Posted by Joshua on Thursday, May 5th, 2011
“In the coastal city of Banias, about 1,000 protesters marched in the city’s Sunni district this Wednesday carrying loaves of bread, in solidarity with the people of Deraa.” Elsewhere quite reigned, except for Deraa, where the crackdown continues and the government says it is “completing its mission.” According to the Syrian press both the US and French Ambassadors have said that the foreign press has distorted Syrian realities. None of this has been picked up by the Western press that I have noticed, which suggests that it may be taken out of context by the Syrian press. Although both sides have been distorting news stories, often egregiously, I find it hard to imagine that either Ambassador would be quoted saying that the foreign press is distorting the story at this time.
The IMF lowered Syria’s economic growth rate to three percent from 5.5 for this year. It said if peace returns to the country, then in 2012 growth could rise to 5.1 percent. This is undoubtedly a conservative estimate of Syria’s likely growth drop.
The Russian parliament has declared that any attempt to destabilize Syria should be rejected. This provoked a pro-Russia demonstration in Damascus in front of the embassy.
04 أيار , 2011
صرح مصدر عسكري مسؤول بما يلي.. تتابع وحدات الجيش والقوات المسلحة مهمتها التي شارفت على الانتهاء في مدينة درعا بعد تحقيق معظم الأهداف التي دخلت من أجلها حيث تمت ملاحقة ماتبقى من فلول العناصر الإرهابية المسلحة التي كانت تروع السكان الآمنين وتنشر الذعر والخراب والقتل في جميع الأحياء وتمكنت من إلقاء القبض على العشرات منهم ومصادرة كميات كبيرة من الأسلحة الحديثة والذخائر المتنوعة في أماكن مختلفة ما ساهم في إعادة الشعور والطمأنينة لسكان المدينة
The Emir of Qatar says that he will not put sanctions on Syria and supports an internal solution to Syria’s problems.
استمهل رئيس الحكومة القطرية الشيخ حمد بن جاسم آل ثاني الرئيس الفرنسي نيكولا ساركوزي، الذي تدعو بلاده إلى فرض عقوبات على النظام السوري، باريس منح المزيد من الوقت للرئاسة السورية كي تتوصل إلى حل داخلي مقبول. وقال لـ«السفير» في باريس، «لدينا علاقات مميزة مع سوريا، والوضع فيها مهم بالنسبة للمنطقة ولقطر وللاستقرار. هناك حديث يجري عن (العقوبات) لكننا نحن نؤيد حلا من داخل البيت السوري ويلبي رغبات الشعب السوري».
Syria moves to curb forex flight amid protests
4 May 2011, Agence France Presse
Syria on Wednesday launched a string of measures to curb the flight of foreign currency triggered by anti-regime protests by permitting for the first time savings in dollars and euros.
The measures come after Syria’s economic prospects weakened, with the International Monetary Fund revising downward its growth rate, the local currency diving about 10 percent in the black market and the Damascus Stock Exchange plunging 20 percent in the past six weeks.
“From today, Syrians are permitted to open savings accounts in dollars and euros worth up to 120,000 dollars as long as the amount is blocked for at least six months,” a director at the central bank told AFP.
The central bank also decided to increase the interest rate on savings in Syrian pounds by two percent to nine percent in a bid to “support the national currency.”
Syria, whose foreign exchange reserves are estimated at 17 billion dollars, also lowered the cash reserve ratio on bank deposits to five percent from 10 and since Monday cut retail dollar withdrawals to 5,000 from 10,000.
“This is to avoid speculation as customers were buying the dollar at the official rate of 47.5 pounds and sold it (in the black market) at 50 pounds,” said the director.
A banker in Damascus said that during the past month, daily withdrawals have exceeded deposits, with retail customers storming bank teller machines…..
The IMF, meanwhile, lowered Syria’s economic growth rate to three percent from 5.5 for this year. It said if peace returns to the country, then in 2012 growth could rise to 5.1 percent.
The economic growth rate was revised downward largely due to a fall in income from tourism and the textiles industry.
An economics expert based in Damascus said if the protests continue, the 11th five-year plan worth 100 billion dollars which began this year could be affected.
“This plan is crucial if Syria wants to grow in the long term,” he said, adding it would also “reduce the unemployment rate which is officially 11 percent, but in reality it is around 20 percent
The OECD has lowered Syria’s credit risk rating by one notch to 7, the lowest rate in its scale, as protests taking place across the country are expected to create a severe economic downturn.
Syria and the sectarian ‘plot’
Salwa Ismail, guardian, Thursday 28 April 2011
Bashar al-Assad’s regime has been fostering fears of a religious divide in order to undermine protesters
The role of sectarianism in Syrian politics and the position in the power structure of the Alawi community – a minority sect in Islam thought to comprise approximately 12% of the population – have been off limits as a subject in public discourse until the recent crisis. This prohibition has been abandoned by the regime which is now raising the threat of sectarianism in official media narratives about armed gangs, Salafi militants and foreign conspiracies against Syrian national unity.
