Posted by Joshua on Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011
Impact on Arab uprisings (4 minute Radio show of Bin Laden’s death and the Arab Spring)
Public Radio International – The World ⋅ May 2, 2011
Joshua Landis talks to anchor Lisa Mullins about the impact Bin Laden’s death may have on what some are calling the “Arab Spring.” Download MP3
A dramatic development on the economic front.
The central bank just asked the banks to pay close to 3% higher interest rates on deposits.They will have to raise the lending rate up to 12 to 13% to protect their profit margins. The government is doing everything they can to support the SYP exchange rate. In the past, the Central bank intervened by selling dollars and buying syp to try and bring the value back. They seem to have decided not to use their reserves anymore. Their plan B has just been executed. By raising rates up so sharply, they hope to bring people’s money back in SYP. The deposit rate now will be up to 10%. They also raised deposit rates on dollars by close to 2.5%. Unless the banks are able to raise their lending rates by as much, their profits will be wiped out. The lending rates were already close to 10%. They will have to now raise it close to 12% or higher to make any money. This is a dramatic development that will send shivers through the spine of the banking industry. Banks are being asked to subsidize the effort to stabilize the currency.
The central bank has also issued the following new decree:
An individual can now exchange up to $120,000 a year (up from $10,000 per person), but he has to keep the money at the bank for a year before he can take it out in dollars. In other words, the central bank will guarantee the 47 SYP exchange rate if you agree to leave your money at the bank in a deposit for one year for an amount not exceeding $120,000 a year.
The Damascus Stock Exchange has risen for the first time in 14 sessions (small rise).
Syria wants to talk to opposition leaders, but there aren’t any
By Nicholas Blanford, Christian Science Monitor
Western diplomats say that some members of Syria’s Assad regime are ready to reach out, but a dearth of visible leaders gives those advocating force the upper hand.
The beleaguered Syrian authorities are seeking negotiations with opposition leaders to end six weeks of unprecedented street protests that threaten to topple the Assad regime, according to Western diplomatic sources. They say that Bouthaina Shaaban, a top adviser to President Bashar al-Assad, has been placed in charge of exploring ways to launch a dialogue.
But amid a harsh crackdown on protesters, a rising death toll, and reports of thousands of people detained and missing, the regime is struggling to find anyone in the opposition who wants to talk.
“We say no to negotiations, at least until the secret police are gone from Syria. And when the secret police goes, then the regime will go as well,” says Rami Nakhle, a Syrian opposition activist in Beirut.
A European ambassador in Damascus says that the hard-line elements in the regime appeared to have the upper hand for now in attempting to suppress the uprising by force. “There are some [members of the regime] who want to talk to the opposition, but they keep telling us they have no one to talk to,” the ambassador says.
The opposition has no credible, publicly visible figurehead or leadership group that can appeal across Syria’s complicated sectarian and ethnic divides.
Opposition leaders consist mainly of aging secular intellectuals, exiled former members of the Assad regime and Islamists from the Muslim Brotherhood, and young, technologically savvy activists who are using social networking sites to mobilize and publicize the protest movement.
“There is no one in Syria who can speak on behalf of the opposition and this is better for us,” says Mr. Nakle, the opposition activist. “There is no point in negotiating with these people.”
Assad’s rule marked by ‘incompetence’ – diplomat……
Der Spiegel: Syria’s Neighbors Fear Regime Change
2011-05-03, By Clemens Höges, Samiha Shafy and Bernhard Zand.
Are Assad’s Days Numbered? Syria’s Neighbors Fear Regime Change Despite its brutality….
Protest organizers called for demonstrations in Banyas for today 3 May, but al Jazeera reports that there is no demonstrations in Syria today so far.
Susan Dirgham provides a summary of the situation after spending a week over Easter in Damascus.
Dissecting an Aljazeera Report of a Massacre: by Yaseen Dhaifalla – Exposing al-Jazeera Lies. Interesting analysis of Cal Perry’s report on the massacre at Izzra that Syria Comment copied.
Syria Detains 1,000 People in Two Days, Local Rights Group Says
May 03, 2011,
By Massoud Derhally
May 3 (Bloomberg) — Syrian authorities have arrested more than 1,000 people in the last two days as a crackdown on demonstrations intensifies, according to a local activist group.
