Posted by Joshua on Monday, April 16th, 2012
Qatar’s Emir has attacked the UN as immoral for its stand on Syria. The UN’s efforts in Syria, led by Kofi Annan, have “no more than a 3 percent” chance to succeed, the emir said at a press conference in Rome today.
Meanwhile U.N. Truce observers arrive in Syria as shelling continues. The contingent is expected to grow to 250 after further negotiations with Syria. Reports suggested that the cease-fire, which went into effect on Thursday, was holding in places, with notable exceptions. Youtube reports from Homs show buildings being bombarded. Government sources have claimed violations by opposition members. Government forces have been striking out at Khirbet al-Jouz in the north.
The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, a force within the Syrian National Council, the main umbrella group for the opposition, issued a statement saying the Annan plan should not be open-ended but rather require a timetable for the political transition it envisions. “We stress that continuing to carry out Annan’s plan without a time limit while the other side maintains its killing and violations will be a means of mocking the lives of the Syrian people,” it said.
At least 17 people were killedacross Syria by midday Monday, according to the Local Coordination Committees. Reported death tolls since Thursday, however, have been lower than those before the deadline. Since April 1, opposition groups have reported more than 50 deaths a day; on four days, they said the death toll was more than 100.
By contrast, the Local Coordination Committees reported at least 37 deaths Thursday, at least 13 on Friday, 30 on Saturday and 28 on Sunday.
How high are the chances that Kofi Annan’s plan will be met? Will Annan’s peace efforts lead to any diplomatic solution? If there is regime change in Syria, who will fill the power vacuum? How fragmented is the Syrian opposition, and will the death toll go up if there’s outside military intervention?
CrossTalking with Diana Johnstone, Joshua Landis and Josef Olmert. is the most important article
News Round Up
Peter Harling’s newest report – Syria’s Phase of Radicalisation – is superb as always.
He agrees in broad outline with my assessment of Syria’s opposition that I set out last month in my report: Upheaval within the Opposition: Defections, Terrorism, and Preparing for a Phase II Insurgency. He believes Syria is headed for a new “phase of radicalisation,” which is based on the need to develop a new and more violent insurgency to take on the Syrian Army. The Syrian army has become an “occupation force.” Islamiszation, terrorism, and growing hatred will be hallmarks of this new phase.
He fleshes out new trends, in particular, the growing worship of Mahar al-Assad among some regime supporters. The violence is creating a new cult of barbarity and war.
I cannot help but turn back to Khudr’s famous warning that the Alawis would assume fascist characteristics not unlike those of the Germans and Japanese who supported their leaders blindly in WWII. He wrote the following in his article, “The Alawi Dilemma” for Syria Comment almost a year ago in June 2011.
….Baathism, amplified the prejudices of Arab nationalists against local, religious, and cultural peculiarities to an absurd degree. It would have been suicidal during the late president’s rule to establish any sort of gathering or group of Alawis under any cultural, social or religious banner. We couldn’t even mention the name of our communities openly. We lived in a stifling world of taboos and social conformism.
The only meeting ground or assembly point for Alawis, where we didn’t have to pretend that we were something we weren’t, was deep in the inner sanctums of the security state. We found ourselves in the clubby security of the secret services, the Republican Guard, the army officer academies, and the worker and agricultural syndicates in the coastal area. These were all regime sanctioned and established institutions that linked our identity to the security state and Assad rule.
This is where Karfan comes from when he states that we have been systematically deprived of any attachment to our religious, cultural and social identity under Hafiz rule. Thus, you can see where his claim comes from: “We were turned into identity-less supporters of “Asad’s” rule… meaningless tribes ranked by how much we support “him”.”
The full ramifications of this fact were not visible or even felt among Alawis until the current crisis challenged us with the notion of radical change. Alawis are subconsciously realizing that being an Alawi means nothing outside of Asad family rule. We haven’t much history – at least not that we have documented. We have been too busy pretending that we are no different from Muslims to build our common identity. We suffer from a devastating lack of institutionalized cultural or social institutions and marker apart from those connected to the Assad regime. We don’t even know much about our religion to grasp on to. Alawis have defined themselves over the past 40 years as the rulers of Syria, and not much else.
You can then understand why almost all Alawis, even those who had shown fierce opposition toward the Assad regime, are turning into “Basharists” now that the entire edifice is under attack. A subconscious fear of losing our identity supplied by Assad rule and the security state is consuming us and taking precedence over rational thought.
