Posted by Joshua on Thursday, April 21st, 2011
The Syrian government has drawn a line in the sand. Now that it has made concessions — canceled the special National Security Court, lifted the emergency law, fired governors of Banyas and Deraa governates, named a new Prime Minister and cabinet and promised a new party law — the president has stated that there is no longer reason to demonstrate. He has called the on-going uprising a rebellion. The Baath Party has stated that there will be no tolerance with “terrorists” in the Arab country.
The organizers of the revolution vowed to turn out their largest numbers yet on what protesters have begun to call “Great Friday.” Many are determined to bring down the regime and understand that this is their chance. Friday will be a day of reckoning. If the opposition can keep up its momentum in the face of what is likely to be a severe crackdown, it may be able to sweep the nation before it and topple the regime by overwhelming the security forces with sheer numbers of protesters and occupying government buildings.
The regime is moving toward defining the protesters as terrorists and mukharabiin vandals. It has drawn a stark picture for the Syrian people of a nation headed toward civil war and destruction, much like Iraq experienced. The Syrian people will have to decide whether they can put up with authoritarianism and trust that regime can modernize or put their faith in the revolution.
Syrians have little faith in the government. But do they have faith in the opposition? The great weakness of the opposition is that it does not have a leadership. It has been led by young activists in their 20s and 30s. They have been brave, disciplined and very successful at rallying the people behind the cry for freedom. To be successful they will have to produce a leadership that can reassure the Syrian people that their future can be bright without going through the horrors of civil war or the collapse of national institutions.
The remarks above are by Joshua Landis
Addendum: Lennart writes in the comment section:
Josh, you write that “The great weakness of the opposition is that it does not have a leadership.” I am surprised to see you write that because it is totally wrong. If the revolution had had a leadership, that leadership would have been arrested a very long time ago and the revolution beheaded. It is precisely because the revolution does NOT have a leadership that is has been able to survive. It was the same in Tunisia and Egypt.
Joshua replies: You are correct Lennart. Having no leadership is a strength in getting the revolt off the ground and avoiding arrest for the activists, but in the Syrian case, I also believe it will turn out to be a weakness. Because civil war is a possible result of trying to remove this regime, Syrians want to know what comes next. If the opposition is successful, state institutions, such as the army, may dissolve, as they did in Lebanon and Iraq. Syria is not like Egypt or Tunisia, where the army can step into the void and offer authority and direction. Leadership is important. Syrians may not want to take that step into the void unless they have confidence there will be someone to lead them out of it.
New Round Up
Amid Crackdown, Big Protest Is Planned in Syria
By ANTHONY SHADID, April 20, 2011 NYTimes
BEIRUT, Lebanon — Protests erupted Wednesday in the town that unleashed Syria’s five-week uprising, and security forces detained a prominent organizer in the restive city of Homs, casting into doubt government pledges to repeal the harsh emergency laws and grant civil rights in one of the Arab world’s most repressive countries.
Though the demonstrations in Dara’a and elsewhere paled before those of past days, organizers vowed to turn out their largest numbers yet on what protesters have begun to call “Great Friday.” Some residents said security forces were already deploying in the hopes of dampening the turnout, and organizers across Syria called the day potentially decisive for the uprising’s momentum.
….“People don’t trust the regime anymore,” said Haitham Maleh, a former judge and an often imprisoned human rights activist in Damascus, Syria’s capital. “I don’t think that the Syrian people are going to stop before they bring down this regime.”
But Syria is a complicated country, with sizable minorities of Christians and heterodox Muslim sects that have looked with trepidation to the example offered by Iraq’s civil war. The prospect that Mr. Maleh raised — the government’s fall — has alarmed some, particularly among the minorities, who worry about society’s lack of independent institutions to navigate a transition and the fearsome prospect of score-settling in chaos.
“Everything is possible today,” said Michel Kilo, another government critic in Damascus. “If the regime believes that with security they can handle everything, then they will be turning Syria into a breeding ground for all kinds of extremist movements.”…..
Syria Ruling Party Official Says No Tolerance with ’Terrorists’
By Inal Ersan, 2011-04-20, Bloomberg
The Syrian ruling Baath party’s Assistant Secretary-General Mohammad Saeed Bkhaitan said there will be no tolerance with “terrorists” in the Arab country, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency Reported today. “Events have proven that tolerance and forgiveness doesn’t pay off with the enemies of the nation and those lurking against the security and stability Syria enjoys,” the agency said, citing remarks by Bkhaitan to party officials. The remarks came after five weeks of violent protests across the country to demand greater freedoms.
