Posted by Joshua on Monday, February 27th, 2012
“We should do whatever necessary to help them, including giving them weapons to defend themselves,” Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani said. “This uprising in Syria now [has lasted] one year. For 10 months, it was peaceful: So I think they’re right to defend themselves by weapons and I think we should help these people by all means.”
The referendum on the new constitution? 57.4 per cent of eligible voters cast their ballots & 89.3% ‘approve the new Constitution, according to Syrian sources. The Baath Party no longer should rule, but any new presidential candidate may not have lived outside of the country for any period of time over the previous ten years, a requirement Assad would not have fulfilled when he became president.
Syria referendum called ‘a sham’, Hugh Macleod, Annasofie Flamand, and an anonymous GlobalPost journalist in Damascus report on the constitutional referendum held in Syria yesterday. At one polling station in a state-run clinic in Damascus’ Midan district, a neighborhood of traditional Sunni Damascene families and a center for protests in the capital, the transparent ballot box was still almost empty [...]
TUNISIA MEETING ON SYRIA – US ANALYST Duration: 07:50 – (Radio – go to minute 10)
If people in Syria were hoping for the world to act, then they may have reason for more disappointment. The first meeting of the “Friends of Syria” group — with representatives from sixty countries and organizations — ended in Tunisia today with divisions, questions, and the promise of another meeting.
Homs, Syria (CNN) — A freelance cameraman who visited Homs recently put together a video that provides a rare glimpse of life in the embattled city and an even rarer close-up of the opposition movement in Syria.
Syria Hit List
By Hamed Aleaziz
Monday, February 27, 2012- Mother Jones
A 718-page digital document obtained by Mother Jones contains names, phone numbers, neighborhoods, and alleged activities of thousands of dissidents apparently targeted by the Syrian government. Three experts asked separately by Mother Jones to examine the document—essentially a massive spreadsheet, whose contents are in Arabic—say they believe that it is authentic. As Bashar al-Assad’s military continues a deadly crackdown on dissent inside the country, the list appears to confirm in explicit detail the scale of the regime’s domestic surveillance and its methodical efforts to destroy widespread opposition…..
The Egyptian Parliamentarian speaks out about the “Alawi Shiites” in Syria and Assad’s brutality during a discussion of unemployment. The head of parliament tries to shush him in vain. Youtube
Red Cross frustrated in Syria evacuation effort Clinton blunt with Russia, China over Syria Syria in crisis: Who are the key players? Wyatt Andrews: Let’s get right to Syria, please. I know and respect that you think the Friends of Syria conference …
Syrian government held a referendum on constitutional reform. The opposition boycotted the poll, accusing President Bashar al-Assad of failing to abide by the current constitution. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said, “no one is fooled” by the referendum while the regime proceeds to “open fire on civilians.” The polling was marred by violence with 63 civilians and soldiers killed during Sunday’s voting. The European Union has extended sanctions on Syria including on its central bank. Meanwhile, China lashed out after a statement made by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the Chinese and Russian vote blocking a U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria “despicable.” China called the comments “unacceptable” and questioned the “sincerity and efficacy of U.S. policy”, referring to the intervention in Iraq.
Syria Ends Trade Liberalisation Era: The Syrian Government has raised customs tariffs on a wide range of consumer goods, reverting further a decade-old policy of trade liberalisation and risking an additional increase in consumer prices in the local market….
Central Bank Lowers Again Interest Rates to Stem Rising Borrowing Costs”: Syria’s Central Bank has lowered interest rates on time deposits by up to 2 percent in response to pressure from the business community and banks but at a time of high inflation….
EU Sanctions to Constrain Further Central Bank Operations: The European Union imposed today new sanctions on Syria including a freeze of the assets of the Central Bank and a ban on cargo flights.
“Friends of Syria” Meeting Announces Working Group on Economic Recovery: The “Friends of Syria” meeting organised last week in Tunisia announced the establishment of an economic recovery working group to draft plans on “rebuilding Syria.”
The central issue is how to speed up what many now regard as the inevitable collapse of the Assad government without plunging the society into a civil war, said Volker Perthes, a German scholar of the region who runs the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.
“Arming the rebels and bringing about a civil war will prolong the regime,” Mr. Perthes said. “A real war is what Assad really wants, because it would allow him to overcome the reluctance of the great majority of the armed forces to fight.”
Arming the rebels would not help Syria. The moral case for arming the rebels may be strong, but it doesn’t overcome the practical problem: The battlefield is Assad’s strength, not weakness. A better route to democratic change in Syria is the mix of economic, diplomatic and other pressure discussed at Friday’s “Friends of Syria” meeting in Tunis, which also urged a cease-fire…..
In Break, Hamas Supports Syrian Opposition
The New York Times
By FARES AKRAM
GAZA —A leader of Hamas spoke out against President Bashar al-Assad of Syria on Friday, throwing its support behind the opposition and stripping Damascus of what little credibility it may have retained with the Arab street. It was Hamas’s first public break with its longtime patron.
