role
By Samia Nakhoul – Reuters

“We are doing everything to try to unite the opposition around the Syrian National Council and to convince them to be more inclusive, to welcome Alawites, Christians,” he said. “They are not doing well enough.

Amid this jostling, most Western and Arab nations fear the bloody stalemate in Syria is opening up space for jihadis such as al-Qaeda, sidelined by the last 15 months of Arab revolution but now presented with an opportunity to re-enter the fray.

U.S. intelligence officials have linked al-Qaeda to recent bombings against regime targets in Damascus and Aleppo.

“The main worry in the west is the infiltration of Islamist jihadis, including possibly al-Qaeda coming over the border from Iraq”, said Syrian expert Patrick Seale, biographer of Bashar’s father, the late President Hafez al-Assad. “The people carrying out these suicide attacks … are almost certainly al-Qaeda”, he said.

“The United States, Britain and France are having doubts about the opposition because they don’t want to be allied with al-Qaeda,” Seale said.

Ultimately, Seale argues, even though the Assad regime is under siege it is in a better position than it should be because the opposition is in such disarray, and the West and most Arab countries are reluctant to help it with arms.

“The Brotherhood have penetrated the SNC and the Free Syrian Army” made up largely of army defectors, he said. “They have taken Islam as their rallying cry and that is why the minorities are frightened.”

While the opposition may have fatally destabilised the Assad government, it seems unable to overthrow it.

“The economy is collapsing. The image of Bashar has been destroyed. He is seen as a brutal dictator and his legitimacy has gone down the drain”, said Seale. But he added: “In the opposition it is chaotic and they are squabbling. The problem is everyone wants to be Number One”.

http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,824603,00.html

03/29/2012

 

Iranian suspicion grows over Turkey’s regional role
Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi addresses the main U.N. Disarmament conference at the end of his two-day visit at the United Nations in Geneva, February 28, 2012. REUTERS/Valentin Flauraud
By Marcus George,  DUBAI | Tue Apr 3, 2012

(Reuters) – A senior Iranian political figure has spoken out against Turkey hosting Iran’s next talks with world powers on its disputed nuclear program, in the latest anti-Turkish broadside from politicians in Tehran, Fars news agency reported late on Monday.

Illinois Public Radio – NPR
http://will.illinois.edu/focus/interview/focus120329a/

Thursday March 29, 2012, 10:06 AM

Current Events in Syria

Joshua M. Landis, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Middle East Studies and Associate Professor of Middle Eastern Studies, University of Oklahoma

Host: David Inge

 

The ‘sheik’ of Syria’s rebellion ponders its obstacles

Yassin Haj Saleh sees outdated thinking and a lack of unity among the opposition factions as hindering the overthrow of President Bashar Assad

 

Slate: A Secret Plot in Syria, 2012-04-04

Syrian violence: Was the CIA involved in the 1949 coup that plunged the country into decades of turmoil?

The UK And Syria – An Absence Of Statesmanship?
Paul Smyth, http://www.r3iconsulting.com/

…There are two strategic imperatives which should drive and constrain UK foreign policy on Syria.  First, nothing must be done that would create a greater catastrophe in which many more people would suffer and regional states would be effected; second, Syria must not become a state ruled by an extreme Islamic regime, sympathetic to Al Qaeda and actively hostile to it’s neighbours and the West; and, if they exist, Syria’s Chemical and Biological weapon arsenals must remain secure and unused.  That these imperatives rarely feature in official statements on the crisis should set alarms ringing.

Many of the calls for foreign military intervention in Syria or arming of the rebels seem oblivious to the potential disaster that could erupt there.  It is unpalatable, but the government’s primary concern should not be to deal with the current violence in Syria but to prevent a more terrible calamity from taking place…..

Allah permitted the purchase and sale of slaves
Dr. Saud Al-Fanisan –
MEMRI TV

“Allah permitted the purchase and sale of slaves. Slaves are the property of their owners. This is slavery in the shari’a, yet a slave enjoys a great deal of freedom. The only thing he is deprived of is the right to own [himself].”…

The real Bashar Al-Assad
Monday, April 2nd, 2012 | A post by Camille Otrakji

…The real Bashar Al Assad is the central figure that will likely influence the outcome of the crisis more than anyone else. You really need to try to form a new, calm and impartial, assessment of the Syrian President…..

Hala Jaber who won this year’s best foreign journalist award again in the UK, likes the article:

The Stalled Revolution: Ten days with Syria’s besieged protesters.
James Harkin, March 29, 2012

….Three out of five Syrians are under 25, and, beyond the lazy clichés about a new “Facebook generation,” there’s little understanding in the West of who they are and what they might want. And so I came back to Syria for ten days, not as an officially sanctioned journalist but as a civilian—living in ordinary Damascus hotels and meeting as many Syrian activists as I could….

