“Revolt in Syria,” Stephen Starr’s Book; Sahner on Syrian Heritage beign Destroyed; Ajami on Clinton

Stephen Starr’s new book on Syria is full of startling insights that only someone who has lived and worked there for the last five years could write. It is also a good read. Here is an excerpt.

‘Revolt in Syria: Eye-Witness to the Uprising’ excerpt
By Stephen Starr

Laila met me at a café in downtown Damascus. She was from a wealthy family that lived in Dummar, a suburb on the north-western outskirts of Damascus. She was twenty one years old and in her third year of media studies at Damascus University.

“I saw some students from my class take off their belts and hit medicine students who wanted to hold a demonstration for freedom. It was shocking. Almost everyone in my class is totally pro-government. I’ve cut thirty of my friends from Facebook be¬cause I can’t continue to listen to their rubbish. I’m not talking to two of my cousins because they disagree with me.” The thing that had surprised her most, she said, was how educated peo¬ple she knew were talking about the crisis. “They’re saying we should all stand blindly behind the government.”
I suggested that they were probably afraid of civil war in Syria. Laila disagreed.

“In Jordan there are Palestinians that follow various Palestinian groups, there are Jordanians, Beduins, Christians and so on and they get along. The sectarian idea doesn’t have to apply to Syria.”

She told me how on 15 June, on the day of the unfurling of a giant Syrian flag in the Mezzah area of Damascus, she had an exam at the nearby faculty of literature. “I had to take off my shoes to cross the street because I couldn’t walk on the flag in order to get to my exam. Then when I started the test I couldn’t concentrate because of the noise from the rally outside. I mean, what type of logic and thinking is this – to hold a huge govern¬ment rally next to a state university where state exams are tak¬ing place? It is just so stupid.

“My house was worth seventy million Syrian pounds [almost US$1.5 million at the time] before the unrest began – we have money, we have a lot to lose. But we will gain more under a dif¬ferent government. My four brothers have to go live and work in Dubai because they can’t get work here and because of the military service. The government is driving its youth away.”

Sipping on a lemon-mint drink, Laila was convinced Syria was being held back by those in power.

“We have to work all year to spend one week in Beirut for some fun. What is this? Beirut is nothing, we could have so much more right here in Syria,” she said, bending marks into her drink¬ing straw in frustration.

Laila said she has been once or twice to Beirut for shopping and to visit pubs and that her closest four or five friends all shared her opinion on ‘The Situation’.
She also told me of the mafia-style workings of the police and security apparatus as the regime worked to stamp out dissent across the country in July.

“My friend’s father was detained in Hama one month ago [May 2011]. Very few people know this, but US$2,000 will allow you to find out where a person is being held. US$4,000 will ensure he or she stays alive although it does not guarantee his or her health. US$2,000 more will get him or her on a list for question¬ing which will mean, at some stage, he or she will be released.”

She said she would like to see foreign military intervention in Syria to kick out the regime. “The regime will never give in because of the system they have organized. I don’t think they will change as they are say¬ing. I would prefer to die by an American or English gun than by someone from my own country.”

For Laila, as for others, corruption and the necessity of wasta are hated aspects of daily life in Syria. Corruption and bureau¬cracy angered her most.
“If I want to get a passport in Jordan it would take me one hour. In Syria it will take forever unless I pay the employee some money.

“My father goes twice a week to an electricity office. When he goes there he has three assistants and they’re all from the 86 area [a predominantly Alawite-inhabited area in west Damas¬cus]. This is the state’s disease, this is how they have worked for decades. It is unsustainable and it needs to be rooted out and ended.”
She said the magazine where she worked part-time was emp¬ty. “There are no employees. Companies have stopped spending money on advertising so the magazine simply has no revenue. It’s as simple as that.”

She went on to talk about the business situation in Syria and the anger it made her feel.
“Do you know how they started Syriatel?” she asked me, refer¬ring to the telecommunications company owned by the presi¬dent’s cousin. “Anyone who wanted to open a mobile phone line had to pay 10,000 Syrian pounds and then wait for months. Then they bought the equipment and technology they needed and started their own company. What rubbish! This is the peo-ple’s company. Those people did not pay for it yet they call it their own.

“Do you know why there are no Starbucks, no McDonald’s and so on in Syria? If I want to start a business I need to give the government 51 per cent ownership. They then take another 10 per cent of the profits from me. So essentially they have 61 per cent of my company. Why would anyone want to open a busi¬ness in this situation? This is why we are such an undeveloped country.”

She told me about the reasons for social inequality in Syria.
“The people who live in 86, the Alawites who have free phone lines and who don’t ever pay for their electricity, are being told they are going to be attacked and are being given guns by the security forces ‘to protect themselves’.

“We have laws but no one obeys them. Why? Because they are not being enforced. People are flexible. If the government leads with a bad example the people will follow.
“People in Dubai or Beirut don’t throw litter on the street, but here we do. Why? I know that if I talk on the phone while driving and a policeman stops me I can give him a smile, slip 500 Syrian pounds [US$10] into my driving license and smile. He’ll let me go.”

I asked her whether it wasn’t the responsibility of the people not to do this, not to give out money to the police and other government workers and not to throw litter in the streets.
“My mother was in the US two months ago and she told me how in one mall there was a green space where people could not sit. In Syria, everyone would sit there for two reasons. One, because they don’t take the average policeman or, for example, ministry inspector seriously. Second, because they simply have nowhere else to go. We have lots of fancy restaurants for rich people but nothing has been put in place for the poor who want to have fun.”

