Posted by Matthew Barber on Monday, July 8th, 2013
News from Aleppo / Idlib / Homs
Syrian government aircraft scattered leaflets over the northern province of Idlib on Wednesday, calling on rebels to hand themselves over and urging foreign fighters to return to their homelands, as regime troops pressed on with the battle to retake areas they had lost to the opposition. …
President Bashar Assad’s regime has called on opposition fighters in the past to lay down their arms, and it was unlikely Wednesday’s call would be heeded, either by Syrians or foreign fighters battling in the province.
“Abandon your weapons and return to your family,” said one leaflet, aimed at the foreigner fighters. “You have been tricked,” it read, according to a photograph of the leaflet obtained by the Observatory. An Idlib-based activist corroborated the leaflets.
Another leaflet gave instructions to rebels — foreign and local — to approach Syrian government checkpoints slowly and wave the paper in the air in a sign of surrender. …
Children Massacred in a Mosque in Qaterji, Aleppo – Free Halab – Collection of videos related to this incident
Syrian rebels in the northern province of Aleppo on Monday threatened to seize two Shi’ite Muslim villages that back President Bashar al-Assad unless they surrendered to the opposition.
Activists say both Nubl and Zahra villages had been reinforced by Assad’s allies in the increasingly sectarian war, among them fighters from Iran and Lebanon’s powerful Shi’ite guerrilla group, Hezbollah.
“We announce our intention to liberate Nubl and Zahra from the regime and its shabbiha (pro-Assad militia), and from the Hezbollah and Iranian elements,” the rebels said in an Internet video. …
The schism between civil activists and armed revolutionaries is at its widest since the Syrian uprising began, and it’s only getting worse. There are a multitude of reasons for this, but the most important one is expectations — what each side hoped the uprising would achieve. For the civil activists, it was the overthrow of tyranny and the establishment of a secular, civil and democratic society. For those who took up arms, it was basically a many pronged power struggle; class, sectarian or opportunistic, depending on which spectrum of the armed groups they belonged to.The major defining characteristic of civil activists across the country was their insistence on non-sectarianism and an adherence to the higher ideals of justice and freedom. The armed groups morphed like a chameleon changing colors, at the beginning justifying taking up arms to “protect the protesters” from security forces, and later on justifying their violence as a reaction to the regime’s. Any hidden agendas some of those groups may have had initially were carefully kept secret, both from society as a whole as well as media scrutiny — of course some pan-Arab media was actively complicit in this cover up — although there were some troubling tell-tale signs. As the uprising progressed, and some of those groups were armed and trained by regional and foreign powers, they adopted other agendas — usually dictated by whoever was supplying the weapons and the paychecks. They simply no longer cared and transcended the popular uprising and protests that spawned them and gave them their legitimacy, to completely dominate the revolution, and so in essence destroyed it by morphing it into a civil war with visibly sectarian dimensions — as became evident with the deliberate targeting of Shiites and Alawis, regardless of their links to the regime.
And that’s not even mentioning the more sinister of the armed groups, the Islamists, Jihadists and al-Qaeda affiliates who wanted nothing less than to turn Syria into another Taliban-style theocracy. They already have their religious courts and councils set up, dispensing justice via “Sharia law.” The one in Aleppo, for example, is called the “Hai’aa Sharia,” which looks into anything from murder and rape to “morality” crimes such as drinking alcohol or wearing shorts. The worrying trend is that many locals see this as preferable to the rampant crime and lawlessness, and that helps these groups gain traction and support on the ground at the expense of the more moderate ones. That, plus the aid they supply to residents as well as their reputation for not looting private — public- or state-owned is fine, however — property.
In other words, the civil activists wanted to change society, while the armed groups only wanted to change the face of the tyrants ruling it. Another striking difference between the armed and civil sides was the strange way the armed groups used “the ends justify the means” motto to do basically whatever they liked, including looting people’s homes and businesses, execution without trial, kidnapping for ransom, car bombings and indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas, and even — and this is perhaps what rubs salt in the wound — the torture and killing of several prominent opposition and media activists in Aleppo such as Mohammed al-Khalid and Abdullah Yassin. Both were silenced after they started openly criticizing and exposing the thefts of various rebel factions. The perpetrators of those crimes are well-known, and even now, months later still on the loose and fighting the “good fight” against the regime.
To illustrate more personally what I’m talking about, take the story of my friend, and longtime civil activist, Mustafa Karman, who was tragically killed when a protest he was at in Bustan el-Qasr in Aleppo was shelled. He was there, almost every day delivering aid, organizing a protest or working on his long-term project, a school for the displaced and poor children of the area. He died just before it opened, and it was posthumously named after him. Many don’t know this, but Mustafa was a Shiite, and he often bitterly joked that both sides were after him. One because he was an opposition activist, the other simply because of his sect. This was his dilemma, and it became so dangerous that he was planning to leave the country. Sadly, he was killed shortly before he could do so.
He absolutely detested the armed groups that not only didn’t help with any of the work the opposition civil society was trying to do in the liberated areas but sometimes even actively blocked or disrupted it, fearing that it would cause them to lose influence in those parts. To them, influence and power came from the business end of their guns, not when you helped or made a difference to people’s lives. Many activists tried reasoning or pleading to the armed groups, trying to convince them to leave certain areas so that they wouldn’t put civilians in danger, or explaining to them why it was necessary to set up some sort of civil administration in their areas, but they always came back frustrated. “There’s no hope, you just can’t reason with those people,” one of them told me.
… But perhaps most alarming of all was a distressing message I got a short while ago from an activist I hadn’t heard from in a while. “There are hundreds of starving families in Aquol,” she said. “They need immediate food aid if you can help or know someone who can.” I don’t travel to rebel-controlled parts of Aleppo anymore as the main crossing points have become dangerous sniper zones. I replied, “Wait a minute, isn’t that part held by the rebels? I heard they were getting massive amounts of aid from various groups set up in Turkey.”
“Yes, a lot of aid is getting in to rebel areas, but they just sell it off and buy weapons with it,” she replied. That made sense, I’d seen a lot of cheap Turkish goods on the market with “Aid, not for sale” stamped on them. Well, seems now the rebels can add mass starvation to their list of “achievements” in Aleppo.
And so the rift between civil and armed groups deepened, and many activists felt like they were fighting a futile uphill battle, trying to stop a torrential river with a straw dam. Many of them became disillusioned and frustrated, some just stuck to doing whatever aid work they could, others simply gave up and left the country entirely. To put it mildly, most activists feel betrayed and used by the armed groups.
Syrian rebels have issued a ban on women using make up or wearing “immodest dress” in a neighborhood in the city of Aleppo. Critics have blasted the move as another attempt by Islamists to impose Sharia in rebel-controlled territory.
The fatwa (an order based on Sharia law) was issued by the Islamic law council in Aleppo’s Fardous neighborhood.
“Muslim women are banned from leaving the house in immodest dress, in tight clothing that shows off their bodies or wearing makeup on their face. It is incumbent on all our sisters to obey God and commit to Islamic etiquette,” the statement on the Fardous council’s Facebook page says as cited by Reuters, which reports that Aleppo residents have confirmed the news.
Some of the comments showed support for the ruling, arguing there was nothing wrong in requiring that people follow “certain etiquette in public“. Critics lashed out at the Islamist-led rebels for abusing their power. …
A reference in Arabic is here. Fliers were distributed in Aleppo telling Muslim women not to wear tight clothes or make-up. The flyer uses the term yuharam meaning “it is forbidden;” the term comes from haram meaning sinful. In this video, a statement is issued attempting to defend the flyer. The speaker says that the flyer didn’t announce that they would “forbid” women, but that it only points out that wearing tight clothes and make-up is a sin. He’s trying to downplay it following the negative feedback it generated, but he nonetheless highlights that since the beginning of the revolution they called on the name of Allah and they want to implement the rules of Allah in Aleppo, and anyone who doesn’t like it can go knock his or her head against the wall.
Chechen jihadi decapitates prisoners near Aleppo, amidst cheering crowd, children present – see article from RT
A video purportedly showing an extrajudicial public beheading of two Bashar Assad loyalists has been uploaded onto the internet. Its authenticity has been verified by pro and anti-Assad sources, though it remains unclear who is behind the execution.
In the nine-minute clip, a group of several hundred people, including men, women and children stands around a hill, when the sentenced men, bound with ropes and wearing bags on their heads are led out. As the crowd closes in with shouts of Allah Akbar (“Glory to God!”) the two, who are wearing civilian clothes, are laid on the floor, and a bearded ‘executioner’ methodically saws through the throat of first one, then the other with a knife. The heads of the dead men are then placed on top of their bodies as the crowd continues to bay. …
Originally reported that the first man beheaded was a Christian priest, this claim has subsequently been called into question: Custos of the Holy Land denies Franciscans’ beheaded
In a statement to the religious information service SIR, Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa has said the news reported by Radio France Internationale on the alleged beheading of three Franciscan monks in Syria is false.
”The monks in the region are all still alive,” said the Custos of the Holy Land. On June 24 Father Francois, ”a Catholic hermit”, had been reported dead. (ANSAmed).
Though the man beheaded may not have been a priest, it seems that the priest in question was killed by rebels all the same, explained in an article by Nina Shea – The Shadow War Against Syria’s Christians:
On June 23, Catholic Syrian priest Fr. François Murad was murdered in Idlib by rebel militias. How he was killed is not yet known and his superiors “vigorously deny” that he was a victim of beheading, as some news sources are claiming. It is apparent, however, that he was a victim of the shadow war against Christians that is being fought by jihadists alongside the larger Syrian conflict. This is a religious cleansing that has been all but ignored by our policymakers, as they strengthen support for the rebellion.
Affiliated with the Franciscan order that was given custody of the Holy Land sites by Pope Clement VI in 1342, the 49-year-old priest was killed in Gassanieh, in northern Syria, in the convent of the Rosary where he had taken refuge after his monastery was bombed at the outset of the conflict, and where he had been giving support to the few remaining nuns, according to Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Custos of the Holy Land. The Vatican news agency Fides reports that “The circumstances of the death are not fully understood,” but, according to local sources, Fr. Murad’s building was attacked by the jihadi group Jabhat al-Nusra.
Fr. Pizzaballa denies that any Franciscans were beheaded last week, as was claimed by several sources. He was quoted in the Italian press, commenting about the video, “it seems like various old news stories have been mixed up.” The video was “uploaded by al-Qaeda to terrorise Christians,” according to Andrea Avveduto, a writer who works with the Custody of the Holy Land. “The corpse of Murad was intact. The friars in the region exclude [sic] that the priest was one of the people beheaded in the footage.” Avveduto also writes that “The friars are apparently alive and are currently in the Franciscan monastery of Latakia, where they arrived a few days ago, to bury the body of their brother, Fr. Murad.”
As I testified to Congress last week at a hearing on Syria’s minorities chaired by Rep. Chris Smith (R., N.J.): “Though no religious community has been spared egregious suffering, Syria’s ancient Christian minority has cause to believe that it confronts an ‘existential threat.’”
In fact, this was a finding last December of the U.N. Human Right Council’s Commission of Inquiry on Syria. As in Iraq, Syria’s two-million-strong Christian community, the largest next to Egypt’s Copts in the entire region, is being devastated. Targeted by jihadist militias, they are steadily fleeing Syria, and whether they will be able to return to their ancient homeland is doubtful.
Archbishop Jeanbart of Aleppo’s Melkite Greek Catholic Church explained:
Christians are terrified by the Islamist militias and fear that in the event of their victory they would no longer be able to practice their religion and that they would be forced to leave the country. As soon as they reached the city [of Aleppo], Islamist guerrillas, almost all of them from abroad, took over the mosques. Every Friday, an imam launches their messages of hate, calling on the population to kill anyone who does not practice the religion of the Prophet Muhammad. They use the courts to level charges of blasphemy. Who is contrary to their way of thinking pays with his life.
Fr. Murad was only the most recent cleric to be targeted by these militias. The highest profile attack was the kidnapping by gunmen in April of Greek Orthodox Archbishop Paul Yazigi and Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim. This sent an unmistakable signal to all Christians: none is protected.
Some other examples of Syrian Christians, from various faith traditions, who have been kidnapped and killed or never seen again include:.
27-year-old Father Michael Kayal of the Armenian Catholic Church in Aleppo was abducted in February while riding a bus after Islamists spotted his clerical garb. He has not been seen since.
Greek Orthodox priest Maher Mahfouz was kidnapped around the same time and has not reappeared.
Syrian Orthodox parish priest Father Fadi Haddad was kidnapped last December after he left his church in the town of Qatana to negotiate the release of one of his kidnapped parishioners. A week later, Fr. Haddad’s mutilated corpse was found by the roadside, with his eyes gouged out.
Yohannes A. (whose last name has been redacted by Fides protect his family) was summarily executed. An Islamist gunman stopped the bus to Aleppo and checked the background of each passenger. When the gunman noticed Yohannes’ last name was Armenian, they singled him out for a search. After finding a cross around his neck, one of the terrorists shot point blank at the cross, tearing open the man’s chest.
