Qaddafi’s Death, Mazoot Prices, Opposition

Posted by Joshua Landis

The Syrian opposition has been given renewed vigor following the killing of Qaddafi. Senator John McCain said Sunday that military action to protect civilians in Syria might be considered now that NATO’s air campaign in Libya is ending.

Mohammad Habash, a member of Syria’s outgoing parliament, said such military action “will only bring catastrophes, wars and blood and this is what we don’t wish at all.”  “We believe that the best way to protect civilians is diplomatic pressure and pushing the regime to sit and talk with the opposition and pushing the opposition to sit with the regime,” said Habash, who has been linked to the regime but has recently tried to position himself between the government and the opposition.

President al-Assad has named new governors for the province of Idlib and the Damascus governorate. Assad forces shelled civilian houses in Baba Amr, Homs At least thirty civilians were killed in Homs, Hama, Daraa and Idlib in the last few days.

Qaddafi’s downfall can only be cheered even as one is horrified by his brutal end and the unruly vengeance and looting that has overtaken several towns and parts of Libya. Unfortunately, it is easy to envisage similar destruction and violence being visited on Syria as so many now predict civil war. The government’s primary tactic for regaining control — inducing fear — increases the desire for retribution. Those of us with family in Syria are plotting ways to get them out as the situation becomes ever more violent.

Lest anyone think that revenge is a specialty of the Arab World, it is worth remembering that after the fall of the Vichy government in 1945, the French killed over 10,000 collaborators during the first phase (the épuration sauvage) of retribution. Once France’s provisional government got control of the process many fewer were killed. The commissions d’épuration sentenced approximately 120,000 persons but only 6,763 people were condemned to death (3,910 in absentia) and only 791 executions were actually carried out. Many were given prison terms. More common was “national degradation,” a loss of face and civil rights, which was meted out to 49,723 people.


Inflation has hit Syria. Nowhere more brutally than the energy sector – the main target of European sanctions. Ehsani writes:

The topic in Syria is mazot (kerosene oil, used for heating) as we enter winter. The official price is syp 15 but no one sells at that price. Families who want to stock up for the winter and who have mazot tanks on their roofs or basements need to pay syp 32-33 to get them delivered. An average house (my sister) consumes 2000 liters a year. Others (like my dad) consume as much as 8000 liters a year. With a price difference of syp 17-18 from official prices, filling up 2000 liter tanks is a hit of syp 35,000. Most don’t want to bite the bullet and pay it for they still hope to avoid the hit and pay the official price of SYP 15. This is the recent major calculation of households. Many cars use mazot too (taxis and service). Those are essentially stranded at gas stations. They wait for hours hoping to fill in at SYP 15 with little luck.

National Budget did not increase by 58% and the missing oil revenue

As many of us were unable to account for the oil revenues, the government is finally trying to explain the discrepancy. In a nutshell, the subsidies of close to $7 billion were never part of the budget. Instead, they were accounted for by lowering the revenues from oil. The budget this year did the right thing. It counted oil revenue correctly and then hit the subsidies as expenditures (rather than lower revenues). This is why the whole budget went up by 58% (both sides went up). If you exclude this accounting change, they claim that the budget is up 15%. This is a significant move in the right direction. The total subsidies now of syp 386 billion of which over SYP 300 are on energy are now fully accounted for. They make up 1/3 of every dollar that the government spends/invests. The subsidies go largely to the rich.

Opposition News

As the situation deteriorates, ever more importance must be placed on the Syrian opposition to see that something good comes out of this struggle and that it proceeds with as much central and rational direction as possible. See this invaluable website on the Syrian parties and currents:

Samer Araabi explains how the Syrian National Council Seeks Legitimacy At Home and Abroad. Western governments seem to be keeping the Syrian National Council are arms length for the time being, fearing that it is heavily tilted toward the Islamic currents.

Here is what Anthony Shadid writes in NYTimes on the National Council:

Unlike with Libya, Western officials have called the council’s formation a positive step but offered little more. “I think we will have to find out a bit more yet,” said Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief. (So far, only Libya’s new government has recognized the council as the representative of Syria’s people.)