Laila said she was neither an activist nor part of the opposition beyond posting cryptic remarks on her Facebook page. I asked her for the solution to the current unrest.
“We need to turn the clock back to zero. Sure it will take time, maybe five years, but it will certainly be worth it. We have been led as sheep for forty years and if this government stays we will be sheep for forty more.”

I told her that I thought this was the danger. “If you have a sheep that has been following a shepherd for three years and you let him go free he’ll be dead in a week.”
She was visibly angry as she waved my point away:

“I believe that everyone has one chance. The regime has had chances for forty years. They’ve had so many chances since the problems started in March but what have they done? Nothing. They must go.”

‘Revolt in Syria’ was released in the US on August 14.

La vie sans Bachar
Garance Le Caisne, envoyée spéciale à l’ouest d’Alep (en Syrie) – Le Journal du Dimanche 19

REPORTAGE – À l’ouest d’Alep, des milliers de personnes habitent une région libérée. Justice, police, santé, vie en société, il leur faut tout inventer : “Assad voulait qu’on se déchire. C’est le contraire qui est arrivé”

Hillary and the Hollowness of ‘People-to-People’ Diplomacy
By Fouad Ajami, 11 August 2012, Wall Street Journal

The sight of Hillary Clinton cutting a rug on the dance floor this week in South Africa gives away the moral obtuseness of America’s chief diplomat. That image will tell the people of the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo, under attack by a merciless regime, all they need to know about the heartlessness of U.S. foreign policy…..

Syria has now descended, as it was bound to, into a drawn-out conflict, into a full-scale sectarian civil war between the Sunni majority and the Alawi holders of power. But Mrs. Clinton could offer nothing better than this trite, hackneyed observation: “We must figure out ways to hasten the day when bloodshed ends and the political transition begins. We have to make sure that state institutions stay intact.”

These are the words of someone running out the clock on the Syrians, playing for time on behalf of a president who gave her this post knowing there would be at Foggy Bottom a politician like himself instead of a diplomat given to a belief in American power and the American burden in the world….

Letter From Syria
The War Within by Jon Lee Anderson for the New Yorker

As Syria descends into civil war, can its rebel factions unite against the government?

In our new Insight, MEI Research Fellow Linda Matar explores how the al-Asad regime in Syria has been slowing the pace of neoliberal economic reform since the beginning of the country’s uprising in March 2011. For instance, state-controlled cooperatives have been ensuring the availability of food items at reasonable prices, and the government has also raised public sector wages and approved 25,000 new public sector jobs. However, despite these attempts to mitigate social unrest, Matar writes that “these measures have done little to arrest the social disaster already in place.”

Mourning for Syria: I love America, I love Syria, I hate the war, but will things get better if Assad is gone?
By Dalel Khalil in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, 2012-08-12

On the subject of local governance and organizing committees, this article from last Sunday (12 August) in LeJDD explains how a new civil society is springing up in Northern Syria where Assad no longer rules.

Russia warns West over Syria after Obama threats
By Dominic Evans,BEIRUT | Tue Aug 21, 2012

(Reuters) – Russia warned the West on Tuesday against unilateral action on Syria, a day after U.S. President Barack Obama threatened “enormous consequences” if his Syrian counterpart used chemical or biological arms or even moved them in a menacing way.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking after meeting China’s top diplomat, said Moscow and Beijing were committed to “the need to strictly adhere to the norms of international law…and not to allow their violation”…..

Seeking re-election in November, Obama noted that he had refrained “at this point” from ordering U.S. military engagement in Syria. But when he was asked at a White House news conference whether he might deploy forces, for example to secure Syrian chemical and biological weapons, he said his view could change.

“We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is (if) we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized,” Obama said. “That would change my calculus.”….

Saving Syria – The Wall Street Journal – August 21, 2012
By Christian C. Sahner

Many tragedies have followed the start of the Syrian uprising 18 months ago, but one that deserves more attention is the destruction of Syria’s cultural patrimony. Throughout the country, Roman temples, Crusader castles and medieval mosques have been subject to shelling, gunfire and military occupation. What is more, the collapse of authority has led to widespread theft and looting. As Syria descends into bedlam, the international community must work to protect the country’s historical sites, lest we see a repeat of the destruction of Iraq’s landmarks after 2003.

Syria is the cradle of civilization, with a history of human settlement stretching back 5,000 years. …..

Among the at-risk monuments is the Unesco World Heritage site Crac des Chevaliers, a Crusader fortress of the 12th to 13th centuries, which stands on a hilltop overlooking the plains of Homs. It is regarded as the finest example of medieval castle architecture anywhere in the world. According to reports, Crac was the site of peaceful antigovernment protests in March when it came under shelling. This led to damage to the outer walls, as well as the elegant Crusader chapel inside, which was converted into a mosque in 1271. Other reports indicate that it has served as a hub for foreign fighters who have entered Syria to battle the regime.

Then there is the ancient city of Palmyra, another Unesco World Heritage site, whose ruins lay scattered across a desert oasis 150 miles northeast of Damascus. Looting has been reported throughout the archaeological site, including in the Temple of Bel complex, the stately colonnaded avenue, the Camp of Diocletian, and the Valley of the Tombs.

Some of the most brazen destruction has occurred at the Roman city of Apamea, about 40 miles northwest of Hama. During recent months, Syrian army tanks have occupied the colonnaded street and shelled the 12th-century fortress of Qala’at al-Mudiq, which stands atop the old Roman acropolis. Plunderers have profited from the chaos, arriving in Apamea with heavy digging equipment and absconding with priceless Roman mosaics and column capitals. There is speculation that these kinds of looters are part of a wider network of criminals operating in the Middle East, who pillage archaeological sites on behalf of the black market.

