Syria’s Opposition Divided. Demonstrations Have Different Goals

Steven Starr, a freelance reporter in Damascus and founder of the Near East Quarterly, makes a good point about the lack of any known leadership among the opposition and the diverse regional motivations for the demonstrations. The differing motivations and goals driving each of the protests suggest a lack of coordination. The government can restore control, this would suggest, if it doesn’t defeat itself by responding with too much force and if it listens to the people. This report suggests ongoing trouble: One Reported Shot Dead On Third Day Of Syrian Protest just as a delegation from Damascus arrived in the city to offer condolences for the four deaths the day before. Protesters demanding freedoms and an end to corruption set fire to the headquarters of the ruling Baath Party in the Syrian southern city of Deraa on Sunday.

Here is video of the demo

WALID AL MOUALEM is making friends with the Saudis… asserting that the movement of GCC troops into Bahrain is legal.

The second note, which is copied below in Arabic, is from a friend in Deraa whose entire family is there.  He explains how the demonstrations evolved as a protest to the 15 school children who were arrested for writing slogans that they had learned on al-Jazeera from the Egypt coverage.  He argues that the stupid actions of the governor and security exacerbated the situation, but that few want revolution and many fear disorder and chaos. All the same, he insists that no one wants the situation to return to what it was. Everyone wants change, but they want orderly change. The tribal customs of Deraa require protest for the arrests and particularly the killings, but, he suggests, the tribes also have concrete demands that can be fulfilled and negotiated. Their demands are not revolutionary, he insists. Khalid Oweis writes that revolutionary slogans have been a prominent part of the Deraa protests. He writes:

On Saturday, thousands of mourners called for “revolution” at the funeral of two of the protesters. Officials later met Deraa notables who presented then with a list of demands. It included the release of political prisoners, dismantling of secret police headquarters in Deraa, dismissal of the governor, public trial for those responsible for the killings and scrapping of regulations requiring permission from the secret police to sell and buy property.

Halabi writes: “Don’t you think that the people want freedom and end of corruption not fidya [blood] money?”

The demonstrations in Banyas were driven by a prominent family who was a client of Abdal Halim Khaddam, the ex-Vice President who went into opposition in 2005 and lives in Paris.

Another friend writes:

i believe that this is hard to stop and reverse. C… does not agree with me. i have been on the facebook page. there is no doubt that an Islamic current is underneath this whole movement. but they are clever. they have Egyptians advising them. but it is starting to draw none Islamists as well. i do stick to my original narrative that it is mostly about lots and lots of young hopless jobless men that see this as their Woodstock moment. corruption and rami is clearly a lightening rod. you see it in the comments. poverty breeds hatered towards the have from the have not. we are clearly entering this phase now. Khaddam’s site is also reinvigerated. they see their moment too. Tomorrow its the Kurdish new year day…the movement is pushing them to join too. i basically see this starting with islamists (hama hama), bringing the youth in the streets who see it as a chance to becomes heroes from zeros and now to bring in the kurds. my best friends in syria think damascus should hit very hard. i have been advocating the opposite. i am sure the same argument is going on at the palace itself.

Steven Starr writes:

There are talks of opposition but what opposition? The opposition I know of are at war with each other more than with anyone or anything else.

What happened in Damascus last Tuesday and Wednesday was and remains separate from what took place on Friday. The Tues. and Wed. events were instigated by HR people who have had long-time issues with the authorities. This was a ‘genuine’ rights issue.

What happened in the south and on the coast were also separate from each other (the south because of boys beaten up for writing graffiti complaining against rising prices, the coast because of the closure of an Islamic school). This was a ‘general concern of the people’ issue and will have much more legs and appeal than the former above.

It is being reported internationally as being one unified event, if I can say that, which is reductive and perhaps even dangerous.

Is there some sort of link in terms of a general unhappiness with the authorities? Probably. Does it justify wholescale change? Most probably not.

I think, though the daily situation is very difficult for many Syrians, (some) people need to be careful in what exactly it is they are calling for. They need to think through and understand what they want as much as they want to be understood themselves.

ما يحدث الآن في حوران هو ليس نتيجة آنية او قنبلة صوتية

بدأت الأحداث بسبب قسوة تعامل بعض القيادات الأمنية في محافظة درعا مع حادثة سببها طلاب مدراس خرجوا يقلدون في مسرحية صبيانية ما يشاهدونه في التلفاز من حركة ثورات فتم عتقالهم ومنهم طلاب من مدارس ابتدائية وإعدادية ولكن كل المناشدات لاطلاق سراحهم مع المسؤولين المحليين لم تجد نفعاً وذلك قبل وقت غير قصير قبل امس يوم الجمعة .

ويضاف لها الممارسات المستمرة من الفساد و التدقيق الشديد في محافظة درعا خاصة بعد أن ألقوا القبض على بعض الطلاب يكتبون ببخاخات الدهان

ماحدث يوم الجمعة هو رد فعل من من أشخاص مدنيين مختلفي الانتماءات من عائلات حوران المختلفة وبعض العائلات معروفة بتوجهاتها السياسة المختلفة من جوابرة وعياش وأبازيد والحريري … الخ

وبعض الفيديوهات المنشورة عبر شبكة الانترنت تبين الشعارات التي اطلقت يوم الجمعة لم تخرج عن إطارالمطالبة بإسقاط المحافظ وبعض مسؤولي بعض الأجهزة الامنية .-سميوا بالاسم عاطف نجيب -..والشعب يريد اصلاح النظام …..ويا حيف درعا(حوران) يا حيف شعبك واقف على الرصيف …. وحاميها حراميها وسموهم بالاسم ولم يردد احد بكلمة ضد الرئيس أو سوريا

هذا الشعب المدني لم يرد الا اطلاق سراح ابنائه وايقاف تعنت بعض المسؤولين المحليين

وأبناء حوران لم يريدوا الفوضى يوماً ونسبة شبابها المثقف العالي والمغترب دليل نجاح وأزمة بنفس الوقت

اما ما جرى بعد التظاهر جعل الأهالي يغضبون لمشاهدتهم أربع شهداء في ريعان الشباب …

رد فعل قاسية جداً وغير مدروسة من المؤسسات الأمنية والمحلية في درعا تدل على توتر وعدم معرفة بالأرض

الآن المظاهرات لن تبرد إلا بحقن الدماء والتدخل شخصياً من أعلى المستويات

لأن هذه الأحدات التي جرت بدرعا تختلف عن ما حدث في باقي المدن السورية فقد كانت احداثاً لا تقارب ما حدث في درعا من حيث الحجم والخطاب .