A woman from Hassake recounted in December to Swedish journalist Nuri Kino how her husband and son were shot in the head by Islamists. “Our only crime is being Christians,” she answers, when asked if there had been a dispute.
18-year-old Gabriel fled with his family from Hassake after his father was shot for having a crucifix hanging from his car’s rear-view mirror. The son told Kino: “After the funeral, the threats against our family and other Christians increased. The terrorists called us and said that it was time to disappear; we had that choice, or we would be killed.”
Christians and others also have been targeted by the courts of the “Caliphate of Iraq and the Levant,” the name the al-Nusra Brigade and other Islamist rebels use in reference to the Syrian territory under their control.
Muslims are subject to kidnapping too, but the Wall Street Journal reported on June 11, 2013 that often “their outcome is different” because they have armed defenders, whereas the Christians do not. The Journal told the story of a 25-year-old cabdriver, Hafez al-Mohammed, who said he was kidnapped and tortured for seven hours by Sunni rebels in al-Waer in late May. He was released after Alawites threatened to retaliate by kidnapping Sunni women.
According to the U.S. State Department, Syria now has scores of rebel militias with new ones popping up all the time. Many are extremist. Sources told AsiaNews, “[T]he purpose of these groups is not only the liberation of Syria from Assad, but also the spread by force of radical Islam throughout the Middle East and the conquest of Jerusalem.” According to interviews with local church leaders, many fighters do not speak Arabic and do not come from Syria, and are recruited by being told that they are going to “liberate Jerusalem.”
These extremists have wasted no time in establishing sharia courts. In the towns of al-Bab and Idlib and other villages under the control of Islamist groups, sharia has been enforced for the past year. These courts, according to a Washington Post report, pass sentences “daily and indiscriminately” against Christians and anyone else who fails to conform to Wahhabi Islam. All women are required to cover up with the abaya, a black, full-length gown. It was in Aleppo that al-Nusra executed a 14-year-old Muslim boy last month for insulting the prophet; they shot him in the mouth and the neck.
Syrian Christian refugees told Dutch blogger Martin Janssen that their village of 30 Christian families had a firsthand taste of the rebels’ new sharia courts. One of Janssen’s accounts was translated by renowned Australian linguist, writer, and Anglican priest, the Rev. Mark Durie:
Jamil [an elderly man] lived in a village near Idlib where 30 Christian families had always lived peacefully alongside some 200 Sunni families. That changed dramatically in the summer of 2012. One Friday trucks appeared in the village with heavily armed and bearded strangers who did not know anyone in the village. They began to drive through the village with a loud speaker broadcasting the message that their village was now part of an Islamic emirate and Muslim women were henceforth to dress in accordance with the provisions of the Islamic Shariah. Christians were given four choices. They could convert to Islam and renounce their ‘idolatry.’ If they refused they were allowed to remain on condition that they pay the jizya. This is a special tax that non-Muslims under Islamic law must pay for ‘protection.’ For Christians who refused there remained two choices: they could leave behind all their property or they would be slain. The word that was used for the latter in Arabic (dhabaha) refers to the ritual slaughter of sacrificial animals.
As for the larger conflict, the Christians are caught in the middle. The churches have not allied with the Assad regime. They have no armed protector, inside or outside the country, and they have no militias of their own. But they are not simply suffering collateral damage. They are being deliberately targeted in a religious purification campaign – one that the United States government finds convenient to overlook as it supports Syria’s rebels and praises Saudi Arabia as one of our “closest partners.”
– Nina Shea is director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom.
Mohammed Qataa’s mother wanders the streets of Aleppo looking into strangers’ faces as she tries to find her son’s killers.
She knows she would recognise them. She was looking right at them when, in front of a dumbstruck and terrified crowd, Mohammed was shot dead, accused of blasphemy. …
He was 14 years old, but with no schooling possible because of the war he was usually to be found on the busy main thoroughfare through Shaar, selling the thick, sweet coffee they prefer here. One day last month, someone asked him for a free cup. “Not even if the Prophet himself returns,” he had replied, laughing. That remark was a death sentence.
It was overheard by three armed men. They dragged him to a car and took him away. Half-an-hour later, a badly beaten Mohammed was dumped back in the road by his cart.
The men, showing no fear that anyone would question what they were doing, summoned a crowd with shouts of “Oh People of Aleppo. Oh people of Shaar.” Their bellows alerted Mohammed’s mother.
Recalling what happened next, she buries her face in her hands and weeps.
“One of them shouted: ‘Whoever insults the Prophet will be killed according to Sharia’,” she told me.
“I ran down barefoot to the streets. I heard the first shot. I fell to the ground when I got there.
“One of them shot him again and kicked him. He shot him for a third time and stamped on him.
“I said: ‘Why are you killing him? He’s still a child!’ The man shouted: ‘He is not a Muslim – leave!'” …
Aleppo’s main Sharia court has taken pains to stress that though Mohammed Qataa’s murderers said they were acting in the name of Islam, the killing was un-Islamic, a criminal act.
But whatever the killers’ real motives – whether a brutal trick by the regime or a cruel and extreme interpretation of Islam by jihadis – it is also true that Sharia is spreading in rebel-held parts of Syria.
A documentary team from BBC Arabic went to the northern town of Saraqeb to follow the work of the Sharia court there, gaining extraordinary access over a period of six weeks.
The court is run by a 27-year-old former preacher, Sheikh Abdullah Mohammed Ali, who hands out sentences dressed in Afghan-style shalwar kameez, a Kalashnikov at his side.
Four men convicted of trying to steal a taxi driver’s car are brought before him. Although admitting their guilt, they claim to be members of a rebel brigade.
Sheikh Abdullah tells them their weapons will be confiscated and they will not be allowed to be part of any armed group in future.
He swiftly decides that the sentence will be a public flogging. The men are driven to the centre of Saraqeb for sentence to be carried out. The instrument of punishment is an electrical cable.
Sheikh Abdullah takes a megaphone to address a small crowd that has gathered.
“In the name of God,” he says, reading out the names of the four prisoners standing in a row. “Fifty lashes for the leader of the gang. Forty for each of his men.”
He declares: “God’s law is the best protection for the weak.”
The first of the prisoners is forced to his knees, a man on either side of him holding his arms. When it starts some of the crowd chant, “The Prophet is our leader”. Others just count the lashes.
Afterwards, Sheikh Abdullah explains to the documentary crew that the punishment was actually quite lenient. They had been convicted of highway robbery. The normal penalty for that is death, he says.
“In wartime, punishments according to Sharia are suspended until peace returns,” he says.
“Now, we are at war. We must concentrate on fighting the regime’s army. Full punishments will be enforced as soon as the regime falls and an Islamic State is declared.” …
In late June 2013, the Syrian government renewed its campaign in the central Syrian province of Homs, indicating that it failed to achieve its operational and strategic objectives after defeating the rebels in al-Qusayr. By quickly shifting its efforts to Aleppo in an attempt to force a decisive battle before rebels could reconsolidate troops and acquire promised foreign supplies, the Syrian government failed to consolidate its gains in Homs. Thus, the opposition was able to exploit remaining vulnerabilities, particularly by reopening supply lines from Lebanon, in ways that forced the Syrian army back to Homs province, diverting resources from the offensive the regime planned for Aleppo. The campaign in Homs shows the Syrian government’s difficulty with launching sequential campaigns without operational pause, as well as the challenges it faces from launching multiple, simultaneous offensives in Aleppo, Homs, and Damascus in ways that protract each fight.
WP update on Homs, July 8:
Assad’s forces have launched a major offensive to retake Homs, a transport hub that sits between the capital, Damascus, and coastal areas overwhelmingly loyal to the regime. Rebels seeking his ouster have held on to parts of the city they took more than a year ago, but remain under siege.
Forces loyal to Assad have pummeled their way into the Khaldiyeh neighborhood with constant mortar fire and tanks shelling, allowing them to gain control of eastern parts of the district, said Rami Abdul-Rahman of the British-based Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors clashes. He estimated government forces had seized 11 buildings in Khaldiyeh. Overall, he said the government now controls about 20 percent of the area.
“They are advancing,” Abdul-Rahman said in a telephone interview. He said there were street battles elsewhere in Homs, while the army continued to pound other rebel-held areas with heavy weapons.
A Syrian government official earlier had claimed that the army wrested the entire district and was “cleaning” out rebel-held pockets. He gave no other details and requested anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the media.
Two activists based in the city denied the claim, saying rebels were under heavy fire but still holding on.
Rebels clashed with an opposition unit linked to Al-Qaeda in northern Syria, activists said on Saturday, in a deadly battle that signals growing divisions among rebel groups and rising tensions between locals and more radical Islamist factions.
… Assad’s forces on Saturday advanced into rebel-held areas of the city of Homs, pushing into a heavily contested neighborhood after pummeling it with artillery that drove out opposition fighters, an activist said.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS), the new Al-Qaeda franchise announced by the head of global network’s Iraq leader, has been quickly working to cement power in rebel-held territories of northern Syria in recent months.
ISIS units have begun to impose stricter interpretations of Islamic law and have filmed themselves executing members of rival rebel groups whom they accuse of corruption, and beheading those they say are loyal to Assad.
… The latest internecine clashes happened in the town of Al-Dana, near the Turkish border, on Friday, local activists said. The opposition group known as the Free Youths of Idlib said dozens of fighters were killed, wounded or imprisoned.
A report from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition monitoring group, said that the bodies of a commander and his brother, from the local Islam Battalion, were found beheaded. Local activists working for the British-based group said the men’s heads were found next to a trash bin in a main square.
The exact reason for the clashes have been hard to pin down, but many rebel groups have been chafing at ISIS’s rise in power. It has subsumed the once dominant Nusra Front, a more localized group of Al-Qaeda-linked fighters that had resisted calls by foreign radicals to expand its scope beyond the Syrian revolt to a more regional Islamist mission.
Syria Deeply interviews Ghassan Hitto, the Syrian Opposition’s First Prime Minister
… The first prime minister of the Syrian opposition, Hitto is a former IT executive who spent much of his life in Texas. He quit his job and joined the Syrian opposition full-time in November. He was elected to his current position in March, after months of contentious efforts by Coalition parties. Critics have long questioned whether Hitto was “out of touch” with Syria after spending much of his life in the United States, and whether he would have the political muscle to unite a fragmented, often-fractious opposition.
This interview was conducted the evening before Ahmad Assi Al-Jarba was elected as the new Coalition President.
Syria Deeply: What progress has the interim government made since your election in March?
Ghassan Hitto: The interim government, from my perspective, is now ready to start working once it’s ratified by the Syrian opposition coalition. That requires them to meet and allow time to discuss the government and hopefully approve the cabinet. Since I was elected on March 19 and just before the end of April, the cabinet was formed, and since then I have been working through details about priorities for us to work on to serve the Syrian people. I have been ready, and I’m ready now to present the government, and I think it’s of utmost importance that the coalition takes time to discuss this government and approve it so we can get on with business and serve the Syrian people. This is what the Syrian people are looking for from us.
I think we’ve talked enough and I think we’ve planned enough – I don’t even know how many plans we have. I think it’s time to start working. Today the Syrian people are looking for food security, health security, border control, and our national wealth is being smuggled out of the country because our borders are out of control. We have lost the wheat harvest and we have to save the other harvest that is coming up. We have the oil wealth that we need to organize quickly to benefit from. I see Syria being dependent on international aid for a long time, although we’re used to being independent and being self-sufficient. This state of being completely dependent on aid, while greatly appreciated, is something strange for us, and we need to get out of this state very quickly. We can, but in order to do these things we need to get on the ground and do business.
… SD: The coalition has expanded in a bid to be more representative of the Syrian people. How will your cabinet reflect this?
GH: Let me answer this in two sections: firstly regarding the coalition and secondly the government.
The coalition, prior to its recent expansion, had a reasonable amount of representation of the Syrian people. Particularly it had people from the Alawite sect, Kurds, Christians, Assyrians, Turkmanis and representations from various cities and local governments. The recent expansion of the coalition took the membership from 60 to 114 and added another dimension with different schools of thought and different ideologies.
I would say that today the coalition truly represents 99.9 percent of Syrians. I think you would be hard pressed not to find a group of people currently not represented in the coalition. There is a joke going around that even the Assad regime is represented. On the government side, I think it’s too early to pass judgment. After I present the cabinet, you will see Syria truly represented. You will see a woman, a Christian, a Kurd, a Turkmani, conservatives, liberals — you will see Syria.
This wasn’t my intention as I followed a completely technocratic process. I asked for applications, and Syria responded with 1,070 resumes, and from those I selected my cabinet. I stayed away from providing cabinet positions to certain political group representatives within the coalition. I’m being criticized for not doing that, but this is what I promised the coalition and the Syrian people that I would do at the beginning — that I will not use this type of allocation within the cabinet. I focused on abilities, specialties and capabilities, and I came up with a good cabinet that I believe will serve the Syrian people. It’s too early for me to reveal the members of the cabinet now, as that will be presented to the coalition when they allow and make the time for it.
