Posted by Joshua on Monday, April 18th, 2011
Lots of deaths in Homs today. Still trying to sort out who is responsible for the killing.
From a Reader:
I am an avid reader of your blog, especially during these times, with the questionable news reports and media coverage. I have few comments about the recent updates in the situation in Syria. While I agree with you that the speech sounded very positive, and I think that President Assad did a good job approaching the situation. However, I would like to reference the progressive course of events, local reactions, and long term considerations. Admittedly, there is a large population in Syria that does not support the regime, but they would prefer stability, and a safer Syria. They believe that sectarian strife will take over Syria if these protests are to continue. Therefore, this group will find the president’s speech promising, and they will conclude that the protests should be over now. They are mostly upper-middle class city residents. The rest of the angry people will not see the speech as promising. At this point, expressed by many close friends in Syria, they do not take Assad’s seriously, nor do they believe true Assad promises will yield a lift for the emergency life. Their evidence is the continuous crack down on the protesters after the speech today. One of my close friends in Homs stated that over 25 people were killed today. He went to the hospital to donate blood, and the security forces forbade him and many others from doing so. Another close friend, who is currently in Daraa on his military service, has reported serious divisions in the military. He said that soldiers are being moved from their original bases to other parts of the country, because they did not follow orders.
Generally, the atmosphere continues to be extremely tense. I have observed friends move from one side to the other, and I think the opposition is growing slowly but surely. Assad’s move was in the right direction. But if he does not stop the killings, it will not ring true. Young people have changed after these events in Syria. When the protests began, I had a firm belief that Syria is not ready to revolt against the regime. The youth were not politically engaged. Political life, as you know, was not a part of the daily discourse. I think young people are getting a crash course of political engagement. The opposition is moving from the most desperate groups, to the college students, intellectuals, etc. It is no longer limited in the country side as we have been observing before.
Basically, I think the few next days are going to be very essential in the future of this movement. Assad’s effort are appearing more genuine. Will it convince people who are witnessing a wave of political empowerment? Will they forget the intensive killings? Will the military stand strong? According to local people, their answer is no.
Finally, many thanks to you efforts to keep us updated on this situation. I am a young Syrian. I am not pro the regime, but I am looking at things critically.
A friend driving from Hama to Banyas on small roads reports that:
“it was like every village had there own checkpoint, some very friendly, some kind of shady, all wanting to see i.d. Don’t know why they were so nervous, and downright unfriendly in some towns. But today in the mountains near Qadmus (and we went down to some 30 km before Banyas) people were a lot more easy-going.
The State Department has secretly financed Syrian political opposition groups and related projects, including a satellite TV channel that beams anti-government programming into the country, according to previously undisclosed diplomatic cables.
The London-based satellite channel, Barada TV, began broadcasting in April 2009 but has ramped up operations to cover the mass protests in Syria as part of a long-standing campaign to overthrow the country’s autocratic leader, Bashar al-Assad…
Barada TV is closely affiliated with the Movement for Justice and Development, a London-based network of Syrian exiles. Classified U.S. diplomatic cables show that the State Department has funneled as much as $6 million to the group since 2006 to operate the satellite channel and finance other activities inside Syria. The channel is named after the Barada River, which courses through the heart of Damascus, the Syrian capital.
The U.S. money for Syrian opposition figures began flowing under President George W. Bush after he effectively froze political ties with Damascus in 2005. The financial backing has continued under President Obama, even as his administration sought to rebuild relations with Assad….
The cables, provided by the anti-secrecy Web site WikiLeaks, show that U.S. Embassy officials in Damascus became worried in 2009 when they learned that Syrian intelligence agents were raising questions about U.S. programs. Some embassy officials suggested that the State Department reconsider its involvement, arguing that it could put the Obama administration’s rapprochement with Damascus at risk.
Syrian authorities “would undoubtedly view any U.S. funds going to illegal political groups as tantamount to supporting regime change,” read an April 2009 cable signed by the top-ranking U.S. diplomat in Damascus at the time. “A reassessment of current U.S.-sponsored programming that supports anti-[government] factions, both inside and outside Syria, may prove productive,” the cable said.
It is unclear whether the State Department is still funding Syrian opposition groups, but the cables indicate money was set aside at least through September 2010. While some of that money has also supported programs and dissidents inside Syria, The Washington Post is withholding certain names and program details at the request of the State Department, which said disclosure could endanger the recipients’ personal safety.
But no dissidents inside Syria were willing to take the money, for fear it would lead to their arrest or execution for treason, according to a 2006 cable from the U.S. Embassy, which reported that “no bona fide opposition member will be courageous enough to accept funding.”
