Posted by Joshua on Friday, March 23rd, 2012
Islamists seek influence in Syria uprising, By LEE KEATH and ZEINA KARAM | AP
BEIRUT (AP) — The gunmen in eastern Syria, wielding grenade launchers and assault rifles, announced on the Internet they were forming the “God is Great” Brigade and joining the country’s rebellion. They swore allegiance to the Free Syrian Army and vowed to topple President Bashar Assad.
But unlike many other rebel bands, they wrapped their proclamation in hard-line Islamic language, declaring their fight to be a “jihad,” or holy war, and urging others to do the same.
“To our fellow revolutionaries, don’t be afraid to declare jihad in the path of God. Seek victory from the One God. God is the greatest champion,” the brigade’s spokesman said in the January video. “Instead of fighting for a faction, fight for your nation, and instead of fighting for your nation, fight for God.”
As Syria’s uprising evolves into an armed insurgency, parts of the movement are taking on overt religious overtones. Islamic movements in and out of the country are vying to gain influence over the revolt in hopes of gathering power if Assad falls.
The Islamists’ role complicates choices for the United States and other nations who say they want to help the opposition without empowering radicals; a string of anti-regime suicide bombings have raised fears of al-Qaida involvement.
The groups diverge from violent jihadi movements to political moderates like the Muslim Brotherhood, which has already used the Arab Spring revolutions to vault to power in Tunisia and Egypt elections.
Their growing influence is seeding divisions within an already fractured opposition. A week ago, several prominent figures quit the Syrian National Council, the body of exiles that has tried to emerge as the opposition’s political leadership. They complained the fundamentalist Brotherhood dominates the group.
The council is “a liberal front for the Muslim Brotherhood,” said Kamal Labwani, a veteran secular dissident, who broke away. He said the Brotherhood was trying to build allegiances on the ground in Syria.
“One day we will wake up to find an armed militia … controlling the country through their weapons,” Labwani said.
The U.S. has rejected sending arms to rebels, fearing a sectarian civil war. U.S. officials also warn that al-Qaida’s militants in Iraq are infiltrating Syria — worries heightened by attacks in Damascus and Aleppo using al-Qaida’s signature tactic, suicide bombings.
An Islamic militant group, the Al-Nusra Front, on Tuesday claimed responsibility for a double suicide bombing that killed 27 people in Damascus over the weekend. The group appears to be a front for al-Qaida’s Iraq branch, said a U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss matters of intelligence…
Some brigade videos feature no Islamic rhetoric, while others are rich with the rhetoric of ultraconservative movements — suggesting they back hard-line agendas.
The Free Syrian Army’s leadership in Turkey is secular-leaning, and there have been reports of frictions with the Brotherhood that have made the army reluctant to work closely with the council.
Ultraconservative Islamists known as Salafis are gaining ground among some factions. Salafis preach a strict doctrine similar to that in Saudi Arabia and contend that no law but Islamic Shariah law is permissible.
Sheikh Adnan al-Arour, a Syrian Salafi cleric based in the Gulf, regularly appears in fiery monologues on Saudi TV channels calling for jihad against the “infidel” Assad regime.
His influence is shown by the open allegiance declared by several rebel brigades. One, called the “Supporters of God Brigade” in Hama, praised him as “the leader of the revolution” in February.
— Finally, there is the Syrian National Council, the 270-member group made up mainly of exiles headed by secular dissident Burhan Ghalioun. It has tried with little success to gather the opposition under its umbrella.
A video posted on YouTube last week showed a former Syrian Brotherhood leader, Ali Sadr el-Din Bayanouni, admitting the Brotherhood nominated Ghalioun as council leader merely as a “front” more easily accepted by the West.
“We did not want the Syrian regime to take advantage of the fact that Islamists are leading the SNC,” Bayanouni says in the video.
A London-based Brotherhood spokesman, Zuhair Salem, denied the group was trying to dominate.
“We joined the revolution to bolster it, not to control it,” he said.
The Brotherhood has had no organization on the ground since the 1980s, when it waged a violent campaign, assassinating regime figures. Assad’s father Hafez Assad retaliated by almost destroying their main stronghold, the city of Hama, killing thousands and sending members fleeing abroad. Since then, mere Brotherhood membership has been punishable by death.