… SD: Is the coalition the biggest roadblock to action?
GH: Absolutely. I will not play with words nor dance around the issue. The only entity that can push the button and tell this government, “Go start working,” is the coalition. I could be bad and just declare a government, but that would be irresponsible and does not serve the Syrian people well. I need the legitimacy from the coalition, and it is important that this government is supported by the international community. It is on the shoulders of the coalition to approve this government and let us get down to business. It is completely unacceptable, and Syrians should not accept this status or situation of inaction. It should also not be accepted by the international community. I realize that the international community is extremely frustrated by the state of this organization. Relief organizations all have a mind of their own and focus on different sectors, and they like to work by themselves. …
… Iran is also part of the problem. Hezbollah has 60,000 soldiers in Syria as well as there being thousands of Iranian soldiers inside the country with Russian ships arriving at Syrian ports on a daily basis. Why is nobody asking Iran to leave Syria? Why is nobody asking the Lebanese government to ask the Hezbollah forces to leave Syria? We will not allow people to occupy Syria. We will continue to fight until Syria is free. Iran needs to pull its forces out of Syria and stop its invasion, and the same for Hezbollah.
SD: Do you anticipate this to change with the election of Rouhani?
GH: We are very reasonable people, and they need to show a sign of good faith, and that’s how negotiations start. They are the aggressors and we’re not. Iran should encourage Assad to cease fire and stop killing the Syrian people. We won’t give them a menu of things that we will consider. They are a state who see themselves as playing a major role in the region, and they need to conduct themselves responsibly.
SD: The coalition is also due to discuss their position on Geneva 2. What is your expectation for an international solution?
GH: I’m not against going to Geneva 2, but we’re a long way from that. All crises get resolved around the table, and the solution has to be reasonable. However, we are not the aggressors. The Syrian people spoke up and the response was bullets. We have the right to defend ourselves. There is a lot of precedence that the international community can conduct business outside of the UN Security Council, so maybe it is time to do that and we’ll see.
Ghassan Hitto resigns as Syrian opposition Prime Minister: WP
In a further blow to the opposition fighting to topple President Bashar Assad, opposition prime minister Ghassan Hitto resigned from his post, citing his inability to form an interim government. …
Hitto was little known before he was appointed in March by the Western-backed Syrian National Council opposition group to head an interim government to administer areas seized by the rebels fighting to topple Assad.
In a statement issued Monday, he said he was stepping down “for the general good of the Syrian revolution.”
Hitto is mistrusted by other opposition members who dislike his perceived proximity to the Qatari-backed Muslim Brotherhood. He had been effectively sidelined since his appointment — a result of the rivalry between Qatar and Saudi Arabia who are vying for influence among the Sunni-dominated Syrian opposition. Both countries have been prominent backers of forces struggling to oust Assad.
A former Syrian political prisoner with close links to Saudi Arabia, Ahmad al-Jarba, was elected to lead the coalition Saturday.
Ahmad Jarba is the new opposition president, replacing Mu’az al-Khatib: Syrian opposition chooses Saudi-backed leader – Daily Star
Syria’s fractious opposition elected a new leader on Saturday but rebel groups were reported to be fighting among themselves in a sign of growing divisions on the ground between factions trying to topple President Bashar al-Assad.
The Syrian National Coalition chose Ahmad Jarba as its president after a close runoff vote that reinforced the influence of Saudi Arabia over a perpetually divided opposition movement that has struggled to convince its Western and Arab allies that its fighters are ready to be given sophisticated foreign weaponry.
Jarba is a tribal figure from the eastern Syrian province of Hasaka who has Saudi connections. He defeated businessman Mustafa Sabbagh, a point man for Qatar, which has seen its influence over the opposition overshadowed by the Saudis.
“A change was needed,” Adib Shishakly, a senior official in the coalition, told Reuters after the vote held at an opposition meeting in Istanbul.
“The old leadership of the coalition had failed to offer the Syrian people anything substantial and was preoccupied with internal politics. Ahmad Jarba is willing to work with everybody.”
The Muslim Brotherhood, the only organised faction in the Syrian political opposition, has seen its mother organisation in Egypt thrown out of power in Cairo this week along with President Mohamed Mursi.
But the Brotherhood representative, Farouq Tayfour, was elected one of two vice-presidents of the Syrian National Coalition in a sign the group still retains influence in Syrian opposition politics.
The Saudi-Qatari Clash Over Syria – David Ottaway
Saudi Arabia and the United States are now working closely together to bolster Syrian rebels seeking the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad, reviving in the process an earlier model of covert military cooperation from the 1980s that successfully drove the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan. This time their target is Russia’s last remaining Middle East Arab ally—the Assad regime, whose armed forces are equipped entirely with Russian weapons.
So far, the Obama administration has ruled out providing surface-to-air missiles to the Syrian rebels. But the Saudis are now reported to be going ahead with their own purchase of other non-U.S.-made missiles, apparently with American blessings, as Washington had previously stopped it.
Secretary of State John Kerry held talks with his Saudi counterpart, Prince Saud al-Faisal, in Jeddah on June 25 to discuss the coordination of U.S. and Saudi arms shipments to the Syrian rebels. “We want to make sure that that’s being done in the most effective way possible,” Kerry said.
The Obama administration’s June 13 decision to provide weapons to the rebels aligns the United States with its two closest allies in the Persian Gulf, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which have been arming them for over a year now and pressuring a reluctant Washington to follow suit. But the decision also plunges Washington into entangling intra-Sunni Arab disputes, including between these two Arab monarchies, over which Syrian faction should rule in a post-Assad era.
… One little-publicized consequence of the U.S.-Saudi alliance will be to curb the growing influence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, a key Saudi goal. This has put the Saudi kingdom at direct odds with its neighbor, Qatar, the Islamic group’s prime Arab protector and promoter.
It has also placed the United States in the awkward position of taking sides between its closest Gulf allies. Qatar hosts the Pentagon’s main forward operations center, while Saudi Arabia is the keystone of U.S. efforts to build an Arab military counterweight to Iran in the Persian Gulf.
In this case, the Obama administration has decided to side with the Saudis to prevent extremist Islamic groups like Jabhat al-Nusra, an Al Qaeda branch, from dominating a post-Assad government. In return, the Saudi government has agreed to halt its own arms purchases for fundamentalist Salafi groups it favors elsewhere in the Arab world because of its adherence to this same trend of Islam. Instead, according to Syrian and diplomatic sources in the Gulf, it will join the United States in funneling arms through the U.S.-backed Supreme Military Council, made up of secular rebel fighting groups.
… Another factor, however, has been the Saudi-Qatari tug-of-war over the Brotherhood’s role within the fractious Syrian opposition, also a central cause of the rebels’ inability to agree on leaders for its National Coalition of Revolutionary and Opposition Forces or a government-in-exile to facilitate international support.
The Saudi-Qatari conflict is rooted in the two countries’ radically different experiences with the Brotherhood as well their markedly different reactions to the 2011 prodemocracy uprisings across the Arab world. Qatar enthusiastically embraced the changes that catapulted the Brethren to power in Egypt and Tunisia. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia, after initially helping to orchestrate the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi in Libya, has come to view the Brotherhood’s rise with growing foreboding.
The Saudis harbor a strong aversion to the Brethren because of what they regard as their unpardonable betrayal of the kingdom after it harbored thousands of them for decades from persecution by secular Arab dictators, first in Egypt and then in Syria.
… Even so, when the Brotherhood’s party in Egypt won elections after President Hosni Mubarak’s fall in 2011, the Saudis first sought to turn the page in their bitter history, offering nearly $4 billion in financial and economic aid to the new government. They quickly put $1.5 billion in the Central Bank to help Egypt deal with rapidly falling foreign reserves, but the rest is still pending agreement on specific development projects.
By contrast, the Qataris have now poured $8 billion into Egyptian coffers to help the Brotherhood-led government cope with huge budget of foreign-reserve deficits. The then emir of Qatar, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, last October became the first Arab leader to visit the isolated Gaza Strip to show his support for Hamas, and he has allowed the group’s officials fleeing Damascus to make Doha an alternative base of operations.
The Saudi-Qatari conflict has opened a wider political fissure among the six Sunni monarchies making up the Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council—Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman. This body is supposed to coordinate a common strategy toward Iran and the Syrian rebels. But both Saudi Arabia and the Emirates have become increasingly hostile toward the Brotherhood—the Emirates currently have forty-three Brotherhood members on trial for allegedly plotting to overthrow the monarchy there—while Qatar remains its primary Arab backer.
Qatar’s incomplete example – Sultan Sooud al-Qassemi
Last month Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani handed over power to his son and Crown Prince Sheikh Tamim. The move became an instant headline grabber with various publications and officials praising the Emir. The Economist called him “remarkable” and “a hard act to follow” while British Foreign Secretary William Hague hailed it as a “historic day”.
In fact it has been quite a year for abdications. Just last April Dutch Queen Beatrix abdicated in favour of her son, and more recently Belgium’s King Albert II announced his abdication in favour of his. Little known is an incident that took place a month before the Qatari abdication in neighbouring Saudi when the leader of the Al Sager clan, the “115 year old” Sheikh Haif Bin Saleem abdicated in favour of his son after eighty years as chief of Sarat Obaida, in Asir province.
Although at face value these abdications may seem similar there is in fact quite a significant difference. Unlike fellow monarchies Belgium and the Netherlands, Qatar does not have a legislative council or an independently elected government. As in its fellow Arab Gulf States, the monarchy solely holds the reins of policy and governance.
… Today there is a six-decade difference between the youngest and the eldest of the Arab Gulf leaders. Qatar media has been reporting on the awkward cables of congratulations that were sent from the Gulf monarchs to their 33-year-old “brother”. One of the highlights of the next Gulf Cooperation Council leaders summit in Kuwait will be to witness the interaction between the young Sheikh Tamim and the other Gulf leaders who are at least twice his age. …
Yusuf al-Qardawi is the most influential cleric in the world of Sunni Islam. Now that he has declared the war in Syria a jihad, a wider sectarian battle may be inevitable.
A Pandora’s box was opened in the Middle East in late May. That was when Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Egyptian theologian who is perhaps the world’s most influential Sunni cleric, called on Sunni Muslims worldwide to fight against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and Hezbollah in Syria. In the weeks and months ahead, Qaradawi’s statement will surely quicken the stream of foreign fighters into Syria. Before long, Syria’s civil war could turn into an all-out sectarian conflict involving the entire region.
The 86-year-old Qaradawi is a religious cleric who left Egypt for Qatar in 1961 and has since become something of a celebrity among Islamic religious leaders. He has authored more than 100 books that are sold across the Muslim world, and his weekly TV show on al Jazeera has tens of millions of viewers. Qaradawi owes much of his influence to his careful balancing of populism and political conservatism. He manages to combine, for example, hard-line views on Israel with vigorous condemnation of al Qaeda. He has built a reputation as someone who speaks truth to power, all the while retaining the privileges — such as a TV program and a professorship — that come with being close to the establishment. In some sense, he is the closest thing that the Sunni Muslim world has to a pope.
Qaradawi’s controversial remarks fell at a Friday rally in Doha on May 31. In an emotional address about the plight of Sunnis in Syria, Qaradawi declared that “anyone who has the ability, who is trained to fight . . . has to go; I call on Muslims to go and support their brothers in Syria.” That’s a remarkable message, precisely because it is one that clerics of Qaradawi’s stature almost never make. Establishment Islamic clerics often declare that a given armed struggle is a legitimate jihad, but they rarely say that Muslims worldwide have a duty to join it. Radical clerics have been known to make this so-called individual duty argument, which consists of saying that all able Muslim men must fight and that declining to do so would be a sin. But mainstream clerics such as Qaradawi usually make the “collective duty” argument, which implies that outsiders can fight under certain conditions but with no obligation. Even at the height of the very popular Afghan jihad in the 1980s, the Saudi Sheikh Abd al-Aziz bin Baz said only that Muslims have “a duty to support” — not “an individual duty to fight with” — the Afghan mujahideen. He left it to more radical figures such as Abdullah Azzam, the ostensible mentor of Osama bin Laden, to argue that all Muslims had to fight.
To be sure, Qaradawi did not use the term “individual duty” (fard ‘ayn in Arabic), and he qualified his call by suggesting that primarily men with military training should go. However, in a region where conscription is the norm, that means practically everyone. By calling on all capable Sunnis to fight in Syria, Qaradawi is not only echoing jihadi ideologues, he is also contradicting his earlier self. In 2009, he wrote a book titled Jurisprudence of Jihad, in which he dismissed the individual duty argument for the jihad in Palestine, Iraq, and Afghanistan. His willingness to make an exception for Syria today is an indication of how strongly Sunni Arabs outside Syria feel about the conflict.