هذه الأحداث يحاول الجميع من الخارج امتطائها وتضخيمها وجعل حوران محرقة وكبش فداء لفوضى لن تجعل سوريا تربح سوى الفوضى ولا أحد يريد تدمير البلد والثورة ضد الحكومة ولكن لا احد يريد العودة لنظام يبقى الحال على ماهو عليه ويتجاهل صرخات عائلات ابناؤهم طلاب مدراس مسجونون

ولكن لا يجوز السكوت على ممارسات المحافظ والأجهزة الامنية في درعا وكله يعود للفساد وتفشيه

أبناء درعا أبناء حوران يريدون رد اعتبارهم والاصغاء لمطالبهم والوقت لم يفت

الوقت لم يفت وهذا يعني التحرك السريع لاستيعاب الأزمة واللجوء لأناس ذوي خبرة بالتعامل مع عائلات حوران وأبنائها وعاداتها

الموضوع لم يعد يتعلق بأرباح آنية أومطالب

الموضوع أصبح يتعلق بأبناء منطقة عريقة تستحق الاصغاء وتستحق احترام مصابهم

طه محمد …..

Alawis are changing their profile photos on Facebook to Bashar’s.

Syria to release children who sparked anti-government protests

Demonstrations erupted in the southern city of Deraa after 15 children were arrested for writing freedom slogans inspired by Egypt, Tunisia unrest.
By Reuters and Haaretz Service Tags: Israel news Syria

Syrian authorities said on Sunday they will release 15 children whose arrest helped fuel protests in the southern city of Deraa during which security forces killed four civilians.

An official statement said the children, who had written freedom slogans on the walls inspired by the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, will be released immediately.

Here is a good precise of the talks I recently gave in Maine and DC

Syria’s relationships key to Middle East peace
By Andrew Benore | Mar 19, 2011 (Photo by: Andrew Benore)

Joshua Landis discusses Syria at the monthly meeting of the Mid Coast Forum on Foreign Relations. … Joshua Landis said promoting peace between Syria and Israel is important for the United States if it wants to “preserve its broad interest in the Middle East and good relations with Arab allies…. “The democratic revolution now spreading across the Arab world is fraught with opportunity and danger for the U.S.,” Landis said. “If the U.S. does not solve the Arab-Israeli conflict it will increasingly be forced to choose between friendship with Israel and its longtime allies in the region.”

He said Turkey is a “bellwether for this trend.”….Golan is the key to Syria’s friends and enemies.

Friends of Syria include Iran and Russia, Hezbollah, the PLO and Hamas. “All of these are countries that are willing to arm it or help it in its struggle with Israel in an attempt to pressure Israel to give back the Golan,” Landis said.

Enemies of Syria in the Arab world are America’s allies, Landis said. They include Egypt, which signed the Camp David agreement. Landis said the recent uprising in Egypt was labeled “The end of the Camp David regime” in Syrian media.

Comments (249)

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201. Revlon said:

Day 9 of Syrian Peoples Revolution.

The people have lost 10 precious lives. May God bless their souls.

The regime has wasted as many opportunities to extend bridges of reconciliation with the legitimate majority, THE PEOPLE OF SYRIA

Chances of Asad and those whom he represent for being a part of a peaceful, transitional shift of power to an interim government have vanished.

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March 23rd, 2011, 2:10 am


202. Syrian Nationalist Party said:

“……..Is asking for the emergency law to be lifted sectarianism?
Is asking for release of prisoners of conscience sectarianism?
Is asking for the right to participate politically in shaping up the future of your country sectarianism?
Is demanding a crack down on corruption, nepotism and favoritism sectarianism?……”

Yes it is sectarianism when a bunch of religious Moslem extremists demand from a religious minority run secular government all that, not by negotiation and meeting hall, but by demos in the streets, cursing TV stations that will not broadcast their silly burning of building and rampage. All these dimwitted demonstrators are used by Mossad agents to harass Assad. It was a pilot project to see if they can really launch something that will cause a breakdown of Syria and finally D.Feith can achieve his goal of rolling Syria back and divided it into five sectarian states lets emirates perhaps, to add insult to injury.

Anyway, don’t feel bad for dummies Moslems, they were sold out and traded yesterday by Saudi Arabia in exchange for Syria agreeing to Saudi invasion of Bahrain, Western countries agreed as well. So here it is, IT DOES NOT WORK THAT WAY. It will only result in more fear and repression. It failed 5 times already.

You see, if the power to be that control these puppets were seriously interested in bringing changes to Syria, they would have sponsored and trained descent secular people that can appeal to the majority of Syrians. But that will bring up a strong Syria, they don’t want that. They want a weak Syria, one that will just give it all up, and kiss hands for anything it can keep. Just like the Egyptians and Tunisians doing now. Well, BASHAR OUT DID IT AGAIN. Thank you Mr. President.

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March 23rd, 2011, 2:29 am


203. NK said:

Now they added
قوات الأمن في درعا تمكنت من التصدي للعصابة المسلحة و قتلت عددا منهم و أصابت بعضهم و لاحقت الأخرين
The security forces in Daraa was able to fend off the armed gang, killed a number of them, injured some and chased off the rest.

