Posted by Joshua on Thursday, June 24th, 2010
Radwan Ziadeh, who runs the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies, has written a report published in Washington this month by the Transitional Justice in the Arab World Project, entitled, “Years of Fear.” He argues that as many as 17,000 Syrians may have been “disappeared” during Hafez el-Assad’s rule; the 117-page document contains heart-breaking accounts of disappearances and extra-judicial executions, and descriptions of the apparently vain 30-year wait of sons, wives and parents for the return of men who were almost certainly killed in the early 1980s.
Robert Fisk has written a interesting synopsis of his findings.
This does not disqualify his report, but he warns readers in his preface that “for security reasons, we withheld the names of those interviewed and have changed some facts to disguise their identities. Similarly, we have scrambled [sic] the details of many human rights activists and former detainees whom we interviewed.” This does not, to put it mildly, bestow total confidence on the report. The Syrian authorities will no doubt seize upon this to debunk its contents. So, reader, you have been warned.
Years of Fear covers the three-decade rule of Hafez el-Assad, Syria’s former air force commander whose long battle to maintain his Alawi rule and whose ferocious struggle against violent Islamist enemies clogged the fetid prisons of Syria with thousands of political prisoners. Using security forces who were often corrupt, he confronted an ever more violent sectarian guerrilla movement whose first major assault came on 16 June 1979 when an army captain, Ibrahim al-Yusuf, led the massacre of Alawi students at the Aleppo artillery school.
A subsequent assassination attempt on the president prompted Rifaat’s Defence Brigades’ assault at Tadmor in which up to a thousand Muslim Brotherhood prisoners were machine-gunned to death in their cells. By 1980, there was open war between the regime and its opponents. Law 49, of 7 July 1980, mandated capital punishment for those who did not renounce their Brotherhood membership in writing, and a Ghadaffi-style assassination campaign against overseas opponents was ordered.
The Hama uprising in February 1982, in which the old, rebel-held city was virtually destroyed by tank and shell-fire, caused up to 15,000 deaths, according to Ziadeh’s report – some put the figure at 20,000. What Ziadeh oddly fails to mention is the underground fighting in Hama in which girl suicide bombers hurled themselves against Syrian troops, and previous violence in the city in which Islamists slaughtered entire families of Baath party officials. There was nothing exclusive about Syria’s mass-murderers.
Ziadeh believes that in the early Eighties and later, up to 25,000 men went missing, swallowed into interrogation centres and prisons. “Most such cases occurred before 2000,” the report says. “Many detainees have been released during the past few years.” A credit to Bashar al-Assad, no doubt.
Carsten Wieland writes, “Here is an article of mine — The present context of syria’s foreign policy change in the region and stagnation at home,” that might be of interest to you and your blog.”
Wieland makes a number of policy recommendations for the US, such as encourage peace negotiations between Syria and Israel and helping Syria’s economic development. These are encouraging. Unfortunately, Israel has stated clearly that Syria must give up the notion of getting back the Golan for peace. Syria is just as emphatic about getting back the entire Golan. And so long as Syria and Israel remain in a state of war, the US will insist on imposing economic sanctions on Syria and naming it a terror supporting state, rather than helping it develop economically.
Two additional recommendations are:
- Keep the human rights problems constantly on the table and do not use them in a seasonal manner for short term political purposes
- Express concern about the rising influence of Islamists
These are contradictory. How can the West ask the Syrian government to contain the influence of Islamists without violating their human rights? I presume Mr. Wieland would agree that Islamists must be allowed free elections if they are to enjoy full human rights. So why ask the Syrian government to limit their influence while pushing their rights? One cannot have both — human rights and the containment of Islamists. Western governments have chosen to deny Islamists human rights because they understand this trade off. Certainly, they pay lip service to democracy and freedom, but they don’t mean it. G.W. Bush pursued a Freedom Agenda of sorts. It back fired. Western governments have returned to soft peddling democracy.
