News Round Up (27 February 2007)

U.S. Agrees to Meeting with Iran and Syria writes David Ignatius – or sort of. This is how it has been explained:

The Bush administration has agreed to sit around a negotiating table with official representatives of Iran and Syria next month — as part of a planned regional conference in Baghdad to discuss ways to stabilize Iraq.

In joining the Baghdad conference, the administration is tiptoeing into what has become one of the most contentious issues in the roiling Iraq debate. Critics for months have been urging the administration to end its diplomatic isolation of Iran and Syria and begin a constructive dialogue about with them about how to stabilize Iraq. Even former secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who has generally supported administration policy on Iraq, argued in an op-ed piece last weekend that it’s time to end the diplomatic quarantine and convene an international conference on Iraq.

 The government will invite representatives of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — Britain, France, Russia, China and the United States — in addition to all of its Mideast neighbors.

Though it will bring together American, Syrian and Iranian representatives, the Baghdad meeting doesn’t signal a direct U.S. diplomatic engagement with Iran and Syria. A senior State Department official said Monday night that it wasn’t likely there would be separate bilateral meetings with Iran or Syria. Rather, the planned Baghdad meeting is an extension of the administration’s current policy of using the Iraqi government as the channel for discussions with Iran and Syria about Iraqi security.

The initial meeting, tentatively planned for the first half of March, will be at the ambassadorial level, the State Department official said. The American representative will be Zalmay Khalilzad, the current U.S. ambassador to Iraq, or his successor, Ryan Crocker. Khalilzad has long favored direct meetings with Iran. If the initial meeting goes well, a second meeting at the foreign minister level is planned for April.

 Iran and Syria haven’t formally agreed to attend the meeting, but “they haven’t said no,” said the State Department official, and the Iraqis expect they will attend.

The trick for the administration has been to gain Iranian and Syrian help in Iraq — or at least, a cessation of harmful activity — without conceding ground on the larger issues of paramount importance to those countries. The Baghdad conference appears to offer such a finesse. It begins contact, but leaves diplomatic “grand bargains — that would address the Iranian nuclear program or Syria’s role in Lebanon — for other times and venues.

Although US diplomats claim there will be no "grand bargains," such as Syria's role in Lebanon, but, of course, Syria can ask the Iraqis what they want and then explain that they will do it if the US takes Syria off the terrorist list or drops economic sanctions. At which point, the Iraqi officials will look at the American ambassador and wait for his response. It will help clarify the issues. At least this way, the American public will get a better idea of how interested its government is in stabilizing Iraq and can assess the price Syria and Iran will ask for cooperation. It is a positive turn of events which fits in well with the diplomacy that the US has farmed out to Saudi Arabia. Both Iraq and Saudi Arabia will be able to lobby Washington on Syria's behalf.

U.S. takes harder line on talks between Jerusalem, Damascus
By Ze'ev Schiff, Amos Harel and Yoav Stern, Haaretz, February 24, 2007

The United States demanded that Israel desist from even exploratory contacts with Syria, of the sort that would test whether Damascus is serious in its declared intentions to hold peace talks with Israel.

In meetings with Israeli officials recently, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was forceful in expressing Washington's view on the matter.

The American argument is that even "exploratory talks" would be considered a prize in Damascus, whose policy and actions continue to undermine Lebanon's sovereignty and the functioning of its government, while it also continues to stir unrest in Iraq, to the detriment of the U.S. presence there. [complete article]

Siniora denies arming Sunni extremist groups

Lahoud officially invited to Arab League summit

Assad accepts to go to Saudi Arabia, Arab League meeting 

“Al-Assad after receiving Abdullah’s invitation: my attendance is decided” (Translation by

Al Hayat, an independent Saudi owned newspaper, reported in its February 26 issue about the latest developments in the preparations for the Arab summit which will be held in March. The newspaper added: “The Saudi minister of state Abdullah Zeinal announced to Al Hayat yesterday that the Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad has confirmed that he will attend the Arab summit set for the 28th and 29th of next month. Al-Assad announced to Zeinal: “My attendance is decided. I will expend all my efforts to ensure that the summit succeeds”. Zeinal had delivered to the Syrian president yesterday a letter from the Saudi king Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz that includes an invitation to attend the 19th Arab summit which will be held in Riyadh next month.”

The newspaper added: “A Syrian presidential spokesman announced that the meeting which took place in the presence of the Saudi ambassador in Riyadh Ahmad Bin Ali Al-Qahtani discussed “the necessity of ensuring the success of the Arab summit because of its importance for the Arab people”. Zeinal clarified to Al Hayat that the meeting with Al-Assad was “very distinguished and Al-Assad gave me valuable time. As soon as I handed over the invitation, he told me that his attendance was decided and that he will do his best to ensure its success before also expressing his estimation for the Saudi king and the old relationship between them”. While diplomatic sources announced that Syrian officials told them that the Arab summit is “important and it must succeed”, Syrian sources clarified that Damascus is “anxious for the success of the summit in the current circumstances and it is paying attention to the suggested agenda”

The newspaper continued: “The Syrian foreign minister Walid Al-Muallem is supposed to participate in the Arab foreign ministers’ meeting which will be held at the beginning of next week in Cairo. It was learned that Syrian Saudi arrangements prepared for Zeinal’s visit as he met the Syrian deputy foreign minister Faisal Al-Miqdad before he met with Al-Assad…” – Al Hayat, United Kingdom Click here for source

Several good stories on the Sunni-Shiite divide:

As U.S. Puts Pressure on Iran, Gulf's Religious Rift Spreads,
Sunni States See Rise In Anti-Shiite Actions; Scare Tactics in Bahrain, By ANDREW HIGGINS, WSJ, February 26, 2007; Page A1

MUHARRAQ, Bahrain — One night last fall, incendiary leaflets denouncing Iran suddenly appeared on the walls of houses and mosques in this tiny Persian Gulf kingdom.