Ex-council member Labwani and others in the opposition say the Brotherhood is using the council to rebuild by distributing money and weapons, key levers for influence. The Brotherhood has a powerful donor network among members in exile and supporters in oil-rich Gulf countries…
Syrian rebels running out of ammunition as government presses offensive,
By Liz Sly, March 22 in Wash Post
ANTAKYA, Turkey — Syrian rebels battling the regime led by President Bashar al-Assad are running out of ammunition as black market supplies dry up, neighboring countries tighten their borders and international promises of help fail to materialize, according to rebel commanders and defected soldiers who have crossed into this Turkish border town in recent days in a quest for money to buy arms.
They describe what appear to be desperate conditions for the already lightly armed and loosely organized rebel force, made up of defected soldiers and civilians who in recent months have banded together in the name of the Free Syrian Army, transforming what had been an overwhelmingly peaceful uprising into an armed revolt.
Protesters opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad face violent responses from security forces, and the United States has closed its embassy in the country as the violence grows.
The rebels have long been appealing to the outside world for military intervention and weapons to help their struggle. But they are acknowledging for the first time that the rebellion, at least the armed portion of it, might be faltering in the face of a concerted government offensive aimed at definitively crushing the year-old revolt.
“Day after day, the Free Syrian Army keeps fighting and fighting, but day after day, we are running out of ammunition, and, eventually, we just have to leave our area,” said Abu Yazen, 26, a defected soldier who joined the rebels in the summer but fled to Turkey this month with five comrades after they ran out of bullets in the northern province of Idlib.
He is living at one of the civilian refugee camps set up by the Turkish government, among scores of dejected fighters who have been showing up on a daily basis in and around the frontier town of Antakya as their ammunition runs out and hope fades that the international community will come to their rescue.
Since the highly publicized rout of Free Syrian Army fighters from the Baba Amr neighborhood of Homs three weeks ago, rebels also have been on the run within the country, staging retreats across a swath of territory in Idlib and from the eastern city of Deir al-Zour.
The withdrawals were prompted in part by a realization that the effort to hold ground in Baba Amr had been a strategic mistake for the heavily outgunned rebel force, said Capt. Ayham al-Kurdi, a Free Syrian Army spokesman and coordinator living in Antakya.
“In Baba Amr, the fighters put up a good fight,” he said. “But it caused major destruction, and many civilians died. Now we are strategizing to make sure we don’t make the same mistake again.”
Fighters now are withdrawing at the first sign that the government is preparing an offensive, he said, to spare civilians and conserve resources. They plan to focus instead on guerrilla tactics, such as roadside bombings and ambushes.
Kamal Al-Labwani: Syria’s Revolution at Year One: A Plan for Reorganizing the Opposition Fikra Forum, March 22, 2012
One year has passed since the onset of the Syrian Revolution, caused by the accumulation of continued corruption and authoritarian rule for half a century and from additional instigation by the wave of revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen. However, the revolution would not have erupted without two factors: the media and online social networking. This technology gave rise to a new form of alliance, assembly, and information sharing, which the security apparatus failed to prevent…..
Due to the oppressive security apparatus and the military, protesters were forced to adopt a different set of values to defy death and enable themselves to combat the violence and the use of ammunition against them. Some of the values were derived from religious customs, a trend that has now created an inconsistent mixture of beliefs and value systems among the opposition. Therefore, Syrian protestors are now at a crossroads between upholding the values of modernity, freedom, individual rights, democracy and liberalism on one hand and dealing with values of martyrdom, sacrifice, and religious principles on the other. This combination of beliefs is without a philosophical foundation and remains unresolved within mainstream culture.
Consequently, religious movements benefited from this environment and seized on the opportunity to name the protests as their own, while the minorities distanced themselves further from the movement they gradually felt alienated from. The well-organized religious movements, financed primarily from abroad, have been able to represent the revolution to the international community as well as within Syria. They paralyzed the liberal face of the Syrian National Council, taking them out of the equation. The religious movements also controlled the financing of relief efforts, the supply of weapons, and some of the armed battalions. They began buying loyalties from the armed groups in exchange for their support, while gradually ruling out other active actors from the scene.