An Obama administration official was especially critical, saying the council had lobbied the international community more than Syrians themselves, particularly the Christian and Alawite minorities. The official declined to refer to the council as the opposition, but rather as “oppositionists,” in reflection of the body’s embryonic nature.

“It’s a right step, but we’re still skeptical basically,” the official in Washington said. “We’re far from a real body that fully represents the Syrian people.”

Within the opposition, some worry about the disproportionate power of Islamists, namely the Muslim Brotherhood, especially given its lack of any organizational presence inside Syria. Others suggest Turkey may seek to corral the opposition, and some activists were opposed to holding the meeting in Istanbul. Though Turkish officials have sought to place themselves broadly on the side of change in the Arab world, they have deep relations with Islamist movements in Egypt, Tunisia and the Palestinian territories.

While Mr. Ghalioun has said the council opposes the intervention of NATO, even if it is not on the table, others have endorsed what they call international protection of protesters, an admittedly ambiguous position, or no-fly zones or havens along Syria’s borders. Inside Syria, some dissidents still caution against the overthrow of Mr. Assad — fearing civil war — and instead endorse gradual reform.

And though this month has witnessed one of the biggest Kurdish demonstrations, the community has yet to forcefully enter the fray on the opposition’s side.

“Things are still very blurred,” said Abdel-Basit Hammo, a Kurdish activist.

Some analysts say the opposition’s biggest challenge in the coming months is to elaborate precisely its vision for a future Syria, beyond a set of principles. Mr. Assad’s government is remarkable for its lack of any ideology; fear of chaos drives much of its support. Most slogans at last week’s pro-government protest paid tribute to the remnants of Mr. Assad’s personality cult, itself diminished by the viciousness of the crackdown.

“The key is whether they can offer a real alternative,” said Nadim Houry, senior researcher with Human Rights Watch in Beirut. “If they do, they would be setting the agenda, regardless of whether they are in Damascus or not. This is where their true power lies today, if they can set the agenda and define what tomorrow’s Syria will look like.”

Many Syrians are perturbed that not one of the opposition groups in Syria has proposed any economic plan or a new constitution. Indeed, the parties have been very slow to outline the answers they propose to Syria’s main problems other than overturning the regime. The press has been slow to ask such questions to the new leaders that are emerging.

1- what will you do about population growth?
2- what are your plans on subsidies and the public sector?
3- what is your vision of a new education system. How will you change it?
4- women in the region have the lowest labor participation in the world. Do you plan to change this for syria and how (highest correlation with fertility)?
5- what are your plans regarding the Golan?

Barry Rubin is pulling his hair out over the Islamists and blames the Obama administration for trusting the Turks with this.
Largely Islamist Leadership for Syrian Revolution, October 22, 2011 – 12:13 am – by Barry Rubin

The leadership of the Syrian revolution, or at least those recognized as such by the United States and the European Union, has released the names of 19 of the 29 members of the General Secretariat and five members of the Presidential Council. A lot of research should be done on the individuals, but let’s do a quick ethnic and political analysis based on this information.

But first let me give you my analysis: I believe that the Turkish Islamist regime deliberately helped produce a Syrian leadership that is more Islamist and more Muslim Brotherhood controlled than was necessary. Since Turkey’s government was empowered to do this by the Obama administration, the White House is responsible for this extremely dangerous situation. It is a blunder or a betrayal — in effect, the motive and cause don’t matter — of the greatest dimensions. The Obama administration may “only” have paved the way for the triumph of Islamist regimes in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia — we don’t yet know the final result — but it has been actively involved in helping promote an (avoidable) Islamist revolution in Syria.

Of the 19 members of the committee whose names have been published, 4 are identified as Muslim Brotherhood and 6 more as independent Islamists. That means 10 of the 19 — a majority — and hence 10 of the 15 Sunni Muslim Arabs (two-thirds) are Islamists!