Some of the worst-hit monuments lie in cities that have been the focus of sustained urban warfare. These include Dara’a in the far southwest, where the uprising began in March 2011; its ‘Umari mosque— founded at the time of the Islamic conquests—has sustained heavy shelling. There is also Homs, the veritable center of the uprising, where countless mosques, churches and markets now stand in ruin. Most recently, the fighting has spread to Aleppo, where gunfire has engulfed the great medieval citadel in the center of town, which has served as a makeshift army base.

There are dozens of other examples of destruction throughout the country, not to mention instances of brazen theft from Syrian museums. This has prompted ominous comparisons to postinvasion Iraq, where the collapse of security led to much-publicized looting of the National Museum, along with ancient sites such as Babylon and Nineveh. With no end to the Syrian uprising in sight, what can be done to reverse the trend?

First, the media and nongovernmental organizations must publicize the damage and looting. …..

Comments (86)

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51. Ghufran said:

أكدت مصادر سعودية أن هناك بذور انشقاق ينذر بانفجار داخل صفوف جهاز الحرس الوطني السعودي ، ويخيم على هذا الجهاز توتر شديد خاصة في بعض القواعد العسكرية بالمنطقة الشرقية من المملكة.
وقالت المصادر أن هذا التوتر جاء على خلفية رفض فرقة من الحرس الوطني بالتحرك لقمع تظاهرة سلمیة ضد حكم آل سعود خرجت يوم الجمعة الماضي في العاصمة الرياض.
ويأتي هذا الرفض من جانب الفرقة العسكرية المذكورة بعد أن كانت شاركت قبل اسبوع في عمليات قمع تنفيذا لأوامر عسكرية عليا، مما دفع مسؤول القاعدة العسكرية الى استدعاء الفرقة الخاصة في الحرس الوطني من اجل التعامل مع هذه الحالة تحت بند “العصيان وعدم تنفيذ الاوامر”.
وأكدت المصادر أن سبعة من كبار ضباط الفرقة التي امتنعت عن تنفيذ الاوامر بالخروج لقمع المحتجين تم اعتقالهم، وهم الان تحت التحقيق والتعذيب.
How do you think the Saudi regime will respond if the situation in the East gets worse?

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August 21st, 2012, 9:44 pm


52. Observer said:

The point I was making is that for an AVERAGE American there is no point in intervening in Syria that is why the Obama administration can pontificate while leaving the country to descend into chaos.

There can be no negotiations while the security services and the militia are left to run around and to use force. The use of force by the regime forced the people to take up arms. The regime calculation is that with violence they can recreated the 80’s narrative and crush the opposition with the fear of instability keeping the majority at home. Well the majority was already left with no choice but to ask for change as the regime had already destabilized the country and left people without hope of a better future. The situation is not similar to the 80’s.

Now for those that want to avoid any further destruction, I would propose that the army returns to its barracks and that the FSA and the local people create a volunteer police force at the local level to maintain a minimum of order and then negotiations can start about a true transition regime.

I fear that a Lebanon style outcome is what we will have and we will replace one super thug with a multitude of local thugs like Geagea and Aoun and Jumblatt and what have you.

We are in for a long dark hard road, yet I do believe that the most resourceful and resilient and practical people on earth will rise to the occasion and pull through with a new regime.

The shrinking of US power has allowed for local regional players to come to the fore, yet none of them is even close enough in power to affect more than a very limited influence in the region.

This the end of US hegemony and the beginning of local regional exhaustive rivalry.

If it is true that the brother is severely injured or dead, the mother has now only two children left. How much more can she risk for the sake of this futile power struggle?

How much longer will the others wish to retain power when Freddo leaves for Moscow?

Now the next step as I read the news is the sacrificing of Freddo for the sake of preserving a minimum of regime structure to allow for Iranian and Russian interests to be preserved.

So we are in a salvage operation by Russia now.

Let us what the delivery room of Putin’s Russia will give birth to. I am not holding my breath. DO YOU ALL REMEMBER CONDI RICE TELLING US OF THE BIRTH PANGS OF A NEW ME IN 2006 ONLY TO HAVE HER NOSE PUSHED IN THE DIRT OF SOUTH LEBANON?

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August 21st, 2012, 9:54 pm


53. Son of Damascus said:

Will the masculinity of weapons defeat the femininity of peace in Syria?

Edleb countryside – Anyone visiting the northwestern Syrian city of Saraqeb these days is bound to notice the graffiti that says “the Revolution is female.” Any observer is also bound to notice large groups of men – both armed and unarmed – wandering around. There are men going about their business or manning Free Syrian Army checkpoints, but no women at all.

The graffiti thus seems to be at odds with the general context, and prompts one to look for the role of women today in a revolution that was characterized right from the start by noticeable female participation. Khaled, a university student who left the town of Mareh and recently volunteered in the FSA’s ranks, said that “women are still present among us. Women are cooking for us and others are washing our clothes. All women support the Free Syrian Army.”

When I ask him about women’s role apart from supporting military action, he answers that this is war and that women have no place in it.

In the “liberated” territory, which is ruled by weapons, women’s role seems limited to supporting men, as women are all but absent from protests, which are already of rare occurrence. Coordination committees, media centers, army barracks, local police forces and cadres of the self-administration authority created by local residents are of a predominantly masculine character. I look for women in Saraqeb, Bansh, Atma and Telaada and the answer always comes as follows: Women belong in houses and the streets are for men, it is war.