Furthermore, the religious forces have continued to prepare themselves to assume exclusive power after the collapse of the state, monopolizing the revolution in which they had no original role, though they maintain the appearance of a civilian force. Thus, the revolution has been stolen and is no longer a catalyst towards a state of democracy and modernity. Instead, the future state of Syria will head towards a renewed form of despotism with a religious embodiment rather than secularism. This could lead to chaos and civil war should the new regime attempt to stay using forceful means of destruction and organized extermination as they perpetuate societal divides.
Hence, the urgent need has arisen to depart from this volatile scene. Immediate reforms are called upon to properly represent the revolution, its leadership, its slogans, and methods of support. These reforms are coupled with the insistence on the continuation of the revolution in line with its inherent cultural values, mandating the reproduction of religious values to reconcile them with the values of modernity, freedoms, and democracy.
We, a group of non-partisan activists writing from within Syria, seek to properly reproduce the political representation in a balanced way that is in line with internal concerns through the establishment of a Transitional National Assembly (TNA). This assembly will adopt a constitutional declaration that will define the powers and functions of the opposition to organize them and determine the new identity of the state and its future system. We also seek to elect a General Secretariat of the Assembly to oversee the formation of a Government in Exile to represent the executive authority, which is responsible for organizing all local and external events abroad and is accountable and monitored by the Transitional National Assembly (TNA).
We submit this request to the Friends of Syria as a clear plan to bring down the current system by adopting an organized armed struggle that is national and non-partisan, with financial, logistical and political support of friends. We are also presenting a general plan for the interim period, including preparation to face the immediate concerns that will impose themselves on the morning of the fall of the regime in terms of constitutional, political, security, economic, and humanitarian issues…..
Syrian Cleric Sheikh Muhammad Badi’ Moussa: We Ruled It Is Permissible to Kill ‘Alawite Women and Children, but Advised the Free Syrian Army to Warn ‘Alawites before Raiding Their Villages – MEMRI
Following are excerpts from an interview with Syrian cleric Sheikh Muhammad Badi’ Moussa, which aired on Al-Hekma TV on March 14, 2012.
Senior clerics across the Arab world have issued fatwas stating that jihad against the Syrian regime is a duty incumbent upon every Muslim, and even permitting to kill Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. Some of the clerics also called to support the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which is fighting Assad’s regime.
Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi, head of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, told Al-Jazeera that clerics across the Muslim world agree that Assad must be fought against and even killed, because he is using his weapons against the peaceful Syrian people. Therefore, he said, the Muslims must wage jihad against him in their hearts, with their tongues (i.e., with words), or with weapons, as the FSA is doing. He added that it is a duty to fight this arrogant and tyrannical regime that is behaving as though it is God, and that the task of fighting it belongs first of all to the Syrians themselves, though the rest of the Muslims must assist them. It should be noted that in August 2011, Al-Qaradhawi signed his name to a fatwa that was published in the Gulf, which called to sever all official ties with the “heretical” Assad regime.
The Vatican condemns the “ethnic Cleansing in Homs by the Farouq Brigade. This Story in Arabic copied below
22 مارس 2012 – 9:21 PM : وكالة الأنباء الفاتيكانية ” فيدس”
“دير مارجرجس” في حمص (منتديات صافيتا)
قالت وكالة الأنباء الفاتيكانية ” فيدس” في تقرير نشرته “يتواصل تطهيرٌ عرقي للمسيحيين من قبل أعضاء كتيبة الفاروق ذات العلاقة بالقاعدة”، على حد تعبيرها.
وأضافت الوكالة أن هذا ما أكّده بيان “أرسلته الكنيسة الارثوذكسية السورية التي تضمّ 60% من المؤمنين المسيحيين في سوريا لوكالة فيدس. وقام متشددون إسلاميون مسلحون – يقول النصّ – بطرد 90% من مسيحيي حمص واحتجزوا بيوتهم بالقوّة”.
وبحسب مصادر المترابوليتية الأرثوذكسية، “ذهب المتشددون من منزل إلى منزل في أحياء الحميدية وبستان الديوان، وأجبروا المسيحيين على المغادرة دون إعطائهم الفرصة لأخذ أي شيء من ممتلكاتهم”.
