George Saghir Responds to Samir Aita

George Saghir responds to Samir Aita’s Critique
by George Saghir
for Syria Comment
February 16, 2011

What I would have loved to read in Mr. Aita’s critique of my article – What Does the Future Hold for Syria – is a road map for how Syria can achieve its objective of 7-8 percent economic growth. I was looking forward to a discussion on the role of the public sector and the merits (or not) of privatization. For the record, I am in the privatization camp. I was hoping that I would learn what Syria should do to attract the enormous amounts of foreign investments that its government has set as a top policy objective. Sadly, Mr. Aita decided to spend his energy refuting my population growth estimates and accusing me of being part of a discourse talking about Arabs who are “underdeveloped and making a lot of children”.

The population growth assumption:

In comment number 50 in my post, I reiterated to one of the readers the source and logic behind my data. The latest statistic from Damascus is sourced from end of 2009 data. My source is the UN’s population division. The tables can be accessed by visiting their population database which is under “the 2008 revision”. Readers are invited to do so themselves. Those who decide to do so will notice that the tables are listed in 5 year increments. The population growth rate for the 2005-2010 is clearly listed at 3.26%.

Mr. Aita explains that this number is due to the sudden rise of the population in 2006-2007 as Syrian experienced the arrival of around 1.5 million Iraqis. If Mr. Aita is correct in his hypothesis that Iraqi refugees are behind the 3.25% and that Syria has no population problem to worry about then great. Perhaps he should arrange for a meeting with the country’s health minister and assure you him of such since he said the following just a few days ago:

واعتبر الوزير تسارع النمو السكاني مشكلة كبيرة، وسيتم التعامل معها بجدية في هذه المرحلة، من خلال التعاون مع هيئة تنظيم الأسرة للعمل على تخفيض نسبة الولادات، مشيراً إلى أن هذه المشكلة لا تؤثر على القطاع الصحي فحسب بل على كافة القطاعات، ولذا فإن معالجتها لا تنحصر بوزارة الصحة بل هي قائمة على تعاون جميع الوزارات مع بعضها البعض، ولا يكفي تحديد النسل بل يجب نشر الثقافة والتوعية من خلال السلطات الدينية

The health minister is not alone of course. Various government officials including the Prime Minister himself have warned of high population growth rate over the past few years. Hopefully, they don’t also belong to my group of people who are accusing Arabs of being “underdeveloped and making a lot of children”.

Where Mr. Aita does agree with me is on the low participation rates for women. Not only does he repeat my point here but he goes a step further and informs us that:

“Not only is the participation of women in the labor force low in Syria, but it has declined significantly!”

It would have helped of course if he would have shared with us his reasoning of how the low and falling labor participation rates for women would be consistent with a falling population rates to 1.69%. I was under the impression that a population rate of as low as 1.69% for Syria would be consistent with much higher women labor participation rates especially that day-care help is not widespread in our society. This was again a missed opportunity for us to learn more from Mr. Aita.

Unemployment:

I have spent almost 20 years analyzing the relationship between economic growth and the performance of the labor market in the U.S. My note for Syria Comment was not a research paper on growth-employment dynamics. If he felt that my argument was too simplistic then he ought to know that this was precisely what the objective was. Of course, employment and growth are not automatically or perfectly correlated.

That a person with Mr. Aita intellect would say that I want “consciously or not – that Syria follows the fate of Egypt” is indeed astonishing as he himself phrased it.

We are told that consecutive Egyptian governments have tried to increase growth and reduce the population growth rate as their only slogans for “more than two decades”.

This is an inaccurate statement.

Egypt failed to grow its per capita nominal income for nearly two decades. The country’s average nominal GDP per capita was little changed at $2160 in 2009 compared with $2155 in 1989. The economic reforms did not start till 2004 when the former President was finally convinced that he needs to do something to increase growth. Thanks to corruption and cronyism these reforms never trickled down and the simplistic per capita nominal income does a fine job at explaining why Egypt has struggled of late.

Subsidies:

Mr. Aita and the IMF article IV seem to know more about the extent of the subsidies in Syria than the government itself. I do stand by my $8 billion number.

Politically speaking, reducing the subsidies in this environment is not going to be easy as I alluded to in my post. This does not make the subsidies a sound government policy. Subsidies distort the price signals that allocate resources efficiently in an economy. This is a fact. As for the public sector, Mr. Aita defends the sector and the people who decide to seek employment in it. Indeed, Syrians are rationale individuals. The public sector is a magnet for those in the labor force. Government jobs come with a formal contract, health insurance, retirement benefits, maternity leave, “and a minimum level of dignity even when the salaries are low”. It is of course also a job for life so it comes with tremendous security that the private sector will not match. While no one disputes the above, this is hardly a rationale or an endorsement of the sector as a viable economic model.

My “dependency on the state” comment:

The readers seem to have responded negatively when I inferred that the Syrian public has grown dependent on the state. This is fair. Perhaps a better way to have phrased my idea was to say that the state has made the public dependent on it. Most government programs are easier to get into than getting out of. Subsidies and publicly owned enterprises are no exceptions. The Syrian state spends an enormous amount of subsidies on basic commodities and especially energy products. The public criticizes the government for the lack of services ignoring the cost of subsidies and state employment costs. Were the state to have the hindsight of 20/20, there is very little probability that it would have designed such a subsidy system in the first place. I strongly believe that it would not have chosen to be in the business of running so many businesses either. Regrettably, it did.

There is no doubt that the subsidies help cushion the gap between income and expenditures for the low income groups. While the poor benefits, the rich benefits by more. The average Syrian family consumes 600 liters of mazot per year. The range of consumption is 200 to 2000 liters. The government has recently raised the price per liter from SYP 7 TO SYP 20. The family that consumes 200 liters had to endure an extra outlay of $56 a year.   The family that consumes 2000 liters (presumable the wealthy), had to incur 10 times that.
Total subsidies on total energy products (including electricity and fuel) add up to approximately $5.6 billion a year.

How does an average family benefit from say Mazot subsidies?

Given that the average consumption is 600 liters, monthly outlays on mazot add up to SYP 12,000 a year or SYP 1000 a month. The statistics office has recently announced that average median family expenditure on all items is close to SYP 30,000 a month. This means that spending on energy is 1/30 of monthly family spending on all items. The people who benefit from the subsidies are therefore not necessarily the average and poor income families. It is the industrialists who use cheap subsidized fuel and electricity to power plants. It is the smugglers who empty their tanks across the border.

When it comes to electricity, it costs the government SYP 8 per kilowatt. It is sold to households for SYP 2 and to industry for SYP 4. The higher rates only apply when one consumes as high as 2000 kilowatts. It is easy to do the math. There are 5 million household and 3.7 million independent dwellings in Syria.

Education is free in Syria. It should be for the poor. But why should the wealthy end up getting the same benefit. My own parents did not need the subsidies to send me to a Syrian university. The money that they received in my subsidized education at the time should have gone to a hospital or to an infrastructure project.

In sum, subsidies cannot be a blanket right for every Syrian citizen. The government must find a way to do a targeted approach where only the needy receive the help they so desperately need. Robbing from paul (hospitals, roads, infrastructure) to give to peter (my parents who can afford buying sugar, rice, mazot and electricity at market prices) does not strike me as a sustainable business model. With time, the government will go broke opening its subsidy checkbook to 23 million Syrians and growing.

More on the Syrian PMI:

Having checked my name following the posting of my note, Mr. Aita came across the realization that I was “a specialist in financial derivatives”. That discovery seems to have raised his concerns about the fate of our beloved country that has “charged” a person like me with publishing a “reliable” indicator. Mr. Aita should take comfort from the fact that The Syrian government is not directly or indirectly involved in this project. Both Banque Audi and I were not charged by anyone with carrying out this project.

The PMI stands for the Purchasing Managers Index. I have been following this economic indicator since the mid 1980’s. It is widely monitored by both policy makers and global investors. Over the past few years, the index was developed for an increasing list of economies thanks to its simplicity and timeliness. Over time, the index does an excellent job at tracking a country’s GDP. More specifically, it helps indicate whether business conditions in a country are improving, decelerating or staying the same this month versus last month.

Like many developing countries, Syria suffers from the lack of timely data. Following a personal meeting with the chief Executive of Banque Audi –Syria during one of my visits to the country, a discussion took place about the merits of looking into whether such an initiative can take place in Syria. After a few months of discussions, we decided to undertake such an endeavor. Those in charge of calculating the index in the U.S, Saudi and the UAE were contacted. The formulas and methodologies were checked and agreed upon. The success of the index will be based on the response rate from Syrian businesses. This was explained during a meeting with key business owners back in December. Senior members of the Syrian government were notified and were present during the launch. It is important to reiterate that this is a private undertaking. The Syrian government has not “charged” anyone to carry out this effort. Government officials have made it clear that they will support and encourage similar private initiatives and that the presence of Mr. Dardari at the launch was not an exclusive endorsement of this project at the expense of other similar future endeavors. The role of the Syrian government, and especially the office of Mr. Dardari, was exemplary. They supported the project but at an arm’s length. Lastly, it is worth noting that Saghir Advisory Services was recently created just to carry out this none-for-profit initiative. More details especially under the frequently asked questions (About Us tab) can be found by visiting this website.

