Posted by Matthew Barber on Monday, June 17th, 2013
Clerics in Egypt Call for Global Jihad Against Regime’s Shiite Allies
by Matthew Barber
The last post contained a question from a reader wondering why Egypt has been largely off-the-radar as an important regional presence in the Syrian conflict. With interesting timing, the last few days may have inaugurated the beginning of a change to Egypt’s lack of involvement, a development coinciding with the U.S.’s own policy changes.
A few days ago, I received an email from a friend following the activities of religious clerics in the Middle East. In it, he said:
…today there was a big Islamic conference in Cairo for top Muslim scholars (TV figures) organized by the Muslim Brotherhood and attended by Qaradawi and other famous sheikhs such as al-‘Uraifi. They issued a statement calling on the Muslim world for jihad against Iran and Hezbollah. Furthermore, one of them [Dr. Safwat Hijazai, an Egyptian] called for forming military brigades under the banner of the World Union of Muslim Scholars, the League of Sunni scholars, etc. This means taking the conflict to the Muslim World and encouraging thousands to volunteer. … al-Qaradawi himself talked about Shiites being infidels and spoke of them cursing the companions of the Prophet. Another call later on was made to ban them from the hajj. This is wrong and will have serious consequences on relations between Sunnis and Shiites in the future.
Though the statement issued at the conference doesn’t explicitly call for jihad targeting Iran, it does make plain that the call to jihad is to counter Iran’s influence and actions; Iran is therefore openly depicted as the enemy that has made this jihad necessary. The second item in the statement says the following:
اعتبار ما يجري في أرض الشام من عدوان سافر من النظام الإيراني و حزب الله و حلفائـهم الطائفيين حربـــــاً معلنـــــــــةً على الإســلام و المسلميـن عامـــــــــــــة
“The blatant aggression occurring in the land of Sham should be considered a declared war of the Iranian regime, Hezbollah, and their sectarian allies against Islam and Muslims generally.”
Though the injustices experienced by Syrians were the ostensible motivation for this conference and the call for jihad that it produced, the fact that it represents a line-up of influential Sunni clerics and the Muslim Brotherhood arrayed opposite several exclusively Shiite enemies is a very dangerous development. We have watched the sectarian character of the Syrian Uprising awaken the dormant tensions that underlie never-quite-solved disputes—divergent visions for the state that afflict the entire Levant and Iraq. Now, Egypt seems to be moving into position in its relationship with a regional conflict towards which most nations in the Middle East are oriented by sectarian affiliation.
To issue a call for such a jihad in the current volatile context, framing the three major “Shi’a” entities as the collective enemy, particularly without any nuance to affirm the humanity of Shiite people in distinction from their governments or non-state political actors, is highly irresponsible, especially after the terrible rise of targeted sectarian killings we’ve observed inside Syria. Despite a reference to the Iranian “regime,” the entire affair will serve only to whip up animosity toward Shiites generally.
Another feature of this rhetoric that will incite further division is the referring to Iran and Hezbollah’s involvement as a “war against Islam and Muslims.” Without any political context for the interests of these communities, the labeling of their objectives as a “war against Islam and Muslims” has the effect of asserting that they are not Muslims.
The indications of Egypt’s “movement into position” extend beyond the condemnation vocalized by angry clerics; in the same week that this conference took place, an Egyptian official expressed approval for Egyptians wishing to travel to Syria for jihad.
At the state level, the developments described above have occurred alongside an official decision to end all diplomatic ties with Syria, and the closure of the Syrian embassy in Cairo, a move that will increase the difficulties faced by the Syrian refugee population that has taken refuge in Egypt, who the Syrian opposition will be unable to assist in any meaningful capacity regarding travel documents and passports, marriage certificates, etc.