Chris Phillips quite rightly critiques my Foreign Policy article suggesting that there is a New Cold War emerging in the Middle East.
US hegemony in Middle East is ending | Chris Phillips
Posted on May 31, 2010 By Chris Phillips
….Talk of a Middle East cold war is inaccurate – Russia and Turkey are simply capitalizing on the region’s new power vacuum
A recent arms deal between Russia and Syria has raised the prospect of a new cold war in the Middle East. Foreign Policy’s Josh Landis, for example, suggests that unconditional US support for Israel will draw Moscow back into its pre-1989 role as supporter and arms supplier for the enemies of Tel Aviv and Washington.
Yet Russia’s return to Syria, whether it be the sale of MiG-29s or building a naval dock on the Syrian coast, is not the action of a superpower challenging US hegemony as it was in 1945-89 but rather an assertive regional power taking advantage of the emerging power vacuum in the region. Instead of a new bi-polar cold war, regional powers such as Russia and Turkey are increasing their influence at the United States’ expense.
The idea of a new cold war has gained currency in some quarters for the wrong reasons. Syrian president Bashar al-Assad himself told La Repubblica last week that “Russia is reasserting itself. And the cold war is just a natural reaction to the attempt by America to dominate the world”.
Helena Cobban has returned from Syria and writes about how Syria’s new alliances are making it stronger. “Damascus’s strengthening tie to NATO member Turkey provided what regime insiders have described as “almost literally, a lifeline for us.” Today, Syria’s relationship with Turkey [...]”
Sarah Birke adds to this theme by describing the economic boom that has struck the very top of the Syrian pyramid.
WSJ [Reg]: Post-Dubai, Syria on Rise
By SARAH BIRKE, 2010-06-22
YAFOUR, Syria—American-style luxury housing and mixed-use estates are springing up like daisies in this desolate valley set against the hills just a few miles from the capital Damascus, the latest manifestation of a Middle East real-estate boom.
The construction is being fed by Persian Gulf investors. While Dubai’s debt woes have halted some of that city-state’s more ambitious dreams at home, Gulf-based property developers are heading to other, lower-profile Middle East markets, like Syria.
At Jasmine Hills, owned by Palmyra Real Estate, a joint venture between United Arab Emirates property developer Belhasa International and Egyptian and Syrian investors, 173 peach-colored villas, clustered around a community center and a gym, are expected to be finished next year.
Down the road in nearby Sabboura lies the Saudi-based Bin Ladin Group’s Palm Village—33 modern villas and a four-star hotel.
And Emivest, a Dubai-based investment and development agency, is building Cordoba, a set of plush apartment buildings.
In Damascus, the U.A.E.’s Emaar Properties PJSC and IGO, an offshore investment and property-development company, are finishing off the $500 million mixed-use Eighth Gate development. An office park of towering buildings, the development is home to the Damascus Securities Exchange.
‘The Biggest Potential’
“Syria is a virgin and growing market,” says George Saba, vice president of the U.A.E.’s Majd al-Futtaim, which is investing $1 billion in a 250-acre, mixed-use retail, commercial and tourist estate in Yafour.
“Now that the Gulf market is saturated, many companies are looking outside,” he said. “Syria has the biggest potential in the region.”
Investors are plowing into Syria amid ambitions by the government of President Bashar al-Assad to liberalize the economy. Damascus is also hoping to benefit from a diplomatic thaw with the West. Washington is preparing to reinstate an ambassador here after several years of tense relations. That is all helping stoke demand for high-end residential homes and office space.
“Since 2005, when the government officially announced it would open up the economy, people and companies have been pouring in,” says Nabil Sukkar, a local economic analyst.
Jasmine Hills villas are selling for 29 million to 31 million Syrian pounds, or between $620,000 and $660,000, princely sums for a country with a per-capita gross domestic product of just $4,600.
