Posted by Joshua on Saturday, March 5th, 2011
Asma al-Assad’s glowing write up in Vogue was met by outrage in all the usual places. Max Fisher and Jeffrey Goldberg, big supporters of Israel, castigated Vogue for its profile of Syria’s first lady. They express horror at seeing a positive write up of Syria. Doubtlessly, they would be gratified to see a positive report of Israel’s first lady even though Israel has killed, wounded, and imprisoned without trial many more of its subjects in the last 10 years than Syria has. The fact is that Asma al-Assad is doing good things in Syria. Reporting on them is correct. If Israel’s first lady is doing something constructive for her country, the homeless, orphans, or the undeserved, she should get credit for it, regardless of how badly the Israeli government treats its subjects in the Occupied Territories.
The battle over interpreting the Great Arab Revolt of 2011 is raging. I quote three interpretations below. Buthaina Shabaan argues that it is a revolt against the American and Israeli imposed order in the Middle East. Fuad Ajami claims that the Arab people have finally shaken off their own psychological chains in order to embrace freedom.
Leon Hadar, who I admire, argues that this is the end of Pan-Arabism in his Burying Pan-Arabism | The National Interest.he writes:
Egypt and the Arab world may be entering a post-Pan-Arabist stage in which new national identities and sub-regional groupings (that includes non-Arab entities like the Kurds, the southern Sudanese, and the Berbers of North Africa) will project their growing power…..
Greg Gause takes issue with Hadar’s statement that Arabism is dead, which echos Ajami’s famous statement following the 1967 War. Greg writes:
Burying something that has been dead for decades is not very interesting. What is interesting is the contagion effect in the Arab world, which demonstrates that things still do travel across borders in the Arab world in a way that is different from other groupings. Did Arabs take to the streets during the protests in Iran in 2009? When AKP won the last two elections in Turkey? Intellectuals noticed those things, but when Tunisians went to the streets successfully, Egyptians followed, then Yemenis, Bahrainis, Jordanians, Algerians…That has to mean something, even if it does not mean that Abd al-Nasir is coming back.
In analyzing the forces behind the revolutions, American analysts take solace in the fact that al-Qaida and Islamism is largely absent from the front lines of protest. They argue that the call for democracy and individual rights is pro-Western, not pro-Islamist. All the same, few doubt that parties such as the Muslim Brotherhood will play a greater role in places such as Egypt and Tunisia.
The new Day of Rage being called for by the Facebook website “The Syria Revolution of 2011” is generating interest from journalists who want to know who created it, who has signed it, and whether it will spark protests. In the past, Syrian youth have been largely apolitical and apathetic. The reasons for this are many: they have been too preoccupied with material pursuits, fed up with Syria’s traditional opposition parties, too divided, or too frightened of Syria’s uncompromising security forces. The present agitation for revolution is waking many young Syrians out of their slumber and causing them to see that mass action can make a difference, even against the most determined state. Still, there is little history of group action or unity in Syria. Most organized opposition leaders live in exile. Over twenty of my facebook friends have signed on to the protest – all live outside Syria. Some have created moving YouTube testimonials to encourage revolt among Syrians. It will take time, however, for Syrians to change, but they will.
News Round Up
Syria: Why is there no Egypt-style revolution?
By Lina Sinjab BBC News, Damascus
As Syrians eagerly follow developments in the Middle East, they are – for the first time in almost four decades – also loudly discussing the politics at home.
Everyone in Syria seems to be watching and waiting; people from all sections of society and every political stripe.
“One thing everyone agrees on is that change should be fast and tangible, it cannot wait,” says Kais Zakaria, a 35-year-old dentist.
There are signs that the wave of change in the Middle East is having an effect here….
“There is a wide gap between the government and the people in Syria,” says Mr Zakaria, while sipping his coffee and surfing the news at a downtown internet cafe. “We need to regain trust in the government… To start with, we need better living conditions and fair distribution of the country’s wealth,” he adds.
At a nearby fruit and vegetable market, buyers and sellers are fighting over food prices. No one is satisfied. “I can barely get my bread,” one of the sellers shouts above his customers. “I fought the Israelis in 1973, and now I am humiliated by the police. “Why should I take it?”President Assad’s supporters were out in force during a recent religious celebration
The government has taken several measures in the wake of Tunisia and Egypt to reduce the cost of basic goods, especially food. There have been grants for the poor, and reports that civil servants have been instructed to treat citizens with respect. But Syria suffers from corruption that goes all the way up the system….
But many here believe that, without the rule of law, any change will be cosmetic…..