Of the non-Islamist Sunni Arabs, two are leftists, two are liberals, and one represents the tribes. Some of the non-Islamists are really good people, as are some of those who have not yet been named publicly (and whose names aren’t going to be made public by me).

Still, thanks, Obama Administration, for putting Islamist Turkey in charge of the negotiations!

There are also two Christians (one a representative of the small Assyrian community), one Druze, and one Kurd. So that 40 percent of the non-Sunni Arab population (there are no Alawites listed) has only 20 percent representation. This might partly be due to the walk-out of many Kurds to protest the Turkish bias favoring the Islamists. But the over-representation of Sunni Arabs sends a signal to the minority groups as well as helps empower Islamists.

Of course, it is true that 10 members remain anonymous because they are inside Syria, but there’s no particular reason to believe they are of a different composition.

To my knowledge, not a single journalist or expert in the entire world has yet used this publicly available information and done the simple math involved. Yet this is the body that’s going to be receiving Western help and money, if any is offered to help bring a new government to Syria.

Name Political Affiliation Sectarian Background
1 Burhane Ghalioun Independent Left Sunni Arab / Homs
2 Samir Nashar Damascus Declaration Council Sunni Arab / Aleppo
3 Muhammad Taifur Muslim Brotherhood Sunni Arab / Hama
4 Basma Kodmani Independent Left Sunni Arab (spikesperson)
5 Abdelbasit Sida Independent Kurdish Activist Kurdish
6 Abdel Ahad Steifo Christian: Assyrian Democratic Movement Christian / Hassakeh
7 Ahmad Ramdan Old SNC, Islamist (Syrian Hamas Adviser) Sunni Arab
8 Ahmad Sayyid Youssef Muslim Brotherhood Sunni Arab / Homs
9 Abdel Hamid Atassy Damascus Declaration Council Sunni Arab / Homs
10 Abdel Ilah Milhem Tribal Coalition Sunni Arab / Homs
11 Emadiddine Rasheed Old SNC, Islamist (Religion Instructor) Sunni Arab / Damascus
12 Jabr Al-Shoufi Damascus Declaration Arab / Druze
13 Wa’el Mirza Old SNC, Islamist Sunni Arab
14 Muhammad Bassam Youssef Muslim Brotherhood Sunni Arab / Homs
15 Anas Al-Abdeh Damascus Declaration Council, Islamist Sunni Arab / Damascus
16 Kathryn Al-Talli Local Coordination Committees, Christian Christian
17 Motei Bateen LCCs, Islamist (Imam) Sunni Arab /Deraa (Hauran)
18 Najib Ghadbian Old SNC, Independent Islamist Sunni Arab / Damascus
19 Nazeer Hakeem Muslim Brotherhood Sunni Arab

The Presidential Council:

1 Burhane Ghalioun Independent Left Sunni Arab / Homs
2 Samir Nashar Damascus Declaration Council Sunni Arab / Aleppo
3 Muhammad Taifur Muslim Brotherhood Sunni Arab / Hama
4 Abdelbasit Sida Independent Kurdish Activist Kurdish
5 Abdel Ahad Steifo Christian: Assyrian Democratic Movement Christian / Hassakeh

Note that the Presidential Council is much more balanced with only one Islamist, and the remaining names include a leftist, a liberal, a Christian, and a Kurd. This seems, however, to be more for show to conceal the imbalance in the overall leadership.

Again, this doesn’t necessarily mean the actual leadership is highly Islamist, but it does indicate that the official leadership, chosen with U.S. participation, is far more balanced with only one Islamist…..

Islamists are increasingly gaining attention in Syrian affairs and organizing themselves. Not only are Israelis and US diplomats wringing their hands over this new phenomenon, but some Syrians and Lebanese are clearly interested in this constituency that is stepping out of the shadows for the first time in decades. The Jizel Khoury interview with one of Syria’s leading Salafis drew notice.