A 2010 survey by real-estate advisers Cushman & Wakefield found Damascus came 32nd in the rankings for most expensive office space in the world, coming below Persian Gulf boomtowns Dubai and Doha, Qatar, but above the likes of other business hot spots in the region, including Istanbul, Cairo in Egypt, and Tel Aviv.
Prices have risen so quickly some analysts are bracing for a correction.
Investors are particularly wary after Dubai’s recent fall from grace.
Lessons of the Crisis
The U.A.E. emirate borrowed heavily to build a modern cityscape. After a property market crash there—with some prices down as much as 50%—many new buildings sit largely empty.
Analysts say Syria is protected from a Dubai-like crash. Demand for space far outstrips supply.
And Dubai’s troubles, and those of the rest of the world, have already taken some air out of prices here, they say.
“The financial crisis, which stopped prices rising quite so much, may have been a blessing in disguise,” says Mr. Sukkar.
syria spends $1.5 billion on education. The article claims that this is 4.3% of GDP. This means that GDP is $35 billion…Dardari has been throwing out numbers closer to 55-60 billion. Its insane…
300,000 students in Syria attend watershed entrance exam
2010-06-22, (Xinhua via COMTEX)
More than 300,000 students in Syria including foreign refugees’ children attended the national entrance exams for higher education, which might become the watershed for their future life. The exams, known as baccalaureate among Syrians, started on May 31 and will last for three weeks with an interval of 1-4 days between each test. Students will sit either the liberal arts exam or science exam.
Rami Aydi, a Palestinian refugee, said that he has chosen the liberal arts as it is much easier than science. “I want to study law, but I am not sure that I can make it due to the tough competition.” According to the Syrian Ministry of Education, more than 300, 000 students including Palestinian and Iraqi refugees, attend this year’s exams, aiming at obtaining the qualifications to enter the public universities and colleges.
….According to the Syrian Ministry of Education, more than 300, 000 students including Palestinian and Iraqi refugees, attend this year’s exams, aiming at obtaining the qualifications to enter the public universities and colleges. Statistics from the Ministry showed the rate of success in 2009 session was 72.81 percent for the science branch, and 56.05 percent for the liberal arts.
….Despite being a low-income country with a growing population, Syria has a good basic education system. Since 2000, the Government of Syria has significantly increased the expenditure on education. The total expenditure in the education sector doubled between 2000 and 2005 from 0.76 billion U.S. dollars in 2000 to 1.5 billion dollars. During this period, the share of education expenditure to GDP increased from 2.7 percent to 4.3 percent.
In 2007, there were 8 million students in the education system of Syria, 4 million in basic education, 1.4 million in secondary and 2.3 million in higher-education. Given the current growth rate in the school age population, it is projected that by 2015, the education system in Syria will need to cater for an additional 1 million students in basic and secondary education….
Severe Drought In Syria Drives People Into Cities Despite UN Aid – DOW JONES NEWSWIRES
DAMASCUS (AFP)–A severe four-year drought is devastating Syria’s rural communities, forcing them to abandon the country’s traditional breadbasket in the northeast for cities in search of employment.
Earlier this month, the World Food Program started delivering food aid to nearly 200,000 people in the provinces of Al-Hasakeh, Al-Raqqa and Deir Ezzor, areas worst hit by the drought. The WFP says tens of thousands of the most vulnerable families have benefited from the food aid program. But due to low levels of funding, the United Nations’ food agency says 110,000 people are still in need. “The situation is really bad” in northeast Syria, said WFP official Selly Muzammil.
It is the second time that food aid has been distributed in Syria since the U.N. initiated a plan last year to combat the drought in afflicted areas. The situation has triggered a mass exodus of people to urban areas in search of work. The U.N. estimates more than a million people have left the northeast for urban centers, with farmers simply not cultivating enough food or earning enough money to sustain them.