"Iranians are trying to occupy your homes, the homes of your fathers and grandfathers," warned the anonymous tracts. "Do you want to be ruled by these people? No, a thousand times no!"

Bahrain, a crucial American ally and home to the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet, was quickly caught up in a wave of anti-Iranian paranoia. Politicians, clerics and the media jumped on the theme, turning Iran into a big issue in bitter local elections …

The Devil We Know, by PETER BEINART follows along the lines of my post of several days ago on Saudi Arabia 
How low have America's fortune in the Middle East sunk? So low that we're staking our hopes for the region on … Saudi Arabia….


David Schenker (February 26, 2007) of WINEP writes: Saudi-Iranian Mediation on Hizballah: Will a Lebanon Deal Come at Syria's Expense?

He concludes:

For the time being, it appears that Iran and Hizballah will not sacrifice Syria for a Lebanon deal. Ultimately, however, if a deal is to be reached and Lebanon is to avoid civil war, Hizballah will have to consent—even if only temporarily—to approve the tribunal in parliament. The framework of the deal, as currently structured, essentially forces Hizballah to choose between securing its local interests (more political power in Lebanon) and protecting its Syrian ally (by opposing the tribunal). While Hizballah and Iran would like both, it seems likely that, at the end of the day, they will choose to prioritize political power. And this is what troubles Damascus.

I am not sure why Schenker thinks that Hizbullah and Iran will eventually accept the Hariri tribunal at Syria's expense. This seems like wishful thinking to me. If Hizbullah breaks with Syria, it will have no means of importing arms. Perhaps Schenker assumes that Hizb will accept to give up its role as "resistance" and accept peace with Israel without a Golan deal or Palestinian deal. Possible, but not likely. It is also unlikely that Siniora will give up his insistance that Lebanon fully support an international tribune, designed to take on Syria. Stalemate is the most likely outcome. Both sides seem adverse to compromise.

“Scholars and sheikhs: conversions to Shi’ism in Syria individual cases” (translation by

On February 25, Al, the online version of Al Jazeera TV, reported that: “Syrian religious scholars denied the news about the spread of [efforts to] convert [people] to Shi’ism in the country and considered the [news] to be “rumors” promoted by some out of ignorance and to be part of the American pressures. Other scholars talked about the fact that this was linked to the building by Iranian donors of shrines in the northeastern region of the country. The director of the Islamic Studies Center and Syrian MP Dr. Muhammad Habash, said that what was being circulated about the issue was groundless.

“He believed that “Saudi Sheikh Salman Al-Awded who said that about Syria, based his talk on doubts and illusions”. He said that the situation in Syria was different from Saudi Arabia. He added that: “Let them show us one case which proves that people were paid to convert from one sect to the other”. He continued that people converted from the Sunni sect to the Shi’i sect and vice versa everywhere, and considered these cases to be individual cases which were present in all the societies.

“Worshippers and sheikhs quoted the scholar, Wehbe Al-Zuheili, as saying after the Friday prayer in a mosque in Damascus a few weeks ago that there were cases of Shi’ization in one of the towns in the Raqqa governorate northeast of Damascus, and [he] asked the worshippers to make sure of that. We were unable to contact Al-Zuheili, but the general supervisor of the Ghuraba Al-Sham media institution…, Sheikh Mahmoud Kul Aghasi, said to Al that Al-Zuheili’s position was “investigative and was confirmed the following week”.

“Aghasi added that the story started from Al-Raqqa where an Iranian institution built two shrines for the Companion [of the Prophet] Ammar Bin Yasser and follower Awais Al-Qarni (God bless them), as well as a cultural bureau and a tapes library. He indicated that some people in that area were influenced by the building pattern and the ideology and found common grounds with those who are responsible for them. He assured however that they never changed their sect, and if they did “there are very few of them”. He believed that some exaggerated the entire issue…

“For his part, the former assistant to the Syrian minister of endowments, Dr. Abdul Razzak Al-Muanness, said he heard a lot of “talk” regarding Shi’ization in Syria in newspapers, satellite channels and websites. He checked the veracity of these claims by conducting tours and visits in many Syrian regions and didn’t find any proof for the spread of Shi’ization. The dean of the Islamic Studies College in Damascus, Abdullah Nizam, said that talks about Shi’ization in Syria were “lies” and said to Al that he called upon all those who raised this issue to provide proof for the fact that someone converted to Shi’ism or was asked to convert to Shi’ism in exchange for money…

“Aghasi believed it was the right of any group to promote what it believes in… but in correct and clear ways. He said that the Shi’is have been declaring their creed for years via books, publications, and recordings and wondered why this issue was raised in these “difficult circumstances” that the region was going through. He concluded by saying that foreign sides connected with the American administration were interested in talking about a Shi’i spread as part of an Iranian path.