About half of the detentions took place in the southern province of Daraa, scene of the most violent clashes between protesters and security forces, Ammar Qurabi, head of Syria’s National Organization for Human Rights, said in a phone interview today.
Syria has sent troops to quell demonstrations, inspired by popular revolts in Egypt and Tunisia, that have spread across the country and posed the most serious challenge to the 11-year rule of President Bashar Al-Assad. Qurabi estimates that more than 550 people have died since the uprising began in mid-March.
The crisis in Syria is “quickly going beyond the point of no return,” the Brussels-based International Crisis Group said in a report today. “The regime’s hope appears to be that a massive crackdown can bring the protesters to heel,” a policy that may lead to “loss of life on a massive scale,” sectarian conflict and the destabilization of Syria’s neighbours, it said.
Amnesty International has received first-hand reports of torture and other ill-treatment from detainees held in Syria as a wave of arrests of anti-government protesters intensified over the weekend.
Robert Fisk Wrong – Aboud writes:
My friend, Fisk’s account of what happened in Telkelakh is wrong. There was no massacre. The 4th Div are nowhere near Telkelakh (it was the 11th division that was tasked with surrounding the town). In fact, in the firefight more security personal were wounded than their opposition.
I am not an apologist for the regime, but nothing of the sort that Fisk described actually happened. There was a demo, which someone shot at. Being well armed from years of smuggling, some inhabitants shot back. The security forces retreated and then tried to re-enter the town at night. There was a massive exchange of fire, and the security forces withdrew again.
The next day people were allowed out of the village, and the government negotiated with a delegate, that the army would withdraw, if no more demonstrations took place. This being Telkelakh, the young men promptly went out and demonstrated anyway.
Things are back to normal, it is by no means a “ghost town for Sunnis”. Sheikh Usama Al-Akari was released and was happily denouncing the regime from his Friday prayers pulpit two days later.
Daily News Brief – 2 May 2011
Deadly clashes over the past week pushed the death toll since the turmoil in Syria began in March to above 550, human rights groups told Reuters.
The Syrian authorities however only recently produced an estimate of civilian casualties – around 128, including 78 soldiers and security personnel – SANA, the state news agency, reported.
Meanwhile the Syrian media continues to report the deaths and injuries of soldiers and security officials and make occasional reference to civilian deaths at the hands of “extremists”, “terrorists” and “armed gangs”.
Yesterday SANA said eight army and security officials were buried in Homs, after being killed by “extremist terrorist groups” in Dara’a and Homs.
The government continues to pledge reforms in a bid to garner support. President al-Assad’s newly appointed Prime Minister Adel Safar announced on Sunday in a cabinet meeting that the government aims to set up three committees that will develop “a comprehensive plan for desired reforms,” focusing on political, security, judiciary, economic, and social policies, SANA reported.
Finally, the Ministry of Electric Power told SANA that the government is working with Italian and Greek firms to expand the energy sector to meet the country’s growing needs. The statement comes a day after two Qatari companies tasked with building two power plants announced they were withdrawing from the country.
Kuwaiti Amir to visit Syria now that he believes Assad will survive
امير الكويت يزور سوريا الاحد المقبل
أفادت قناة الاخبارية السورية ان امير الكويت الشيخ صباح الأحمد الجابر الصباح سيزور سوريا الاحد المقبل وسيبقى فيها ليومين
Turkish President Abdullah Gul on Syria yesterday: (Thanks Firat)
“We are trying to help the Syria government realize the reforms in a way that is consistent with the legitimate demands of the Syrian people. …We hope that reforms will be implemented without having spilled blood. We hope that there will be a multi-party democracy representing the will of the people.
