The Economist on Syria

FROM THE ECONOMIST INTELLIGENCE UNIT
25 Sep 2007 (T12:19), COUNTRY VIEW

OVERVIEW:  The president, Bashar al-Assad, is expected to remain in power in 2008-09. However, he will continue to rely on the strength and ruthlessness of the loyal security services, which will keep opposition forces weak and  ineffective. Mr Assad has devoted considerable effort to ending Syria's political isolation, but with only limited  returns. Numerous issues of contention remain in Syria's relations with the EU, the US and the leading Arab  states.  Economic  policy  in  2008-09 will focus on the need to diversify the economy and on encouraging investment,  but  structural  fiscal  reform  will  be  constrained  by  the fear of alienating public opinion. Declining oil output will curb economic growth and inflation will stay relatively high, at an annual average of 6.7%  in 2008-09. The current account will record deficits over the outlook period, as strong growth in non-oil exports  and  workers'  remittances  fails  to  offset  the  expected  decline in the volume of oil exports and relatively strong import growth.

Domestic  politics: Power remains firmly in the hands of the president, who is supported by key elements in the security services  and  by the Baath party. In May a referendum was held to give the public the opportunity to endorse  parliament's  selection of Mr Assad as the sole candidate in this year's presidential election. In the event,  the  choice  of  Mr  Assad  was  supported by 97.62% of those who voted (or 11.2m people), with turnout reported  at  95.86%  of the 11.7m eligible voters (up from a turnout of just 8.7m in the 2000 referendum). The higher  turnout  this time lends support to the argument put forward by government officials that conditions in Syria have improved during Mr Assad's first term.

International  relations:  Mr Assad may have secured his domestic position, but he faces a number of challenges in  the  international  arena  (which will have a profound bearing on his popularity at home). In recent months both  Israeli and Syrian officials have sent out mixed signals about their desire for a resumption of bilateral peace  talks,  but  at  the  same time there have been mutterings about their readiness for war. A reported air strike  by  Israel  on Syria in early September has added to the confusion about the two countries' intentions, but  on  balance  appears  to  have  strengthened the Israeli hand. Syria's lack of a military response perhaps highlights  its  military  weakness  relative  to  Israel,  but, perhaps more noteworthy was the absence of any significant  objections  from  other Arab governments, most notably Saudi Arabia. This underscores the relative isolation  of  the Syrian government within the Arab world and would undermine its credibility in negotiations. Shortly  after  the raid, the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, declared his willingness to open peace talks with  Syria, but the Israeli strike will make it more difficult for Mr Assad to engage openly in talks for fear of  appearing  weak  in  the  eyes  of  his  domestic  audience.  The air strike may also have been designed to strengthen Israel's deterrence in the region more generally, perhaps using Syria as a (weaker) proxy for a show of force against Iran.

Policy  trends:  The  soaring  cost  of  the fuel subsidy bill, which is placing an unsustainable burden on the fiscal  accounts,  has  led  to  heated  economic  debate between the government's more reformist, technocratic elements, led by the deputy prime minister for economic affairs, Abdullah al-Dardari, and the more conservative Baath  party  members. Mr Dardari has been pushing for structural reform of the fiscal accounts, including cuts in  fuel  subsidies and the introduction of a value-added tax (VAT). In recent years there has been some reform on  the  tax  front  with  the  introduction of lower tax rates for business and individuals (in a bid to raise compliance), a simplification of the tax collection system and cuts in import tariffs, but the next step in the reform process is less politically palatable. At a time when Syria appears to be largely ostracised by its Arab neighbours,  with  the  ever-present threat of conflict with Israel and/or more severe international sanctions, the  establishment  appears  increasingly  reluctant  to foist painful economic reform upon the population. The proposed  introduction  of  VAT  has  now  been  delayed  until  2009 at the earliest, and there is currently a suggestion  that  some  form  of fuel rationing might be more acceptable with the public than an outright price increase.  The  Economist  intelligence  Unit's  economic  forecasts  assume  that there will be no cut in fuel subsidies  during the outlook period and that even if VAT is introduced in 2009, it will be at a low rate, on a limited number of goods and will not have a noticeable positive impact on the fiscal accounts.

International  assumptions: We forecast that world GDP growth will average 4.8% in 2007-08 (at purchasing power parity  exchange  rates),  down  from  5.1%  in  2006,  but  still  relatively  strong by historical standards. International oil prices (based on the benchmark dated Brent Blend) are expected to remain high at US$69/barrel in  2008,  before easing slightly to US$63.3/b in 2009 as increased oil supply, particularly from Saudi Arabia, brings the market closer to balance.

Economic  growth:  Real  GDP  growth  is expected to remain relatively weak in 2008-09, at an annual average of 3.3%,  largely  owing  to falling oil production, which will lead to a sustained contraction of exports in real terms  and  limit  the  government's  ability to increase spending. Furthermore, the hostile regional political environment  is  also likely to affect investor confidence, undermining efforts to draw urgently needed foreign finance  into  the  oil  and  gas sector, although Russia, Iran and some of the Gulf Arab countries will remain sources  of  capital. Our growth forecast is underpinned, however, by the expected recovery in the agricultural sector  (after  growth was depressed in 2007 by drought conditions in parts of the country). The service sector is  expected to record relatively strong growth in the outlook period as a result of increased demand for goods and services from the large Iraqi refugee population.  Inflation:  According  to  the Central Bank of Syria, the official inflation rate stood at 9.2% year on year in September  2006,  having  risen  steadily  over  the  year, and we estimate that the full-year average was 10%.

