The Work of Fabrice Balanche on Alawites and Syrian Communitarianism reviewed by Nikolaos van Dam

Reviewed by Nikolaos van Dam

Fabrice Balanche is a well-known French scholar who wrote a lot about Syria, mostly in French. His best-known books are La région alaouite et le pouvoir syrien [The Alawi Region and Power in Syria] (Paris 2006) and Atlas du Proche-Orient Arabe [Atlas of the Arab Near East] (Paris 2012), which is to be published also in Arabic and English. Balanche is presently the Director of the Research and Study Group dealing with the Meditteranean and Middle East at the University of Lyon 2.

On 29 November 2013 Balanche obtained his “habilitation à diriger des recherches” (a kind of super PhD) at the University of Lyon 2, France. His theme was « Le facteur communautaire dans l’analyse des espaces syriens et libanais » [The factor of communitarianism in the analysis of Syrian and Lebanese spaces]. As a member of the jury during the “habilitation” session, I made the following comments on his academic work.

Fabrice Balanche deserves to be complimented for his two decennia long studies on the Middle East and Syria in particular.

Balanche did not originally intend to write specifically about communitarianism (communautarisme), but the issue, more or less unavoidably, crossed his path, due to the social realities with which he was confronted during his field studies in Syria. Officially the existence of communitarianism in Syria was denied by the Syrian regime, and in practice it was (and is) a subject surrounded by taboos. According to the official ideology of the ruling Ba’th Party, communitarianism was not supposed to exist; and as far as it did exist, the phenomenon was considered to be no more than a negative residue of obsolete old traditions (rawasib taqlidiyah), which needed to be banned and disposed of. The reality was, however, completely different, as is clearly demonstrated in Balanche’s studies.

Whereas communitarianism is officially a part of the Lebanese political system, its existence is officially denied in Syria’s contemporary political system. Nevertheless, social realities are rather similar in both countries, as explained by Balanche.

Studying “the factor of communitarianism in the analysis of Syrian and Lebanese spaces” was considered a very sensitive issue in Syria. It is not surprising, therefore, that Balanche did not get the required cooperation in this respect from the Syrian authorities, or the requested support from French academic institutions inside Syria. The latter, according to Balanche, even worked against him, because the French institutions concerned were afraid that supporting Balanche’s work could negatively affect their own positions vis-à-vis the Syrian authorities.

One could say that Balanche had a somewhat rough academic landing in Syria because of these sensitive circumstances, but he persevered and finally managed to achieve his aim through intensive and painstaking fieldwork. Balanche succeeded in penetrating deeply into Syrian society, at first mainly in Alawi circles. By becoming very close with their community he noticed how all kinds of doors within Alawi society were opened, providing him with an intimate look into its inner workings. Being close to one community had, however, as a side effect that his contacts with other communities, such as parts of Sunni society, were made more difficult, if not blocked altogether. Later on, Balanche made up for this by widening his Syrian social circuits outside the Alawi community, and entering into Sunni circles. When entering the “Sunni world” it appeared as if he stepped into “another Syria”. Through informal channels Balanche was able to obtain a lot of essential information and insights. Having obtained a working knowledge of Syrian colloquial Arabic, Balanche had the necessary tools to get to the bottom of what was happening. Without this immersion into several different communities, he would not have come half as close to achieving the same high academic level. His fieldwork, not always appreciated by others, has turned out to be indispensible.

Whereas Volume 1 La facteur communautaire dans l’analyse des espaces syriens et libanais (140 pp.) constitutes the central part of Balanche’s studies discussed here, Volume 2 Parcours personnel (or large Curriculum Vitae) (139 pp.) should not be considered as less important, as it provides many highly valuable and detailed insights into the inner workings of Syrian society and into the many obstacles with which one may be confronted when doing field work there. Volumes 3 (536 pp.) and 4 (550 pp.) are an enormously rich and impressive collection of Balanche’s numerous earlier publications, which he refers to wherever necessary, in the two first volumes. Next to these four volumes one should also consult Balanche’s splendid Atlas du Proche-Orient arabe (Paris: Sorbonne, 2012, 135 pp.), and take note of his earlier book La région alaouite et le pouvoir syrien (Paris: Karthala, 2006, 315 pp.), which provides many highly interesting details not included in Volumes 1 and 2. (All these works together comprise some 1800 pages).

Although I do agree with many, if not most of the points Balanche makes in his analysis of communitarianism, I think it is necessary to pose some questions and add some marginalia where parts of his conclusions and predictions for the future are concerned. Before I come to that, however, I want to note that certain predictions or observations made by Balanche in the past have turned out to be fully correct. The present-day bloody conflict in Syria is often judged on the basis of wishful thinking, by the general public, as well as among politicians and academics, and realism is not always appreciated if it does not fit into the wishful thought of those concerned. After the start of the Syrian Revolution in March 2011, many observers and politicians expected the regime of Bashar al-Asad to fall quickly. They were, apparently, not aware of the inner strength and coherence of the regime, as they were not burdened by any deep knowledge of it. Had they read Balanche’s works, they might have known better. When Balanche during an interview in France in 2011 commented on the situation in Syria by saying that the regime was not “ripe” to fall and that the country was going straight into the direction of a civil war, he was categorized as a “defender of the Asad regime”. When in mid-2012 he continued to declare that the regime should not be expected to fall soon, his interview was published under the title of “L’interview qui fâche” [The interview which makes you angry] (Volume 2, p. 78). His “realism” was clearly not appreciated. In an interview with L’Hebdo Magazine of 15 November 2013, Balanche predicted that the al-Asad regime is not going to fall. And during a symposium on 4 November 2013 Balanche said that he expected Bashar al-Asad to win the war, leaving open the question, however, “who will win the peace.”