The U.S. Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) has recently been renamed the Institute of Supply Management (ISM) report on business:

The Syria PMI is modeled on the US version and will use the same exact methodology.

Comments (76)


Syrian Nationalist Party said:

“……….It is of course also a job for life so it comes with tremendous security that the private sector will not match. While no one disputes the above, this is hardly a rationale or an endorsement of the sector as a viable economic model….”

Not only no longer a viable option, it is not sustainable anymore, it will crash and take who is relying on it down as well in the end. California is one good example, most likely outcome soon is State default or bankruptcy and the beneficiaries who relied (milked) the Public Sector dry will end up losing all the same benefits, or having to be forced to eliminate some and drastically reduce some. That forced adjustment of course will crash the state economy further, a vicious circle. It is better managed before it gets to the bottom, while there is some room to maneuver. And that is what the Baathists in Syria needs to appreciate.

“The success of the index will be based on the response rate from Syrian businesses”

This is how it will produce numbers that are far more inaccurate than Dardari’s numbers. Syrian still do business in “under the table ways”. Too many regulations control and effect buying in Syria and Managers will find creative ways to circumvent those to either save tax, duties, accountability for accounting balances, accounting for under the table transactions, etc. Try an Index indicator that will work in Syria, the HSWMI Index (Hand Shake and word of mouths Index). This PMI or ISM in Syria is like putting a Ferrari in front of Donkey and yelling push. I mean do you really think that Syria’s economy is now structured like those of Germany or USA, 70% of villages still has no running water and electricity.

February 16th, 2011, 3:09 pm

 

G.Saghir said:

Jihad,

In the previous post, you have made repeated references about

Banque Audi questioning the bank’s ethical standard and independence.

Banque Audi can defend itself. It does not need me. I do, however, find your comments rather curious.

In comment 31, you claimed that this bank and others “brought nothing to Lebanon but extreme levels of debt and poverty”. You then proceed to claim that It’s well-known how the bank “got there and how similar banks in Beirut made their money on the backs of the Lebanese people.”

Banks do not create debt. Governments do. The banks end up financing the debt of the government by buying that debt to earn income. They do so by paying less on their deposits (bank liabilities) than what these government securities yield. What the banks do in Lebanon is exactly what goes on in the U.S., Japan and the EU. If the banks do not participate in buying government debt, it is likely that the sellers of these securities will end up paying more in interest to sell the securities to none bank participants in government debt auctions.

Banks have received bad press lately following the credit crisis. This is mostly deserved in so far as some of the banks lowered their underwriting standards and made loans that they should not have made. They also were at fault for using high leverage ratios in managing their balance sheets. The Lebanese banks have not suffered from such mistakes. The Central Bank has done an outstanding job in regulating the group. I am hard pressed to find any credible support for your above criticisms.

As for the involvement of Banque Audi with the Syria PMI, I am honored to have them as partners. As we explain on the site, the role of the bank is to help us reach out to businesses and encourage them to join our panel of respondents. The institution will have no access to the data once a business decides to join. The responses and identities of those who answer the survey will remain totally anonymous.

SNP,

During the launch. he business community seemed very interested in the index. One hopes that they will indeed participate. The success of this effort depends on whether they respond and spend the 10 minutes of their time monthly that is required.

February 16th, 2011, 6:49 pm

 

G.Saghir said:

Many felt uncomfortable with my dependency on the state comment. I have expanded on the section dealing with this issue in the post above.

February 16th, 2011, 7:33 pm

 

Jad said:

“Total subsidies on total energy products (including electricity and fuel) add up to approximately $5.6 billion a year.”
ELECTRICITY? Are you kidding me?
In the US it is anywhere from .09 northern central states to over .20 in Hawaii while In Canada it can be as cheap as .06 in Manitoba to .10 in Ontario, In Syria any household pays as much as any Canadian or American without the generous subsidize you are bragging about while the services in those two countries are 100 times better than the one in Syria which goes on and off for hours and days sometimes, so to tell us that subsidizing electricity is something that we should be thankful for is too much to accept, I feel that I’m reading a 1960 government statement not a serious article.
How much do you want the electricity to be sold for us then? 10$?

Regarding your explanation of Mazot (which in my opinion 1/30 doesn’t reflect reality at all), and if the problem is with the industry why don’t you force industry to use cleaner and renewable energy instead of asking all your citizens not to dare to ask for help from its government?
“Education is free in Syria. It should be for the poor. But why should the wealthy end up getting the same benefit.” Please tell me your definition of the wealthy and the poor in Syria when most of the Syrian middle class are already under the poor category and the rich ones are listed in forbs magazine, besides, all my rich friends didn’t even bother to study at any of the Syrian university, they went abroad. not to mention that you need to get 90% at least to get into any university if you don;t want to pay the $3000-6000 education at those unrecognized private universities.
“In sum, subsidies cannot be a blanket right for every Syrian citizen.” I disagree, it can and it should with the right management
“The government must find a way to do a targeted approach where only the needy receive the help they so desperately need.” The needy you are referring too are 40% of the Syrians and their numbers are growing while the rich Syrians are not paying their taxes and not bothering giving anything from their wealth, not even the religious ones. (How many rich Syrian you know give Zakat now a day?)
“With time, the government will go broke opening its subsidy checkbook to 23 million Syrians and growing.” The government can pay that and save lots of money if they stop the corruption not by blaming their citizens.

February 16th, 2011, 8:52 pm

 

Syrian Nationalist Party said:

“…We are told that consecutive Egyptian governments have tried to increase growth and reduce the population growth rate as their only slogans for “more than two decades”.

Leave population control outside your economic planning, you cannot predict and control this factor, focus with economic growth and job creation opportunity. Population management failed even in Communist China where they instituted some severe measures for violators, like forced sterilization, even death sentences for some, people found creative ways around it to have 5 or more kids, and this will be the case in Syria and Egypt. You can have the perfect plan and a war next door will suddenly swell your population by few millions and here goes all the planning.

Why Israelis are not instituting population control in their 8 square feet waterless desert saturated State! Why are they paying people huge sum of money and giving free homes to come live and work in Israel? Because they have an economy that wasn’t set up and planned by Salah Al-ddine Bitar and Salah Jadid. It is a free economy, dynamic one, that responds to global situation and markets factors in real time, not on proven disastrous by many countries for Seventy Five years KHUTTA KHUMASSIEH.

It is absurd that an economy will have to wait Five years for change of direction or correction, ridiculous, it will fit in the category of “Believe it or Not”

February 16th, 2011, 10:33 pm

 

Souri said:

Thanks again George Saghir for the very good response. What you say is perfectly what Syria needs to get over the decades of failure on every level that was caused by ‘economic arguments’ similar to those presented by the other writer.

One can only imagine the hell Abdullah Dardari had to live with for 5 years arguing with those people. His is doing a very difficult job, and I truly wish that the president keeps him in office for another decade because he has gathered good experience in dealing with those people.

Mr. Dardari has been focusing lately on improving economic education in Syria, I really wish that the focus be on all fields of education and not just economics, because the hell Mr. Dardari has been living in with those “economists” is the same for everybody coming back from abroad and trying to work in whatever field in Syria. We have in Syria a mummified generation of people who are both lowly qualified and psychologically disturbed. This ‘lost generation’ cannot reform anything. The government must be seeking permanent help from abroad to reform everything, especially education.

The Syrian government must take education reform more seriously. The current plan for education reform in Syria is to allow more private schools to open, to build more free classrooms, and to send out more maps and charts to classrooms. This is far from being enough and it is not going to change anything substantially. Syrian education needs much more radical reform than this. What the government is doing now is similar to what Saudi Arabia was doing 40 years ago. Our goal must be higher than to get at where Saudi Arabia was 40 years ago.

The Syrian government should start concentrating spending on a fewer number of students if it wants education QUALITY to substantially improve. Like Mr. Saghir explained, the current subsidy system for education in Syria does not make sense and it must be reformed ASAP. Free education must be reserved only to the very poor (e.g. those who are covered by the social security fund). Mid-class and high-class students should NOT receive 100% free education. There must be a graded system of subsidy that spends more on those with less income and better credentials. Students who fare badly in elementary education should not receive the same funding for higher education as those who fare well. This is wrong, unfair, and a huge waste of national resources.

The rule must be: the brighter student with less money gets more funding (from both the public and private sectors). Bad and rich students should not receive funding from anybody.

Unless the government uses such a system ASAP, education in Syria will never be up to the task. I wish that somebody like George Saghir writes an article on this very important subject because that might draw attention to it.

February 17th, 2011, 12:42 am

 

Souri said:

In addition to schooling, one important way of educating the public is the media. Articles such as George Saghir’s must be translated into Arabic and published in the Syrian media. The Syrian media (TV, newspapers, websites) almost completely lack such informative, good-quality articles. The existing media will probably refuse to publish articles such as George Saghir’s, so what we need is new, professional newspapers and websites IN ARABIC. Most Syrians (even the educated) can’t read anything other than Arabic, so having professional newspapers and websites in Arabic is vital.

