Facebook Blocked in Syria: Virtual Civil Society Banned

Facebook has been blocked in Syria. Some articles are suggesting that the government has taken this step because too many Israelis have been entering into Syria-based groups. I do not believe this.

Facebook has become a virtual civil-society in Syria. Many civic groups sprung up over-night and became popular with thousands. Groups about preserving the old city, getting back the Golan Heights, supporting civil marriage, women's' groups, art associations, and you-name-it. Every day my email includes invitations to join new groups and associations that are being created with the speed of light. They are only limited by the imaginations of hundreds of thousands of Syrians who have been kept from forming such groups in non-virtual life.

Facebook was a phenomenon. Last summer in Damascus, many of my younger professional friends did nothing but talk about Facebook and the groups they were joining. It was extraordinary. Syrians loved it. It was completely democratic and new. Undoubtedly this made it very scary for the authorities. There remain many ways to get around the blackout, but Facebook will never be the same. Most Syrians do not want to fight their government. But they do want to enjoy life and have a degree of liberty.

This cartoon is taken from the Nobles News site in Syria, which says that its site: Shabab lak – a youth site, which has over 56,000 members among Syria's youth, has also been blocked.

Syria Blocks Facebook
Source: Al-Safir, Lebanon, November 19, 2007

In a move angering many, particularly young people, Syrian authorities yesterday blocked the Facebook website.

No government body has explained the meaning of the move, but observers estimate that it was motivated by fear of Israelis infiltrating the Syrian social networks being formed by site members.

Syrians find new friend in Beirut
Facebook ban marks latest in series of restrictions that have driven dissidents to Lebanon

BEIRUT — To the outside world, Lebanon's constantly turbulent political scene can make the country seem like a dangerous place to visit. But to Syrians who have fallen out with the regime of President Bashar Assad, the tiny country next door is a democratic paradise.

With Mr. Assad's regime moving in recent months toward even tighter controls on free speech and dissent – this week it banned access to the popular Facebook social-networking website – a growing number of young Syrian dissidents have settled here in Lebanon, the only Arab country where they feel free to express their opinions and continue their political activism…..

The Perils of Engagement By: Jeff Robbins | The Wall Street Journal
If the Bush administration were truly "engaged," the argument goes, the chances for Middle East peace would be greatly improved. Next week's meeting in Annapolis, Md., between Israel and at least certain of its Arab interlocutors has the look and feel of more of the same.

Bring Syria into the Talks By: Yossi Alpher | International Herald Tribune
Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, is not moderate, at times resembles a Mafia chieftain more than a head of state and threatens war with Israel. But he has not been invited to Annapolis because Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President George W. Bush don't want to talk to him until he cleans up his act and stops assassinating Lebanese politicians and meddling in Iraq.

Comments (46)


1. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

“It was completely democratic and new. Undoubtedly this made it very scary for the authorities. ”

I agree with your analysis regarding facebook but would like to ask: Why would the authorities find it so scary? What are they scared of if as you and Alex claim the majority of Syrians support the regime?

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November 22nd, 2007, 7:08 pm

 

2. Sami said:

i understand what the Syrians did. Facebook was shutting down anti-zionist websites left and right while closing an eye on virulent anti-arab and anti-muslim groups and content.

if Facebook and other services give themselves the right to shut us up, we should shut them out and deprive them of making money in our markets.

Facebook and others have to realize that there are costs to their crackdown on our speech so long as their price is higher than ours.

in the case of Facebook, there are no negative consequences to shutting it out from Syria since civil society can use regular mailing lists and regular websites. those are not banned in Syria. to suggest that Facebook is the foundation of Syrian virtual civil society is quite an exaggeration. civil society has other serious issues to worry about in Arab countries.

if any, this may encourage local Arab Facebook-like systems to flourish.

I have been shut out of a number of forums simply for attacking israel, while Israelis were allowed to post racist and hateful content openly.

I thank the Syrians for their courage.

