Posted by Joshua on Saturday, March 26th, 2011
Syria is dividing into sides – those that will fight the state and those that support the president or fear revolution. The silent majority is still sitting on the side lines, but they will not be able to do so for long if order collapses. The army is sticking by the President, a main difference with Egypt or Tunisia. So long as the army remains united and obeys the President, it will be hard for the opposition to take over parts of the country or bring down the regime.
There were pro-Bashar demonstrations in many cities yesterday, such as Hassake, Homs, Latakia, Damascus in several places, and Aleppo, but there were equally anti-government demonstrations in a number of places, which are now increasingly calling for an end to the Baath Party and the fall of the regime – isqat al-nizaam. I have spoken or corresponded with people in Latakia, Aleppo and Damascus today. Aleppo and Damascus are calm. Latakia is not. The Republican Guard and the army have entered the city to end violence. The people were cheering them on from the balconies in the Sunni neighborhood, I am told.
My wife’s family in Latakia is divided over what is going on. Her mother claimed that although they had not been able to go down town, she insisted that she was very confident in the wisdom of the Syrians. She said they would never be dragged into civil war. She said that in most parts of the city yesterday, people had been out and about.
My brother-in-law, Firas, who lives in American, a Christian quarter near Shaykh Dahr, the downtown area where the demonstrations and shooting took place yesterday, has left the city with his Christian wife and children. He was very anxious when we spoke to him in Latakia this morning at his work place. He said that all the Sunnis who work in his company were saying that there were foreign Sunni elements in town that no one recognized. He believed that they were involved in the fighting yesterday in center city. A number of Syrian military and police were taken to the hospital, having been shot. Firas said that they did not have arms because they were not supposed to shoot at the demonstrators due to the President’s orders. The opposition had arms.
A Sunni demonstrator from Latakia on Aljazeera just reported that the police shot at the demonstrators, but he also mentioned that there were foreign elements in town who were armed. It is unclear who these foreign elements were according to him. He did not specify. The Sunni demonstrator who spoke on Aljazeera claimed that the police were responsible for stirring up the sectarian sentiments of the people.
Pro-government people believe that there is an organized and armed opposition that came into town to start a fight and spread false rumors about Alawites from the Mountains coming into town to attack Sunnis, etc.
See the Facebook site: بلدي حبيبي … ممنوع الفتنة …ويلو اللي يعادينا ؟ In order to see how people are talking about the “Mukharabiin,” the foreign intruders who no one recognizes in Latakia. They say that the unknown intruders entered both Sunni and Alawi neighborhoods and yelled about how the opposite sect was coming to destroy them and “burn them down.” They claim that there was an organized effort to stir up sectarian distrust and violence.
In Jableh, a mixed city just south of Latakia on the coast, there was a big demonstration made up of the entire city (`an bikrati abiiha) on Saturday night. They chanted: “wahid, wahid, wahid, Sunni wa Alawi wahid.” “One, one, one – Sunnis and Alawis are one. ”
Another Christin friend from Latakia – no relation – said that there was a much more organized opposition in town and a lot of sniper shots going on still. There is a fire at the prison, he said. He pooh-pooed the notion that a foreign element was in town, but said that the organized opposition was home grown.
One Sunni Imam from Latakia spoke on the phone with Al Jazeera. He was asking for government and human rights groups to protect the civilians. He said that four policeman fired on the people. Then after prayers when we protested again, unknown people started shooting at us.
These rumors are not unlike those that emerged from Daraa. The leading imam there claimed that he had heard people speaking with a foreign accent, possibly Iranian, and that they had been sent to stir up the trouble.
Rumors continue to circulate in Damascus that Maher has either shot Farouq al-Sharaa or carried out a coup, etc. I would suggest not believing such rumors because I have heard so many like them over the last five years. The standard line is that members of the Assad family or inner circle have begun to shoot each other and that the regime is in extreme chaos verging on collapse.
Here are some video’s of the pro-government demonstrations that have been sent to me. To see the anti government video’s and those of anti-government demonstrations go to Ammar Abdulhamid’s site, here. or the Syria Revolution 2011 page, which now has been renamed the “Revolution against Bashar al-Assad.
“… While anger continues to grow, many Syrians remain unwilling to declare their loyalties, according to analysts in Damascus. “There is not yet the critical mass needed,” said one activist, who asked not to be named. Counter-demonstrations have been manned by loyalist groups and Syria’s tightly controlled state media is not covering the protest activity in detail.
My Friend in Aleppo writes:
As an addendum to yesterday, I can certainly understand why a lot of Syrians are upset with foreign coverage of the crisis (going so far as to besiege the Al Jazeera studios in Damascus). The events in Deraa, Latakia and elsewhere are indeed critical and deserve wide attention.
But for maybe 90% of the Syrian population, the reality they are living is the sort of pro-regime support that was witnessed yesterday in Damascus, Aleppo and other cities. The festivities in Aleppo, Syria’s second largest city, lasted a good 12 hours and involved I would guess in the low tens of thousands of people–but this was not covered or even mentioned by a single news outlet that I have seen. This isn’t to say that all those people are diehard Bashar fans; it was a beautiful day Friday and there were many families out just to see what was going on. That these demonstrations are “organised by the regime” is kind of a cliché, however, seeing that any thinkable civil group involved (unions, youth clubs, etc.) is tied to the regime on some level; but “fabricated,” as a recent comment posted to your blog suggests, they most certainly are not.