Even the existing private media (e.g. al-Watan newspaper, Syrianews.com, Syriasteps.com, etc.) lacks good quality writers. Syrians abroad must have their voice inside Syria. We can’t let the people be fed all day long with that Soviet nonsense and expect reform to be easy in Syria. The Syrian government ought to change its approach. We must enlighten the people rather than selling them slogans that we don’t do.

February 17th, 2011, 3:26 am

 

Souri said:

Good news:

http://www.alwatan.sy/dindex.php?idn=96263

عاصي لـ«الوطن»: المرسوم 29 سمح لشركات القطاع العام التحول إلى شركات مساهمة عامة

وقالت عاصي: إن المسألة المهمة والجديدة التي تضمنها المرسوم 29 أنه سمح لشركات القطاع العام التحول إلى شركات مساهمة عامة شريطة موافقة رئيس مجلس الوزراء وأن تكون الشركة رابحة مدة ثلاثة أعوام متتالية.

February 17th, 2011, 4:03 am

 

Atassi said:

Syria says jailed blogger worked for CIA

17 February 2011
09:16
Agence France Presse
English

Tal al-Mallouhi, a young Syrian blogger sentenced on Monday to five years in jail for passing on secrets to a foreign country, worked for the US spy agency CIA, the foreign ministry said Thursday.

In October, Syria’s Al-Watan newspaper reported that Mallouhi, a 19-year-old high school student, was being accused of spying for the US embassy in Egypt.

The charge was denied by Washington, which on Saturday called for her “immediate release” and condemned what it called her “secret trial.”

State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said Washington “rejects as baseless allegations of American connections that have resulted in a spurious accusation of espionage.”

“We call on the Syrian government to immediately release all its prisoners of conscience and allow its citizens freedom to exercise their universal rights of expression and association without fear of retribution.”

Syrian rights groups said in late November that Mallouhi was questioned on November 10 by a state security court and returned to a women’s prison in Duma, near Damascus.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the Syrian League for the Defence of Human Rights and the National Organisation for Human Rights in Syria issued a joint statement of “extreme concern” for Mallouhi.

Mallouhi, granddaughter of a former minister under the late Hafez al-Assad, father of President Bashar al-Assad, was “held incommunicado without charge for nine months,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in September.

She was first detained in late December 2009, the US-based group said.

Mallouhi’s home computer, CDs and books were seized by security services, HRW said, although her blog, which contains poetry and social commentary, focuses on the plight of the Palestinians and does not address Syrian politics

February 17th, 2011, 10:26 am

 

jad said:

No comment:
قصة طل الملوحي كما روتها وثيقة رسمية سورية
http://alwatanonline.com/policy_news.php?kind=-1&id=1586

قالت مصادر رسمية سورية ل” الوطن أونلاين” أن كثرة المواقف التي صدرت في الآونة الأخيرة اتجاه قضية الحكم على الشابة طل الملوحي دفعت السلطات السورية إلى إذاعة المعلومات المتعلقة بالتحقيق الذي جرى معها، واستنادا لإفاداتها ومتابعتها من قبل الأجهزة الأمنية. وقدمت المصادر صورتين عن هويتي دبوملوماسيين أمريكيين في القاهرة برتبة سكرتير أول وثاني قالت أنهما تعاملا مع طل لأهداف أمنية، وقد تعذر نشرهما لسوء النسخ التي قدمت.
وتحدثت مديرة الإعلام الخارجي في وزارة الخارجية السورية بشرى كنفاني إلى مجموعة من مراسلي وسائل الإعلام الخارجية بغرض توضيح الصورة الكاملة لقصة الشابة طل، مشيرة أن الأمر بالنسبة لسورية هو أن “الأمن الوطني شيء والعواطف شيء آخر” في إشارة إلى صغر سن الملوحي.
وقالت كنفاني “قرأنا وتابعنا الكثير الاحتجاجات على الحكم الذي صدر عليها بالسجن خمس سنوات، ووجدنا في وزارة الخارجية أن نوضح من هي طل الملوحي ولماذا نالت هذا الحكم؟ ” وشددت كنفاني على أن ملوحي “حوكمت وهي بالغة باعتبارها من مواليد 1991 ” وأوضحت ” دون الرغبة في الخوض في التفاصيل أن المعلومات الشخصية المتوافرة عنها تشير أنها من أسرة مفككة ولم تلق رعاية سليمة ”
ومن ثم قرأت كنفاني من محضر رسمي أمامها أن “طل جندت عن طريق ضابط نمساوي التقت به في القنيطرة ممن يعملون في قوات حفظ السلام، وتعرف إليها وهي في عمر 15 سنة، وقدم الأخير لها الهدايا ومبالغ مالية وطلب منها بعد ذلك بفترة أن تسافر إلى القاهرة وأسرتها حيث أمن لها بعد انتقالها إلى هنالك في 29-9-2006 سكنا في حي شعبي منطقة حلوان وتم ذلك بالتنسيق بين الضابط وشخص مصري آخر اسمه أحمد فوزي حبيب وقام الأخير بافتتاح مقهى انترنت مع والدها ”
وتابعت كنفاني أنه “في شهر آب العام 2008 جاء الضابط النمساوي لمصر، والتقى بها وأقام معها علاقة وصورها ومن ثم قدم القرص الليزري الذي يتضمن صوره الفاضحة معها للسفارة الأمريكية في القاهرة، لتقدم بعد ذلك الشابة طل إلى ضابط مخابرات أمريكي، طلب منها بدوره معرفة أدق التفاصيل عن عمل السفارة السورية في القاهرة، والتركيز على موظف فيها دبلوماسي يعمل سكرتيرا ثالثا هو سامر ربوع ”
ومن ثم ” قام الضابط بعدها بربطها بدبلوماسية أمريكية قدمها لها على أن اسمها جيسيكا، لكن ليتبين أن اسمها الحقيقي هو إيمي سيا كاثرين ديستيفانو وتحمل رقم بطاقة دبلوماسية 6010440 والتي بدورها قامت بتصويرها تقيم علاقة مع سائقها الخاص. ” وإثر ذلك تقول كنفاني ” طلبت جيسيكا من طل أن تقيم علاقات خاصة مع السكرتير الثالث ربوع الذي لم يستجب لطلبها، ثم ثم عملوا بعد ذلك على تجنيده” وذلك دون توضيح كيف تمت هذه العملية، لكن ليقوم الربوع بسبب تلك التطورات بإبلاغ دمشق بمحاولات تجنيده من قبل طل الملوحي وفقا لما بينت كنفاني، التي قرأت ايضا أن جيسيكا كانت طلبت من ملوحي أن “تراجع السفارة في القاهرة حيث تم عرضها على جهاز كشف كذب، وتبين أنها صادقة وقدموا لها بعد ذلك مبالغ مالية وشريحتي هاتف نقال أمريكيين”
لاحقا وفي 17-11-2009 يتعرض الدبلوماسي سامر ربوع لمحاولة قتل أمام منزله في العجوزة حين كان يسير بسيارته، والوقائع المسجلة تقول مسؤولة الخارجية تشير إلى أن فتاة استوقفته (تبين أنها الأمريكية جيسيكا) وقالت أنه داس بسيارته على قدمها، وأنه حين نزل من السيارة ليرى، اعتدى عليه شخص من الخلف مستخدما آلة حادة، وبعد تعارك الاثنين استطاع أن ينجو بنفسه بعد أن تعرض لجرح في وجهه اصابه بشلل دائم في جانب من الوجه، لكن خلال العراك تمكن الدبلوماسي سامر من الحصول على محفظتي الدبلوماسيين وبأسمائهم الكاملة” وهي إيمي سيا كاثرين ديستيفانو وتحمل رقم بطاقة دبلوماسية 6010440 و ستاسي روس ستاربك ويحمل الرقم 6010067 وصفته سكرتير أول.
وقالت كنفاني أنه تبعا لما جرى تصرفت السفارة السورية ب “الشكل التالي فاتصل سفيرنا بالقاهرة يوسف الأحمد بكل من معاون وزير الخارجية المصري لشؤون البلاد العربية عبد الرحمن صلاح، وأبلغه ليلا وطلب سفيرنا اتخاذ الإجراءات الكفيلة بمنهم من السفر من أجل استكمال التحقيق في مصر ” وقامت بعدها الخارجية المصرية بإبلاغ السفيرة الأمريكية في القاهرة مارغريت سكوبي بأن السفارة السورية تطلب ذلك وأنها هددت أنهم إن سافروا فإن السفير السوري سيعقد مؤتمرا صحافيا يكشف يه الواقعة، فأكدت السفارة بقائهم وفي وقت لاحق ثبتت التهمة على ستاربك الذي تم تسفيره من مصر من قبل الخارجية الصمرية لثبات إدانته بالواقعة بمحاولة الاغتيال دبلوماسي سوري.” وأوضحت كنفاني أيضا أن السفارة السورية أقامت دعوى قضائية أمام نيابة شمال الجيزة الكلية تحمل الرقم 32443 في العام 2009 بحق الشخصين”
ومن ثم تعود كنفاني لقضية طل فتقول أنه بعد هذه الوقائع ” طلبت جيسيكتا من طل أن تعود لدمشق مع إسرتها وكلفتها بالعمل داخل القطر ” ومن ضمن المهام التي قامت بها الملوحي وفقا للمصادر ذاتها ” زيارة سجن صيدنايا والتعرف على حالة الموقوفين أكرم البني وفداء حوراني، والعمل على إقامة علاقات مع أكبر عدد ممكن من ضباط الأمن والتقرب ممن تستطيع من المسؤولين السوريين” ووفقا للمصادر فإن ملوحي قامت بنقل ” المعلومات إلى جيسيكا وأعلمتها بأسماء بعض ضباط الأمن العاملين في القوات الأمنية” ليقبض عليها “بالجرم المشهود حيث “حوكمت بالسجن 5 سنوات بتهمة التخابر مع جهات خارجي ” وختمت بشرى كنفاني كنا نتمنى هنا عدم الخوض في هذه المعلومات ولكن ما أثير في الإعلام حولها استدعى التوضيح مضيفة أن ما نقل من معلومات “مسؤولة عنه الخارجية السورية”