Since the Asad regime relies so heavily on people from its own Alawi community, its strength can be attributed, to a great extent, to the issue of communitarianism. As described by Balanche, however, the importance of communitarianism has been ignored or even denied in various academic circles because of prevailing ideological or idealistic motivations, on the basis of which, for instance, class, rural-urban and economic factors are considered much more important than communitarian ones. This phenomenon of denial has, according to Balanche, been stronger in France than in the Anglo-Saxon academic world, although it may have changed more recently.

Fifteen years ago (1998) Balanche already hinted that, if the Alawi-dominated Ba’th regime fell, the Alawi region might break away or separate from Syria proper (Volume 2, p. 33). In his Thèse de Doctorat, L’intégration de la region côtière dans l’espace syrien: une intégration nationale ambigüe [The integration of the coastal region in Syrian space: an ambiguous national integration] (Tours, 2000, 800 pp.), Balanche has argued that the potential for a separation of the Alawi region from Syria is well-founded, a view he repeated in his book (2006), as well as in the volumes which are being considered in this evaluation. Balanche even sees evidence of such a potential development in both the transport infrastructure and the presence of certain military bases in the Alawi region. He interprets these as having strategic importance for the defense of the Alawi territories within the Syrian internal context (Volume 1, p. 79).

Balanche compares the case of Syria with that of post-Tito Yugoslavia, which fell apart into several states. One should be careful, however, in making such a comparison. In the first place, the population of Yugoslavia was made up of various ethnic groups with different languages. The Syrian population is much more homogeneous in the ethnic context, and the Alawis should, in principle, be considered as Arabs, like the majority of the Syrian population. Moreover, the Alawis would in general not at all want to separate from Syria. The only reason why they would wish to establish their own state, or autonomous region, is that the Alawis might feel threatened by the Sunni majority to such an extent, that they would, purely for security reasons, want to escape from radical Sunni anti-Alawi revanchism, which could explode after an eventual toppling of the regime of Bashar al-Asad. In such a scenario the Alawi population from Damascus and other cities might wish to flee to their original homeland, or that of their ancestors. But the Alawi community fleeing from Damascus sounds simpler than it is, because many Alawis have lived there (and in other Syrian cities) for several generations, including Bashar al-Asad himself, who, from that perspective, should be considered a Damascene (although it is clear that the local Sunni population considers him as an Alawi originating from the Alawi mountains). I could not really imagine the Alawi community being prepared to leave Damascus and its Alawi neighborhoods before losing their very last defensive lines and witnessing a major part of the city turned into ruins. This may be due, however, to my lack of imagination to see greater part of Damascus changed into rubble (as already happened in Aleppo).

One should, moreover, not underestimate the durability of colonial boundaries, however much these may have been rejected in the past. Additionally, if Alawi-dominated rule were to be replaced by Sunni-dominated rule, the successor regime in Damascus would, in my view, certainly try to regain control over the whole area of Syria, including the Alawi coastal region. When dealing with international boundaries, every inch of territory acquires an almost holy importance, because national sovereignty is at stake. Loss of even an inch of territory can lead to further claims, political instability, tensions in international relations, and sometimes to further wars.

Balanche notes that territorial partition may not bring peace at first, but that, in the long term, the bringing into practice of former US President Wilson’s principle of “national self-determination” to the ethnic-confessional communities of the Middle East could bring stability and democracy. Some areas are, according to Balanche, already going through a phase of federalism (like in Lebanon), or semi-independence (like in Iraqi Kurdistan) (Volume 1, p. 126).

Where Syria is concerned, one should, however, not underestimate the force of Arabism and Arab identity. Balanche has correctly noted that Arab nationalism has not at all been a success, and that primordial loyalties have turned out to be stronger. He even cynically comments that “Les indices de la supercherie baathiste étaient pourtant clairs depuis des décennies pour celui qui connaissait réellement la société syrienne.” [The indications of Ba’thist deception were clear for decades to those who really knew Syrian society] (Volume 1, p. 145). Regardless, that does not mean that the Syrian Alawis, after generations of Arab nationalist indoctrination, would not also feel they have a Syrian Arab identity, irrespective of the extremely negative Sunni anti-Alawi feelings which have increased during the many years of Alawi-dominated Ba’th rule and repression. In the past, many Alawis themselves already rejected the Alawi state that was created during the French Mandate.
The Ba’th regime in Syria has achieved exactly the dramatic opposite of the ideals it originally wanted to achieve. Half a century ago, it still declared that it wanted to abolish sectarianism and communitarianism, but by making communal loyalties the central key to their power, the Ba’thist rulers became prisoners of their own system and achieved the anti-thesis of their Ba’thist Arab nationalist ideology and ideals. They have thereby even endangered the very existence of Syria, with sectarianism stronger than ever before, as is demonstrated through the ongoing civil war.

