Posted by Joshua on Friday, April 1st, 2011
A note from a friend in Duma, where four protesters were killed today.
Hurrah! I made it! Had the full adventure today: was in Duma, the hardest hit. talked with the shebab, experienced tear gas (found that cats are apparently immune, as they went on as nothing was), got out safe and sound though there was shooting, and got stopped at Al Tall by you know who.
Also saw Damascus’ squares empty, the same that I was told were to be a the heart of the protests. no one there expect you know who.
the shebab exaggerate numbers and news. one in Duma told me there were 20 thousand security. and that they, the rebels, were thousands. they were hundreds. they also said 10 victims. Reuters tonight said 4. the gvt accepted 3, if I recall correctly, blaming snipers. One was caught by the shebab, they said he was gvt, asked me to see him, but the guy was up on the last floor of a building, and tear gas like all gasses ascends, so at the third floor it was impossible to breath. never got to see the guy.
the most beautiful part is that I AM BACK! safe and sound in my hotel room, Thanks to God.
don’t think I’ll mix with the shebab again. I believe in the sniper story. People I trust said they are in Latakia. in other cities, according to those same accounts, they mingle with the crowd, shoot at the police, which in turn shoots back at the crowd. If that is true, hopefully the police will change tacticts?
anyway, seen up close, it is rather ugly…………………
أكدت مصادر اللجنة الاقتصادية أنه تمت الموافقة على طلبات وزارة الصناعة، أولها تأجيل رفع أسعار الفيول التي كان سيتم العمل بها مع بداية الشهر الرابع إلى 1/8/2011 كما تقررت إعادة دراسة أسعار الفيول من قبل اللجنة الاقتصادية Syria pushes back cutting government subsidies on fuel oil, scheduled for April 1.
A note from a Syrian Friend (Friday morning):
Both Aljazeera and Erdogan seem to have given up on Bashar after his speech.
Aljazeera is now broadcasting a rerun of a press conference held in Istanbul yesterday for the MB leadership (tayfour, alsheqfeh and others). They are calling for massive demonstrations on Friday and blaming Bashar speech. They are thanking Turkey, AKP and Erdogan for their support. They are praising the Ottoman era and how “we felt as Turks citizens under the amazing Ottoman rule”
This is it. They are now planning to take over the democratic public opinion in Turkey which will be the end. Once the Turkish public opinion goes anti-bashar (soon with his continued stupid PR steps) Erdogan will bow to his people and start publicly supporting the opposition in Syria. Syrian people like Erdogan as much as they like Bashar. They will be split in the middle and it will be sectarian and ugly.
This is amazing. If only he said “tomorrow we’ll start doing 1,2,3″, the people who made up their minds after the speech that there is no hope and decided to take it to the street after Friday prayers would have been sitting satisfied in their homes today. Simply incomprehensible how ever you look at it!!
I hope nothing will happen today, but the preparations online are scary. We’ll see in an hour or so….
… I agree with …that among the 65 percent I keep referring to as conditional supporters (other than the 25 harcore supporters and 10 hardcore opposition) they are loosing faith fast due to unbelievable stupidity from the regime. The regime has only to blame itself. People want to believe and want to like Bashar but they are being pushed away.
… Ironically, Al-arabiya is the most balanced one so far on Syria!!
But the I think the only source of info on demonstrations is twitter and Sham News Network on Facebook (which you need to filter heavily as it is full with propaganda). Also on Lattakia, Lattakia News Network on Facebook is credible.
Reuters, BBC journalists and others are using few tweeters are their only source on the demos. They decided that they are credible. This is what happens usually, those few tweeters tweet about a demonstration in daraa let’s say and in 30 minutes reuters issues an alert with the same content exactly.
A note from a reader in response to the ReelNews video (last post) and controversy:
Josh stated clear facts in his interview with a lot of neutrality. Listen, Bashar’s speech was a major let down, for me more than anyone, but it is a fact that the majority of Syrians are pro-Bashar, its just a fact, unfortunately.
The government has instilled enough fear in everyone about civil wars and chaos. In fact, the “Shabiha” that the government called “outside elements,” are very much from the very inside of the government. Scaring neighborhoods that their next neighbor is getting ready to attack is a smart tactic that was used by them to further instill fear. While Mubarak sent them on horses, they Syrian government sent them with messages. Very smart, and extremely smart in the way the media portrayed it. After all the Assads are famous for the “smart gene.” Remember our former Assad?