February 17th, 2011, 2:01 pm

 

Syrian Nationalist Party said:

As said before, there is more to the story than you know. Here the U.S. ruined another young life, but I guess the girl is ruined already. 5 years for this crime is compassionate, balanced between Sympathy and National Security. She will get much worse sentence in any other Western Countries and will be held liable as accessories for the attack on the Syrian Diplomat, placing him in mortal danger and tempting him to commit treason against the country he serve. I don’t think the 5 years included that charge

February 17th, 2011, 2:37 pm

 

G.Saghir said:

Souri,

Your comments are a breath of fresh air. Thank you.

February 17th, 2011, 2:56 pm

 

Majhool said:

SNP,

While I am not defending Tal for lack of information and transparency through the syrian judicial system, few things in the story don’t make sense.

1. visiting a prisoner is not exposing a state secret, if any thing is an act of dissent.
2. It would make sense that a spy acts in a calculated and cautious way, how is blogging and dissent cautious.
3. Sex accusation is typical tactic to undermine an individualize credibility in the mideast.

February 17th, 2011, 3:14 pm

 

majedkhaldoon said:

SNP
You are too quick to judge,there is no evidence presented that Tal is a spy
There are important news in Damascus
The news from Bahrain,Yemen, Libia,and Algeria indicate that the Arab people revolution is spreading

February 17th, 2011, 3:29 pm

 

Atassi said:

SNP..
Did you actually even considered this Alwatan Story? I would doubt anything published by this websit, stick to the official version and debate it in your mind…….

February 17th, 2011, 3:50 pm

 

Alex said:

Minor parts of the story might be intentionally tuned to get around some of the more sensitive intelligence related details, but I think when she says that foreign ministry is responsible for what she is reporting …

مضيفة أن ما نقل من معلومات “مسؤولة عنه الخارجية السورية

The Syrians do not play these games…. this is extremely serious. A UN Austrian officer is charged of spying for the United States against Syria … Sleeping with a 15 year old Syrian girl then blackmailing her to help them monitor and then attempt to assassinate an officer at the Syrian embassy in Cairo …

They say the attack and their protest are well documented in Egypt and that they have the diplomatic IDs of two Americans.

February 17th, 2011, 4:00 pm

 

majedkhaldoon said:

Alex ,I dont doubt the incidence, but according to the story mentioned above ,The US embassy told TAL about Mr. Rabou3,in other word they already knew about him, what role TAL did in this incident?
Mentioning the few names in the security officers is public knowledge ,is not spying.
Again I want to hear her lawyer words,we need to know the whole story.

February 17th, 2011, 4:22 pm

 

Syrian Nationalist Party said:

@Majed, Don’t be deceived, it will not happen in Syria. WE already had our Revolution, it is called Damascus Spring. We need to put it back on track after getting derailed by that demolition scam on 911. There are things you do not know about. Look around you, they send the Ambassador over the Congress vacation forcibly, they sending huge team of Republican Lawmakers this week, just in time. STL Prime witness, SIDDIQ just released supposedly a damming audio tape, just in time before the U.S. officials land in Damascus to bargain. Common man, they are after Bashar London Cash Stash or the Golan on Silver platter to NothinYahoo, maybe both. I mean think about it, why supposedly genuine tape recording evidence will be publicly released by the star witness. SCAM. CHICAGO MAFIA SHAKEUP STYLE.

As to the girl, it is customary practice that when State Secrets are involved and in espionage cases, secrets and evidences are withheld so that sources and method of collection or counter-intelligence is not exposed. Countries spend considerable time, effort and cash on building these means and when it comes to exposing, they have to evaluate if the case at hand is worthy enough against the other costs.

From the beginning the case was obvious, it involved more than blogging issues. They do not arrest bloggers in Syria unless they make comments about National Security/Regime Threats or demean the Presidency. Frankly, the Syrians came clean and professional on this one. They exposed part of the story to alleviate its use as a rallying point. No, no quickness, it was judged as such from the start when she was arrested and the method thereof.

@Majhool, Blogging going to cause a lot of trouble to Naive Syrian Youth. The Government at fault, My 10 year old gone thru extensive internet security training. She talk about these things like a grown up, fully aware. The Syrian Government needs to educate Internet users and even cellphone users about the National Security risks involved. Notices should be posted on all internet café and all subscribers need to receive a flyer educating them about the risks and danger. The security risks in Syria and Lebanon, even Iran is way out of hand. That is what meant by getting Mukhabrat out of petty business, out of streets and into training and office work.

February 17th, 2011, 4:29 pm

 
 

Majhool said:

عيب هاي اسمها مظاهرة

February 17th, 2011, 8:01 pm

 

jad said:

But for the Police personnels to beat any Syrian citizen in the street or even inside ‘A’ police station any time they like without the fear of being questioned is MOU 3EIB and very accepted.
Very logical and make sense!?
What is impressive and I really liked in this mini ‘disagreement’ (I’m not using the word ‘Mouzahara’ because I don’t want the minister to call me rude and bala tirbaye) is the shouting of “The Syrian people will not be humiliated,” That was an excellent slogan.

February 17th, 2011, 8:35 pm

 

Majhool said:

What is interesting is timing, a week from the Egyptian revolution and a day from the disastrous performance of Syrian TV near the Ummayad Mosque. The TV almost mistook the president for the prophet and misquoted the prophet couple of times. and the hand kissing and the humiliation…Not looking good, not looking good

February 17th, 2011, 8:54 pm

 

Ziad said:

Majhool, I think your ideology is fogging your views. I watched the Asad’s video again. I only saw after-prayer crowd that was enthusiastic and affectionate. The security guys were having difficulty keeping the people who wanted to shake his hands at a safe distance. The president was riding what looked like a Syrian made car, not a Mercedes. He was driving the car by himself, and then the petition with the hand kiss was certainly not staged. I liked what I saw.
Concerning the demonstration today, I am sure the security forces learned a valuable and necessary lesson. The interior minister showed up to resolve the issue. Good for him. I did not see any ministers at Tahrir Square.
From all indications so far, it appears that Syria is really different.

February 17th, 2011, 10:33 pm

 

NK said:

I guess I should translate that story to English and send a copy to CNN, pretty sure they’ll have a good laugh just like I did!. I mean come on, that story have more holes than a Swiss cheese.

Let’s try to sum it up

1- Tal @ 15 was in Quneitra were she met a Austrian UNDOF, who started sending her (someone who he only met once) “gifts and money” !!!

2- He asks Tal to move to Egypt ( She’s eff’in 15 ), and she does, with her family, no questions asked. ( Damn he’s good )

3- Two years later ( She’s 17 now ), that same guy shows up, and they have sex on tape, which he then sends to the US embassy. ( wait, what, I thought he was an Austrian UNDOF, oh what the heck, he’s an American secret operative too … anyways he hands over a tape of him having sex with an underage girl … I guess when it comes to the CIA anything goes ).

4- An American intelligence officer meets with her and asks her to spy on a Syrian embassy employee. ( Ok, I’ll bite ).

5- He even introduces her to an actual American operative named Jessica, but her actual name turned out to be Amy Sia Catherine Distefano, they even got her ID#. ( The plot thickens ).

6- Jessica takes photos of Tal having sex with her diver. ( Damn that girl goes around ).

7- Jessica asks Tal to have an affair with the Syrian embassy employee in question, but he rejects her. ( What a stand up guy ).

8- The Americans try to recruit the guy anyways, but he informs the Syrians about Tal’s attempts to recruit him. At the same time Tal’s goes through a polygraph at the American embassy in Cairo then she receives two American sim cards and more money. ( This story is only getting better and better .

9- Almost 2 years later the Syrian guy almost gets killed in a Hollywood style assassination attempt. Jessica stops Samer’s car -The Syrian guy-, accuses him of stepping on her foot, he gets off to see what was going on, and that’s when he gets jumped from behind and a guy tries to kill him using a “sharp object”, Samer gets injured really bad, a cut deep enough to cause a unilateral facial nerve paralysis, the two Americans run away, but not before Samer snatches both their wallets. ( Not only was the American assassin an amateur, Samer was so badass he got both wallets despite his near fatal injury, what a champ ).

10- Syrian embassy files suit against the 2 Americans, bla bla bla.