Still, there is the sense on the streets of Damascus that demonstrations will not be seen in the capital anytime soon. There were calls last month for a “day of rage” – mainly organised by exiled opposition groups – but no-one showed up. The absence of any real opposition inside the country and fear of the security services were blamed for their lack of success.
So far, there have been few calls for President Bashar al-Assad to step down. Although Syria faces similar problems as Egypt and Tunisia, the young president enjoys popularity here.
“We need political reforms, fair and free elections, and we need to be part of building our country,” says Mr Zakaria.
President Assad’s second term will end in 2014. And this year, Syria is due to hold municipal and parliamentary elections. Many people now believe there is a golden opportunity for change and for a peaceful transition to a democratic system…. Read the rest
Oxford Analytica: Excerpt:
Syria is the most stable of the republics, albeit for the ‘wrong’ reasons. The core of the regime is the Allawi community in alliance with other minorities and parts of the majority Sunni community. It is a secular regime and few Syrians want to challenge a system whose collapse could lead to Lebanese-style inter-communal strife. The army and security services, dominated by Allawi, are loyal and will fight to retain power and crack down on major unrest. The regime for years has postponed decisions about making essential economic and social reform but it will now have to change its approach as revolution sweeps through its neighbourhood.
The Syrian Style of Repression: Thugs and Lectures
By Rania Abouzeid / Damascus Sunday, Feb. 27, 2011
The plainclothes not-so-secret police, or moukhabarat, arrived early, more than 40 minutes before the protest was due to start at 5 p.m. opposite the three-story Libyan Embassy in Damascus last Wednesday. They milled about in clumps of four or five, their black leather jackets and hard stares giving them away as much as the walkie talkies…
Gary Gambill’s Syria problem
By Nicholas Noe
Gary Gambill has two pieces out on the Syria issue…. I have always admired Gary’s ability to synthesize information. The core problem is that he has never visited Syria or Lebanon and his analysis therefore suffers – especially when getting down to an almost anthropological level about Allawi-Sunni matters. To talk credibly at this level of detail, you need to have a feeling, a touch, with the subject matter ……
Program Announcement: The Beirut & Damascus Exchanges June-July 2011
The Exchange is an effort by Mideastwire.com and its partners to promote engagement and understanding through a variety of city-focused, student conferences in and around the Middle East. The first Exchange was launched in June 2008 in Beirut, Lebanon. Now, several years on, over 150 students from 40 different countries have participated, with many going on to work as diplomats in their home countries, for NGOs serving the region and as social entrepreneurs. This year, we are offering the Beirut Exchange June 12-26 and the Damascus Exchange July 2-16 (in partnership with The Syria Report).
Syria Must Simplify Tax to Lure Investors, Former Minister Says
By Lina Ibrahim, 2011-03-02
Syria should change its “complicated and confusing” tax policy to attract foreign investments and stop the outflow of local capital, a Syrian economist and former lawmaker said.
Hussein al-Qadhi, who served as the country’s industry minister in 1980, said the government should speed up the introduction of a sales tax, originally planned for 2008, and simplify the tax code. This would involve reducing current rates, phasing out customs fees and improving transparency, he said.
“Although the tax system is not the sole reason that hinders investment and development, it is the main one,” al- Qadhi said at a lecture in Damascus yesterday.
The Finance Ministry forecast in a report published on its website that tax revenue in the 2011 budget will reach 454.5 billion Syrian pounds ($9.7 billion), up from 400.5 billion in 2010.
How To Understand the Arab Revolutions
BBC MidEast: Arab protests “against Western support for oppression” – Syrian official
Text of report by Syrian government-owned newspaper Tishrin website on 21 February. [Article by Syrian Presidential Adviser Buthaynah Sha’ban: “The People Want To Overthrow [American Support for Settlement-Building”] the democratic revolution spreading in the Arab land is, deep down, a blatant response to the American usurpation of the Arabs’ freedom in Palestine and Iraq and to the unlimited support that the ugliest and racist occupation in the history of mankind received and continues to receive from them at the expense of the dignity and freedom of the people of Palestine, who are being ethnically cleansed out of their lands before their very eyes and with the support of the United States for more than 60 years and to this day….
The dawn of Arab democracy has broken and it is being made by the Arab masses with their own blood, hands, and visions. The Israeli crimes and its wars against the Arabs were the embers that lit up the revolution on the local fronts. The West must not be surprised when hundreds of millions of Arabs, from the [Pacific] ocean to the [Arabian] gulf, shout out in the future: “The people want to cleanse Palestine of the settlements.” What will Elliott Abrams, Condoleezza Rice, and Hillary Clinton say then? Would they also claim that the American support for the
occupation and the settlements is aimed at rendering the two-state solution a success?