Many media reports addressed the role of women in the popular movement and were frequently published from the start of the revolution until recently. These reports highlighted the essential role played by Syrian women in most regions, which included organizing protests and taking part in them, organizing communication and media action in general, as well as taking part in relief and humanitarian action. This role was clearly manifested in major cities, but it was also apparent – though not as obvious – in the countryside and the most marginalized of regions. Female Syrian activists operating inside the country and abroad left a female mark in supporting the revolt on both the peaceful and military levels. Newsrooms, revolutionary action on social media platforms, civil and political gatherings and media forums seemed filled with a female presence, and women succeeded in imposing themselves as men’s equals. Why is the image of liberated Syria so different from Syria under the revolution then?



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August 21st, 2012, 9:55 pm


54. VISITOR said:

47. zoo

Your comment is a typical menhebkji rant and quite frankly I wouldn’t have expected more from such as you. For then I would be giving too much unwarranted credit for a menhebekji level of thinking.

basically, you’re saying we see no evil, hear no evil every thing is normal while the house of cards is crumbling upon your head and your idol prethident.

That is even more evident when we consider your selective reading of my comment in your attempt to pass over your feel-good theme that is so prevalent in your unending comments to the point of spreading nausea. you only caught on my last sentence while the main theme of my comment is at the beginning, namely,

“You have to look at the Syrian Revolution as a Syrian affair first and foremost. The main responsibility lies on the shoulders of the Syrian people.”

What I am saying is that the Syrian people have the means on their own to achieve the objectives of the glorious revolution and crush your idol-prethident.

Now the envoy to Ankara may say the US is not planning a Syrian invasion and yet that will not change any of the above facts. It will not even change the facts that we know full well that the US military does have contingency plans for military action in Syria that may or may not involve boots US or others on the ground. It will also not change the fact that plans for creating NFZ’s over Syria are already in the pipeline by other NATO countries and they would only require tacit US approval to come into effect. By the way we haven’t seen any US or NATO troops in the Libyan scenario.

So, if I were you I would stop looking at the world in this oversimplified rosy picture that would always fall in accordance of the wishes of your die-for-always idol idiot.

Also, a time may come when Turkey may decide to go alone as it may see its own national interests getting jeopardized to the point that makes such move unavoidable.

You only need to recall the Ocalan affair to know what it took for your idol to cower down and swallow an ignominious defeat in front of the whole world.

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August 21st, 2012, 10:31 pm


55. Syrialover said:

ZOO, that’s an interesting statement of what you believe (#43).

But tragically, your dream of avoiding war by negotiation has zero relevance or reality in Syria.

The DNA of the Assad regime makes it fight to the death to avoid losing a drop of power and privilege. Otherwise things in Syria would not, COULD not have come to this.

And what the hell would Russia and Iran care about or contribute on reform and transition in Syria? Or the political and economic survival of the country?

They both have dirty, unstable backyards themselves. And are preoccupied only with screwing themselves into blind contortions about losing face against the west.

The fact that you even ask what the rebels are fighting for and state their cause is “pointless” reveals to me that you have not absorbed and understood what has happened inside Syria.

The corruption and chaos mentioned in that excerpt from Starr’s book posted above should have been straightforward to start reforming – but not for the Assad regime. They have shocked the world and made history with their country-burning, murderous resistance to compromise and change.

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August 21st, 2012, 10:59 pm


56. Syrialover said:

Thank you OBSERVER for your statement in #50 pointing out that nothing can ever change until the regime puts away the gun and never thinks of using it again. Plus how Assad had miscalculated the realities of the 21st century by attempting to crush dissent in a country already destabilized by disastrous misrule.

It would be good if ZOO would reflect on those points.

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August 21st, 2012, 11:14 pm


57. ann said:

Syrian minister: Obama’s warning on chemical weapons indicates US seeking pretext to intervene – Tuesday, August 21, 2012


MOSCOW – President Barack Obama’s warning over chemical weapons in Syria indicates the West is looking for a pretext for military intervention, a senior Syrian government official said Tuesday following talks in Moscow.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, meanwhile, warned the West against circumventing the U.N. Security Council to take action in Syria.

Obama said Monday the U.S would reconsider its opposition to military involvement in Syria if President Bashar Assad’s regime deployed or used chemical or biological weapons. The U.S. president called a turn toward such weapons of mass destruction a “red line” for America.

Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil described Obama’s statements as “propagandistic threats” connected with the U.S. presidential election. However, he also said they indicate that “the West is looking for a pretext to intervene militarily.”

Jamil drew a comparison with the invasion of Iraq in 2003, which the U.S. justified by claiming, falsely as it turned out, that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

“Such an intervention is impossible,” Jamil told journalists in comments translated into Russian. “Those who are contemplating this evidently want to see the crisis expand beyond Syria’s borders.” The Syrian civil war, which began with a popular uprising in March 2011, already is spilling over into neighbouring Lebanon.

The conflict in Syria already has dragged on for 1 1/2 years and killed some 20,000 people, according to activists. It is widely thought that Syria possesses extensive chemical and biological weapon stockpiles, and it has threatened to use them if the country comes under foreign attack.

Russia, which along with China has steadfastly backed Syria and blocked U.N. sanctions on Assad’s regime, earlier warned Syria against using such weapons.

Jamil said the government would be willing to discuss Assad’s resignation but only after the opposition agreed to join in negotiating a peaceful settlement.