Around the same time, Syrian exiles in Europe founded the Movement for Justice and Development. The group, which is banned in Syria, openly advocates for Assad’s removal. U.S. cables describe its leaders as “liberal, moderate Islamists” who are former members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
It is unclear when the group began to receive U.S. funds, but cables show U.S. officials in 2007 raised the idea of helping to start an anti-Assad satellite channel.
People involved with the group and with Barada TV, however, would not acknowledge taking money from the U.S. government.
“I’m not aware of anything like that,” Malik al-Abdeh, Barada TV’s news director, said in a brief telephone interview from London.
Abdeh said the channel receives money from “independent Syrian businessmen” whom he declined to name. He also said there was no connection between Barada TV and the Movement for Justice and Development, although he confirmed that he serves on the political group’s board. The board is chaired by his brother, Anas.
“If your purpose is to smear Barada TV, I don’t want to continue this conversation,” Malik al-Abdeh said. “That’s all I’m going to give you.”…
This cable represents a follow-up to “Re-engaging Syria: Human Rights” (ref A) and outlines ongoing civil society programming in the country, primarily under the auspices of the Bureau of Human Rights and Labor (DRL) and the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI).
….As the Syria policy review moves apace, and with the apparent collapse of the primary Syrian external opposition organization, one thing appears increasingly clear: U.S. policy may aim less at fostering “regime change” and more toward encouraging “behavior reform.” If this assumption holds, then a reassessment of current U.S.-sponsored programming that supports anti-SARG factions, both inside and outside Syria, may prove productive as well.
3. (C) The U.S. attempt to politically isolate the SARG raised stumbling blocks to direct Embassy involvement in civil society programming. As a result, the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) and the Bureau of Human Rights and Labor (DRL) took the lead in identifying and funding civil society and human rights projects. Though the Embassy has had direct input on a few of these efforts, especially with DRL, most of the programming has proceeded without direct Embassy involvement….
In addition to these programs, the Embassy provided input on DRL grants awarded to Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), International War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), and The International Research and Exchange Board (IREX). Though Post does not directly monitor any of these programs, we have appreciated the opportunity to meet with representatives of CIPE and IWPR. —MEPI —
5. (C) In addition to smaller local grants, MEPI sponsors eight major Syria-specific initiatives, some dating back to 2005, that will have received approximately USD 12 million by September 2010. A summary of MEPI produced material on these programs follows:
-Aspen Strategic Initiative Institute, “Supporting Democratic Reform” (USD 2,085,044, December 1, 2005 – December 31, 2009). The institute, situated in Berlin, works with indigenous and expatriate reform-oriented activists and has sponsored conferences in international locations that brought together NGO representatives, media, and human rights activists from the Middle East, Europe, and the U.S., XXXXXXXXXXXX. MEPI noted that “while this program has offered little intrinsic value and will not likely be continued beyond the terms of the grant, XXXXXXXXXXXX.
-Democracy Council of California, “Civil Society Strengthening Initiative (CSSI)” (USD 6,300,562, September 1, 2006 – September 30, 2010). “CSSI is a discrete collaborative effort between the Democracy Council and local partners” that has produced XXXXXXXXXXXX “various broadcast concepts” set to air in April. -Regents of the University of New Mexico, “The Cooperative Monitoring Center-Amman: Web Access for Civil Society Initiatives” (USD 949,920, September 30, 2006 – September 30, 2009). This project established “a web portal” and training in how to use it for NGOs. MEPI noted, “this program has been of minimal utility and is unlikely to be continued beyond the term of the grant.” XXXXXXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXXXXX
International Republican Institute (IRI), “Supporting Democratic Reform” (USD 1,250,000, September 30, 2006 August 31, 2009). “The project supports grassroots public awareness campaigns and the conduct and dissemination of public opinion polling research. XXXXXXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXXXXX
-MEPI has also proposed continued programming for IRI and the CIPE, as well as supporting independent journalists through joint efforts with NEA/PI.
Challenge Ahead: Programming In Syria
6. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX
7. (S) Regarding the most sensitive MEPI-sponsored programs in Syria, Post has had limited visibility on specific projects, due in no small measure to SARG-imposed constraints. XXXXXXXXXXXX Through the intermediary operations of the Movement for Justice and Development (MJD) (ref B), a London-based moderate Islamist group, MEPI routes money XXXXXXXXXXXX. Our understanding is that the aforementioned Democracy Council grant is used for this purpose and passes the MEPI grant money on to the MJD.
8. (S) XXXXXXXXXXXX 9. (S) XXXXXXXXXXXX The SARG would undoubtedly view any U.S. funds going to illegal political groups as
Syrian security forces opened fire on protesters at a funeral on Sunday, witnesses said, and an announcement that President Bashar al-Assad would lift 48-years of emergency rule failed to quell fury on the streets.
Two witnesses said security forces killed three mourners when they opened fire on a funeral for a man killed the day before, which turned into a demonstration on a highway outside the town of Talbiseh, north of the central city of Homs.
