News Round Up (September 20th, 2011) – By Ehsani

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.

U.S. Is Quietly Getting Ready for Syria Without Assad

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.

Will foreigners get involved?

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.

Damned if we do impose sanctions on Syria. And damned if we don’t

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.

While the black-gold rush is on in Kurdistan, it’s a different story in Syria

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”.

Perhaps due to the Arab Spring, Facebook users in the region has doubled

Women make up only a third of the users. Fadi Salem (a bright Syrian) is quoted in the article.

The Finance Minister takes issue with “Syrian Exceptionalism”

“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.

Rivals—Iran vs. Saudi Arabia

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.

International rivalry over Syria means conflict likely to intensify

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.

Comments (159)

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151. Khalid Tlass said:


you know, something beautiful about the syrian revolution is we can vote for the next friday’s slogan. i wonder how the menhebaks feel when they see us voting?

I am voting for “Friday of NO More Shiaa”..

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September 21st, 2011, 4:18 pm


152. Observer said:

So this is how I see the overall situation in the ME;

Clearly the defeat of 67 awakened the Arab Muslim world and resulted in two responses; the first was the Faisal Assad Sadat pact to re establish Arab parity with Israel and the second the Iranian revolution against this defeat and the stupid policies of the Shah of Iran who had megalomaniac ideas about his role in history.

The Iranian revolution successed better than the 73 war as the US came to the rescue but then again; things moved in such a way that Egypt was taken out of the confrontation status and now it was Israel that had a megalomaniacal idea of destroying the Palestinians once and for all and they invaded Lebanon to their bitter fruits.

91-2003 marked the slow destruction of the Arab unity as the Arabs fought amongst themselves and the Islamists gained steadily both inside and outside with failure after failure of both states and coalitions. The 9/11 attacks accelerated things with Bush falling into the trap of confronting the Muslim world. Now the defeat in Iraq and the stalemate in Afghanistan has exhaused the US and the feeble NATO work in Libya has clearly demonstrated the limits of hard power in this new multi polar and financially fragile world.

The regimes bought themselves a decade of increased repression without correpsonding economic prosperity in contrast to China which understood that without better life there is little incentive for people to be quiescent. Hence the explosion and Mubarak and others are surprised and astonished that it did happen. Oh my how come my citizens do not love me????

So we have an end to the Arab Socialist experiment no less dramatic than the end of the cold war and the collapse of the Soviet Union. We have a collection of failed states and of a Western failed policy that did not take any windfall from the collapse of the cold war. The West bares equal share in stupidity and in short sightedness.

The superpowers came to the end of their force; both the US and Russian and even the EU have now been severely weakened by the adventures and travails of the ME in the last decade.

The stupid Israelis have opted for a fortress mentality with the idea of continuing to rely on one generation of Arabs after another blundering. This is not going to continue any longer. If Turkey successeds in trashing the spoiled brat called Israel that has flaunted international law and opinion then it will essentially finish off the role of the US in the region and no matter how much AIPAC can flex its muscles, the real muscles need to be on the ground in the ME and I can assure you that the US public in private in sick to the core of the special relationship with the chosen ones.

Now they will face millions of people that are fed up with the inside rulers and with the conflict and they see the repression of the Palestinians as another aspect of the collusion of regimes and powers to subjugate them.

The ones that are positioning themselves to effect change and have a say in the future of the region are Turkey primarily and secondarily KSA. Iran has been marginilazed with its theocracy and its bizarre Shia mythology that despite HA does not appeal to the majority Muslims. Likewise the Wahabi brand of KSA is only skin deep as the people are not truly believing in such extreme rubbish and insistence on ritualistic pretzel making. So Turkey is best positioned to take advantage of the situation. The question will it revive a Caliphate style leadership without the name or the title? Or will the region naturally integrate into an economic unity before a political one.

In the meantime the losers are by far
#1 Israel as it continues to think that the US influence will continue to save it from a region in extreme hatred of its presence and poilices
#2 Iran by virtue of its being Persian and Shia especially since it continues to support a semi heretic sect in Damascus controled by a family Mafia and especially since HA leader showed that he is sectarian in his outlook coming in favor or liberty in Bahrain and regpression in Syria
#3 The current Arab regimes in their entirety. The monarchs seem and only on the surface to have been spared. But it is only a matter of time. Neither the military junta in Egypt nor the Secret Service of Jordan are goint to be able to survive the current situatiuon intact.

