Posted by Joshua on Friday, February 4th, 2011
Syrians seem to be staying at home this Friday. It is raining in Damascus. Friends there say it is calm and everyone is watching events in Egypt on Aljazeera. A friend who runs a travel agency says he has gotten a first wave of cancellations due to the Egyptian events. People don’t distinguish – its all the Middle East.
Several months ago, I wrote in Foreign Policy that “Syria will work to isolate the United States in the Middle East” by forcing it to chose between Arab friends and Israel. That process is happening much faster than I thought. The Egyptian democracy movement has forced Washington to chose between the Arab people and US pro-Israel interests. Washington has hesitated. Now Republicans are calling for an end to US military cooperation with Turkey because Erdoghan does not want to share intelligence with Israel and aim missiles at Iran. Again, Washington is being forced to decide between its Middle Eastern interests and Israel. Congress is likely to force Obama to side with Israel. If America burns its relations with Ankara, the US will have no friends but Israel and Saudi Arabia in the Middle East. By refusing to take a positive stand on Arab-Israeli peace or to oppose Israeli expansion into the West Bank and Golan, the US is forsaking its principles of fairness and supporting international law. In Egypt, it has fallen behind the democracy curve.
This is from HRW statement on a demo in support of Egypt in Damascus few days ago:
Just got this from a Syrian friend:
Some tweets on demonstrations in Syria few minutes ago:
All quiet in #damascus plenty of plain-clothes security on the streets but little else happening #syria #jan25 #egypt
To those who’re spreading rumors about internet shutting down in #Syria AGAIN I am tweeting LIVE from #Damascus this very moment!
Angry Arab correspondent in Aleppo sent me this: “Well, I can’t say I’m too surprised, but there was nothing here at least in Aleppo. Just a whole lot of twenty something guys standing around that all looked suspiciously like mukhabarat. I haven’t heard anything about Damascus yet though…”
“Why the Arab Democracy Wave is Unlikely to Reach Syria — Yet,” By Andrew Lee Butters in time.
….Being friends with America opens Mubarak to a host of liabilities that the Syrian government doesn’t have. (See TIME’s exclusive pictures of the clashes in Cairo.)
For one thing, Syria doesn’t depend on billions of dollars in U.S. aid in the way that Egypt and Jordan do. The Assad regime, which has been a pariah country for years because of its support for various of the region’s militant groups, gets only sanctions from the U.S. government, and comparatively little international aid besides. Its currency isn’t traded on international markets. Its banking system is pretty closed. And its stock market is miniscule. Syria’s central bank has been stocking up hard currency for years for just such occasions, and Damascus doesn’t have the vast slums teeming with African-levels of poverty that Cairo has.
That means that unlike Egypt — which, out of deference to the domestic sensitivities of its U.S. patron, chose to do its dirty work against democracy protestors in Tahrir Square with plain-clothed thugs rather than use an army funded by American taxpayers — Syria has shown precious little concern for world opinion in meting out domestic repression. Being on the wrong side of the Bush Administration’s “democracy agenda” also helped the Syrian regime. While many Syrians resent the blatantly rigging of their country’s elections, stability-Syrian style was preferred by many to the chaotic democracy created next door by the U.S. invasion of Iraq. (See the state of paranoia on the streets of Cairo.)
Syria also has a few strategic cards — notably its support for Palestinian militants Hamas and Lebanese militants Hizballah…..
Arabs Battling Regimes See Erdogan’s Muslim Democracy in Turkey as Model
Massoud A. Derhally – Feb 4, 2011, www.bloomberg.com
Arabs seeking a model for post- autocratic governments are looking for inspiration in Turkey, where Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan ’s brand of Islamic democracy has helped make him the region’s most popular leader…..
Under Erdogan, average annual incomes rose above $10,000, from about $3,500. Egypt’s per capita GDP was little changed at $2,160 in 2009, rising $5 in two decades, according to IMF data…..
Tunisia’s Rachid Ghannouchi said in a Feb. 2 interview in the capital, Tunis, that his country is socially and culturally “close to Turkey, closer than it is to Iran or Afghanistan.”In Egypt, the Islamic opposition is also taking cues from Turkey.
“The Muslim Brotherhood, whenever asked, insists they don’t want an Iranian-style theocracy and that the model they are looking to is the Ak Party,” said Hillel Fradkin, director of the Center on Islam, Democracy and the Future of the Muslim World at the Hudson Institute.
Badr Mohamed Badr, a senior Muslim Brotherhood leader, said by phone on Feb. 3 that the group seeks “a civil, democratic political regime that respects human rights and freedoms, guarantees better and safer lives for citizens and improves the country’s economy.”
“We are not after a religious state,” he said.
Lamp and Bulb
The leading Islamic opposition party in Morocco shares the Justice and Development Party name and has a similar symbol: the Moroccan party’s is an oil lamp while the Turkish party’s is a light bulb.
“We believe the Turkish example and model is promising and has been rewarding,” said Hamzah Mansour, secretary general of the Islamic Action Front, the largest opposition group in Jordan,….