Balanche has concluded in this respect that national integration in Syria constituted a danger for the power position of the regime, and has appropriately questioned whether durable territorial integration is possible without social integration (Volume 2, p. 35). Personally, I would have liked Balanche to give some additional insights into the opposition within the Alawi community against the Alawi dominated Ba’th regime. After all, many Alawi villages have their political prisoners, and the Syrian Ba’thist dictatorship applies to all Syrians. Balanche makes clear that the Alawis in general have taken the side of the regime, not out of positive conviction, but rather out of fear for the future, and what would happen if the regime of Bashar al-Asad were to fall. When reading Volume 1, I wondered whether one could really say, as Balanche does, that Hafiz al-Asad “a fait un monolithe d’une communauté alaouite divisée en multiples clans” [Hafiz al-Asad has made a monolith of the Alawite community that used to be divided into multiple clans] (Volume 1, p. 114), except in the sense that they seem to be united in their common fear for radical Sunni revanchism. A more detailed explanation can be found, however, outside Volume 1 and 2, in his book (2006, pp. 159-172).

Balanche presents a possible future break-up of Syria as an almost inevitable development (Volume 1, 146) when he concludes that: “Un divorce à l’amiable est alors préférable à une guerre civile communautaire qui aboutira au meme résultat. Cela implique que les acteurs locaux et internationaux soient rationnels et raisonnables en privilégiant un scénario tchécoslovaque plutôt de yougoslave.” [An amicable divorce is preferable to a communitarian civil war that leads to the same result. This would imply that local and international actors would be rational and reasonable by favoring a Czechoslovakian scenario rather a Yugoslav one]. I am afraid that the civil war has already progressed much too far to make a scenario similar to that of Czechoslovakia possible, and doubt whether this would ever have been a realistic option in the first place. After all, the Czechoslovakia case does not fit into the Syrian model since, like in former Yugoslavia, substantial different ethnic-linguistic groups were involved. Syria is much more homogeneous in this respect.

Balanche convincingly explains why the often-suggested existence of a Shi’i alliance or “Shi’i crescent” (consisting of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon) is a wrong (albeit increasingly popular) concept, as alliances are strategic and not ideological or religious (Volume 1, pp. 107, 124). Moreover, the areas inhabited by Shi’is do not constitute an uninterrupted geographical area.

Balanche uses the term “Syrian Arab nation” throughout his work. According to the ruling Ba’th Party’s ideology there is, however, only an “Arab nation”, of which the Syrian Arabs are one part. They don’t say: “We are all Syrian Arabs”, but rather “We are all Arabs”. Only at a later stage of Ba’thist rule did the “Syrian identity” become a more accepted concept, even though it contradicts the Ba’thist ideology. Stressing the wider pan-Arab identity at the cost of the more restricted Syrian Arab identity did, in practice, not positively contribute to “nation building” in Syria, but rather achieved the opposite: a strengthening of communitarianism for lack of tangible results in the field of pan-Arabism and because of the discouragement, earlier on, of the Syrian identity.

Balanche describes Jordan as a “paradox” in the region. Jordan does not suffer from fragmentation on the basis of communitarianism like Syria and Lebanon, as it has a quasi ethnic-confessional population with a 95% Sunni Arab majority (Volume 1, p. 125). Elsewhere in his study, Balanche interestingly defines the Palestinians as a “quasi-ethnic group” (Volume 1, p. 26), which has developed as a result of their political circumstances. He does not, however, hint at the potential consequences of the large Palestinian presence in Jordan for its supposed homogeneity. Balanche concludes that Jordan is paradoxically one of the most stable Middle Eastern countries because of its ethnic homogeneity, being, however, at the same time, the most artificial state in the region.

I want to end by pointing out some minor details.
Balanche notices that the isolated villages of the Alawi sect of the Murshidiyin in the remote Alawi Mountains were only given accessible asphalted roads in the early 1990s once they had clearly entered into the clientele of the Asad clan (Volume 1, p. 81). This is correct, except for the fact that the Murshidiyin had already shown their allegiance to the Asads much earlier on, as can be concluded from the fact that already in the first part of the 1980s the Murshidiyin constituted the backbone of Rif’at al-Asad’s elite troops, the Defence Platoons (Saraya al-Difa’). When in 1984 Rif’at intended to take over power by force from his brother President Hafiz al-Asad, the Murshidiyin turned out to be completely unreliable towards Rif’at, as they all choose the side of the president, as a result of which Rif’at’s revolt became toothless and failed completely.
The Murshidiyin, therefore, could already be considered loyal to President Hafiz al-Asad from 1984 onwards, and from that perspective might have been given their asphalted roads much earlier. On the other hand, it may have taken some years before the president really trusted the Murshidiyin, because they had switched sides so easily.

In conclusion I wish to stress that Fabrice Balanche has produced excellent and impressive academic work. On that basis he strongly deserves to be supported for his Habilitation à Diriger des Recherches.

Nikolaos van Dam
Former Ambassador of the Netherlands to Iraq, Egypt, Turkey, Germany and Indonesia (1988-2010). Also served as a diplomat in Lebanon, Jordan, Palestinian occupied territories and Libya. Author of The Struggle for Power in Syria. Politics and Society under Asad and the Ba’th Party, 4th edition, London: I.B. Tauris 2011 (5th printing 2013).

Comments (422)

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401. Hopeful said:

#363 Majed97

Every civil war is a regional war. The parties involved always seek help from the outside to defeat their internal enemies. Assad gets help from Iran, Russia and Hizbullah, FSA gets help from Saudi and Turkey, Alnusra gets help from Islamic charities! etc. Take the lebanese civil war, the Balkans, Iraq’s, etc. Every one reached outside the borders to get help. It is normal.

It is also normal that every party involved claims to be fighting the “enemies” of the country, not just his enemies. Each party believes he alone represents the country, and the others are all traitors. You say the Saudis are the enemies of Syria. The rebels all say the Iranians are the enemies of Syria. The truth is that the Saudis want Assad out, and the Iranians want the opposition defeated. Neither of them could have gotten involved if there was no civil war in the country.