“As for his resignation, making his resignation a condition for dialogue effectively makes holding such a dialogue impossible,” Jamil said. “During the negotiating process any issues can be discussed, and we are ready to discuss even this issue.”

Lavrov, speaking earlier Tuesday after meeting with his visiting Chinese counterpart, said Moscow and Beijing agreed on “the need to strictly adhere to the norms of international law and not to violate the principles inscribed in the U.N. charter.”



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August 21st, 2012, 11:33 pm


58. Visitor said:

Observer’s # 50 is necessary BUT not sufficient.

Idiot prethident and his criminal henchmen must be brought to justice and must not be given any honorable exit. Time for that is long gone. The threshold of martyrs has simply become so high that the thought of forgiveness is no longer feasible. We owe it to all those martyrs who paid the ultimate sacrifice to make sure that their sacrifices are not made in vain.

Justice and rule of Law is what The new Syria needs above all. Justice starts by upholding the principle of accountability. There is no higher accountability than holding the blood of the martyrs as most sacred and as not subject to compromises. If we cannot live up to that then we have failed the martyrs and failed to achieve the objectives of this great revolution.

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August 21st, 2012, 11:37 pm


59. Firas said:

The discourse here is depressing, and even more so because, due to its very nature (English language blog), it’s supposed to cater to the more educated amongst us Syrians, and presumably, those more exposed to democracy, dialogue, etc.

Scanning through these comments, it seems all critical thinking and analytical reasoning has been lost. People are polarized; most seem to have committed themselves to a position (usually extreme), and find whatever logic or piece together whatever facts to support it. The positions are juxtaposed and are mutually exclusive with virtually no room for reason or compromise. In the process, the country, and its social fabric is being systematically destroyed.

The two camps are: 1. Support the regime – either due to fear of the alternative or because of interests/ideology; or 2. Bring about the end of the regime – at any cost, with total disregard to the fact that the the vast majority of the opposition has proven itself no better the regime they despise.

While I have long been opposed to this regime, I’m more concerned with the long-term well-being of the country than I am about exacting retribution. In this highly consequential conflict, I think a more analytical, non-emotional and nuanced approach is needed.

First, our prognosis needs a little more depth. While it’s true that the Assad/Baath regime since 1963 has delivered Syria to this terrible predicament, there is much more going on here. Notwithstanding the truth that the regime’s brutal reaction to the early demonstrations virtually dragged the country to the current civil war, the Syrian conflict, as it now, has long ceased being about Syrians, freedom, democracy, opportunity, equality, etc. though these are the legitimate hooks needed to advance a much wider geostrategic agenda. The West never cared about Syrian human rights or democracy; this is a self-evident fact that should not require much elaboration. Even more laughable are the Gulf Tribedoms where people have far fewer rights and freedoms, and whose ‘states’ have even less institutions than Syria. So, the claims of the West or the Gulfies about protecting the Syrian people rings hypocritical, at best. It also shouldn’t require much analysis to understand that this conflict is a key element of a much larger, multi-phased political, economic and eventually military ‘war’ being waged on Iran to weaken its regional power and influence. And, finally, I believe that there is a considerable energy component that is at play in this conflict as well. It’s no secret that massive gas fields have been discovered off the Israeli coast (some contested by Lebanon) as well as around Cyprus. It is thought (check USGS website) that there is much more gas to be found in the waters off the Lebanese and Syrian coasts as well. This might explain why Russia, which is the world’s largest gas exporter with a monopoly on gas supplies to Europe, as well as China with a massive and growing energy-thirsty economy, are fighting to keep Syria within their orbit. Not unrelated, the energy pipelines from Iran, Egypt and elsewhere – whether to Banyas (Syria), Tripoli (Lebanon) or Ceyhan (Turkey) all must pass through Syria. The point here is that Syria has long turned into a battlefield for larger powers trying to project their influence and improve their negotiating leverage ahead of the grand bargain that is surely coming.

What this necessitates is an unemotional and sophisticated position/response by Syrians, which unfortunately has been sorely lacking. In my opinion, the regime of Bashar Assad has long fallen, in the way we’ve all known it. He’s virtually finished, and however this conflict ends, I simply cannot see a scenario in which he and his team/party survives. So, the responsibility now is to safeguard the state institutions, the cultural wealth and the fragile society, particularly because the Baath/Assads have left it so devoid of political infrastructure and, frankly, intellectual horsepower, to deal with a crisis of this magnitude. However one disagrees/detests the current (and previous) regime, any patriotic and responsible Syrian has to care about what is in store for Syria post-Assad. That a new Syria will emerge is not in question; what should be of concern is what this new Syria will look like. Unsavory and unbearable as this regime is, Syrians cannot afford to live with the outcome of bringing down the regime at any cost. Today, for the talk of a diverse opposition, the extremist Salafi fundamentalist, Wahhabi Islamists, funded by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, are on the ascent. Numbers notwithstanding, they have the financing, the weapons, the support and media support to act…and they are increasingly hijacking the agenda and the slogans. Their agenda, ideology, lexicon and even looks are alien to Syrian culture. While I supported the people who took to the streets chanting “واحد واحد واحد الشعب السوري واحد” and other similar peaceful slogans, I cannot today accept having armed Talibanish thugs with an agenda that, outside of deposing Assad, can be summarized by covering women and chopping limbs, hijack this revolution – especially knowing that these groups are doing the outsiders’ bidding, to advance a much larger agenda of ‘flipping’ Syria to a different camp, with no regard to the interests of the long-term interests of the Syrian people.