Inflation is expected to fall modestly over the outlook period to an annual average of just under 7%, partly as a  result of the abandonment of the pound's peg to the dollar, which will help to contain imported inflationary pressure. Non-oil commodity prices are also expected to ease in 2008-09. Furthermore, there were clear signs in 2006 of an ongoing slowdown in the growth of credit–according to the IMF's Article IV report, published in May 2007, domestic credit to the private sector expanded by 4.6% in 2006, down from 8.9% in 2005. (This can perhaps be  attributed  in  part  to  Central Bank measures to tighten the limits on credit extension.) However, if the government  were  to  enact  phased  cuts  in fuel price subsidies in 2008-09, this would lead to a significant upward  revision  to our inflation forecast. It is worth noting, however, that anecdotal evidence suggests that inflation is running at higher levels than indicated by the official data; there has been much grumbling about the  influx  of Iraqi nationals, who are blamed for generating demand-pull inflation, especially in the housing market.

Exchange  rates:  It  is  unclear at present whether the proposed changes to the exchange-rate regime have been fully  implemented,  but  the  Central Bank's intention is to move to a managed float of the pound, replacing a multi-exchange-rate  regime.  Furthermore,  the  peg  to  the dollar is to be abandoned in favour of a peg to a basket  of  currencies  based  on  the  IMF's  special  drawing rights (SDR). In 2005-06 the composition of the country's  foreign-exchange  reserves was gradually altered, so that by the beginning of 2007 half of the stock of  reserves  was  denominated  in the euro. From 2007 all transactions in the public and mixed sectors will be euro-denominated. (The latter step is partly to avoid the negative impact of the US embargo.) In May the Credit and Monetary Council awarded its first operating licences to moneychangers–the companies are permitted to have multiple  branches  and to transfer sums abroad. Despite these initiatives, the currency will not be allowed to float  freely, with the government continuing to prioritise stability. The regime is well placed to protect the value  of the pound, because of the dominant position of the state-owned banks and the control that the Central Bank  retains  over  foreign-currency  transactions, even as some laws are relaxed. Consequently, we forecast a  relatively  stable  pound in 2008 (partly as a result of dollar weakness), before a modest depreciation in 2009 owing  to  concerns  about the competitiveness of Syria's non-oil exports (and some strengthening of the dollar against the euro).

External  sector: We estimate that the value of merchandise exports will have risen in 2007 as strong growth in non-oil  exports  more  than  offsets the decline in the value of oil exports. The estimated fall in oil export revenue  is  the  result  of  lower Syrian oil production, as international prices are expected to remain high. Non-oil  exports  are  continuing to benefit from the relaxation of foreign-exchange controls, which has led to more  exports  being  officially  recorded. Regional demand has also been strong, and Syria has been benefiting from  its  membership  of  the  Greater  Arab  Free  Trade Area. Although non-oil export revenue is expected to continue  to rise robustly next year, we forecast that export earnings will increase by under 3% because of the projected fall in crude oil production (and thus export volumes). Import spending growth will remain strong in 2008-09,  partly  as a result of the ongoing process of tariff liberalisation. As a result of these trends, the trade deficit is expected to widen from an estimated US$2.2bn in 2007 to US$3.1bn in 2009.  -0- Sep/27/2007 22:17 GMT

27 Sep 2007 (T16:45) COUNTRY BRIEFING
FROM THE ECONOMIST INTELLIGENCE UNIT

The  Syrian  government is considering taking to a leaf from Iran's book on economic policy through scrapping a plan  to  cut  fuel  price  subsidies  and replacing it with a system of rationing administered by smart cards. According  to  Champress,  a  news  website,  the  government is studying a rationing proposal, drawn up by the telecoms minister, Amr Salem, as a possible alternative to proceeding with a programme of fuel price increases,
mitigated  by  cash handouts, which has been put together by Abdullah al-Dardari, the deputy prime minister for economic affairs and endorsed by the IMF.

The  apparent  backtracking on fuel subsidies, which, according to the IMF, amounted to more than 10% of GDP in 2006,  follows  a  delay  in the schedule for introducing value-added tax (VAT), another central element of the government's  fiscal  reforms.  Mr  Dardari  had earlier indicated that VAT would be introduced at the start of 2008.  However,  that  schedule has now been put back by at least one year. These reverses raise questions over
political  future  of  Mr  Dardari,  a non-Baathist in a government dominated by the ruling party, which has it roots in a combination of socialism and Arab nationalism.

Assad's silence

The  debate  over  fuel subsidies has intensified in the past few weeks, amid speculation over what changes the president,  Bashar  al-Assad, plans to make to his government following the start of his second seven-year term in  July. It now appears that the retention of Mr Dardari and like-minded ministers—including the oil minister, Sufyan  Allaw,  who  was recently obliged to issue a statement denying rumours that he had been dismissed ”would send  a  signal of Mr Assad's support for the squeeze on subsidies. To do so would require Mr Assad to stand up to  vested  interests  in the status quo, in particular those making large profits through smuggling subsidised fuel to neighbouring markets, where prices are up to ten times higher. The delay in appointing a new government and  the  lack of any mention of fuel subsidies by Mr Assad himself suggest that the question is the subject of fierce  debate at the core of the regime, which is dominated by intelligence agency chiefs and the inner circle of the Assad family.