All of these changes (as well as the U.S. shift in policy) seem to follow the expansion of Hezbollah’s role on the ground. Iran has reportedly said that it will be sending 4,000 troops to assist the Syrian regime. If the sending of troops does take place, Iran will appear to have taken the lead in conducting the most literal form of “intervention.” But in contrast to such official state-level action, the states hoping to counter Iran’s growing role in the conflict appear to accept the use of an undefined and disorganized jihad that will see many young, unaccountable men going to their deaths, as was the case with the mujahideen in the Iraq war.
Though any serious (and strategically feasible) endeavor to resolve the Syria crisis and end the bloodshed would be laudable, the U.S. should carefully think through its decision to take sides in a greater sectarian conflict.
Egyptian official says citizens free to join fight in Syria – This article originally appeared on Ahram but seems to have been taken down. Several other sites have re-posted it.
A senior official in Egypt’s presidential office said that Egyptians are free to fight in the conflict in Syria, and will not be prosecuted on their return to Egypt.
In a response to an Associated Press question Thursday about the government’s stance on citizens going to fight alongside Syrian rebels, Khaled El-Qazzaz said that “the right of travel or freedom of travel is open for all Egyptians.”
He said that after the 2011 uprising, the government no longer punishes Egyptians for what they do in other countries.
El-Qazzaz, a foreign affairs adviser to Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, said the presidency does not consider Egyptian nationals in Syria to be a threat to Egypt’s security.
His comments come just days after influential Egyptian cleric Yusuf El-Qaradawi urged Sunni Muslims everywhere to join the fight against Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, who is a member of the Alawite branch of Islam.
On Saturday Morsi will attend a conference on Syria in the International Conference Centre in Cairo’s Nasr City, the Muslim Brotherhood announced on Wednesday.
The conference is part of a Syria solidarity week organised by the Muslim Brotherhood and will include other influential figures such as El-Qaradawi and Saudi sheikh Mohamed Al-Arifi. The conference is scheduled to start on Thursday 13 June.
Egypt’s ruling Muslim Brotherhood blamed Shi’ites for creating religious strife throughout Islam’s history, as the movement joined a call by Sunni clerics for jihad against the Syrian government and its Shi’ite allies.
In a striking display of the religious enmity sweeping the region since Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah committed its forces behind Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a Brotherhood spokesman in Cairo told Reuters on Friday: “Throughout history, Sunnis have never been involved in starting a sectarian war.”
Until recently, Egypt’s new Islamist president, the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Mursi, was promoting rapprochement with Iran, the bastion of Shi’ite political power and in February he hosted the first visit by an Iranian president in over 30 years.
But spokesman Ahmed Aref said Hezbollah had launched a new “sectarian war” last month by joining Tehran’s other key ally Assad in a fight that pits mainly Sunni rebels against a Syrian elite drawn from Assad’s Alawite minority, a Shi’ite offshoot.
For that reason, Aref said, the Brotherhood, which emerged from oppression after the fall of military rule two years ago to run by far the most populous Arab state, had joined a call made on Thursday by leading Sunni clerics for holy war in Syria.
That statement, made at a Cairo conference of more than 70 religious organizations from across the Arab world, urged “jihad with mind, money, weapons – all forms of jihad”, but stopped short of repeating an explicit call by high-profile Brotherhood-linked preacher Youssef al-Qaradawi for fighters to go to Syria.
Asked whether the Brotherhood would urge Egyptians to travel to the war, Aref said it was still considering its position and would coordinate with the other groups at the conference.
Mursi would address the assembly on Saturday, he added, saying that speech may clarify the Egyptian position: “Up to now there’s merely been talk,” he said.
“We need to coordinate well in terms of logistics.”
An aide to Mursi said on Thursday that Egypt disapproved of external intervention in Syria, notably that by Hezbollah. It was not sending fighters but, he said, the government could not stop Egyptians from travelling and would not penalize any who went to Syria, where he said many were engaged in relief work.
Also on Friday, a leading Sunni cleric from Saudi Arabia, Mohammed al-Afifi, preached at an ancient Cairo mosque, calling for jihad in Syria “in every way possible”. Some worshippers waved Syrian rebel flags and dozens of men gathered outside afterward to chant their support for bringing down Assad.