Other clerics have also made the individual duty call for Syria in the past year, but none of them is nearly as influential as Qaradawi. His statement, therefore, has an important norm-setting effect for other clerics: It makes it easier for them to talk tough on Syria and more difficult for them to act like doves. Accordingly, the month of June saw a string of statements by senior clerics across the region calling for jihad in Syria. For example, just days after Qaradawi’s statement, the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, publicly endorsed the part of Qaradawi’s lecture that denounced Hezbollah as the “party of Satan.” The mufti did not explicitly address the issue of foreign fighting but made clear that he approved of Qaradawi’s rhetorical escalation. Similarly, a week later, a group of Yemeni ulama (Islamic clergy) released a collective fatwa calling for the “defense of the oppressed” in Syria. Like the Saudi mufti, the Yemeni clerics did not repeat Qaradawi’s call for even non-Syrians to fight, but they did not criticize it, either. Two weeks after Qaradawi’s talk, the Saudi cleric Saud al-Shuraim declared from the pulpit of the Grand Mosque in Mecca that believers had a duty to support Syrian rebels “by all means.” The following day, (recently deposed) Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi spoke at a rally in Cairo, waving the flag of the Syrian opposition and denouncing both the Assad regime and Hezbollah. The rally was organized by hard-line clerics advocating a tougher stance on Syria, and although Morsi did not explicitly endorse foreign fighting, his appearance at the rally was widely interpreted as a nod to those wishing to engage in it.
Taken together, these statements will also produce more Sunni war volunteers for the battle in Syria — which would be less of a concern if Syria were not already teeming with foreign fighters. According to data that we have collected over the past nine months from hundreds of primary and secondary sources, about 5,000 Sunni fighters from more than 60 different countries have joined the Syrian rebels since the uprising began in 2011. This makes Syria the second-largest foreign-fighter destination in the history of modern Islamism. (In the 1980s, the Afghan jihad drew approximately 10,000 volunteers but over a period of ten years.)
Interesting Blog Posts, Miscellaneous Articles
العملاق الصوفي ينهض في المناطق المحررة – Article in Arabic about the role of Sufis in the conflict
Thomas Pierret’s Blog: First sightings of non-Russian anti-tank missiles in Syria
Walk-Ins Welcome – U of Southern California grad students fund-raise for documentary film on Syrian refugees, and the barbers whose shops are the center of life in the camps
Robin Yassin-Kassab on Assadist worship and Alawi religion – Band Annie’s Weblog
my response to a friend who thinks that assad-worship is part of the alawi religion: was saddam hussain’s regime ‘sunni’ when it murdered hundreds of thousands of innocent iraqis, particularly shia? no, it wasn’t – it was a saddamist regime which had nothing to do with religion but which exploited religion and ignorant sunnis for its own divide and rule purposes. is the bahraini regime ‘sunni’ when it denies democratic rights to its people? no – it’s using religious divisions to keep itself in power. same in syria. i know alawis who are working for the revolution – people like samar yazbek, rasha omran, and so many who are working in silence or in secret to deliver food and medicine to the besieged areas.
it’s true that sunni areas are being hit particularly hard, but there are also thousands of christians, alawis, and ismailis who have been tortured and murdered. I agree that this is a savage regime killing mainly sunnis. but we shouldn’t be helping assad, khamenei and nasrallah to make this a sectarian war.
that’s exactly what they want. why? because assadism has almost no supporters – but there are millions of shia in the world. if they are fooled into believing that the revolution is not one for freedom for all but a war for extermination of minorities, then they will fight to defend assad, we have to fight this discourse, however hard it is.
we also have to show the west – which until now has done everything it can to prevent the syrians defending themselves – that this is not a Muslim civil war, but a popular revolution. let’s not fall into assad’s trap. then, as a matter of plain fact, the alawi religion (i’m not alawi, but i have studied it) is certainly very very far from orthodox Islam, but it does not involve worship of the assad family.
this is a blasphemy against the alawi religion. it is also a fact that the alawi ulema have been assassinated, imprisoned and silenced over the last four decades by the assad regime. this is the problem. the assads have tried to kill the alawi religion and replace it with worship of the assads.
Robin & Joshua debate on Sultan Sooud’s facebook page:
Sultan Sooud: Great read by Joshua Landis on Obama’s three options on Syria. The one, two and three state solutions.
Racan Alhoch: I love orientalist solutions. They are always a modified version of the Sykes-picot. The best solution would be for people like Landis to fuck off.
Joshua Landis: Rocan, I am not sure what is orientalist about these possible outcomes. If Assad hangs on to the south is Syria and the rebels hold the north it will not be because of the west. It will be a Syrian solution. If the rebels are able to conquer Damascus it will probably be thanks to help from the West.
Ruba Ali Al-Hassani: Joshua, a solution and an outcome are two different things. Not all outcomes are solutions to the problems which created them. The current civil war is not an outcome of deep divisions amongst Syrians. Rather, it is an outcome of external meddling in a conflict between the people and their dictator. Foreign militants have been brought in, recruiting a few Syrians, with the funding of external players, pitting them against each other on the basis of sectarianism. This is what escalated matters.
Borders in the Middle East have a long history with being drawn and redrawn by colonial powers, or in resistance to them. Therefore, it is Orientalist to come along and tell Syrians that they cannot solve their problems, and that the best way is to keep them apart from each other through another attempt to redraw their borders. Only when the Syrians ask for that kind of “solution” will it ever be okay…
Robin Yassin-Kassab: this is not at all a great read, for several reasons. the first is that it contains a plain untruth. the coastal region does not have an alawi majority. the mountains of the coastal region have an alawi majority, though there are also christian and sunni communities. the coastal cities have sunni majorities.
Joshua Landis: Robin, so do Lebanon’s coastal cities have a majority Sunni population. I am not sure what your point is. The Ottoman legacy is that there is a Sunni majority in the cities and the plains. In 1920 Alawites and Sunnis shared no town of over 200. Demographic segregation was very stark. There is much greater mixing today. It is hard to see where this bloodshed ends. That is the problem. There are no good solutions. Do you think the US should pump in the weapons until Sunni rebel militias have conquered Damascus and the coast?
Dick Gregory: “Do you think the US should pump in the weapons until Sunni rebel militias have conquered Damascus and the coast?” – I think not calling the FSA a Sunni rebel militia would be a start. I assume the point is that to create a mini-Alawite state would require the ethnic cleansing or cowing of the majority, and so is an even more impractical alternative to a revolution for all Syrians.
The suggestion that Obama could get the F̶S̶A̶ Sunni militias to fight one war against Assad and another against radical Islamists simultaneously is also highly questionable, and that they are likely to massacre non-Sunnis en masse in the event of victory re-writes the history of the conflict. Not a well written article
Robin Yassin-Kassab: i am not sure what landis’s point is. so what if lebanon’s cities have majority sunni populations? i never argued for the separation of lebanon from syria (I wasn’t here, obviously). lebanon is lebanon, with its own sectarian set up, and even with that set up, it isn’t supposed to be a shia or druze or maroni or sunni or alawi state. landis writes in his article that there is an alawi majority in the coastal region. i pointed out that this is not true. that’s my point: the truth. the importance of not twisting facts to fit our poor arguments. beyond that, i do not think that setting up an alawi state is a good idea or an acceptable outcome. it would involve a massive ethnic cleansing of sunnis from tartus, banyas and lattakia, and of alawis from homs and damascus. it would also leave syria without a port. it would also destabilise turkey. if it were under the control of this criminal family, it would be a threat to humanity. so far there has been no mass slaughter of alawi civilians, no ethnic cleansing of alawis to mirror the massacres and ethnic cleansings perpetrated by the regime. yet landis keeps on scaremongering. the revolution certainly has a sectarian aspect now, after the best efforts of assad and his allies, setting up sectarian death squads, attacking sunni heritage, etc. landis has been painting it as sectarian from the very start, however, ignoring the coordination committees in favour of salafists. thankyou, Dick, for your comment. it’s a slander to call the fsa a sunni militia. yes, it has a sunni majority (like syria) and a sunni character. i’ve just been in syria and turkey where i spent time with ismailis and christians amongst others. the ismaili was telling me in detail about the armed struggle (led by ismailis) around selemiyyeh. yes, i think the us, europe, the arabs, japan… should allow the syrian people to arm themselves to defend themselves from genocide and to end this child nmurdering regime. because the child murderers represent a tiny majority of the population, they lose as soon as the other side gets any sort of weapons supply. i don’t agree that it would take forever for the resistance to liberate damascus. or the coast for that matter – but the coast could be ‘won’ by negotiation once the people there see the regime has no future.
Robin Yassin-Kassab: you always say, ‘i don’t know what your point is.’ when you reported hussain harmoush’s tv post-torture ‘confession’ as if it meant something, and even discussed it… ‘hmm, harmoush says he was paid by the muslim brothers, and by the martians… very interesting’, and then i complained, your answer was something like…’everyone who reads syria comment is well educated and they understand that he was tortured and that his words don’t mean much.’ that’s a great response. so when you write that the coastal region has an alawi majority, it doesn’t matter that it isn’t true because you expect your audience to be intelligent enough to understand. you should write that the fsa is a communist organisation backed by nepal, just for fun, because your audience is clever enough….
Joshua Landis: Robin, lots of accusations. Let’s take the first one – the ethnic or religious population of the Coastal region. Can you tell me what the religious make up of the Coastal region is? Until 1960, when the last census was taken that listed Syrians by religion the Coastal region was predominately Alawite. Of course this depends on where you draw the line in the East, but your argument is that the Sunni majority in the coastal cities is larger than the Alawi majority in the Mountains. This has never been true so far as I know, but I welcome being corrected by any statistics you can provide. I quote the following from something I wrote in 1997. I highlight the sentence most important for our discussion:
“Although Alawites constituted roughly seventy percent of the region’s population [The Alawite state created by the French] of 350,000, they held sway over no town with more than 1000 inhabitants. “
“When the French arrived in the Alawite territory in 1920, the separation between the Alawite and Sunni communities could hardly have been more profound, a fact used to justify their policy of dividing the region from the rest of Syria. In the “Dawla al `Alawiyyin” (the State of the Alawites) established in 1922, not one Alawite was registered as a permanent resident of Latakia, the regional capital (26,000 inhabitants in 1935), or in the other Sunni dominated coastal cities: Jablah (6,300), Tartus (4,500), and Banyas (2,170). The only city that permitted Alawites to live within its walls was Safita, a Christian town high in the Alawite Mountains (total population 2,600, with 300 Alawites).
Although Alawites constituted roughly seventy percent of the region’s population of 350,000, they held sway over no town with more than 1000 inhabitants.
The division of urban and rural populations along sectarian lines in the Alawite region was almost absolute. The Sunni population was entrenched in the cities, where it exercised a monopoly on political power, education, and prestige. Sunnis, Weulersse writes, lived like “parasites” off the Alawites who were scattered in small hamlets throughout the countryside and mountains. Even in 1945, the year the muhafaza of Latakia was finally united with Syria, the number of Alawites who lived permanently in major Syria cities was minuscule. Latakia had a population of only 600 Alawites; Aleppo had 480, and Damascus only 40. These numbers indicate the extent to which the Alawite community remained a closed society, inward looking, and cut off from the main currents of Syrian intellectual and urban life right up to independence.
Today, most Alawites over the age of 45 can recount personal stories of Sunni school children throwing stones at Alawites as they walked to or from school. The alienation of Alawites from Sunni society and their bitter experience of persecution made creating a common sense of nationalism particularly difficult following independence. Even within the most progressive political parties which took shape during the 1940s, tension and mistrust between Alawites and Sunnis was never far below the surface and often threatened to rise to the surface.”
Robin Yassin-Kassab: i don’t know why you are telling me about the historical persecution of alawites. as you know, i have myself written about this on several occasions. I have often pointed to this as necessary historical context to the sectarianism of the assad regime. you don’t need to prove yet again your emotional ties to the alawi community. it’s perfectly obvious and always has been. yes, i would presume that an urban majority constitutes more people than a rural majority. that seems like plain logic to me. in any case, you yourself on previous occasions have described the coastal region as having a sunni majority. i’m sure that if you were to draw a line around the mountains you could find an alawi majority, but i don’t think that would be in the interests of alawis, sunnis or anyone else…..it’s always important to recognise past oppressions, but these do not justify present genocides or ethnic cleansings, nor carving up countries on ethno-sectarian lines. the holocaust does not excuse slaughter in sabra and shatila or gaza. the safavids do not excuse saddam hussain. saddam hussain does not excuse the exclusion of iraqi sunnis. ibn taymiyya does not excuse assad.
Robin Yassin-Kassab: in any case, in perfect orientalist style you are ignoring contemporary history in favour of the distant past. ‘alawis’ have been in charge for over 40 years.alawis have been living in the cities, making friends with sunnis, in some cases marrying sunnis. in this time the regime actually oppressed alawi ulama and community leaders and deliberately kept sectarian hatreds bubbling for divide and rule reasons. they had four decades to address the problem, to manage a public conversation and reconciliation. they chose to do the opposite. and when challenged by a democratic movement for secular rights, they deliberately lit the fuse of sectarian conflict by implicating alawis in their death squads and massacres, and by their propaganda.