Hamas’s prime minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, said during Friday Prayer, “I salute all people of the Arab Spring, or Islamic winter, and I salute the Syrian people who seek freedom, democracy and reform.”
The worshipers shouted back, “God is great” and “Syria! Syria!”
Mr. Haniya made his remarks in support of the uprising that is seeking to oust Mr. Assad, a reversal after years in which Mr. Assad has given safe haven to leaders of Hamas while helping supply it with weapons and cash in its battle against Israel.
Al-Akhbar: Syria’s Electronic Warriors Hit Al Jazeera
Interesting indications of behind-the-scenes problems at al-Jazeera over its Syria coverage.
Fedwa Suleiman – Youtube in Arabic by an Alawi Actress who has spoken out on the side of the revolution and against Assads gangs, security, and shabbiha
Arab spring cleaning The Economist
Why trade reform matters in the Middle East
A YEAR after the start of the Arab spring, no government in the Middle East has attempted serious economic reform even though it is obvious both that economies are distorted and that discontent over living standards has played a big part in the uprisings. The main reaction by governments has been to buy off further protests by increasing public spending. Saudi Arabia boosted government spending by over 50% between 2008 and 2011.
Although higher oil prices have been enough to finance these rises, much of the extra spending has gone into public-sector wages and consumer subsidies. Food and fuel subsidies are often huge: over 10% of GDP in Egypt. In the region as a whole, fuel subsidies rose from 2.3% of GDP in 2009 to 3.2% in 2011.
These subsidies benefit the rich, keep loss-making firms alive and damage the economy. According to the IMF, the richest fifth of Jordanians capture 40% of fuel-subsidy gains; the poorest fifth get 7%. More important, subsidies exacerbate the region’s most important economic problem, which, argue Adeel Malik of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies and Bassem Awadallah*, a former Jordanian finance minister, is “that it has been unable to develop a private sector that is independent, competitive and integrated with global markets”. By distorting domestic prices, subsidising energy-guzzling firms and increasing public-sector wages relative to private-sector ones, the past year’s actions have made it even harder to develop a flourishing private sector.
‘Beyond the fall of the Syrian regime’ (Peter Harling & Sarah Birke, Middle East Report online)
Troubling Times Ahead
…On both sides, thugs and criminals are exploiting the struggle as a vehicle for social promotion, a means of enrichment and an outlet for sectarian hatred. This statement is true of regime forces, whose fallacious claim to stand for law and order is disproved all too often by their heinous behavior, as it is of some armed groups fighting them under the umbrella of the “Free Syrian Army,” a motley assortment of local vigilantes. The recruits into this “Army” range from fathers defending their families to bereaved young men to defectors fighting for their lives, but its ranks are not devoid of fundamentalist militants and unreconstructed villains. To date, the latter elements have not been predominant, although they are all that the regime, its supporters and its allies want to see. The logic is self-evident: The ruling elite, having little good to offer, is hell-bent on proving that anything else to emerge from Syrian society can only be much worse. Thus the almost hysterical cult of Bashar, whose gross mishandling of this crisis matters not to his supporters: He alone can save this society from itself….
…”All told, on a domestic level Syria has entered a struggle to bring its post-colonial era to a close. It is not simply about toppling a “regime” but about uprooting a “system” — the Arabic word nizam conveniently evoking both notions. The current system is based on keeping Syrians hostage to communal divisions and regional power plays. Indeed, the regime’s residual legitimacy derives entirely from playing indigenous communities and foreign powers off each other, at the expense of genuine state building and accountable leadership. ….
The first is the reality of Bashar’s power base, which has narrowed spectacularly but remains an incontrovertible fact on the ground. Just as the regime dismisses the protest movement with the spurious argument that a majority has not taken to the streets (as if any country around the world had ever witnessed half its people on the march), the regime’s opponents berate its supporters as a minority of delusional, criminal, treacherous citizens. The fact is that, just as the regime cannot survive this crisis by ignoring the millions mobilized against it, so a transition cannot succeed while overlooking the millions — security officers, proxies and regular people — who have thrown in their lot with Bashar. Short of protection for the people most exposed to retribution, notably among the ‘Alawis, a genuine reconciliation mechanism, an effective transitional justice process and a thorough but smooth overhaul of the security services, it could all go very wrong.
Secondly, judging by the SNC’s performance, there is cause for concern if it were to play a key role in such a transition. Its leading members, hindered by personal rivalries, unable to formulate clear political positions for fear of implosion and seemingly consumed with having a spot in the limelight, may fall back on sectarian apportionment as the only consensual criterion for power sharing. Syrians on the street have made clear that they see the SNC’s legitimacy as based on their ability to lobby for diplomatic pressure and see their mandate as stretching no further, but the outside world’s quest for a ready-made “alternative,” and the prevailing assumption that pluralist societies in the Middle East are condemned to such evolution, could prove to be Syria’s undoing. A political process including the SNC, but built primarily around locally led organizations, along with technocrats and businessmen, would have more legitimacy and a greater chance of success.
