Posted by Joshua on Thursday, February 16th, 2012
The Assads did an exemplary job of ensuring that a new generation of leaders was unable to emerge in Syria. It will take years to develop leaders who have national reputations and deep institutional roots in Syrian society. In all likelihood, they will have to fight their way to the top in the nasty Darwinian process now unfolding in Syria. Just as Assad emerged out of the dark inner-sanctums of military cliques and conspiratorial confabs, Syria’s new leader will probably emerge from one of the militias now taking the fight to the Syrian army on the streets of Homs, Idlib, or another provincial city of Syria. These militias are not united today, but they will become so over time – at least that is the hope. To defeat the Syrian army and Assad regime, they will have to produce a united leadership – one that can coordinate nation-wide military efforts through a centralized command structure. It is logical to assume that Syria’s new leaders will ultimately emerge from the new military leadership which will be responsible for destroying the Assad-built military. Abd al-Aziz Ibn Saud, Reza Pahlavi, and Ataturk are three of the greatest leaders the Middle East has produced. Each commanded a local militia, which he eventually turned into a national army. Will such be the case in tomorrow’s Syria?
Can the Syrian National Council ride the revolutionary tiger to the finish line, establishing itself as Syria’s future government? Will its well-heeled civilian leaders be able to take control of the military effort now being waged in the cities and towns of Syria? Will they be able to deliver the quantities of money and arms that will help cement their relationship and leadership among the fighters on the ground? Only time will tell. I have published a new poll in the upper left corner of Syria Comment asking this question. Weigh in.
This question is all important today. Western statesmen and Middle Eastern leaders alike are trying to decide whether to supply arms and money to the opposition. This forces them to choose winners. Should they give their aid to the SNC and let this fractious body decide how to distribute it? (It is worth noting that the SNC executive committee just voted Burhan Ghalioun to a further two month leadership term.) Should they turn to Colonel Asaad, the putative leader of the Free Syrian Army, who only a week ago called the SNC leaders “‘traitors?” Should they try to deliver aid directly to the militia leaders within Syria, who seemingly do not take orders from either the SNC or the FSA? Will Saudi Arabia and the US agree on which leaders to back? Or will their differences over secularism versus Islamism prove too hard to overcome?
These are some of the questions that are now bedeviling world leaders in their continuing effort to bring down the Assad regime.
News Round Up follows
Q&A: Nir Rosen on Syria’s armed opposition
Nir Rosen, al-Jazeera, 13 Feb 2012- This is an invaluable article. Read it all.
Journalist who recently spent time with fighters says there is no central leadership to the armed resistance.
This is an invaluable article. Read it all.
The fighters usually belong to small cadres, such as “Abu Muhamad’s Group”, where Abu Muhamad may have access to some money with which he supports his band of fighters. Some groups give their “companies” or “brigades” names – often after “martyrs” or those with “heroic” religious connotations. This creates the false impression in much of the foreign media that there is some national leader, a chain of command, a structure or order of battle and divisions.
The fighters arm themselves and fund themselves as individuals or small groups, not as the “Free Syrian Army”. Nor are they funded directly by any state actor or intelligence agency. Indirectly, however, some Syrian exile religious movements or opposition political figures might be channelling funding from various countries to groups inside Syria…..
….The issue of defectors is a distraction. Armed resistance began long before defections started. While fighters are often portrayed in the media as defectors from the Syrian military, the majority are civilians who have taken up arms. The opposition believes it will have more legitimacy if fighters are dubbed “defectors”, and described collectively as the Free Syrian Army. They are also not armed gangs, as the regime and its supporters describe them. They are much more akin to a popular armed struggle or an insurgency. In fact, many Syrian revolutionaries use the term muqawama, [“resistance”] to describe themselves…..
The Syrian insurgency is not well-armed or well-funded. Fighters purchase their weapons locally on the black market, from arms dealers and smugglers who are profiting from the violence in Syria. I have been with insurgents purchasing weapons and seen how they arrange to do so via smugglers from Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey….
Sunni members of the army are coming under increasing suspicion by the security agencies, and there have been cases of security men killing soldiers for refusing to obey orders to shoot. Hundreds of soldiers and officers have also been arrested. …
On the ground it was clear that by the end of Ramadan (late August), that there was a growing consensus on the part of opposition supporters that only an armed struggle could overthrow the regime…
The regime and its supporters describe the opposition, especially the armed opposition, as Salafis, Jihadists, Muslim Brotherhood supporters, al-Qaeda and terrorists. This is not true, but it’s worth noting that all the fighters I met – in the provinces of Homs, Idlib, Hama, Deraa and the Damascus suburbs – were Sunni Muslims, and most were pious.
They fight for a multitude of reasons: for their friends, for their neighbourhoods, for their villages, for their province, for revenge, for self-defence, for dignity, for their brethren in other parts of the country who are also fighting. They do not read religious literature or listen to sermons. Their views on Islam are consistent with the general attitudes of Syrian Sunni society, which is conservative and religious.
