Posted by Ehsani on Tuesday, September 20th, 2011
This is the first News Round Up of the new regime. Dr. Landis is irreplaceable and we all owe him a debt of gratitude and appreciation for taking interest in Syrian politics, history and religion. Readers are encouraged to make recommendations. They are also encouraged to write opinion pieces that we will attempt to publish regularly.
The Arab Parliament has asked the League to suspend Syria’s Membership.
WASHINGTON — Increasingly convinced that President Bashar al-Assad of Syria will not be able to remain in power, the Obama administration has begun to make plans for American policy in the region after he exits. In coordination with Turkey, the United States has been exploring how to deal with the possibility of a civil war among Syria’s Alawite, Druse, Christian and Sunni sects, a conflict that could quickly ignite other tensions in an already volatile region.
Further measures are being floated in Washington and Brussels. Private banks that deal with Syria’s regime, most of them Lebanese subsidiaries, may be targeted if the killing persists. Byblos Bank, in whose Syrian subsidiary Rami Makhlouf, the president’s cousin, has a big share, may be hit.
But no one with an interest in human rights can be unaware of what happened when western nations applied sanctions to Syria’s neighbour, Iraq. No one who has seen it can forget the CBS interview in 1996 with Madeleine Albright, Bill Clinton’s secretary of state. The interviewer pointed out that half a million children had died in Iraq as a result of sanctions. “We think the price is worth it,” Albright replied.
And if not sanctions, then what? So far the only alternatives on offer are vacuous condemnation and demands from the likes of Nick Clegg that “it’s time for Assad to go”, which, in terms of efficacy, is like being mauled by a giant sock.
The most widespread objection to the sanctions was that the governments imposing them are selective in their concerns and lacking in moral credentials. This is true on both counts. This column is discussing sanctions on Syria only because they are being imposed there, rather than on Saudi Arabia or Bahrain, which are also run by violently repressive regimes. Far from restraining them, the UK and other European nations continue to supply them with a hideous array of weapons. Though both the UK and the US committed the crime of aggression in Iraq, there is no prospect of sanctions against them. This is the justice of the powerful.
The changing oilscape of the Middle East was mapped out yesterday, with prospering Kurdistan-focused Gulf Keystone preparing a $200m (£128m) rights issue to fund its rapid growth while Syria-focused Gulfsands Petroleum warned of a 40 per cent cut in production.
In the months before the Arab Spring uprisings, Syria looked to offer a more attractive, stable environment for oil exploration than Kurdistan, analysts said. With persistent uncertainty over whether contracts signed by Kurdistan regional government would be recognised by Baghdad, the so-called super-majors were putting off going into Kurdish Iraq. This paved the way for smaller operators such as Gulf Keystone to make their mark.
Then, in May, the Kurds reached an interim agreement with Baghdad, which safeguarded revenues generated in Kurdistan and fuelled increasing optimism that a federal oil law will be passed by the end of the year, formalising contracts signed with the regional government. As a result, big oil companies such as Repsol from Spain and Marathon Oil and Hess from the US have piled into the region.
In neighbouring Syria, prospects were moving in the opposite direction. Mr Malcolm of Gulfsands warned yesterday that “some considerable uncertainty now exists in Syria as to how events will unfold over the coming weeks and months”.
Women make up only a third of the users. Fadi Salem (a bright Syrian) is quoted in the article.
“If the question is whether Syria will follow the principals of market economy, then I say yes. But it will have to include a human dimension that addresses the personal needs in a society. I never studied the social market economy. All I have heard is that its an expirement that took place in Western Europe and it ended with the people that called for it”
واليوم إذا كان السؤال هل ستعمل سورية على مبادئ اقتصاد السوق؟ أقول نعم، أما تحديد نوع الاقتصاد فأنا لا أملك جواباً ولكنه مرتكز على مبادئ اقتصاد السوق وله بعد إنساني يراعي الحاجات الإنسانية في المجتمع، كالحفاظ على صحة المواطن وكبار السن، ومعرفتي في اقتصاد السوق الاجتماعي ليس بمستوى المعرفة التي يتمتع بها مختصون غيري في سورية.
أنا لم أدرس هذا النمط من التفكير وكل ما سمعته عنه أنه تجربة حصلت بأوروبا الغربية وانتهت مع الأشخاص الذين نادوا بها
ويرى أن أغلب التشنجات الاقتصادية الموجودة في سورية يمكن حلّها في قرارات بسيطة تقترب من التفاهة، لكننا لم يكن لدينا في الماضي قدرة على ملامسة الآلام والأوجاع
The IMF’s latest forecast for the Syrian economy is to shrink by 2% this year as protests persist.
There are fears that the upheaval in the Middle East will exacerbate the deep rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The region’s geopolitical powers have long been locked in a so-called Cold War, but the Arab awakening is changing fronts in their proxy battles and both are vying for greater influence in a new Middle East.
Beleaguered Syrian President Bashar al-Assad received a boost yesterday with the visit of a Russian delegation led by Federation Council Deputy Speaker Ilyas Umkhanov. Upon arriving in Damascus, Umkhanov declared that any Syrian reforms ‘should be carried in conditions when no outside pressure is exerted on Syria, and with no foreign interference.’
Umkhanov’s announcement consolidated Moscow’s position on the Syrian protests, which has included a rejection of any U.N. council resolution, and the advocating of a ‘political, non-violent’ resolution to the Syrian question.
Russia’s moves counteract a western push in favour of regime change, which two weeks ago featured an oil embargo and expanded sanctions in an attempt to ratchet up the pressure on powerful business elites in Damascus and Aleppo that largely remain supportive of Assad. But while painful, these sanctions – and indeed, arguably any other that the west can bring to bear – are not lethal to the regime.
Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, immediately condemned the sanctions, illustrating the difficulty in putting together a robust sanction regime that can be universally implemented.
Yesterday’s Russian visit came just three days after Ghiyath Matar, a Syrian youth leader dubbed ‘little Ghandi’ for championing non-violence, was killed, his brutalised body returned to his family by the authorities with the claim that ‘gangs’ had been responsible. Matar’s killing sparked outrage and dismay, and the fear that protesters’ momentum was now ‘dying’.
The openSecurity verdict: As Assad’s Baath regime continues its crackdown against ongoing protests in Syria, the fate of the Syrian people may increasingly rely on the outcome of a tug of war between states who support regime change in Damascus and others who oppose it.
The outcome is unlikely to be pretty. More probably, the result of the clashing international agendas, a determined elite fighting to maintain power, and an increasingly desperate protest movement, is a Syria that is broken.
The question being asked is no longer whether there will be civil strife, sectarian violence, and economic hardship, but rather for how long and at what cost will Syria suffer under such conditions.