“Al-Muanness believed that such allegations were not innocent and were the result of the American occupation of Iraq, and an attempt to weaken the domestic communities of its neighboring states by spreading sectarian strife, in order to undermine peacefulness and cooperation with Iran. For his part, Nizam said that this issue was raised because of the “critical circumstances that the nation is going through, following the victory achieved by the Lebanese resistance over the Israeli army”. He added that what he called “media mouthpieces” and some scholars “fell in the American-Israeli trap and launched a campaign to arouse the common people and the sectarian conflicts among the Muslims.” – Al Jazeera, QatarClick here for source

Comments (170)

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151. Alex said:

Vice President , Farouk alShara has expressed optimism over the holding of an international conference on Iraq next week , adding that a lot of the conference outcome will be pending on what the US. administration thinks since it is not easy to know if the US. participation means a real and actual change.
In an interview given to the delegate of the French Daily Le Monde and published today in Paris, alShara went on to say that Syria is an important player, Syria is ready to do her best to find a solution to the current situation in Iraq, because Syria is interested in the stability of Iraq, and if the situation in Iraq is stable, this will apply on Syria and on the whole region.

AlShara called for caution because the situation in Iraq is slipping toward chaos, and there are important proposed issues such as national reconciliation, and agreement on a timetable for withdrawal of the foreign troops, indicating that Syria stands in at the same distance from all the Iraqi parties whether in the government or in the opposition, because the role of a mediator can not be played if we take sides with any party.

On the Syrian-French relations, the vice president expressed hope that the crisis between the two countries will end by the French presidential elections whoever would the president-elect be, because there is no reason for the continuation of boycott between the two countries, and healthy normal relations should be restored in the best interest of the two countries.

Replying to a question on the international tribunal, alShara said that all what could cause division in Lebanon is a source of anxiety to Syria, and Syria said that the Syrians cooperated fully with the international investigation committee, but the international tribunal is irrelevant because the investigation has not finished yet and the United Nations did not send Syria the draft of the tribunal and did not consulted Syria … it is a pure Lebanese matter.

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March 3rd, 2007, 8:05 am


152. Alex said:

Elaph news …

الى ذلك وعلى صعيد اخر قالت مصادر دبلوماسية عربية ان وزير الخارجية السوري وليد المعلم الذي سيصل اليوم الى القاهرة للمشاركة في اجتماعات وزراء الخارجية العرب تحضيرا لقمةالرياض ، سيلتقي بالرئيس المصري حسني مبارك في خطوة تأتي استكمالا للاتصال الذي اجراه مبارك بالرئيس السوري بشار الاسد قبل ثلاثة ايام وأطلعه خلاله على نتائج زيارته الى الرياض.

وأضافت المصادر ان القاهرة التي تلعب دورا رئيسيا في اعادة ترتيب العلاقات السعودية السورية قبيل قمة الرياض، تحاول ازالة الشوائب، خاصة بعد ان لمس الرئيس مبارك وجود رغبة متبادلة من الجانبين في تطبيع العلاقات واعادتها الى ما كانت عليه قبل الازمة الاخيرة .وفي حين لم تستبعد المصادر احتمال نجاح العاصمة المصرية في عقد لقاء بين وزيري خارجية سوريا وليد المعلم والسعودية الامير سعود الفيصل، قالت إن القيادة المصرية باتت مقتنعة بأن نقل الهدنة اللبنانية الحالية الى مرحلة بداية الحل يقتضي تفاهما بين دمشق والرياض أولا، وهو الامر الذي شدد عليه عمرو موسى في كل اتصالاته العربية.

وقالت مصادر عربية على صلة وثيقة بطهران، ان المسؤولين الايرانيين قطعوا شوطا لا بأس به في اتصالاتهم مع السعودية وهناك لجنة سعودية ايرانية تعمل بصورة مستمرة ويشرف على عملها كل من الامير بندر بن سلطان و علي لاريجاني، وعلى الارجح فإن الايرانيين، وبإقرار من السعوديين والفرنسيين لعبوا دورا كبيرا في انجاح مؤتمر باريس 3 كما ان السعوديين طلبوا منهم اعداد مجموعة من الاقتراحات حول الازمة اللبنانية وهم يستعدون لتقديمها قريبا وعلى الارجح في خلال زيارة نجاد الى الرياض اليوم.

وقال مصدر سياسي لبناني في بيروت قوله إن إيران تريد إذابة الجليد بين السعوديين والسوريين وهو عنصر أساسي لنزع فتيل الأزمة اللبنانية قبل قمة جامعة الدول العربية التي تعقد في السعودية في نهاية مارس/آذار. وأشار معلقون سعوديون إلى أن المسؤولين السوريين لم يزوروا السعودية منذ أشهر وقالوا إن الرياض ربما تريد تحسن العلاقات مع دمشق لإبعاد سوريا عن إيران.

الزيارة مبادرة إيرانية

ويقود الدبلوماسي السعودي الأمير بندر بن سلطان، الجهود الدبلوماسية السعودية للحد من النفوذ الإقليمي المتعاظم لإيران. ويقول دبلوماسيون غربيون في الرياض إن الأمير بندر مقرب من الإدارة الأمريكية لكنه قد يكون في بعض الأحيان طرفا مستقلا لا يعبر بالضرورة عن رأي الملك. وقال المحلل العراقي مصطفى العاني الذي زار الرياض في الآونة الأخيرة واجتمع مع مسئولين سعوديين إن طهران على دراية بذلك وتشعر أنه يتعين عليها استمالة القادة السعوديين بدءا بالملك عبد الله نفسه.

