Posted by Joshua on Thursday, April 26th, 2007
Monitoring the Syrian Legislative Elections 2007: The Tharwa community has posted its latest roundup of the election process which is revealing. Low turnout. Violence in some rural areas. Local rivalries between branches of the government and competing patronage networks. Various methods of government manipulation. These are some of the topics discussed. In conclusion, it seems clear that the great mass of Syrians turned their noses up at the elections, not wanting to participate in a process that treats them as donkeys. But for the elite, politics remains important. Parliament and position confer benefits, prestige and access to the all important resources of the state.
Riots in Syrian Al-Rikkah province because of elections, Elaph, April 25. (thanks to mideastwire.com) Click here for source
Elaph, an independent Saudi owned news website, wrote on April 25: “With the start of the announcement of the results of the elections for the people’s council in some of the Syrian provinces, the Al-Rikkah province witnessed violent riots caused by “forgery in the elections” which necessitated the interference of the army and pushed the Syrian interior minister Bassam Abdul-Majid to go to the province. The interior ministry announced that it registered no complaints in the elections but the governor of Al-Rikkah Ahmad Chehadeh Khalil confirmed to the official Syrian media that the elections in the province will be repeated in 20 centers because of suspicions about the occurrence of mistakes in these centers. This announcement was accompanied by riots throughout Al-Rikkah in which tires were burned and roads were closed which led to some injuries.”
The website added: “The lawyer Abdullah Khalil announced to Elaph that the main reason behind the riots were the forgeries sanctioned by the regime in the elections by appointing committees to tally the votes loyal to some of the nominees and the ruling Ba’th party which caused scandalous forgeries throughout the electoral circles starting with Ma’dan to Al-Salkha, to Al-Rikkah Samra, and Al-Salhabiyah. Al-Khalil, who lives in Al-Rikkah (400 kilometres north east of Damascus) announced that the forgeries pushed each of the candidates to hold on to his victory so that when the authorities decided to repeat the elections, the riots started in the first day around the center of the tallying of the votes in the heart of the province and then the riots expanded to include rural areas which caused the severing of the Al-Rikkah-Dayr Al-Zoor highway from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. but the lawyer added that the road was opened again today.”
The website continued: “The lawyer added: “The situation calmed down now after a settlement which resulted in considering the candidate Abd Al-Muhsin Al-Rakkan a winner along with Muhammad Sayf Al-Huwiedi while the candidate Abdul-Mahdi Hammud and Isma’il Al-Balikh were considered among the losers. All of these candidates were from among the tribes of Al-Rikkah and all of them were claiming that they had won”. Al-Khalil confirmed that there were forgeries in all the electoral centers. He confirmed that there were confrontations inside the city of Al-Rikkah which pushed the army to deploy and forced all the shops to close. He pointed out that there were intermittent confrontations between the members of the police and the supporters of the nominees which deteriorated into fights with young children not connected to the elections.”
The website added: “Al-Khalil confirmed that there are a number of wounded people in the hospitals. He pointed out that some of those injured are completely unconnected with the elections as they didn’t even vote. He clarified that the police used tear gas and live bullets but didn’t cause any injuries. He added that cars and private property were assaulted and damaged belonging to citizens that weren’t connected to the elections which caused anarchy to spread for more than four hours until the army managed to take control of the situation…”
Syria politics: Two faces of Damascus, April 25th 2007
FROM THE ECONOMIST INTELLIGENCE UNIT
Abdullah al-Dardari is likely to be appointed prime minister
Syria has presented a number of starkly contrasting images in recent days. The parliamentary election has attracted an unusually high level of attention, with opposition activists claiming that the turnout was pitiably low and that there had been many instances of blatant ballot-rigging and vote-buying. The issues of human and political rights have also been highlighted by the sentencing of Anwar al-Bunni, a prominent lawyer and regime critic, to five years in jail for "spreading hostile information"–a charge relating to his signature of a declaration in May 2006 calling for the establishment of normal diplomatic relations between Syria and Lebanon.
At the same time, the president, Bashar al-Assad, has received UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, who reported that the Syrian leader had agreed to reactivate the border committee with Lebanon and had said that he was ready, in principle, to establish diplomatic relations with Beirut. In another sign of Syria's "progressive" face, the local press has reported that Abdullah al-Dardari, the architect of the EU-backed economic reform programme, is likely to be appointed prime minister in a cabinet reshuffle to take place after the general election, or else after the referendum to be held in May for the renewal of Mr Assad's presidential mandate for seven more years.
The election is of largely symbolic significance. The Baath Party and nine allied formations are allocated two-thirds of the 250 seats, meaning that there is no scope for any meaningful policy debate. Of the remaining seats, the battle among independents is essentially a struggle for patronage rights, pitting different, regime-subservient, business factions against each other. For the Baath party, a healthy turnout is important so as to demonstrate popular consent to its control of institutions and to the rule of the Assad regime.