In Turkish: “Suriye ile devlet olarak devamlı temas halindeyiz. Bu olaylar başlamadan önce bile temas halindeyiz. Oradaki reformların gerçekleşmesi, halkın meşru talepleri doğrultusunda değişimin gerçekleşmesi yönünde de yapıcı katkı sağlamaya çalışıyoruz. Tabii ki en kötü senaryolara karşı da tedbirlerimizi alıyoruz. Bu bağlamda maalesef geçenlerde bildiğiniz gibi 300 civarında Suriye vatandaşı sınırımızı geçip Türkiye’ye sığınmışlardır. Dolayısıyla tedbirler alındığı için yerleştirilecekleri yere taşınmıştır, yerleştirilmiştir. Dileriz ki bu olaylar geçer geçmez, Suriye’de kardeş kanı dökülmeden reform ve değişiklikler gerçekleşir. Orada çok partili, demokratik ve halkın iradesinin hükümete yansıdığı bir düzen kurulur.”
Turkish Premier Says Turkey does not Want Separation of Syria – Monday, 2 May 2011
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said, “Turkey definitely does not want separation of Syria. And Syria should not allow any attempts that could pave the way for separation.”
Erdogan told a TV program on Sunday, “we have friendly and historical relations with Syria. Following the developments in northern Africa, we felt uneasy whether those developments could trigger similar incidents in our region. During my latest visit to Damascus, I shared those concerns with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. I urged him that the emergency rule imposed in Syria for more than 40 years should be ended. President al-Assad did not voice any opposite views, but he failed to take the necessary steps. In the end, Syria has come to this point.”
“We have opened the border crossing with Syria to let Syrian people in. We cannot close the door to them. But, we have also taken a series of measures,” he said.
“Turkey definitely does not want separation of Syria. And Syria should not allow any attempts that could pave the way for separation. It is people’s freedom we are talking about. President al-Assad should assume a determined attitude in this struggle for freedom. He declared that the emergency rule was lifted, but the decision should be put into practice. People should not be killed,” he said.
Erdogan referred to corruption in Syria, “we are ready to do our utmost to assist Syria in its combat against corruption.”
“Eventually, the UN Security Council will discuss the incidents in Syria. Syria should not face another massacre like the one in Hama in 1982. I urged President al-Assad to be extremely sensitive about it. If such a massacre is carried out once again, Syria cannot deal with its consequences. Because, the international community will display a harsh reaction. And, Turkey will have to fulfill our responsibilities in such a situation,” he added.
Unrest impacts transport services between Jordan, Syria
By Muath Freij
AMMAN – Transport services between Jordan and Syria have been badly hit by the political unrest in the neighbouring country, according to owners of transport firms which ferry passengers between the two countries.
They said the number of travellers started to drop gradually since the protests started in Syria almost six weeks ago, but with the closure of the border near Ramtha transport services have almost come to a halt.
An owner of three transport offices in Amman told The Jordan Times that his business has declined by 95 per cent because of the events in Daraa, which is the main entry point to Syria.
France is calling on EU sanctions that would target Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The EU will “urgently consider further appropriate and targeted measures with the aim of achieving an immediate change of policy by the Syrian leadership,” said EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
Sanctions Pressure Increases on Syria
3 May 2011, IHS Global Insight Daily Analysis
The United States and EU are increasing sanctions against Syria because of its repressive crackdown on popular protests, so far looking at restrictions on individuals and specific goods, but with measures against the country’s energy sector mooted as a potential next step.
Syria is already struggling to capture necessary investment for growth, in the energy sector and outside, with further financial or trade restrictions and even indirect measures on individuals likely to compound these issues, should the current regime withstand the mounting opposition.
Constraints on international oil availability make outright restrictions on Syrian oil exports or imports unlikely at this stage, although action that penalises energy investors or restricts funds is more likely if the Syrian regime persists with its current course.
With some 500 people now reported killed as a result of violence in Syria, the European Union (EU) and the United States are both stepping up unilateral sanctions against the regime in the absence of consensus at the United Nations, where China, Russia and Lebanon have opposed Security Council action.
The US has stepped up its existing sanctions, imposed in 2004, with an asset freeze on three individuals associated with the crackdown on protestors. Meanwhile, the EU agreed last week that it will also impose sanctions, with a list of targeted individuals to be drawn up for approval by foreign ministers on 12 May. It will stop arms shipments and direct payments to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad from a EUR40-million/year aid programme. No agreement has yet been reached within the EU on the proposed suspension of EUR1.3-billion-worth of investment by the European Investment Bank (EIB), however, which includes funding for power plants and other infrastructure. Nevertheless, discussions continue over this and other punitive economic measures, included in which is action against the country’s oil exports, which are small in terms of an international contribution but significant in terms of government revenues. Figures from the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC) show that total oil consumption stood at 297,900 b/d in 2009, down from 344,200 b/d in 2008 as a result of the removal of subsidies, with oil production of around 380,000 b/d, enabling some exports of products and crude.