Syrian authorities urged not to suppress ‘Great Friday’ protests
Amnesty International, 21 April 2011
The Syrian authorities must not respond with violence to mass demonstrations planned across the country tomorrow, Amnesty International urged on the eve of a Facebook-promoted “Great Friday” protest.
“It is imperative that these demonstrations are policed sensibly, sensitively and in accordance with international law to avoid further bloodshed on Syria’s streets,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa. “These ‘Great Friday’ protests could be the largest yet. If government security forces resort to the same extremely violent tactics they have used over the past month, the consequences could be exceedingly grave.”
See Qifa Nabki on my discussion with Ammar Abdulhamid. See Ammar’s site.
Syria’s government rushes in reforms
By Sami Moubayed in Asia Times
Lifting the law means security officials can no longer arrest, detain, or interrogate citizens without a proper court warrant. Any person summoned for questioning will be entitled to a fair and public trial in the presence of an attorney.
The new government also canceled the special National Security Court, which was established in 1968. That controversial court has been charged with looking into all cases referred to it by the Military Governor under Emergency Laws, known in Arabic as al-Hakem al-Urfi, and who in this case was the Minister of Interior. All cases currently registered with the now-disbanded court will immediately be referred to civil courts for a fair trial. A previous decision to replace emergency laws with a law for counter-terrorism, similar to the Patriot Act, has been canceled.
There will be neither emergency laws nor counter-terrorism laws in Syria – which is certain to please ordinary Syrians.
Additionally the new government passed a law allowing and regulating peaceful demonstrations in Syria. Although a constitutional right, demonstrating has been off-limits for decades because of the emergency laws mentioned above. Anybody wishing to stage a demonstration today needs to apply for a permit from police. He/she will obtain it provided that they specify a time for the demonstration, along with a location, duration and a guarantee that they will not resort to violence. Demonstrators will also be entitled to police protection while they are on the streets.
Finally, the government is putting the final touches on a new party law that is due for release by the end of April and which allows the establishment of parties with programs different from that of the ruling Ba’ath.
The false hope of revolution in Syria, Posted By May Akl (the press secretary of Lebanese MP Michel Aoun.) Tuesday, April 19, 2011 at Foreign Policy
…In the context of these leaderless revolutions that stemmed from rightful social, economic, and political demands, the only organized and well-structured group has been the Muslim Brotherhood. For 83 years now, the aim of this widespread movement has been to instill the Quran and Sunna as the sole reference for ordering the life of the Muslim family and state. Whether it will finally succeed in doing so by claiming to embrace the hopes and dreams of the Arab youth is not to be ruled out….
The Grand Mufti of Syria, Hassoun, gives a pro-revolution speech, declaring that the demonstrators are not terrorists or after bread, but fighting for dignity.
أكد وزير الاقتصاد والتجارة محمد نضال الشعار خلال اجتماعه برئيس وأعضاء غرفة تجارة حلب أمس أن عمله عضواً في الحكومة بمثابة «خادم» للمواطنين وللفعاليات الاقتصادية وأنه مستمع «جيد ومخلص» وأن بإمكان سورية أن تصبح «سنغافورة 2» بإمكاناتها وخبرة أبنائها
إقالة رئيس قسم الأمن السياسي في بانياس الرائد أمجد عباس بعد ظهوره في فيديو التنكيل بأهالي البيضا reports that the head of political security (al-amn al-siyasi) in Banyas has been detained.
Defense Minister and Deputy Prime Minister of the caretaker government, Elias al-Murr: Translation thanks to mideastwire.com
“This is a question that is on the table nowadays, as the region is ablaze and Syria is in a state of turmoil. We, as Lebanese, must ask ourselves: Which Syria do we want? In these sensitive times, it would be easy to slide into emotional reactions and say: Let there be a regime change in Syria! But what will happen next? What new regime are we talking about? What Syria are we talking about? What type of relations between the two countries are we addressing? The answer is simple: the unknown. Can Lebanon risk heading toward the unknown? Certainly not. Can the Lebanese people handle getting to know a new regime in Syria, its nature, strategy and perception of Lebanon?
… if we were to adopt the ideas of some who are tactically wagering on transformations in Syria, what will be the result? …. I write to say to each gambler: If these wagers were to lead Lebanon and its people toward the unknown, this unknown is in itself a catastrophe for a country like Lebanon
….This is a storm in a teacup and does not deserve having us tamper with the fate of our children and country and wager on the unknown. I say it loud and clear, and even if the circumstances were to change tomorrow. This is a conviction regardless of the transformations. Support this regime that is led by Al-Assad so that we do not regret it.”