11- Jessica asks Tal to go back to Damascus and work for the U.S there, her assignment was to visit the Saydnaya prison and gather information about Akram Buni and Fida Hurani. ( Buni was imprisoned in the central prison, and Hurani was imprisoned in Duma’s women prison, not in Saydnaya which is a men only prison!!)

12- Jessica also asks Tal to have as many affairs as possible with Syrian officials and security officers, Tal does just that and starts passing the info to Jessica and that’s when she gets caught red handed. ( Syrian security agents at their best as usual get the job well done ).

I think Angelina Julie should play Tal and maybe Leonardo Dicaprio as the Syrian protagonist, this should be one helluva movie!

February 17th, 2011, 10:44 pm

 

Majhool said:

Yes Ziad, its my Ideology, A mix of devil worshiping, Arak drinking, and disco dancing. All said, in my ideology you only kiss the hands of your parents and even that is optional.

And yes an Audi A8 is made in Syria!!

February 17th, 2011, 11:10 pm

 

Shami said:

Ziad,the syrian made car we saw in al mawlid was a BMW (750) whose dealer in Syria is Bashar ‘s cousin Rami.

Ziad,you will understand the kind of masquarade it was once the people is freed .
Bashar is not the first dictator of its kind.

Yes, Majhool among Bashar’s cars there are also Audis A8,allroads…,but this time it was a BM.

February 18th, 2011, 12:20 am

 
 

Alex said:

Majhool 22 and Ziad 23

Do you see an old woman or a young woman?

Google: “attentional bias to emotional information”

Here is the video with the President driving a new 7 series BMW (not a Syrian made car) and being surrounded by tens of thousands of genuinely supportive Syrians.

What I choose to see? … tell me which other Arab leader would have dared after Cairo and Tunis and Yemen and Bahrain to get stuck in that security nightmare narrow old street in Damascus among people who we are told (by his critics) are mostly not his typical “minority” supporters? … this was not your old style organized demo with flags and banners and large pictures of the President …

I think that the decision to take that road was a polite middle finger to those who think he should be scared of his people. Remember he never prays in the large Ummayad mosque.

February 18th, 2011, 2:44 am

 

Majhool said:

Alex,

Spare me your propaganda. Let us have a multi candidate elections and then we will talk.

February 18th, 2011, 2:57 am

 

Alex said:

Majhool

I said “what I choose to see”

You decided to see nothing but “hand kissing and humiliation”

Why don’t you let every reader here see whatever she/he want to see. You pointed to the most negative way of interpreting that scene, and I suggested another way of seeing it.

My position on those “multi-candidate elections” is very clear, yes, in a few years and after gradual reforms.

If you are really not patient and you feel that a majority of Syrians subscribe to your views, just take a plane to Damascus and start organizing a demonstration like the one Joshua posted “up there”

I will be happy to watch and learn from any demonstration, pro Bashar or not.

February 18th, 2011, 3:07 am

 

Shami said:

Alex,

If he will not succeed to die as dictator ,we will let you the privilege to kiss his hands.You will be alone this time,all of those you see will be occupied to curse him.
Emotional reactions in front of a propaganda addict dictator are never genuine.We saw it with Saddam in the past,and we see it with the shia theocrats in Iran.
As long he is a dictator ,and his moukhabarat at works ,we have such emotional display .
When Syria will have an elected president ,state of fear gone ,the people will react in accordance with their values,as any people in the world who enjoy freedom.

February 18th, 2011, 3:45 am

 

Alex said:

Shami

Please note that your recent argument (like Majhool’s) are based on negative labeling … “propaganda addict dictator” … “spare me the propaganda” … “shameful hand kissing” … and then of course you are implying that I am a hand kisser.

When I suggested reading about “attentional bias to emotional information” .. I meant that many of us are victim to emotional influences that lead to bias in the way we decide on which signals we select to pay attention to when we watch, for example, that video of the President among tens of thousands of supporters.

I think that the most relevant question here is not if it is ok to kiss anyone’s hand (as Majhool decided to focus on to avoid paying attention to the emotionally painful realization that these were random sunnis supporting President Assad), but:

Since many seem to believe that after Tunisia and Egypt (and Bahrain, and Libya) the Arab world is going to emulate post USSR Eastern Europe, how vulnerable is Syria?

I spoke to many journalists recently and many seemed to wonder what would crowds in Damascus say or do if they did manage to gather in large numbers.

Joshua posted a clip that shows a relatively large demonstration in Damascus with a moderate amount of “anger” at the system, and I posted a clip that shows “sunni” Muslim Syrians (not those you see suffering from “minority complex”) who were not artificially assembled, cheering the President who chose to get stuck in the middle of a long and narrow street surrounded by thousands.

Let us leave the negative branding on the side if you don’t mind if you really don’t like to be engaged in propaganding.

Imagine if Mubarak walked through such a narrow street … your hypothesis should stand that test … would Egyptians comply with you conclusion: “As long he is a dictator ,and his moukhabarat at works ,we have such emotional display”

Qaddafi? …

February 18th, 2011, 4:26 am

 

Badr said:

Not only a multi-candidate election, but also a free, fair and transparent one. Alas, probably this is too much to ask to have, and would remain a dream.

February 18th, 2011, 4:36 am

 

Shami said:

Alex ,

This is typical :

You would also say that the attackers against the scandinavian embassies were not artificially assembled?
As usual , the men of religion have called for this gathering,in order to make sure to the world ,that in Syria its dictator is worshipped by sheeps.
What make this child different from the other children in the world?

Also ,Bashar’s concern is to suppress any voice that criticize him ,political critics were not systematically surpressed by Mubarak for example.Would Bashar be able to face the same people disarmed of his tools of fear and without his exclusive propaganda machine ?.Of course ,he would not.That’s why i see a bad end for him,he is a coward ,unable to tolerate any opposition.

February 18th, 2011, 5:49 am

 

Alex said:

Badr,

We all have that dream for Syria. But there is no switch to turn the light ON instantaneously. Let us hope for considerable progress within a 5-10 year period.

Shami,

There are few sheep these days. That’s what the revolution in Egypt and Tunisia proved. I am sure you used to think that Egyptians are “sheep”

Syrian “sheep” always managed to use proxies to access Facebook and other news sites that were banned. And they all have satellite TV channels … Mostly Lebanese and Saudi owned channels that are not known to be friendly to the Syrian leader.

Syrians do not get their news from state owned Teshreen news paper. So your “the sheep do not know any better” is not that good.

February 18th, 2011, 6:05 am

 

Riad said:

I for one suspect that the respective analyses by Messrs Saghir and Aita are informed by the two men’s sectarian outlook. Just take a look at Mr Saghir’s Facebook page and you’ll be tempted to believe no religious group apart from Christians exists in Syria.
Now keep banging on about Syrian national unity and tolerance.

February 18th, 2011, 7:44 am

 

Shami said:

Alex,it’s not about pieces of information,they know everything,that’s why i told you that the same people who acclaimed him at the gate of the Umayyad mosque yesterday will bring his regime down sooner or later.
And Bashar will not make the transition for change.He is not a Mahatir Mohamad

February 18th, 2011, 7:58 am

 

Ziad said:

Majhool, Shami, Alex
No one believes that the Syrian system is perfect, far from it. There is plenty to criticize them for, but concerning the two videos from yesterday, there was nothing to fault the system for, unless you are blinded by preconceptions. I am very disappointed and mad that Bashar does not ride a Syrian made car.
Shami, if you do not see any difference between the grand mosque video and the on the one from #34, you must be blinded by ideology. We keep hearing that we want a true democracy in Syria with free elections and a multi-party system. The goal is good governance. Democracy can or can’t achieve good governance.
All indications are that most Syrians support the current government. At least they feel it is moving in the right direction.
I live in the US. I have seen its democracy and frankly, I am not impressed. This is not the place to discuss American democracy, nor I am competent to give a coherent critique, but here are few points.
1 – Just 22 Percent of Americans Approve of Congress’ Job. Free elections and multi-party system are not producing a parliament that truly represents the people.
2- At election time I would love to give my vote to Nader, or any other green, humanist or populist party, only if they can get 5-10 seats in the congress. This is impossible within current system, so I am left to choose between what I consider evil and very evil. I end up voting for the evil party. Any other choice would help the very evil.
3- The majority of Americans feel that the country is heading in the wrong direction. How is that possible while they freely elect there president, and can un-elect him/her after 4 years on bad performance?
4- If you think there are no penned up feelings within the American people just Google Rodney King and the events that follows.
5 – If you think that the local security forces and the FBI are less brutal than the Egyptian, Syrian, Bahraini, or Libyan police Google David Koresh. Decedents were incinerated cum children, elderly and the disabled. Not the 10000 of Hama but some 200.
6 – Currently we have a country at the edge of the abyss, borrowing and consuming, borrowing and fighting unnecessary imperial wars. The system is simply incapable to solve the existential problem of exponentially growing deficit.
I conclude that democracy does not necessarily leads to a good government. The ideal system has yet to be invented.

February 18th, 2011, 9:19 am

 

Majhool said:

Ziad

Your observations are sharp. Allah Yehmeek La2emmak.

Yes my friend the Syrian “System” ( I will need your analysis on what that system is, but later) is just like the american system.both could be better.