While the resistance is becoming increasingly well-armed, some groups complain they don’t have enough weapons
Because there are many small groups in the armed opposition it is difficult to describe their ideology in general terms. The Salafi and Muslim Brotherhood ideologies are not important in Syria and do not play a significant role in the revolution. But most Syrian Sunnis taking part in the uprising are themselves devout. Many fighters were not religious before the uprising, but now pray and are inspired by Islam, which gives them a creed and a discourse. Many believe they will be martyred and go to paradise if they die. They are not fighting for Islam but they are inspired by it. Some drink alcohol, which is forbidden in Islam, and do not pray. And their brothers in arms do not force them to pray….
….”What is astounding here is that the countryside in northern Syria, much of it is in open revolt. This is a rebellion of farmers, of carpenters and of high school teachers,” said CNN correspondent Ivan Watson, reporting from the region.
“It does appear that villages and towns in northern Syria have been, basically, out of government control for several months now — except when government forces have tried to conduct deadly incursions into these towns that are temporary at best.”
In southwestern Syria, al-Assad’s forces reportedly stormed the village of Sahm al-Golan searching for military defectors who have joined the rebel army or local militias, according to a member of the opposition in the town who asked to be identified only as Abu Issam out of fear of government reprisal. Syrian forces shelled the town and used tanks when it began its assault Wednesday, forcing many residents to flee toward the Jordanian border, Abu Issam said early Thursday.
The Syrian army reportedly took control of Zabadani, in the Damascus countryside, where soldiers and tanks made a show of force along the streets, according to Mohamed Ali, a member of the opposition Syrian Revolution Coordination Committee…..
Meanwhile, Turkey and some Gulf Arab states are considering recognizing the Syrian National Council as the legitimate government of Syria. They had been cautious about taking this step in part because the SNC is a deeply divided, ad hoc body. But many feel that, given the Russian and Chinese vetos of a strong UN Security Council resolution, this step is the only unilateral one available to individual nations.
The speaker of the Iraqi parliament, Usamah Nujayfi of Mosul, warned a visiting delegation from the Organization of the Islamic Conference that foreign military intervention in Syria could easily split up the country. When a major Iraqi politician warns you about a civil war, I’d say it you should do yourself a favor and pay attention to him.
SNC Re-Elects Burhan Ghalioun as President
Press Release by the SNC
The Executive Committee of the Syrian National Council (SNC) met in Doha and discussed the latest developments, achievements, obstacles, and challenges facing the SNC. In accordance with its bylaws, the SNC Executive Committee re-elected Burhan Ghalioun as president until April 15, 2012.
The voting process of the SNC Executive Committee demonstrate a commitment to maintaining democratic principles and transparency, and to fulfilling its responsibilities to the very people who have put their trust in the SNC to lead the phase up to the brutal Assad regime’s ouster. This democratic process sends a clear message to the Syrian people that the SNC is honoring his most fundamental commitment.
… The SNC’s president will have a dedicated professional team to facilitate communications between the SNC’s Committees, Bureaus, activists on the ground, relief workers, and support for the Free Syrian Army.
Assassinat d’un “cheikh du pouvoir” à Damas
16 Février 2012 Par Thomas Pierret
Si rares sont les oulémas de Damas qui ont osé critiquer ouvertement la répression menée par le régime baasiste depuis mars 2011 (1), rares sont également ceux qui ont accepté de se prêter au jeu de la propagande officielle en dénonçant le soulèvement comme le fruit d’un complot étranger. Ces “oulémas du pouvoir” sont désormais encore moins nombreux après l’assassinat hier à Damas du cheikh Ahmad Sadiq, prêcheur de la mosquée Anas bin Malik. Sadiq est la seconde personnalité religieuse proche du régime à être assassinée depuis le début de la révolution, le Grand Mufti Ahmad Hassoun ayant déjà perdu son fils Sariya dans des circonstances similaires en octobre dernier. ….
The Syrian Conundrum
Expert Comment, Claire Spencer, Head, Middle East and North Africa Programme
As violence in Syria escalates following the failure of UN diplomacy, Dr Claire Spencer explores the dynamics of current international efforts to resolve the Syrian crisis.”The failure of UN diplomacy and the upsurge in violence in the Syrian city of Homs show just how different the dynamics of current international efforts to resolve the Syrian crisis are from the Libyan context of early 2011,” Dr Spencer writes.
The mass atrocities being committed daily in Syria will not cease without outside intervention. In comparison to the uprisings that have taken place elsewhere throughout the region, the revolution in Syria has been extraordinarily bloody. Meanwhile, a country that occupies a strategic crossroads in the Middle East could release an explosion that reverberates well beyond its borders. Assad’s brutal assault on civilians in Homs and elsewhere has galvanized those dedicated to ousting the regime, inflaming the conflict toward a critical juncture. The revolutions that brought a collective voice to the people of Tunisia and Libya must not be denied to the Syrian people. The international community must intervene in Syria not only to stop the bloodshed, but also because Assad’s continued rule could sway regional dynamics in a disastrous direction….