Comments on officially sanctioned websites such as Champress and Syria-News (owned by rival interests within the establishment) reflected widespread cynicism about the worth the election, which took place on April 22nd and 23rd. There was also a running commentary provided by an externally-based opposition site, based on reports from researchers on the ground. These reports pointed to disturbances in a number of areas in the north east as a result of official interference to block the election of Kurdish political leaders standing as independents. The delay in the announcement of the results of the election, which had still not appeared 48 hours after the polls closed, served as confirmation that the process had not run as smoothly as the authorities had wanted.
If there had been room for an open policy debate, the central questions in the election would have included Syria's international relations and the direction of the economy. The visit of the UN Secretary-General provided a fresh opportunity for Syria to demonstrate its contention that the efforts of the US and France (or, more to the point from the Syrian perspective, the soon-to-be-departed President Jacques Chirac) to isolate it are failing. Mr Ban did manage to extract a concession from Syria on the Lebanese border question (one week before this meeting, the UN Security Council had expressed "serious concern at mounting information of illegal arms movements across" the border). However, this was in the context of a patently disingenuous Syrian pledge to use its good offices to build a political consensus in Lebanon that would lead to the ratification of a law establishing a mixed tribunal on the Hariri assassination. Behind the smiles, the harsh reality is that Syria is anxious to head off moves at the UN Security Council to set up the tribunal on the basis of a resolution passed under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.
Syria is making a determined diplomatic effort to foster at least the illusion of normality in its international relations. The hoped-for dividends from this include increased flows of aid (from the EU and Arab states in particular) and foreign investment to enable the country to meet the 7% annual real GDP growth targets that Mr Dardari has set in his five-year plan for a transition to a "social market economy". With oil running out, these external props will be of increasing importance. However, to take full advantage, the Assad regime has to make some difficult political choices.
Muhammad Al-Rumaihi, editor of the Al-Arabi magazine which is published in Kuwait, wrote in the April 25 issue of the independent Saudi owned newspaper Al Hayat: “Much effort was invested in the Arab summit which was held in Riyadh but if we take into consideration what was announced last week about delegating Egypt and Jordan to talk to Israel about the Arab initiative, then this seems a repetition of what took place in the last 50 years in different forms. For it is not the first time in which the Arabs failed to reach a unanimous agreement on taking courageous and clear steps towards Israel. The kitchen that decided upon this last step faced a number of options, the least important of which was delegating a larger number of the representatives of Arab countries to participate with Jordan and Egypt – for Cairo and Amman are not the only capitals to possess diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv as there are a number of other Arab capitals that h ave clear and direct communications with Israel through representative offices. If all these capitals were enrolled, then the Arab initiative could have been described as comprehensive.”
Al-Rumaihi added: “This is one side of the problem. The other concerns the Palestinian attitude as up to this hour, no clear and decisive delegation has been given to a Palestinian negotiator who possesses the final word in talking with Israel. The Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas goes to the Israeli negotiators with Hamas’s suspicions trailing him as not all the mutual doubts between Hamas and Fatah have been buried yet. The disagreements between the two movements aren’t secret to the public but in private sessions the talk reaches the extent of a looming divorce between the two Palestinian organizations because of the struggle which is mainly a struggle for power more than a disagreement over the goals. On the other side stands Syria which looks at the previous agreements between Israel and some of its neighbours, including the Palestinians, as an abandonment of “Syrian rights” – thus the obstructing Syrian stick stretches through its allies in Lebanon to foil any agreeme nt or attempt at an agreement in which Syrian interests don’t possess a clear cut slice.”
Al-Rumaihi continued: “The Syrian interests focus on liberating the Golan Heights as specified in the old negotiations between Syria and Israel or what is known as Rabin’s legacy which recognizes Syria’s rights to go back to the borders of 1967 which is also included in the Madrid conference in 1991. The Arab initiative starts with the wrong end: the Israelis and the Palestinians. The correct end to start at is the Syrian Israeli end. If this happens then it would cool down a hot front that is sending off warning sparks, i.e. the Lebanese front in which a major and active player, Hezbollah, monopolizes enough power to sabotage the country and start a regional war and not only foil agreements or spark unexpected wars. Matters have reached this level of seriousness despite the fact that the Arab initiative was launched based on an Arab agreement in Beirut but it was not able to even help Lebanon avoid the tough summer war which shook up the Lebanese internal situation.”
Al-Rumaihi added: “The disparity which is clear between the official Arab desire for peace and between the “popular Arab mood” which is creating an atmosphere opposed to peace is a failure in marketing resulting from a hesitation to take clear steps and sell them to the populace. This failure is not restrained to the Arabs as it includes a large sector among the Israelis… The important equation lies in the ability of Damascus to apply pressure but without paying any price in return. But, and it is a big “but”, what about the status of its allies whether in Lebanon for internal reasons or in the Gulf where Iran is facing a huge international show? …It seems that the strongest ring is owned by Damascus but only until the explosion occurs but when this explosion finally occurs, this ring will become the weakest…” – Al Hayat, United Kingdom
Syrian Agrees to Rice Meeting By: Betsy Pisik | The Washington Times
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said yesterday he would "gladly" meet Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at an upcoming Iraq conference, one of several steps Syria indicated it would take to soothe tensions in the Middle East.