…..International oil companies have so far said that operations remain unaffected by the protests and crackdowns. They include Shell, Total, CNPC and Gulfsands, alongside Suncor, who participate in oil and gas production through production sharing agreements with the state-owned Syrian Petroleum Company. Shell, through its 65% stake in Syria Shell Petroleum Development (SSPD), has said that it has offered to relocate dependents, but that offices remain open. Total too has said that it was “vigilant”, in comments reported by Platts. Nonetheless, growing international isolation and restrictions on trade are likely to have repercussions down the line if the regime survives the current unrest, with previous rounds of sanctions tending to deter investment in the country’s energy sector, even if the terms did not explicitly include this….
Syria: Quickly Going beyond the Point of No Return
INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP – NEW MEDIA RELEASE
Brussels, 3 May 2011: The situation in Syria is quickly going beyond the point of no return. By denouncing all forms of protest as sedition, and dealing with them through escalating violence, the regime is closing the door on any possible honourable exit to a deepening national crisis. With little the international community can do, the optimal outcome is one whose chances are dwindling by the day: an immediate end to the violence and a genuine national dialogue to pave the way for a transition to a representative, democratic political order.
Over the past several weeks, a number of Syrians have taken to the streets chiefly to express frustration over their worsening economic predicament, outrage at the brutality and unaccountability of the security forces, and solidarity with parts of the country that have witnessed the fiercest forms of repression.
For a time, the regime acknowledged the existence of legitimate grievances. But it has now reverted to its initial characterisation of the protests as a global conspiracy, lumping together the U.S., Israel, Syria’s Arab enemies in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Qatar in particular, former regime officials and home-grown fundamentalists. Official media tell a tale in which the security apparatus features as sole victim, persecuted by armed groups, innocent of any misdeed and striving to uphold national unity. The regime blames all casualties on its foes — agents provocateurs and, more recently, jihadis. Gruesome pictures of dead (and sometimes mutilated) bodies of security officials lie at the core of this narrative. The regime once paid tr ibute to civilian casualties as well. Ominously, no more.
Although one cannot exclude possible foreign involvement in the ongoing crisis, credible evidence points to abundant instances of excessive and indiscriminate state violence, including arbitrary arrests, torture and firing into peaceful crowds. At its core, this is a spontaneous, peaceful, popular uprising, fuelled far more by the regime’s own actions than by any putative outside interference. There are plausible reports of security forces being ambushed by unidentified armed groups, as well as of protesters firing back when attacked. But for those on the ground, there can be no doubt that the vast majority of casualties are the result of regime brutality. The regime is also fanning the flames of sectarianism, spreading rumours of impending attacks targeting specific groups. Sectarian tendencies no doubt exist in parts of the country. But the authorities’ tactics betray a determined and cynical attempt to exploit and exacerbate them.
At this point, moreover, questions are being raised both about the authorities’ ability to control and discipline the security apparatus and about the security forces’ willingness to convey to their political leadership a truthful picture of what is happening on the ground. Even at the best of times, large segments of the security services have been plagued by sectarianism, corruption, incompetence and a sense of wholesale impunity. These features are all the more likely to surface amid a crisis. To date, the leadership has evinced no readiness to impose clarity of mission, discipline or accountability on its security apparatus; there is, for example, not a single known instance of meaningful sanctions to punish unlawful or excessive use=2 0of force.
The regime’s violent, unlawful and disorderly response has only further deepened a pervasive sense of chaos. In turn, this has discredited the reforms it announced in hopes of defusing the situation and shoring up its political base. However meaningful or promising they might have been on paper, they have proven worthless in practice. ….Finally, and although it has engaged in numerous bilateral talks with local representatives, it resists convening a national dialogue, which might represent the last, slim chance for a peaceful way forward.