Joshua Landis: Robin, I couldn’t agree with you more about oppression. I in no way wish to defend the Assad regime, which is guilty of brutal and indiscriminate killing of the worst kind. I have emotional ties to all Syrians. My point is about the demographic realities of Syria. If one draws a line down the Eastern side of the Alawite mountains, where the Alawite majority population gives way to a predominantly Sunni majority and counted the religious distribution of all those to the West of that line, the Alawites would be the majority. That is my simple contention. It does not mean that they deserve a state or could maintain one or that it would be fair for the Sunnis of the coastal cities. I am simply trying to establish some basis for understanding the region. Would you agree to that simple statistic?
Joshua Landis: Robin, You are absolutely correct about the deeply sectarian nature of this regime and its response to the uprising. In fact, my first article for the Economist, dated, Jun 14th 2011, was entitled “Deeply Sectarian.” We are in perfect agreement about the sectarian nature of the regime and ensuing mess it has created.
Robin Yassin-Kassab: joshua, i think of you as a well-meaning person, but i can’t help but think too that your skewed commentary on the revolution has helped assad confuse the issue in the west. no, i don’t think i would agree with your simple statistic. i think the sunni majority in the cities probably outweighs the alawi majority in the mountains – but of course i can’t prove it, and it may be that now, at this precise moment, there is a slight alawi majority because so many alawis from damascus and homs have moved to tartus to flee violence.
Robin Yassin-Kassab: ruth – i very nearly ‘liked’ your comment but didn’t for the simple reason that most alawis have not actually benefitted from the regime. some certainly have, but many more haven’t. they’ve been terrified by regime propaganda and implicated in the regime’s crimes. now they are losing thousands of young men fighting for this monster. most are victims of the regime. if over the last decades the community had been allowed to develop itself, to produce its own leaders, to initiate its own dialogue with sunnis, it (and all of us) would not be in this situation now
Joshua Landis: Why don’t we leave this on the happy note that you consider me “well meaning.” I, of course, do not think my analysis has been skewed. On the contrary, my warning that this struggle would end up much like Iraq or Lebanon — i.e. going sectarian — has proven to be the case. You have argued from the beginning that my commentary has caused this, but I would humbly suggest that is to give me much too much agency and importance. I have simply described what I believe to be the reality of the Syrian situation. I believe that I have been fairly accurate. Of course, I have made my share of mistakes, but not, for the most part, on the big things. I wrote early that this would go sectarian, that the regime was deeply sectarian, and would turn this into a sectarian struggle because Alawites feel persecuted and have a history of being persecuted, which they have not gotten over. I have tried to inject as much history into this as possible – and I think the history is important and not just some distant baggage that should be ignored. The Alawites should have gotten over their persecution and “minority complex” and Assad should have given up power in the first weeks of this uprising in favor of a constitutional convention, but he did not.
So we are where we are, which is very ugly. Sunnis now feel like a persecuted minority, and with good reason, they have been persecuted. I doubt there will be an “Alawite state” – even one with a big Sunni minority residing in it – established on the coast. Most probably the “status quo” will prevail for some time.
The status quo is the division of Syria into a revolutionary forces controlled North and North-East and government controlled South and Southwest. This will leave the Assad government ruling over a large Sunni majority and Damascus, which will be very unstable. I suspect the North will also be very unstable because the FSA and other militas agree on little beyond their desire to rid themselves of the oppression of the regime.
The US and the West wants to hurt Hizbullah and Iran, but I am not sure if it has “Syria’s” interests uppermost in its calculations. My essay about the three possible scenarios is meant to underline this. I try not to pick “a best scenario”, but simply point out the difficulties with each.
Robin Yassin-Kassab: of course i don’t think your commentary caused this. i think (like you, it seems) that assad and his allies caused this. i think your commentary (indirectly) helped assad get his sectarian message across to the west from the earliest days. you didn’t so much bear witness to the ways in which assad lit the sectarian fuse as focus on the sectarianism of the opposition, even at the start when the remarkable thing was how a sectarian society was able to produce such a non-sectarian discourse. you focussed on obscure salafists rather than the central local coordination committees. you are probably right about the status quo, which is a disaster for syria and, increasingly, for the region and the wider muslim world. my contention is that the opposition has the vast majority on its side. it has been able to conquer vast swathes of the country for this reason, despite being so poorly armed. therefore i believe that a serious effort to arm the opposition would allow it a reasonably speedy victory. then syria could start the difficult process of picking up the pieces. because commentary like yours is dominant, however, there probably won’t be a serious effort to arm the opposition, and the status quo will continue. even now after hixbullah’s open involvement, the west and the arabs are only talking about ‘restoring the balance’. in other words, let syria bleed. let the wound expand.
Joshua Landis: I agree that Alawites, to the extent that we can generalize, are oppressed and have little if any freedom of choice. Assad treats Alawites as he treats the rest of Syrians, as his slaves. But I would caution that this does not mean that Alawites will turn against the regime any time soon. They feel like the knife is at their throat. At least that is what many say, now that this struggle has become very sectarian. Almost every Alawite i have talked to gives me a five minute soliloquy on how he or she is not an Assad supporter and how Assad has gotten them to this terrible situation, but then they go on to reproduce the Assad line about Sunni extremism and how they must defend themselves, etc. I think understanding their dilemma is important to any solution. One cannot just dismiss their fears or this war will drag on for a very long time.
Robin Yassin-Kassab: i agree with that. we must also remember the brave minority of alawites who, despite their well-founded fears, are working for the revolution in public or in private. during my recent trip i heard about alawis secretly providing food and medicine to the besieged areas.
Henry Kissinger: Balkanized Syria Best Possible Outcome – Juerriann Maessen
“There are three possible outcomes. An Assad victory. A Sunni victory. Or an outcome in which the various nationalities agree to co-exist together but in more or less autonomous regions, so that they can’t oppress each other. That’s the outcome I would prefer to see. But that’s not the popular view.”
… “First of all, Syria is not a historic state. It was created in its present shape in 1920, and it was given that shape in order to facilitate the control of the country by France, which happened to be after UN mandate. The neighboring country Iraq was also given an odd shape, that was to facilitate control by England. And the shape of both of the countries was designed to make it hard for either of them to dominate the region.”
As a result of Syria’s a-historical origins, Kissinger explained, the current Syria was conceived as a more or less artificial national unity consisting of different tribes and ethnic groups. As the recent “revolution” is further spiraling into chaos, Kissinger comments on the nature of the current situation:
“In the American press it’s described as a conflict between democracy and a dictator- and the dictator is killing his own people, and we’ve got to punish him. But that’s not what’s going on. It may have been started by a few democrats. But on the whole it’s an ethnic and sectarian conflict.”
“It is now a civil war between sectarian groups”, Kissinger went on to state. “And I have to say we have misunderstood it from the beginning. If you read our media they say: we’ve got to get rid of Assad. And if we get rid of Assad, then we form a coalition government. Inconceivable. I’m all in favour of getting rid of Assad, but the dispute between us and the Russians on that issue, was that the Russians say: you start with getting rid of not just Assad, that’s not the issue, but you break up the state administration and you’ll wind up like in Iraq- that there is nothing to hold it together. And then you’ll have an even worse civil war. This is how that mess has taken the present form.”
June 2013 report from ISPU / New America Foundation – Dissecting an Evolving Conflict: The Syrian Uprising and the
Future of the Country – by Asaad Al-Saleh & Loren White
Game Theory vs. Syria’s Reality – Syria Report – Musa al-Gharbi
The Tribal Factor in Syria’s Rebellion: A Survey of Armed Tribal Groups in Syria – Nick Heras & Carole O’Leary, Jamestown Foundation – very interesting article
Tribalism remains a primary form of communal identity among Arab Sunnis across Syria, regardless of whether they live in rural or urban areas. As a powerful source of socio-political mobilization, Syrian Arab tribalism has shaped the conflict since the first demonstrations against the al-Assad government were led by disaffected tribesmen in the northeastern city of al-Hasakah in February 2011. The popular anger mobilized in Dera’a governorate by inter-tribal activist networks of mainly young and displaced tribesmen over the arrest and murder of two tribal youths fueled a national uprising (for Syrian Arab tribal networks, see Terrorism Monitor, June 1, 2012). Currently, Syrian Arab tribal groups are active participants in pro and anti-Assad militias, as soldiers in the Syrian military and as members of tribally-organized militias that are concerned with protecting their tribe and its autonomy from both the Syrian state and the armed opposition.
Of particular concern in the context of Syria’s civil war is the possibility of an alliance, however temporary, between Syria’s Arab tribes and militant Salafist groups such as the al-Qaeda affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra (Victory Front). In the north-eastern governorates of al-Raqqa, al-Hasakah and Deir al-Zor collectively referred to as al-Jazirah (bordering Turkey to the north and Iraq to the east), the majority Arab Sunni tribal population coexists uneasily with groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra that have a strong presence in the region. A tribal shaykh of a major tribal confederation in the area asserted that, without international support, Syrian tribes would do what they had to do to protect their assets, including working with militant Salafist groups or even Iran. 
Syrian Arab Tribes and Tribal Organization in the Civil War
Syrian Arab tribes are divided into qabila (national and trans-national tribal confederations) and ‘ashira (individual tribes). ‘Ashira are further divided into fukhud (clans), khums or ibn ‘amm (lineages) and, at the lowest level, al-bayt or aa’ila (extended families). Due to the geographically dispersed and localized nature of the Syrian conflict, Syrian tribal armed groups, like other participants in the civil war, generally participate in fighting near their home areas. In spite of the generally localized nature of mobilization of armed groups in the Syrian civil war, there is a clear distinction of scale and group solidarity that differentiates a tribal ‘ashira from a tribal qabila, the main units of organization that tribal armed groups have displayed thus far in the conflict.
Although they may occasionally be referred to as qabila and include fellow tribesmen from Syria’s neighboring countries, ‘ashira are usually present and powerful only in a particular region within Syria. Such ‘ashira include al-Haddadine in the northwestern Aleppo and Idlib governorates, al-Muwali in Idlib governorate, al-Damaakhla in Idlib, Hama, Aleppo, and Raqqa governorates, the Bani Khalid in the central-western Homs and Hama governorates and al-Zoubi in the southern Dera’a governorate and across the border into northern Jordan.
The Bani Khalid and al-Muwali ‘ashira have active fighters in the armed opposition and exemplify the role of a local ‘ashira in the fighting in western Syria. Several battalions of Bani Khalid fighters who are aligned with the armed opposition’s umbrella group, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), continue to participate in the fighting for the city of Homs and its suburbs.  The ‘Shield Brigade’ of the Bani Khalid in Hama governorate is also a constituent fighting force of the western Syrian umbrella armed opposition group, the Front of Syrian Revolutionaries.  Al-Muwali tribesmen are fighting against the Syrian military in the vicinity of the large town of Ma’rat Numan, south of the city of Idlib, where the tribe is present in large numbers. They are active in the fight for the control of the town and the nearby Syrian military base of Wadi al-Dayf. 
Three armed opposition battalions that claim to be tribal but are without a specifically stated tribal affiliation have been active in western Syria. One of these groups is called the Battalion of the Free Tribes, which, like the al-Muwali and the al-Damaakhla, is active around the town of Mar’at Numan, participating in the fight for control of Wadi al-Dayf. This group is also associated with the Syrian nationalist, Sunni Islamist umbrella armed opposition group, Alwiya Ahfaad al-Rasul (Descendants of the Prophet).  Another tribal battalion, the Free Tribes of al-Sham, was organized in Dera’a in February and claims to have been formed by defecting Syrian soldier tribesmen from Dera’a, Aleppo, al-Raqqa, al-Haskah and Deir al-Zor governorates. The Free Tribes of al-Sham are a battalion of the al-Omari Brigades, an Alwiya Ahfaad al-Rasul affiliate in Dera’a.  Another coalition of tribal militias composed of many Syrian army defectors, calling itself the Front of the Syrian Tribes, was formed in Aleppo in April. 
Syrian Tribal Qabila in the Civil War
The largest qabila in Syria, particularly the Ougaidat, Baggara and Shammar, are transnational tribal confederations that have constituent clans throughout the country. These qabila are, however, present in the greatest numbers in the Jazirah region. Some qabila in Syria, such as the ‘Anaza of Homs governorate, the Ta’ie of al-Hasakah governorate, and the Na’im are present in Syria in smaller numbers than in neighboring states. Of these smaller qabila, al-Na’im is the largest and some al-Na’im tribesmen have raised an opposition brigade in the Damascus countryside. 
The qabila of the Ougaidat is emerging as one of the most active tribally organized, armed anti-Assad coalitions. Ougaidat fighting groups, organized on the local level, are part of a national tribal coalition that calls itself the Ougaidat Tribe Brigades. These brigades are very active in Homs governorate in and around the small city of al-Rastan north of Homs and in Deir al-Zor governorate, where they have particular strength inside and south of the city of Deir al-Zor in a belt of communities that includes the towns of Mayadin and Abu Kamal on the Iraqi border. Ougaidat brigades also participate in the fighting around the northwestern city of Idlib near the Turkish border. 