Again, this is not something new. We saw it in Germany or Japan during WWII. Two very civilized populations turned into blind followers of a crazy elite that committed atrocities and led their nations to destruction. In both cases, the very identity of the nation was linked to the person of the leader, Hitler and Showa. To defend the leader in the minds of the people was nothing less than to defend their own identity.
We should be careful not to compare too closely the situation in Syria to that of Iraq under Saddam Hussein. His Sunni followers certainly identified with Saddam and his rule, but they had a confident Sunni identity to fall back on. The Sunnis have long fashioned themselves as the natural leaders of the Arabs and Islam. They can point to uninterrupted dominance in countries stretching from Morocco to Saudi Arabia. They have an illustrious history and established religion. They did not need to fight to the last breath to protect their heritage and they did not.
Alawis today believe that they are under attack – not because anyone is actually attacking them as a group of people or community; they are not. Rather, they feel under attack because the regime is threatened and may fall. This is tantamount – at least subconsciously – to their identity being shattered. Similar to those German and Japanese who wasted their lives fighting a lost battle street-by-street, the Alawis will fight to the end. It is hard to convince someone fighting for such high stakes to abandon their cause….
Syria’s Phase of Radicalisation
By Peter Harling, Middle East Briefing N°33 10 Apr 2012
International Crisis Group
As the 10 April deadline Kofi Annan (the UN and Arab League joint Special Envoy) set for implementation of his peace plan strikes, the conflict’s dynamics have taken an ugly and worrying turn. Syrians from all walks of life appear dumbfounded by the horrific levels of violence and hatred generated by the crisis. Regime forces have subjected entire neighbourhoods to intense bombardment, purportedly to crush armed opposition groups yet with no regard for civilians. Within the largest cities, innocent lives have been lost due to massive bomb attacks in the vicinity of key security installations. Perhaps most sickening of all have been pictures displaying the massacre of whole families, including the shattered skulls of young children. The first anniversary of what began as a predominantly peaceful protest movement came and went with only scattered popular demonstrations. Instead, there was immeasurable bloodshed….
WILL SYRIA’S SECTARIAN DIVISIONS SPILL OVER INTO TURKEY?
By Soner Cagaptay, WINEP
It seems a real possibility that the prospect of domestic sectarian unrest could tie Turkey’s hands in devising a policy toward Syria. That said, it’s a problem Ankara could still avoid. The key would be for Turkey to alleviate any concerns that its approach to Syria is meant to serve narrow sectarian interests. …..
…should Ankara intervene in Syria against the Assad regime, some in the Turkish Alevi community might be inclined to view this as a new “Sunni attack” against a fellow minority. That likelihood is further bolstered by many Turkish Alevis’ belief that they actually are the same as the Alawites, though they are not ethnically or religiously related (the Alawites are Arabs and the Alevis are Turks). It is not uncommon to meet Alevis who, due to a lack of religious education, assume that Alawite is just another name for Alevi….
Patrick Seale on Syria: in Guardian
Another way to help is through negotiation with Iran over its nuclear program and that must include Iraq with its new dictator Almaliki who is seen by most as an Iranian puppet. A solution in Syria requires a regional approach,the the GCC will follow as usual.
Why Religion is Fueling the Conflict in Syria: President Assad’s Religion Problem – Listen – NPR Interfaith Voices with Joshua Landis – Date: 29 March 2012
In Syria, Alawite Muslims are kind of like the Mormons of Christianity: they’re a branch of Islam, but many Muslims, especially the Sunni majority, don’t consider them legitimate. That’s always been a problem for Alawite president Bashar al-Assad. Now that more than 9,000 are dead in a revolt against the Assad regime, we explore why theological differences are playing a huge role.
For this experiment, I utilized DiscoverText – the commercial text analytics solution from Texifter – to capture nearly three months of Tweets containing the word “روسية” (“Russian” in Arabic). I then created a topic model (using natural language processing) to classify the content of those tweets according to their relevance to the Syrian uprisings as well as the presence of Islamist rhetoric. The following classification charts demonstrate how these trends have shifted between February and April on Twitter…..
حلب – سيف الدولة || هتافات الاحرار إيد وحده 12-4-2012
Syrian National Council leader Burhan Ghalioun pushed for intensified Friday protests to “demonstrate even more and put the regime in front of its responsibilities — put the international community in front of its responsibilities.”