Wheat production, seen as one of Syria’s key strategic resources, is believed to have fallen this year to 2.4 million metric tons, down from 4.1 million in 2007, while domestic consumption has risen to 4 million tons annually, according to the ruling party’s newspaper Al-Baath.
“We are going to import wheat for the third consecutive year,” the daily said last week. The government has responded with urgent measures, including the rescheduling of loans and tax exemptions for investment projects.
Deputy prime minister for economic affairs Abdallah Dardari announced Saturday the decision to double public investment in Deir Ezzor to 21 billion Syrian pounds ($450 million) over the coming five years. Dardari appealed to the private sector to match public investment in the region and announced the construction of an EUR1 billion dam expected to irrigate 30,000 hectares of land.
In a letter published in the official Syrian press, the governor of Al-Hasakeh called on the authorities to reschedule loans to farmers for 2009-2010 “because of the 60% fall in production…and the spread of a disease that affects the wheat crop.” But it will take a lot more to reverse the long-term social changes unfolding in northeast Syria.
Syria President:New Iraq Government Needed To Restore Security – DOW JONES NEWSWIRES
DAMASCUS (AFP)–Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday urged the formation of a new Iraqi government to restore security, in a meeting with the head of Iraq’s main conservative Shiite political party. Assad met Ammar al-Hakim, the chief of the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council which has close ties to Iran, and discussed efforts to form a new government, Syria’s official SANA news agency reported.
WSJ [Reg]: FOCUS Syria Looks To Old Foe Turkey As Economy Grows
2010-06-22 08:22:27.735 GMT
DUBAI (Zawya Dow Jones)–Syria is boosting relations with its former enemy Turkey to build on a decade of reform initiatives that have transformed the Arab state’s economy. After years of mistrust, overshadowed by the legacy of Ottoman rule and … Several joint initiatives in agriculture and tourism have been announced. Earlier this month, Turkey and Syria signed a free trade zone agreement with Jordan …
‘So tell me about your massage’
From The Sunday Times
May 30, 2010
If you’re heading to Syria, one of this year’s travel hot spots, just take it easy in the hammams. You’ll get a hell of a soaping2.6 million square meters of prime real estate in Syria’s major cities and tourist destinations, namely Damascus, Aleppo, and Lattakia.
EFG Hermes Syria closes first transaction – 2010-06-20
EFG Hermes said it has acted as sole buy-side advisor to top Egyptian real estate developer, Sixth of October Development & Investment Company (SODIC) on its acquisition of a 50 per cent stake in Syria’s Palmyra Real Estate Development Company, a …
Firas Tlass, MAS’s Chairman & CEO stated “The key to successful real estate development is vision for what could be. We believe that SODIC has the right vision for the future and together we have taken a positive step realizing that vision.”
Six Of October: Cairo/Damascus, 17th of June 2010 – 2010-06-21
Cairo/Damascus, 17th of June 2010 Date added: Monday 21st June 2010 Egypt based Sixth of October Development & Investment Company S.A.E. (“SODIC”), and MAS Economic Group (“MAS”) of Syria announced that SODIC will invest U$40.5 million to acquire …
From Syria Report and Jihad Yazigi:
Syria’s Wheat Output to Fall by a Third as Yellow Rust Epidemic Hits Crop: Syria’s wheat output is expected to fall by a third as a devastating epidemic of yellow rust has hit the soft wheat crop.
Agriculture and Water: The Syrian Parliament has ratified an agreement signed earlier this year between the Government and the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development to part finance the rehabilitation and expansion of water supply system in Damascus city and its suburbs.
Economy: Registered Iraqi Refugees in Syria Down to 165,000. The number of Iraqi refugees formally registered at the UN Refugee Agency representation in Syria has fallen by a quarter, to 165,000, according to a spokesperson.
Education: Syria and Iran have laid the foundation stone of a joint university to be built in Lattakia.
Israeli NSC Arad on-record: Two states? That’s a zero-sum game!
