“Revolt in Syria,” Stephen Starr’s Book; Sahner on Syrian Heritage beign Destroyed; Ajami on Clinton
Posted by Joshua on Tuesday, August 21st, 2012
‘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?
A New Insight from MEI
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. …..