Independent: Can President Assad do what it takes to cleanse his corrupt regime?
By Robert Fisk, 2011-04-20
“People are looking for security forces who will not treat the people like animals.” So said Daeiri el-Eiti last night, a Syrian activist, summing up the thoughts of his country. He was right. In Banias, in Latakia, in Homs, in Aleppo, in Deraa, even in Damascus itself, it is the same thing. As a friend of Bashar al-Assad, the President, said last night, “Bashar is like Fukushima. He is irradiated.”
Is this true? Can this be the end for the Ba’ath party of Syria, the very end of the “Renaissance Party” of the country which Bashar’s father Hafez supported? Is this the end of the Syrian security forces? It seems incredible, but it looks as if all Bashar’s dutiful offers of generosity – an end to the state of emergency, for example – have failed. There are those in Syria who say it is over, that there is nothing Bashar al-Assad can do to save his regime. We shall see…..
The problem lies, as Mr Eiti says, in that Syria remains a dictatorship and that Assad remains a dictator. His failure to rid his own family of the corrupt men within it (I am speaking of his uncle in particular) is the main problem for the regime. This is not a Gaddafi-corrupted government. This is not a Mubarak government. This is an Alawi regime – and essentially a Shia regime – which has been corrupted by its own family. The Assad family knows what it must do to cleanse the family name. Can Bashar do it? Does he have the power to do it? This is all that matters now if he is going to save his regime.
U.S. Groups Helped Nurture Arab Uprisings
By RON NIXON
Published: April 14, 2011
U.S. ‘Not Working to Undermine’ Syria, State Department Says
By Nicole Gaouette
April 18 (Bloomberg) — “We are not working to undermine that government,” Toner said at a briefing. The programs in Syria are similar to those the U.S. runs in other parts of the world to build democratic
institutions, Toner said. “This is part of our support forcivil society and non-governmental organizations. What’s different is the way the Syrian government has reacted.”
Yemen Officials Consider ‘30 + 60’ Plan to End Political Crisis
2011-04-20; Donna Abu-Nasr
April 20 (Bloomberg) — Discussions to end a political crisis in Yemen are centered around a plan that would have President Ali Abdullah Saleh step down within 30 days of it being announced and guarantee immunity for him, his family and long-time aides, a Yemeni official said. Under the so-called 30 + 60 plan, Saleh would transfer his powers to a deputy and elections would be held 60 days after that, according to Ahmed al-Soufi, secretary general for the Yemeni Institute for the Development of Democracy and a media affairs adviser in the presidential palace.
In the southern town of As Suwayda,Washington Post
protests earlier in the day were met by government supporters in cars and on foot, armed with metal and wooden sticks and belts, a witness said.
“They started to beat everyone they saw in the way,” said Alaa, 24, a protester who did not want his last name used. “They called us anti-regime, spies. They started to swear at us and say dirty words. They said that we are not from As Suwayda, that we are not sons of the mountains, that we are not Arabs.”
“My father led the revolution, but now we are in a police dictatorship and the government is oppressing us violently in every province,” said Mountaha al-Atrash, an elderly opposition figure whose father, Sultan Pasha al-Atrash, led an unsuccessful 1925 uprising against French rule. “The people want their rights, freedom and democracy, and these are legitimate demands.”
She spoke over the phone from her ancestral village of Quraya, where security forces dispersed demonstrators for trying to raise the Syrian flag and sing the national anthem. Her nephew, a grandson of the one-time rebel leader, was badly beaten by the police, she said. Several hundred protesters attempted to rally under a statue of Sultan Pasha al-Atrash in the central al-Shoulaa Square in the nearby town of Suwayda, a center for Syria’s Druze community, but were violently dispersed, said witnesses.
”We were carrying pictures of the leaders of the revolution and the flag and chanting for a free Syria and oh my God, thugs who are pro-government, aided by security, attacked us,” said a young activist in Suwayda, who asked not to be name for fear of government reprisals. “Women were hit in the street and the pictures of our leaders, or our history makers, were broken.”