I’m speechless, the sneaky gang slipped past the security forces surrounding the mosque so they can shoot the medics who were treating people inside the mosque, then fought the security forces on their way out and were able to run away … I’m pretty sure the next “breaking news” will be the Security forces discovering the gang was a group of Israeli commandos trained in the US. It’s Egyptian news all over again.

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March 23rd, 2011, 2:31 am


204. NK said:

Ok the last quote from state tv, I can’t take anymore of their “News”

العصابات المسلحة في درعا قامت بتخزين أسلحة و ذخيرة داخل الجامع العمري و استخدمت أطفالا اختطفتهم من عوائلهم كدروع بشرية
The armed gangs in Daraa stored weapons and ammunition inside the Omari mosque and they used children whom they kidnapped from their families as human shields.

I gotta say, this one takes the cake!

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March 23rd, 2011, 2:56 am


205. Majhool said:

thats the cover up for the killings earlier. anyways people are not stupid and the anger will grow bigger

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March 23rd, 2011, 3:34 am


206. Avi Salam said:

As evident on YouTube clips, the Daraa demonstrators on Monday were chanting: “No Iran, No Hizbullah, we need people who fear God”!!! No one said “No Muslim Brotherhood”!!!! And you still believe this is not a sectarian nation that is as artificial as toast bread!!!

Give me a break!! Don’t fool yourselves, at least. Admit that the Syrians are deeply sectarian. The southern part of Syria is heavily influenced by the Salafi movement (Daraa is only 5 miles away from the Jordanian border), and the north west is predominantly Alawite and Christian, they will never co-exist in one country.

The moment the Syrian regime falls a part, which will happen soon or later, the moment this artificial country will start cracking.

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March 23rd, 2011, 5:03 am


207. Shami said:

AVI SALAM ,Hezbollah has become a propaganda tool of Bashar,the moukhabarat have allowed Hezbollah and Iran a free hand in Syria in general an in Deraa in particular ,and what we see today ,is normal reaction from the syrian people ,Hezbollah is assimilated precisely to Iran and by extension to Bashar’s regime ,post Asad Syria will not support the dubious geostrategic goals of Iran that use an exagerrated anti-israeli propaganda against Israel as cover for political gains.
Like many alawite supporters of the regime,often you declare yourselves atheists and in the same time you diabolize the Syrian Islam and in the same time you magnify Shia theocrats.
This is the typical sectarian stance of the alawites who support the regime.
Btw ,the regime has been warned several times by the shouyoukh who are in peace with the regime to avoid to implement this iranian plan in Syria.
The reason that Syria will not be like Iraq and Lebanon is that we dont have this theocratical Shia-Orthodox Islam dualism.
The regime has tried to creat an explosive ingredient that doesnt exist in Syria.

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March 23rd, 2011, 5:30 am


208. Revlon said:

The insincerity of the regime’s apology and promise for punishing the perpetrators in intial Daraa killings has been confirmed beyond doubt by yesterdays killings.

Asad himself now, can not distance himself from direct responsibility for all murders.

The deceitful gesture was intended to buy time and to muster a plan and mass troops to take over the Omari mosque.

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March 23rd, 2011, 5:38 am


209. Syria1 said:

I am really shocked at the sectarian conversation that is unfolding here. Syria is not Iraq. We have coexisted for centuries (way before Assad) as one cohesive population. And lets be realistic, this is all about the economy. I am one of one hundred first cousins ranging in age from 25-54. 10 of us live outside of Syria and 4 work for a family member, 1 still works in the khaleeje. The rest are currently unemployed so that’s about 2 or 3 % employment for those inthe most productive times of their lives. This is the problem….there are no jobs and the divide between the rich and poor keeps getting deeper.

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March 23rd, 2011, 6:59 am


210. Revlon said:

Operation Islamic Fundamentalists Crackdown, Part II (Dar3a City)
Commander in charge: Asad Jr.
Stage: Dar3a City
Mission: Rid the nation of islamist fundamentalists
Target: people chanting Allah Syria Freedom
Rules of engagement:
Fire only if hiding or not witnessed
Arrest only if not witnessed
Helicopters are for now, for reconnaissance only
Manipulate information as in Part I (7ama City).

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March 23rd, 2011, 7:06 am


211. Akbar Palace said:

No Hope & Change

Syrian forces kill 6 in mosque attack: residents

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March 23rd, 2011, 7:37 am


212. Solitarius said:

It seems that anger is mounting. It’s impossible to predict to where things will go. One thing for sure though, the Syrian regime will not be an easy one to remove. It will be way more difficult and damaging than Qaddafi’s. I predict that they will use all the tools that they have to convince the nation and the regional players not to support a regime change. They have plenty of those tools. These will include increasing terrorist attacks in Iraq and possibly Lebanon and even some bombings inside Syria to scare the minorities. A more dramatic solution will work probably only if Iran deems necessary, and that would be to provoke a Hizbollah/Hamas-Israel confrontation. This will be an effective method to galvanize the people behind the leadership.. However even if this happens, and assuming it succeeds, it will only be temporary.. It’s true this is a very unlikely senario even though it makes pragmatic sense for Iran’s long term strategic interests. Even if Syria gets marginally involved in this confrontation, this will certainly unite Syrians again and massively hurt opposition attempts (Yet again, only temporary.. The winds of change have certainly arrived)

I might be jumping way ahead of the events but these might be important things to consider and to think how to deal with them. No Arab regime has resorted to these methods yet and they are Syria’s special toys. Let’s see what Friday has in store.

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March 23rd, 2011, 7:43 am


213. trustquest said:

I would like to read a comment from Norman, Jad, Alex and lastly Joshua Landis regarding the latest events. I would like to know if there is one guy on this forum believes the regime story. Nice to know what FP will say.
If there is on person left and still believe that this regime is necessary or vital to the region stability or believe this regime has one iota of sincerity to his people.