In response the opposition, human rights activists and local observers accuse the security forces of themselves sowing the seeds of sectarianism. According to independent reports, in coastal cities and villages where members of both Alawi and Sunni communities live, patrols of unidentified men have visited residents belonging to either group to warn them of impending sectarian attacks and to mobilise them against the other group. Similar attempts at stirring conflict on a sectarian basis are reported by residents in Barzeh al-Balad, a Damascus suburb. There, it is believed, security personnel spread rumours that Sunni residents were planning attacks on their Alawi neighbours.
An undercurrent of the regime’s rhetoric has been the fragility of Syria’s social fabric, and the possibility that Syrians as a people could retrench to their narrow religious and ethnic identities. By manipulating Syrians’ concerns about national unity, the regime is trying to counter the opposition…..
The security approach is hinged on a strategy that holds minorities hostage, raising the spectre of sectarian aggression to cow protesters into compliance and justify the use of violence against demonstrations.
This strategy may not hold for much longer. The danger remains that the regime, in its desperation to hold on to power, will seek to turn its warnings of sectarian conflict into reality. But it is more likely to be faced with a general uprising that cannot be contained by deploying yet more violence.
Assad retrenches into Alawite power base
4 May 2011
* Assad uses language his father used to counter dissent
* Alawite figures among opposition leaders
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis
AMMAN, May 4 (Reuters) – President Bashar al-Assad is increasingly relying on his Alawite power base to crush pro-democracy protests that have posed the boldest challenge to the Assad family’s 41 years of rule over Syria.
Assad, an Alawite, sent army and secret police units dominated by officers from the same minority sect, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam, into mainly Sunni urban centres to crush demonstrations calling for his removal for the last six weeks.
Their use of tanks to shell the city of Deraa last week, storming of mosques and attacks on unarmed civilians — as reported by residents and activists — have raised the stakes.
Reports say that Sunni conscripts, Syria’s majority sect, refused to fire at their co-religionists.
The 45-year-old president, who has kept the Soviet-era political system he inherited from his father intact, has hinted repeatedly that the protesters were serving a foreign conspiracy to spread sectarian strife.
The warning was reminiscent of language his father, the late President Hafez al-Assad, used when he put down an Islamist and secular leftist challenge to his rule in the 1980s and has not found wide resonance.
Mass protests for political freedoms and an end to corruption spread after Assad made his remarks. An official media campaign was launched last month with the motto “surround the symbols of sectarian strife”.
Security forces have shot dead at least 560 civilians in attacks on protesters, human rights groups say. Hundreds more are missing, many feared killed, and thousands have been arrested, adding to thousands of political prisoners.
But Assad may have struck a chord among members of the Alawite sect, who rose to prominence in the army under French rule, when the colonial administration used “divide and rule” tactics to control Syria.
Alawite officers expanded in numbers and gained control over the armed forces a few years after the Baath Party took power in 1963, especially key air squadrons, missile and armoured brigades and intelligence.
“The army is mostly Sunni in terms of numbers, but an Alawite captain has more say than a Sunni general,” said a former member of the army’s personnel division.
Alawites received preferential treatment in government and security jobs, although many Alawite villages remained poor and prominent Alawite figures led part of the secular opposition against Assad family rule.
A declaration signed last month by Aref Dalila, a leading Alawite economist who spent eight years as a political prisoner after critcising monopolies granted to an Assad cousin, denounced what he called the sectarian scare tactics used by authorities.
Assad, who allowed Islamists to exert more control over society as long as they did not interfere in politics, tried during the protests to placate conservative Sunnis by promising to open an Islamic university and easing bans on wearing the full veil.
His father used a blend of repression and the granting of privileges to ensure that the Sunni merchant class, whose influence has gradually waned as a new business generation tied to the Assad family rose, supports Syria’s minority rulers.
ARMY CONTROL KEY
Control of the army, however, has remained key to perpetuating Assad family rule over a majority Sunni population.
The Fourth Mechanised Brigade, headed by Assad’s brother Maher, bombed and machine-gunned the city of Deraa into submission last week. Republican Guards units deployed around Damascus. In Rastan north of Homs, residents said Military Intelligence agents killed 17 protesters on Friday.
Witnesses said authorities have begun to arm villages in the Alawite Mountains overlooking the mixed coastal cities of Latakia, Banias and Tartous, where Alawites who descended from there were employed in the government and security apparatus, marginalising traditional Sunni communities.
Gunmen loyal to Assad, known as ‘shabbiha’, have rampaged in Banias and Latakia to scare demonstrators, killing at least six civilians in a sectarian-driven attacks, residents said.