Pro-regime Demonstration in Hasseke in the North East
Demonstrations for Bashar in major cities
The following is an email exchange I had three years ago in 2008 with a Syrian, named “Independent”. It is haunting today because we were discussing whether Syria would crash in three years, 2011, due to economic hardship. It was sent to me this morning by “Independent.” Here is is:
Independent wrote in 2008:
Josh, I always enjoy reading your commentaries and thoughts about Syria and its environs.
Yes you are absolutely right, “The battle between Washington and Damascus is largely an economic one.” Both Israel and the U.S. and its allies in the region fear any kind of regime change in Syria (as the March 14 side would like)and therefore have not acted yet directly against the regime.
While Lebanon is sinking into an economic abyss, you painted too rosy a picture about Syria’s highly subsidized economy (Syria’s economy is growing at almost 6%). In a matter of years, Syria will be a net importer of oil, if it hasn’t happened already (data is not available or otherwise top secret). Any enhanced oil recovery they attempt on their archaic fields will not help in the short run. So today they rely heavily on cheap Iranian oil.
What about prices for flour, sugar, coffee, etc..? These staples of the majority of Syrian society will soon lose government subsidies and will and are becoming more expensive day by day.
All this smells like inflation to me, even though the highly edited official numbers may not state so.
You paint too rosy a picture Josh!
Independent, You may be correct about the coming Syrian crash. Most people in Washington and Israelis that I talk to believe that Syria will sink into a deep economic abyss in about three years when oil begins to run out.
My sense is that Syria is making the right moves to avoid this in the fields of private banking, foreign investment, privatization, issuing private and government debt, opening a stock market, introducing a VAT tax, parking meters, etc. Whether it can complete this “modernization” process in time to avoid the crash is not clear, but I am more optimistic that most.
Some believe that none of these reforms will matter so long as there is not regime change or the introduction of an independent judiciary.
I was just talking with Ehsani who was expressing his amazement that Syria has not been able to attract more Gulf investment than it has. “This is a bad sign,” he said. He pointed out that the rise of Dubai is a clear sign of Syria’s and Lebanon’s failure. They have the resources, climate, human capital, etc. that should have made them the obvious “Dubai” of the Middle East, but they screwed it up and have been by-passed. “Opportunities like that come along only once in a hundred years,” Ehsani said.
It is commonly said that oil is a curse to those who have it. The Middle East has avoided reform because of oil. Running out of oil is forcing Syria to confront hard choices it has put off, but it is now globalizing, in large measure, because oil is running out, a fact that is forcing the regime’s hand on modernization. I think it can make the shift. In any case, we will see very soon. Thanks for the nice words – and the skepticism.
February 18th, 2008, 5:36 pm
Syria’s Mufti Hassoon just told Al Jazeera (with a straight face) that Syria has reached Egypt & Tunisia reforms “without a shedding any blood”. He’s now being eaten alive on twitter.
السلطات السورية تفرج عن 260 معتقلا سياسيا بينهم إسلاميونSyria has released 260 political prisoners
“….. Edward Walker, a former U.S. ambassador to Egypt, said sectarian friction made many in the establishment wary of giving ground to demands for political freedoms and economic reforms. “They are a basically reviled minority, the Alawites, and if they lose power, if they succumb to popular revolution, they will be hanging from the lamp posts,” he said. “They have absolutely no incentive to back off…..”
Syrian MB: Uprising will not stop until demands are met
By Mohammed Al Shafey
London, Asharq Al-Awsat – The former leader of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, Ali Sadr al-Din al-Bayanouni AKA Abu Anas yesterday told Asharq Al-Awsat that reforms in Syria are long overdue, and stressed that there is a popular intifada [uprising] in the Syrian street today. Al-Bayanouni also clarified that he has been calling for serious and genuine reforms for months.
Al-Bayanouni told Asharq Al-Awsat that all the factors which led to revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, are also present in Syria, from the absence of freedom to the presence of tyranny, corruption, poverty, and unemployment, not to mention the arrest of opposition figures and unfulfilled promises of reform.
al-Bayanouni told Asharq Al-Awsat that “the people are demanding the fall of the regime, the abolition of the emergency law that has been in place in Syria since March 1963, the granting of general freedoms, and an end to people being arrested for their political views or affiliations, as well as the abolition of laws and special courts, and the confrontation of corruption in a serious and effective manner.”
The former Syrian Muslim Brotherhood leader stressed to Asharq Al-Awsat that “the situation in Syria is much worse than the situation in Egypt [prior to the revolution].” He added “at least the Egyptians had media outlets, they could speak and talk about the situation in their country, whilst a mere whisper in Syria is enough for an individual to ensure his own destruction.”
Al-Bayanouni said that “in 1982 former Syrian President Hafiz al-Assad sent forces to the town of Hama to crush the armed wing of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. The Syrian armed forces killed 30,000 people.”
Al-Bayanouni stressed that “all Syrian governorates will revolt, and there is an almost unanimous view that this regime is not viable, as the people do not want it.” He added that the Syrian regime is corrupt down to its core, and stressed that 60 percent of the Syrian population are suffering from poverty, whilst nearly a third of the Syrian workforce is unemployed. Al-Bayanouni said that Syria must rein in its security apparatus, release thousands of political prisoners, and allow freedom of expression, as well as reveal the fate of tens of thousands of political dissidents who disappeared in the 1980s.