Alex 5-10 years? it used to be 7-14? And what about peace that 5 years ago you predicted it will have happened by now.. what about a strong prime minister.

It has been 10 years now, and not one political reform item.

Dude, respect our intelligence, no one promises 10 years ahead. We demand a road map of reform. and yes I know you don’t like the word demand.

February 18th, 2011, 11:02 am

 

Alex said:

Shami,

“Alex,it’s not about pieces of information,they know everything”

I thought only God knows everything. THEY (we’re talking you and Majhool here) knew what demonstrations in Damascus would look like if they took place after Cairo and Tunisia and Bahrain broke the fear barrier?

No they did not. But being the true supporters of democracy that they are, they think THEY know everything … if they see evidence of anything different, they start resorting to negative generalities that are peripheral to the main question, like accusing everyone who disagrees with them of being a hand kissing propagandist or of being a sufferer of minority complex.

Ziad,

I don’t think Syrian made cars include the version that a Middle Eastern (or any) President should drive 😉

http://www.motorauthority.com/blog/1034096_bmw-adds-2010-7-series-high-security-to-armored-fleet

But I agree with you that “democracy” has become a propaganda term. It CAN be a wonderful thing as in Scandinavian countries, but Washington (and Wall Street) are massively corrupt.

The US constitution is admirable. It is unfortunate that politics (and Business) attract those who are always looking for ways to bend the rules.

Majhool,

“We demand” needs to come not from you sitting behind your keyboard thousands of miles away. It has to be heard from tens of thousands demonstrating in Damascus just like they did in Cairo despite the fact Mubarak had the legendary 1.3 million police force known for its brutality.

But I am for a road map too. Let us see what the new multi party law and municipal elections plans will look like when they announce them in the near future. If they are disappointing, I will be the first to criticize.

As for my 5-10 years estimate that I am proposing today not being equal to the 7-14 years range I suggested in 2007 .. I’ll leave it to your own “intelligence” to figure that one out.

http://www.joshualandis.com/blog/?p=229&cp=all#comment-27852

February 18th, 2011, 12:29 pm

 

AIG said:

Alex,

You are playing with fire. Let me explain why.
What follows if any of the following happens in the near future:
1) The Iranian regime weakens significantly or falls
2) There is a food price shock or a even more sever drought
3) A mistake in calculations in Syria leads to hyper inflation
4) Hezbollah is weakened significantly by the tribunal
5) A riot like the one yesterday goes out of control or the Syrian people get the Tunisian “bug”

Each of these events in itself does not seem to have a high probability of occurring. The thing is, just one needs to occur in order to put the regime at risk or at least gravely weaken it. The regime must grasp the situation by the horns and lead credible reforms very quickly. Those reforms cannot be “stealth” ones, because then they will not be credible. If your interest is the well being of the minorities in Syria, I think you need to seriously examine this issue.

February 18th, 2011, 12:52 pm

 

Ghat Albird said:

The one player that heretofore called the shots ( USA ) is staring at bankruptcy. The ex Secretary of State Colin Powell is on record as having been snookered by Cheney, Rumsfeld and is demanding for an investigation. The continuing quagmire in Afghanistan requires more than 100 more billions of US dollars.

From all indications much to the chagrin of all the zionists the Syrian posture will continue as is; the Iranians are gaining more influence in Iraq and Turkey is in the process of expanding its influence in the Arab/Muslim world.

What is transpiring in the Arab countries can in no way be comsidered as more of the same as in previus years.

February 18th, 2011, 1:08 pm

 

Shami said:

Alex,there are several process that affect them ,when i said that they know everything,i meant by this ,that they are not unaware of the reality of asad regime and the importance of its corruption ,bashar’s alawite sectarianism,false rejectionism ,but also there is also the culture of fear that play,since their childhood they were adviced by their parents to avoid internal politics the resentment is present but on hold.Such psychological duality is known under all dictatorial regimes as it was the case in Egypt,Libya ,Tunisia,Soviet Union ,east european communist bloc:Romania,Albania….
The difference between me and you is that you believe that Asad is as invulnerable than a God,as he is not and will finish into the the dustbin of history.Let him enjoy this popular and unanimous love before the downfall.
Do you doubt that it’s the same people that will destroy hafez asad statues and ripe up the menhebak style pictures of bashar ?

February 18th, 2011, 1:23 pm

 

Shami said:

AIG ,you forget the most important: the israeli factor in favour of asad regime.

February 18th, 2011, 1:33 pm

 

Alex said:

AIG

I agree. Syria must accelerate its reforms and shift some attention from economic reforms to political reforms. They need to come up with something tangible, and non reversible, within months at most.

But I don’t think there is any “playing with fire”, although it is possible (but not probable, in my opinion) that demonstrations would start to take place more frequently.

Iran and Hezbollah are reliable long term allies of Syria that will not disappear. They might become weaker or stronger, but they are here to stay (for now). Syria does not rely on Iran as much as many would like to believe. The only partner that might be close to essential to Syria is Erdogan’s Turkey.

But Syria managed after losing its Arab partner Egypt after Sadat flipped to Israel’s side. Syria managed after losing its Soviet backer, and Syria managed in 2003 to 2008 after it was deserted by all the “Moderate Arab” leaders.

But back to your recommendation, I totally agree that fighting corruption and political reforms need to start moving in a more visible way. these are the two areas where the Syrian people give “the regime” very low marks.

Shami,

Habibi, again you are telling me about how you feel. “Knowing” facts is something else… “false rejectionism” and “sectarianism” are impressions that you and many others have. That does not make them facts that make it unnecessary for you to test for validity as new evidence surfaces.

February 18th, 2011, 1:45 pm

 

AIG said:

Shami,

You are right that the majority of Israeli analysts believe that the Assad regime is good for Israel as it keeps Syria stable and weak. However, I think they are waking up to the fact that change is inevitable and that long term, democracy in Arab countries is the best for Israel.

What you are wrong about is the support Israel gives the Assad regime. It does not give it any support.

February 18th, 2011, 2:26 pm

 

AIG said:

Alex,

Syria did not really manage after the Camp David Accords and the fall of the Berlin wall. Its economy stagnated and it became very weak. The eighties and nineties were terrible for Syria’s economy and the reason it is in such bad shape now.

February 18th, 2011, 2:28 pm

 

NK said:

The way I see it, the worst effect the authoritarian regimes in the Arab world had on their countries is the eradication of any acceptable alternative, and by acceptable I mean a group of intellectuals who can lead the country forward with the interests of the country and it’s people as a priority to anything else.
40 years of eradicating opposition and marginalizing intellectuals created a huge void, almost impossible to fill in the foreseeable future.
I’m not just talking about the political aspect of opposition, but more about the social and economic opposition as well.

I’m a strong believer that every country has it’s own realities, so let’s just look into Syria’s case. Let’s say the Syrian youth took to the streets and managed to topple the regime, now what ? the reality is, no one in today’s Syria will be able to fill the void. I’m not saying that Syria doesn’t have individuals capable of running the country, we probably have people far more qualified than Bashar. But who are they ? where are they ? how can the Syrian people pick those people out of the pile of over 20 million ? the answer is they can’t. And while I’m not suggesting that Syria will burst into a sectarian war zone ( I actually thing that this sectarian rivalry is over exaggerated ), I think we can agree that it’ll take years for Syria to get the right people into the right positions. In my opinion those years will be a total waste at least economically, and Syria will be well better off not to go that route.

The other route is reform, however the Syrian regime needs to really step it up before it’s too late. Sadly, I don’t think the regime is doing enough ( Either due to the lack of will, or the lack of ability ). Taking a good look at those leading the reform today, we’ll notice they’re the same people who got us here in the first place, or at least they belong to the same school of thought. Old school ba’athists trying to implement political reform, the same corrupt businessmen leading the economic reform, and the same education system with the same teachers and ideology leading the social reform. This just doesn’t make any sense, not to me anyways.

If you look closely at that video of the president among “tens of thousands of supporters” as Alex described it, can anyone count how many rows of security forces were there ? I counted as few as 3 and as many as 7 at any one point, it’s unfair to say there weren’t any genuine supporters there, but we know that a couple schools were instructed to take their students into that street to cheer for the president as he drove through, so the demonstration wasn’t 100% genuine either.
Now let’s look at the other demonstration, there were almost no supporting slogans shouted for most of the video, you can also notice how people kind of ignored people shouting in support of Bashar, a lot of people are saying that those shouting were mostly security forces, no one can really tell, but if you look around, you’ll notice the massive amount of security personals among the demonstrators, be it police officers, or plain cloth police ( It’s amazing how a plain cloth security personnel stands out in a crowd LOL ).
So yeah, the signals are not that good, I’m thousands of miles away from Syria and I can feel the tension all the way over here.

February 18th, 2011, 3:11 pm

 

Alex said:

NK

please remember this was on a national holiday and no schools had students to send on that day.

As for the security personnel … there were many on the entrance of the souq and near the Presiedent where the camera was shooting.

When the day of rage demonstrations were planned for Feb 4 or 5 there were schools and others preparing to demonstrate in large numbers to counter any “rage” type of demonstration. They were all asked to not demonstrate … exactly because if they did, everyone would have concluded what you did here … that it is staged and it means nothing.