Saudi Arabia, where the monarchy espouses the strict Wahhabi school of Sunni Islam, is locked in a regional rivalry with Iran and has been arming the Syrian rebels while Egypt’s leaders, who rose to power in the same wave of Arab Spring protests that began the Syrian civil war, have held back from such engagement.
The 7th century rift between Sunni and Shi’ite Islam has fuelled violence across the Middle East in recent decades, including the sectarian bloodletting unleashed in Iraq since the 2003 U.S. invasion and the Lebanese civil war of 1975 to 1990.
Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi said he had cut all diplomatic ties with Damascus on Saturday and called for a no-fly zone over Syria, pitching the most populous Arab state firmly against President Bashar al-Assad.
Addressing a rally called by Sunni Muslim clerics in Cairo, the Sunni Islamist head of state said: “We decided today to entirely break off relations with Syria and with the current Syrian regime.”
He also warned Assad’s allies in the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shi’ite militia Hezbollah to pull back from fighting in Syria.
“We stand against Hezbollah in its aggression against the Syrian people,” Mursi said. “Hezbollah must leave Syria – these are serious words. There is no space or place for Hezbollah in Syria.”
Mursi, who faces growing discontent at home over the economy and over fears that he will pursue an Islamist social agenda, said he was organising an urgent summit of Arab and other Islamic states to discuss the situation in Syria, where the United States has in recent days decided to take steps to arm the rebels.
Mursi, who spoke at a packed 20,000-capacity stadium and waved Syrian and Egyptian flags after his entrance, also urged world powers not to hesitate to enforce a no-fly zone over Syria. The crowd of his supporters chanted: “From the free revolutionaries of Egypt: We will stamp on you, Bashar!”
… Egypt’s U.S.-funded and -trained army is among the most powerful in the Middle East and effectively ran the country before the Arab Spring revolution of 2011 led to elections that saw Mursi, of the Muslim Brotherhood, take power a year ago.
There has been no suggestion, however, that Egyptian forces should get involved in the fighting in Syria.
Mursi said Syria was the target of “a campaign of extermination and planned ethnic cleansing fed by regional and international states”, partly in reference to Iran, though he did not name the Shi’ite Islamic Republic.
Mursi said: “The Egyptian people supports the struggle of the Syrian people, materially and morally, and Egypt, its nation, leadership … and army, will not abandon the Syrian people until it achieves its rights and dignity.”
The Brotherhood has joined calls this week from Sunni Muslim religious organisations for a jihad against Assad and his Shi’ite allies. Egypt has not taken an active role in arming the Syrian rebels, but an aide to Mursi said this week that Cairo would not stand in the way of Egyptians who wanted to fight in Syria.
Washington’s decision to arm Syria’s Sunni Muslim rebels has plunged America into the great Sunni-Shia conflict of the Islamic Middle East, entering a struggle that now dwarfs the Arab revolutions which overthrew dictatorships across the region.
For the first time, all of America’s ‘friends’ in the region are Sunni Muslims and all of its enemies are Shiites. Breaking all President Barack Obama’s rules of disengagement, the US is now fully engaged on the side of armed groups which include the most extreme Sunni Islamist movements in the Middle East.
The Independent on Sunday has learned that a military decision has been taken in Iran – even before last week’s presidential election – to send a first contingent of 4,000 Iranian Revolutionary Guards to Syria to support President Bashar al-Assad’s forces against the largely Sunni rebellion that has cost almost 100,000 lives in just over two years. Iran is now fully committed to preserving Assad’s regime, according to pro-Iranian sources which have been deeply involved in the Islamic Republic’s security, even to the extent of proposing to open up a new ‘Syrian’ front on the Golan Heights against Israel.
