Posted by Joshua on Friday, July 15th, 2011
“I have seen no evidence yet in terms of hard changes on the ground that the Syrian government is willing to reform at anything like the speed demanded by the street protestors. If it doesn’t start moving with far greater alacrity, the street will wash them away.” That was the blunt verdict offered by U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford in a wide-ranging telephone interview with Foreign Policy today.
Syrians mount biggest protests so far, 20 killed – By Khaled Oweis | Reuters
“These are the biggest demonstrations so far. It is a clear challenge to the authorities, especially when we see all these numbers coming out from Damascus for the first time,” said Rami Abdelrahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights….
At least 350,000 people demonstrated in the eastern province of Deir al Zor, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Syrian forces shot dead two pro-democracy protesters there on Thursday, residents said. …
Syria’s main ally, Iran, is considering offering $5.8 billion (3.6 billion pounds) in financial help, including a three-month loan worth $1.5 billion to be made available immediately, French business newspaper Les Echos said, citing a report by a Tehran think-tank linked to Iran’s leadership. …
“We have said Syria can’t go back to the way it was before, that Assad has lost his legitimacy in the eyes of his own people,” U.S. Secretary of States Hillary Clinton told a news conference in Istanbul.
“We, along with many others in the region and beyond, have said we strongly support a democratic transition,” she said. “The ultimate destiny of the Syrian regime and Syrian people lies with the people themselves.”… Emboldened by the spreading protests, prominent opposition figures and activists are to hold a conference in Istanbul on Saturday that will be closely coordinated with another conference in Damascus to form a shadow government of “independent, non-political technocrats” to prepare for when Assad loses authority.
Jad writes: “Every Friday for the last 3 weeks I read the exact same sentence and the problem is that every Friday I see less peaceful people go out in the street with more younger kids joining the same youth stone throwers of the week before, and there numbers are not ‘more’ than the week before, they are steady and in many places less.”
Unfolding the Syrian paradox
By Alastair Crooke in Asia Times
Can Syria properly be understood as an example of a “pure” Arab popular revolution, an uprising of non-violent, liberal protest against tyranny that has been met only by repression? I believe this narrative to be a complete misreading, deliberately contrived to serve quite separate ambitions. The consequences of turning a blind eye to the reality of what is happening in Syria entails huge risk: the potential of sectarian conflict that would not be confined to Syria alone.
One of the problems with unfolding the Syria paradox is that there is indeed a genuine, domestic demand for change. A huge majority of Syrians want reform. They feel the claustrophobia of the state’s inert heavy-handedness and of the bureaucracy’s haughty indifference toward their daily trials and tribulations. Syrians resent the pervasive corruption, and the arbitrary tentacles of the security authorities intruding into most areas of daily life. But is the widespread demand for reform itself the explanation for the violence in Syria, as many claim?
There is this mass demand for reform. But paradoxically – and contrary to the “awakening” narrative – most Syrians also believe that President Bashar al-Assad shares their conviction for reform. The populations of Damascus, Aleppo, the middle class, the merchant class, and non-Sunni minorities (who amount to one quarter of the population), among others, including the leadership of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood, fall into this category. They also believe there is no credible “other” that could bring reform.
What then is going on? Why has the conflict become so polarized and bitter, if there is indeed such broad consensus?
I believe the roots of the bitterness lie in Iraq, rather than in Syria, in two distinct ways. Firstly, they extend back into the thinking of the Sunni jihadi trend, as advanced by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, which evolved in Iraq, surfaced violently in Lebanon, and was transposed into Syria with the return of many Syrian Salafist veterans at the “end” of the Iraq conflict.
Secondly, and separately, the bitterness in Syria is also linked to a profound sense of Sunni grievance felt by certain Arab states at Sunni political disempowerment following Prime Minister Nuri al-Malaki’s rise to power in Iraq, for which they hold Assad responsible…….
Yet the Salafists understand that the exiles are using them to provoke incidents, and then to corroborate a media narrative of repression by the external opposition; this might actually serve Salafist interests, too.
These two components may be relatively small in numbers, but the emotional pull from the heightened voice of Sunni grievance – and its need for redress has a much wider and more significant constituency. It is easily fanned into action, both in Syria and in the region as a whole.
Saudi Arabia and Gulf states explicitly trade on fears of Shi’ite “expansionism” to justify Gulf Cooperation Council repression in Bahrain and intervention in Yemen, and the “voice” of assertive sectarianism is being megaphoned into Syria too.