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March 3rd, 2007, 8:17 am


153. Gibran said:

Alex quotes and highlights an Israeli on matters that relate to internal Syrian politics (reform) in an effort to gain regime legitimacy: “We need to think like the Turks: Despite everything, it is preferable to have Bashar Assad sitting in Damascus – rather than the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Dear Atassi or any other Patriotic Syrian,

What do you think of the logic of Alex behind his highlighted message of an Israeli; i.e. a no-Syrian belonging to a country occupying Syrian land and is at least technically in a state of war with your beloved Syria? Doesn’t his logic smack of some unpatriotic behavior? It seems he can only relate to the opinion of ‘some enemy’ of Syria instead of involving himself in a serious debate about reform with his fellow Syrians. Do you notice that his only comment about the reform thread he started so far has been this Israeli quote?

Whereas they may or may not comment and without any prejudice, the opinions of Alex, EHSANI, FP and Norman on this are not solicited.

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March 3rd, 2007, 8:28 am


154. Alex said:

أنت بالفعل شعلة ذكاء يا جبران


I will give you the benefit of the doubt regarding your comments about my decision to make the last paragraph of the Haaretz article bold… you are joking, right?

As for my lack of comment for the past 10 hours on the subject of reform … what exactly is your point? …. is it because I do not want the subject THAT I STARTED WITH THREE LONG COMMENTS to be discussed? .. is it possible that I liked most of the comments I read after I came back from dinner tonight? … do I have to show up every time with more long comments?

For your information, I started the same topic about a year ago … I like this edition’s comments much more than last year’s.

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March 3rd, 2007, 8:45 am


155. Gibran said:

Joking? O’ no you must be joking Alex!
I don’t joke when it comes to patriotism. I’m sure there are close to 19 million patriotic Syrians. And I’m quite sure many, many, many of them don’t joke when it comes to patriotism. Do you think you have enough ‘genius’ to make fool of all of them?
In fact, your whole thread was a piece of joke. You begin by proposing some guaranties (a piece of disappointing joke as I remarked immediately after you started the thread) for some 20 to 25 percent of Syria’s population under the guise of seeking political reforms. You end up by seeking to legitimize a regime that represents less than a fraction of a 5-10% of your Syrian population, using the opinion of none other than a citizen of a country that Syria is in a state of war with.
Come on Alex who are you fooling?

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March 3rd, 2007, 9:45 am


156. youngSyria said:

first:this thread is sooooo long …..
alex and others ,
why do you think that sunnis will end up eating minorities for dinner if this regime is changed?
I know that most of people have problems with alawis but not other,I think,some alawis will be eaten, not all of them(alawis).

about MB coming to power in election:
although by no means i support them, but hey, if thats what Syrians want, what is the problem?? aren’t we talking about democracy?or we don’t need democracy when its not in our favor?
so what is the difference between us and the regime?

I don’t think that Syrians (and I mean all regime,MB,NSF ,internal opposition,you and me)are ready for fact they don’t understand what it means.(this applies to all ME not only syria)

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March 3rd, 2007, 12:04 pm


157. Innocent_Criminal said:

thats the worry youngsyria. in short MB will respect democracy when its in their favor but once in control they will make sure “democracy” will never be an obstacle to their goals

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March 3rd, 2007, 4:09 pm


158. Gibran said:

Democracy loving Arabs/Syrians: Come and learn Democracy from the only Arab Democracy in the Middle East. We have close to a century of Democratic history. Our Democracy survived an unprecedented 17 year period of civil war. It continues to survive the plots of neighboring despots. Our Beirut Cafes are open, just like during the 60s, for your dissidents to come and share their stories of past struggles and discuss future plans without any fear of the omnipresent Mukhabarat. It is the only hope for your aspirations. Honorable Mr. Hariri speaks:

الحريري: نقطة ضعف المعارضة اقتناؤها السلاح ولبّ المشكلة خوف جيراننا من ديموقراطيتنا
بيروت الحياة – 03/03/07//

مكاري والحريري وبوتيرنغ وباتري خلال الندوة (دالاتي ونهرا)
قال رئيس كتلة «المستقبل» النائب سعد الحريري أن «لبنان واللبنانيين يتعرضون اليوم لحملة تستهدف مسيرتهم الديموقراطية، وترمي إلى قلب نتائج الانتخابات النيابية من خلال أزمة داخلية افتعلها جيران لبنان ودعموها عبر حلفائهم اللبنانيين». وأضاف: «إن تهديدات النظام السوري ضد لبنان واللبنانيين تُوقِع ضحايا في الطبقة السياسية وتزرع الرعب في صفوف الصحافيين والمثقفين والسياسيين».

وقال الحريري: «إن لبنان يواجه اليوم أزمة داخلية لكننا ندرك أن الحوار وحده يخولنا التوصل الى حل لأن غالبية اللبنانيين الذين نمثلهم في البرلمان يصرون بشدة على حل مشاكلنا عبر حوار سلمي على رغم الضغوط التي تمارس على بعض المجموعات في لبنان لإبقائه بيئة خصبة لعدم الاستقرار». وأكد: «أننا، الغالبية في البرلمان، لن نألو جهداً لإيجاد حل يحمي بلدنا وينقذ مواطنينا من العنف»، مشدداً على أن تيار»المستقبل» وقوى 14 آذار (مارس) «لا تؤمن بالسلاح بتاتاً»، معتبراً أن «نقطة ضعف المعارضة اقتناؤها السلاح».