In years to come, historians will ask how America – after its defeat in Iraq and its humiliating withdrawal from Afghanistan scheduled for 2014 – could have so blithely aligned itself with one side in a titanic Islamic struggle stretching back to the seventh century death of the Prophet Mohamed.
… From now on, therefore, every suicide bombing in Damascus – every war crime committed by the rebels – will be regarded in the region as Washington’s responsibility. The very Sunni-Wahabi Islamists who killed thousands of Americans on 11th September, 2011 – who are America’s greatest enemies as well as Russia’s – are going to be proxy allies of the Obama administration. This terrible irony can only be exacerbated by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s adament refusal to tolerate any form of Sunni extremism. His experience in Chechenya, his anti-Muslim rhetoric – he has made obscene remarks about Muslim extremists in a press conference in Russian – and his belief that Russia’s old ally in Syria is facing the same threat as Moscow fought in Chechenya, plays a far greater part in his policy towards Bashar al-Assad than the continued existence of Russia’s naval port at the Syrian Mediterranean city of Tartous.
For the Russians, of course, the ‘Middle East’ is not in the ‘east’ at all, but to the south of Moscow; and statistics are all-important. The Chechen capital of Grozny is scarcely 500 miles from the Syrian frontier. Fifteen per cent of Russians are Muslim. Six of the Soviet Union’s communist republics had a Muslim majority, 90 per cent of whom were Sunni. And Sunnis around the world make up perhaps 85 per cent of all Muslims. For a Russia intent on repositioning itself across a land mass that includes most of the former Soviet Union, Sunni Islamists of the kind now fighting the Assad regime are its principal antagonists.
After the election of Hassan Rouhani, the Egyptian Islamists are not the only ones unhappy with Iran: BBC – Iran election: Israel issues warning after Rouhani win
Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has warned that international pressure on Iran must not be loosened in the wake of the election of reformist-backed Hassan Rouhani as president.
Mr Netanyahu said Iran’s nuclear programme must be stopped “by any means” and there should be no “wishful thinking” about Mr Rouhani’s victory.
The cleric won just over 50% of the vote in Friday’s election. He said his election was a “victory of moderation over extremism”.
One of Mr Rouhani’s main election pledges was to try to ease international sanctions imposed on Iran over its nuclear programme, and he has also promised greater engagement with Western powers.
But Mr Netanyahu said on Sunday: “The international community should not fall into wishful thinking and be tempted to ease pressure on Iran to stop its nuclear programme.”
He added: “Iran will be judged on its actions. If it insists on continuing to develop its nuclear programme the answer needs to be clear – stopping its nuclear programme by any means.” …
Is Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood backing a jihad in Syria? – CSM – Dan Murphy
Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and his flailing Muslim Brotherhood have turned to foreign policy and soccer to improve their battered image in advance of a planned mass anti-government protest at the end of this month and mounting calls for his resignation.
In a bid to distract attention from his domestic woes, curry favor with the United States and Gulf countries and restore Egypt to a leadership position in the Middle East and North Africa, Mr. Morsi chose a Cairo stadium to announce to his rallied supporters that he was cutting diplomatic ties with the regime of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The president’s ruling Muslim Brotherhood at the same time said it would field candidates for the board elections of storied Cairo soccer club Al Zamalek SC and other major football teams. The move is an effort to gain control of clubs in a soccer-crazy country whose huge fan base played a key political role in and since the toppling of Hosni Mubarak two years ago.
The fans, one of the largest civic groups in Egypt, are likely to participate in a mass opposition Tamarod (Rebel) march on the presidential palace scheduled for June 30, the first anniversary of Mr. Morsi’s inauguration as Egypt’s first freely-elected post-revolt leader, to demand his resignation and early elections. Egyptian media report that a petition calling for Mr. Morsi’s resignation has so far attracted 15 million signatures, two million more than the 13 million votes the president garnered a year ago. A significant number of militant soccer fans are believed to be among the signatories.