The civil war was a result of problems in the society which brewed for over 50 years under a corrupt brutal sectarian inept regime where the minority ruled over the majority and caused humiliation, anger and poverty. Exactly as happened in Iraq. When the spark flashed, the regime mishandled and mismanaged it. No matter how much many of you would like to continue to blame the regional powers and the opposition for the mess we have today, the blame goes first to the man in charge of the country, who turned out to be not just as brutal as his father, but completely incompetent and delusional.

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December 7th, 2013, 11:33 pm


402. zoo said:

Another round of applause to the opposition and the “brilliant” strategists in Arab and Western countries who thought it would be a simple picnic to “topple” Bashar al Assad. They have now opened the door to a danger in the region of a much larger magnitude than the need of ‘political reforms’ in Syria

Next door to Syria, an al-Qaeda-linked group is also gaining ground in Iraq

IRBIL, Iraq – The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, an al-Qaeda splinter group with a goal of creating a new country based on a radical interpretation of Islamic law, has launched a major campaign to establish control of territory in several provinces of Iraq.

For more than a year, the group, known as ISIS, has shown a rising determination to undermine the Iraqi state while building its military capacity through jail­breaks and recruiting drives. The organization began in Iraq, but fueled by the civil war in neighboring Syria, it has expanded its ambitions to encompass both countries.s)

he militant group has claimed responsibility for many, though not all, of the hundreds of attacks that have claimed more than 6,200 lives this year in Iraq, the worst violence since 2008.

Now the group appears to be entering a new phase of its evolution. In some parts of Syria, it already claims to be setting up the rudimentary elements of government — including courts, schools and civil bureaucracies — and it appears to be making a bid to do the same in Iraq.

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December 7th, 2013, 11:39 pm


403. ziad said:

رسالة النقاط الست الأميركية: محاربة «الإرهاب التكفيري»

بعد الجولات المكوكية لوزير الخارجية الأميركي جون كيري والفريق المخضرم في وزارته على دول منطقة الشرق الأوسط، وعلى وجه الخصوص تلك التي أعقبت التراجع الأميركي الغربي عن شنّ حرب عسكرية ضد سوريا، انتقلت واشنطن من سياسة التداول والنصيحة الى مرحلة التحذير من الخطر المتعاظم من «الإرهاب التكفيري»، والذي ستكون ساحته الطبيعية وملعبه المقبل الدول الأوروبية ليعم لاحقاً العالم.

التحذيرات الأميركية تستند الى تقاطع كبير في المعلومات لدى أجهزة الاستخبارات لديها مع مجهود ضخم لأجهزة استخبارات دولية، كلها صبّت في خانة «أن الجنون قد بلغ من البعض في الشرق الأوسط بأن ظنّ نفسه أن باستطاعته تحريك العالم وفق رغباته، مستندا الى مال وفير وتكفيريين يتزايد عددهم، وبتحالف يعتبره تلقائياً وطبيعياً مع أصحاب الفكر المتطرف في الإدارة الاسرائيلية، والذين يقبضون أيضا بوسائل مختلفة على القرار الإسرائيلي».

ما هي الرسالة التي أبلغتها الولايات المتحدة الأميركية الى حلفائها؟
يكشف مصدر ديبلوماسي مخضرم لـ«السفير» أن «واشنطن، عبر ديبلوماسيتها، أبلغت الى حلفائها في المنطقة، من عرب وغير عرب وبمن فيهم الأوروبيون، كما أطلعت الجانبين الروسي والصيني، رسالة تتضمن ست نقاط، فحواها الآتي:

1- وقف الدعم الأميركي السياسي واللوجستي والأمني لكل أشكال المعارضة السورية المسلحة، لأنها تعتبرها تكفيرية إرهابية.

2- اقتناع واشنطن بالتحالف مع روسيا والصين لمواجهة الإرهاب التكفيري الذي بات يشكل خطراً على الأمن القومي العالمي.

3- لا نية لواشنطن بمحاربة النظام السوري أو إسقاطه بعد الآن، والخيار للشعب السوري بإرادته الذاتية في تحديد مساره الديموقراطي لتأمين تداول السلطة.

4- الولايات المتحدة الأميركية تدعم جهود الرئيس السوري بشار الأسد في إقرار إصلاحات من داخل النظام في سوريا.

5- واشنطن تدعم عمليات الجيش النظامي السوري في حربه على الجماعات التكفيرية الإرهابية المتطرفة.

6- أميركا تريد من حلفائها، لا سيما الأوروبيين منهم وفي مقدمهم فرنسا، السير في ركابها، خصوصاً أنها تعتبر أن أوروبا ستكون المتضرر الأول والأكبر من الإرهاب التكفيري، بحكم وجود الملايين من المسلمين في أوروبا».

ويوضح المصدر «أن دولا أساسية في المنطقة والعالم، مثل بريطانيا أوروبياً وتركيا إقليمياً، غيّرت كلياً من بوصلة حركتها وتوجهاتها تجاه الأزمة السورية، وبدأت عملياً ترجمة أقوالها الى أفعال في ما خص خيار الحل السلمي، من خلال العمل على ضبط تسرب التكفيريين الى سوريا من كل أصقاع العالم، ما يعني إقفال الحدود التركية أمام هؤلاء بعدما تحولت لأكثر من سنتين الى ممر ومنطلق لكل المسلحين ومن كل الجنسيات الذين قدموا الى سوريا، كما أن هناك تنسيقا مع دول إسلامية أساسية، وتحديداً على الصعيد الأمني، لمواجهة الخطر التكفيري الإرهابي، تطبيقاً لقناعة أميركية مفادها أن مواجهة هذا الخطر تحتاج إلى جهد عالمي لا يستثني أحداً».