The men said they only took orders from the officers who’d defected with them, but, when communications permitted, they were in touch with similar groups around the country. As their numbers increased, the FSA grew bolder—they’d lay ambushes and booby traps to meet the army when it showed up to quash demonstrations. The regular Syrian army retreated, and for a brief time the FSA was able to move freely around the towns and countryside surrounding Damascus. I asked if they’d killed shabiha, and both said they had.

But, at the end of January, the Arab League monitoring mission was suspended because of the increasing violence, and the regime made its move. The Syrian army shelled Kafr Batna and then followed up with a ground assault. Both men had been on the run for a month, moving between safe houses to avoid detection. If apprehended, they faced execution. The economic sanctions against the Syrian government, they believed, were worse than useless—they took a long time to work and only hurt ordinary people. The soldiers claimed that the FSA was 20,000 strong in the countryside around Damascus—but was badly in need of heavier weaponry than Kalashnikovs and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs).

Right now, the men admitted, they weren’t capable of taking and holding territory from the regular Syrian army. As things stood, they weren’t even sure they should be going on the offensive: After all, they’d defected to defend their families and communities from injustice, not to launch a civil war. “We have many chances to attack,” said one, “but we won’t do it: The reaction would be harsh and terrible.” If anything, it was now the people who were protecting the soldiers, rather than the other way around. “People have been arrested just for making us a cup of tea,” one told me. One of the soldiers said 13 members of his family had been arrested because of his activities; anyone with his surname, he added, would automatically be arrested at a checkpoint. At least for the time being, these soldiers were emissaries of a temporarily defeated guerrilla force…..

For the last few years, Mohammed had been working for most of the week in Damascus for the government. The pay was lousy, but he counted himself lucky to have work at all. His friends and family are scattered over both sides of the conflict. His girlfriend is a government supporter, he said, from an area where almost everyone is pro-government. I asked if he told her about his opposition activities. “Most of them,” he said with his laid-back smile. Things were easiest in Dara’a, where everybody knows everyone. In Damascus and Aleppo, the population is more transient and thus more paranoid: No one trusts anyone. His mother was a staunch supporter of the Assad regime; Mohammed warned her that she’d only change her mind when the trouble arrived in her own house.

I told Mohammed about a trip I’d recently taken to Douma, a populous commuter town outside Damascus. Douma had effectively been taken over by its residents late last year, but, in January, the Syrian army stormed in, and, when I visited, the area was clearly back under government control. The mobile phone network was still cut off, and, on a balmy Saturday afternoon, in a town with over 100,000 people, there were more soldiers than civilians on the main thoroughfares. The only visible sign of the uprising was the graffiti: “GET OUT, WE DON’T WANT YOU HERE BASHAR” and “BASHAR IS A BABY KILLER.” To my surprise, however, Mohammed chuckled at my bleak description. “Bashar treats us like a chicken farmer, you know. He thinks he can pen us in, turn the electricity back on, and we’ll keep laying eggs.” Even though the opposition was suffering, the regime was losing its power to cow people, he said. Once, he and his fellow activists would lower their voices as they walked past government informants. Now they talk louder, to show they are no longer afraid.

Mohammed could be critical of his own side, too. “This movement likes to talk big,” he said. Referring to the funeral procession we’d attended earlier, he observed: “There are three people being buried today, but, by the time the news reaches Al Jazeera and YouTube, it will be hundreds. In Dara’a the government switched the electricity off for a week and everyone was saying it lasted thirty days. It doesn’t help.” Nor did he have a very high opinion of the FSA. “Look at the pictures of the demonstrations,” he said. “It’s the people who usually are in the first line, with the Free Syrian Army behind them. When the army attacks, they have to run away and leave the people behind. It’s dangerous.”

As we chatted, Nadia texted to make sure that I was safe. I invited her to come and meet my new friend. “Be careful,” she replied. “Spies are everywhere. Don’t trust anyone.” When she arrived, she and Mohammed began an animated but friendly discussion on the state of the revolution, occasionally breaking off to translate the highlights into English. Nadia favored arming the rebellion by any means necessary. “Who cares about the agenda of the Saudis or the Qataris?” she demanded. “We just need the weapons.” Mohammed, however, was suspicious of armies of any kind and of outside intervention: He didn’t want to see one armed gang replaced by another. He seemed more like an old-fashioned community activist: His goal was to help build up an indigenous opposition large enough to sustain a revolution. For now, neither had thought much about what a post-Baathist Syria might look like…..

THE SYRIAN REGIME is winning every battle it picks with the armed opposition. Two days after my trip to Homs, the FSA in Baba Amr announced it would “strategically withdraw” from the neighborhood: It was running low on weapons, it said, and wanted to spare what remained of the civilian population. The army is now trying to clear Homs of what it calls “armed gangs,” just as it did in Douma, Kafr Batna, and Harasta. After that, it will likely turn its attention to other pockets of resistance farther afield. According to the United Nations, about 9,000 people have been killed so far, and, according to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, 230,000 have been displaced from their homes; 18,000 are thought to be detained in government prisons.