وبحسب تقرير الوكالة المسيحية “كتيبة الفاروق عناصرُ مسلحة من القاعدة ومرتزقة أتوا من ليبيا والعراق”.
CFR: The Great Syrian Divide, 2012-03-22
Joshua Landis and Interviewer: Bernard Gwertzman discuss the Syrian National Council, led by westernized Syrians, which succeeded in getting sanctions imposed on the Assad regime, failed to get Western military intervention. But it does not trust the more militant Islamists who are actually in combat within Syria, and are refusing to provide them with money and weapons. The chances for the just-passed UN Security Council …
In 1982, the United States said very little about Hafez al-Assad’s shelling of Hama and no one suggested that the United States intervene. In the wake of the Arab Spring, Washington is willing to speak out against Bashar al-Assad’s crackdown in Homs, but is not yet willing to send in troops.
Wickedness of the human mind cloaked in pop lyrics, Theodore Dalrymple March 24, 2012, Telegraph
SOME men are born evil, some achieve evil, and some have evil thrust upon them. Bashar al-Assad of Syria falls into the third category; but from the point of view of his victims, it hardly matters. For them, evil is evil and death is death. The psychological origins of a man’s crimes don’t make them less real or horrible to those who suffer from them.
The now-public emails exchanged between the Syrian dictator, his wife and their immediate circle are those of a band of people physically insulated from the hardships and horrors of their own country and who are given alternately to self-pitying sentimentality and callous flippancy. In other words, the emails are entirely plausible as a picture of the life in the court of Bashar al-Assad.
When you look at pictures of Assad you see a weak man, whom you would expect to be a pettifogger rather than a brute. But push a pettifogger to the wall and he is capable of the greatest obduracy, which is the strength of the weak. A cornered rat, that normally resides incognito, is a ferocious and dangerous beast, even if he remains in essence weak and highly vulnerable.
Bashar al-Assad was never intended for the dictatorship. That role was reserved for his far more extrovert, flashy and outwardly vicious brother who was killed in a car accident caused by his typically intemperate driving. A man who knows from an early age that he will inherit supreme power is inclined to believe that even the laws of physics will bend to his will, and that he can therefore drive like a lunatic with impunity. Bashar was not like this; on the contrary, he was shy, retiring and anxious to succeed in his own profession, that of ophthalmology.
When he was in London learning his profession, therefore, he made no waves; he lived modestly, if comfortably; by all accounts he was a quiet, polite and careful doctor who was nice to his patients and respectful of his seniors. It is even probable that when he returned to Syria as heir-apparent he harboured genuinely reformist ideas and intentions. But once he returned home, the logic of the situation was all against him. His father was a brutal, vicious mass murderer, the leader of a brutal, vicious, mass-murdering political movement. If Bashar had been a strong, brave man, he would have refused the poisoned chalice; but, having accepted it, he had to drain it to the dregs. Latin American gangsters give people a choice: plata o plomo, silver or lead, money or the bullet; for Bashar al-Assad, it was power or total extinction, not only for himself, but for his entire group.
His wife, the beautiful, educated, Anglicised daughter of a successful Syrian physician exiled in London, was no more destined by nature for the role of dictator’s wife than he for that of dictator. Her metamorphosis from Mrs Assad to Eva Peron and then to Elena Ceausescu was by a process not altogether of her choosing. Furthermore, power not only corrupts but insulates from reality, both physical and moral. Bad actions come to be rationalised as necessary and then even as good.
Syria: Asma al-Assad cannot be barred entry to Britain, William Hague admits, Daily Telegraph by Bruno Waterfield, 23 Mar 2012
Asma al-Assad, the British-born wife of Syrian President Bashar, cannot be barred entry to Britain, despite an EU Travel ban, but is not expected to head there given the current circumstances, William Hague has admitted.
Mrs Assad, as well as her husband’s mother, sister and sister-in-law, have been banned from travelling to European Union countries and freezing any assets she may have there. The foreign ministers also imposed a ban on eight government ministers, while the assets of two Syrian companies were frozen.