The regime’s hope appears to be that a massive crackdown can bring the protesters to heel. Some claim that a show of force is required to restore calm and provide the room necessary to carry out reforms. Such a course of action would entail loss of life on a massive scale. It could usher in a period of sectarian fighting with devastating consequences for Syria. It could destabilise its neighbours. And, ultimately, it is highly unlikely to work.
Even if massive repression were to succeed in the short term, any such victory would at best be pyrrhic. In the wake of the crackdown, the security services would rule supreme. President Assad’s domestic and international credibility would be shattered. Few countries would be willing to lend a hand to redress a devastated economy. Major investments, development projects and cultural ventures would find few foreign partners. Assad might well prevent forcible regime change, but the regime will have been fundamentally transformed all the same.
The only — decreasingly realistic- chance to avoid this outcome would be for the regime to take immediate steps to ….create the space necessary for representatives of the popular movement to articulate their demands and for negotiations on a real, far-reaching program of reforms to proceed. Most importantly, it would give the regime the opportunity to demonstrate it has more to offer than empty words and certain doom…..
…one should not ignore the views of many Syrians – even among those without sympathy for the regime – who continue to fear its precipitous collapse . They dread the breakup of a state whose institutions, including the military, are weak even by regional standards. They fear that sectarian dynamics or a hegemonic religious agenda could take hold. They are suspicious of possible foreign interference. And they distrust an exiled opposition that is all too reminiscent of Iraq’s. Short of the regime’s implosion, they seem persuaded that only an indigenous, negotiated solution can offer hope for a successful political transition.
Assad “Brutality” Will Lead To His Downfall – Israeli
JERUSALEM (AFP)–The “brutality” of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s response to anti-government protesters will lead to the downfall of his regime, according to Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak. “I think that Assad is approaching the point where he will lose his internal legitimacy,” Barack told Israel’s Channel 10 television Monday night….I don’t think he can restore his legitimacy. “He may recover, but in my opinion it won’t be the same and he is destined to meet the same fact as the leaders of other Arab countries shaken by uprisings.”
But Barak said that “Israel has nothing to fear from Assad being replaced,” despite the concerns of many in the Jewish state, who see the Syrian leader as a known quantity whose downfall could spell violence for Israel. “The process taking place across the Middle East is very promising and inspires hope in the long term,”
Mark A. writes
First, I am by no means an expert on Syrian History or economic development, but I have a few observations.
I failed to find data that would confirm my hunch that Syria has less natural resources per capita than Turkey or China. What is clear from the numbers is that Syria has much less industry than Turkey or China. Syria’s Labor force – by occupation: agriculture: 17%; industry: 16%; services: 67% (2008 est.). Turkey’s Labor force – by occupation: agriculture: 29.5%; industry: 24.7%; services: 45.8% (2005). China’s Labor force – by occupation: agriculture: 38.1%; industry: 27.8%; services: 34.1% (2008 est.) – data from the CIA Factbook.
Syrians are poor. According to the CIA Factbook: GDP – per capita (PPP, 2010 est.): Syria: $4800; China: $7400; Turkey: $12,300. I could not find any hard data on income distribution. My impression from a business trip to China last month is that China also has an income distribution issue and there is a lot of unhappiness among the “have nots.” However the Chinese, at all economic levels I spoke to, are happier today than under Mao and especially the Cultural Revolution. Also there is a feeling that China is moving ahead so I don’t feel that people want to dismount an economic “winning horse.” Turkey is clearly winning compared to Syria in economic metrics and is still on ascendancy. Turks may be unhappy with a particular party in power but they aren’t going to revolt against the system that is “bringing home the bacon” (with apologies to my “halal” friends).
My point is any talk of Syria adopting the “Turkey model” or the “China model” needs to be underpinned by massive industrial growth. Syrian government policies do affect the wealth generated and how it is distributed. I understand why people are willing to protest against the government for “a better life.”
Political rights are not high in Syria, China (e.g. Tibet) or Turkey (e.g. Kurdish). For sure there are some Syrians who have hate for the government based on abuse they suffered in the past. It is obvious that they will protest against the government to “change the government”. To these people it is a nuance that Bashar isn’t Hafez. However I believe as long as an individual hasn’t been tortured, has some discretionary income and savings, their willingness to protest for political rights is not as high as if they were dirt poor. My point is a government that enables economic advance buys good will and tolerance from the people.