مواقف الحريري جاءت في ندوة نظمها تيار «المستقبل» في بلجيكا، في مبنى البرلمان الأوروبي في بروكسيل تحت عنوان «لبنان بعد سنتين على اغتيال رفيق الحريري»، حضرها نائب رئيس المجلس النيابي فريد مكاري والنائبان باسم السبع ومصباح الاحدب وأعضاء في البرلمان الأوروبي وسفراء عرب وأجانب وممثلون عن قوى 14 آذار وحشد من الجالية اللبنانية.

وتحدث الحريري بإسهاب عن العلاقة مع أوروبا والجهود التي بذلها الرئيس السابق للحكومة اللبنانية الشهيد رفيق الحريري لتعزيز تلك العلاقات وصولاً الى توقع اتفاق الشراكة مع أوروبا.

وقال الحريري إن «موسم القتل يجب أن يتوقف (…) ولبنان يحتاج إلى دعمكم (الأوروبيين) لمنع ثقافة الموت من تدمير منارة الديموقراطية الوحيدة في الشرق الأوسط»، مشدداً على أن «الوسيلة لوقف هذه الحرب تتمثل بإنشاء المحكمة الدولية لمحاكمة المسؤولين عن الاغتيالات. إنها الوسيلة الوحيدة لحماية لبنان. وعلينا ألا ندع الذين ارتكبوا هذه الأعمال الإرهابية يفلتون من جرائمهم من دون عقاب».

وأوضح الحريري أن «العرب، ولا سيما المملكة العربية السعودية، يبذلون جهوداً جبارة للتوصل إلى حل سلمي للأزمة اللبنانية، ونحن، الغالبية في البرلمان اللبناني وفي البلاد، لن نألو جهداً لإيجاد حل يحمي بلدنا وينقذ مواطنينا من تهديد العنف والنزاع الداخلي».ورأى أن «إيجاد حل للنزاع العربي – الإسرائيلي قادر على جلب الاستقرار لمنطقتنا. فاتفاق مكة المكرمة شكّل إنجازاً مهماً بالنسبة إلى الفلسطينيين وأدعو العالم إلى التعامل مع الاتفاق بإيجابية ليعود الفلسطينيون إلى بناء حياتهم ومؤسساتهم».

وأكد الحريري في حوار مع الحاضرين، أن «المشكلة (في لبنان) ليست بين السُنة والشيعة أو بين المسلمين والمسيحيين بل هي في احترام الديموقراطية التي حميناها على مر خمسين سنة. وبرأيي أن جيران لبنان يحاولون زعزعة نظامنا الديموقراطي لأن تجربتنا الديموقراطية يمكن أن تكون ناجحة. فتخيلوا لو نجحت الديموقراطية في لبنان، ما سيكون تأثيرها في جيرانه. هذا هو لب المشكل». وعن مستقبل الفلسطينيين في لبنان قال: «الحل الوحيد هو عودتهم الى ديارهم في فلسطين». وأكد أن «حزب الله» حزب لبناني له ممثلون في البرلمان اللبناني، ولا بد لنا من احترام هذا الواقع، وكذلك على «حزب الله» احترام وجودنا في البرلمان. والمشكلة التي نعاني منها اليوم في لبنان هي أن البعض لا يريد احترام الدستور. ومع هذا، لا يمكننا أن نحل المشاكل إلا من خلال الحوار».

وقال الحريري رداً على سؤال عن التسلح: «إن قوتنا الأساسية في تحالف 14 آذار وتحديداً في تيار «المستقبل» تكمن في أننا لا نؤمن بالسلاح. أن نقطة ضعف المعارضة هي اقتناؤها السلاح. لقد حرّرنا لبنان من الوجود السوري الذي دام ثلاثين عاماً من دون استخدام أي سلاح، ولم يكن لدينا سوى العلم اللبناني وصوتنا واعتصامنا في ساحة الشهداء. لم يتحمّل النظام السوري الضغط وانسحب، وقد تحقق الانسحاب طبعاً بمساعدة المجتمع الدولي والاتحاد الأوروبي. إن مدرسة رفيق الحريري هي مدرسة العلم والحياة والثقافة والعيش المشترك. لن يحمل تيار «المستقبل» أبداً أي سلاح، وكذلك حلفاؤنا وليد جنبلاط وسمير جعجع وأمين الجميل لن يحملوا السلاح لأنهم يؤمنون بلبنان حر من أي تدخل أجنبي ومن أي سلاح خارج سلاح الشرعية. فالسلاح يجب أن يخضع لسلطة الحكومة اللبنانية».

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March 3rd, 2007, 5:24 pm


159. Alex said:

First, Gibran the not-easy-to-fool political analyst, specialized in minority complexes:

So are you saying that I am here trying to fool Atassi and Gibran, and Majedkhaldoon into signing on those guarantees for minorities and therefore it is official? … Syrian minorities are now protected after Alex fooled the Syria comment readers into signing those guarantees?

Do you know what we are doing here? we are discussing issues, exchanging ideas, and we are learning from each other. The reason I posed those questions in the first place is because I wanted to get a feeling of everyone’s position on this topic and to compare it to their positions last year when I asked the same questions.