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November 22nd, 2007, 8:17 pm

 

3. Majhool said:

Group: We ♥ Bashar Al-Assad
Network: Global
Size: 939 members

Group: We Love the First Lady*
Network: Global
Size: 819 members

Group: Hafez al-Assad
Network: Global
Size: 29 members
Type: Common Interest – Politics

Fans of ” Bab L 7ara ”
Network: Global
Size: 7,720 members

I love MO3TAZ (bab il 7ara)
Network: Global
Size: 2,370 members

In short, to those who are familiar with Alex’s poor statistics, the president has lower genuine love and support than an actor from the popular show bab el hara. Hafez Assad scores so low that a group celebrating a newborn would have more members.

Syrians so far were pragmatists but that not to be mixed with genuine support.

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November 22nd, 2007, 8:28 pm

 

4. ausamaa said:

I have not anayzed the political angle of theFacebook, but I sure hope they block it everywhere. My teenage daughter is spending so many hours on this Facebook stuff every day, and I just do not see the positive angle of the whole thing. Getting too old I guess!!! Bringing People Together?? Has the email, chats, and mobiles failed so miserably that we now need Facebook to fill our time.

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November 22nd, 2007, 8:54 pm

 

5. Alex said:

MAJHOOL

If you check my facebook profile … you can see the groups I am a member of

You will see that I am a member in “Free Michel Kilo”

and I am NOT a member in “We love Bashar Al-Assad”

Does that make me a Syrian opposition?

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November 22nd, 2007, 9:03 pm

 

6. Alex said:

AIG,

It is not about minority or Majority … just like you say that the majority of Palestinians are nce people … but you still worry about the Palestinians who are not too “nice” to you … and you build a security wall to protect yourself.

The regime in Syria is authoritarian .. it happens to be popular these days but it obviously does not enjoy the officially claimed 99.5 popularity.

Majhool knows … if he wishes to remember .. taht I told him that this year will witness a few steps backward in freedom of speech in Syria … I told him that the regime is more worried that this year there will be a higher possibility of increased pressure … this pressure could be an American Israeli support for the separatist Kurds, it could be a Saudi Jordanian support for the more militant types of the Muslim brotherhood/Al-Qaeda …

So … officers from the intelligence community will tell the president that if he wants them to do their job right this year .. they need more control … they do not want Facebook and the other forums …

Too bad, but … it’s ok. It is not the end of the world… adn it is really not that effective … those who want to use the Internet to communicate their anti-regime ideas have many other ways …

Whatever.

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November 22nd, 2007, 9:15 pm

 

7. Kamal said:

Free Syrians:

You are, and always will be, welcome in Lebanon.

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November 22nd, 2007, 9:19 pm

 

8. Majhool said:

Alex,

It does not make you in opposition. but common people are usually driven by their support, for them its black and white and if they really dig the guy they would show their support. are you saying that the stats above does not have any meaning? a country of 20 million and only less that a thousand are interested in showing their support? I dont mind you supoorting the regime, but your creditablity is weakened when you fail to see the obvious.

You know that my conditional support was linked to the extent that Bashar would open up the country. this is now over. I don’t give a shit what his heads of secuirty tell him, I represent a segment of this society, and let me assure you that our happiness, interests and outlook on the future dont meet their interests.

Usamma, Allah y3en bentak 3alik.

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November 22nd, 2007, 9:32 pm

 

9. Majhool said:

Ya3ni reading what Sami had to say really made me sad. The silly guy thinks he has the right to regulate what people need and not need to use, read, or think.. eh tedrab sa3i.

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November 22nd, 2007, 9:36 pm

 

10. Majhool said:

Alex continues to give his thusfar boring spin on reality. His distorted version of relaity the he likes to market, is that Syrians follow either the opposition (khadam, MB, Khilo, ets) or the regime and that the regime is stronger. That is valid when you go lobby a forign power, but that needs not to be mixed with the people’s feelings.

Eh we are not first graders. we all know that the vast majority dont follow and support either camps. The people oppose the current system that is producing both the regime and the opposition.

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November 22nd, 2007, 9:52 pm

 

11. Offended said:

Maktoob was about to launch an Arabic equivalent of Facebook. I wonder what happened to this project.

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November 22nd, 2007, 10:02 pm

 

12. Alex said:

Majhool

You are welcome to change your opinion as dramatically as you want. My opinion already had this “bad news” in it … you do remember that I told you Syria will witness a deterioration in freedom of speech this year.