Mr  Dardari  has  sought  to  draw  attention  to  the  alarming  consequences of failing to act, given Syria's increasing dependence on imports to meet its rapidly growing demand for petroleum products. Syria imports about 4m  tonnes/year  of  gas  oil,  the  most heavily subsidised product, which accounts for over 50% of total fuel consumption.  Gas  oil  is sold in Syria at a price of Sy£7 (US$0.14) per litre, which is roughly one-quarter of the  import  price. The state distribution agency, Mahrukat, also pays international prices for the 3.5m t/y of gas  oil  that it buys from domestic refineries. The subsidy on gas oil alone amounts to more than US$3bn/year. With  Syria's oil export revenues dwindling ”the country is set to become a net oil import this year, if royalty payments  to  foreign  operating  companies  are  factored in, according to the IMF ”maintaining petroleum price subsidies  at current levels would pump up Syria's fiscal and current-account deficits to unsustainable levels, Mr Dardari maintains.

According  to plans announced earlier this year, the government proposes to phase out petroleum price subsidies over  the  next  five  years,  starting  in 2008. In the initial phase, the gas oil price would be increased to £12/litre, gasoline would go up by one-third to Sy£40/litre, and liquefied petroleum gas would be sold at Sy£250 per canister, compared with Sy£145 at present. The price of industrial fuel oil was increased in 2004, and would rise  by  a  further  25%  to Sy£7,500 per tonne. The government has proposed to compensate each of Syria's 3.5m families through providing an annual cash benefit of Sy£12,000.

As the deadline for introducing the new price structure has approached, there has been a crescendo of criticism of the plan in sections of the media, which includes state and Baath party newspapers, as well as internet news services  such  as  Champress and Syria-News, which are controlled by business interests close to the centre of power.  It  was  notable that the comments submitted by readers of the Champress article included several harsh denunciations  of Mr Dardari, accusing him of trying to force discredited IMF and World Bank prescriptions down Syrians' throats.

Three more items of interest:

Report: Bush predicted success in Iraq: Sept. 28, 2007

LONDON, Sept. 28 (UPI) — U.S. President George W. Bush in 2003 predicted the war in Iraq would be won without destruction, Britain's Financial Times reported Friday.

Bush made the prediction one month before the March 2003 invasion, according to leaked transcripts of talks between Bush and former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar.

“I think there is a good basis for a better future. Iraq has a good bureaucracy and a relatively robust civil society,” Bush told Aznar at a meeting at Bush's ranch in Texas, the Financial Times reported.

Bush also threatened to deny U.S. aid to Angola and block a trade deal with Chile if the two countries failed to support a U.N. resolution to invade Iraq, the Times reported. The White House eventually abandoned its bid for the resolution.

Bush also told Aznar he had rejected an offer by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to go into exile in return for $1 billion, the Financial Times reported.

The White House Thursday declined to comment on the transcript but didn't challenge the report.

Jeffery Lewis, the "arms control wonk", analyses what Syria's uranium extraction plant is all about.

Extracting Uranium from Phosphates

So, the early reports on this Israeli airstrike in Syria emphasized the prospect that Syria was extracting uranium from phosphates:

The expert, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid compromising his sources, said the target of the attack appears to have been a northern Syrian facility that was labeled an agricultural research center on the Euphrates River, close to the Turkish border. Israel has kept a close eye on the facility, believing that Syria was using it to extract uranium from phosphates.

I mentioned earlier this week that, as a justification for an airstrike, this is ludicrous…..

Congress Throws Covert Israeli Attack on Syria Out Into the Open

By Nathan Guttman in the Forward

As Israel and the United States struggle to maintain a veil of ambiguity over Israel’s alleged air strike against Syria earlier this month, Congress is bringing the issue out into the open and giving American sanction to an event that now seems all but confirmed. Democrat Robert Wexler from Florida introduced a resolution this week supporting Israel’s covert operation and backing the country’s right to defend itself “in the face of an imminent nuclear or military threat from Syria.”     Read more…

Comments (41)


1. offended said:

It seems that the March 14th ilk of Lebanon are striking back; today, shaikh Abu Al Ka’ka’ the great recruiter of the Mujaheddin the assassins and the suicide bombers, has got shot in Aleppo, and is now in a serious condition…
I think Syria should demand an international investigation into this…

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September 28th, 2007, 3:54 pm

 

2. offended said:

if you still didn’t get it yet, the above comment was a joke…however, Abu Al Ka’Ka’ did get shot…

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September 28th, 2007, 3:59 pm

 

3. Atassi said:

I remember reading somewhere that he was an Agent of !!!

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September 28th, 2007, 3:59 pm

 

4. offended said:

Attasi, it was claimed on various occasions, that he was an agent of everyone!

But he sure is (was?) an odd phenomenon!

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September 28th, 2007, 4:06 pm

 

5. Alex said:

in the last post Aussama expressed his longing for Assyassa’s unique Syria news and analysis.

I couldn’t find you anything from Assyasa, but here is something even deeper from The Washington Times! :)

Enjoy it.

Defiance in Damascus
September 27, 2007

By Nir Boms – The streets of Damascus have seen most things. They saw military marches with strutting generals leading their people to war. They have seen the images of presidential figures, such as the late Hafez Assad and his son, the current president, Bashar Assad, displayed on every corner. They have seen those of other allies like Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah or Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But they had never seen a Syrian American calling for reform.

In a rare and daring sign of defiance, the Reform Party of Syria (RPS) posted hundreds of large placards of exiled Syrian leader Farid Ghadry and the executive committee of his party on streets of major cities in Syria, including Damascus, Aleppo and Idlib. Dressed in a suit and standing against the background of a large Syrian flag, Mr. Ghadry was introduced as the “benevolent son of Syria.” The last time Syrians showed open support for a party that opposed the country’s dictator, 20,000 people were killed when President Hafez Assad ordered the crushing of the Muslim Brotherhood in the city of Hama.