Young Syria, this thread is long because Gibran is here to make us all waste a couple extra paragraph to answer his silly comments. I do it because I enjoy the process … he is funny you have to admit.

As for understanding democracy, as IC and others have mentioned already, we can not jump into “democracy” .. we need to move toward it slowly … there is a lot of learning to be done.

For example, I still believe that most Syrians (and Arabs, including the democtaric Lebanese) have the tendency to force their opinion of others when they have the power to do so.

Another example: They usually assume that ther is some evil or dirty motive behind any opinion not to their liking … so to the Baathists others are mostly “traitors”, and to the non-Baathists others are mostly “Baathists” …

Look at the Democracy loving Gibran … anyone here who does not share his opinions is suspect, or an idiot at best.

Gibran, i’ll still give you more time to analyze what I meant by making the last paragraph in bold in the Haaretz article .. try harder. you’ll get it.

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March 3rd, 2007, 6:33 pm


160. ausamaa said:

Gibran, Do you know an intelectual by the name of “Assad Abu Khalil”, an outspoken American Lebanese intellectual? He has a site called The Angry Arab, at http//

Why dont you visit this site and learn ther truth about your so-called “close to a century of democratic history”.

You will love this experience. He is a full blooded Lebanese, not a racist anti-Lebanese Syrian.


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March 3rd, 2007, 7:23 pm


161. youngSyria said:

alex ,
I understand your point..but you didn’t answer my questions.
I have some points in my mind:

1)for me, gibran is representing the Lebanese opinion(or part of it), but you and others are representing syrian people opinion.

thats why I’m more concerned when a syrian says that he wants democracy that wont bring MB to power!! I find this very contradicting… its like when US/Israel/EU boycotted democratically elected hamas.. we don’t need democracy when its not in our favor?

2)why do you think that sunnis will end up eating minorities for dinner if this regime is changed?

3)the thing is that I don’t want MB to rule,its going to be a nightmare if they did.but the question is: IF THIS IS WHAT SYRIANS WANT, do you want this country to adopt democracy and maybe one day it will develop and its people will become secular ,or,you prefer to stay with current regime???

4)so if some syrians are in doubt about democracy ,is democracy really important (for our case)..I mean look at china, they are developing ,there citizens are introduced to a higher life standards and they have a big potential.but they dont have democracy.

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March 3rd, 2007, 7:41 pm


162. Alex said:


I will explain my preferred approach to political reforms in Syria through an analogy with a basic electronic RC circuit (or a digital circuit) … I hope it will still be useful even for the non-engineers among you … I think anyone who can read a graph and who understand what is a system, can follow it.

Please try to not get bored with it very quickly.


1) Syria is the electronic circuit (or “system”)

2) The current state of the system (or output of the circuit) is 0 volts (or “OFF” in digital applications)… or, democracy (being the specific output of the “Syria” system we want to study) is now at 0 value.

3) We want to raise that output to level 1 (“ON” in digital applications)… or we want to reach the “desirable” high level of democracy in Syria (the system we are studying).

Normally, in electronic circuit, we would like to be able to move to that level as fast as possible (small “risetime”).

But we would also like the transition from Zero to one (or from no democracy to full democracy, in Syria’s case) to be a controlled, predictable, stable process .. we do not want the system to go out of control.

4) We would like outside interference in our “Syria system” to be minimal (or minimal EMI electro magnetic waves around the circuit)…

We have two options

1) Slow, controllable, predictable, stable transition… like in this graph

2) Faster, more unpredictable, less stable (with more oscillations and ups and downs)… like this Red highly oscillating curve.

My conclusions from this analogy:

1) Moving from the case of a simple RC circuit, to that of the hugely complex System “Syria” which is made from the sum (and the interaction effects) of 19 million complex systems (each Syrian citizen and his own memory, and characteristics) … one can expect much more instability when trying to make the fast transition in the state of the “Syria system” from Zero democracy to full democracy …

2) The transition can be expected to be much more random and uncontrollable and stochastic in nature due to the excessive current outside interference around the system (Syria) … it would be much better to wait for less activity and interference from outside.

I prefer the slow approach … oscillations in the Syria system mean bloodshed. I am not in a hurry for political change. I want it to be controlled … but with the aim of actually achieving it, not only to avoid it.

My freind Atassi knows my time preference … 5-10 years.

And finally, for those who are familiar with basic circuit design, yes I made many simplifying assumptions to avoid complicating things even more … but the idea is still valid: faster slew rate comes at a price, in electronic circuits, or in real life systems.

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March 3rd, 2007, 8:58 pm


163. Alex said:

And,in case the above was useless, the simpler answer to your 4 questions:

1) I’m more concerned when a syrian says that he wants democracy that wont bring MB to power!! I find this very contradicting… its like when US/Israel/EU boycotted democratically elected hamas.. we don’t need democracy when its not in our favor?

I do not want to see the MB in power, true. But I will not force my opinion on others. Besides, I support Hamas as long as their lands are still occupied by their powerful enemy. When Israel agrees to UN resolution 242 and there is peace, I would not support an extremist Hamas in power to run “Palestine” … then a milder secular Palestinian party would be what I support. Same in Lebanon, I support HA’s role as an opposition group, or as a group in a national unity government coalition, but I do not support them if they wanted to run the country. Again, a secular Lebanese party and president would be what I support (from whatever religion he might be).. provided Lebanese “democracy” is reformed to every significant Lebanese group’s liking.