So, it is with much disgust that I wish today that one of two things happen: 1. The regime puts an end to this armed and bloody rebellion, knowing that he’s finished anyway, and must relinquish/transition power willingly, or otherwise; or 2. The regime fights the rebels to a standstill. In both cases, a larger deal must be brokered that includes the US, Russia, Iran & Turkey (maybe even Saudi) that, among other larger deal terms, includes the political make-up and orientation of post-Assad Syria that, hopefully, means that the country is a client to neither the Saudis nor the Iranians, and whose wealth and future belongs to its people.

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August 22nd, 2012, 12:13 am


60. abbas said:

what he is saying goes for every Arab country

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August 22nd, 2012, 1:16 am


61. Juergen said:

Rebels Reject Jihad
Are Reports of al-Qaida in Syria Exaggerated?

Intelligence reports claim that members of the al-Qaida terrorist network are streaming into Syria to join the rebel ranks. But the rebels deny the allegations and say that jihadists are not welcome. In any case, it is the Assad regime that has long had ties to al-Qaida.

Some rebel checkpoints in Syria are currently flying the black flag of al-Qaida. One of the flags is attached to a stick stuck into a tire weighed down with rocks in front of a checkpoint manned by the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in Aleppo, the country’s largest city. The Islamic creed, “There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God,” is written in Arabic on the flag.

Even though it is Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting, the clean-shaven men at the checkpoint offer the foreign reporter something to drink. Some do not abide by the fasting requirement.
When asked whether they know they are flying the al-Qaida flag, one of the fighters responds: “Of course we know, but is it al-Qaida’s invention? It’s also the flag of the Prophet, and we fly it because we are Muslims and we are waging a holy war.”


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August 22nd, 2012, 1:33 am


62. Juergen said:

Robert Fisk: ‘No power can bring down the Syrian regime’
After gaining exclusive access to Bashar al-Assad’s army officers, our writer reports from the Aleppo front line

You know it’s all true when the taxi driver turns off the motorway towards Aleppo. In front lies a mile of empty road, disappearing into the heat haze on its way to one of the oldest cities in the world.

But a halo of brown smoke embraces the horizon and the driver knows better than to follow the motorway signs from the airport. He turns left, gingerly bouncing over the broken median rail, then between two huge piles of rocks like a frightened cat. In front of us is a sea of burnt houses and wrecked cars, through which we drive slowly. The engine cuts out in the way my dad’s car used to in France on bad post-war petrol, the accelerator cutting out nervously as we drive past two rubbish trucks upended to form a makeshift road-block.

But these are phantom check points. There are no gunmen, no militiamen, no al-Qa’ida, no “terrorists”, no “gangs”, no “foreign fighters” – how one grows sick of these eternal semantics – and not a civilian soul, because this battle is over – for now.



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August 22nd, 2012, 1:51 am


63. SANDRO LOEWE said:

Robert Fisk never said “The syrian regime will stay for ever.”

It is an officer who said:

“The Syrian regime will stay for ever. No power on earth can bring it down. All regimes will fall – but Syria will stay, because God is on the side of those who are in the right.”

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August 22nd, 2012, 3:16 am


64. Hassan said:

The Syrian regime will never fall, because it will mean the fall of Syria itself.

Syria al-Assad is eternal, Bashar al-Assad along with his father and brothers are eternal, they are super-human supermen, endowed with divine gifts, they are close to God incarnate itself. They are simply superhuman. They have been chosen by God personally, like he chose Mary, to rule Syria. They are the chosen ones.

They in the last 40 years have taken a backward country into a major Superpower, THE most powerful Arab country ever, with the strongest Army and the most solid, growing Economy.

Syrians are King among Men and Assad is the King of Kings.


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August 22nd, 2012, 4:25 am


65. Hassan said:

Assad has won, the battle is over. NOW IS THE TIME TO GO OUT AND HUNT DOWN.

A State has the right to kill 1/3 of its population in order to save the 2/3.

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August 22nd, 2012, 4:44 am


66. Hassan said:

Syrians are King among Men and Assad is the King of Kings.

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August 22nd, 2012, 4:49 am


67. Syrialover said:

Here’s some restorative justive suggestions for a legitimate Syrian government:

Those resposible for shelling and airstrikes that destroyed Syria’s heritage buildings and public hospitals, schools and mosques, should be tried and ordered by the court to do hard labor to rebuild what they destroyed. With the materials paid for from their confiscated estates.

That would include potbellied backroom strategists and thugs who brutalized and bought their way into senior military positions. Those with brains as small and primitive as the Assad brothers, who gave the orders to destroy buildings and infrastructure owned by the people of Syria.

It would probably be the first honest real work they had ever done. I can just imagine them sweating and panting and whining from the effort.

Private domestic dwellings should be rebuilt in extensive public work projects funded directly from Assad stolen loot retrieved from overseas (including sale of the luxury Mayfair mansions owned by Rifaat Assad and his son).

Destroyed small businesses should be compensated out of the proceeds of the public sale of businesses and assets confiscated from Rami Makhlouf.

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August 22nd, 2012, 4:56 am


68. Hassan said:

I leave you with this quote from General Ne Win, the great socialist leader so-called dictator” of the MYANMAR (BURMA) from 1962-1988 :

““If the army shoots, it has no tradition of shooting into the air. It shoots straight to kill. ”


This is what he said in 1988 when that Aung San Suu Kyi tried to launch another of these failed uprisings by inciting jobless desperate oppressed youth, only for the brave Army soldiers to crush them ruthlessly.