The one on the Eid is not staged and the vast majority of the people in that clip are regular people.

February 18th, 2011, 4:33 pm

 

Alex said:

http://www.jpost.com/MiddleEast/Article.aspx?id=208863

vetoes UN resolution condemning settlements as illegal
By ASSOCIATED PRESS
02/18/2011 23:38

14 states vote in favor of resolution at UN Security Council meeting; vote not adopted because of opposition of permanent member state.

The United States on Friday voted against a UN resolution that would condemn settlements in the West Bank as “illegal.”

The vote at the UN Security Council saw 14 states vote in favor with no abstentions.

February 18th, 2011, 4:42 pm

 

Majhool said:

Alex you said “s Majhool decided to focus on to avoid paying attention to the emotionally painful realization that these were random sunnis supporting President Assad”

Amazingly, you figured out my emotional state: that I, an agnostic, shed tears on the sight of a “sunni” (how did you know she was one? and does really matter) supporting the president.
I am afraid that soon, you may quote Bushra that I was raped by a UN soldier and was spying for the CIA!! You will not make your point by trying to paint me as a “sunni” If anything and according to Elie the regime is promoting sectarian feelings by concentrating sensitive positions in the “fear apparatus” along sectarian lines.

Let’s move away from emotions and discuss facts. Do you really expect that a reasonable person would buy your hypothesis of “if the president dares to drive in a narrow street and survives it that this means he has majority support? Really!!??

Kennedy, Ghandy, etc.. did not survive only because they were popular. Yes the president does have supporters of all ethnic and religious backgrounds. Enough genuine support that would fill public squares and stadiums. But this is not the entire population and this is only under the current vacuum of established political figures (which is a direct result of the authoritarian system to start with).

Let me help you out here:

Pick 5 key performance criteria that are indicative of good governance: things like ( Fair Judicial System, Corruption level, living standards, sense of empowerments and ownership among citizens; willingness of defending the country in case of an attack)
Then go probe the people indirectly (these issues are more freely debated on news sites since they don’t touch the president directly) then you will get a good estimate as to how popular the government is.

February 18th, 2011, 5:58 pm

 

NK said:

ALEX

I’m not sure where you went to school, but I still remember the numerous times we were asked to attend school on national holidays to participate in a demonstration, I’m not saying that’s what took place this time, just saying it happened before so I wouldn’t put it beyond the Syrian regime.

You’re saying the vast majority of the people were regular citizens, but sadly you have absolutely no way to prove that was the case, just like I have absolutely no way to prove otherwise, the way I see it, there’s no way that many people happened to be in that souq or nearby when the president chose to drive through, which means they knew ahead of time he was going to pass through, which doesn’t really make any sense since the area is a security nightmare, also State TV conveniently had cameras spread in the area, in strategic locations non the less, to broadcast the demonstration live on State TV!!! I watched most of it and would have loved it if the TV crew interviewed some of those demonstrators, asked them about their thoughts, and what they wanted to ask of the president, or even interviewed those who did talk to the president … instead all we heard was the same old empty rhetoric, while the camera took those wide-lens shots.

Yesterday their was an interview about facebook and social networking with two, ( pardon my french ), old farts. One of them was explaining how facebook started and what made it so successful, sadly the guy didn’t even know how facebook started, but that didn’t stop him from going on state TV to spread his misleading nonsense. Facebook was banned in Syria for god knows how long, for no apparent reason, and now, a week after they lifted the ban, they’re having a talk show about facebook and the importance of social media today ? really ?.

Anyways, my point is, the media in Syria is misleading, it has a track record of spreading lies and only reporting half the story, and I have every right to question anything they choose to report, and actively seek the full story rather than the bits they normally choose to throw viewers way.

Which brings us full circle back to corruption and reform, you can’t expect reform, when the people expected to implement this reform are the same corrupt people you want the reform to get rid of to begin with. And while I’m willing to give the president the benefit of the doubt, that doesn’t extend to the corrupt officials or businessmen, that everyone in Syria knows, without a shred of doubt, won’t bring anything other than more corruption.

February 18th, 2011, 6:19 pm

 

Shami said:

Bro Alex ,

Do you agree with these irritating answers from a smarter than bashar ?

Do you believe that in 2016 we will reach the poor level of freedom that existed in Egypt under the defunct Mubarak regime ?

Good luck !

February 18th, 2011, 8:04 pm

 

ayman said:

Sami Aita’s as intellectually brilliant as he’s emotionally obtuse. My dear friend is proof God never gives everything to anyone.

This story is a minor diversion from the bigger story; why? Why are we so risk averse? And, do we-as a group-like our regime? My response is yes; we’re risk averse, and yes we do like our regime. We can’t help it…it’s in our nature. Go to my Uncle’s blog and read my essay on this; http://www.middleastforum.com.

We are the product of ten thousand years of survival and Damascus isn’t the oldest inhabited capital in history for nothing. Our enemy (Israel) defines us, and our enemy hates our regime. That -in itself- is grounds enough for me to love Bashar Al Assad. I also take him at his word as to his wish for reform.

Why our enemy hates our regime is a mystery. In 2003 I asked a reporter-Yosi Ben Horin, Maarif’s Washington correspondent-why do the Likudnicks hate Bashar? His response to me on the phone was cryptic; “we have the same nuts in Israel that you have in the US”. Back then I thought he was referring to neo-cons.

As long as our regime is anti Israel, and Israel is anti Syria we must all stand together against these “nuts”. It’s that simple. I know this truism is baffling to many of you. It’s a gut feeling, and I trust our gut feelings…they’ve served us well. Democracy and accountability are not as existential an issue as safety.

February 18th, 2011, 8:41 pm

 

Majhool said:

Ayman,

I respect your “love” to the president. It would be nice if you could respect that others may want an election and choose for themselves.

February 18th, 2011, 9:32 pm

 

Alex said:

Dr. Ayman, good to see you here : )

Shami,

That was a terrible terrible interview!

The President was asked many of these difficult questions and his answers were very honest.

http://www.dp-news.com/pages/video-detail.aspx?l=2&vid=138685

Wallahi I know we need to change faster Shami. I’m writing a long article, if I finish it before the Middle East is turned totally upside down, you will hopefully better understand me.

February 18th, 2011, 10:12 pm

 

ayman said:

Majhool. I detect sarcasm and I appreciate where it is coming from.

I would like to enroll you in the possibility that Bashar would be re-elected even if the Carter Center supervised our next elections, and all candidates were given ample time to campaign. I say this out of conviction and not out of affection. I am a plastic surgeon, I live in Washington DC. I have no relatives in Syria. Not a single one of us Hakkis live there anymore.

I just know that Syria is a Brand not just a country. This dictates subversion of our political and economic needs to our millennia old mind set. Until Israel returns our land and works out its problem with our brothers and sisters we will persist in words (if not in deeds) in our support of Bashar. He is the standard bearer of our rejectionist brand…live with it.

February 19th, 2011, 7:56 am

 

Akbar Palace said:

Dr. Strangelove

I would like to enroll you in the possibility that Bashar would be re-elected even if the Carter Center supervised our next elections, and all candidates were given ample time to campaign.

Ayman,

If that were so, why doesn’t the Syria government hold elections or provide freedom to the people? And what about term limits? One vote/lifetime just doesn’t cut the mustard.

Until Israel returns our land…

That used to be a good excuse, but it’s wearing thin.

February 19th, 2011, 9:52 am

 

Norman said:

Ayman,

It is obvious that you are an issue oriented individual and as long as the country is moving in the right direction , You do not care who is leading it there , Unfortunately many others are not,

You are culturally American more than Syrian,

February 19th, 2011, 10:05 am

 

Ghat Albird said:

AYMAN.

The pros and cons of the number of elections held by anyone in no way is definitve of principled and/or democratic actions taken by any government. Prime example the US which has followed a zionist plan called “The Clean Break” that has resulted in the deaths of millions of Iraqis and is at the present engaged in doing the same in Afghanistan.

From all indications Syria’s posture has been and is the one “craw” in Israel’s existance. All Arabs including their leaders should keep in mind what Israeli leaders have long adhered to the judgment of early Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann: “The Arabs will be our problem for a long time…They’re ten to one, but don’t we Jews have ten times their intelligence?”

February 19th, 2011, 10:16 am

 

Norman said:

Can any of you tell me that if MR Aita and his friends living in Syria are so smart , why didn’t they establish an index that seems to be needed for Syria to have investments and why Syria has to wait for a Syrian living in the US for years and a Lebanese bank to do so ,

It is obvious , They do not think and plan, They just do not get it and that is the problem with the Syrian government , they just do not know and do not want to learn from others, their mentality is (( Can not be done in Syria )) while the Syrians out of Syria think that(( anything can be done )) if you put your mind to it , many of us in the West in general and the US in particular would have stayed in Syria if we were not willing to work hard and hustle and push sleep on the floors and do odd jobs until we got where we are,

My feeling that Syria is better off using the expertise of her citizen who left the country and succeeded,They are optimistic and move fast .

February 19th, 2011, 10:42 am

 

jad said:

George, here you go about the subsidies electricity issue you raised and this time it’s the Syrian government who is saying that our electricity is already expensive and not me, what do you think??