Like Nadia, an increasing proportion of Syrians feel that the only way to overcome the government is to meet force with military force. But many others, like Mohammed, fear Syria might degenerate into another Iraq—a virulent hotbed of sectarian fiefdoms and armed gangs. Some older activists I met, rendered powerless by the daily catalogue of death and suffering, have become depressed and fatalistic.

And yet, despite the increasingly grim situation, I was struck by the optimism of Syria’s new opposition. …

WSJ [Reg]: Iran’s Spymaster Counters U.S. Moves in the Mideast
2012-04-04

BY JAY SOLOMON AND SIOBHAN GORMAN In the smoldering geopolitical feud between the U.S. and Iran, spymaster Major-General Qasem Soleimani is emerging as director of the Islamic Republic’s effort to spread its influence abroad and bedevil the West. In …

 

The Free Syrian Army vs. the Syrian National Council — Which Should We Support?

By David Schenker

New Republic, March 31, 2012

 

A year into the Syrian uprising against Bashar Al-Assad, the dysfunctional nature of Syrian opposition politics isn’t exactly news. But the resignation last month of Syrian dissident Kamal Labwani from the Syrian National Council (SNC) — which he accused not only of being “undemocratic” and incompetent, but intent on undermining the secular basis of the revolution — is an especially troubling indictment of the opposition’s hapless government in exile. The Obama administration should heed Labwani’s testimony, and reassess its diplomacy accordingly. Indeed, taking a cue from Labwani’s experience, Washington should refocus its attention away from the SNC, in favor of providing more active support for the less centralized, but potentially more effective Free Syrian Army (FSA). ….

 

t would be so much easier for Washington if the Syrian opposition was disciplined and united like the Libyan Transitional National Council was, at least before they took power. Alas, a truly cohesive Syrian political and military opposition is not on the horizon. Instead of spending months trying to integrate these disparate groups, Washington would be better advised to lower the bar and err on the side of action.

 

As it is, when it comes to the Free Syrian Army, the administration is letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. The FSA is not perfect — it may not even be good. But the alternative — a diminished and increasingly Islamist opposition facing a resurgent Assad regime — is much worse.

 

Loyalty to Syrian President Could Isolate Hezbollah
By ANNE BARNARD, April 5, 2012 NYTimes

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Mazen, a carpenter who organizes protests against President Bashar al-Assad in a suburb of Damascus, Syria, has torn down the posters of Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, that once decorated his car and shop.

Like many Syrians, Mazen, 35, revered Mr. Nasrallah for his confrontational stance with Israel. He considered Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group and political party, as an Arab champion of the dispossessed, not just for its Shiite Muslim base but for Sunnis like himself. But now that Hezbollah has stood by Mr. Assad during his deadly yearlong crackdown on the uprising against his rule, Mazen sees Hezbollah as a sectarian party that supports Mr. Assad because his opponents are mainly Sunnis.

“Now, I hate Hezbollah,” he said. “Nasrallah should stand with the people’s revolution if he believes in God.”

Mr. Nasrallah’s decision to maintain his critical alliance with Syria has risked Hezbollah’s standing and its attempts to build pan-Islamic ties in Lebanon and the wider Arab world.

Though Hezbollah’s base in Lebanon remains strong, it runs an increasing risk of finding itself isolated, possibly caught up in a sectarian war between its patron, Iran, the region’s Shiite power, and Saudi Arabia, a protector of Sunni interests in the Middle East. Its longtime ally, Hamas, the Palestinian militant group, has distanced itself from the Assad government, moving its headquarters out of Damascus, and Sunni revolutionaries in Syria have explicitly denounced Hezbollah as an enemy. At home, its Lebanese rivals sense a rare opportunity to erode its power.

In a delicate adjustment in the face of these new realities — and the resilience of the uprising — Hezbollah has shifted its tone. In carefully calibrated speeches last month, Mr. Nasrallah gently but firmly signaled that Mr. Assad could not crush the uprising by force and must lay down arms and seek a political settlement. He implicitly acknowledged the growing moral outrage in the wider Muslim world at the mounting death toll, obliquely noted that the Syrian government was accused of “targeting civilians” and urged Mr. Assad to “present the facts to the people.” ….

Interview with Col As`ad, the leader of the Free Syrian Army, a Sunni from the village of Abdita, Jabal al-Zawiyah (January 1, 2012)

(الجزيرة) التقت قياداته.. يزيد عدده على 25000 ويدير عملياته من الحدود السورية التركية عبر كتائب منتشرة في أنحاء البلاد

الجزيرة – خاص – الحدود السورية التركية

للمرة الأولى لوسيلة إعلامية أدلت قيادة الجيش السوري الحر مجتمعة بحوار موسع لصحيفة( الجزيرة) حول عدد من القضايا والمحاور المتعلقة بالثورة السوري