Finally, as increasingly desperate protesters call for help, there is a danger that the outside world will make matters worse as it plays at being savior. Calls for aid are somewhat worse than a pact with the devil: They entail pacts with many devils that do not agree on much. The Gulf monarchies, Iraq, Turkey, Russia, the US, Iran and others all see geostrategic stakes in the fate of the Asad regime. The greater their involvement, the less Syrians will remain in control of their destiny. Crying out for foreign intervention of any kind, to bring this emergency to an end at any cost, is more than understandable coming from ordinary citizens subjected to extreme forms of regime violence. Exiled opposition figures who pose as national leaders have no excuse for behaving likewise, when what is needed is a cool-headed, careful calibration of what type of outside “help” would do the minimum of harm.
Close to home, another Middle Eastern experience — Iraq — serves as an example on all three fronts. A political process excluding even a relatively small minority within Iraqi society led to a collective disaster. A group of returning exiles, without a social base but enjoying international support as the only visible, pre-existing “alternative,” quickly took over the transition and agreed only on splitting up power among themselves on the basis of a communal calculus. Their division of the spoils gradually contaminated the entire polity, and ultimately led to civil war. And the US, presiding over this tragedy, succeeded only in turning Iraq into a parody of itself, a country that now fits every sectarian and troubled stereotype the occupying power initially saw in it….
…What is different today is the awakening of a broad popular movement, ….
Nick Heras “Iranian Crisis Spurs Saudi Reconsideration of Nuclear Weapons.” It is published in the Jamestown Foundation:
When Assad Won
BY DAVID KENNER | FEBRUARY 22, 2012, Foreign Policy
A bloody six-year civil war fought against Bashar al-Assad’s father presents a cautionary tale for Syria’s modern-day rebels.
Seeking support for a two-fold strategy
- Strengthening the peaceful nature of the revolt on the ground through: the SNC seeks all possible support for its strategy aimed at a) establishing local councils in different regions of the country to support the civilian population and provide the networks for channeling assistance now and preserving civil society for the future, b) mobilizing hitherto reluctant groups to support the revolt, and c) encouraging defections of businessmen who supported the regime so far, technocrats and civil servants.
- Supporting the Free Syrian Army and all forms of popular Resistance
Understanding and supporting the desire to depose the Assad regime through non-violent means, the Syrian people have the right to protect themselves and their communities. If the regime fails to accept the terms of political initiative outlined by the Arab League and end violence against citizens, the Friends of Syria should not constrain individual countries from aiding the Syrian Opposition by means of military advisors, training and provision of arms to defend themselve…
3- The establishment of an international fund with pledges from Arab and friendly states for food, shelter and medical supplies. But funds as medical aid are useless without a mechanism for delivery. Hence the need for safe passages.
4- Recognition of the SNC as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. The SNC seeks international recognition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people….
6- Starting a Political Transition Plan
Negotiation with the goal of Regime Change: The SNC sees that a political negotiation with the acceptable members of the Syrian government is still possible and is likely the best way to achieve the desired goal of regime change. The SNC will therefore continue to seek Russia’s cooperation to press the regime for stopping the repression so a ceasefire can be reached.
Negotiation with acceptable members of the regime is possible so long as it is understood that the goal of any such negotiation is government change under the condition that no negotiation should take place until a full cease fire is in place, the killing has stopped, and prisoners have been released. By acceptable, we mean regime figures who do not have blood on their hands and who may be allowed to remain during a transitional period.
The clear goal of the SNC and one for which tens of thousands of Syrians have died or suffered is to achieve full regime change through a process controlled by the Syrians themselves……
The primary task of a unity government will be to restructure the security apparatus of the country, to revise the constitution, and to restructure government institutions so they continue to serve the people during the transition….
The SNC is ready to name by name the members of the Al Assad clan and any close affiliates who will be expected to depart within a set timeframe. Other figures from the regime can be named who will be expected to be removed from their positions but be allowed to remain in the country. Immunity from prosecution could be considered for key regime figures so long as they stay away from Syria and commit not to ever interfere in its internal politics. Any violation of this pledge will result in immediate prosecution.
A Presidential council will be formed in the transition phase and will be responsible for all affairs related to sovereignty. ….
7- Diversity and Minorities
The SNC has clearly stated in its political program that it sees no future for any of the components of Syrian society without the necessary guarantees given to the ethnic (Kurds, Assyrians, and others) religious (Christians, Alawites, Druze, and others) minorities : provisions for their safety and well-being, respect for their rights in the Constitution, laws and public policies. A democratic Syria will be as much about the protection of and respect for minorities’ rights as it will be about