بعد الإشاعات التي سادت الفترة الأخيرة حول احتمال زيادة أسعار الكهرباء، علمت داماس بوست من مصادر مطلعة أن الفريق الفني والتقني في وزارة الكهرباء خلص مؤخراً من أجراء عملية التقييم الشامل لأسعار الطاقة الكهربائية (الشرائح الأربعة)، وشمل التقييم مقارنة بين أسعار الكهرباء في سوريا وبين أسعارها في الدول المجاورة, فلوحظ ارتفاع أسعارها في سوريا مقارنة بدول الجوار، الأمر الذي يرجح أن زيادة لن تحصل على أسعار الكهرباء، حسب ما ذكر المصدر

المصدر: خاص – داماس بوست

http://www.damaspost.com/%D8%AE%D8%A7%D8%B5/%D9%84%D8%A7-%D8%B2%D9%8A%D9%80%D9%80%D8%A7%D8%AF%D8%A9-%D8%B9%D9%84%D9%89-%D8%A3%D8%B3%D9%80%D8%B9%D9%80%D9%80%D8%A7%D8%B1-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%83%D9%87%D8%B1%D8%A8%D9%80%D9%80%D8%A7%D8%A1.htm

February 19th, 2011, 11:08 am

 

ayman said:

While all the comments above are valid ones, and I do agree that the the “excuse of Israel is wearing thin”, the best comment is the one that mentions the clean break document: It specifies taking out Iraq in order to foil Syria’s plans for hegemony in the region. Camille posted the exact quote in his comments on my essay; why Syria isn’t next, go to http://www.middleastforum.com .

I am proud to be a Syrian American, but I’m not “more American than Syrian”. Even though I do share America’s concern for the long term safety and well being of Israelis. This legitimate concern prompts me to want Israel to steer away from the likes of Netanyahu. Everyone I trust who has personally met with both Netanyahu and Assad (and has a head on his/her shoulder) will tell you that Bashar has more integrity than Bibi. The Arab world’s leading centrist Marwan Muasher is one of those men. He is no friend of the Syrian regime, and he is not Israel’s enemy (by any stretch of the imagination); ask him, and he’ll verify my claim.

Israel claims to be the only democracy in the Middle East (if one exclude a million Palestinians from this democratic experiment. But this only proves that democracy is not the end-all solution to the complex issues that exist in our region. I’d rather have a man who was reluctantly pulled in to rule over my people, and who is a decent man, rule me…than a man who seeks power and is indecent.

Talk of democracy, single term rule and such is all well and good. I assure you all we’ll do so one day, but the immediate concerns of most (if not all) Syrians are with Israel’s right wing and its wayward oppressive ways. Go to the Golan, poll the original inhabitants of that annexed region and you may then see my point.

February 19th, 2011, 11:16 am

 

Akbar Palace said:

Do as I say, not as I do

This legitimate concern prompts me to want Israel to steer away from the likes of Netanyahu. Everyone I trust who has personally met with both Netanyahu and Assad (and has a head on his/her shoulder) will tell you that Bashar has more integrity than Bibi.

Ayman,

Guess what? When the Israelis get tired of BB, they’ll vote him out like they did before.

Interestingly, you want Israel to “steer away” from the current elected PM, yet you make all kinds of excuses for Assad. Typical.

February 19th, 2011, 11:54 am

 

ayman said:

As for Norman’s comment; you’re right about us Syrians living outside Syria (A), but those of us living in Syria (like Samir and Basil) deserve more credit than you give them, and more than we deserve credit(B).

A; I have 11 male “Hakki” relatives; about half of them doctors and the other half engineers: A general surgeon, a chemical engineer, an electrical engineer, a civil engineer, a vascular and transplant surgeon, a gastroenterologist, a computer science engineer, a periodontist, a dentist, an infectious disease doctor, and a bio-medical engineer. I too am a plastic surgeon…and that is it one dozen. All of us male Hakkis are US citizens and not a single one of us is unemployed or uneducated, and though my one uncle still lives part-time in Syria he spends most of his time in Houston with his dentist sons. I don’t know what this says about us, but-with due respect to Buthaina Shaaban-none of us lives by a dumpster. None of us has a single problem with Syria. If our parent’s generation was Jeel al Hazeema, we’re Jeel Al Firar.

Part B; I have very dear friends in Syria, and everyone there is a planner. I suspect they are much more so than you and I Norman. Had they been non-planner they would have been here, or in Europe, or anywhere other than Syria where it’s much harder to earn a good living. When you have a degree from the Poli-Technique in Paris it isn’t hard to live there or do a lot of planning and the fact that Samir has not established “investment Indexes” is a reflection on what is normative there, not on his inability to plan. Norman, don’t take credit for being here, you and I are the problem not the solution. If you don’t believe me; go back to Syria…then compare yourself to our friends there…they are absolutely great.

Nuff said 😉

February 19th, 2011, 11:56 am

 

ayman said:

As for Asghar Kookh’s comment: Had BB been the currently elected PM my point would not be valid. The problem is that BB is the re-currently re-elected PM of Israel. This proves my very point that majority rule isn’t always best. Only when minority protection is in place (and applicable to all those living within a state’s borders) is majority rule good. Syria has great minority protection and the majority is subdued, Israel has an electorally empowered majority and its minority suffers by all decent human standards. Give me Syria’s model over Israel’s any day. I would be happy to debate this issue with you in a neutral area such as the Syrian Jewish Quarter of N.Y., Let Syria’s x-pat Jews-not the goyim-judge us. You can repeat clever saying like “Do as I say, not as I do”, and you can scoff at me being “typical”. But you can’t argue that Israel has a big problem; it can’t be exclusively Jewish and democratic.

February 19th, 2011, 12:22 pm

 
 

Norman said:

What are the products that are subsidized in Syria,

By the way Ayman, I am a doctor, My brother is a civil Engineer my relatives are Engineers and doctors too ,
the problem that Syria has is that it take only 4 years to change the US and takes forever in Syria to move from subsidizing the products to supporting the needy .
We have been talking for years that for Syria to stop smuggling the prices in Syria has to match the prices in Lebanon and Jordon and now Turkey, but nothing seems to change ,

February 19th, 2011, 1:07 pm

 

jad said:

Dear Norman,
Refer to my comment #4 reply to George’s idea of removing the subsidies strategy on Electricity.
http://www.joshualandis.com/blog/?p=8412&cp=1#comment-242318

February 19th, 2011, 1:58 pm

 

Ghat Albird said:

14 WRONG vs. 1 RIGHT.

The US has vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that would have condemned Israeli settlements as “illegal” and called for an immediate halt to all settlement building.

All 14 other Security Council members voted in favour of the resolution, which was backed by the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), on Friday.

Mark Lyall Grant, the British ambassador to the UN, speaking on behalf of his country, France and Germany, condemned Israeli settlements in the West Bank. “They are illegal under international law,” he said.

US Congressman Eric Cantor is keeping his promise to Bibi Nethanyahu.

February 19th, 2011, 2:00 pm

 

Norman said:

Jad,

The utilities in Syria are Mazoot, Electricity, natural gass and car feul,

Electricity is the only utility that can not besmmuggled out the country, let us take the others, Mazot isneeded for heating and supporting the poor with coupons is needed, the same is right for the natural gass, about car feuls subsidy should be lifted on this one as most people who can afford a car in Syria do not need support for the feul,
The question is how can Syria asses the wealth of people, when most people do not use banks and how can Syria be sure that the people who are getting the coupons are using them and not giving them away like my mother does as she does not live in Syria or selling them as for other people.

February 19th, 2011, 2:43 pm

 

Shami said:

Ayman,do you mean that Bashar will defeat Israel and get the Golan back to Syria ?

Whether you divinise asad or not ,regime change is an inescapable fact.

I fear that when he would face his fate once disarmed of his tools of fear,exclusive propaganda machine ,you would be disappointed by him and only then your conscience will recognize all the wrong done by asad father and son,relatives and cronies to the land of Zenobia.

Only an advanced arab society will be able to defeat the zionists.
The slogans that the regime bomb us with are more than useless ,a mean to hide sad facts that drag down the country and ensure a comfortable superiority of Israel.

Your uncle understand history better than you do.

February 19th, 2011, 3:15 pm

 

Akbar Palace said:

US Congressman Eric Cantor is keeping his promise to Bibi Nethanyahu.

Ghat,

What promise did Eric Cantor make with BB? A url/link will do.

February 19th, 2011, 4:17 pm

 
 

Akbar Palace said:

Ghat,

Thanks for the link. I didn’t read anything that Cantor specifically promised BB. I didn’t read, “Eric Cantor promised Benjamin Netanyahu X, Y and Z.”

The gist of the article was that Cantor’s office reiterated the usual Republican stance that US policy will be to support Israel’s vital interests.

Are you jealous?

BTW Ghat,

Apparently hundreds of Arabs are getting killed in demonstrations. Does this bother you? What are you doing about it?

February 19th, 2011, 10:58 pm

 

Ghat Albird said:

Typical selective amnesia on your part AP. You all seem to forget the over 30 million Russians (1919 1999) communist/zionists.

Maybe reading this link will enlighten you.

http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2010/11/13/israel/index.html

February 20th, 2011, 10:29 am

 

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