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March 23rd, 2011, 8:15 am


214. Shami said:

These so called seculars(Souri ,Avi Salam) and even self-proclaimed atheists ,(both respectable beliefs taken aside )appeared very extremist sectarians ,they seem furious that the muslims in Syria resisted to glorify the sectarian khomeinist theocrats and their tools that were given a free hand by Asad regime in Syria in general and Deraa in particular to build hussainiyat(lodge in which is remembered the tragedy of Kerbala with slandering of highly regarded figures by the syrian muslims, in regions in which there are no shia imami presence,this asad-iran theocracy attempt of exporting what is called rafidism is not for the sake of unity .One for the reason that a sectarian war can not happen in Syria ,is the non-existence in our country of a large messianic shia group that could compete against Syrian muslim population for the sake of the iranian theocracy.
And there is no proof that those were Salafis ,both traditional trends ,sufism and salafism oppose pro theocracy shia’ism .(as ideology)
Most of the syrian muslim brotherhood members and leaders are from the sufi trend and Salafi influence helped to rationalize sufism..
And Hama constitutes the Sufi capital of Bilad al sham.

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March 23rd, 2011, 9:12 am


215. Shami said:

Sorry ,it’s more correct to say ,Hama ,capital of Sufism in Bilad Al Sham.

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March 23rd, 2011, 9:24 am


216. Ghat Al Bird said:


Palestinians mourn in Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City, after Israeli tank fire struck a home March 22, 2011.

At least five Palestinians, INCLUDING 4 CHILDREN, have been killed and 20 wounded after an Israeli tank fired shots at a home in the Gaza Strip, medics reported.

Adham Abu Selmiya an emergency services spokesman said the deaths occurred when Israel “opened fire on young people who were playing football in Shejaiya on the eastern outskirts of Gaza City.”



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March 23rd, 2011, 10:00 am


217. Shami said:

You are right ,SYRIA1,the sectarian feeling was and remains marginal in Syria ,despite all these massacres.
The anti-regime alawite intelligensia in Syria is working hard against this paranoia that the regime tried to inculcalte in the alawite minds.

In order to make a fruitfull transition towards liberal democracy,the ultimate uprising must include a noteworthy alawite contribution.

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March 23rd, 2011, 10:05 am


218. Akbar Palace said:



Is there anything happening in the Arab world that is disgusting you? Let us know when you find something.

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March 23rd, 2011, 10:17 am


219. norman said:


I do not know what to think, I do not know if the government knows, Is this a local movement for local issues are there state wide issues, If we think that the Syrian are not Sectarian then what is the chanting against Hezbollah, Iran and non believers, are these coming from outside Syria as you say that Syrians again not sectarian, look what Shami just said it is the rejection for Shia Iran, what that has to do with emergency law and better life for the Syrian people, He is talking about the rift between the shia and Sunni, for god sake,these are Arabs and deserve to be treated equally and if they want to build in Daraa, why not we have mosques in the US,

I wonder if the war against the Shia crescent started from Jordon,
It might be the KSA is telling Syria and Iran to back off Bahrain .

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March 23rd, 2011, 10:31 am


220. atassi said:

Why the sudden escalation form the Gaza\ Israeli side!! Wrong timing !!..can anyone tell us why the restart now!! ? deflecting attentions maybe !! seven years nothing happened until the last two three days..

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March 23rd, 2011, 10:41 am


221. Ziad said:

If the Dar’aa protesters were sloganeering against Hizb, they must be paid agents of Syria’s enemies. And Syria has many rich and ruthless enemies, Israel/US/KSA/mini Hariri. Hizb is very popular in Syria. Syria’s support for Hizb has nothing to do with it being Shia. It also supports the Sunni Hamas. Hizb has been Syria’s strongest card in its weak position.

I also believe the official story of yesterday’s killings. All indications were that the government was trying hard to diffuse the situation. It met, negotiated, listened and responded to the demands, dismissed the governor, and released prisoners. They gave strict orders not to use live ammo. On the other hand, it is typical of revolutionaries to provoke the security forces, because it is in their interest to create more martyrs. The revolution feeds and grows on a large number of dead and injured. They will do anything even criminal to instigate them.

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March 23rd, 2011, 10:46 am


222. Ziad said:


It always disgusts us when someone is killed or insured. Are you reading these comments? On the other hand does it ever disgust you when Israel kills an innocent person?

You have used this theme repeatedly in your comments. Killings in the Arab world are committed by thugs and criminals, be it rulers, security forces, or sectarian fanatics. If you mean that Israel, as a state, is just one member of this group of thugs and criminals, then I am in agreement with you.

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March 23rd, 2011, 11:02 am


223. Jad said:

I was writing my opinion when I read your comment Trustquest:
Why did you pick me out of more than 15 commentators on SC?

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March 23rd, 2011, 11:13 am


224. Observer said:

It is clear that the use of the Republican guards in Deraa is an indication that the regime does not fully trust the local and general security forces. Also the use of excessive force and strong arm tactics clearly shows that the velvet appearance of the regime is only that velvet in name and iron fisted in reality.
I really deplore some of the comments that want to paint a picture of Wahabis acting in this setting it is the same discourse as the one espoused by the Green Leader in Tripoli and the despot in Sanaa and the kinglets in Doha and what have you. People are sick and tired of corruption nepotism parasitism and the state of securitocracy. Even the security services are paralyzed and not trustworthy as they are used to spy on each other and keep each other in check. That is why the Republican Guard were used in the South.
I do not think that when people shout Rami Harami they are being fundamentalists.

What I deplore most is that some on this post who live in democratic albeit imperfect societies are saying that Syria is not ready for democracy. These people have forgotten that Syrian women had the right to vote in 1945 in contrast to Switzerland which instituted the vote for women in 1975 and that a vigorous rule of law parliamentary system existed for many years before the current state of emergency was promulgated.