ويلفت المصدر الى أن «المواقف التي سارعت الى إدانة التفجير الإرهابي المزدوج الذي استهدف السفارة الإيرانية في بيروت، لا سيما الأوروبية منها، وتحديداً الموقف البريطاني المعبّر، جاءت في أعقاب هذه الرسالة. كما أن الاستنكار السعودي، ولو جاء متأخراً، يأتي أيضاً في أعقاب تبلغ الرسالة الأميركية».

ويشير المصدر الى أن «ما جرى تداوله عن قرار بالتغيير في السعودية بأمر أميركي هو مطابق للحقيقة كلياً، وأن هذا التغيير الذي حدده الأميركيون لا يعني توريث الأبناء من الجيل الثاني أو الثالث بل من الجيل الرابع وأكثر، أي الشباب ومن هم في مقتبل العمر، لكي تكون هناك قدرة على التفاهم معهم، وهذا ما دفع فريق الصقور في الحكم السعودي الى التصرف بانفعال لأنهم يرفضون التغيير المرتقب».

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December 7th, 2013, 11:55 pm


404. zoo said:

It seems that the next war will be ISIL against IF in Syria and Iraq.
One is supported by worldwide Jihadists and the second by Saudi Arabia. The irony is that they are both Sunnis and both Salafists.
The FSA has been neutralized and it is out of the equation.

Now, the USA is debating if it should join Saudi Arabia in funding and helping the IF and dump the weak FSA they and Qatar have supported for the last two years.
General Dempsey was recently sent to probe the IS intentions toward Israel, as this is the USA’s main worry.
The Saudis have taken the precaution of briefing the IF so they repeat that they are ‘moderate’ Moslems and do not want to harm Israel, quite the contrary.
Will the USA be fooled as they have been fooled by Qatar about the ‘moderation’ of the Moslem Brotherhood in Egypt?
Will Qatar allow Saudi Arabia to eliminate the FSA that it supports and that it has announced it will continue to support?

Are we seeing a looming proxy war of influence between Qatar and Saudi Arabia?
I guess Syria will suffer from these two arrogant evils, but one thing is clear: Most Syrians will soon be behind their heroic National army and their legitimate president asking for protection from the invaders.

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December 8th, 2013, 12:00 am


405. ziad said:

Syrian Islamists seize Western-backed rebel bases

Syrian rebels from an Islamist alliance formed last month have occupied bases and warehouses belonging to a Western-backed rebel group on the Turkish border, rebels and activists said on Saturday.

Fighters from the Islamic Front, a union of six major rebel groups, took control of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) bases at the Bab al-Hawa crossing on the northwestern border with Turkey late on Friday night, the opposition sources said.

Louay Meqdad, an FSA spokesman, said the Islamic Front fighters had entered the bases after saying they wanted to help to secure them. They then asked officers and employees to leave and replaced an FSA flag with one of their own, he said.

“We believe that those brigades are our brothers, that they know that we are not the enemy,” Meqdad said.

Infighting among Syria’s rebel groups has undermined their fight against President Bashar al-Assad in the 2-1/2-year-old civil war and made Western governments hesitant to back them.

The rise of hardline Islamist groups among the rebels, including some linked to al Qaeda, has also unsettled powers such as the United States, who fear that if the militants came to power, they would eventually turn their weapons on Western targets.

On Tuesday the Islamic Front said it had withdrawn from the military command of the FSA, notionally charged with coordinating the war, and criticised its leadership.

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December 8th, 2013, 12:03 am


406. ziad said:

بعد المجزرة اللي ارتكبوها الإرهابيين ببعض بباب الهوى بريف ادلب …. مصادر محلية بحسب الميادين تؤكد مقتل ما لا يقل عن 350 “عنصرا مسلحا” في محافظة الرقة في الأيام 3 الماضية .

بشار عباس

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December 8th, 2013, 12:05 am


407. Hopeful said:

# 402 Zoo

Did you just admit in your post to believe that neither Saudi Arabia nor Qatar is supporting the jihadis, and that the US has not decided yet whom to support?

Isn’t that at odds with everything you’ve been writing over the past two years?

A welcome reversal in attitude!

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December 8th, 2013, 12:05 am


408. ziad said:

Syria’s Gulf Brigades

In the months after protests first erupted in Syria in 2011, a soft-eyed native of Deir al-Zour province did two things — one he is proud of and another he deeply regrets. As an expatriate living in Kuwait, he was energized by the thought of change back home; he spent his money, devoted his time, and rearranged his life around sending food, medicine, and supplies into suffering Syrian communities.

“We were not heroes [before], but placed in such unusual circumstances, we are somehow heroes,” he said, recalling how he gathered bags of rice, pleaded with his friends for help, and negotiated with stingy drivers to lower the cost of driving the goods from Kuwait through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and into Syria.

But not long after the charity work began, he and fellow expats joined up with Kuwaiti donors, and a decision was made to help mold military brigades from the opposition. He shook his head and lowered his voice remembering.

“The mistake was to create the armed groups,” he said, almost in a whisper. “We cannot fight a professional army.”

More than two years later, what was once a peaceful uprising in Syria is today a complicated civil war with not just two players but hundreds of armed groups and militias.