Why are you so surprised when he talks about a possible civil war? The main reason this has not taken place yet is because of the governments brutality. It is a a gene that most of us Arabs carry around, its called “My religion is right and yours is wrong.”
I grew up in a Druze family in the southern mountains of Syria. My best friend was a Greek orthodox Christian and the society was a Muslim one. I know how people think there. I was actually there in 1999 when a Druze youth was killed by a Baudouin guy. My entire city went marching to neighboring Baudouin cities burning their homes down and beating/killing anyone in the way that was a little darker skinned. I was there in the Souk when a guy’s head was crushed with a brick because they thought he was a Badawi! It later turned out he was a guy from Daraa. The government sent tanks and military personnel to Sweda, Syria. I remember when I would go downstairs to take tea to the soldiers outside our house every night. They were “protecting” us as my grandmother would put it. We are no exception! Syria is an Arab country with tons of problems just like the rest of the Arab world. Our regime is no exception either. It is a ruthless dictatorship that has robbed our country for the past 40 years. Syria is a complicated story. Bashar has a lot of work to do and I hope he does it quickly. There is not a clear alternative for him for the time being.”
A note from an American academic with long experience in Syria and a wonderful book on the Great Revolt in Syria 1925-1927.
Dear Josh, I am addicted to and grateful for your blog in these times. You are providing a wonderful service.
This morning I had occasion to visit the Syrian Embassy in the European capital where I am living. There was a small anti-demonstration in the process of being taken over by a pro-demonstration. The people chanting praise of the president did not seem to be enjoying themselves much. Most of them seemed to be embassy employees and students. I guess employees of Syrianair and their families were there too. Nobody met my eyes as I stood by waiting for them to pass.
The president has argued that Syria is different from other states in the region because of its resistance and the dignity he delivers and symbolizes for his people. But if people are subjected to the kind of things we have seen over the last weeks, including his speech, and then compelled to act out spectacles of obedience, what kind of dignity has been delivered?
I think we saw evidence yesterday that the state has a depressingly limited repertoire of responses to crisis, and a basic inability to adjust course to insure at least grudging consent of its majority.
I remember in 1999 when Hafiz al-Asad won his final referendum. People went to the polls because not going was not worth the risk. The performative requirements of obedience to the system were not that great, and the potential costs of disobedience were significant. A couple friends scheduled doctor appointments, and one friend went to Lebanon for an “appointment” to avoid going to the polls. Most people just went. Socialism meant that everybody ate, and prospects were marginally acceptable for most people. The government spent money in the countryside and places like Deraa had pretty good schools and hospitals and other services.
A few months later Hafiz al-Asad died, and something changed. Once it was clear things would be smooth, people’s anxiety lifted. There was a referendum for the new president, and unlike a few months before, I didn’t know one person of my own age group (20s-30s), who admitted bothering to vote. A bit later, the president addressed parliament and said something like, (I paraphrase from memory) “all these displays (pictures and regime icons) are against our human dignity. From now on, government offices should have a smallish photo of the late president and one of the current president. We don’t need more.”
It was a very popular expression of collective dignity. And even friends who cared nothing for politics were impressed. The giant five story high banner of Hafiz al-Asad’s face on the bank at SahatYusuf al-‘Azmeh came down. Same with the central bank. Mezzeh prison was closed, and a couple new newspapers started. The streets were cleaner. The Barada was cleaned up a bit.
So eleven years later, it seems the late president has returned from the dead. The cult of personality is back with a vengeance. The difference is that there are 6 million more Syrians, proportionately fewer jobs, and major problems with the economy and conditions in rural areas. Rural migration to Damascus, is skyrocketing and the agricultural land surrounding the capital is being consumed for shanty-type housing and golf courses for the newly rich. It is not clear what average Syrians would get now in return for their grudging consent to a system that seems unable to deliver even dignity.
I looked at the list of the dead from Hauran you posted. I recognized many of those family names. People from outside Hauran assumed these were poor peasant youth, but I don’t think so. They looked to me like the sons of the leading families of their region. In other words, sons of the rural and provincial middle classes. There must be millions like them. They were raised in big families with some local prominence, but their generation has very limited career prospects and a lot of frustration. What does the government have to offer them, and how exactly can more time spent “studying” reform help the situation?