Life is a bit more complex than Facebook access in Syria or not.

While the Israelis are cooking more stupid pressure tools against Syria, the Lebanese are totally unable to agree on anything alone … the American administration is split in two .. Palestineis split in two .. Iraq in three … Facebook is not going to make me flip.

As for your incredibly convincing statistics .. no comment … other than to ask you to look at the world’s top sites and tell me if the the site for the white house is more popular than porn sites… and if you see CNN or ABC News or CBS News among the top sites.

People are on Facebook to have fun .. teens are not into politics like you being a 30 year old political science student.

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November 22nd, 2007, 10:04 pm

 

13. Alex said:

No agreement with Syria … let’s welcome the stupidities again:

the facility was a plutonium processing plant

JERUSALEM—A Syrian site bombed by Israel in September was probably a plant for assembling a nuclear bomb, an Israeli nuclear expert said Thursday, challenging other analysts’ conclusions that it housed a North Korean-style nuclear reactor.
more stories like this

Tel Aviv University chemistry professor Uzi Even, who worked in the past at Israel’s Dimona nuclear reactor, said satellite pictures of the site taken before the Israeli strike on Sept. 6 showed no sign of the cooling towers and chimneys characteristic of reactors.

Even said the absence of telltale features of a reactor convinced him the building must have housed something else. And a rush by the Syrians after the attack to bury the site under tons of soil suggests the facility was a plutonium processing plant and they were trying to smother lethal doses of radiation leaking out.

Their incredible ability to come up with more and more new “evidence” for totally new hypotheses .. as long as they all say that there was something Nuclear about the site… something .. one way or another…. and they always have an expert somewhere who will explain why we need to believe the nuclear thing… and there are always newspapers who will print the latest fantastic story.

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November 22nd, 2007, 10:10 pm

 

14. Majhool said:

Alex,

You said: “People are on Facebook to have fun .. teens are not into politics like you being a 30 year old political science student”

If that’s the case, then spare us your argument that the scare of Kurds, Lenbanese, and Americans is what motivated the block of Facebook. Its about control, its about wanting to kill any free outlet for the people. This mentality is not acceptable we had enough control under Hafez and we cannot take it anynmore.

Let me remind you with something you always repeated to me ” 90% of the youth (teens) love Bashar!” Those teens seem to forget their love once they sign on. funny. right? Your 60% support for bashar was based on that 90% support among teen…what dont your remind us all with your stats?

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November 22nd, 2007, 10:14 pm

 

15. Offended said:

Majhool,
Do you think that those scares are not genuine?

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November 22nd, 2007, 10:18 pm

 

16. Alex said:

Majhool,

Don’t mix the two arguments.

1) If we are arguing about stats and numbers, then you can look at my “People are on Facebook to have fun” counterarguemnt to your stats that asked the question: why is Bashar’s group less popular that Bab el7ara (a popular TV series)

2) If we are arguing about “why did the security people feel uncomfortable with Facebook and other similar online spaces” .. then you have my other argument about trying to make it difficult for the opposition activists to communicate easily without fear of being monitored.

I am not voting for this facebook ban, in case you did not understand me. But I am offering one possible explanation as to why it happened.

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November 22nd, 2007, 10:20 pm

 

17. Majhool said:

Offended,

They are genuine. But the crack of personal freedoms has little to do with the “scare” annd nothing to do with people’s interests. so you support the ban on blogspot, facebook and youtube?

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November 22nd, 2007, 10:24 pm

 

18. Enlightened said:

This is a further sign of the The Syrian Regime, not letting any form of open discussion growing. It is a tool for associating, and that is dangerous for a regime that counts survival and longevity as its utmost priority.

It is surprising that this form of censorship, has gone a little too far, what is the regime really afraid of here? Is facebook endangering national security? I think not!

Anyway there are many ways of circumventing the ban, and there are a few Arab bloggers letting the young Syrians know how to get around the ban. What next maybe they will ban the internet completely.