How the Arabs Turned Shame Into Liberty Fouad Ajami – Wall Street Journal
The crowd hadn’t been blameless, it has to be conceded. Over the decades, Arabs took the dictators’ bait, chanted their names and believed their promises. They averted their gazes from the great crimes. Out of malice or bigotry, that old “Arab street” — farewell to it, once and for all — had nothing to say about the terror inflicted on Shiites and Kurds in Iraq, for Saddam Hussein was beloved by the crowds, a pan-Arab hero, an enforcer of Sunni interests….
To understand the present, we consider the past. The tumult in Arab politics began in the 1950s and the 1960s, when rulers rose and fell with regularity. They were struck down by assassins or defied by political forces that had their own sources of strength and belief. ….. The new men were pitiless, they re-ordered the political world, they killed with abandon; a world of cruelty had settled upon the Arabs. Average men and women made their accommodation with things, retreating into the privacy of their homes. In the public space, there was now the cult of the rulers,…
Yet, as they aged, the coup-makers and political plotters of yesteryear sprouted rapacious dynasties; they became “country owners,” ….. the wives and the children of the rulers devouring all that could be had by way of riches and vanity.
Shame — a great, disciplining force in Arab life of old — quit Arab lands. In Tunisia, a hairdresser-turned-despot’s wife, Leila Ben Ali, now pronounced on all public matters; in Egypt the despot’s son, Gamal Mubarak, brazenly staked a claim to power over 80 million people; in Syria, Hafez al-Assad had pulled off a stunning feat, turning a once-rebellious republic into a monarchy in all but name and bequeathing it to one of his sons.
These rulers hadn’t descended from the sky. They had emerged out of the Arab world’s sins of omission and commission. Today’s rebellions are animated, above all, by a desire to be cleansed of the stain and the guilt of having given in to the despots for so long. …
As Regimes Fall in Arab World, Al Qaeda Sees History Fly By
By: Scott Shane | The New York Times
For nearly two decades, the leaders of Al Qaeda have denounced the Arab world’s dictators as heretics and puppets of the West and called for their downfall. Now, people in country after country have risen to topple their leaders — and Al Qaeda has played absolutely no role.
the past few weeks have the makings of an epochal disaster for Al Qaeda, making the jihadists look like ineffectual bystanders to history while offering young Muslims an appealing alternative to terrorism.
Western news agencies have discussed the creation of a page on the Facebook website entitled, “The Syrian Revolution Against Bashar Assad, 2011”, which has around twenty-five thousand members so far. Several sites have published a statement in the name of Syrian intellectuals criticising the racism of a Syrian officer who threatened a number of young Syrians demonstrating in front of the Libyan embassy in Damascus. Syria has evacuated more than 2,500 Syrian citizens who were blockaded in Libya’s Benghazi airport. The Israeli media has reported the Israeli Prime Minister’s rejection of President Assad’s invitation to recommence negotiations.
Pro-Israel writers are going ape over the Vogue piece on Asma al-Assad. Of course they see nothing wrong with puffing Israeli leaders.
Vogue Defends Profile of Syrian First Lady
Max Fisher is an associate editor at The Atlantic
“Syria is known as the safest country in the Middle East, possibly because, as the State Department’s Web site says, ‘the Syrian government conducts intense …
U.S. lawmaker, Syria’s Assad working to renew peace talks with Israel – Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been briefed on Kerry’s talks with Assad, opposes the plan, since he does not believe Assad is serious about making peace with Israel. …
The Saudi Tadawul All Share Index had the biggest drop in the world in overnight equity trading, dropping 6.8 percent. The Saudi stock market has lost 18 percent since the fall of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia. Saudi stocks have fallen 12 days in a row, the longest losing streak since 1998 (Bloomberg). Just out from the blog ZeroHedge.com: Silver Hits Fresh Post Hunt Brother High Of $34.43 On News Saudi Has Sent Tanks To Bahrain
Submitted by Tyler Durden on 03/01/2011 07:12 -0500
Middle East Newspaper Saudi Arabia
“If RIA Novosti’s update on the Middle East escalation is correct, the Middle East’s worst kept secret, that Saudi Arabia would interfere militarily in Bahrain before the country fell, has just been confirmed. From RIA: “Saudi Arabia has sent dozens of tanks to Bahrain, where anti-government protests continue for about two weeks, Egypt’s Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper said on Tuesday. Eyewitnesses reported seeing “15 tank carriers carrying two tanks each heading towards Bahrain” along the 25-km King Fahd causeway, which links the small island nation of Bahrain to Saudi Arabia.” And while nobody expects the DXY to do much if anything on this news, now that the dollar is irrelevant in the FX realm, the same can not be said about silver. Silver just hit $34.43 minutes ago, the highest print in the last 31 years.” Source-www.zerohedge.com.