“I was driving with my wife and children through the Alawite Mountains over Banias and road blocks appeared in almost every Alawite village. Villagers were carrying brand new AK-47s,” said a Syrian Christian engineer, whose community has stayed on the sidelines during the unrest.
Anas al-Shughri, a protest leader in mostly Sunni Banias, said armed Alawite villagers in the hills overlooking the restive city have been loosely grouped into loyalist militias.
“I regret to say that the propaganda that Assad is spreading that the Alawites will not survive if he is toppled is receiving an audience among our Alawite neighbours,” Shughri said.
A report by the Arab Centre for Research and Policy Studies, which is headquartered in Doha, said sectarian “agitation has reached an advanced stage in mixed areas” but that Syrians in general have not fallen for it.
“There is no dispute that the ‘shabbiha’ are semi-criminal gangs comprosed of thugs close to the regime,” it said.
Syria’s leadership was exploring “the importance of the sectarian factor and how to use it to confront the mass demonstrations freedom and dignity,” the report said.
The Structure of Syria’s Repression, Will the Army Break With the Regime?
Ahed Al Hendi, May 3, 2011
the fact that the Alawites occupy many top positions in the army could actually undermine the regime. And the people respect the army in Syria; the Syrian national anthem, for instance, which has been sung at the protests, highly praises the military. The army was not involved in Assad’s daily oppression (except for the aforementioned Republican Guard and the Fourth Division).
Yet although the opportunity exists for the protesters to co-opt the army, it will not be easy to bring it into direct conflict with Assad. To convince the army to switch sides, the dissidents require international assistance. This should include imposing severe sanctions on targeted elements of Assad’s regime and attempts to communicate with positive elements in Assad’s leadership, such as Defense Minister Ali Habib, the officer who participated in the Gulf War as part of the international coalition to liberate Kuwait from Saddam Hussein. By helping to widen the cleavages between the army and Maher al-Assad’s Fourth Division and Republican Guard, the international community can greatly assist the dissidents’ cause. …. should the greater part of the army defect, the Fourth Division and the Republican Guard will be unable to defend the regime alone. The Assad family may then surrender, giving way to the wishes of the Syrian people.
In Iraq, assassinations are a nightly event. Washington Post
BAGHDAD — The assassins strike quietly, often just after dark, as Iraq’s political and military leaders speed home surrounded by armed guards. The dead in April alone included generals, police commanders, a deputy minister and the head of Iraq’s tax agency. The wounded included a member of parliament, a judge and the head of the national theater, survivors of attacks on their motorcades. Among 50 targeted killings last month, most were carried out by gunmen using silenced weapons, according to Iraq’s Interior Ministry, which oversees the country’s police forces. Read full article >>
(Aaron C. Davis)
All quiet in Damascus despite protests across Syria Washington Post
DAMASCUS, Syria — Even as protests spread across Syria, the capital has mostly remained quiet. Anti-government demonstrations have erupted in all corners of the country in the past six weeks, meeting a fierce government crackdown along the way. But though people in Damascus watch the events with concern, most doubt that the scenes being broadcast on television from across the country will be repeated here. About 500 people marched in the Midan area of the capital Friday and reportedly shouted pro-freedom slogans. But for the most part in Damascus, the heart of the Sunni business class, residents say they have too much to lose to join in. Read full article >>
(The Washington Post)
Like Iraq after the violent fall of Saddam, Tunisia lives now under the fear of the violent reprisals of the men of Ben Ali, some examples: 3 prisons burnt and 800 criminals let loose, 500 Salafists using violence in the street, an international hotel attacked.
A revolution that was done without violence is maybe now turning into a violent post-revolution.
In addition 4 billions is estimated to put the country back on track economically… Promises from the country supporters of the democracies that did not yet materialize.
Désormais, la Tunisie vit sous la menace des hommes de main de l’ancien régime. Policiers, mafieux, voyous, notables de l’ex-RCD : tous s’unissent pour salir, casser, tabasser le pays. Leur objectif : instaurer le règne de la peur. Se venger. Tuer la révolution. Chaparder le pouvoir. Quelques exemples : samedi 30 avril, ce sont trois prisons qui sont incendiées afin que 800 détenus s’échappent. Samedi encore, ce sont 500 salafistes qui font violence, avec la complicité de la police politique, avenue Bourguiba. Dimanche 1er mai, c’est un hôtel international de Tunis qui est attaqué comme dans le plus mauvais des westerns. Total : la multiplication des opérations coup-de-poing menée par de petits mercenaires rémunérés par les ex du RCD.
….Les besoins immédiats sont estimés à 4 milliards de dollars par la Banque mondiale. Le prix à payer pour remettre le pays sur les rails de la croissance. Et le sauver définitivement des complots fomentés par ceux qui firent fortune sous Ben Ali et perdraient tout sous un régime démocratique.