Didi Remez | June 23, 2010 at 10:44
Yesterday (June 22 2010), In a speech to the Jewish Agency, Israeli National Security Adviser Uzi Arad, asked Israelis to ‘curb their enthusiasm’ about a two state solution to the conflict, saying that legitimizing a Palestinian State is tantamount to de-legitimizing Israel:
Arad also leveled veiled criticism at the two-state solution. “On the one hand, most of the people of Israel see the two-state solution as the path to a peace agreement. There are even quite a few Israelis who have mobilized for a Palestinian state and the promotion of its legitimacy, and are winning converts to it.
“What they do not notice is that this claims a certain price. The more you market Palestinian legitimacy, the more you bring about a detraction of Israel’s legitimacy in certain circles. They are accumulating legitimacy, and we are being delegitimized. If we were aware of that, perhaps we would be less enthusiastic.”… Arad’s remarks came just days after Obama’s Middle East envoy, George J. Mitchell, met with Israeli and Palestinian officials to test the two sides’ readiness to engage in face-to-face talks on core issues such as borders, the future of Jerusalem, security arrangements and the fate of Palestinian refugees. So far, those contacts have not produced substantive results.
Strenger than Fiction / Israel should consider a one-state solution. 18.06.10
Israel would do well to become a truly liberal, secular state without ethnic dominance in which subgroups no longer impose their way of life on each other.
By Carlo Strenger
In a recent op-ed, Moshe Arens suggested that Israel seriously consider the option of a single state west of the Jordan, in which Palestinians be granted full citizenship.
The one-state solution is advocated by a number of Palestinian intellectuals and is becoming rather popular within the European left. Their reason is generally that the one-state solution would give more justice to the Palestinians – this position is mostly seen as anti-Israeli. Israel’s extreme right favors holding onto the greater land of Israel, generally on theological grounds.
Arens raises his idea from a different standpoint, because he is a secular liberal who indeed believes in full equality for Israel’s Arabs. Even though I have for years argued that the one-state solution is not feasible, Aren’s idea needs to be explored – at least as a thought experiment – because it may well be that the window of opportunity for the two-state solution is about to close. So far no Israeli government has succeeded in implementing it; Palestinians are beginning to reject it, and Israel may not be able to uproot more than one hundred thousand settlers.
Arens has indeed tried in his political career to increase equality for Israel’s Arabs, and he deplores Israel’s failure to do so. He has told me in conversation that this failure was his strongest motivation for writing the article on a one-state solution. In my mind, thinking about this failure requires us to face that Israel has been in an ongoing culture war for most of its existence – and not only with respect to its Arab citizens. Israel’s elections ostensibly seem to be about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but in reality they are a reflection of the tensions in Israel’s society: religious vs. secular; Ashkenazi vs. Sephardim; Jews vs. Arabs.
Of course, many will not accept Arens’ assessment that there are only 1.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank, and Palestinians are unlikely to accept the exclusion of Gaza from the new state. But even in Arens’ scenario, Israel would de facto become a bi-national state. Jewish cultural hegemony would have to be largely renounced and give way to a multicultural model.
Arens’ idea raises a real challenge for Israel: It would, for the first time, have to truly face the task of radically revising its political system and culture and to think carefully about how ethnicities, religions and worldviews can truly live side by side with each other instead of struggling for cultural hegemony.
One consequence of Arens’ idea is that the state would have to sever its ties to all religious institutions, and would have to become completely secular, along the French or U.S. model. Both Jews and Muslims would have to accept that religion cannot play any role in affairs of the state, and religious institutions would become completely voluntary and communitarian. In order to avoid tensions between the various religious groups, and between religious and secular lifestyles, the Swiss confederative model might be considered. The federal government’s involvement in the canton’s internal affairs would be low to allow for maximal cultural flexibility.
Both Jews and Palestinians would have to be willing to renounce the struggle for hegemony. The political culture would have to be structured in a way that avoids such a struggle. Jews would have to be willing to accept Jabotinsky’s suggestion that the President of the state could be sometimes Jewish and sometimes Arab.