The Arab world’s impending triple crisis
Friday, 25 February 2011 12:58 by nafeez mosaddeq ahmed
As early as 2015, the average Arab will be forced to survive on less than 500 cubic meters of water per year, a level defined as severe scarcity
….The converging effects of population growth, climate change, and energy depletion are setting the stage for a looming triple crisis.
The region accounts for 6.3% of the world’s population but only 1.4% of its renewable fresh water. Twelve of the world’s 15 most water-scarce countries – Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Israel, and Palestine – are in the region, and in eight, available fresh water amounts annually to less than 250 cubic meters per person. Three-quarters of the region’s available fresh water is in just four countries: Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey.
Water consumption in the region is linked overwhelmingly to industrial agriculture. From 1965 to 1997, Arab population growth drove demand for agricultural development, leading to a doubling of land under irrigation. Demographic expansion in these countries is set to dramatically worsen their predicament.
Although birth rates are falling, one-third of the overall population is below 15 years old, and large numbers of young women are reaching reproductive age, or soon will be. The United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence has projected that by 2030 the population of the Middle East will increase by 132%, and that of sub-Saharan Africa by 81%, generating an unprecedented “youth bulge.”
The World Bank’s Water Sector Assessment Report on the Gulf countries, published in 2005, predicts that these demographic pressures will likely cause the availability of fresh water to halve, exacerbating the danger of inter-state conflict. Competition to control water has already played a key role in regional geopolitical tensions, for instance, between Turkey and Syria; Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority; Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia; and between Saudi Arabia and its neighbours, Qatar, Bahrain, and Jordan.
A halving of available water supplies could turn these tensions into open hostilities. Indeed, while economic growth, accompanied by greater urbanisation and higher per capita incomes, has translated into greater demand for fresh water, the population movements that have resulted are now exacerbating local ethnic tensions.
As early as 2015, the average Arab will be forced to survive on less than 500 cubic meters of water per year, a level defined as severe scarcity. Shifts in rainfall patterns will certainly affect crops, particularly rice. A “business-as-usual” model for climate change suggests that global average temperatures could rise by 4° Celsius by mid-century. This would devastate agriculture in the Middle East and North Africa, with crop yields falling by 15-35%, depending on the strength of carbon fertilisation……
Education failures fan the flames in the Arab world
23 February 2011 by EFA Editor
By Kevin Watkins, director, Education for All Global Monitoring Report
This is the region with the world’s highest youth unemployment rate. One in four young people are out of work. In Tunisia the youth unemployment rate is 31%; in Egypt it is 34%.
Not only is joblessness rife, but young people also have to wait an exceptionally long time before finding their first job. Economists have even coined a term for the lengthy transition from education to work – ‘the waithood’. The average delay amounts to three years in Morocco and Iran, and over two years in Egypt.
These delays are a source of deep frustration. Unable to secure economic independence and the social status that comes with employment, young people are forced to delay marrying, forming their own families and buying homes.
Looking beyond the social consequences of youth unemployment, there is an immense economic cost. One estimate for the Middle East and North Africa puts the cost at 6% of GDP – more than governments spend on education. You can question the methodology behind the figure. But the high levels of economic waste associated with mass youth unemployment are beyond dispute.
The plague of jobless growth
Behind the headline unemployment data there are some worrying patterns. Many Arab states have combined high economic growth with low levels of youth employment creation. For example, Jordan has been growing at over 6% a year without registering a significant cut in youth unemployment.
The same pattern of jobless growth for young people is evident in other countries – and it could be about to get worse. Young people in the Middle East have been “missed by the boom, and hurt by the bust.” Youth are often last in line for new jobs, because the jobs are being filled by migrant workers, and because the growth sectors are often capital-intensive rather than labor-intensive. Gender inequality in labor markets is another barrier to opportunity: unemployment rates for female youth are 50% higher on average than for males.
The corollary of failed job-creation in the formal sector is the growth of the informal sector. In Egypt, more than 70% of first time labor-market entrants were forced into informal employment, where they face low pay, instability and limited job security. This has far-reaching consequences. Once young people enter the poor quality job market they seldom escape its gravitational pull, partly because they are unable to generate new skills.
Education failures feed the youth unemployment crisis….