Criticism of Mr. Morsi has mounted in the past year as a result of his failure to halt Egypt’s stark economic decline, his haughty leadership style that many believe harks back to Mr. Mubarak’s authoritarianism and his perceived efforts to Islamize Egyptian society.
Militant, highly politicized, well-organized and street battle-hardened soccer fans have in the last year played a key role in protests against Mr. Morsi. The conviction to death of soccer fans and perceived leniency towards security personnel in a trial earlier this year against those responsible for the death last year of 74 fans in Port Said in a politically loaded brawl sparked a popular uprising in Suez Canal cities and violent protests in Cairo.
Prominent Egyptian artists, writers, actors, filmmakers and intellectuals camped out in front of the culture ministry in Cairo to demand the resignation of Minister Alaa Abdel-Aziz because of his alleged efforts to force the arts to conform to Islamic conservatism called last week on the militant soccer fans to protect them against attacks by supporters of Mr. Morsi.
The Brotherhood’s intention to increase its influence in soccer clubs, many of which are financially troubled as the result of long suspensions sparked by Egypt’s political turmoil since 2011, is the movement’s latest effort to come to grips with the country’s most popular pastime. Brotherhood officials initially toyed with the creation of their own soccer clubs but then opted for a promise to clean the sport of corruption, including the replacement of Mubarak-era officials.
… Islamists hardly endeared themselves to soccer fans by recently suggesting that their rivalries were a Zionist plot to destabilize Egypt. Al Hafiz TV, a Salafi television station critical of Morsi that promotes a return to the 7th century lifestyle of the Prophet Muhammad and his immediate successors made the insinuation by airing a video portraying an alleged ultra-Orthodox Jew as advocating the instigation of strife between various groups in Egypt, including soccer fans.
Opinion on Intervention and U.S. Plans
The Obama administration, trying to avoid getting drawn deeper into Syria’s civil war, has pointed to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 as a symbol of what can go wrong when America’s military wades into Middle East conflicts.
But experts say the White House is looking at the wrong Iraq war, especially as the U.S. reluctantly considers a no-fly zone over Syria to stop President Bashar Assad from continuing to use his air power to crush rebel forces or kill civilians.
A no-fly zone is a territory over which warring aircraft are not allowed to fly. The U.S. and international allies have enforced them in several military conflicts over the past two decades.
When he took office in 2009, President Barack Obama promised to end the U.S. war in Iraq as an example of refocusing on issues that had direct impact on Americans. By the time the U.S military withdrew from Iraq in 2011, almost 4,500 American soldiers and more than 100,000 Iraqis had died. The war toppled Saddam Hussein but sparked widespread sectarian fighting and tensions that still simmer.
But when considering a no-fly zone, experts point to 1992, a year after the Gulf War. That’s when the U.S. imposed a weakly-enforced no-fly zone over southern Iraq and could not prevent Saddam, a Sunni Muslim, from persecuting and killing hundreds of thousands of Shiites whom he viewed as a political threat.
That failure is now being used as a case in point of why the U.S. should or shouldn’t police the Syrian sky to prevent Assad from accelerating a two-year death toll that last week reached 93,000.
The White House is undecided on imposing a no-fly zone over Syria, as some have demanded. Egypt’s president, Mohammed Morsi, on Saturday called for a U.N. endorsed no-fly zone.
Obama Acts on Syria—Is It Too Late? – New Yorker
Timing is everything: the White House’s announcement, on Thursday afternoon, that America’s intelligence agencies had concluded that Bashar al-Assad’s regime was deploying chemical weapons came just as the dictator appeared to be turning back the rebels in Syria’s terrible civil war. We can assume that President Barack Obama would only make such an pronouncement if he intended to act on it—to take decisive action to help the rebels, either with weapons shipments or airstrikes. Senator John McCain, one of the few elected officials to publicly push Obama to do more in Syria, told reporters on Thursday that the White House had informed him that it would begin to arm the rebels.