An old truism used to dominate U.S. policy in the Middle East: either serve U.S. interests by supporting corrupt leaders amenable to U.S. whims, or stay true to the ideals of supporting freedom and democracy for all peoples. The Arab Spring has made this binary irrelevant, and nowhere is this newfound compatibility of ideals and interests more evident than in Syria….
now is the time for the U.S. to help form a coalition of “friends of Syria,” whose support could come from members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, some Arab countries, Turkey, the European Union, the United Nation, and the United States. Such a coalition could lead the way to achieving the following goals: First, this international coalition must call on Assad to step down, while organizing the provision of humanitarian aid to besieged areas. As was done in Kosovo, safe zones liberated by the Free Syrian Army should be designated with proper enforcement. An additional option is to refer Assad to the International Criminal Court. Lastly, this coalition should recognize the Syrian National Council (SNC) as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. With a leadership that includes members of every ethnic and religious group in Syria, the SNC has emphasized transitional justice in a post-Assad Syria, ensuring that Alawites need not fear retribution….
Syrian Refugees Get Help Across the Border
Thousands of Syrians are fleeing across the border into Turkey from the intensifying violence in their own country. There, they fill refugee camps and hospitals while worrying about those left behind — and wondering if leaders in Ankara will take their support to the next level.
China Sending Envoy to Syria as It Steps up Diplomatic Effort
By: Ben Blanchard and Michael Martina | Reuters
China does not approve of armed intervention or regime change in Syria, a senior official said on Thursday before embarking on a trip to Syria as China’s first envoy there since it blocked a U.N. resolution calling for Syria’s president to step down….
Zhai, who will travel to Syria on Friday and Saturday, said China believed that “sanctions or the threat of sanctions are not conducive to the appropriate resolution of this issue”.
The Foreign Ministry did not give details of Zhai’s agenda or who he would meet. Last week, Zhai met a Syrian opposition delegation in Beijing.
The trip, a step up in China’s efforts to mediate the crisis, comes days after it warned that Western powers should tread carefully at the United Nations in dealing with Syria, or risk worsening violence…
The People’s Daily said the United States wanted to establish a friendly government in Syria to counter the influence of its “old enemy” in the region, Iran.
“Once Syria sets up a pro-Western regime, Iran will loose important backing,” it said.
Syrians Feel Caught in an External Power Struggle, Less Willing to Confront Their Own
By: Anonymous Contributor | The Christian Science Monitor
….Almost a year into the national rebellion, one that has turned increasingly bloody in most major Syrian communities, activism in Aleppo remains in a nascent stage. Government opponents have yet to win over much of the population, which includes an affluent business community that greatly values the stability that, in the last few years, had been a hallmark of Assad’s rule.
A pair of deadly car bombings here last week, which the government blamed on terrorists, unnerved many and reinforced Assad’s unvarying message: The opposition will plunge Syria into chaos, bloodshed and Iraq-style sectarian slaughter. ….
Foes of President Bashar Assad have yet to win over much of the population, which includes an affluent business community that puts a high value on stability…Almost a year into the national rebellion, one that has turned increasingly bloody in most major Syrian communities, activism in Aleppo remains in a nascent stage. Government opponents have yet to win over much of the population, which includes an affluent business community that greatly values the stability that, in the last few years, had been a hallmark of Assad’s rule.
A pair of deadly car bombings here last week, which the government blamed on terrorists, unnerved many and reinforced Assad’s unvarying message: The opposition will plunge Syria into chaos, bloodshed and Iraq-style sectarian slaughter.
Tribes and the monarchy in Jordan – Hassan A. Barari – Bitterlemons
Tribal politics is on the rise and the regime has lost the initiative.
… Due to the lack of credible political parties that can mobilize the public, protest movements are organized in Jordan along tribal lines, thereby further deepening tribalism as a feature of political behavior in the country. Now that tribes are alienated from the state, they feel more secure in displaying their tribal identity and affiliation. Paradoxically, identification with tribes is a weapon that has recently been deployed by all, and pays off. Even people accused of corruption have been resorting to their tribes for protection from the law. By and large, tribes protect individuals and the state backs down.
If anything, this outcome is the direct consequence of the state’s failure to reinforce national identity. The rise of tribalism in Jordan recently has been triggered by the weakness of the state. Unfortunately, successive governments have been incapable of imposing the rule of law because many people no longer trust state institutions. In all surveys that have been conducted by the Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan, the trust gap between the state and society is widening alarmingly. This is a dangerous trend, particularly against the backdrop of the “Arab spring” that has brought down four regimes so far.