“British passport holders do obviously have a right of entry to the United Kingdom,” Mr Hague said. “But given that we are imposing an asset freeze on all of these individuals and a travel ban on other members of the same family and the regime, we are not expecting Mrs Assad to try to travel to the United Kingdom at the moment.”
Under Home Office guidelines however, Mrs Assad would be allowed back intro Britain if she so wished.
“If you are a UK citizen then you can’t be refused entry to the UK”, the Home Office says.
The Home Office added: “It is important to note that sanctions are imposed on individuals to encourage them to change their behaviour. While this is based on evidence, sanctions are not the results of a criminal conviction and therefore the imposition of sanctions would not lead to automatic arrest or action to deprive someone of their nationality.”
Her status is somewhat unclear however. Nigel Kusher, a British lawyer who is an expert on sanctions, said he believed Mrs Assad is now effectively banned from traveling to the UK.
“No EU national and no EU company can make any funds or any economic resources available to Asma al-Assad, nor can anyone receive funds or economic resources from her,” Mr Kushner said. “And that means that, essentially, she won’t be able to go on any shopping trips in the EU or via third parties.”….
In February 1982, Hafez al-Assad put down a rebellion in the city of Hama by his Islamist opponents. Three decades later his son faced down a similar rebellion in Homs. These two events were remarkably similar — both Hafez and Bashar believed they were wrestling not only with internal dissent but with a large-scale American and Israeli conspiracy.
Washington wants to see Assad go, but it will be hard to unclench his hold without breaking Syria.The United States must prepare for state collapse now, so that it can try to prevent it later.
The European Union on Friday banned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s wife Asma, and his mother, sister and sister-in-law, from travelling in the EU, aiming to pressure him into ending a crackdown on popular unrest and restrict his family’s …
One year of Syrian uprising: where is the Arab Spring? by Anthony A. Zeitouni
The Syrian uprising has just entered its second year with two big NO’s: NO political solution and NO military solution. The Military/Security option adopted by Assad’s regime a year ago failed to cool down the uprising, and failed to save the lives of civilians. But, why Assad’s regime look more unified than its opposition? Why The Syrian National Council, SNC has not yet launched a political discussion with the Syrians people, neither with ethnic, religious nor political groups? Assad and SNC are at loggerheads. Also, Assad’s regime and SNC have reached a fork in the road. But, there is still a road not yet travelled…..
From the great new service at Syria Reportkj: the blog Written by: Evelyn Aissa
“Five Syrian Opposition Groups Form New Coalition” – Naharnet – Excerpt: “Five Syrian opposition groups on Saturday [March 17] announced the formation of a new coalition, a sign of how difficult opponents of the Damascus regime find it to cooperate, a year after the start of the protest movement. The five groups, meeting here, said their yet unnamed coalition would act independently from the Syrian National Council (SNC), the main opposition coalition which was set up in August to fight President Bashar Assad’s regime.”.On the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria“Self Defense” – Majalla – “In an extensive interview with The Majalla the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, Mohammed Riad Al- Shaqfa, insists that compromise with Assad regime is impossible and advocates the arming of opposition fighters.”.On international intervention, diplomacy & disengagement“Saving Syria: Assessing Options for Regime Change” – The Brookings Institution – By Daniel L. Byman, Michael Doran, Kenneth M. Pollack, and Salman Shaikh. Excerpt: “This memo lays out six options for the United States to consider to achieve Asad’s overthrow, should it choose to do so: removing the regime via diplomacy; coercing the regime via sanctions and diplomatic isolation; arming the Syrian opposition to overthrow the regime; engaging in a Libya-like air campaign to help an opposition army gain victory; invading Syria with US-led forces and toppling the regime directly; and participating in a multilateral, NATO-led effort to oust Asad and rebuild Syria…For each course of action, this memo describes the strategy inherent to the option and what it would entail in practice. It also assesses the option’s advantages and disadvantages.”