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March 23rd, 2011, 11:15 am


225. norman said:

Trustquest seems to think that we just repeat what the government mouthpieces say ,
Trustquist, for your info, we think before we blame the government or anybody else,

We all want what i think you want but not at any price,

Evolution not Revolution,

have a clear vision that does not include religion and you will see .

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March 23rd, 2011, 12:05 pm


226. SYRIA1 said:

The solution is clear – Lift Emergency Law! And then put into action a 5 or even 10 year plan towards a democratic/semicapitalist Syria. Based on the comments here and probably in most of our homes, Syrians don’t want to see bloodshed and destruction in our country and would prefer an orderly and controlled long-term transition.

“No Politics Please, We’re Syrian” – An Analysis of Events in Syria

One always finds it a much easier task to analyse and understand objectively that which is outside of their immediate environment. I have often wondered why I do not comment as much on Syria and the issues facing this country. Even as I ponder whether to pursue a Phd, I still find that my mind rebels against any attempt to study and examine my homeland further. The truth be told I can imagine nothing more boring to me than to write in-depth papers examining the historical or political development of modern day Syria. Perhaps it is a deeply inculcated fear of persecution, perhaps I have always been intrigued by the Other, the Different and the Outlandish. Regardless of the reason, I find myself driven lately to comment upon the events that are unfolding, especially in light of the wider series of revolutions that are shaking the Arab world to its very foundation. This is an important time we are living in and history, which seemed to forget Syria for decades, appears to be catching up with her finally.

There exists in Syria a dualism which is actually very important in order that we understand what is happening. The international and more widely known face of Syria is active in the byzantine diplomacy and intrigue of the Middle East. It is assertive, sovereign and confident. On the other hand, domestically, Syria is a nation of shopkeepers and merchants. Life in this sphere is different and slower. Rulers come and go, and the world with all its affairs is viewed with an almost childlike curiosity as part of a surreal drama that is unfolding. The big things that the people see on the television would never happen here in Syria, for we are far too sensible and boring for that. Conservative, unimaginative, and yet remarkably resilient and adaptable, the Syrian people move at precisely the pace that they desire. For the sake of simplicity, you can describe these two faces of Syria as the masculine and the feminine. Arguably, one could claim that Bashar al Assad, who inherited the rule of Syria from his father, Hafez, is the patriarchal figure who dominates the masculine aspect of Syria. He is respected, admired and feared like the father of any family.

What and Where?

The problem, of course, is that Syria is a modern nation state and a simplistic paternalist analogy was never going to succeed for long in obtaining the consent of the different groupings that make up society. That is precisely why today we are finding protests beginning to spread throughout the country. In Qamishli, to the North-East of the country, there has always been unrest amongst the Kurdish population living there. Recently, however, there have been protests in the Syrian coastal city of Baniyas as well as in Damascus and in Der’a, a town in the South near the border with Jordan. The motives for each of these events have been different and the groups themselves are disorganised and lack unity. In Der’aa the arrest of some school children who had written revolutionary slogans, slogans that they had been hearing on al Jazeera these past few months, on the walls led to widespread protests. This, in turn, provoked a clumsy and violent crackdown in which at least half a dozen people have already been killed.

In Baniyas the situation is more convoluted and has a more Sunni Muslim flavour to it. The grievances were, amongst other things, the closure of mixed-sex schools and, it is rumoured, the abolition of electricity bills. It is claimed that the centre of the unrest is a client family who had benefitted under the patronage of Abdul Halim Khaddam, a former vice president of Syria and a persona non grata now in exile in Paris or London. In Damascus, a small protest centred around the Ummayad Mosque was much more mercantile, and revolved around demands for greater freedoms and less corruption.

Who are the Key Players

Apart from the Syrian regime and those who benefit from it, there is also a key merchant class of about thirty families that dominate Syria’s economy and the names of which can be found involved with every major consortium and development project in the country. It is between these two parties that the ‘towering heights’ of the Syrian economy now rest. These two parties are not always in consent and there exists between them an uneasy compromise and understanding. For example, when Rami Makhlouf, president Assad’s cousin, once tried to seize the prime real estate that used to host the famous, and now long dead, Damascus Trade Fair, the merchant families were in uproar and petitioned the Assad. They too wished to be allowed to draw from the well. It is said that Assad intervened personally in the matter and did not allow Makhlouf to continue with his plans. It was deemed sufficient that he controlled vast swathes of Syrian enterprise elsewhere in the country. The merchants are an important element and were once a major thorn in the side of the late president Hafez al Assad when they called for strikes throughout the country during the seventies. It was only with the intervention of a nebulous and fascinating character, Badr al Din al Shallah, that catastrophe was averted for Assad’s rule. Today, Badr al Din al Shallah’s son, Rateb, is a key figure in the Syrian economic establishment albeit he is old and not playing as active a role.

The Muslim Brotherhood are scattered and with their base in London. After an ill-fated and quixotic revolt against the elder Assad’s rule during the eighties, they were ruthlessly eradicated from Syria and are by and large a spent force. Domestically they hold little credibility and are not trusted. Politically, I do not think they have ever wasted the opportunity to make a stupid political move. When Abdul Halim Khaddam escaped from Syria to Paris, they immediately joined forces with their former oppressor to form some democratic salvation front of some sorts to enact change in Syria. This farcical alliance quickly collapsed, discrediting them even more in the eyes of the Syrian people. Khaddam himself, along with fringe parties such as Farid Ghadry, operate on the furthest fringes of the Syrian political eco-system and I have never seen them as anything more than an eager ally of the Saudi-American alliance that wishes to co-opt within pax-Americana.