One resident said he counted five tanks and saw soldiers wearing combat gear deployed around the town.
Chants at protests on Sunday, Syria’s Independence Day holiday, more hostile toward Assad than at previous marches held in recent weeks, a sign that a promise to lift the country’s hated emergency law had failed to appease the public.
Opposition figures say they believe new laws that will replace the emergency rule are likely to retain severe curbs on political freedoms.
Thousands of demonstrators called for Bashar’s overthrow at another funeral, held in Hirak town northeast of the southern city of Deraaa, for soldier Mohammad Ali Radwan al-Qoman, whose relatives believe he was tortured by the security forces.
“Freedom, freedom Syria, Bashar get out,” people chanted, their slogans audible in a telephone call with one of the mourners at the funeral….
American Thinker: President Bashar al-Assad’s Strategic Mistake, By Patrick J Howie, April 17, 2011
The lessons from the most recent uprisings, as well as from uprisings throughout history indicate that, by offering the promise of reform, President Assad has made a strategic error that will ultimately lead to his downfall.
This is not to say that Assad will lose power immediately, for he has shown a willingness to use significant force against his people. But his recent actions all but guarantee that reform will happen; it is just a matter of time. President Assad’s mistake is quite simple — he acknowledged the arguments of the reformers. Though seemingly innocuous, this was a significant mistake. By promising reform, even if he doesn’t mean it, President Assad has implicitly validated to the Syrian people that the arguments of the democratic reformers have merit….
Syria’s new Minister of the Economy says, “Our Goal is to Raise the Standard of Living of the Citizen – And we will raise it by any means.”
استهل وزير الاقتصاد والتجارة محمد نضال الشعار مهامه الحكومية الجديدة بلقاء مجلس إدارة غرفة تجارة حلب، صباح يوم الأحد.
و تم خلال اللقاء عرض بعض الحلول المقترحة لتنشيط الأسواق و الحركة التجارية، مركزين على الإسراع في وضع المخطط التنظيمي لمدينة حلب، و تخفيض الرسوم الجمركية و ضريبة الإنفاق الاستهلاكي على بعض المواد الغذائية وتطبيق الرقابة الفعالة على الأسواق ودعم جمعية حماية المستهلك، وغيرها.
وقال الشعار في تصريح للصحفيين “هدف الوزارة هو خدمة المواطن أولاً وأخيراً، والتعرف على احتياجاته وآماله من خلال التواصل لملامسة معاناة وأوجاع وأحلام وآمال وفرحة الشعب، ويشارك الحكومة في صنع القرار، لكي يشعر المواطن بآماله بصنع مستقبله”.
ووعد الشعار “بتقديم خدمات أفضل للمواطن والتاجر والصناعي بالأصول والمعقول”، قائلاً “لا توجد عندنا معجزات، لكن واجبنا تحضير وصنع القرار والتأكد من تنفيذه ومراقبته بمشاركة المواطن”.
ورداً على الاستفسار حول مطالب المواطنين بما يخص المازوت والنقل الداخلي قال الشعار “سيكون موضوع المازوت والنقل أولوية بالنسبة للحكومة، وهدفنا رفع مستوى معيشة المواطن وسنرفعها بأي طريقة، لكن تلزمنا شراكة وصدق وإخلاص المواطن”.
وفيما يخص احتكار بعض التجار رأى الشعار أنه “من الصعب أن تكون رقيباً على النفس الإنسانية، فلا رقيب على النفس غير الوجدان والضمير والدين والأخلاق، وكحكومة من واجبنا خلق قرارات وبيئة اقتصادية تمنع الغش والاحتكار”.
Reuters: Sunday, April 17, 2011
“They have to have economies that are going to grow 8 percent a year just to sustain unemployment levels,” said Molly Williamson, a former senior U.S. diplomat and defense official. “It’s sort of an ‘Oh, shit’ moment for everyone.” “Area stretching from North Africa to Pakistan would have to create at least 8 million jobs a year just to keep joblessness at current levels — over five times the number of jobs created in the United States in a year.”That’s not going to happen. No matter what regime is in power there is going to be a substantial amount of dissatisfaction”
….Meanwhile demonstrations started in Dar‘a, a Syrian border town close to Jordan. Its residents are chicken farmers or else they work in the Gulf. The town has a history of smuggling. Now demonstrations have spread and the government has responded as harshly as others in the region, killing dozens. Sunnis are the majority in Syria and the regime has crushed the Muslim Brotherhood in the past. They spread to other parts of Syria and the regime responded clumsily and brutally, with violence and the usual accusations of foreign conspiracies. While it is not inevitable, it is very possible that a sectarian civil war will break out in Syria, with all the bloodletting of Iraq. I believe it is likely, should the Syrian regime collapse, and almost guaranteed given the regime’s response to demonstrations. In the end, each side in the confrontation will be increasingly identified with a sect, as in Bahrain.