Ben Rhodes, a deputy national-security advisor, said that the White House had “high confidence” in the finding that chemical weapons like sarin gas had been used, and that Assad—and not the rebels—had used them. The White House conclusion dovetailed with those of other governments, including France, and non-governmental organizations, such as the Syrian Support Group. It also mirrored what a Syrian eyewitness to an apparent chemical attack told me when I interviewed him for a piece in The New Yorker.
In some respects, the caution exhibited by the White House until now is understandable, given the calamitous errors made with bad intelligence on weapons of mass destruction in the runup to the Iraq war. But Obama’s wariness with respect to chemical weapons has been symptomatic of a broader reluctance to intervene in Syria. In its statement, the White House said that between a hundred and a hundred and fifty people had been killed in chemical attacks. For months, the Assad regime has been killing that many people every day. Since the Syrians first bravely rose up against Assad in early 2011, President Obama has mostly stood by, committing to little more than “non-lethal” aid to the rebels. From the start, President Obama has looked at Syria and seen something not unlike Iraq—a place that the United States could get into easily enough, but from which it would have a far harder time getting out. These fears have only grown as the most radical Islamist elements of the Syrian resistance, like the Al Nusra Front—an offshoot of Al Qaeda in Iraq—have gained ground and power. But as the months passed, and the Assad regime stepped up its murderous assaults, the President’s caution came to look more like moral indifference.
Now that the moment for American action has come, it is very late in the day. The war in Syria is not just a humanitarian catastrophe—the U.N. said on Thursday that the death toll had reached ninety-three thousand. Worse, the Assad regime appears, after months of stalemate, to have gained the upper hand. This is almost certainly due to a large-scale intervention by Hezbollah, the Lebanese armed group, which has sent as many as two thousand fighters into Syria to save Assad. Hezbollah fighters were decisive in the pro-Assad force’s recent recapture of the city of Qusayr, which, in turn, is central to Hezbollah’s existence. Qusayr sits on the main road leading into Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley, Hezbollah’s stronghold, and serves as the main conduit for Iranian arms and missiles that have made Hezbollah the formidable armed group that it is. Hezbollah’s intervention has been accompanied by a massive, ceaseless airlift from the Iranian government, which regards Assad as its closest friend in the Arab world. …
Bad Idea, Mr. President – NYT Sunday Review – Ramzy Mardini
ACCORDING to Bill Clinton, Barack Obama risks looking like a “fool” if he decides not to intervene militarily in Syria’s continuing civil war. Likening the situation to his decision to intervene in Kosovo in 1999, Mr. Clinton said Tuesday that if he hadn’t used force to stop Serbia’s campaign of ethnic cleansing, critics might have said: “You could have stopped this by dropping a few bombs. Why didn’t you do it?” Mr. Clinton believes that Mr. Obama could end up looking like a “total wuss” if he doesn’t intervene. And it seems he’s going act.
The recent recapture of the strategic town of Qusair by forces loyal to the government of Bashar al-Assad and the White House’s public acknowledgment that chemical weapons have been employed by the Syrian regime — thereby crossing a “red line” — persuaded Mr. Obama to adopt the doctrine of intervention and provide arms to the rebels. He shouldn’t have.
Lacking a grand strategy, Mr. Obama has become a victim of rhetorical entrapment over the course of the Arab Spring — from calling on foreign leaders to leave (with no plan to forcibly remove them) to publicly drawing red lines on the use of chemical weapons, and then being obliged to fulfill the threat.
… Not since the 2003 invasion of Iraq has American foreign policy experienced a strategic void so pervasive.
The responsible role of a lone superpower is not to pick sides in a civil war; it’s to help enable conflict resolution while maintaining a policy of neutrality. Instead, the United States came down on one side of a regional sectarian conflict, inadvertently fomenting Sunni hubris and Shiite fear — the same effects (but in reverse) caused by America’s involvement in the Iraq war.