Also based in London is the elder Assad’s brother, Rifaat. This man was largely believed to be responsible for the Hama massacre in 1982 in which it is said that over 20,000 Syrians lost their lives. After being packed onto a plane out of Damascus he now lives in luxury in London, with properties throughout the world and a very good tax lawyer and accountant in Gibraltar who happens to be Jewish. His son, Ribal, recently wrote an article on al Jazeera English where he portrayed himself as some kind of voice for an opposition, which does not exist and that, in his mind perhaps, might want him and his father to return to Syria. They use the Arabic News Network (ANN) satellite channel as a platform to attack the Syrian regime constantly.

These are the key players who dominate the Syrian political arena, and by dominate I use the term extremely loosely when it comes to Khaddam, Rif’at al Assad, the Muslim Brotherhood and other players who are not the Syrian regime and the Syrian merchant class. What is striking about the protests that are emerging in Syria today is that none of these key players has any influence over the protestors. It seems, to the best of my knowledge, that the Syrian people are fed up with their lack of basic freedoms, lack of opportunities, and that their country is a cash machine for people like Rami Makhlouf; two mobile phone buildings owned by him were burned down during the protests in Dar’aa.

Syria: Where to from here?
Well the Syrian regime is caught between a rock and a hard place at the moment. Contrary to popular belief, the “Hama-option” was not something that the regime had simply applied. There was a steady increase in pressure and violence over a number of years that eventually lead to the explosive and murderous conclusion of the “events” or ahdath. So we are unlikely today to see a massive demolition of the town of Der’aa using the Republican Guard. Such a reality is even less of a possibility today, in an age of twitter, mobile phones and the internet. Hama in 1982 was possible through a complete and utter media blackout. Such a blackout today would not be possible and such an act would be political suicide. So there is no point in being sensationalist or alarmist about it. Finally, the regime is today too enmeshed with the people. There is an almost, dare I say, legitimacy, that the regime enjoys as far too many average people are interlinked with it through marriage, business, employment et al. There is a certain “we are all in it together” attitude that has survived from the 2005 crisis that Syria experienced with the West. The vestiges of this alliance exist still.

The absence of a Hama-option does not rule out the possibility that the regime will continue to be clumsy and stupid in its handling of the protestors. Already five people have been shot dead with live ammunition and an 11 year old girl died from teargas inhalation on Mother’s Day. Hundreds of people have been arrested or injured. All of this can snowball enormously, as we saw in other Arab countries. Somehow, Arab rulers still think they can terrify the people if they shoot and arrest enough of them. What they do not understand is that such stupidity, far from guaranteeing their future, in the end only seals their fate.

If Syria is to survive then the Syrian government will have to consider what were once unthinkable and forbidden options. These include the abolition of the state of emergency which has been in place for decades, but also the creation of a fair and transparent judiciary and the fostering of an atmosphere that will allow a new generation of Syrian thinkers and politicans to emerge and to hopefully fulfill the role of a credible and legitimate opposition. There are other, even more terrifying options that those who rule must consider, but these do not need to be terrifying, nor do they need to be uncivilised. For Syria is not Iraq, where most of its rulers in the twentieth century have been murdered. There is a space in Syria’s political arena, and a historical precedent, for experienced political leaders that have shared the burden of rule to advise and criticise in Syrian politics. This can all be done without infringing on the country’s vital security commitments and alliances. Finally, the deep unease that many Syrians today feel about the protests is understandable. For the first time in their lives, history is asking the Syrian shopkeeper and merchant to play a part in it and to make a decision on how they wish to live their lives. This is at once a terrifying and hopeful time but there is also no going back… .

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March 23rd, 2011, 12:14 pm


227. trustquest said:

With all due respect Norman, I on my side noticed that the religious Syrian individual, who could be just practitioner of religious duty,is tend to have sensitivity towards the issue of Shia Sunni and the expansion of the Shia in Syria. It is only two days ago when one guy mentioned to me how one guy because he is Shia, he is standing to the side of government. There is a build up of grievances, economic, religious, social and judicial issue along these years, did not find a way to be solved or eased through dialogue and free expressions. What the regime has done today and in the Mosque is going to resonate across the land and what SANA has done in lying out loud claiming that the killing was by outsiders, and showing the typical lie of guns and money in the picture, but they are not going to fool the masses.

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March 23rd, 2011, 12:21 pm


228. NK said:


You should check SNPs comments #178 #188 and #193
Clearly not every “secular” regime supporter on this blog shares your view.

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March 23rd, 2011, 12:22 pm


229. SOURI said:

It is day 6, and there is no revolution in Syria anymore.

The head of the revolution exposed:

The Syrian regime managed this situation well. It was basically the same as Qaddafi’s approach but they avoided Qaddafi’s stupid and fatal mistakes; they did not use too much violence and they did not refuse to listen to people’s demands.

This is also similar to the way Assad sr. dealt with the Ikhwan. Assad never went to a full-scale war against the Ikhwan until he was sure that the public opinion was on his side.

Now even though the Wahhabi revolution has failed, I don’t think Syria will go back to exactly how it was before the revolution. There are going to be some changes, and we already know most of them because they have been declared before.

I just hope that the Syrian regime allows more freedom for religious debate. People in Syria must have the freedom to publicly criticize Wahhabism and Ikhwanism.

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March 23rd, 2011, 12:39 pm


230. atassi said:

رويترز: قوات الأمن السورية تطلق النار على مئات الشبان كانوا بطريقهم لمدينة درعا
what are the Syrian regime doing !!! I guess, ASSAD and his security heads will be on the international most wanted LIST !!

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March 23rd, 2011, 12:47 pm


231. Akbar Palace said:


It always disgusts us when someone is killed or insured.


Thanks. I would hope so. However, I was writing specifically to Ghat. Ghat doesn’t “dialogue” very well and just copies and pastes anti-Israel or anti-Jewish articles.

Please show me something in the Arab world that has “disgusted” Ghat. From what I have read, there is nothing in the Arab world that disgusts him.