My observation is that Syrians enjoy greater minority rights and religious freedoms than the Turks or the Chinese. Of course there are some who would actually want to see the religious freedom reduced, the likes of the Muslim Brotherhood who has as its slogan “Islam is the solution” and/or Wahhabism that advocates purging Islam of “impurities”. I understand why these people would want to protest and ferment social disorder, for them this uprising is a golden opportunity not to be missed. It is a well-worn trick for a few confederates to join in a peaceful protest, provoke the security services and precipitate a violent crackdown. I suggest that those protesting for “a better life” need to watch out that their efforts don’t get high jacked by a few bent on Radical Islam.
There is another group who will benefit from a change of government, and those are the individuals who will take power in the new government. A post in the new government will be the opportunity to accumulate more money in a few months than possible to make via hard work in business or industry in a lifetime. How would one go about this? This is a classic long odds scenario. An algorithm would be to become vocal about the government, flee the country for London or Washington, spent lots of time drinking coffee in a swank cafe with friends, form a foundation or committee, get charity, oops, I mean grants and contributions, make grand plans, give interviews and hang around for something to happen. A must have is a website and/or Facebook account. If revolution never happens, it is not that hard of a life. If revolution happens, you can wait out the messy parts, safe in London or Washington. Then once the blood has stopped flowing you can make a triumphal return to take your rightful place in the government. The most difficult decision you would have had to make is what color to use as a background on your website. I suggest that those protesting for “a better life” need to watch out for individuals “helping” the revolution from a safe distance.
The case against the government is clear. Of course there are things outside the government’s control like droughts, youth bulge, actions by neighboring countries, international commodity prices. However economically, Syrian has not prospered. I believe economic improvement is more important than political rights. A Syria with freer speech and the right to vote would still be a poor country in a drought with a youth bulge and a lack of inward investment.
The case for the government (Bashar) is also clear. I believe that civil war, assassinations, ethnic cleansing and property expropriation are a real possibility. These have gone in four of Syria’s boarding countries, Lebanon, Palestine/Israel, Iraq and Turkey (against the Kurdish and Armenians). I see no reason to believe “it can’t happen here”. Once started it could spiral out of control quickly. There will be no external power to stop it. It could get very bad. For those protesting “a better life” they need to be aware there is a potential downside of change.
My preferred way forward, short of putting me in charge, would be for Bashar to:
1. Strengthen the court systems. A fair and impartial court system is a prerequisite for economic growth.
2. Establish Capital Punishment for corruption. Okay, this is extreme, but China uses it to keep control.
3. Establish a cabinet for economic growth. For too long under Hafez the cabinets have been around politics and the military. Bashar hasn’t distanced himself enough from this legacy.
4. Break up the monopolies. Enable competition based on price, quality, and availability. “The Sin in Syria is Low Wages” by Ehsani October 17, 2010 here in Syria Comment is one of the best articles I have read on the subject.
5. Curb the “super wealthy families” and allow more to obtain wealth. Currently Syria is akin to a Russia model with their oligarchs where as the China model has more competition. The point is in Syria the “super wealthy” use their position to stifle competition, which is counter productive to growth.
6. Emulate Turkey for economic growth; they are the “hot” economic growth engine in the neighborhood. It is interesting that the uprising is strongest in the south, away from Turkey.
7. Cut a deal with Israel, or at a minimum present a reasonable plan and make the Israelis look incalcitrant. (The government should “leak” transcripts of the negotiation about the Golan to Wikileaks so the world can see the positions of the two countries and realize that Syria made real concessions only to have the negotiations torpedoed by the Israelis). While the Golan is an important issue, catching up with Turkey’s $12,300 GDP per capita is an order of magnitude more important.
8. Limit presidential terms. This will allow people to wait it out and not feel compelled to take to the streets.
9. Set a bold target like applying for associate membership in the European Union in 2020 (Turkey applied for associate membership in the European Economic Community in 1959).
10. Keep a tight lid on Radical Islam.