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August 22nd, 2012, 4:59 am


69. Hassan said:

My only advice to Syrians thinking of joining a protest rally, or taking up arms against the Government of Syrian Arab Republic :

DON’T DO IT, YOU WILL COME TO REGRET IT. You will be target practice for the Syrian Arab Army.

I wonder what does it take to get this fact into their thick heads ?

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August 22nd, 2012, 5:08 am


70. Syrialover said:

Oh, isn’t Hassan having fun. Enjoying his cosy armchair and giggling to himself while he writes outrageous, naughty things.

My response: yawn.

My advice: grow up!

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August 22nd, 2012, 6:38 am


71. Uzair8 said:


#FSA Colonel Riad al-Assaad: Vice President Faruq al-Shara is “in a very safe place in #Syria.”


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August 22nd, 2012, 7:34 am


72. Uzair8 said:

At least Hassan is being honest unlike….

He seems to have ditched the false and manufactured narrative.

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August 22nd, 2012, 7:36 am


73. Uzair8 said:

Regarding predictions.

Ramadan may be over but the rebels may still be observing the recommended 6 fasts of the new month (Shawwal). There will be no let up in the fight against tyranny.

Fasting Six Days of Shawwal after Ramadan
..:: || ‘Like Fasting the Entire Year’ || ::..

Sayyiduna Ayyub (Allah be pleased with him) relates that the Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace be upon him, his family, and companions) said,

“Whoever fasts Ramadan and follows it with six days from Shawwal it is as if they fasted the entire year.”

Sayyiduna Thawban (Allah be pleased with him) relates that the Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace be upon him, his family, and companions) said,

“Whoever fasts Ramadan, and then six days after Eid, it is an entire year. Whoever does a good deed shall have ten times its reward.”


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August 22nd, 2012, 8:08 am


74. Tara said:

Rebels ‘returning to Damascus’
A report from Reuters suggests that today’s intensified clashes in Damascus are a result of rebels returning to the city.

Maaz al-Shami, a member of the Damascus Media Office, a group of young opposition activists monitoring the crackdown in the capital, said rebels who had left the city during a fierce army campaign last month had started to return.
“They went back to their homes, or disappeared in the green belt surrounding Damascus,” Shami said.

“They are back now, and the regime is responding with daily shelling and helicopter bombardment. A war atmosphere in Damascus is setting in,” he added.
The Guardian

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August 22nd, 2012, 8:10 am


75. zoo said:


Sorry, I don’t buy the ‘evil’ vs ‘good’ argument. That’s not politics that’s moral idealism.

Syria Lover

Same, it has nothing to do with DNA. Germany, France, Italy killed millions jews. Was it all about Petain, Mussolini and Hitler’s DNA? or it is the DNA or the Germans, Italians and French who chose them as their leaders?

Both are oversimplifications that allow you to pursue the unique goal of removing the “apocalyptic beast” and bring back Syria to the original ‘purity’ it lost 40 years ago.

In view of the way this conflict has evolved, it’s too late to hope for a “victory” of any of the sides. Both sides have lost. Both sides have bloody hands. Realism calls now for an end to the killings through compromises reached by a dialog without preconditions, and not through more escalations that only leads to more death.
Moral idealism calls for reaching an elusive goal through more death and unwilling martyrdom.
I’ve made my choice.

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August 22nd, 2012, 8:18 am


76. zoo said:

“Moscow however bluntly told the West not to meddle in Syria after US President Barack Obama hinted at possible military action if Damascus resorted to its chemical weapons arsenal.

“There should be no interference from the outside,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after his talks with the Syrian minister. “The only thing that foreign players should do is create conditions for the start of dialogue.”
“According to political sources in Damascus, Jamil was sent to Moscow to discuss a possible plan for a presidential election in Syria in which all candidates would be allowed to stand, including Assad.”


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August 22nd, 2012, 8:25 am


77. zoo said:

After 18 years at the doorstep, Russia is now in WTO


“Accession into international institutions such as the WTO lends Russia the credibility it needs to shore up the country’s investment environment,” it said in a special report.

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August 22nd, 2012, 8:29 am


78. zoo said:

Iran calls Turkey to mind its own business in the aftermath of the Gaziantep bombing whose responsibility was denied by the PKK.


Hussein Nakavi, a spokesman for an Iranian national security and foreign policy commission: “Turkey is experiencing internal crises now. Ankara has to try to solve its own internal affairs instead of interfering and giving hostile statements to Syria.”

Nakavi also alleged that Turkey was supporting terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda in Syria.

The official has taken aim at Turkey before, alleging that the June 22 crash of a Turkish warplane off the coast of Syria was the result of a “conspiracy” that was plotted by Ankara so as to drag NATO into a conflagration in Syria.

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August 22nd, 2012, 8:33 am


79. zoo said:

The SNC using the word “negotiate” for the first time in 18 months while still ‘studying’ the elusive “transition government”. Will Sayda deny what Ghaliun said?

Syrian opposition ready to negotiate al-Assad leave: SNC member

PARIS, Aug. 21 (Xinhua) — A senior member of the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) said here Tuesday that the opposition umbrella group was ready to negotiate the departure of President Bashar al-Assad and his allies.

“We are ready to negotiate the departure of all those who made suffering the people with massacres during 17 months. We negotiate their departure but not … arrangements,” Burhan Ghalioun, vice president of SNC told BFMTV news channel.