Sunni clerical voices are touting the Arab “awakening” as the “Sunni revolution” in riposte to the Shi’ite revolution of Iran. In March, al-Jazeera broadcast a sermon by Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi, which raised the banner of the restoration of Sunni ascendency in Syria. Qaradawi, who is based in Qatar, was joined by Saudi cleric Saleh Al-Luhaidan who urged, “Kill a third of Syrians so the other two-thirds may live.”
Clearly many of the protesters in traditional centers of Sunni irredentism, such as Homs and Hama in Syria, comprise of aggrieved Sunnis seeking the Alawites ouster, and a return to Sunni ascendency. These are not Salafists, but mainstream Syrians for whom the elements of Sunni ascendency, irredentism and reformism have conflated into a sole demand. This is a very frightening prospect for the quarter of the Syrians that form the non-Sunni minorities….
Economic facts about Syria for the year 2008 (source statistics office)
- The entire hotel industry in Syria employed just 11,224 people.
- Total salaries and wages paid to them was syp 1.97 billion, which comes to syp 14,668 ($ 312) a month per person.
- All the hotels combined had a revenue of $279 million.
- The 5 star hotels had 55% of that at $154 million
- The four star and under combined had revenues of $125 million.
- The Phoenicia hotel in Beirut alone had a revenue of $88 million last year (31% of all the hotels in Syria combined).
- It employes 2000 people (18% of the entire workforce employed in the Syrian hotel industry)
- latest survey is that spending by an average Syrian family living in an urban area (higher than rural) is syp 33,483 a month. This is close to $700 a month for say a family of 5 (23 dollars a day for them combined or $4.7 a day per person on all requirements)
ZEINA KARAM Associated Press= BEIRUT (AP) — Syrians held general strikes in cities and towns across the country Thursday, part of a strategy to squeeze the economy as President Bashar Assad tries to crush a four-month-old revolt against his …
From Middle East Channel – Thursday
Activists say 8 more Syrians killed in the last 24 hours Syrian activists say that security forces have killed an additional eight people, and arrested dozens of others — including artists and intellectuals — during military operations in the last 24 hours. The military sweeps have been in Damascus, the northern Idlib province and a restive area near the Turkish border in the northwest. Rights groups estimate that some 1,600 people have been killed since demonstrations broke out in March. Meanwhile, French President Nicolas Sarkozy is calling for an increase in sanctions against Syria as the regime continues its crackdown. “The attitude of the Syrian president is unacceptable,” he said in a television interview. “We must strengthen sanctions against the regime which is applying the most brutal methods against its population.”
Arab League to U.S.: Stop interfering in Syria
Jul. 13, 2011, Associated Press
BEIRUT – The Arab League said Wednesday that Washington overstepped its bounds by saying Syrian President Bashar Assad had lost the legitimacy to lead his country. Speaking to reporters in Damascus, Arab League Chief Nabil Elaraby said Assad assured him that “Syria has entered a new era and is now moving on the road of a genuine reform.”….
حبش لـ”دي برس”: أنا ضد دخول الجيش لحماة.. وننتظر صدور مراسيم تفعل مقررات “اللقاء التشاوري”
( Thursday, July 14, 2011دي برس – خاص)
أعرب رئيس مركز الدراسات الإسلامية في دمشق محمد حبش الخميس 14/7/2011 عن رضاه التام بما خرج به البيان الختامي للقاء التشاوري الممهد للحوار وطني في سورية، داعياً إلى عدم الخروج بتظاهرات “فلم يعد هناك داعٍ للغضب” على حد قوله.
وأضاف حبش في تصريح خاص لـ”دي برس”: “لقد وصلنا في اللقاء التشاوري للأهداف المبتغاة المتمثلة برفع القبضة الأمنية وإخراج المعتقلين والأهم تأسيس مجلس أعلى لحقوق الإنسان في سورية.. لذلك طالبت الشارع بوقف التظاهر حتى تعطى فرصة للإصلاح”.
وقال رئيس مركز الدراسات الإسلامية في دمشق “إن مدة 10 أيام كافية لإصدار مراسيم تحقق ما تم إقراره في اللقاء التشاوري، وفي حال عدم إقرارها سنعود ونطالب مجدداً وبصوت مرتفع لتحقيقها.”
حبش: يجب وقف التظاهر وإعطاء الفرصة للإصلاحات
حبش: “الحوار الوطني” هو الذي ينقذ سورية
محمد حبش: أتمنى سورية جديدة خالية من الاعتقالات
حبش: بعض الفتاوى تحركها الأموال والغايات التخريبية
Syria: The Opposition and the Church: A Slap in the Face for the Pro-Democracy Movement – Qantara by Claudia Mende
While church leaders pledge their support for the Assad regime, Christians in Syria are backing the protest movement for democratic change. The endorsement of the regime’s propaganda slogans by the representatives of the churches puts them in an increasingly precarious position, as Claudia Mende rep…
It appears that not all Christians are following the leaders of their churches in their assessment of the situation. …Christians are definitely taking part in the popular protests, and in doing so are risking their lives alongside their Muslim fellow citizens. For them, the bishops’ comments are a slap in the face.