Across the border, Jordan has a very large proportion of Salafis with a strong social base. Many are jihadists and hate Shiites. Jordanian jihadists who had fought in Afghanistan and Iraq told me that they expected the final battle to occur in Sham, historic Syria. I’ve head the same thing from jihadi Salafis in Lebanon and Iraq. They view the ‘Alawite-dominated Syrian regime as a government of infidel Nuseiris. Sectarian Sunnis in Syria would find it easy to smuggle in weapons from Jordan or Lebanon or simply to reverse the smuggling routes into Iraq’s Anbar province. This could lead to tensions with Hizballah in Lebanon and with the regime in Iraq. Civil war in Syria will spread to Lebanon. Syria is home to both important Sunni and Shiite holy places. Leading Sunni cleric al-Qaradawi gave a sermon on 25 March condemning a Syrian raid on a mosque, which killed opposition demonstrators. The Syrian people treated ‘Alawite Syrian President Asad like he was a Sunni, al-Qaradawi said, but Asad was a prisoner of his entourage and his sect. The ‘Alawite sect controls the government and security forces, Qaradawi added.
The Syrian regime still has means in its disposal to placate demonstrators and control the disparate opposition groups. It has released prisoners, including Islamists, and initiated reforms. And holding back a civil war in Syria might be the knowledge, on all sides, of how bloody it could get. But so far the revolutions have proven impossible to stop, and in Syria it may be impossible to halt the sectarian dynamic that will ensue.
Increasingly even secular Arab Sunnis have adopted the extremist Wahabi views of Shiites. Coexistence is becoming impossible. And when the confrontation happens then the intolerant schools of Islam, such as the Salafis and Wahhabis, will dominate and become the universal Sunni vision of Shiites. Sunnis and Shiites alike are thinking of the conflict more and more as a regional one, with national borders meaning less. There is more violence to come.
Jihad and Sectarianism
ذكرت شبكة اخبار دمشق أن دعوات الجهاد انطلقت في أكثر من جامع في حمص و الأهالي تتحدث عن جرحى و قتلى في الشوارع و سيارات الإرهاب من الإخوان المسلمين تعيث فساداً وإعلان رسمي عن استشهاد واحد أفراد الأمن.
A friend comments about the above quote from Syria Steps which claims that several mosques in Homs called for “jihad”.
Yes I won’t be surprised. A combination of Qaradawi, MB efficiently active online topped with lack of action and stupid spin by the regime when 3alawi militias (or shabbiha) attack the Sunni village of Baida with videos spreading with claims that the militants who humiliated the peasants there verbally attacked the Sa7aba [The Sahaba are the companions of the Prophet but in this context it means the the rightly guided Caliphs with the exception of Ali, who the Shiites revere. JL]. I blame the regime and only the regime for letting this to go sectarian in some places. Its lack of swift reaction to (or complicity in) the atrocities is to blame.
Muslim Brothers General Guide, Riyad al-Shaqfa, says, “We are among those directing the demonstrations in Syria and participating in them and we will not stop them until the regime falls…..
April 3, 2011 Muslim Brotherhood.
المراقب العام للأخوان المسلمين في سوريا يؤكد ادعاءات النظام السوري حول وقوف”الجماعة”وراء التظاهرات!؟
رياض الشقفة : نحن من يدير المظاهرات في سوريا ونشارك فيها بفعالية ولن نوقفها حتى إسقاط النظام ، والخارجية التركية تحذره من الإضرار بالإصلاحات المنوي إجراؤها في سوريا
Fadi, your entire line of discussion is irrelevant. So far the MB have not figured prominently in these protests. They organize nothing, they mobilize no one. Almost all the chants you hear in the streets are calls for freedom and support for the besieged people of Dar’a and Baniyas….
When we see evidence of the MB becoming a prominent force in these demonstrations, then we can discuss the pros and cons of their ideology. But so far, the only role they seem to have is as an invention of the state media, as an ever-present bogy-man.
We have to stop being innocents or faking innocence. There will be many acts of revenge perpetrated … I deeply empathize with the plight of those who want change in Syria, but I think their revolution will be hijacked.
The US implemented democracy in Iraq with more than 150000 troops on the ground and because of the continuing sectarian divide look what democracy means in Iraq today:
A Druze kid:
“Nobody is leading us, nobody is making us go to the street,” said Alaa, 24, an English student in As Suwayda who joined the demonstrations for the first time last week. The authorities “are trying to make it religious. But we are not moved by religion. We are moved by freedom, by our sense of humanity.”
Now that he has demonstrated once, he said, he will keep going. “Maybe I will get killed, maybe my brother will get killed,” he said. “But we will not stop.”