Central to that evolution was tiny Kuwait, where thousands of miles away, individuals and religious charities have raised money — possibly hundreds of millions of dollars — for Syria’s armed groups. Kuwaiti patrons helped create, shape, and support among the most extreme brigades fighting President Bashar al-Assad, including the Salafist Ahrar al-Sham and possibly al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, which often collaborates with the former.

The effect in Syria has been devastating; the Kuwait-based expat felt like he has watched things fall apart in slow motion. A cacophony of private donors each built their own rebel brigade. Dependent on independent funding from abroad, the militias grew separately. Gulf states piled in, adding their donations to one faction or another. As he put it simply: “The different money contributed to divide the armed groups.”

Like the Syrian revolution itself, Kuwaiti involvement began out of hope. By the summer of 2011, three Arab regimes had been whisked out of office, and many expected Syria to be the same. Expats living in the Gulf heard stories of young men arrested, boys taken off the streets, protesters shot and wounded. They made lists of families in need and started to remit what charity they could. As the toll grew, businessmen who knew one another — often coming from the same part of Syria — connected and pooled their efforts.

They worked silently at first, for fear that Kuwaiti or Syrian authorities would target them or their beneficiaries. After living for years under dictatorship, even expats abroad mistrusted their colleagues’ allegiances. Would this man tell the Syrian Embassy what we’re doing — sending bread to the families of those in jail?

“Up until now, people fear each other — that they will go tell the embassy,” another expatriate explained. “For a long time, the Syrian regime made us feel this way. It made our minds very bad.”

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December 8th, 2013, 12:10 am


409. SANDRO LOEWE said:

Bashar Al Assad – Dictator of Syria:

¨The life of Nelson Mandela is a lesson to all tyrans in the world¨

Do you know what ? FUCXXXX YOU ASSAD

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December 8th, 2013, 2:24 am


410. Hopeful said:

#406 Ziad

A good and truthful article. To many people, including myself, The Assad regime and the Islamist radicals are two sides of the same coin representing corruption, suppression, brutality and a bankrupt ideology. I am confident that the majority of the Syrian people are in my camp.

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December 8th, 2013, 2:30 am


411. Observer said:

That is the problem Mjabali you cannot think outside of your sect. I was not brought up a Kurd. So I have nothing in common with them. Where and what and who and when my ancestors did anything is immaterial. It is the future that I look at. You are so fixated on the past that you cannot read or understand or even think outside of this framework.

Long Live Damascustan.

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December 8th, 2013, 8:24 am


412. heads-up said:

We pointed out on several occasions that Shiite and Alawi terrorism in Syria has one and only one end. The terrorists will be eliminated without mercy from the face of the earth ridding humanity of their evil.

This morning we witnessed yet another fulfilment of this prediction of ours in the Rif Dimashq in no other place than the so-called Zainab quarters.

Over 50 thugs of the so-called hezbolla and the Iraqi Abu al-basal terrorists were eliminated at close range within the compound by the heroes of the Syrian Revolution fighters. We are not sure as of yet if the victorious fighters have succeeded in leveling the compound to the ground in order to negate any so-called reasons for these terrorists to be in Syria. Nevertheless at one point this is a mission that needs to be fulfilled.

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December 8th, 2013, 8:54 am


413. Observer said:

Explain to me why should the Kurds be part of Iraq or Syria or Turkey or Iran?

If they want to establish a state where their language is spoken, their communities are together, their identity based on their concept of who is a Kurd why is this not acceptable? Why is it that we are so set on keeping the borders of Sykes Picot when we have continuously suffered from the inherent instability of such divisions for more than 80 years? Why is it that we do not learn and continue to repeat the same mistakes?

The one discourse I hear is that some 1400 years ago a political fight on succession ended up with a politically incompetent but certainly a most virtuous leader loosing to another cunning power grabbing statesman and in this religion was introduced to justify the position of each protagonist and this exercise trapped the minds forever into an eternally aggrieved party that cannot think of its very identity or existence outside of this victimhood. I read this in these posts all the time.
The other party has used religion to legitimate its dictatorship and has trapped the religious establishment and the debate into sterile and uncompromising orthodoxy that is eating at the very soul of the people.

Here you have it my description of the Shia Sunni divide.

There are no nation states in the ME except in Iran, Egypt, and Turkey. Of the three the Egyptian is the most homogenous whereas the Iranian has but 50% of the population Persian and in Turkey one would argue that they have multiple ethnic and religious groups that can undermine the Turkish identity.

Libya has reverted to its tribal affiliation as expected after the collapse of the iron fist that kept it together. Iraq likewise is reverting to its original Ottoman provinces as the iron fist of Saddam is gone. Once the mullahs of Iran are ousted an Iranian federation will emerge and a true Republic. Turkey may have to accord autonomy to its provinces. Syria is worse than Lebanon for the later has many communities that balance each other whereas in Syria you have a minority in charge and with extreme brutality and hatred. It is a hate filled land run by a mafia regime.

I read also that the wishful thinking of the regime insider of the people coming around and supporting the regime. Well the regime troops have not only destroyed the country but every village that the enter is looted to just walls and roofs.

The destruction of the country is immense and irreversible. None of the regime allies are going to pay a penny to reconstruct. None of them are coming in to rebuild.

Now to go back on the sterile discourse: a subhuman is someone that denies the humanity of the other. Categorizing people who continue to tell you that they have no affiliation to a religion or sect or ethnic group and who keep repeating that they have an acceptance of the fact that there is no room of coexistence at this time as the common identity feeling is so weak in comparison to the sectarian thinking is the act of dehumanizing the other.