Interview: Loai Zou’bi by Jizel Khouri:(Youtube)

Loai Zou’bi is the leader of Syria’s Salafi movement called “Haraket al-Moumineen.” He claims that over 60 percent of Syria’s Muslims are Salafis. He refuses to quibble over whether they are Muslim Brothers or Salafis, preferring to group Syria’s Islamists in one camp.

Khoury asks Zou’bi if he would be willing to choose a Christian as president. He said, “Yes, if he is just (`aadil and not “zaalim”) He refuses to look at Jizel during the interview. He says that rather than veiling Jizel, he chooses not to look at her. Her blond hair is uncovered and her dress reveals the beginning of her cleavage, which he must find provocative. He keeps his eyes trained on a distant point on the floor throughout, in an attitude of humility and self-discipline.

On Syrian frontier, Turks bemoan soured ties

ANTAKYA, Turkey — Until recently, Hamdi Esen would make the short trip across to Syria several times a month, fill his father’s car up with gas, maybe buy a few bags of sugar and some cigarettes and then return home to Turkey.

But after Turkey stepped up criticism of Syria’s crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, Esen stopped going because of long waits at the border and the hostility he faced from Syrian security officials and even some regular citizens.

“I used to drive over to Syria every week and fill up my tank. Gasoline is so much cheaper there. But now I don’t go,” said 31-year-old Esen as he sat chatting with friends at a roadside tea house.

“They treat us differently. It’s as if they don’t like us anymore.”

Esen is from Antakya, the ancient city of Antioch, in Turkey’s southern Hatay province, a panhandle that juts down into Syria and was once part of it.

Syria May Switch From Euro to Ruble Banking
21 October 2011

Syria may start using the Russian ruble for banking transactions if the European Union bans it from operations in euros, central bank governor Adib Mayaleh said Thursday.

As a first step, the Syrian central bank has begun posting the exchange rate for the ruble as well as the Chinese yuan on its daily bulletin, Mayaleh said in an interview with the Arabic-language Russia Today channel.

“Don’t forget that we can carry out operations in rubles,” Mayaleh said, according to an e-mailed transcript of the interview. “In the nearest future we will agree on parameters for switching to close cooperation with Russian banks and using the ruble for international settlements.”

The EU last week expanded sanctions against Syria in a bid to end a violent crackdown on demonstrators, freezing assets of organizations affiliated with the government. At least 3,000 people have been killed in the seven-month uprising against President Bashar Assad, according to the United Nations.

Syrian Arab Airlines, the country’s biggest carrier, agreed Wednesday to buy three new planes from Tupolev as Western sanctions block the state-owned company’s access to maintenance and renewal services for its fleet. Syrianair, as the company is known, signed a letter of intent to take delivery of the Tu-204SMs from Tupolev, part of state-owned United Aircraft Corporation, starting in 2013. The airline will later set up a maintenance center for the jets at its headquarters in Damascus, it said on its web site.

An Alawite girl, Abeer Safi, was killed today by the regime during an anti-government protest. The growing presence of young Alawites in protests and on Facebook opposing the regime must be a troubling sign for the government.

Comments (453)

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451. Frontier Strategy Group said:

The death of former Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi marks the symbolic beginning of a new era in North Africa and transitioning states are keen to attract foreign investment. Companies should avoid being paralyzed by uncertainty, and must begin planning to re-engage and expand in the region to capture medium to long-term opportunities. Even though Bashar al-Assad isn’t gone, it can’t hurt for companies to start looking at ways to engage the Syrian market in the future.

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October 31st, 2011, 1:33 pm


452. Dale Andersen said:


RE: “…it can’t hurt for companies to start looking at ways to engage the Syrian market of the future.

Exactly! And the best way to do that is to fund the Syrian revolutionaries so they can arm their followers and drive the Assad Mafia out. Then Besho and Asma can spend their declining years in Zimbabwe. Besho can write his memoirs and Asma can open a nail salon…

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October 31st, 2011, 11:36 pm


453. Inside Syria’s Economic Implosion said:

[…] and which will be needed to heat 22 million Syrians this winter — is reportedly running at more than double the official […]

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November 16th, 2011, 9:09 pm


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