If Syria goes the way of Iraq, then the entire region may be in turmoil and again if Israel and the US think that it will buy them a few years they are mistaken.

The new fanatics if there is no solution to the ME problem will make the current ones look like kinder garden children.

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September 21st, 2011, 4:18 pm


153. Khalid Tlass said:

124. Abu Umar said:

“Someone mentioned he is of Assyrian background”

I don;t think AFRAM is Assyrian, he’s probably Melkite or Greek Orthodox (if at all he’s a Christian). The Assyrian Church has been the only Church to have supported the revolution, and the Assyrians are known to have friendly relations with Sunni Arabs.

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September 21st, 2011, 4:21 pm


154. Khalid Tlass said:

NORMAN, if Bashar is so protective and good with Christians, and the revolutionaries are evil bloodsucking Islamists; then WHY are people like Samir Geagea and Mr. Gemayel supporting the revolution and opposing Bashar ?

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September 21st, 2011, 4:23 pm


155. Revlon said:

50. Dear MM, You said:
“I have been grappling with the following question, which I can’t bring myself to answer:
Would you be willing to offer Bashar Al-Assad amnesty in exchange for immediately stepping down from power?”

To pardon Thug one would also mean pardoning the thousands of thugs who dutifully tortured and murdered thousands of fellow countrymen in compliance with his orders.

Would I pardon those who tortured and brutally murdered the child Hamza AlKhateeb and who were carrying Thug One’s orders?

Would I pardon those who tortured and brutally murdered Alqashoush and who were carrying Thug One’s orders?

Would I pardon those who tortured and brutally murdered Ghiyath Matar and who were carrying Thug One’s orders?

Would I pardon those who tortured and brutally murdered The Girl Zainab AlHusni and who were carrying Thug One’s orders?

Need I utter my vote?

The question, fortunately or unfortunately shall prove to be academic.
Thug One shall never step down in return for amnesty. Time and again his paranoid personality and self righteousness have proven to be anathema to mature reasoning.

He will shortly find himself compelled to flee the scene leaving his followers in the abyss, where they belong.

He will go on the run for a while, yelping delusions of a come back, like Quidaffi.
Eventually, one of his Shabbeeha will turn him in for nothing more than a puff of a stale cigarette butt.

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September 21st, 2011, 4:28 pm


156. Khalid Tlass said:

NORMAN, if Bashar is so protective and good with Christians, and the revolutionaries are evil bloodsucking Islamists; then WHY are people like Samir Geagea and Mr. Gemayel and the others supporting the revolution and opposing Bashar ?

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September 21st, 2011, 4:30 pm


157. Akbar Palace said:

The stupid Israelis have opted for a fortress mentality…


Nice article. Of the many things I disagree about your mini-dissertation are the words Israelis have “opted” for a “fortress mentality”.

The data shows Israel was not recognized before or after the 67 war. Therefore Israel had no “option”. Israel’s crime is defending herself just like any other nation. I wouldn’t refer to it as some sort of “fortress mentality” because Israel has a large minority that is free and mobile just like Israeli Jews, and because so much of the successful Israeli economy is international.

But if these terms make you feel better, please continue with usual (distorted) paint brush.

Most Israelis welcome the arab spring because a free ME will eventually opt (speaking of “options”) for peace and not war.

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September 21st, 2011, 4:33 pm


158. Khalid Tlass said:

Don’t worry Zionists, you ewill all be exiled to Belarus, Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuiania, Estonia, Poland, Hungary, etc. Yoi are at the root cause of the problem, without yopu, the Assads would still be driving donkeys in Qqqqurdaha.

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September 21st, 2011, 4:48 pm


159. 5 dancing shlomos said:

“I would say that if the news of trafficking in organs from detained and killed protesters is true and it does seem that the scars are surgical” 147 observer, i would say.

taking organs is an israeli/jewry specialty. this info/disinfo comes from israel. deserters story also BS

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September 21st, 2011, 7:37 pm


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