‘Look, you need to understand something. We Alawis were nothing in Lebanon until the Syrians came in 1977,’ he said, referring to the entry of the Syrian army, under the command of Bashar’s father Hafez, at the start of the Lebanese civil war. ‘My father went to America in 1960. He saw Martin Luther King and Malcolm X speak and he got a degree in chemistry. Then he did another degree at the American University in Beirut. Look, there’s his certificate on the wall. And when he’d finished, the only job he could get was as a garbage man or customs clerk. They just wanted us to clean their shoes.
‘He came back home to Tripoli and spent two years thinking about politics. Then he founded the Arab Youth Movement. Then the war started and the Syrians came and they showed us how to fight, how to mobilize. And we learned to defend ourselves. Even when they withdrew, we got two seats in the Lebanese parliament.
‘So I am with them, right or wrong. They are my guys and I am theirs. Right or wrong. Because they are our only hope,’ he said.
I could understand that kind of loyalty, I said. But wasn’t that a personal position rather than a political one? As a leader, didn’t he bear a responsibility to his community to at least try and leave other paths open a fraction? Otherwise, where would they be if the Assads did go down in Syria?
Rifaat just shrugged. Right or wrong, there is no other hope, he kept repeating. A thunderstorm had broken outside and rain crashed against the roof and windows. Rifaat was courteous as he walked me to the door. Ali the Muscle saw me to my car and signalled to his guys to open the checkpoints.
The next day, in Tripoli, Lebanon, I ran into some young bloods by the clock tower in the centre of town. …
A young man called Amr was sitting near me on a plastic chair, getting a shoulder rub from his friend. When he learned who I was and where I had been, he spat on the ground.
‘The Alawi are dogs. In fact, that’s an insult to dogs,’ he said. ‘We are going to deal with them. Soon.’
His massaging friend told me he’d just come home from a long stretch living in Sydney. I wondered whether he suffered any cognitive dissonance as he looked out on the street with its chaotic bustle, bullet-pocked buildings and the tide of plastic bags swept by the early morning breeze across the square like urban tumbleweed. Amr was clearly a boss of some kind. He ‘worked’ in the shop we were outside and people came up and asked his opinion on various things, which he issued curtly. As we chatted, a big man, like all of them in his mid-twenties, solidly built and wearing a barrio string vest turned up. They are nothing. Worse than animals. We will cut their throats like sheep, he said.Amr introduced me and his friend stood there, all six foot four of him, and blew me a kiss, po-faced. I’ve always appreciated the potential to demonstrate virility through camp. My grandfather Billy, a decorated career soldier and prize-winning boxer with more than a touch of Errol Flynn to him, had loved cross-dressing for vaudeville. But here it took on a sinister air, a promise, somehow, of blood. What are we going to do to the Alawi dogs? Amr asked. Big Man drew his finger across his throat. The parking attendant turned up on a moped and Amr made to intimidate him into not collecting the fine. I insisted on paying up. The guy, after all, was just doing his job.
As I got into the car, Amr drew me aside, conspiratorially, which was odd since we were already alone. They are nothing. Worse than animals. We will cut their throats like sheep, he said….
Ali the Muscle was dead…..
‘The rise and fall of Iran’s Ahmadinejad’ (Karim Sadjadpour, The Washington Post)
“Khamenei’s desire to project a unified front to the world is likely to keep Ahmadinejad in office until his term expires in 2013. Khamenei seeks to wield power without accountability; this requires a president who has accountability without power. A disgraced Ahmadinejad can conveniently absorb blame for the country’s endemic economic, political and social disaffection. For Washington, the best outcome of Iran’s conservative fratricide is only that the fight continues. Authoritarian collapses tend to have three prerequisites: grass-roots protests, fissures among the elite and a regime’s loss of will to use sustained brutality to retain power. While Iran has the first two, the regime remains quite willing to rule by terror….By accentuating the country’s internal rifts and breaking previously sacred taboos – such as challenging the supreme leader – Ahmadinejad has become an unlikely, unwitting ally of Iran’s democracy movement. Once thought to be leading the Islamic Republic’s rise, he is more likely to be remembered by historians as the man who hastened its decay.”
U.S. Standing Plunges Across Arab World
By: Naseema Noor and Jim Lobe | Inter Press Service