Mr. Ghadry’s posters were quickly removed by the Syrian police, but not before they began circulating on the Internet, attracting further attention. Those responsible for hanging the posters are a group of 30-year-olds who approached RPS independently and offered their allegiance. This group, according to RPS sources, supported the recent activities of the party, including a controversial visit to Israel made in June by Mr. Ghadry and Husein Saado of RPS. The visit, which included a speech given at the Israeli Parliament, presentations at key academic and policy institutions and a visit to the Syrian-claimed Golan Heights, caused a stir in both Israel and Syria. It was the first visit of a Syrian opposition leader to a country considered the archenemy of Syria and as such it attracted significant media attention in Syria, the Arab world and the West.

Particularly interesting were the responses coming from Syria itself:

Like other dictatorships, Syria would rather ignore opposition figures like Farid Ghadry. Attention means recognition, whereas a lack of media attention creates the internal perception that the efforts of the opposition are marginal at best. However, the number of recent reports in the Syrian media indicates that the government is beginning to pay much closer attention to the work of Mr. Ghadry and his colleagues and those considered to be a threat.

In an opinion published by the London-based Al-Hayat, Jihad al-Khazen, a Palestinian journalist with close contacts in Syria, raised the possibility that Syria will begin liquidating dissidents, adopting a similar strategy to that of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, who ordered the liquidation of Libyan dissidents during the 1980s and 1990s.

Still in London, it was interesting to note that a week following Mr. Ghadry’s announcement of his willingness to consider a settlement in the Golan that would leave the Jewish population in place while paying taxes to Syria, the Syrian ambassador to London, Sami Khiyami, seemed to suggest a very similar policy. Speaking at a London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies, the ambassador said that “Israeli residents of the Golan Heights might prefer to remain under Syrian sovereignty if the area were returned to Syria.” This is the first time that such a position has been suggested by a Syrian official.

Meanwhile in Syria, state-controlled “al-Watan” reported that Mr. Ghadry’s family (who are well connected to the establishment in Syria) have publicly distanced themselves, demanding that “his citizenship be revoked.” This last statement coincidentally appeared following Mr. Ghadry’s high-profile Israel trip. Such a statement is considered to be another indication of Syrian attempts to discredit Mr. Ghadry.

In spite of Damascus’ attempts to discredit him, however, RPS reported an increase in membership following his trip to Israel and claimed that three more party “cells” were created inside Syria. Dialogue with additional opposition groups has also intensified and new alliances were formed. A petition supporting Mr. Ghadry’s efforts and his recent trip to Israel is now circulating inside and outside Syria. The recent poster campaign can be considered as a follow up initiated by one of the new cells that joined RPS following his trip to Israel.

True, these events do not yet change the balance of power in Syria; nor do they indicate a massive opposition movement capable of overturning the government from within. However, these events may teach us that there is both room and support for an alternative discourse in the Middle East and an alternative to conventional wisdom. The next generation in Syria and the Middle East — most of whom are under the age of 30 — is ready for a change. The streets of Damascus may yet be surprised again.

Nir Boms is vice president of the Center for Freedom in the Middle East.

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September 28th, 2007, 4:12 pm

 

6. Nour said:

Nir Boms is dreaming if he thinks that Farid Ghadry has more than a handful of supporters inside and even outside Syria. The RPS is seen as nothing but a tool of the US administration by most Syrians and no one really takes them seriously. The western press, however, and especially in the US, like to prop up and exaggerate the strength of so-called “opposition” groups to governments which they do not like. Anyone who has any contacts with Syria knows full well that such “opposition” groups will never see the light of day in that country.

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September 28th, 2007, 4:42 pm

 

7. Alex said:

Exactly Nour.

You can charm many western reporters by telling them that all you want to do is to fight for democracy and freedom in your country.

Here is another example from last year … Chris Dickey was worried that Jumblatt the freedom fighter is a dead man walking… Syria is about to kill him.

Of course it was Jumblatt who publicly promised the Syrian president that he will send him “a son of the mountain” to kill him.

But who cares for those details. As long as Jumblatt says that he is fighting for democracy.

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September 28th, 2007, 5:14 pm

 

8. idaf said:

Abu el-Qaqa’ is dead..

His killers were followed and caught by his followers immediately. Apparently they were Iraqis. Probably Al-Qaida supporters. Abu el-Qaqa’ has been defamed and attacked in al-qaida sympathizers’ websites and online forums for months now. His guilt according to Al-Qaida sympathizers was that he stopped short of supporting killing “infidels” (read Shia and other sects in Iraq) and was limiting his call for Jihad against US occupation forces only. He was labeled as a Syrian regime follower by Al-Qaida websites.

This is his official website

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September 28th, 2007, 5:19 pm

 

9. Nour said:

Alex,

The US has always used that tactic to undermine governments with which it is at odds. They prop up certain figures to make them appear like they are viable alternatives to the ruling elite in the target country but only for the sake of their PR and propaganda campaigns leading up to any possible conflict. Take the case of Ahmad Chalabi, who was painted as a popular Iraqi opposition figure in the western press, while in reality he had nothing but a few irrelevant supporters in both in Iraq and abroad. However, once his services were no longer needed he was dumped by the US government and ignored by the press. Farid Ghadry has even less support amongst Syrians and at best can hope for the fate of Chalabi.

In any case, I really don’t see the US succeeding at all in toppling the Syrian regime, as the regime is actually more popular now than it has ever been and most Syrians do not want their country to turn into another Iraq. The US has tried its best to undermine and destabilize the Syrian regime, all to no avail, as the vast majority of Syrians would rather stick to a stable structure with slow progress than to bring a sudden change that may lead the country into chaos and civil strife.