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November 22nd, 2007, 10:45 pm

 

19. IsraeliGuy said:

Syrian bloggers’ reactions to the Facebook ban
http://www.globalvoicesonline.org/2007/11/19/syria-facebook-banned/

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November 22nd, 2007, 11:04 pm

 

20. Majhool said:

Thank you IsraeliGuy

Golaniya says

Who lives in Syria knows that it’s the country of “nothing’s going on” except to hang out in old Damascus’ cafes, but recently there has been a cultural awakening; people are starting to organize their interests in concerts, galleries, conferences, plays, screenings…etc. and Facebook is facilitating the process which is very hard to do in an inactive militarily controlled society. There are no cultural institutions in Syria, no private independent NGOs, no civic institutions, who represent the populations except the government? Syrian Facebookers are trying now to represent themselves. Those who cannot be activists in a “real” Syria can be one in a virtual Syria,” she writes.

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November 22nd, 2007, 11:15 pm

 

21. trustquest said:

This comment to Josh only:
Thanks Josh for eventually mentioning the facebook blocking even you did not mention previous blockings like youtube and blogspot, even you were late. Thank AIG for being the first to mention the blocking.
Josh, if you ask me, as an ordinary guy following up on events and seen the facebook groups in Syria, why they did the blocking, I believe the blocking was for those simple sites like protecting the Old City of Damascus and others you mentioned are behind those closing. The regime will never ever allow people to speak their minds and they will never ever allow people to congregates, it is that simple and it is that stiff.

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November 23rd, 2007, 12:30 am

 

22. Majhool said:

trustquest,

I salut your comments.

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November 23rd, 2007, 12:52 am

 

23. norman said:

March 14 people in Lebanon just rejected MR Auon’s proposal,
It looks like Lebanon is going to war.!

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November 23rd, 2007, 1:03 am

 

24. Majhool said:

Norman,

And you call that a proposal? be real.

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November 23rd, 2007, 1:13 am

 

25. Alex said:

Yes Norman … they did… they are going for half+one regardless of who shows up at Parliament.. even though Saad Hariri said few days ago that he will go for that.

We will now wait for Lahoud and/or General Suleiman to announce their decision tomorrow night Beirut time.

This is a chess game … all possibilities for the next few moves are already calculated by all sides.

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November 23rd, 2007, 1:16 am

 

26. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Trustquest,
My pleasure. I would like to mention again that it was CWW that confirmed from Syria that facebook was blocked.

For those that believe that email lists are a good replacement for facebook, you are absolutely wrong. The beauty of facebook and other social sites is their ability to suggest to you groups to join. There is no such feature with email lists. You can only join a group proactively. So imagine an average Syrian that joined facebook for the fun. He or she does not plan to be an activist but suddenly gets a suggestion to join a group to protect the Old City. If this interests him at all he will join because it is so easy and all of a sudden, he is supporting a political goal. And one thing may lead to another.

There is always the last small straw that breaks the camel’s back. Could blocking facebook be it?

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November 23rd, 2007, 1:19 am

 

27. Majhool said:

Khalas Syria and its allies, decided to go to confrontation, Auon and Hezbullah bluffed everyone as they were not interested in Michele Eddeh or others. It was Aoun or nothing. Malla wefa2.

We all know that if Hizbullah/ Berry wanted they can ellect a president with Hariri with/without Aoun’s consent.
In relality Mulsims ( and christian elected with muslim votes can elect a maronite president without any maronite support)

instability in Lebanon means more kame3 in syria in the name “struggle”

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November 23rd, 2007, 1:23 am

 

28. norman said:

Thank God for Hezbollah , they blocked the Sunni Muslims from electing their choice for the Christian Lebanese, That is the problem with the Taif accord, The Christian Lebanese should have the right to have their choice for president without Muslim Interference.
Apparently the Us is pushing for confrontation , The Peace meeting in the US is just a diversion.

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November 23rd, 2007, 1:43 am

 

29. Torstein said:

Isn’t a more likely reason for blocking it that people increasingly move their e-mail and messaging activity into facebook, making it harder to monitor when it is geared towards the regular programmes and e-mail providers?