The Ougaidat have also been active participants in an opposition exile group, the Council of the Arab Tribes in Syria. Several prominent members of the Syrian opposition are Ougaidat tribesmen, including Shaykh Nawaf al-Faris, the former Syrian Ambassador to Iraq; Syria’s first astronaut, Major General Muhammad Faris; the Chairman of the FSA Military Council of Aleppo, Colonel Abd al-Jabbar al-‘Aqeedi; and the former Chairman of the Latakia Political Security Branch, General Nabil al-Fahad al-Dundal. 
There are also challenges that confront effective intra-tribal coordination and unity in Syria that are caused by geographic dispersal inside the country and internal divisions created by local power realities in a particular governorate. Our research indicates that the most pronounced example of intra-tribal divisions in the conflict occurs within the Baggara tribal confederation. Baggara tribesmen participate in armed activities both in support of and against the opposition. The Baggara were particularly hard-hit by the Syrian Ba’ath Party’s policy of undermining tribal autonomy and the economic deprivation caused by the decade-long drought that devastated Syria’s rural, agriculture-dependent regions.
Baggara tribesmen are also religiously divided by the conversion to Shi’ism of a reported quarter of the Baggara confederation in villages south of Aleppo as a result of Iranian-funded proselytization (see Terrorism Monitor, June 1, 2012; September 15, 2011). Tribal leaders from the Shammar and Ougaidat confederations offered a cultural explanation for the Baggara’s lack of internal tribal coherence and Sunni to Shiite conversions by suggesting they were the result of the Baggara’s roots as a sheep or goat-herding tribe and not a “noble” camel-herding tribe.  In Aleppo, Baggara fighters are reported to work with the Syrian military to attack opposition controlled neighborhoods in the city, and Syrian opposition fighters also claim to have fought Baggara tribesmen supporting the Syrian military during a battle fought to free prisoners held at the Aleppo Central Prison. 
Overall leadership of the Baggara was at one point claimed by Shaykh Nawaf Raghib al-Bashir, the son of the now deceased former paramount Shaykh of the Baggara. Shaykh al-Bashir, who was one of the prominent opposition figures who signed the 2005 reformist Damascus Declaration, was jailed by the Syrian government in 2011 and reportedly forced to issue a statement in support of President Bashar al-Assad (al-Sharq al-Awsat, January 18, 2012). Following his defection to Turkey, Shaykh al-Bashir became a prominent leader within the Council of the Arab Tribes in Syria and the leader of the Jazirah and Euphrates Front to Liberate Syria (al-Safir [Beirut], February 21).
The Jazirah and Euphrates Front to Liberate Syria is an opposition organization that, according to Shaykh al-Bashir, consists of approximately 138 armed opposition battalions and brigades in the Jazirah region that coordinate closely with the FSA’s Supreme Military Command but are autonomous from the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces and the Syrian National Council (Zaman al-Wasl [Homs], March 23). Shaykh al-Bashir is also said to have personal command of approximately 500 to 3,000 armed fighters organized into fighting groups that are reportedly organized under Alwiya Ahfaad al-Rasul’s umbrella in areas of northern al-Raqqa and al-Hasakah governorates. 
Shaykh al-Bashir has organized several armed groups that have actively sought to attack Kurds in and around the ethnically mixed city of Ras al-‘Ayn in the northeastern area of al-Hasakah governorate along the Turkish border (National [Dubai], January 30). Pro-government Baggara fighters, without links to Shaykh al-Bashir, are also stated to have participated in attacks against the Kurdish Partiya Yekitiya Demokrat (PYD – Democratic Union Party) in the ethnically mixed northern Aleppo neighborhood of Shaykh Maqsud (Welati.info, May 11, 2012). The participation of Baggara tribal fighters in attacks against Kurds demonstrates the continuingly fragile state of Kurdish and Arab tribal relations in ethnically mixed regions such as Aleppo and al-Jazirah (see Terrorism Monitor, June 1, 2012).
The cities of al-Hasakah and Qamishli in the northeastern area of the governorate of al-Hasakah near the borders with Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan have emerged as a site of conflict between Arab tribes and Kurds. In Qamishli, members of the Ta’ie tribe have been organized into pro-Assad “Popular Committees” under the command of the Syrian MP and Ta’ie Shaykh Muhammad Fares and are reported to have engaged in several clashes with Kurdish fighters from the PYD [All4Syria, November 30, 2012]. However, local Arab tribal leaders and Kurdish notables who grew up together have formed a joint council in Qamishli to avoid such conflict. The conflict on the Kurdish side is generated by individuals and groups linked to the PYD. 
Tribal identity is used in restive areas of Syria to mobilize and direct the armed activities of tribesmen in support of both the government and the opposition. Further, tribal identity (even where dormant, as is often the case in major cities) will, as occurred in Iraq, assert itself more prominently among Arab Sunnis across Syria as the country further destabilizes, including in the major urban areas of western Syria such as Aleppo and Damascus. Tribalism is a socio-cultural fact throughout Syria, not just in the less developed eastern governorates of the country. It is an important form of traditional civil society that will help determine the success of local or foreign-supported security arrangements, affect good governance and impact the sustainability of long-term stability operations and economic development throughout the country. As anti-Assad states in the international community debate options for implementing potential post-Assad stability operations, Syrian Arab tribes will be a critical part of this effort.
Carole A. O’Leary is a Visiting Scholar at the Columbus School of Law’s Program in Law & Religion within the Catholic University of America (CUA).
Nicholas A. Heras is an independent analyst and consultant on Middle East issues and a former David L. Boren Fellow.
VIDEO: PKK kills three in protest shooting in Syria – al-Arabiya
Three people were killed and a number of others injured when members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) opened fire on protesters in the Syrian Kurdish-dominated town of Amuda in the Hasakeh district.
People gathered on Thursday night to call for the release of activists who had been detained by the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is affiliated with the PKK and has control over most of Syria’s Kurdish areas in the north.
The opposition has repeatedly accused the PYD of collaborating with the Assad regime, however, the Kurdish group has denied such allegations.
There has been an upsurge of protests and demonstrations in the Hasakeh district following the arrest of activists who support the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a conflict that has entered its third year and has led to the death of more than 90,000 people.
Syria’s Foreign Legions – Mona Alami
A lengthy uprising and the growing radicalization of the Syrian street have fueled the rise of jihadi fighters. Over recent years, the al-Qaeda franchise has been bolstered by the ruthless violence used by the Assad regime against what started as peaceful protests. Today, demonstrations have turned into a sectarian war, pitting in some instances a “Sunni Umma” against a “Nusayri” regime. This has strong appeal for jihadi fighters from neighboring Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine.
A few months after the beginning of the uprising, bloggers on Salafi websites began asking jihadi scholars for fatwas allowing them to join the protest movement. Sheikh Abu al-Mundhir al-Shinqiti advised bloggers to join the protests as long as they avoided calling for democracy or any other secular slogan. At the end of 2011, Ousama al-Shehabi, a commander in Fatah al-Islam in Lebanon, called for armed struggle in Syria on the Shumoukh al-Islam online forum.1 This was followed by a fatwa posted by Sheikh al-Shinqiti on Minbar al-Tawhid Wa al-Jihad, allowing for the use of violence against the Assad regime.
In February 2012, al-Qaeda’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri called on militants in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey to rise up and support what he called “their brothers in Syria.” Around the same time, Jordanian Salafi Sheikh Abou Mohamad Tahawi released a fatwa calling for jihad in Syria. “I called for any man able to go for Jihad in Syria; it is the responsibility of any good Muslim to stop the bloodshed perpetrated by the Nusayri regime,” the sheikh said in an interview.2 Tahawi was arrested a few months ago by Jordanian intelligence.3
An Arab Israeli was sent to jail on Monday for more than two years for going to Syria where he joined rebels battling against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Hikmat Massarwa, from Taibe village in Galilee, was given 30 months in prison by Lod District Court as part of a plea bargain in which he admitted contacts with an enemy agent, illegally leaving the country and infiltration.
Israel is technically at war with Syria and it is illegal for its citizens to travel there.
Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham in Raqqah: Demonstrations and Counter-Demonstrations – Jihadology – Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi
In a previous post for Jihadology I documented how looking at evidence from Raqqah Governorate basically illustrates that the designations of Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS) and Jabhat al-Nusra (JAN) are interchangeable in that area. The latest controversy that has emerged in the city of Raqqah itself further demonstrates this conclusion. … Good discussion follows, with links to videos
… “I really don’t remember,” he says, when I ask if it was the man’s heart, as reported at the time, or liver, or a piece of lung, as a doctor who saw the video said. He goes on: “I didn’t bite into it. I just held it for show.”
The video says otherwise. It is one of the most gruesome to emerge from Syria’s civil war. In it, Abu Sakkar stands over an enemy corpse, slicing into the flesh.
“It looks like you’re carving him a Valentine’s heart,” says one of his men, raucously. Abu Sakkar picks up a bloody handful of something and declares: “We will eat your hearts and your livers you soldiers of Bashar the dog.” Then he brings his hand up to his mouth and his lips close around whatever he is holding. At the time the video was released, in May, we rang him and he confirmed to us that he had indeed taken a ritual bite (of a piece of lung, he said).
Now, meeting him face-to-face, he seems a bit more circumspect, though his anger builds when I ask why he carried out this depraved act. “I didn’t want to do this. I had to,” he tells me. “We have to terrify the enemy, humiliate them, just as they do to us. Now, they won’t dare be wherever Abu Sakkar is.”
He is 27, a stocky, tough-looking Bedouin from the Baba Amr district of Homs, with a wild stare and skin burned a dark brown by the sun. He tells me the story of his involvement in the revolution, leading to his current notoriety. …
Syria’s ruling Baath party, headed by the country’s embattled President Bashar al-Assad, announced on Monday that its top leadership would be replaced, including Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa.
The party’s central committee “held a lengthy meeting… on Monday morning,” at which “a new national leadership was chosen,” the Baath party website said.
It published the names of the new leadership, which included none of the party’s old chiefs with the exception of Assad.
The argument over whether what happened in Egypt on Wednesday, July 3, was a coup or a revolution is really an argument over the legitimacy of the actions taken. If it was a revolution, it was perhaps a manifestation of the popular will, and so would have a sort of Rousseauan legitimacy. If it was merely a military coup against an elected president, then it lacks that legitimacy.
In fact, there certainly was a popular revolutionary element to the events, with literally millions of protesters coming out on Sunday and after, in the biggest demonstrations in Egyptian history. You can’t dismiss that as merely a coup d’etat from on top by a handful of officers.
But on Wednesday there was also a military coup, provoked by the officer corps’ increasing dissatisfaction with President Muhammad Morsi as well as a determination not to stand by as the country threatened to devolve into chaos, as rival street crowds confronted one another.… In the end, the revolution and the coup worked in tandem. They were a “revocouption.” Such a conjunction is not unusual in history. The American Revolution against the British was a war before it issued ultimately in a Federal government, and the first president was the general who led the troops. Likewise, the 1949 Communist Revolution in China was not just a matter of the civilian party taking over; there had been a war of liberation against Japan and a civil war between Mao Ze Dong’s Communist troops and the Guomindang, and Mao’s leadership of the Red Army was central to the revolution. …
IkhwanOnline, the official Web site of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, posted an article on Thursday asserting that the country’s new interim president, Adly Mansour, is secretly Jewish. The article, since taken offline, suggested that Mansour was part of an American and Israeli conspiracy to install Mohamed ElBaradei, a former U.N. official and Egyptian opposition figure, as president.
Mansour, the supreme justice of Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court, was sworn in as interim president on Thursday after the military announced that President Mohamed Morsi was no longer in charge. Morsi was a close ally of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has held large demonstrations protesting his ouster. That the Muslim Brotherhood would be suspicious of Mansour, and of the military that toppled Morsi to install him, is not surprising.
Still, the IkhwanOnline article suggests that some elements of the Muslim Brotherhood may be indulging in conspiracy theories that ignore their own role in public outrage about Morsi’s rule and may be promoting the anti-Semitic ideas that engendered so much international skepticism of their rule. There is no indication that there is any truth to the article.
The article cited as its source the purported Facebook page of an al-Jazeera Arabic broadcaster, although it’s not clear whether the Facebook page is real. The article claims that Mansour is “considered to be a Seventh Day Adventist, which is a Jewish sect” (in fact, Seventh Day Adventism is considered part of Protestant Christianity). It further claims that Mansour tried to convert to Christianity but was rebuffed by the Coptic pope, a major Egyptian religious figure, who supposedly refused to baptize him.
Muslim Brotherhood’s supreme leader arrested hours before Egypt’s interim president sworn in – NY Daily News – Collection of Photos
Mohammed Badie was arrested Wednesday night in a coastal resort city of Egypt only hours before the country’s military-appointed interim President Adly Mansour, chief justice of the Supreme Constitutional Court, was sworn in Thursday.