Are you reading these comments?

Yes I am reading most comments. The discussion, of course, is mainly centered around the demonstrations occurring around the arab world, specifically those occurring in Syria. From my vantage point, the comments range a great deal between “moderate concern” where no side is really guilty of anything to downright anger at the government. No one is suggesting that Asad be brought to justice, tried, jailed, or killed, just that he should allow freedoms.

Moreover, no one is “disgusted” at Asad, and many are apologetic and suggest he is caught between a “rock and a hard place” or that he is constrained.


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March 23rd, 2011, 12:49 pm


232. jad said:

Trustquest, I’m still waiting your explanation.

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March 23rd, 2011, 1:00 pm


233. atassi said:

EU) EU/SYRIA: EU urges Syria to end repression and listen to people
23 March 2011
Agence Europe

Brussels, 22/03/2011 (Agence Europe) – The EU has strongly condemned the “violent repression” of peaceful protests against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in several towns in Syria over the last few days which have resulted in the deaths of several demonstrators. “The EU calls on the Syrian authorities to refrain from using violence and to listen to the legitimate aspirations of the people and address them through inclusive political dialogue and genuine reforms and not through repression”, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton says in a statement published on 22 March. Those responsible for the repression must be held accountable, she states. The EU also calls on Syria to respect its international commitments to human rights and fundamental freedoms.

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March 23rd, 2011, 1:03 pm


234. fhmetkom said:

those who have been crying over Tunisia , Egypt, Libya , Yemen, Bahrain, JUST ONE TEAR FOR SYRIANS
Just admit that Bashar is like his father , A maniac
he is dragging the country into hell

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March 23rd, 2011, 1:08 pm


235. majedkhaldoon said:

What happened in Deraa has to be understood by the brutal and murderous mentality of Maher Assad and Asef Shawkat.
The regime in Syria will not dare use the army to fight the people,as they saw what happened in Libya.
The Regime has only one choice ,this is to use the security forces to quell the revolution,we have to wait and see how the people will react,they are angry,they have only one choice,if they want dignity and freedom.
When the regime use weapons to subdue people,the people must carry arms and defend themselves.
If the people have arms,this will guarrantee will be all out war.this the only language the regime understands.

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March 23rd, 2011, 1:17 pm


236. aatssi said:

The regime of Bashar Assad Real News .. a completely opposite to the one we seen in the Vogue !!

12 killed in Syria clashes
23 March 2011
Damascus, March 23 —
Damascus, March 23 Twelve people were killed Wednesday in clashes between security forces and protesters in Syria’s southern town of Daraa, Xinhua reported.
Clashes erupted after security forces stormed the al-Omari Mosque in Daraa, 100 km south of Damascus. No further details were immediately available.
Earlier, protests for political reforms had erupted near the mosque Friday.Published by HT Syndication with permission from MyNews Interactive Media.

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March 23rd, 2011, 1:27 pm


237. Ziadsoury said:


You are in complete denial. As we speak, fellow Syrians are being massacred in Daraa. People from nearby villages are coming to help the people. Reports say at least 9 more innocent civilians have been killed.

Norman/ Alex and the rest of pro bath and bashar
Any condemnations of these acts of terror and massacres by the gentle Bashar? I forgot. It is not his fault. It is the people around him and he is powerless to do anything about it.

The revolution flame is spreading from one side and the freedom Tsunami is coming from the other side.

It is a shame that our rose in the desert is not speaking about democracy for all Syrians right now.

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March 23rd, 2011, 1:31 pm


238. jad said:

What a peaceful call! is this the way you are planning for Syria, having arms and let people fight?
What’s wrong with you?
One is calling for splitting Syrian into 5, the other is insisting of the Wahabis, third is spewing sectarian language, you are calling for arming revolution, and one is going around separating us into categories…it’s sad…and I’m sorry for you guys.

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March 23rd, 2011, 1:43 pm


239. Akbar Palace said:

Norman/ Alex and the rest of pro bath and bashar
Any condemnations of these acts of terror and massacres by the gentle Bashar? I forgot. It is not his fault. It is the people around him and he is powerless to do anything about it.


Good questions. Let us now listen to either:

1.) The “disgust” or

2.) The hand-wringing.

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March 23rd, 2011, 1:56 pm


240. NK said:


I understand you’re angry, most of us are. However you have to think long an hard about what you’ve just said.
The regime is itching for people to bear arms so he can demonize them and justify any and all actions against them, instead of following the Libyan path, we should do all we can to make sure we go the route of Egypt and Tunisia.
Syrians have died in the past few days because they dared call for their freedom peacefully, let’s honor their legacy by following their footsteps in peaceful demonstrations.

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March 23rd, 2011, 2:30 pm


241. Yossi said:

Hi Jad,

I think you have to realize that some of your buddies living in the US have been tuning into Libertarian/anarchist concepts of individual self-government. There is nothing warlike in having your own weapons to *defend* yourself, and there is nothing wrong with people wanting to have their own local governments. The only legitimate government is the one that is by consent, and when you have to govern fewer people, it’s easier to get their consent. Larger countries are by definition more oppressive. Just think what your current government in your current place of residence does in your name and whether you agree with it, and what influence you have over what it does in your name.

Wouldn’t it be beautiful if the Arab revolts ended up demonstrating to the world that not only don’t you need corrupt and oppressive governments, but that you don’t need governments *at all*? That would be the new Arab Golden Age. In a way the heritage of fiercely-independent tribes and city-states lays the ground nicely for such a development. The only thing remaining is to make tribes less oppressive in their internal dealings (especially with respect to women).