I state facts: today the Sunnis are disenfranchised and I say this not as as Sunni not as a Syrian not as an Arab not anything except as an observer of the reality on the ground. I state facts: Alawis were ill treated and oppressed and in their poisoned resentment have only meted out the same ill treatment on others because their world view in the majority has been set in pure sectarian terms. The entire government structure is an Alawi controlled security house of cards. The latest thuggeries of the Athad family in Latakia is but another example of the mafia regime based on the sect.

Dehumanizing me and pigeon holing me into a preconceived idea and attributing to me affiliations is acting as a subhuman.

But heck what can we expect from a mind locked into a 1400 year old political petty despicable power grab dispute between two awful leaders. Yes both Ali and Muwayyia were awful for each excluded the others that did not agree with them.

They have poisoned our lives for 1400 years and it is time to get rid of them and their sectarian legacies.

We keep adulating Omar and Abu Bakr and Ali and so on and so forth when the world has moved on and the age of Enlightenment has brought many new thinkers and many new ideas. But alas our response is to have the Sunni clerical establishment debate the beard length and the Mullahs reject all of of the West’s accomplishments. Both are inferiority complexed responses to defeat after defeat after defeat and resulting in iron fisted failed states.

Alexander Hamilton was abandoned by his father at age 10, orphaned at age 12, and his adoptive parent committed suicide at age 13 and yet at age 17 he was the founder of a maritime trading company and went on to write a majority of the federalist papers. It is time to forget about Nus Lira and read Hamilton.

I learned something yesterday: Mandela said: “resentment is the poison we drink hoping to inflict it on our past tormentors”. He was right. It is this eternal resentment in many forms that is eating the soul of a whole community to the point that it cannot fathom the idea of justice on this earth. The Mahdi will do so. In the meantime, we will continue to dehumanize each other so that we can kill and loot and rape and burn and destroy and cleanse.

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December 8th, 2013, 9:25 am


414. Mina said:

If anymore proof was needed: sarin attack is probably the job of al Nusra

Lovely crowd indeed.

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December 8th, 2013, 10:03 am


415. zoo said:

@405 Hopeful

I don’t know what you mean. It is well known, and I have said it several times, that the Jihadists are funded by Saudi, Kuwaitis, Syrians, Yemenis, Pakistanis Sunni individuals and powerful private Sunni charities and NOT officially by the Saudi government.
The USA through the CIA may have infiltrated them and manipulating them when they were useful, but has never officially supported them. As we have seen in decades of war in Afghanistan, the Jihadists act as an “independent” entity therefore uncontrollable.

At start, Qatar and Turkey have supported what they saw as the ‘moderates Sunnis’, the Moslem Brotherhood. They build up the FSA and SNC on that basis. The USA and the FOS, convinced that the Moslem Brotherhood was “good” for the region, got along until first, the Moslem Brotherhood showed in Egypt that they were far from ‘moderates’ and second when the FSA started to weaken by its own divisions and the absence of coordination with the SNC.
In addition the Syria government and its army showed an unexpected cohesion and resilience.
As a result the MB fell from grace and the FSA and the SNC lost their appeal. The FOS decreased substantially its support while Qatar ( and the CIA) still claim they are helping them.

After Qatar’s debacle and the “toppling” of Hamad Ben Jassem, the machiavelian PM, Saudi Arabia stepped in to ‘fix’ the situation once for all under the command of Bandar Ben Sultan.
Saudi Arabia has always been fiercely opposed to the Moslem Brotherhood. They took over the SNC to put in it their men and started to build and fund the Islamic Front. The FSA remained dominated by the Moslem Brotherhood but weakening by the day, despite Qatar’s alleged support. Just listening to Idriss complaints, it is clear that the FSA is been left to die off.
So now we are have these forces at play on the military ground:
– The secular Syrian Army
– The Sunni Islamic Front ( officially funded by Saudi Arabia)
– The Sunni Jihadists ( Al Qaeda, Al NUsra, ISIL)( funded by Sunni Islamist private funds)
– The Sunni FSA (funded by Qatar and to to much lesser extent by the FOS)
– The secular Kurds ( funded by the KRG and the Syrian government)

As I mentioned it in my previous post, the USA wants to shift away from the useless FSA and they are probing the ‘viability’ of the Islamic Front and the prospect of them ruling Syria in the future.

It is yet unknown what the USA would decide to support. I doubt they will go along with the IF as not to repeat the mistake they did in supporting the Moslem Brotherhood. In addition the IF may become a serious threat to Israel if they take over Syria.

Therefore on the ground we are going to watch gradually all the territories held by the FSA taken over by the IF or the Syrian Army.
The IF will have to confront the Jihadists to control territories where the Syrian army is not present, such as the North East.

It is clear that the Syrian army have no interest in direct confrontation with the IF for now. They will allow them to fight and get rid of the FSA and the Jihadists, then they may act.

In the meantime the Syrian Army is confronting the Jihadists in the South, the North West and around Damascus.
Obviously it appears that if the Syrian army strategy works out, Syria will be divided in two parts. The North East will be fought between the IF and the Jihadists while the rest of the country will be cleaned and controlled by the Syrian Army and the Kurds.

Lots is impossible to predict about what will happen on the ground among these forces. What we know is that there will be more refugees and more civilians deaths.
On the political arena, the SNC is so desperate of having totally lost control of the situation on the ground that Geneva II has become their only chance to survive. This is why they dropped all their pre-conditions and will be in Geneva in the weakest state they have ever been.
It has become obvious to the West that the removal of Bashar al Assad and the probable consequence of the collapse of the Syrian Army is out of the question. It would be like offering Syria to become a war terrain between Jihadists, the Islamic Front and the Kurds: An Afghanistan in the making, just on Israel border.
If Geneva II happens, it will be full of surprises.