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September 28th, 2007, 5:28 pm

 

10. Alex said:

Nour,

I agree that the US government’s PR tactics are a strong factor in many such cases. But I have many journo friends who write opinion pieces about the Middle East who are really nice people .. they are not instructed by the US government to write anything. But they simply have a weakness towards those who are freedom fighters.

So in the case of Michel Kilo, I understand any opinion piece supporting him and asking for his release. But Jumblatt?! Farid Ghadry???!! .. freedom fighters?

I heard that Ghadry and his father are in court over money that Farid stole from his dad and did not share with his sister and mom. His “party” members in the US deserted him because he kept the US support fund for himself.

And Nir treats him like a trustworthy freedom fighter … and believes everything Farid told him .. like the sleeper cells of support in Damascus.

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September 28th, 2007, 6:01 pm

 

11. Majhool said:

Alex & Nour,

Ya3ni, I have to say that although I am not a fan of Ghaderi or Kilo, both your rhetoric reminds me with twisedt propagandist Baath logic.

Being a traitor, a loner, with or without support, should not be judged here. If you care for the country to advance I suggest that you argue whether or not those people and others broke the Syrian Law (not the intelligence redlines)

Your logic of judging their loyalty/innocence/popularity based on whether they made mistakes or not instead of whether they broke the law or not, coming from well educated people only brings me despair and frustration that things will ever get better.

Alex, as for your measures of popularity and support, I also will have to completely dismiss your conclusions. I believe the popularity of the regime that you measure could be better defined as “the unwillingness to defy the regime”. If that’s the case then you are right, if you define it as “belief and genuine support of the regime” then your number needs to be revisited.

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September 28th, 2007, 6:24 pm

 

12. Innocent_Criminal said:

Majhool please spare us. first of all dont link Kilo with Ghadry. Some might argue Kilo made a few blunders but he is certainly not a pathetic loser like Ghadry. Wanna talk about breaking rules? well inciting the US to invade your country is breakig the law, traveling to Israel is breaking the law. so forget everything else, just these actions nominates him to a few terms in jail.

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September 28th, 2007, 6:44 pm

 

13. Nour said:

Majhool,

The discussion here did not revolve around the legality of Farid Ghadry’s or anyone else’s actions. It was a discussion in response to the article written by Nir Boms, basically making Ghadry out to be a popular Syrian opposition figure, which he surely is not. Regardless of how Syrians feel about the regime, most of them do not support or even appreciate people like Ghadry, who appears to be an opportunist looking after his own interest and being used as a tool by the US government. What does this have to do with legalities?

As for violation of any laws, however, Farid Ghadry, as a Syrian citizen, did indeed violate Syrian law by traveling to occupied Palestine and giving a speech to the Israeli Knesset. But to me that’s irrelevant, as I see such actions to be childish, spiteful, self-serving measures that have no effect on reform inside Syria. If Farid Ghadry cares about his people and about bringing real change to Syria, then what was the purpose of such actions? Why would he be warning Israel about a Syrian threat, as if encouraging the Israelis to attack his country?

If such deductions are considered Baathist propaganda by you, then count me as a propagandist, because I simply do not see it any other way.

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September 28th, 2007, 6:48 pm

 

14. Majhool said:

Innocent Criminal.

As for Ghadri, I accept what you said. He broke the Law! what is the sentence for that? whatver that is, let him have it.

As for Kilo, he is in Jail right?. what did he do again? what was the charge? could you please enlighten me!!

My point, is why fall into the trap of judging syrian opposition figures based on popularity and on our preception of what they did or did not do.

There should be freedom of speach coupled with a law that protects the conutry.other than that, trials made here, Syrian TV or newpapers are bull.

Also I am sick of measuring the popularity of the regime on here. It bears no scientific value. what is a fact that is Syrians are not willing to resist the regime. That is the only verfiyed fact.

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September 28th, 2007, 6:57 pm

 

15. Majhool said:

Nour,

“Farid Ghadry, as a Syrian citizen, did indeed violate Syrian law by traveling to occupied Palestine and giving a speech to the Israeli Knesset. But to me that’s irrelevant”

I disagree with you, it’s relavent and not irrelevant . He broke the law and he should be punished for that…end of story. for you to lecture us about his intentions and motives etc.. is not something that should incriminate him. the fellow has the right to think in whatever way he wants. after all the judge is the syrian people (in terms of popularity)and the syrian law (in terms of breaking the law). I am suggesting that we start using our darn law. I personaly don’t like him. and I think should be jailed if what he said violates the syrian law.

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September 28th, 2007, 7:05 pm

 

16. Bakri said:

IDAF,of course they used qaida as cover plot to finish with this embarrassing man who was a small servant for them but who knows a lot….Would you have guessed an other end movie for him?

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September 28th, 2007, 7:06 pm

 

17. EHSANI2 said:

I keep reading about the Syrian “People”, how they feel and who they prefer. Since when do the Syrian “people” matter? When was the last time that they made any difference to the proceedings?

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September 28th, 2007, 7:09 pm

 

18. Atassi said:

Sunni Cleric Suspected Of Iraq-Militant Ties Killed In Syria
28 September 2007
14:43
Dow Jones International News
English
(c) 2007 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP)–A Sunni Muslim cleric who in the past had been suspected of recruiting militants to fight in Iraq was shot dead as he left a mosque after Friday prayers in Syria’s northern city of Aleppo, an aide said.