Of course the most attractive feature of the one-state solution is a complete restructuring of the Middle East. Arab rejection of a fully liberal Israel-Palestine would no longer have a case. Of course radical Islamists might continue to object to the presence of non-Muslims, but the majority of Arabs would feel much more comfortable with a bi-national state.
I continue to be skeptical about the one-state solution. I am afraid that it will be very difficult to implement, and it is almost unimaginable that a cohesive society would emerge after a century of bloody conflict, particularly if you consider that even states like Belgium are on the verge of falling apart. Economic inequality, which is very high in Israel today, would increase even further and create huge problems.
Arens’ challenge must be taken seriously, for a number of reasons:
First, we are close to the point at which only the one state solution will be possible.
Second, because we need to face that the culture wars have led to the point where Israel is currently on the verge of falling apart as a country. The events surrounding the refusal of Haredi parents in Immanuel to have their daughters study with Mizrahi girls must be seen as what they are. The Haredi community has staged the imprisonments of these parents into a grand event of martyrdom for the Torah. For them Israel’s legal system simply has no legitimacy.
Paradoxically, not only Ashkenazi Haredim think this way – the Haredi state of mind was made fully explicit by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Shas’ spiritual leader, who condemned the High Court of Justice for intervening. He said that the offended Mizrahi parents should not have turned to arka’ot – the term traditionally used by Jews to designate the courts of the gentile countries in which Jews lived. It was seen as a betrayal of Jews by Jews to turn to these courts instead of a rabbinical court. Add to this that some Haredim used terms like the Chelmnitzky pogroms and ‘inquisition’ to describe these events. This rhetoric shows the depth of the chasm between the Haredim and the rest of the country.
De facto, approximately one million Jews – Haredim and part of the settler community – have ceased accepting the authority of the state. Add to this that most of Israel’s 1.5 million Arabs do not identify with the state and you get a society without little cohesion and a state whose legitimacy is question from within and from without.
Given this situation we need to see that Israel will have to rethink its conceptual and legal foundations. Even if the two-state solution would finally be achieved, Israel would do well to apply some of the features of the one-state solution: to become a truly liberal, secular state without ethnic dominance in which subgroups no longer try to impose their way of life on each other. It should seriously consider a confederative structure to defuse its culture wars that are tearing it apart.
|AIPAC gets a bad case of Hasbara Derangement Syndrome Didi Remez | June 21, 2010 at 12:45 | Categories: Hasbara | URL: http://wp.me/pHlQV-CI|
Hot on the heels of We Con the World, Caroline Glick’s US-funded operation has released another video, this time an anti-Tirkish screed. MJ Rosenberg points out that it has been endorsed by AIPAC and calls it “right out of 1930′s Central Europe.” Andrew Sullivan posts the full text of the AIPAC e-mail. Josh Block, AIPAC’s flack, must have a really bad case of Hasbara Derangement Syndrome if he thinks that he is helping Israel’s cause by endorsing an outfit that recently produced a racist segment on POTUS. In this video the Barack Obama character sings of his hatred for “dirty Jews” and his hope that the Koran will rule the world and the Jews will drown in the sea, and then calls for Iran to strike Israel with a hydrogen bomb.
DAMASCUS (AFP)–United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees chief Antonio Guterres said Friday the body has referred 100,000 Iraqi refugees in the Middle East for resettlement in third countries since 2007. …..The acceptance rate by resettlement countries of UNHCR’s referrals now stands at 80%, of which nearly 76% have been accepted by the U.S., the UNHCR said.
Congress strikes deal on sanctions for supplying Iran
(By Colum Lynch and Thomas Erdbrink, The Washington Post)
U.S. lawmakers on Monday reached agreement on legislation that would penalize Iran’s business partners for selling the country gasoline, investing in its refineries, or providing financial services to firms linked to its political and military elite.