Over the years every retired Syrian politician I ever met and talked to said to me, “In Syria we have time.” America doesn’t have time, Israel doesn’t have time, but we have time.” I am sure you have heard the same from people you have interviewed. It is a smart strategy and it’s true until it’s not.
Syrian politics has been a long game since at least the 1970s. Bashar certainly learned the long approach to politics from his father. If you can hang on, through the crisis, and survive, you have won. But one day, maybe tomorrow, maybe next year, or maybe in five years’ time the long game won’t work. The crisis (whatever it is) will demand immediate change of course, and from what we saw yesterday in the speech, the president may not have the insight, or possess the latitude within the system he inhabits, to be able to adjust course. Waiting and surviving will not always be enough.
He has said that reform will take time. But what if eleven years is already too long, and everything important he could have learned and done, has already passed?
Thanks again, ya batal al-huriyya al-‘ilm! Count me one of your many admirers-
WSJ [Reg]: Sen. Kerry Raps Syria’s Assad, 2011-03-31
By Jay Solomon Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has a new American critic. On Thursday, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry, rapped Mr. Assad for not following through on his recent commitments to initiate political …
Syria Kurds join protests calling for citizenship
(AFP), 1 April 2011
DAMASCUS — Kurds in Syria’s northeast on Friday took to the streets for the first time since pro-reform protests erupted in mid-March, calling for the right to citizenship, an activist said.
“Several hundred people marched peacefully in the streets of Qamishli and Amuda after Friday (Muslim) prayers chanting ‘we don’t only want citizenship but freedom as well,’” Kurdish rights activist Radif Mustafa told AFP.
The protesters also chanted “God, Syria, Freedom.”
There were similar protests in Hassake where up to 200 people emerging before security forces dispersed them, he said.
Qamishli and the adjoining town of Amud are 700 kilometres (435 miles) northeast of Damascus near the border with Turkey, while Hassake is about 600 kilometres from the capital.
“It is the first time since the start of the dissent that protests are being held in this majority Kurdish region,” Mustafa said.
Friday’s rallies come a day after Syrian announced it would look into the plight of some 300,000 Kurds who have been denied Syrian nationality for close to half a century.
“President Bashar al-Assad has ordered the creation of a committee charged with resolving the problem of the 1962 census in the governorate of Hassake,” state-run news agency SANA reported on Thursday.
This committee “must complete its work before April 15 and President Assad will then issue an appropriate decree to resolve this problem,” SANA said.
The decision comes as part of a string of reforms launched by Assad’s government, which is facing a rising wave of dissent demanding major reforms.
In 1962, 20% of Syria’s ethnic Kurdish population were deprived of Syrian citizenship following a controversial census, according to human rights groups.
The government at the time argued its decision was based on a 1945 wave of illegal immigration of Kurds from neighboring countries, including Turkey, to Hassake, where they had “fraudulently” registered as Syrian citizens.
The citizenship problem has long poisoned relations between the government and Syria’s Kurds, who are banned from employment in the public sector as they are not citizens and yet cannot emigrate as they do not have Syrian passports.
There were also protests Friday in the flashpoint southern Syrian town of Daraa, which has emerged as the centre of dissent since demonstrations first broke out on March 15 in Damascus with protesters calling for the release of political prisoners.
The “Friday of Martyrs” protests were expected across Syria after weekly Muslim prayers for a third week in succession, spurred by a the popular yet anonymous Facebook group The Syrian Revolution 2011.
BY TINA ROSENBERG | FEBRUARY 16, 2011
There will be many moments during a dictatorship that galvanize public anger: a hike in the price of oil, the assassination of an opposition leader, corrupt indifference to a natural disaster, or simply the confiscation by the police of a produce cart. In most cases, anger is not enough — it simply flares out. Only a prepared opponent will be able to use such moments to bring down a government.
“Revolutions are often seen as spontaneous,” Ivan Marovic, a former CANVAS trainer, told me in Washington a few years ago. “It looks like people just went into the street. But it’s the result of months or years of preparation. It is very boring until you reach a certain point, where you can organize mass demonstrations or strikes. If it is carefully planned, by the time they start, everything is over in a matter of weeks.”……..
The Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood ask Assad to quickly fulfill the demands of the Syrian People
رصد | الأردن : الإخوان المسلمون في الأردن يطالبون الأسد بسرعة الإستجابة لمطالب الشعب السوري
Is Assad Capable of Reform?