Mohammed Gul Aghassi, 34, was instantly killed by a gunman who pumped five bullets into his body as he left the Imam Mosque where he regularly preaches after the noon prayers.

The aide, Ahmed Sadeq, told The Associated Press that he pursued the gunman and captured him, handing him over to authorities.

Sadeq accused “terrorists” of killing Aghassi for his “nationalist positions.” He did not elaborate.

Sheik Samir Mohammed Ghazal Abu Khashbeh, another aide to the slain cleric, said the gunman fled in a waiting pickup truck and he was chased and arrested along with the driver.

Abu Khashbeh said the attacker told him he shot the cleric “because he (Aghassi) was an agent of the Americans.”

“The one who carried out the assassination was a prisoner of the American forces in Iraq and has been released some time ago. He is known to us,” Abou Khashbeh told AP.

Such attacks are uncommon in Syria, a country where security is generally tight. But Syrian security forces have occasionally clashed with Islamic militants.

Aghassi, also known as Abu Qa’qa’, headed a theology school in Aleppo, Syria’s second-largest city. Western media in 2005 cited interviews with Sunni insurgents saying that he was a prominent figure in recruiting Arab fighters and helping funnel them into Iraq to fight U.S. and Iraqi troops. Some of the insurgents in the reports raised suspicions he was also informing Syrian security about the movements.

Aghassi denied any links to networks taking insurgents into Iraq.

In June 2006, Syrian anti-terrorism police fought Islamic militants near the Defense Ministry on Friday in a gunbattle that killed five people and wounded four. CD-ROMs of Aghassi’s speeches were found on the fighters but the cleric denied then he had any links to that group of extremists.

Syria has been accused by the U.S. of not doing enough to stem the flow of militants across its desert border with Iraq

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September 28th, 2007, 7:24 pm

 

19. offended said:

It’ll be interesting to see who stands behind the killing of Abu al Qa’qa’.
he was widely accused of being a regime agent, mind you, no one can operate on that level (presumably recruiting fighters, training them and sending them to Iraq) unless he’s sanctioned by the regime…

I am just wondering, since we are about to usher into a new era of peace talks and negotiations, could it be that Abu al Qa’a’s rule in the grand scheme of things has finished؟

Just wondering!

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September 28th, 2007, 7:34 pm

 

20. Atassi said:

Majhool
I respect your idea, But I totally agree with Nour about Farid Ghadry.
Nour,
Please keep in mind, there are many many regime critics and honest opposing groups, They will sooner or later see the light of day in Syria. This is their
Historical right and no one can deny it for them…

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September 28th, 2007, 7:37 pm

 

21. Nour said:

Majhool,

Yes he did break the law, but my point in saying it’s irrelevant is that he is not going to be prosecuted in Syria as he will never set foot there. So the fact that he broke Syrian law is irrelevant as there is not going to be an legal procedures taken against him.

With respect to freedom of thought, just as you say he has a right to think what he wants, I also have that right, and am entitled to give my opinion on the intentions of Mr. Ghadry. I was analyzing his actions compared to his stated goals and drawing a conclusion based on it. In addition, it is not presumptious to state that Farid Ghadry has very little support in Syria, for I’m sure you would agree that Mr. Ghadry is not exactly the most popular man there.

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September 28th, 2007, 7:43 pm

 

22. Nour said:

Atassi,

I agree with you. I didn’t mean to imply that no opposition in Syria will see the light of day, but rather confined my statement to opposition figures such as Farid Ghadry and his likes.

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September 28th, 2007, 7:44 pm

 

23. Majhool said:

Atassi,

You are totally right. The majority of those opposing the regime are well intentioned and their activities should not constitute a harm to the Syrian people.

For exactly that reason, amplifying the wrong doings of shady personality like Ghaderi and his likes only hurts the whole bunch. The baathist propaganda uses Ghadri to discredit all opposition and allowing the gov to imprison people like Kilo although they did not violate any law.

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September 28th, 2007, 8:19 pm

 

24. Majhool said:

Ehsani,

with inflation at 10% How the Syrian people feel will matter soon. 5 more years of similar economic situation and the poeple will go coco.

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September 28th, 2007, 8:22 pm

 

25. IsraeliGuy said:

Although I’m not an expert on internal Syrian politics, here are a few of my thoughts – after reading some of the interesting comments here.

* I have absolutely no idea how much weight does Farid Ghadry have in Syrian public opinion.

However, judging from the amount of fire that he pulls from some of the writers here, I reach the conclusion that he has SOME weight, at the very least – or they wouldn’t have been so obssessed with the man.

* I believe that the US is helping him not just as an effective anti Syrian PR machine.

Maybe he’s also groomed as an ‘off the shelf Syrian leader’, in case his services will be required due to a regime change in Syria.

I’m not claiming that this regime change will happen next week, but the Americans think for the long run, so it makes sense.

* I see that he’s being treated as a traitor by some of the people here, because he broke the law and visited Israel.

In such a case, how should we, Israel, treat Arab Knesset members, who break the law by travelling to Syria?

Feel free to throw in all your ideas – even hardcore Baathist ones… Just for the kicks of it ;-)

* If you’ll randomly stop 100 Israelis on the street and ask them who Bashar Al-Assad is, 95 to 100 of them will have the right answer.

Up until a few months ago, if you had done the same and popped up Farid Ghadry’s name, nobody would have had the slightest clue who the man is.

However, after he came for a visit, I’m sure at least some Israelis will recognize his name today.

Suddenly, Israelis were exposed to a different type of a Syrian politician.
One that comes to Israel to create a dialogue without demanding for ‘assurances’ or ‘guarantees’ before sitting to talk.