Coptic leader hopeful after Muslim Brotherhood removed in Egypt – Catholic Herald
The leader of the Egyptian Coptic in Britain has expressed hope for the future of Egyptian after President Mohamed Morsi was removed in a coup yesterday. …
“Persecution has increased exponentially since the uprising [in January 2011]. There have been more deaths in two years than in the last 20 years, due to the lack of law and order
While the bishop emphasised Coptic Church is neutral in Egyptian politics, “does not back any movement, we are not players”, there were obviously deep concerns among Egyptian Christians about the direction the Muslim Brotherhood government was taking the country.
“It is not a Christian-Muslim issue. The government has taken a line that excludes a large proportion of the population,” Bishop Angaelos said, and the economy was falling to pieces. “I hope this new development brings a new era. The country needs to be rebuilt.”
Although the Egyptian Army was responsible for a massacre of 28 Christians in Maspero in October 2011, the Bishop said it had “acted with integrity” by swearing in the chief justice, Adly Mansour, as acting president. He said the problem was with the leadership, and that there should have been an inquiry into Maspero.
The problem, he said, was “a lack of political integrity and experience. Lots of promises are being made and not been kept. Morsi promised to have a woman and Christian as vice-presidents, but then he was told that according to sharia law we couldn’t have women or Christians ruling.
As the sudden fall of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood reverberates through the Middle East, perhaps nowhere are events being watched more anxiously than in Gaza Strip, the seaside enclave controlled by the Islamist group’s Palestinian spinoff, Hamas.
Seeing its Egyptian mentor swept from power after only one year has unnerved many Hamas leaders, despite the group’s tight political and security control over Gaza.
… Like the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas has struggled to balance its Islamist and militant roots with the realities and responsibilities of governing. And like its Egyptian brethren, Hamas has been criticized for failing to deliver. Gaza’s 1.5 million residents remain locked in poverty and isolation, in part because Hamas is widely labeled a terrorist organization and isolated by Israel and the much of the West.
Already some Hamas rivals from the Palestinian secular faction Fatah are predicting that Gaza residents also will rise up. Hamas spokesman Ihab Ghussein insisted the group is not worried, labeling talk of a revolt “ridiculous.”
… Emboldened by Morsi’s rise, Hamas over the past year had attempted to impose stricter Islamic laws in Gaza, moving to segregate schools by gender, cracking down on women smoking or wearing low-cut jeans and forcing young men into barbershops to change their Western-style haircuts.
Before he was replaced, Morsi was also criticized for spending too much time pursuing a conservative Islamist agenda that did nothing to alleviate economic problems and alienated much of Egypt’s secular and non-Muslim population — just the accusations that could eventually undermine Hamas’ rule in Gaza.
To bar entrance to the stretch of Nasr Road where several thousand diehard Muslim Brothers have established a makeshift protest camp, the Egyptian army parked a line of armored vehicles, evenly spaced and impossible to miss — standing as they are between the grave of former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and the reviewing stand where the Egyptian president was assassinated by Islamist extremists.
A couple of long blocks further on, bearded men stand behind homemade shields at a checkpoint of their own. The street beyond is crowded with a fraction of the millions who lifted the Brotherhood to power in every election since the 2011 overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak. Some sit dejected on curbs. A few arrange piles of broken concrete – first gathered as weapons – into swooping Arabic letters that might be read from the air: “Legitimacy is the source,” reads one. Most, however, stand quietly in small groups, keen to articulate both their acute sense of betrayal and a determination that has been a hallmark of the Brotherhood since it was founded 80 years ago, though now expressed in more apocalyptic terms.
“The veil of democracy has been removed,” says Ali Holayel, 37, of Suez City. “We adopted peacefulness. We adopted democracy. They have used democracy against us.
“The end of it,” he says, “will be our souls, our deaths. The whole Islamic movement will join.”
The Brothers are scrambling for footing in a world suddenly turned upside down. Until Wednesday afternoon, they held the presidency, the cabinet, the upper house of parliament, and the prospect of months before being called to account by voters in the next election. Then President Mohamed Morsi was taken into custody by the army, arrest warrants were issued for 300 others and the armored personnel carriers moved into place.
“How is the democracy game played?” asks Sayeed Mohammad, a towel around his neck to cut the heat from Thursday’s afternoon sun. “Majority and minority, right? Fifty-percent plus one, majority rules. We’re not cutting anyone out of the process. We’re just asking people to respect the rules of the game.”
… “The thing that upsets me right now is they’re making us feel like we don’t really belong to the country,” says Hassan Ahmed, 47, and leaning on a car listening to speakers outside the Rabaa al-Adawia mosque, ground zero for the encampment. “I don’t really care about political Islam. I’m not here about political Islam. I’m here as a regular person who voted. If it was [Mohammad] El-Baradei who was president and he was removed by force, I would be here all the same,” Ahmed says, naming the liberal Nobel Laureate who heads a secular liberal party.
Ahmed, an engineer, said he voted for Morsi but is not himself a member of the Brotherhood. “I elected Morsi because he had an institution that would work with him, spread out all over Egypt and they knew the problems of the population.” He said he found himself weeping after the coup, and made his way to the encampment, one of two in Cairo. “I came here only a few hours ago, but I came here to die,” he says, and chuckles.
No confrontation appeared imminent at the time, but on Friday afternoon Brotherhood supporters marched from a mass rally at the Nasr Road encampment to the army installation where Morsi is thought to be held. Gunshots were heard, and journalists saw at least one body. Reuters reported three killed. A military spokesman insisted soldiers fired only blanks. Before the march, Brotherhood spokesman Gehad El-Haddad said in a Tweet that the struggle against the coup would take place only through “peaceful means,” through a National Coalition. “Any violence is rejected.”
It seems too early to tell which way things would go. In Egypt’s largely lawless Sinai peninsula, where groups affiliated with al Qaeda have taken root, attacks on the military put the region under an official state of emergency. But there were also signs that other Islamist groups were continuing to invest in politics, evidently happy to capitalize on the Brotherhood’s woes: The Salafist Nour party was represented on the podium Wednesday where Gen. Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi announced Morsi’s removal. And the Islamic Group, which throughout the 1990s carried out terror attacks aimed at bringing down the Egyptian state, called for “a comprehensive reconciliation.” Why? “To open a bright future for our dear Egypt.”
The little-known jurist who was appointed interim president, Adli Mansour, professed that the Brotherhood would be welcome to participate in the elections he vowed were forthcoming. But it was unclear whether the Brotherhood could be lured back into the process. Their urban encampments amounted to an expression of the politics of protest that have held sway in Egypt – the one straddling Nasr Road in many ways a mini-Tahrir, with its makeshift tents and tea vendors and nonstop speeches.
At one point Thursday, there was even a phalanx of clerics from Al-Azhar University, their distinctive red and white hats bobbing in formation as they arrived from a side street, chanting “Illegitimate.” The University’s chief cleric supported the coup, but the school’s faculty includes a good number of Brotherhood supporters. …
The darkly funny joke that sums up Egypt’s crisis – WP – Max Fisher
Before the joke, the set up: Since the Muslim Brotherhood was first founded in Egypt in 1928, it has been severely persecuted, including by the three Egyptian presidents who ruled from 1956 through the 2011 revolution: Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak. After Mubarak fell, Muslim Brotherhood members swept the country’s first elections, even taking the presidency, although President Mohamed Morsi’s one year in office has been extremely controversial, culminating in mass protests this week, with many calling for him to step down and the military hinting it might step in.
Now the joke, told by a spokesman for Egyptian opposition figure Amr Moussa and relayed by Al Jazeera’s Hoda Abdel-Hamid: “Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak tried to get rid of the Muslim Brotherhood. Only Morsi succeeded.”
Muslim Brotherhood key to Mursi’s rise and fall – al-Arabiya – Octavia Nasr
The Muslim Brotherhood had the chance to govern Egypt after winning elections fair and square a year ago. But instead of governing and protecting all Egyptians as their civil responsibility and civic duty dictate, the Muslim Brotherhood divided, polarized and proved beyond any doubt that political Islam – just like militant Islam – will never be inclusive. As a consequence, it will never be accepted in the mainstream without major concessions and multiple metamorphoses.
… Political Islam is fundamentalist and exclusive by nature. It survives and thrives on animosity and persecution. It feeds off of the underdog sentiment and it attracts certain masses around it, controls them and directs them any which way it wants: To the streets when needed or to the ballot boxes.
On this historic juncture for Egypt, let us remember this:
The Muslim Brotherhood had no significant role in Egypt’s revolution in 2011 and the fall of Hosni Mubarak that ensued.
The Muslim Brotherhood has said early on that it will not seek political representation and that it will not run in elections.
Mohammed Mursi ran for the highest office on the promise to listen to the people and allow them to express themselves and to have a constitution and congress that represent them and protect them. He even said in a TV interview once, perhaps a premonition of what is to come, “No president of Egypt will remain in office if the people are not satisfied with him,” and called on Egyptians to demonstrate against him if he does not abide by the constitution and the law. …
Why the Western Media are Getting Egypt Wrong – Khaled Shaalan
Western media coverage of the massive waves of protests in Egypt over the past two days is revealing of a number of problems that plague knowledge production about the Arab world.
As crowds across the country were just warming up for the historic protests, around midday on 30 June, reports from Cairo appearing on Western broadcast and online news outlets focused on projecting an image of “polarization.” Rallies opposing the Muslim Brotherhood were represented as being balanced out, and in some cases even outnumbered, by the demonstration in favor of President Mohamed Morsi. The likelihood of violent clashes were carefully embedded within the news as a main characteristic of the current political situation in Egypt.
As the day went by, the 30 June anti-Morsi demonstrations turned out to probably be the largest ever in Egyptian history, with Egyptians from all walks of life peacefully, yet audaciously, denouncing the Brotherhood’s rule. In time for the evening news cycle in Europe and morning newscasts in the United States, editors of printed and online news outlets in the West started playing down their initial “polarization” message and began to recognize the size of dissidents as being truly unprecedented and in the millions.
The Egyptian people’s defiance of Brotherhood rule is a serious popular challenge to the most significant strategic reordering of the region perhaps since the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916. …
Prosecutors have begun on Monday afternoon an investigation into the bloody clashes between the Egyptian army and pro-Morsi protesters at the Republican Guard headquarters in Cairo earlier in the day.
The clashes left at least 42 civilians dead and 322 injured.
Meanwhile, the Egyptian army said one officer died and 40 soldiers were injured, including seven in critical condition. …
Conflicting reports have emerged on how the clashes started on the fifth day of a Muslim Brotherhood spearheaded sit-in at the army facility to demand the return of deposed President Mohamed Morsi.
In an official statement published by Al-Ahram Arabic news website, the army said an “armed terrorist group” attempted to break into the Republican Guard headquarters in the early hours of Monday and “attacked security forces.”
The Muslim Brotherhood’s FJP, however, issued an official statement saying “peaceful protesters were performing the Fajjr (dawn) prayers” when the army “fired tear gas and gunshots at them without any consideration for the sanctity of prayers or life.” …
The Muslim Brotherhood’s Post-Coup World – New Yorker – Rania Abouzeid
… So far, General al-Sisi, who was appointed by Morsi last August, has announced that the constitution has been suspended, that the chief of the Constitutional Court would temporarily assume the President’s duties (assisted by an interim council and a technocratic government) until early presidential elections could be held, and that parliamentary polls would follow. Islamist-run television channels were taken off the air shortly after the conclusion of Sisi’s short statement. Morsi was placed under house arrest, where he remained on Thursday. Saad el-Katatni, head of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, and Rashad el-Bayoumi, one of the Brotherhood’s deputy leaders, were being held in Torah prison, the Egyptian state news agency MENA said Thursday—the same place Mubarak and his two sons are jailed. By Thursday afternoon, the Brotherhood’s supreme leader had also been arrested, according to press reports.
Being in opposition can be simpler than governing; the Brotherhood’s experiment exposed what many Egyptians perceived as its incompetence and inexperience. Morsi was increasingly seen as an Islamist autocrat in the making, especially after he effectively placed himself above the law in November, 2012, by decreeing that he was immune from judicial oversight.
Still, almost as dramatic as the swift downfall of an elected president is the rehabilitation of the military in the eyes of Egyptians. …
Lebanon / Hezbollah
Lebanese army fires shots to break up Sidon protests – al-Arabiya
Lebanese soldiers opened fire to break up a protest outside a mosque in the southern port of Sidon on Friday, days after the army fought Sunni Islamist militants there and seized control of the area.
The fighting earlier this week was the deadliest outbreak of violence in Lebanon to be fuelled by the two-year conflict in neighboring Syria. Some 18 soldiers were killed and dozens of supporters of firebrand cleric Sheikh Ahmed al-Assir also died.
The worst fighting in Lebanon in years, which wracked this coastal city one hour south of Beirut this week, was touched off by an influx of foreign fighters from Syria, Palestinian camps and other Arab countries into the compound of a radical Sunni cleric, according to knowledgeable people on both sides of the conflict.
The foreign fighters included members of Jabhat al Nusra, a Syrian rebel group also known as the Nusra Front, which is affiliated with al Qaida, according to the accounts, including that of a Lebanese military official. Nusra is considered the most effective rebel group fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad, and its presence inside Lebanon, if confirmed, would provide evidence not just that the Syrian conflict has spread, but that Nusra fighters have extended their influence outside Syria and Iraq.