Other important news comes from Turkey where Abdullah Gul seems to be on his way to becoming President in elections to be begin on Friday.
Is the U.S.-Turkey Alliance at an End? By: Rajan Menon and S. Enders Wimbush | The Washington Post
Turkey and the United States are approaching a critical strategic crossroad that will determine both the shape and the content of their relationship for the foreseeable future. The pressures forcing change on this long-standing alliance — which has endured since the Truman Doctrine in 1947 — are powerful.
In Turkey, a Sign of a Rising Islamic Middle Class, By Sabrina Tavernise, April 25, 2007, NYTimes
Abdullah Gul, 56, the foreign minister, whose wife wears a Muslim head scarf and who is Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s closest political ally, is expected to be confirmed as president by Parliament in several rounds of voting that begin Friday. That will boost Turkey’s new political class — modernizers from a religious background.
“These are the new forces, the new social powers,” said Ali Bulac, a columnist for a conservative newspaper, Zaman, in Istanbul. “They are very devout. They don’t drink. They don’t gamble. They don’t take holidays. They are loaded with a huge energy. This energy has been blocked by the state.”
Turkey is a Muslim country, but its state, founded in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, is strictly secular, and the presidency is its most important office. The current president is Ahmet Necdet Sezer, a secularist with a judicial background whose term is expiring.
Mr. Gul, an affable English speaker who has long been his party’s public face abroad, nodded to secular concerns in a news conference in Ankara after his nomination, saying, “Our differences are our richness.” His candidacy was a concession: the choice most distasteful to the secular establishment was Mr. Erdogan himself, who deftly bowed out.
Still, if Mr. Gul is confirmed, his party would occupy the posts of president, prime minister and parliamentary speaker, a lineup that the opposition party leader, Deniz Baykal, called “unfavorable.” His party later announced that it would boycott the vote.
In the Middle East, where mixing religion with government has been seen as poisonous for modernity, Turkey’s very light blend stands out as unusual, even unique.
“This party has done more for the modernization of Turkey than all the secular parties in the previous years,” said Joost Lagendijk, a member of the European Parliament who heads a committee on Turkish issues. “They were willing to open up the system, to challenge the elite.”
The party that Mr. Gul helped found, known by its Turkish initials, AK, sprang from the Islamic political movements of the 1990s. But the AK became significantly more moderate after taking power on a national scale in 2002. Since then, it has applied pragmatic policies that helped create an economic boom and opened up the state in ways that the rigid secular elite, which relied heavily on state control, had never imagined, in part to qualify for membership in the European Union.
Although the party is publicly adamant about keeping religion separate from policy, bristling at shorthand descriptions of it as pro-Islamic, it draws much of its support from Turkey’s religiously conservative heartland. Once on the periphery, these traditional Turks are now emerging as a powerful middle class that has driven Turkey’s boom. The economy has nearly doubled in the four years that the AK has been in power, largely because it has stuck to an economic program prescribed by the International Monetary Fund.
Mr. Gul’s candidacy goes to the heart of the secular-religious debate, because the presidency is such a revered symbol with real powers — he is commander in chief and has a veto. Turkish military leaders in the past have remarked that they would refuse to visit the presidential palace if a woman in a head scarf were living in it.
“How can she now become the host of a palace that represents the very same principles?” said Necmi Yuzbasioglu, a professor of constitutional law at Istanbul University.
Mehmet A. Kislali, a columnist with the newspaper Radikal, who has contacts with the military, said: “The military should not be underestimated. Thousands of officers are watching the developments.”
But the party’s only real application of Islam has been its grass-roots approach. In practices that would be familiar to Shiite Muslims in Lebanon or to Palestinians in Gaza, women’s groups go door to door offering aid, community centers offer women’s literacy classes and sports centers give free physical therapy to handicapped children.
The question of religion aside, economic progress under the AK has been extraordinary, with a steady rise in entrepreneurship. In Istanbul, fuel-efficient taxis zip down tulip-lined streets. New parks have sprung up. The air is less polluted….
Muslims Believe US Seeks to Undermine Islam
Majorities Want US Forces Out of Islamic Countries And Approve of Attacks on US Troops
Large Majorities Agree With Many Goals of Al Qaeda, but Oppose Attacks on Civilians
Most Support Enhancing Role of Islam in their Society, but Also Favor Globalization and Democracy
An in-depth poll of four major Muslim countries has found that in all of them large majorities believe that undermining Islam is a key goal of US foreign policy. Most want US military forces out of the Middle East and many approve of attacks on US troops there.
Most respondents have mixed feelings about al Qaeda. Large majorities agree with many of its goals, but believe that terrorist attacks on civilians are contrary to Islam.
There is strong support for enhancing the role of Islam in all of the countries polled, through such measures as the imposition of sharia (Islamic law). This does not mean that they want to isolate their societies from outside influences: Most view globalization positively and favor democracy and freedom of religion. [Read More…]