The Real Meaning of “Defense”

by Jeffrey A. Tucker

“…consider the reality of national defense and how it is used. These military states are invariably erected in the name of protecting the citizens. But how are they actually used? The case of Libya is an illustrative one. In the weeks following the peaceful protests that rose up against Gaddafi’s rule, he began the slaughter. Planes and tanks from his own militia mowed down citizens who demanded his ouster. His planes machine-gunned mourners at funerals, people running for safety, or just anyone who happened to be standing around at the time. The hospitals ran out of beds and medicine. The number of dead is unknown but it is in the many thousands. Meanwhile, Gaddafi himself has said that he will stop at nothing to keep his power.

To him, it is a simple matter. Government rules. The people obey. Just because some sizable swath tries to overturn that system doesn’t mean that the system must be upended. Isn’t that the philosophy of all government in all times and all places? If it were not, the state would not need coercion, and it would not be a state. It would be a part of society, just another association the cumulates and represents the interests of a group, like the Rotary Club, chess club, or a house of worship. It is the power to legally beat, jail, and kill dissidents that makes the state what it is.

The guns and munitions that have long been accumulated under the claim that these were necessary to protect people — of course the people themselves were long ago disarmed by being denied the freedom to possess weapons of equal or greater power — every government will turn those very weapons on its people to slaughter them when they cease to obey.”

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March 23rd, 2011, 2:44 pm


242. Ghat Al Bird said:


Any condemnations of these acts of terror and massacres by the gentlest of gentle Israelis? It is not his fault. It is the people around him and his agents in the USA that force his gentle soul to do these acts as part of the “peace process” and quite frankly he is powerless to do anything about it.

“Everybody has to move, run and grab as many (Palestinian) hilltops as they can to enlarge the (Jewish) settlements because everything we take now will stay ours…Everything we don’t grab will go to them.” — Ariel Sharon, Israeli
Foreign Minister, addressing a meeting of the Tsomet Party, Agence France
Presse, Nov. 15, 1998. 

Did someone recently ( March 2011 ) admit that “settlement” construction will continue and never stop and that they need an additional $20 billion dollars from the docile American taxpayer to defend themselves while “wringing” their hands from their neighbors, north, south, and east of them?

No debate as to whom is disgusting and doubledealing.

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March 23rd, 2011, 2:50 pm


243. Umar said:

Those clowns defending the Syrian regime forget that this regime has colloborated with the West and the Americans as Hafez al-Asad did in Gulf War I and Syria’s Shi’ite allies did in Gulf War II and don’t bring up other “Sunni” regimes, as they are opposed by many Sunnis.

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March 23rd, 2011, 3:03 pm


244. trustquest said:

Jad, I did not sum up group of people as having same voice, I felt always that we have hear on this forum a spectrum of ideas from the regime supporters, also there are independent voices and oppositions supporters, and I thought to read their views on what happened today, the killing of innocent people and the trick played by the authority to go condole them, promise them justice will take place and then stab them in back at dawn. Today was new day in Syria, one guy said before dyeing: I’m glad I’m going to die after wonderful 4 days of freedom, now I can say ( Ashahad an ….) ,it was painful last night go to sleep and witnessing the events, even today the scream the killing in the streets ….and shouting of the women…too much to handel…
I wanted to know how really we feel about each other…are we humans of the same values or..

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March 23rd, 2011, 3:15 pm


245. Ziadsoury said:


This is the first and last time I will reply to you.
First you are whit noise as far as I am concerned. I am replying because you quoted me. Israel is the only country in the world that get away with war crimes and ethnic cleansing. All of your leaders and their thugs have blood on your hand. Our rulers are just learning from yours.

Before you look outward and criticize you need to look inward. If

We the Arabs are cleaning our mess. What are you doing about yours?

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March 23rd, 2011, 4:03 pm


246. trustquest said:

استشهاد شاب من داعل والتشييع ينقلب الى مظاهرة وحرق لمقر حزب البعث هناك
During the funeral of young martyr in Daraa, his funeral changed to anger protest and protesters burnt the Baath Party center in the city of Daael.

وتحت ضرب الرصاص الحي شاب يقول:
حدا بيقتل شعبه؟ أنتوا اخوتنا..انتوا اخوتنا
Under fire from government forces, young guy shouted: how you kill your people…you are our brothers you are our brothers

A lot of Syrians will wonder from now on if we have government and leaders from our skin….not only they are absolute as everyone know the dinosaur theory but also traitors to their words and to the oath of allegiance
Thank you AP for the question it is also on my minds..

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March 23rd, 2011, 4:31 pm


247. atassi said:

They are looking after a trusted Muslim human being who fears God and willing to protect them from the killers !! They meant a SYRIAIN ruler that disallows the killing of his own unarmed civilian because of his fear of God , and It has nothing to do with the long gone MB…

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March 23rd, 2011, 4:40 pm


248. Avi Salam said:

It was the farce of the century to read your joke of accusing an atheist of being sectarian!!! Let me educate you, again, sectarianism is your bigotry to other people simply because they do not share the belief of your sect, that simple, get it?

As an atheist, I believe ALL sects and religions are illogical and neurotic at best!! However, some religions are humanitarian and civil, unlike your current interpretations of Islam. You were so blind and bigoted to the point you did not even read my repeated comment of not excluding ANY Islamic sects!! All Islamic sects are uncivil and in-humanitarian. I do not want to repeat my self, so go back and read my advice to your fellow sectarian REVLON.

Judaism has evolved over time, so did Christianity, yet your criminal followers of current interpretations of Islam refuse to evolve it!!!

The worst is yet to come to Muslims, just wait and see. Soon, Islam will be declared as unconstitutional and illegal in Europe and US, and it wont be so long until the same happens in India and China. I would pay money to see the look on your sectarian face at that moment.

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March 26th, 2011, 12:18 am


249. Arabian Freedom » Blog Archive » Syria protests said:

[…] Next, Josh Landis on Syria Comment: Syria’s Opposition Divided. Demonstrations Have Different Goals […]

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April 21st, 2011, 10:50 pm


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