By VOLKER PERTHES
BERLIN — In a brief address before Syria’s Parliament on Wednesday, President Bashar al-Assad declared that he was still for reform, but insisted that the first priority was to combat a “conspiracy” that was responsible for the bloody protests in his country. The speech came the day after the president dismissed his cabinet.
The speech was bound to disappoint those who had expected Assad to at least lift the emergency status and announce a new law on political parties. Changing the ministers is a meaningless gesture unless it’s followed by real reform. Assad mentioned the emergency law and the party law but insisted that he would not act under pressure — “haste comes at the expense of the quality of reforms.”
It’s a refrain that Syrians have heard too often. The idea of a new party law in particular has come up whenever the regime was under pressure — for example in 2000, after Assad took power, or in 2005, after Syria’s forced withdrawal from Lebanon. But the time has never been right.
I remember a meeting I had five years ago with Faisal Kalthoum, a professor of law and at the time a confidant to Assad, who proudly told me about a draft party law he and other members of a special committee had just finalized. (Kalthoum, who regarded himself as a reformer, later became governor of Dara’a and was in that position until he was fired after the first bloody crackdown.)
The new law, he told me at that time, would allow parties of various tendencies to be established. But there was no intention, he added when I asked, to change the Constitution, particularly Article 8, which states that the Baath Party is the “leading party in the society and the state.” In other words, parties could be freely constituted so long as they did not challenge the Baath’s monopoly on power. It is hardly necessary to add that Assad did not enact the law. The situation, other officials told me in subsequent years, “wasn’t yet considered ripe” for such a reform.
I would be positively astonished if Assad was prepared today not only to enact that law, but also to lift the state of emergency and rescind Article 8. He could make history with such moves, probably setting the stage for a step-by-step political liberalization in Syria — for which, I assume, a small window of time still exists. But I doubt he will do it.
This is mainly because Assad, in contrast to the image of him that some Western leaders have developed, is not a reformer. He can better be described as a modernizer. When he inherited power from his father in 2000 he set out to modernize the system — the economic and technological foundation as well as the political, security and bureaucratic elite on which he bases his power.
He allowed archaic economic and trade regulations to be shelved, private banks to operate, foreign investments to come in, mobile-phone companies to operate. And, starting with regional party leaders and governors, then ministers, and finally the top echelons of the security apparatus, he managed within only a couple of years to remove his father’s old guard and replace it with people loyal to himself.
In doing so, he gave Syria a more modern face and made some things work more efficiently, but he also made sure that the basic system — which relies on the heavy hand of the security services, on personal ties, and on a form of tolerated corruption that allows loyalists to enrich themselves — remained intact.
Initially, after his assumption of power, Assad encouraged a somewhat freer political debate. But in 2001, after a short-lived “Damascus Spring,” the regime cracked down on many of the intellectuals who had thought that it was really the beginning of a political opening. Many have been arrested repeatedly over the past decade.
To be fair, Assad has not relied only on repression and cronies. Unlike Hosni Mubarak or Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, the relatively young Syrian leader did gain some real popularity. The regional situation has helped him, as he quite frankly admitted in a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal. He was extremely critical of the U.S. invasion in Iraq, rightly warned of chaos after an externally enforced regime change there, and gained a reputation for saying no to the United States.
He was compelled to withdraw his forces from Lebanon, but managed to make the best of it by opening up the economy in Syria, thereby reducing the reliance of Syrian businessmen on Lebanon, and gradually rebuilding Syrian political influence in Lebanon.
He denounced American and Israeli policies toward the Palestinians, while making clear that Syria would not block a peace treaty with Israel. All this made him for a time one of the most popular heads of state in the Arab world, and, to the extent that it can be judged, at home.
This apparent popularity may have led him and his advisers to ignore the fact that even in Syria, many people were angry with a repressive regime, bad governance and blatant corruption.
In Syria, as in other Arab countries, there is a widely shared feeling, particularly among those between 20 and 30, that the regime denies them dignity and a fair chance to participate in politics and the economy. Offering cosmetic reforms now is likely to be too little too late.
Assad may find that while it was relatively easy to deal with intellectuals and activists, it is far harder to restrain an entire generation.
Volker Perthes is director of SWP, the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, and author of several works on Syria and the Arab world.