He came to influence Israeli public opinion and he did a good work.
His words didn’t fall on deaf ears.

He has a much better understanding of how to influence people and how to create a positive public opinion towards him and his ideas in Israel.

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September 28th, 2007, 8:53 pm

 
 

27. Alex said:

I’m at work so I won’t bore you with my long comments this time, but quickly:

1_ Ehsani:

You are wrong… even dictators care about their people sometimes. Maybe they do it for selfish reasons sometimes but they often do. Syria’s rulers do. They aways calculate the popular directions not only in Syria but in the neighboring countries.

2) Majhool:

There is no value in repeating the generic statements of “I support every Syrian’s right to speak r to oppose …” please do not criticize me for failing to repeat the obvious in every comment.

Israeliguy,

I am not calling Farid a traitor for going to Israel. I was interviewed few times by Israeli journalists and I support going to Israel to present Syria’s point of view … BUT … Farid is a crook. An intelligent man like you surely can (if you wanted to) tell when a man is a crook.

And he is a loser … big time.

If I have to estimate his support among Syrians … I would say … he has the support of his immediate family members… that’s it.

I know some of his closest friends … they all stopped talking to him now … it is as clear as it gets.

As for theinterest you are seeing here in this Ghadry character, it is only because it indicates that there are foolish people in Washington who seriously think they can prepare someone like Farid to lead Syria… it would have been scary … but luckily, they have zero chance of succeeding. The alarming part is that they don’t know that they have no chance of succeeding … so they might try again.

We just want to feel the peace of mind of knowing that the United Sates is governed again by balanced, reasonable individuals.

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September 28th, 2007, 9:23 pm

 

28. SimoHurtta said:

And Nir treats him like a trustworthy freedom fighter … and believes everything Farid told him .. like the sleeper cells of support in Damascus.

2004 Nir Boms wrote an article with Frank Ghadry in NRO: Hell and back – A firsthand account of Syrian atrocities. Nir Boms has been promoting Frank for several years.

In Sourcewatch’s Articles & Commentary about Farid N. Ghadry we can see that the media attention Ghadry has managed to create is rather limited. He is probably better known in Israel than in Syria and many articles are written by reporters with Jewish ties.

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September 28th, 2007, 9:31 pm

 

29. IsraeliGuy said:

***********
“An intelligent man like you surely can (if you wanted to) tell when a man is a crook.”
***********

Alex, an intelligent person like you can surely understand that one person’s super hero is another person’s crook – and vice versa.

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September 28th, 2007, 9:36 pm

 

30. Alex said:

Israeliguy,

I undersand that prime minsiter Sharon is your hero in israel while most Arabs see him simply as a butcher.

But … can you please tell me who in Syria sees Ghadry as a hero? I promise to be sensitive to their feelings.

Did you notice that this blog is not all made of pure Assad supporters as you concluded few weeks ago? … did you hear today Assad’s critics supporting Ghadry?

If you in Israel want to look at ghadry as YOUr hero

Alf mabrook :) .. he is all yours.

Btw, I answered your WMD and democracy comments in Bolton’s post.

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September 28th, 2007, 9:42 pm

 

31. Bashmann said:

A true opposition group can not exist inside Syria as long as this regime is in power.
As we all know, including Alex and Nour, the late President Hafez Assad have worked tirelessly to eliminate such groups with the help of the most brutal security agencies the Middle-East have ever come to know. This does not mean people inside the country are
the happiest among their peers in the region and therefore you will never find an opposition inside Syria. Syrians have seen the brutality of the regime and have been scared to death of associating themselves with anything that could remotely be called politics.

This leaves us with one option, opposition groups outside the country. Even these groups are having tremendous difficulty with the task of convincing Syrians living abroad to join in such political organizations. The enormous fear of the Mukhabarat agents makes people reluctant to associate themselves with opposition groups even though the danger of them getting caught or persecuted outside is almost non-existent. You can not blame them as the history of the regime involvement into multiple political assassinations to opposition members outside the country made Syrians living abroad psychologically dysfunctional by the terror that might befall them if they decide to even think of speaking up against the regime.

With this in mind, we can not discredit every opposition group outside the borders of Syria, as some have legitimate grievances and speak eloquently about personal and political freedom and human rights abuses by the regime.

As for Farid Ghadry, he certainly is an exception to the rule and can not be counted among true opposition groups. His statements speak for themselves and I doubt anyone
would take him as a serious threat to the regime although he was able to convince the late Syrian Parliament member Ma’amoun Alhomsy in joining him which was an unexpected surprise to most opposition groups. But no one has the right to shut him up or persecute him on the basis of his beliefs as this is a fundamental human right that we can all agree on.

Cheers.

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September 28th, 2007, 10:09 pm

 

32. IsraeliGuy said:

***********
“I undersand that prime minsiter Sharon is your hero in israel while most Arabs see him simply as a butcher.”
***********

Alex, I usually don’t look at leaders in terms of super heroes.
I just brought this extreme expression as an alternative to yours.

Leaders (and politicians in general) are not gods.
They’re human beings just like you and me and as such, they do good things and wrong ones all the time.

I’m sure there were those who saw Assad Sr. as a proud Arab leader while there were others who saw him as a merciless butcher who was responsible for the Hama massacre.

***********
“But … can you please tell me who in Syria sees Ghadry as a hero? I promise to be sensitive to their feelings.”
***********

I’m not arguing that Ghadry is popular in Syria, I simply can’t rule it out.
I can’t know for sure, since there are no credible public opinion surveys in Syria that I can rely on.