Zbigniew Brzezinski: “Whatever Turks&Saudis would like to do re Syria, US should support. Period. Just like supported French&Brits in Libya”
A friend writes:
When I read people commenting on your blog about foreign agents providing weapons and training to the rebels, I can’t help but wonder if these people know anything about what is going on in Syria. A week ago ( before the major assault on the northern countryside of Aleppo began ) members of the so called Free Syria Army came to our village and offered people double the normal price for whatever guns or bullets people had. They were carrying no more than old rusty Klashnikoves. The question is if they were really receiving weapons would they roam the area looking for bullets!
Danger Saudi Will Turn Syria into an Islamist Hotbed, Thursday, April 12, 2012, CS Monitor
A steady stream of firebrand Islamic clerics and senior religious officials took to the airwaves with official Saudi sanction to excoriate the Assad regime and encourage pious Muslims to strive against it. The influence of these clerics and the increasing connection between them and fighters in Syria is evidenced by communiqués from armed groups like the “Supporters of God Brigade” in Hama.
The Saudi decision to endorse such religious statements is a sign that the rulers are once again willing to embrace one of the most potent weapons in the kingdom’s arsenal – state-directed jihad. It is one of the most tried and true weapons the kingdom possesses, having been utilized to fight Egyptian President Gama Abdel Nasser’s pan-Arab movement in Yemen, the Serbs in Bosnia, and of course the Soviets in Afghanistan, to name just a few cases.
Kofi Annan has been trying to do more than just produce a ceasefire. He has been attempting a diplomatic solution to the growing civil war in the country. He has called his a “peace plan” and bent his efforts – and they are considerable – to try …This is not a fight about democracy in which the ruling regime could, like the generals in Burma or the king in Morocco, give a little in order to preserve themselves in power. This is, like other movements in the Arab world, a revolt against the whole nexus of corruption and internal suppression which keeps the Assad family in wealth as well as power.
Give in with even minor concessions, the regime fears, and the whole edifice will start to crumble as ethnic, religious and regional differences surface. No one need believe for a moment Damascus’s claims that it still has the support of most of the population. But it can, and does, play to fear – fear both of the brutality of the security services and fear of the chaos which civil war and religious conflict might bring.
The adoption of a ceasefire represents not so much a desire for any of the parties directly concerned to stop fighting, so much as a sense of exhausted stalemate.
The authorities have managed to use their heavier weaponry to reduce to ruins the places of resistance. But they have not been able to crush all signs of opposition. Their opponents have failed to set up viable independent centres of power, as the Libyan rebels did in Benghazi, but they have survived the bombardments to fight on. Assad’s hope at this point is that, by stopping the bombardments but keeping his troops in position, he can get the world off his back and starve the rebels into giving up or fading away.
The opposition’s hope is that they can use the period of calm to recuperate, re-supply and bring out their supporters on to the streets in peaceful protest. That is what will achieve their purpose, if anything can. Assad has the upper hand militarily but, if the ceasefire is followed by a resumption of mass and peaceful protest demanding his resignation, what can he do but return to suppression in front of the cameras?
A bit of bad judgement:
This is the house of Syria’s Finance Minister. He built it before becoming minister and from money earned in the Gulf.
THE ROVING EYE
What’s goin’ on at the Turkish-Syrian border?
By Pepe Escobar, Apr 12, 2012, Asia Times
There is a video  that could be loosely translated as “Terrorist Turkish border opening fire on the Syrian side” that pretty accurately sums up what’s going on at the ultra-volatile geopolitical hotspot of the moment.
The voice over says, “This is the Syria-Turkey border, and this is an operation of the Free Syrian Army [FSA] … The Gate [that would be the Syrian side of the border, housing the Gate checkpoint] is going to be seized.”
What this means is that Turkey is sheltering the FSA right on the border, only a few meters – and not kilometers – away from Syrian territory. Way beyond hosting a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) command and control center in Iskenderun
for months now – a fact already reported by Asia Times Online – Turkey has now advanced right to the border, enabling a back-and-forth by heavily weaponized guerrillas/mercenaries to attack a sovereign state.
Imagine a similar scenario happening, say, at a Mexican-US border in Arizona or Texas.
This can be seen as a very peculiar Ankara interpretation of “safe havens” and “humanitarian corridors” as outlined by what can be seen as the prime blueprint for regime change in Syria: a report  by the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution, authored by the usual cocktail of Israeli firsters and Qatar-affiliated Middle East “experts”.
So expect to see this movie generating countless sequels; the FSA attacking a Syrian border checkpoint, killing soldiers and then retreating under a hail of bullets, which will inevitably hit a nearby Syrian refugee camp.
The border escalation graphically illustrates the wider scenario: civil war.