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December 8th, 2013, 10:24 am


416. Hopeful said:

#413 Zoo

Other than a few minor reservations here and there, which I will not bring up for the sake of focusing in the big picture, I will accept your narrative.

I agree that both the opposition and the west have underestimated 1) Assad’s security forces strengths (I will not refer to them as the National Army though as the army has split into three groups: loyalists, deserters, and a large idle group), and his absolute willingness to accept any collateral damage to crush all and any dissent.

Regardless, the regime bears the main responsibility for destroying Syria, both before and during this mess. Syria cannot be fixed while this regime stays in power. Iraq’s suffering in 2003 till today was largely because Saddam was allowed to stay in power in 1990. If Geneva II does not result in a new regime and a new leadership, Syria is doomed for decades. If you love Syria more than you love Assad, you should understand this equation and hope for a change (even though I will not ask you to admit that publicly).

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December 8th, 2013, 10:55 am


417. zoo said:

<i< Not a surprise at all! The Jihadists are clearly after the FSA and the Saudi funded Islamic Front

Syrian surprise: Al-Qaeda branch kills rebel leaders; invades oil field

December 8, 2013

The Obama administration-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) reported on Saturday that two of its top leader were abducted and then killed by al-Qaeda in Iraq terrorists who now call themselves the Islamist State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The two commanders, Mohammad al-Qadi and Ahmad Jahar, were allegedly captured while leading a convoy from Turkey into Syria with supplies including food and medicine, according to Alarabiya News.

They were said to be last seen at an ISIS camp in the town of Azaz, but later their bodies were found by civilians in the outskirts of Azaz, Syria.

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December 8th, 2013, 10:55 am


418. Observer said:

They are coming for you watch out what you wish for they are coming for you.

It does not matter what happens in Geneva. There is a 50 year war in the offing. It has started and will not stop until it completely destroys the whole region.

No problem let them fight there so that they do not have to focus on us here.

Israel has its threats where it wants them. The threat of the HA is in Syria fighting now. The threat of Syria is in destroying the country. The threat of jihadists is contained in Gaza and Egypt. The threat of Libya and Iraq is completely gone.

They can even think of an alliance with KSA and Iran is now in the process of abandoning Bahrain. Once that starts it cannot but do the same elsewhere. If it refuses the wherever it is will be its Afghanistan.

I would love to hear the bearded turbaned stooge in Dahie explain the Pretzel

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December 8th, 2013, 12:04 pm


419. Syrialover said:


I always read your posts because you can contribute useful insights and well-informed perspectives.

But it’s not enlightening to read:

“There is a 50 year war in the offing. It has started and will not stop until it completely destroys the whole region”

You may enjoy philosophizing and dramatizing, but your words are precisely what people who look down on Arabs love to see.

A bunch of primitives who love to murder each other, can’t survive without dictators and don’t deserve any better.

That’s what it reads like.

If Arab people are really like you suggest, and not like the rest of human civilization, what are they doing pushing for freedom and dignity and the right to live like others?

OBSERVER, you may be trying to make some ironic points or be sarcastic or something, but your message and intentions are lost in a post like the one above.

Please try again with real people in your mind, not obscure debating goals.

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December 14th, 2013, 5:40 am


420. Syrialover said:


I always read your posts because you can contribute useful insights and well-informed perspectives.

But it’s not enlightening to read:

“There is a 50 year war in the offing. It has started and will not stop until it completely destroys the whole region” (# 418)

You may enjoy philosophizing and dramatizing, but your words are precisely what people who look down on Arabs love to see.

A bunch of primitives who love to murder each other, can’t survive without dictators and don’t deserve any better.

That’s what it reads like.

If Arab people are really like you suggest, and not like the rest of human civilization, what are they doing pushing for freedom and dignity and the right to live like others?

OBSERVER, you may be trying to make some ironic points or be sarcastic or something, but your message and intentions are lost in a post like the one above.

Please try again with real people in your mind, not obscure debating goals.

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December 14th, 2013, 5:45 am


421. Syrialover said:


For a textbook, template script used by closet shabiha read ZOO’s side of the discussion with HOPEFUL.

It’s all pretend concern, all hollow agreement and earnest yap, yap etc but it’s a thin, torn curtain draped over the sole game of keeping Assad undisturbed and free to get on with burning the country.

You can search and search the thousands of ZOO posts here and you will not find one line suggesting Assad has done anything wrong or sincere concern for the welfare of Syrian people or what is being done to their country.

We are witnessing an act straight out of the scruffy “closet shabiha playbook” that lies next to ZOO’s computer.

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December 14th, 2013, 6:06 am


422. Syrialover said:

On November 5, Samantha Power took to Twitter to denounce Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president. “The US view of Assad is unchanged,” wrote the new US ambassador to the United Nations. “A man who gasses his people, Scuds his people & terrorises his people does not deserve to govern those people.”

The tweet revealed a great deal about Power, at 43 the youngest person to hold the post at the UN, which also comes with a seat in the US cabinet. Any remaining Twitter-sceptics would be impressed at the concise and punchy message the one-time Pulitzer Prize-winner managed to pack into 140 characters. (It helps when you have one of the world’s most imposing Twitter handles: @AmbassadorPower.)

– From Financial Times, December 12 2013

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December 14th, 2013, 6:13 am


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