Same with the Syrian MB .. they have a role to play representing the people who support their mentality .. but I don’t want them to run Syria.

Again, this is MY opinion, I will not force it on anyone. And again, Democracy can only work if you tie it to a constitution that ensures minority rights and that does not differentiate between citizens… a constitution that needs to be enforced by a secular army, like in Turkey. Otherwise, I do believe that the MB will modify the constitution when they feel powerful enough .. their moderation today is only out of necessity… they want to appeal to the Americans and to Chirac who were the past few years the MB’s best hope of getting rid of the Syrian regime.

2)why do you think that Sunnis will end up eating minorities for dinner if this regime is changed?

First, I was not too concerned about Christians when I talk about minorities … I am talking about the minority in power. Christians might suffer,mildly, when MB types are in power. Things like restrictions on way of life, not more.

I think that this generation suffers from a lot of negative memories… while most Syrian Sunnis are secular, reasonable and peaceful, there are many who can’t wait to see the day they will punish “the regime”… also, those who are more motivated to become active in opposition politics are often the ones with more anger and more need for revenge. So decision makers in opposition are more likely to seek punishment … leading to an Iraq like situation (or a lighter version of it).

3)the thing is that I don’t want MB to rule,its going to be a nightmare if they did.but the question is: IF THIS IS WHAT SYRIANS WANT, do you want this country to adopt democracy and maybe one day it will develop and its people will become secular ,or,you prefer to stay with current regime???

I answered this question in my previous comment .. the one with the analogy to electric cuitcuits and “systems”. So, yes I want the political reform proces to be started, to be sustained, to be supported and agreed upon by all parties (including the regime) .. but I don’t want it to be a confrontation… and I don’t want it to be rushed, or to be forced these days while the Middle East is hyper active and hyper loaded with sectarian sensitivities. That is not the type of environmental conditions that are conducive to a successful change process.

Do I believe there is a way to succeed in relatively peaceful political reforms? yes I do. Over 5-10 years as I mentioned above.

4)so if some syrians are in doubt about democracy ,is democracy really important (for our case)..I mean look at china, they are developing ,there citizens are introduced to a higher life standards and they have a big potential.but they dont have democracy.

I agree that starting with (or accelerating) economic reforms is very helpful for making Syrians change their priorities towards future oriented more constructive goals… instead of thinking about “I need to punish those who did me wrong in the past” it will hopefull become “I need to vote for the candidate who will help me improve my standard of living”

Oh, and … Gibran: did I answer the questions? did I avoid them? am I trying to trick anyone? if yes please explain what is my personal benefit in doing so.

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March 3rd, 2007, 9:52 pm


164. Atassi said:

Ahmadinejad, Saudi king reject sectarian strife
By Souhail Karam
3 March 2007
Reuters News
(c) 2007 Reuters Limited

(Updates with agreement on opposing sectarianism)

RIYADH, March 3 (Reuters) – Sunni and Shi’ite heavyweights Saudi Arabia and Iran agreed on Saturday to fight the spread of sectarian strife that threatens to spill over from their neighbour Iraq, the Saudi foreign minister said.

Saudi King Abdullah held talks with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who was on his first official trip to Saudi Arabia. A Saudi official said earlier the Sunni Muslim kingdom would seek Shi’ite Iran’s help to ease sectarian tensions in Iraq erupting into full-blown civil war.

Killings by Sunni and Shi’ite death squads in Iraq and the political crisis in Lebanon dividing Sunni and Shi’ite parties have led to fears of sectarian conflict in the Middle East. Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Iran are among the most influential nations of their respective branches of Islam.

“The two parties have agreed to stop any attempt aimed at spreading sectarian strife in the region,” Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told reporters without elaborating.

Saudi Arabia has led a diplomatic drive in recent months to counterbalance what is regarded as Iran’s growing influence in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories.

While Saudi Arabia is a key U.S. ally in the Middle East, Iran is a fierce opponent of Western influence in the region.

The United States is pushing for the United Nations to impose tougher sanctions on Iran over its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment, a process which can make fuel for either atomic bombs or nuclear power plants.

A Saudi official said the kingdom would try to convince Tehran to comply with U.N. resolutions and suspend enrichment.


The United States and its regional allies, including Israel and Saudi Arabia, suspect Iran’s nuclear energy programme aims to develop weapons, an accusation Tehran denies.

U.S.-allied Arab governments also fear Iran is gaining influence in Lebanon, the Palestinian territories and Iraq, where Saudi Arabia blames Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias for sectarian killings.

Riyadh also wanted to press Iran to exert pressure on Hezbollah, a Shi’ite group backed by Iran and Syria, to put an end to a political standoff in Lebanon, the Saudi official said.

Ahmadinejad was earlier quoted by Iran’s IRNA news agency as saying: “In the meeting with King Abdullah, we will discuss those issues that should be carried out jointly in the Islamic world and also the region.”

Iranian state radio said talks would also cover “Iran’s nuclear case”.

Diplomats say Iran wants to address these concerns before an Arab League summit in Saudi Arabia later this month.

“Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia have taken up the role of an alliance speaking in the name of the Arab world … So Iran is making sure its views and positions on Arab issues are heard at summits,” a Saudi-based Western diplomat said.