Senators call for NATO missile defense in Georgia
Posted By Josh Rogin Thursday, February 3, 2011 – 8:16 PM
Four Republican senators are calling on the Obama administration to place a sensitive missile defense-related radar site in Georgia, rather than in Turkey, as is currently planned.
“We believe that the U.S. should deploy the most effective missile defenses possible – in partnership with our allies – that provide for the protection of the U.S. homeland, our deployed forces, and our allies,” began a Feb. 3 letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates signed by Sens. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), James Risch (R-ID), Mark Kirk (R-IL), and James Inhofe (R-OK).
The senators are responding to statements from the Turkish government that it would only agree to host the new radar, known as TPY-2, if the United States agrees not to share with Israel any of the information gathered by the radar site, which is part of a NATO system discussed at the recent Lisbon summit. Turkey also wants command and control over the radar, and wants NATO to remove any references to Iran as the threat targeted by the missile shield. For all these reasons, the senators think Georgia would be a better option…..
For an excellent interview with Egypt’s Muslim Brother leader see this article by Helen Cobban: “The men of Qasr el-Aini Street” in Foreign Policy
Turmoil Heartens U.S. Foes
By JAY SOLOMON in WSJ, FEBRUARY 4, 2011
A protester in Cairo talks with regime supporters in the distance.
DAMASCUS—The so-called resistance bloc of nations and Islamist movements, led by Iran and Syria, believes it is increasingly on the ascent as unrest seethes in the Middle East.
United in its opposition to the U.S. and Israel, this coalition is seeing many of its chief regional adversaries weakened—particularly Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan’s King Abdullah II.
Tehran and Damascus have also been buoyed by last month’s toppling of Beirut’s pro-Western government at the hands of Hezbollah, the Lebanese political party and militia the two countries fund and arm.
“[The unrest] proved that the global arrogance’s era of domination and control of the region has come to an end,” Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said on Tehran’s state television this week, using Iran’s catch-phrase for the U.S.
Regional analysts say the wave of political upheaval in the Mideast could still target the Iranian and Syrian governments themselves, which are among the world’s most repressive. But they also acknowledge the attacks on America’s key Arab allies are opening political space for the self-proclaimed resistance bloc to expand its influence.
The targets of the uprisings “are not the anti-Western regimes with the most egregious human-rights records, but the pro-Western regimes,” said David Wurmser, a top Middle East adviser in George W. Bush’s White House and now head of Delphi Global Analysis Group in Washington.
Syria is emerging as a bellwether to gauge the shifting power balance in the region.
Damascus technically remains at war with Israel and, along with Tehran, is the principal financier and arms supplier for Hezbollah and the Palestinian organization Hamas, which controls the Gaza strip in the Palestinian territories. Hamas’s leadership, headed by political director Khaled Meshaal, is headquartered in Syria.
Organizations opposing the rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have pledged to launch their own protest movement this week and have cited Saturday as a “day of rage.” Any sustainable movement against the Syrian leadership would buttress the argument that the protest wave is a broad-based effort driven by economics and concerns about lack of political freedoms, Western diplomats said.
Mr. Assad on Sunday told The Wall Street Journal that his regime remains stable and that the true targets of the unrest are Washington’s allies who have supported the war in Iraq and the Arab-Israeli peace process. He said Iran, Turkey and Syria will likely emerge with greater influence as the political transformation of the region continues.
“As long as the people have a major say in the future [of the Middle East], then you are going to have the minor say in the United States,” Mr. Assad said.
Iran has been particularly vocal in calling for Mr. Mubarak’s overthrow in Egypt. Iranian leaders have drawn similarities between the events in Cairo and the 1979 Islamic revolution that deposed the U.S.-backed shah in Tehran. Iran has also voiced support for the Muslim Brotherhood, a Cairo-based group banned in Egypt that hopes to meld the Islamic religion with Egypt’s legal system. The movement is expected to gain significant influence in any post-Mubarak government in Cairo.
“With [the region] assuming a new shape and the developments under way, [we hope] we would be able to see a Middle East that is Islamic and powerful,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told reporters in Tehran on Monday.
Mr. Meshaal, the Hamas chief, has kept his silence in Damascus since the uprising against Arab governments broke out. Mr. Mubarak has closely cooperated with Israel in imposing an economic siege on the Gaza strip since Hamas took power in the Palestinian territory in 2007.
However, Hamas officials said in interviews this week that what’s happening could be to the Islamist movement’s advantage. They expect the changes in Egypt and Jordan, in particular, to give them more room to operate.
“We like what’s happening,” a senior Hamas official said.
Two other countries that could emerge more powerful are Qatar and Turkey.
The tiny emirate of Qatar is home to the Pentagon’s Central Command in Doha and provided logistical support to the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But it also funds the Arab television channel, al-Jazeera, which has been a major voice calling for political changes in Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen. Qatar has also increasingly provided financial and diplomatic support for Hamas and Hezbollah.
Turkey is another traditional U.S. ally whose foreign policy has shifted in recent years. Ankara infuriated Washington last year by voting against a new United Nations sanctions package against Iran for its nuclear work. And Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has increasingly distanced Turkey from its partnership with Israel.
“If Turkey continues to act in an increasingly hostile way to Western interests, than the U.S. will be left without any major Islamic power…by our side,” Mr. Wurmser said.