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November 23rd, 2007, 1:44 am

 

30. Kamal said:

> Thank God for Hezbollah , they blocked the Sunni Muslims from
> electing their choice for the Christian Lebanese, That is the
> problem with the Taif accord, The Christian Lebanese should have the
> right to have their choice for president without Muslim
> Interference.

Norman, you’re a bit crazy, aren’t you?

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November 23rd, 2007, 1:56 am

 

31. norman said:

Aoun is the choice for the Lebanese Christian as he won their vote against the Harreri clan and should be elected by parliament to represent the Christians of Lebanon.

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November 23rd, 2007, 2:03 am

 

32. Majhool said:

Taif Accord! Norman just FYI, The Taif is the constitution of Lebanon. And it was a result of an agreemnet between waring parties. the maronites losts the war and a new system was devised. Shia’s are not trying to be nice to maronites, they are just using them for convenience. If they are genuine then they would call to change the constitution to restore marnite power. In fact, the Shia want more seats at the expense of maronites whome they feel are “over represented”

The reality is that the parlimant has the real power in lebanon. and with the majority of voters are muslims they have the power.

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November 23rd, 2007, 2:38 am

 

33. norman said:

Majhool,

The constitution of Lebanon should change to reflect the realities of real democracy with one man one vote for president and for election of parliament after having districts where two reps will be elected and one senator like the US system ,the country will have a senate and house of representatives ,the districts are divided with equal number of people , people have property right and freedom to move in the country of Lebanon , antidiscrimination laws in housing and employment should be implemented so these districts will change religion mix with time and people will be electing people from these districts whom are known to these residents. so religion will be less important with time , this System can be implemented in other Arab countries and can lead to a true liberty.

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November 23rd, 2007, 3:08 am

 

34. Akbar Palace said:

Norman said:

Thank God for Hezbollah

Norman,

Will you still be saying that if they start another war?

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November 23rd, 2007, 3:15 am

 

35. norman said:

AP,
You mean If Israel starts another war , Yes so they beat Israel and force the Israelis to flee and this time from all of Palestine not just the northern part of it to the EU and Brooklyn.

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November 23rd, 2007, 3:47 am

 

36. ausamaa said:

And then the people of the EU and Brooklyn will have a true taste of the famous Israeli “Democracy”??!!! Not a good idea!

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November 23rd, 2007, 7:29 am

 

37. offended said:

I was glad to see that : http://www.lustylibrary.com wasn’t blocked in Syria. Alas, it’s blocked in the UAE.

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November 23rd, 2007, 1:13 pm

 

38. Huda said:

why did you assume that Facebook is a human right or that somehow denial of access to Facebook synonymous with repression.

there are many Western companies that limnit access to Facebook for various reasons.

if Syria shuts down the internet then that’s problematic. but Facebook?

you will find plenty of reasons to prove why countries like Israel or Syria are run by brutal people, access to Facebook is not a good litmus test for freedoms.

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November 23rd, 2007, 1:21 pm

 

39. EHSANI2 said:

HUDA,

What is “your” litmus test for freedoms? What is the measuring stick or metric that you use? When you define it, please tell us how Syria fares against your metric.

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November 23rd, 2007, 2:47 pm

 

40. Majhool said:

Norman

“The constitution of Lebanon should change”

Don’t be nieve. The constitution benifits the muslims. HA and Hariri would not allow it. Besides ammending the Taif is not on the agenda at the moment.

“to reflect the realities of real democracy with one man one vote for president”

If that’s the case then Muslims will chose the president!!!

I recall that you were calling for a compromise president, now that Syria, Iran, and HA did not allow for one, you are calling for a change in the constitution. funny.

This tribal politics is what’s hurting the arab world, if the constitution does not suite a camp they dismiss it.

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November 23rd, 2007, 6:10 pm

 

41. trustquest said:

Syria and the whole Arab countries announce today that they are joining the Annapolis, MD peace conference, including Syria. The whole post about Syrian rejection to join the conference becomes null now. Josh, The question now, did Syria exchanged the Golan for Lebanon president.

Ehsani, the strategy which Syrian authorities know very well since the 1960s, is that if you have a gathering of people, all you have to do is spread them out and then you defuse their purpose. The same strategy is used and will be used on the internet. Every time the assembly starts to be effective, it blocked out and the assembly will loose effectiveness and energy to gather again unless there are smart guys who keep track and re-congregate, but even after that, due to change interface it would be tasteless. So, yes the regime is effective in slowing the civil change and evolution.