A worker for a non-governmental organization in the Ein al Hilweh refugee camp near Sidon told McClatchy that the fighting was sparked when a group of Syrians fresh from that country’s battlefields, as well as fighters from other Arab countries, on Sunday attacked a Lebanese armed forces checkpoint near the mosque and apartment of controversial Sunni cleric Ahmad al Assir. At least three soldiers were killed.
“At least 60 Syrian guys from Jabhat al Nusra had joined with Assir in the last few weeks,” said the worker, a well-known aid official who identifies himself as Abu Hussein, a nickname that means father of Hussein.
Abu Hussein said Assir also had received support from “at least 30 Palestinians” affiliated with Jund al Sham, a terrorist organization whose name has been shared by a variety of al Qaida-linked groups and that is influential in the Ein al Hilweh camp, as well as what he called “jihadis from other Arab countries that had been fighting in Syria.”
Abu Hussein credited the Nusra fighters for the strong military performance of Assir’s followers in the clashes, which killed about 18 soldiers and wounded scores more.
“These Assir guys had no experience or training, so there was a military commander who had come in to help, I think he was from Nusra. This is why so many soldiers died,” Abu Hussein said.
As many as 300 fighters were in the compound, according to Abu Hussein, about 100 of whom were unaccounted for on Tuesday, including Assir. The whereabouts also were unknown of a former pop star turned Islamist militant, Fadel Shaker, who took time during the siege to record a morbid video released online in which he claimed that he personally killed two soldiers. …
Radical Sunni current gaining ground (in Lebanon) – NOW – Mona Alami
The post-2005 years have ushered in an unraveling of the moderate Sunni street, and the start of the protracted Syrian war and Hezbollah’s involvement is increasingly defined as a sectarian regional conflict. This has caused a dangerous shift on the Lebanese Sunni street, one with possible disastrous long-term consequences.
The assassination of Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005, followed by the killing of March 14 figures and the decampment of former prime minister Saad Hariri, combined with political mismanagement – have resulted, over time, in the crippling of Lebanon’s main Sunni political faction, the Future movement. Lebanese Sunnis disenchanted with the political elite feel misrepresented and sidelined from power. This worsened significantly after Hezbollah’s unilateral decision to fight alongside the Assad regime in Syria, especially the border Qusayr region.
Hezbollah, the main Shiite party, already has a bad reputation among many members of the Sunni community. Four Hezbollah members have been accused of the killing of PM Hariri alongside 21 others. Fingers were also pointed at Hezbollah after the assassinations of two Sunni notables: police investigator Wissam Eid and ISF’s General Wissam al-Hassan.
A 2008 government decision to shut down Hezbollah’s telecommunication network and to remove Beirut’s Rafiq Hariri airport’s security chief, Wafiq Shoucair, over alleged ties to Hezbollah sparked clashes between Sunni and Druze militants and fighters affiliated with the Party of God. Tripoli‘s burning front, pitting Sunnis supporting the Syrian rebellion against Alawites aligned with the regime of Bashar al-Assad, has not calmed Sunnis’ resentment toward Hezbollah – which is perceived as adding fuel to the sectarian fire.
Whether these accusations are justified is not what matters. Instead, it’s the growing feeling of marginalization experienced by many Sunnis in Lebanon. This has led to a slow but certain radicalization of some members of these communities, particularly around demarcation lines where Shiites and Sunnis co-exist such as in Tripoli, the Beqaa, Sidon, and certain neighborhoods of Beirut.
While most Sunnis still follow mainstream political factions, radical currents are gaining ground. Several concerning developments have marked recent months. Islamic groups, which used to be on the margin of the Lebanese political scene are consolidating and gaining strength, such as the Lebanese Salafi movement, which has formed the “Tayyar ahl Sunna,” the movement of the Sunni community.
The exodus of Sunni youth to the Syrian battlefront has increased significantly in recent weeks. While Salafi sources in Tripoli previously estimated the number of Lebanese jihadis fighting alongside the Syrian rebels to be around 100, they now say the number has dramatically risen. “About 80 Tripoli Sunnis have gone to fight with the rebels in Qusayr in recent weeks,” says one Salafi source from Tripoli who wished to remain anonymous for security reasons. The son of Dai Islam al Chahal, Lebanon’s highest authority in the mainstream Salafi current, is fighting with his cousin in Qusayr. He is said to have been injured in a battle last week in which five other Lebanese fighters were killed. Tripoli fighters battling in Qusayr had responded to the call for jihad launched by Sheikh Salem Rafei last month. The enrollment of traditional Sunnis and mainstream Salafis (who do not generally advocate jihad) in the Syrian “holy war” is an indicator to be handled with care.
… Given the huge discrepancy in these numbers, questions emerge: are the figures real, or are they mere guesswork? And are they deliberately inflated for propaganda reasons from both camps? … In reality, most of these figures are grossly overinflated. Hezbollah’s deployment in Syria is probably in the hundreds, rather than thousands. …
Amid the mounting death toll of Hezbollah operatives in Syria, a delegation of Hezbollah supporters in Lebanon has asked the Shi’ite group’s leadership to stop sending operatives to fight for Syrian President Bashar Assad, pan-Arabic daily Asharq Alawsat reported Sunday. …
Opinion / Intervention
Obama needs to act now on Syria: Column – Michael Doran and Michael O’Hanlon
By all accounts, President Obama reached his recent decision to supply arms directly to Syrian opposition groups with great reluctance. The president clearly understands that while getting into a war is easy, getting out is hard. The example of Iraq no doubt weighs heavily on his mind. But he also learned the lesson firsthand in Libya. After signing on to a limited mission, he was quickly forced to increase the level of U.S. participation or face the prospect of a rebel defeat.
Nevertheless, the delay in committing the United States to the success of the Syrian rebels is regrettable. More lives have been lost, and battlefield gains the insurgents enjoyed six months ago have been squandered. Regaining the momentum will take more than just the limited outside intervention currently contemplated. And even if it were possible to achieve the removal of Syrian President Bashar Assad on the cheap, his departure would no more guarantee peace in Syria than the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003 brought stability to Iraq.
The fundamental point is this: A peace deal is not feasible under current conditions. It will require greater military effort up front and it will also require, in the end, international peacekeepers to implement it.
Moreover, U.S. troops in modest numbers must be part of that force. No other country has the necessary military enablers and the political clout to provide the glue in a multinational military coalition.
Benefit of delay
In this respect, the president’s reluctance to get involved has actually had a beneficial effect. It has dramatically demonstrated to America’s allies that the U.S. is indeed the indispensable nation. In one way or another, Britain, France, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Qatar — to name just six states — have all urged Obama to play a more robust leadership role.
This clamor for U.S. intervention is an entirely new factor in Middle Eastern affairs. It is also one that gives America much more opportunity to manage the risks of military intervention. …
Why did the administration’s response to the chemical weapons use not involve either punishing the commanders in charge or a strategy to secure the weapons?
President Barack Obama made his first call for Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad to step down on Thursday, August 18, 2011 and then proceeded to enjoy a private 10-day vacation with his family on Martha’s Vineyard. Nearly two years later, Assad is still in power, and it seems clear today that Obama’s posturing nearly two years ago was unattached to an action plan to achieve Assad’s ouster.
At the time, liberal interventionists and neoconservative hawks pommeled the White House for dragging its heels in finally calling for Assad’s ouster, and many of these critics claimed credit for Obama’s eventual statement that the United States government favored regime change in Syria.
Perhaps Obama believed that Assad’s position would crumble like that of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who did relinquish power after President Obama called for him to step down. In the Egypt case, then-Senator John Kerry called for Mubarak to step down on Tuesday, the February 1. The following day, Senator and former presidential candidate John McCain “broke with the President” and joined Kerry’s call to Mubarak for the President to step down. …
Syria is convinced the US cannot control the rebel groups it is arming and will be unable to get them to declare a ceasefire that would be central to any successful peace talks, says the country’s Deputy Foreign Minister. This puts a further obstacle in the way of negotiations in Geneva proposed by the US and Russia which seem the best chance of ending the Syrian civil war. It now appears they will either not take place, or if they do, they will achieve nothing.
Faisal Mekdad says in an interview with The Independent in Damascus that the Americans “provide arms and money but they have absolutely no control. Nobody will listen. The US has been trying to unify this opposition for two years and you can see the results: more disintegration.” Mr Mekdad has been at the centre of Syrian foreign policy at a time when the country has been progressively isolated, while still managing to retain crucial allies.
Mr Mekdad looks more confident and relaxed than he did six months ago, probably reflecting a Syrian government belief that it has survived the worst of the crisis. A dapper, fast-talking man, Mr Mekdad comes from Daraa in southern Syria where the uprising began two years ago.
The cavernous Syrian foreign ministry feels insulated from the war, yet Mr Mekdad has not escaped the stresses of the conflict. His 84-year-old father was kidnapped and held for 14 days by rebels and he says he no longer goes to his family home because he wants to avoid further troubles. …
At the end of the interview Mr Mekdad commented that six months earlier Damascus had been resounding with the sound of artillery fire while now it is much quieter. In reality, this is not quite true and there is the constant boom of outgoing artillery and the occasional sharper crack of incoming fire from rebel mortars. …
Mr Mekdad does not look overly concerned by the postponement of the Geneva II peace conference, saying that Syria had always been ready and willing to attend without preconditions. But he goes out of his way to refute the idea that, if the US and its allies could make the rebels a bit stronger on the battlefield, “they can force the government to give more concessions. This is completely wrong,” he says. …
Western and Arab countries opposed to the Syrian regime agreed on “secret” measures to change the military balance in Syria in favor of the rebel forces, Qatar’s prime minister said on Saturday.
Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani spoke at the end of a “friend of Syria” meeting of “secret decisions about practical measures to change the situation on the ground in Syria,” AFP reported.
“Most countries, except for two, are agreed on how to provide assistance to the rebels through the Military Council,” he said, without naming the two dissenting states.
The 11 main countries which form the “Friends of Syria” coalition agrees “to provide urgently all the necessary materiel and equipment to the opposition on the ground, each country in its own way in order to enable them to counter brutal attacks by the regime and its allies,” according to Reuters.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius the meeting called on Hezbollah and Iran to immediately end their intervention in Syria.
Members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) called for an urgent U.N. Security Council meeting to prevent a massacre from taking place in the Syrian central city of Homs.
Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, along with Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah, have been battling rebels – most of whom are Sunni Muslims – for the past three days in Homs, which is a strategic center point as it is on the road linking Damascus to the coast.
“Considering the Syrian regime’s insistence on ethnic and sectarian cleansing, as recently happened near Homs, and its use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people, the continued siege of Homs is inhumane and threatens a massacre,” said a GCC statement.
“The GCC calls on the Security Council to convene on an urgent basis to lift the siege of the city of Homs,” added the statement by the GCC, which is made up of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Oman.
The Gulf Arab states said they were particularly worried about the presence of Hezbollah on the side of President Assad – who is an Alawite, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
The GCC said it was concerned about Hezbollah fighting “under the banner” of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.
On Sunday, GCC foreign ministers met with Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign representative, and urged European countries to arm the rebels immediately.
As an intermittent supply of arms to the Syrian opposition gathered momentum last year, the Obama administration repeatedly implored its Arab allies to keep one type of powerful weapon out of the rebels’ hands: heat-seeking shoulder-fired missiles.
The missiles, American officials warned, could one day be used by terrorist groups, some of them affiliated with Al Qaeda, to shoot down civilian aircraft.
But one country ignored this admonition: Qatar, the tiny, oil- and gas-rich emirate that has made itself the indispensable nation to rebel forces battling calcified Arab governments and that has been shipping arms to the Syrian rebels fighting the government of President Bashar al-Assad since 2011.
Since the beginning of the year, according to four American and Middle Eastern officials with knowledge of intelligence reports on the weapons, Qatar has used a shadowy arms network to move at least two shipments of shoulder-fired missiles, one of them a batch of Chinese-made FN-6s, to Syrian rebels who have used them against Mr. Assad’s air force. Deployment of the missiles comes at a time when American officials expect that President Obama’s decision to begin a limited effort to arm the Syrian rebels might be interpreted by Qatar, along with other Arab countries supporting the rebels, as a green light to drastically expand arms shipments.
Qatar’s aggressive effort to bolster the embattled Syrian opposition is the latest brash move by a country that has been using its wealth to elbow its way to the forefront of Middle Eastern statecraft, confounding both its allies in the region and in the West. The strategy is expected to continue even though Qatar’s longtime leader, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, stepped down last week, allowing his 33-year-old son to succeed him.
“They punch immensely above their weight,” one senior Western diplomat said of the Qataris. “They keep everyone off balance by not being in anyone’s pocket.”
“Their influence comes partly from being unpredictable,” the diplomat added. …
The Obama administration quietly blessed the shipments to Libya of machine guns, automatic rifles, mortars and ammunition, but American officials later grew concerned as evidence grew that Qatar was giving the weapons to Islamic militants there. …