Saudi and Iranian officials have met several times in recent weeks to mediate between Lebanon’s Hezbollah-led opposition and Prime Minister Fouad Siniora’s U.S. and Saudi-backed government.

But their talks, as well as Saudi contacts with Washington and Paris and Iranian talks with its closest regional ally, Syria, appear to have made little headway.

Saudi Arabia, Iran and Syria have accepted Iraq’s invitation to a regional conference in March on easing tensions in Iraq. (Additional reporting by Tehran and Beirut bureaux)

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March 3rd, 2007, 10:19 pm


165. EHSANI2 said:

My friend ALEX,

I see no problem in following a “slow” approach. You defined slow as a time window of 5-10 years.

Success in life, business and politics is derived from being able to set specific goals and then work on meeting and achieving these goals in a preset time frame.

Bashar has been in power for close to 7 years. What metrics should we use to measure his success or accomplishments?

It has been widely argued that the past 7 years have been abnormal and that it is unfair to assume that Bashar could have done any better given the circumstances. What is going to stop us from saying the same thing over the next 10 years?

When Bashar runs for re-elections soon, it would be useful to have a set of metrics by which he ought to be judged at the end of his new 7-year term. In my opinion, this yardstick ought to be more than “we are improving and the last 7 years are better than the previous 7”.

Bashar is not alone of course. I am hard pressed to see an Arab leader offer his people a clear set of objectives and goals that he will work on meeting over a set time period.

As Bashar enters his new term, it would be refreshing to see him offer his people a measurable set of agenda items that he will commit to meeting over the next 7 years. This program ought be printed in all newspapers and have posted on his government website. Seven years from today, we can all collectively and objectively determine whether he has done a good job or not.

In conclusion,

Adopting a slow approach to reform is something I have no qualms with. However, I think that our current system of governance suffers from a lack of accountability and a near-total absence of measurability when it comes to assessing the success or failure of our leaders.

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March 3rd, 2007, 10:20 pm


166. Alex said:

Ehsani I absolutely agree that the process needs to start at least and it needs to be “fast enough”and to have an objective… although most politicians rarely deliver on their promises in election campaigns, so I would expect the same if one day Bashar is expected to “promise” something specific in a specific time frame.

I repeat the following

1) When you are trying to change a country in such a dramatic way, you need everyone to be on the same wavelength. THe problem now is that, if we assume that Bashar really wants to implement those changes (peacefully), then he needs to convince everyone to his right (Alawites, and others who are currently enjoying the rewards of the current system) and to his left (Those who are eager for total change today)… to agree on the new direction.

My emphasis is therefore on coming up with a reasonable new direction we can all agree on before we move anywhere … otherwise we will still end up with some very unhappy parties who will resist change and will probably create enough barriers (some through violent means).

It is not enough to just repeat Khaddam’s revolutionary instant “Democratic changes”… we need to talk first…. we need to listen to each other without anger.

2) regarding the last 7 years … yes, I still give Bashar the benefit of the doubt …. the fact is: not a single leader performed well those 7 years .. Bush has been the international joke #1, Chirac’s popularity is 18%, Blair’s popularity is similar, Olmert lost the summer war to few thousand HA fighters and his government is subject to multiple financial and moral investigations, Seniora achieved chaos, Iraqi government achieved unprecedented bloodshed, the Saudis are reduced to coordinating with the neocons and with Israel (although lately things are better, hopefully), Mubarak is permanently on vacation in Sharm elsheikh … The Jordanian king is gambling in Europe …

Before I am accused of being always easy on “the regime”, I think president Hafez Assad could have done much better internally if he wanted to in the nineties .. he had everyone in his pocket, internally and regionally. He was the single most influential man in Syria and the Middle East… but he only delivered minimal reforms.

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March 3rd, 2007, 10:43 pm


167. Ford Prefect said:

I was gone for only one day to sip espresso at Le Fouquet’s with some Syrian patriots (working for real change; not change wrapped by Ghadry and exported by Israel via Lebanon) in Paris and look what I have missed: a great thread of discussions minus the obvious nonsensical one posted from exactly one blogger that is a pure waste of his time and ours. BTW, can someone please tell him we got it: Syria is an autocracy; Lebanon is a democracy. Ausamaa, thanks for the tip you gave him – as he is continuing to annoy like a not-so-funny Jumbo-GeaGea buffoon!

MSK, Ehsani’s (thanks Ehsani!) answer squarely overlaps mine. It is the free market and liberal democracy that is arguably proven to be the ultimate aspiration of mankind. These two principles encompass in them the basis of human liberty and prosperity. What do I base this assertion on? Plato’s Republic.

See you around the galaxy 😉

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March 3rd, 2007, 11:37 pm


168. youngSyria said:

what would force the regime to reform in the next 5-10 years, as ehsani2 said :
“our current system of governance suffers from a lack of accountability and a near-total absence of measurability”.

why do you think anything would change?

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March 4th, 2007, 7:38 am


169. Alex said:


Force does not work. When all sides reach this conclusion, things will become a bit easier.

I agree, it is difficult. But it is not impossible to gradually reach some sort of compromise acceptible to all sides…

I’ll leave the details to some proper post in the future …I wrote enough today, I’m sure you’ll agree : )

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March 4th, 2007, 8:42 am


170. Homepage said:

… [Trackback]…

[…] Find More Informations here: […]…

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