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November 23rd, 2007, 7:21 pm

 

42. Bashmann said:

What is interesting about the blocking of Facebook is that we are all talking about it now. Arab governments have practiced internet censorship for the past 20 years or so and have become increasingly bullish about their tactics.
In one report I read that internet café’s managers have been employed by the secret services to report and videotape anyone using sites such as Facebook and the likes. This is a great example of what Steve Heydemann talked about in his paper “Upgrading Authoritarianism in the Arab World”. In Saudia Arabia the number of sites that have been blocked exceeds 400,000. In fact the country sits at the top of the list in the world in internet censorship.

But Syria is special case. The Mukhabarat (Secret Services) are completely disconnected from the reality and sophistication of today’s communication tools and the decision to block a certain sites is most likely being taken at the general security level headed by Mr. Asef Shawkat. The declaration by the minister of communications about him not giving any orders to block Facebook is evidence of this. He would not dare say who or when the order was given but he sure most likely knows who is pulling the strings. Shawkat is an illiterate thug who sees spies and enemies everywhere and he will go to extreme length to silence or put out any signs of freedom of assembly in any form in Syria.

Cheers

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November 23rd, 2007, 10:15 pm

 

43. norman said:

Majhool,

The problem that i see is that ,If the constitution of Lebanon does not change in peace then that will happen with force and war , it does not matter if the president is Muslim or Christian as long as he represent the aspirations of the Lebanese without outside interference , so should be the case in all Arab countries.

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November 23rd, 2007, 10:50 pm

 

44. Friend in America said:

This is off topic but here is the latest analysis of commercial (not military or intelligence) satellite photos of the Dayr az Zawr site. It is a careful analysis of the photography and the polictical activity following the Israeli strike. The most recent photos were taken last Wednesday. There were others in October and August.

” WASHINGTON (AP) — New commercial satellite images show a suspected Syrian nuclear reactor site has been wiped clean since it was bombed September 6 by Israeli aircraft.

Wednesday’s image of the same site shows the area wiped clean.

Analysts say the cleanup will hinder a proposed investigation by international nuclear inspectors and suggests Syria is trying to conceal evidence.

“It took down this facility so quickly it looks like they are trying to hide something,” said David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, which analyzed the images.

An image taken Wednesday by a DigitalGlobe commercial satellite shows tractors or bulldozers and scrape marks on the ground where the building stood in photos taken prior to the September Israeli attack.

It also shows what appears to be a trench where Syria might have dug up buried pipelines running from a water pumping station to the suspected reactor building.

Albright said Syria may have acted so swiftly because the Israeli attack blew a hole in the roof, which would have exposed the building’s contents to spy aircraft and satellites. Watch Albright find clues in the “before” and “after” pictures »

Had the building not been razed, inspectors would have been able to tell from its construction whether it was meant to house a North Korean-style nuclear reactor, Albright said. He said the fact that the structure got a roof so early in its construction also suggests that it was a reactor.

“That’s another bit of support that it was a reactor being built with North Korean help,” he said. “From what we understand, North Korea builds reactors in an old-fashioned way; the roof goes on early.” More modern reactors leave the roof until last to allow large cranes to lift heavy equipment into place, he said.

The building was under construction for at least a year, based on analysis of earlier commercial images put together by SPOT Image, another commercial imagery company, Albright said.

DigitalGlobe’s satellites captured four images of the site on four recent days — August 10, 15, and 28 and October 24. Company spokesman Chuck Herring would not say whether DigitalGlobe captured those images speculatively or at the request of a customer.

Syria, which is a member of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, denies it was building a nuclear reactor. It has a single small nuclear research reactor that operates under international safeguards. The alleged new reactor would have operated outside those controls.”

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November 23rd, 2007, 11:21 pm

 

45. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

November 24th, 2007, 6:04 am

 

46. Tali Aben said:

Isn’t it great that Israel can be used as an excuse for so many things…

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December 8th, 2007, 8:50 pm

 

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