Unlike in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, the revolution in Syria involves upending a sectarian political order, and therefore it disrupts the fragile sectarian balance within the region. Absent “boots on the ground,” supplying rebels with arms or establishing a no-fly zone are half-measures that are unlikely to advance an endgame that serves American interests or alters Mr. Assad’s calculus to step aside — all the while, intensifying the lethality of the conflict without contributing toward a decisive end.
More important, by arming the rebels, Mr. Obama is not only placing the United States in an open proxy war with Russia and Iran, but also raising the stakes and consequently jeopardizing broader and more valuable American interests.
Exclusive: I Saw Nasrallah in Qusair – al-Monitor – Ali Hashem
Just days after the fall of Qusair in southwest Syria, the city started receiving visitors. Some were returning residents looking for what was left of their homes and properties, while others were only passersby who wanted to see what had happened to the city. There was a third category: Probably Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah fits in.
It was my last day in Qusair, and the security measures taken there weren’t as restrictive as in the previous days. When I asked, the only answer I received was that every day there are new orders. “Probably the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will pay a visit to the city, a visit similar to the one he paid to Baba Amr in Homs after the regime took control of it,” a colleague of mine suggested but never confirmed. Later, a Syrian officer told us that a high-profile Syrian official (not Assad) will arrive soon in Qusair.
After I had been a couple of hours in the city, no one had arrived. I decided to move around the city to look for returning residents for a possible interview or package. In the center of the city, I stood in the middle of the main road as a huge, black four-wheel-drive came my way.
I stared at the man sitting beside the driver: The face was familiar, but something was missing. It was clear I was face to face with Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, without a turban, wearing a military uniform. He smiled and nodded to me, and while I was still in shock, the car was out of sight. There was no convoy, only one car, but as I said before, there were security measures taken in the city and around.
It took me some time to confirm that whom I saw was Nasrallah. When I returned to Beirut, I started my investigations to confirm it and I did.
While investigating, I came across another piece of information: that this visit wasn’t the first for Nasrallah to Qusair during this very crisis. “Sayyed Nasrallah went to Qusair a day before the start of the battle: He met the commanders, visited some injured fighters and gave a speech,” a source close to Hezbollah told me, “He spoke for around half an hour with his main commanders exchanging ideas on the battle and the expectations and how many days it’ll take them to finish it.”
In the whirl and the rush of the fast-moving, bloody, and geo-politically significant events ongoing throughout Syria, it is easy to forget that certain classics of Syria studies can help us understand events in the country through culturally relevant socio-political and socio-economic perspectives. One such work is Michael Van Dusen’s 1972 analysis entitled “Political Integration and Regionalism in Syria,” which was published in the Spring edition of the Middle East Journal and excerpts of which can be accessed in Nikolaos Van Dam’s excellent book The Struggle for Power in Syria: Politics and Society Under Asad and the Ba’ath Party. Van Dusen’s essay remains one of the most important studies of how Syrian society is organized around its “agro-city regions,” where rural hinterlands and large agricultural market towns are linked via trade and social connections to a major urban hub. Syria’s agro-city regions, as Van Dusen conceived them, are: Damascus; Aleppo; Homs; Hama; Lattakia; Tartus; Dera’a; al-Qunaytra; Suweida; Deir ez Zor.
The pattern of conflict in the Syrian civil war is strongly influenced by the agro-city regional organization of the country. …
… It was obvious to anyone who troubled to examine the data that Egypt could not maintain a bottomless pit in its balance of payments, created by a 50% dependency on imported food, not to mention an energy bill fed by subsidies that consumed a quarter of the national budget. It was obvious to Israeli analysts that the Syrian regime’s belated attempt to modernize its agricultural sector would create a crisis as hundreds of thousands of displaced farmers gathered in slums on the outskirts of its cities. These facts were in evidence early in 2011 when Hosni Mubarak fell and the Syrian rebellion broke out. Paul Rivlin of Israel’s Moshe Dayan Center published a devastating profile of Syria’s economic failure in April 2011. …