“What Assad Wants in Syria: Unsanctioned International Military Action” – Brookings Institution – By Salman Shaikh. Excerpt: “The Middle East region has seen too much international military intervention that does not advance the principles of legality, justice, and the promotion of human rights. Now is the time for the international community to act collectively according to such principles. In Syria, it has the ultimate responsibility to protect civilians and to save lives by preventing the most egregious mass violations of human rights in Homs and other towns and cities. Indeed, it is precisely by following these principles that the international community distinguishes itself from the Assad regime.”.“Advantages of a Syrian War” – The National Interest – By Morton Abramowitz. Abramowitx advocates for waging war in Syria for the purpose of strategic gains over Iran. Excerpt: “Iran likely believes this kind of an American-led attack on Syria will not happen. An attack on Syria, however, could constitute a truly defining moment for the much bigger Iranian nuclear issue. Tehran would find it highly difficult to intervene directly in Syria and would face a humiliating loss and greater isolation in the region. It would be a huge political shock with possibly vast internal repercussions.”.“Syria’s Crisis and the Future of R2P” – Foreign Policy – By Zack Beauchamp. Excerpt: “As the brutal crackdown in Syria turns one year old with little sign of a solution on the horizon, skeptics and defenders of invoking the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine can agree: Syria has put the doctrine, which obligates states to be concerned about the welfare of those outside its borders, in crisis.”
by News Sources on March 22, 2012
Tony Karon writes: The Kofi Annan peace plan unanimously endorsed Wednesday by the U.N. Security Council may pose an even greater dilemma for the Syrian opposition than it does for the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. That’s because while it demands a halt to the regime’s military operations against opposition strongholds, it also retreats from the previous insistence by Western and Arab countries — and the Syrian opposition — that Assad immediately step down and hand power to a unity government as the starting point of a political solution to the year-long uprising. Instead, the Security Council statement calls for
- both the regime’s forces and armed opposition groups to accept a U.N.-supervised cease-fire;
- daily pauses for humanitarian assistance;
- the regime to release prisoners;
- freedom of access for journalists;
- freedom of assembly for peaceful protest; and for
- “the Syrian government and opposition to work in good faith with the Envoy [Annan] towards a peaceful settlement of the Syrian crisis” by engaging “in an inclusive Syrian-led political process to address the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people”.
It remains to be seen whether the regime will honor its stated willingness to engage in a political dialogue if the opposition puts down its weapons. It would certainly face massive peaceful protests if it honored Annan’s terms, and it has no intention of ceding power even if it talks of constitutional reform while shelling opposition strongholds. But the Council statement carries considerable weigh by the fact that it was endorsed by Russia and China, which had vetoed previous resolutions precisely because they demanded that Assad step down. The new resolution, and Assad’s mission, appears to reflect an acceptance that he’ll be at the table in any political dialogue to resolve the conflict.
But the demand that the opposition negotiate with the regime on the terms laid down by Annan poses a dilemma for the fractured Syrian rebellion, some of whose leaders are set to convene in Turkey on Thursday and Friday: What is won at the negotiating table typically reflects the balance of power on the ground. And the reality, there, is that the Assad regime has proven far more resilient than its domestic and foreign opponents had assumed it would be.
The lost stars: Why civil wars happen in Syria and Lebanon, March 22, 2012
Malik Al-Abdeh writes: How do we explain the de facto civil war unfolding in Syria today? How do we predict what course it will take? How do we come up with a viable and long-term solution?
A good starting point is to compare Syria with a country that bears a striking resemblance: Lebanon. This may seem surprising because the two countries (and two peoples) appear to be somewhat different.
Women, and particularly minority women, are surprisingly loyal to the Assad regime. The Assad emails leaked to the Guardian and al-Arabiyya demonstrate just how Westernized and “women friendly” the culture at the top has been. The emails showed how much the president preferred to email in English, prefered Western pop music, and liked his assistants young and sexy. It may be a perverse culture that suffers from the “Rose in the Desert” syndrome, but it has its attractions to the young Westernized upper class women of Syria. The president has surrounded himself with women who are well educated, sexy, professional and competent. Doubtlessly, minority women fear that the next president may cultivate a “Black Robe in the Desert” syndrome…..
Allawi cites ‘dictatorship,’ Iranian control in Iraq, By Ben Birnbaum, The Washington Times, Thursday, March 22, 2012
Iraq’s former prime minister says the United States is ignoring an “emerging dictatorship” in his country, telling The Washington Times that Iran is “swallowing” Iraq and dictating its strategic policies. “To be honest, people speak about Arab Spring,” Mr. Allawi said. “What spring is this?