Quoted as saying by the local broadcaster Europe 1, Abdel Basset Sayda, the SNC head said it was studying “the creation of the government of transition.”

“This is a process that requires a lot of consultations, do not go too fast but the Syrian National Council is trying to achieve it as soon as possible,” he noted.

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August 22nd, 2012, 8:50 am


80. zoo said:

The magic number 70%… Did Ryad Hijab misunderstood whose 70% it was?

• A rebel commander has admitted that around 70% of Aleppo city supports the regime, more than a month into the battle for Syria’s biggest city. Sheikh Tawfik Abu Sleiman said:

“Yes it’s true. Around 70% of Aleppo city is with the regime. It has always been that way. The countryside is with us and the city is with them. We are saying that we will only be here as long as it takes to get the job done, to get rid of the Assads. After that, we will leave and they can build the city that they want.”


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August 22nd, 2012, 9:03 am


81. zoo said:

Lakhdar Brahimi gets off on the wrong foot


The newly appointed United Nations-Arab League peace envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, is expected to travel to New York this week to officially take office, succeeding Kofi Annan, who gave up such a “difficult, if not impossible mission” in disgust, the London-based newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi stated in its lead editorial yesterday.

Mr Brahimi, a seasoned diplomat from Algeria, suggested in a statement to the media that it was still too early to comment on whether President Bashar Al Assad should step down.

“His words, uttered spontaneously, have angered both the rulers and the opposition in Syria,” the paper said. “And this anger goes to show that the new envoy has already started making his way though the minefield.”

The National Syrian Council demanded that Mr Brahimi apologise for his comments “which seem to give President Al Assad … a licence to kill tens of thousands more”.

The Syrian regime also denounced Mr Brahimi’s comments as interference in Syria’s internal affairs.

If diplomacy is the art of saying the right thing at the right time – which Mr Brahimi, 78, certainly knows – that art might not be so easy to pull off, given the complexity of the Syrian crisis, the paper concluded.

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August 22nd, 2012, 9:12 am


82. zoo said:

For those who think Syria’s question is ‘simple’

The complexity of Syria today makes Afghanistan in 1985 look very simple,” said Milton A. Bearden, who helped oversee the C.I.A.’s clandestine support of Afghan fighters in the 1980s, including the Stingers. “Who is the Syrian opposition? Who would these weapons go to?”


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August 22nd, 2012, 9:19 am


83. Syrialover said:

#75 ZOO

Your answer does not dispute what I said. In fact the comparisons with vicious dictators Hitler and Mussolini, who fought irrationally and delusionally until death, support my comment on Assad.

And you said: “Realism calls now for an end to the killings through compromises reached by a dialog without preconditions”

In other words, after all the atrocities and burning and looting the country, the magic deal for discussion would be that Assad and his gang be allowed to continue in power doing what they have always done?

Zoo, I can’t grasp your concept of “reality” and “realism” in this situation. And worse, it appears you are far from accepting – or comprehending – what has actually happened inside Syria.

Still, it’s interesting to get an idea of your thinking.

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August 22nd, 2012, 3:00 pm


84. anwar said:

My cousins just arrived from damascus. They came with little revolution flags. I have been speaking with a lot of christians families that recently moved to montreal and the majority are completely against the regime. In Syria, they keep appearances and nod along with their alawites friends but it’s just a facade. The regime is truly delusional is they think christians will fight for their cause.

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August 22nd, 2012, 3:36 pm


85. Observer said:

I think you lack realism when you ask for negotiations without pre conditions while the gun remains in the hand of the regime pointed at the heart of the people.

The REALITY is that this is a mafiosi regime to the core based on a clan of inner circle thugs and thieves surrounded by cronies and profiteers and hiding behind a masquerade of so called resistance.

The resistance B.S. with which we are being massacred daily with weapons that are supposed to liberate the land and the citizen.

I do not know in what universe you live.

If like the regime you are trying to resurrect the dead Hafez you are completely delusional and need serious help.

Now which one of you will be willing to join me on a Medecins Sans Frontieres mission to Syria?

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August 22nd, 2012, 11:15 pm


86. Observer said:

This is verbatim from Juan Cole blog and he is no fan of US interventions and imperial superpower politics and double standar BS from the West against the Rest.
He was rather circumspect about Syria for some time considering the length and enormity of the conflict and was much more interested in Libya and Tunisia and certainly Egypt and Iran
Here it is especially for those that want a dose of “realism”

Admittedly, the Baathist government of Bashar al-Assad could go on faltering for a long time. And it is very hard to know what is going on inside Syria, since few journalists are allowed in and those who sneak in are operating under very diificult conditions and are sometimes killed by the regime, whether deliberately or not.

But there are some signs that the Baath is on its way out.

The deputy prime minister, Qadri Jamil, said Wednesday in Moscow that the regime is ready to talk to the opposition. That sort of talk is a sign of weakness, and that it comes in Moscow suggests panic in the Kremlin about the inability of its client to prevail by sheer brute force. Russia, the BBC says, will put forward a road map for resolution of the crisis that will end in presidential elections. The revolutionaries are demanding that al-Assad step down before they will join talks. Jamil says an al-Assad resignation could be discussed, but not as a prerequisite for talks. Unfortunately for Russia, President Vladimmir Putin’s own conduct of elections would not exactly give the Syrian revolutionaries hope.

When your main patron is suggesting you’ll have to compete for your own job and your deputy prime minister is saying your resignation can be discussed with revolutionaries, it just isn’t a good sign for any president for life.

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August 22nd, 2012, 11:25 pm


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