Posted by Joshua on Tuesday, July 5th, 2011
On Saturday, President Bashar al-Assad fired the governor of Hama in an effort to calm the protesters, after more than 100,000 protesters gathered. According to a state-run news agency, SANA, protesters viewed Assad’s move to fire Governor Ahmed Abdul-Aziz as an attempt to “weed out” weak links in his ruling system. A “better-organized” antigovernment movement dismissed new refroms from the Syrian government, including a national dialogue.
U.S. Urges Change in Syria: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said “the Syrian Government is running out of time” for dialogue and reform, the recent opposition meeting was insufficient, and the regime must stop violence and begin reforms. Ambassador Robert Ford described the opposition meeting as “positive.” State Department Spokesman Mark Toner reiterated the importance of Ford’s presence in Syria. In addition, Mark Toner said that the U.S. wants the Assad regime to continue to engage in dialogue with the opposition. And Spokesperson Victoria Nuland said that Turkey should continue to leave its borders open and create a buffer zone for refugees. The Guardian reported the State Department has been “discreetly encouraging discussion” of an unpublished roadmap for reform, circulated at the opposition meeting.
Controversy over Kucinich’s Visit to Syria: The Washington Post and Yaser Tabbara criticized Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) for meeting with President Bashar al-Assad and ostensibly lending his regime legitimacy. Kucinich defended himself, while he appeared to support reforms led by Assad rather than an “unknown, unstable future,” and called for a withdrawal of forces. The White House said Kucinich’s trip was not authorized by the administration, and a State Department spokesperson said his visit was at the invitation of the Syrian government.
Analysts Discuss Syrian Tipping Points: Hugh Macleod and Annasofie Flamand described Aleppo as crucial for the protest movement. Paul Notar discussed the regime’s declining ability to use the Palestinian issue as a vent for domestic political anger. The New York Times described the growing success of youth opposition groups. NPR reported that while Syrians do not want civil war, sectarian tensions are high.
U.S. Admiral Samuel Locklear reportedly said that NATO is trying to kill Muammar Gadhafi, and a small force of ground troops may be necessary after his removal.
Military Intelligence chief says Syrian president promoting worthwhile reform packages, retaining loyalty of army; also notes Iranian role in ‘Nakba’, Naksa’ Day border riots as well as Tehran’s influence over Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood
Military Intelligence chief Major-General Aviv Kochavi said Tuesday Iranian influence was growing in Middle Eastern countries experiencing unrest or upheaval – such as Egypt and Syria.
“Assad understands today that his solution cannot only come from military responses, and that is why he is turning to reform,” Kochavi told the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, referring to the protest-plagued president of Syria.
In Egypt, meanwhile, Tehran is trying to influence the outcomes of elections by tightening relations with the Muslim Brotherhood, the MI chief added.
“We must not belittle the reform package Assad has begun to promote. These reforms regard the improvement of wages, subsidies, and the opening up of more jobs,” Kochavi said.
He added that Bashar Assad’s army has so far remained loyal because soldiers have retained the belief that the suppression of protests is a legitimate way to prevent total rioting.
(Robert Malley & Peter Harling, Washington Post) “The Assad regime is counting on a sectarian survival instinct, confident that Alawite troops – however underpaid and overworked – will fight to the bitter end. The majority will find it hard to do so. After enough mindless violence, the instincts on which the regime has banked could push its forces the other way. Having endured centuries of discrimination and persecution from the Sunni majority, Alawites see their villages, within relatively inaccessible mountainous areas, as the only genuine sanctuary. That is where security officers already have sent their families. They are unlikely to believe that they will be safe in the capital (where they feel like transient guests), protected by the Assad regime (which they view as a historical anomaly) or state institutions (which they do not trust). When they feel the end is near, Alawites won’t fight to the last man in the capital. They will go home. The regime still has support from citizens frightened of an uncertain future and security services dreading the system’s collapse. But the breathing space this provides risks persuading a smug leadership that more of the same – half-hearted reforms and merciless efforts to break the protest movement – will suffice. In fact, that will only bring the breaking point closer.It is, even now, hard to assess whether a clear majority of Syrians wish to topple the regime. What is clear, however, is that a majority within the regime is working overtime to accelerate its demise.”
Syria completes draft law on media freedoms
AFP/ Bulent Kilic, 06/07/2011, DAMASCUS, July 6 (RIA Novosti)
Syria vows to ‘overcome protests’ within two months
A special committee, set up in Syria in late May to draft a law on the country’s media, has finished its work, a committee member told RIA Novosti.