If you could present such a credible survey, as the ones we have here all the time, then I could have a much better understanding of what the Syrians really think of the man.

Right now, I’m seeing only one camp’s propaganda vs. the other camp’s propaganda.

If you want convince me that the vast majority of Syrians are crazy about Assad and despise Ghadry – no problem.

I’m willing to keep an open mind while I see credible results of totally free and unbiased polls from Syria.
But that’s the tricky part I guess…

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September 28th, 2007, 10:10 pm

 

33. Alex said:

That majority (not vast) are ok with Assad (not crazy about him)

Back to asking you to use your common sense: how come Majhool, Atassi, Ehasni … all of hem are critics of Assad … still have a very negative opinion of Farid. Even Bashmann who caled me a paid Assad P.R. man (last post) is also against Ghadry.

I really don’t care about him … I am criticizing those behind him who think they will pick an idiot from DC to rule Syria … you think this is something to take lightly?

Not only for Syria’s sake … but … America can lead us to heaven or to hell … I KNOW (you do not, it is ok) that if they chose a Ghadry to lead a counry like Syria, especially after what they have done in Iraq, then they are either totally ignorant of the mentalities of the middle East or worse … that they want to destroy the rest of it (to rebuild it cleanly!… instead of the current mess)

Both possibilities are reason to be concerned…. especially when we see the other components at the same time … the Nuclear weapons story … the Lebanese “anti-Syria” MP killed… reviving Ghadry…

But again, unless they invade Syria .. none of this will lead anywhere.

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September 28th, 2007, 10:28 pm

 

34. Findalaawi said:

Israeliguy,

I’m mostly a lurker here – a Syrian American whose Syrian family absolutely hates Bashar al-Assad, perhaps more than they hated his father.

Take it from me: Farid Ghadry is NOTHING in Syria. He has NO popular support. Almost any Syrian can tell you who Michel Kilo is. No Syrian has any idea of Farid Ghadry – and Farid Ghadry doesn’t even count, as he’s not even Syrian.

Notwithstanding reports of guerilla political postering – I hardly think that the regime is losing sleep over the possibility of a Ghadry-inspired uprising.

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September 28th, 2007, 10:39 pm

 

35. IsraeliGuy said:

Findalaawi – nice to see and hear you.

Alex, once again, I’m not claiming that Ghadry is Mr. popularity is Syria simply because the tools to gauge popularity in this country are not there.

Naturally, if there are Ghadry supporters in Syria, I’d assume they can’t initiate a rally, publish ads in the Syrian press in his support or advocate for his ideas freely – am I wrong?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not presenting Ghadry’s case here, but naturally, nobody can claim that he ‘knows’ how many Syrians really support him until we’ll ask them they we should.

When will it happen?

PS: I replied to you on the nuclear case.

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September 28th, 2007, 11:22 pm

 

36. ausamaa said:

If the Bush Admin after years of unparallelled presure and efforts could not find a way to Choose even an acceptable Lebsanese President, are they kidding themselves about proposing or choosing a SYRIAN one?

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September 28th, 2007, 11:35 pm

 

37. Nour said:

Israeliguy,

True, nobody can know officially how many Syrians support or oppose Ghadry or any other political figures due to the tight control of the government. However, living in Syria and having contacts with a lot of Syrians can indeed give you an idea of how Syrians feel about Ghadry. We know for example that many Syrians support opposition figures such as Michel Kilo, even though it is also taboo to mention his name in Syria. Other Syrians support the Muslim Brotherhood (although their support has dwindled tremendously since the 80’s). Yet of all the Syrians that despise the Assad regime and support various opposition groups, you would be hardpressed to find a single one who supports Ghadry. It was the same scenario in Iraq when Chalabi was being propped up. Many Iraqis would say that Chalabi has virtually no support in Iraq even though officially we could not possibly know that given Iraq’s brutal political system. After the war, however, we saw that those claims by Iraqis were true, as Chalabi indeed enjoys very little support in Iraq.

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September 28th, 2007, 11:39 pm

 

38. IsraeliGuy said:

OK Nour, interesting comment.

However, I’m just puzzled why is Ghadry such a big deal here and why does he generate so much fire and resistance if he has zero significance?

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September 28th, 2007, 11:53 pm

 

39. why-discuss said:

ISREALIGUY
Why is Ghadry such a big deal here?
Ghadry is not a big deal but he represents one of the strategies the US has been pursuing to demonize Syria. For Iraq’s demonization, they boosted Chalabi and his B.S about Iraq that was picked up and legitimized by the infamous Judith Miller in the NYT and picked up by most US press. It was a snow ball to convince the americans that a war against Iraq was better than a ‘Mushroom” (Bush’s expression).
The only mushrooming we saw was the one of corpses both in the US and in Iraq.
Unfortunately Khaddam and Ghadry don’t see to have the same stamina as Chalabi and the US is probably now looking for other guys or other means to demonize Syria and indirectly hit at Iran, the real dangerous “rogue state”.

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September 29th, 2007, 1:26 am

 

40. IsraeliGuy said:

OK, thanks for explaining your views on this.

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September 29th, 2007, 2:00 am

 

41. ausamaa said:

Israseliguy says:

“However, I’m just puzzled why is Ghadry such a big deal here and why does he generate so much fire and resistance if he has zero significance?”

I say: This big deal and “fire and resistance” exists not in the Syrian Street but in the minds and imaginations of those who wish the Syrian people Bush-style “happiness and prosperity”.

But nice to have you puzzeled anyway. It shows that you all are counting on self-serving mirage.

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September 29th, 2007, 8:01 am

 

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