I read your blog for years. Now I have to say it is over and I can’t take it anymore. I can’t read one more word about Syria you publish. I am going to unsubscribe, just like canceling my Facebook and shutting the TV. I did the same after 9/11. I couldn’t hear anymore. This is a nightmare and it is not ending. I hope God will prove you all wrong and that after the people causing this destruction to Syria get the freedom they want, we, the people get to keep the Syria we love. A Syria that is not part of a Great Israel or greater Turkey. Not part of a Irani / Iraqi Empire or Muslim brotherhood kingdom. I don’t know if prayers are heard but I am praying to God to prove you all wrong. None of you really care about Syria the place or the Syrian people. None of you care to preserve the little we have. We want our Syria back and away from your news. May God prove you all wrong, may God save and protect Syria.
Prominent dissident writer says country is ripe for change
April 21, 2011 | LA Times
Gamlsa vänner 010Protests continue to convulse the streets of Syria, and the demonstrations that erupted last month have come to pose the greatest challenge to President Bashar Assad’s 11-year rule.
Yassin Haj Saleh, a prominent Syrian writer who spent 16 years in prison as a political dissident, has attended demonstrations in violence- and protest-stricken Syrian cities and feels that the country is absolutely “ripe” for change.
He recently left his home in fear of reprisals by the Syrian authorities and says he is ready to pay “perhaps everything” for a free Syria. So far he’s been living like a hunted man.
“I’ve left home for a fortnight now,” he told Babylon & Beyond. “I’m living here and there and trying to be more careful in my movements. But I am speaking to satellite TV and my number is known, and this is a source of anxiety but I can’t change it. Only in the streets I use my phone. TV channels will speak to me at any time. And that is why I left home — to speak freely about the situation in the country.”
The rest of the interview follows.
From where do you get information about what is happening in the country?
We have a big and trustworthy network of friends. Facebook and email. Of course TV channels. But the most important and precious information I get from my friends in the hot spots.
You’ve already paid a high price. What are you ready to do this time?
Well, I feel that I am at a crucial point of my life. The country is at a crucial point. We have either to win this battle and to face the difficulties of building a free country, and this will take a long time and be difficult. If the regime won this battle, I think we will see a new wave of fascism in the country.
What is your assessment of the mood in the country today? Is the majority saying: I would rather live with the pain that I know than plunge into the unknown?
It is very difficult to answer this question. Nobody expected what happened in the last four weeks in Syria, and week by week the protests are getting larger. So I think protests will broaden, but the problem is that there is a kind of stalemate in the country. People are afraid of what will happen.
I cannot predict what will happen, but I hope that this will lead to change, perhaps not radical change, like what happened in Egypt and Tunisia. But I hope the regime will recognize the legitimacy of the uprising and that our political system will be built on this. In Syria maybe it is dangerous to think of toppling the regime completely. I hope we can reach a … historic compromise, but the problem is that we have the most violent and brutal regime in the region. All depends on what will happen in the Intifada.
Senators Condemn Use of Violence in Syria: Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) spoke on the Senate floor on Thursday urging U.S. support for the Syrian uprising. He called for sanctions to be put in place in concert with European allies and also called for a special session of the U.N. Human Rights Council as well as a referral of Assad’s regime to the International Criminal Court.Senator John Kerry (D-MA) asserted that Syria’s goals to begin modernizing and entering into relationships with the international community will be denied unless Assad’s government ceases to use violence against its own people.
Discussion on U.S. Policy Toward Syria: David Schenker argued that a policy of maintaining stability in Damascus is not in America’s vested interest. Along with Andrew J. Tabler, Schenker also called for a suspension of U.S. investment in Syria, increases in multilateral sanctions, and for the White House to target specific members of the regime. Human Rights Watch issued a report demanding that the Syrian government end its inhumane treatment of protesters. Former Canadian Ambassador to Syria, Brian J. Davis, stated that Assad’s eventual downfall has already been determined.
POMED also reports on this document:
A three-page document allegedly obtained from Syrian security services detailed government counter-measures to protests. The document provides specific and often brutal directives for handling different levels of unrest and even proposed policy measures.
Scott Macleod, who used to write for Time, has started a new review: He writes:
The new publication I’ve been working on, called the Cairo Review of Global Affairs (produced by American University in Cairo), is launching this week. The first issue has a special report on “Arab Revolution” and includes articles by Ahmed Zewail, William B. Quandt, Princeton Lyman, Shibley Telhami and Shadi Hamid, and interviews with Amr Khaled, Nabil Fahmy, Essam El-Erian, Alaa Al Aswany and Amr Hamzawy among others: http://www.thecairoreview.com/ or on Twitter: http://twitter.com/cairoreview We have a Huffpo-style blog called Tahrir Forum on the website.
Best regards, scott