The law will soon be considered by members of the national dialog, and a public discussion will follow. If adopted, the law would make Syria the fourth country in the region where authorities scrapped information ministry, after Iraq, Tunisia and Egypt.
“Up until now, a journalist can be sent to prison for an article, which, for example, is seen by censors as “undermining people’s morale. The new law guarantees media freedom. Its second article states that the media enjoys “independence and freedom.” It [media freedom] is limited only by the constitution,” the source said.
The law will set up a special court to deal with all cases related to the media’s freedom and responsibility.
The media law is part of broad political reforms, announced by the Syrian authorities after protests broke out in the south of the country in early March and later spread to other regions.
Human rights groups say more than 1,350 protestors have been killed by security forces since the uprising began. Official reports, which blame “armed terrorists” for the violence, put the death toll at 340 police and servicemen.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of State accused the Syrian government and security forces of “repression and harassment of peaceful demonstrators and opposition members” and called on Syrian authorities to end arrests and withdraw security forces from protest-hit cities.
“We urge the government of Syria to immediately halt its intimidation and arrest campaign, pull its security forces back from Hama and other cities, and allow the Syrian people to express their opinions freely so that a genuine transition to democracy can take place,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
US set to step up Syria sanctions
By Daniel Dombey and Anna Fifield in Washington and Roula Khalaf in London
The US is shifting away from earlier fears that the departure of the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad would fan instability across the Middle East and is preparing to ramp up sanctions against Damascus, particularly in the energy sector.
Although the Obama administration has publicly called for President Assad to embrace reform or “get out of the way”, after more than three months of brutal repression of popular protests, officials are signalling that there is no meaningful prospect of the Syrian leader carrying out reforms and that the only solution could be his departure.
They are also putting greater emphasis on the geopolitical benefit of political change in Damascus, which would be a significant blow to Iran, Syria’s close ally. “Clearly the Iranians see Syria as pivotal,” said a senior administration official. “As that regime comes under greater pressure, it leads to greater concern in Iran.”
“It is increasingly clear that President Assad has made his choice,” Hillary Clinton, US secretary of state, wrote in a recent article in the Arabic language Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper. “But while continued brutality may allow him to delay the change that is under way in Syria, it will not reverse it.”
US officials are seeking to broaden sanctions already in place, highlighting the oil and gas sector as the main target, in the hope of driving a wedge between Mr Assad and the country’s merchant class. The theory is that such measures can demonstrate to Syrian business people, who Washington regards as powerful and well connected to the security apparatus, that Mr Assad can no longer deliver the stability they seek.
This week the US also imposed measures against Syria’s Political Security Directorate.
Still, the Obama administration remains reluctant to declare publicly that Mr Assad has lost legitimacy and should leave office, for fear that such a declaration would cast a spotlight on the US’s limited ability to eject the Syrian leader and so distract attention from human rights abuses.
US officials also privately maintain that countries such as Turkey will have much greater influence than Washington over the final outcome in Syria. They say a pronouncement that Mr Assad should go by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, could have a devastating effect on the Syrian leader.
But while Turkey, which has developed close ties to the Syrian regime in recent years, has become more critical of Mr Assad, diplomats say it is not willing yet to give up on him. Instead it is raising the pressure on him to implement credible reforms.
The hardening of the US position comes as the Syrian regime seeks to regain the initiative, allowing a group of intellectuals and opposition activists to hold a meeting in Damascus this week and insisting in official statements that it is serious about introducing political reforms.
The government has also allowed a handful of foreign journalists into the country and has been putting forward its own narrative of events – that the violence is being perpetrated not by its own forces firing at protesters but by armed groups attacking the Syrian military. Diplomats say there have been armed elements in the uprising but most protesters remain peaceful.
Over the past few weeks, moreover, the Syrian army has been withdrawing from some cities and towns, where protests are continuing. Opposition activists say the government is losing control of these areas, which include the city of Hama. But diplomats say it could be attempting to test the ground and see whether it can tolerate some demonstrations, which would help slow both domestic and international pressure.
Ihab Makhlouf Resigns from Board of Listed Company (Syria Report)
Ihab Makhlouf has resigned from his position as vice-Chairman of the Board of Al-Aqeelah Takaful Insurance, a few weeks after the European Union imposed a freeze on his assets and on those of several other Syrian personalities, as well as on “legal persons and entities associated with them,” according to a filing by the company.
New Board, Sanctions, Raise Questions about Future of Cham Holding (Syria Report)
Yesterday Cham Holding, Syria’s largest corporation, elected an entirely new board of directors. However, the company did not elect a new chairman. The move comes only a few weeks after the company, along with its previous chairman, was put under sanctions by the United States.