Assad’s Emails Reveal that Syria Has Extremely Weak Government Institutions

Assad’s emails have revealed many things about the President and first lady of Syria. Those Syrians who were counting on their leaders being exemplary humans are surely disappointed. They turn out not to be above average. Bashar has all the weaknesses of a teenager. Most devastating, however, is the absolute lack of institutions in Syria. It is perhaps not shocking or unusual that a “king and queen” are shown to be so human in their limitations: shopping Armani, listening to saccharine pop lyrics, and feeling sorry for themselves. But to have a doctor living in England, Asma’s father, write the president of Syria telling him not to defend the Syria pound and counseling him to let its value collapse because that is what had worked in Britain! And this is the policy decision that Syria pursued until panic set in and the Central Bank pulled the pound out of its death spiral by defending intervening to buy several million dollars worth of pounds month ago. Syrians saw their life’s saving disappear; businessmen saw their profits evaporate; and most importantly, poor Syrians, which is now the majority of the population, saw the purchasing power of their monthly income swoon. Inflation is rampant and the average Syrian cannot satisfy the hunger of his kids.

Managing the economy is only one aspect of the Syrian government where no institutions exist and no body of experts are consulted regularly or have authority to manage the life of the nation. Security men were proposing to taint heating oil with noxious substances as a counter-measure to rampant smuggling. A Twenty-five year old girl turns out to have more power over appointing officials in Latakia than the Baath Party. Bashar Jaafari, Syria’s ambassador to the UN was reduced to sending important memos to the President through his 20 something daughter rather than through the Foreign Ministry. Murhaf Jouejati told Foreign Policy magazine that

The emails expose the weakness of Syria’s institutions. Influence in the Syrian regime, Jouejati said, is based on “patronage and who you know. It’s not at all surprising that a young lady would be in direct contact with the president, going over the heads of her father and the whole Foreign Ministry.”

Syria’s lack of state institutions presents a dilemma for the opposition and citizens who want to support the revolution because the institutional weakness is a time bomb. If the regime is destroyed very little of the government is likely to survive and Syrians must worry that they will become a failed state like Iraq or the Palestinian authority.

A new book, Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, economists from Harvard and MIT, makes this argument. It is institutions that determine the fate of nations, they argue. Here is a bit of the book review that appeared in the WSJ:

The Roots of Hardship – a review by William Easterly of
Why Nations Fail
By Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson
Despite massive amounts of aid, poor countries tend to stay poor. Maybe their institutions are the problem.

Far too much intellectual firepower regarding the global poor these days focuses on the (small) things Westerners can do to help—obsessing about, say, how much money to spend on mosquito-blocking bed nets to fight malaria. The bigger questions—about why some societies prosper and others don’t, about how to improve the lot of an entire impoverished class—are left by default largely to uncritical admirers of China’s growth. The arrival of “Why Nations Fail” is thus a hugely welcome event, since economists Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson take on the big questions and in doing so present a substantial alternative to the dominant thinking about global poverty.

For Messrs. Acemoglu and Robinson, it is institutions that determine the fate of nations. Success comes, the authors say, when political and economic institutions are “inclusive” and pluralistic, creating incentives for everyone to invest in the future. Nations fail when institutions are “extractive,” protecting the political and economic power of only a small elite that takes income from everyone else….

News Round Up

The text of the covenant of the Muslim Brotherhood can be found here

Arab News (SA): What the Brotherhood did in Syria?

The Syrian Brotherhood proved that they have changed, just like it is said that Syria has changed, but they also sent a clear message to their mother organization, specifically in Egypt, as well as to the rest of the Arab world, and the overt and …

Syria on the Brink, Discussions with Nikolaos van Dam, Robert Fisk and Anas Al Abdah, by Marwan Bishara, Empire, Aljazeera English, 22-29 March 2012


Senators Bob Corker (R-TN) and Jim Webb (D-VA) introduced S.2224, a bill “to require the President to report to Congress on issues related to Syria.”  The report should include an assessment of the current military capacity of opposition forces, a description of the composition and agenda of political opposition groups inside and outside of Syria, etc. –

Russia Backs Annan’s Syria Plan: Russia announced support for Kofi Annan’s proposal, and UNSC agreed on a draft resolution demanding Syria immediately implement Annan’splan. The statement gave a “veiled warning of future international action.” Human Rights Watch addressed a letter to the Syrian National Council documenting human rights abuses by the armed opposition groups, and suggested abuses were motivated by sectarian sentiments. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said Russia supplied the most arms to Syria over the past five years. Jakob Kellenberger, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that Syria’s situation would deteriorate. The E.U. imposed sanctions on Assad’s wife, though Elliot Abrams said they are ineffective. Melik Kaylan argued that Russia’s backing of Syria is to ensure Iran’s power in the region. Roger Shanahan considered the possibility of Assad’s regime staying in power. Wadah Khanfar said the main problem facing the Syrian revolution is “the hesitancy of the international community.” 64 percent of Americans do not support military action in Syria. President Barack Obama discussed providing medical supplies and communications equipment to the Syrian opposition with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The German Institute for International and Security Affairs, Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, published a report titled “Violent Power Struggle in Syria.” The report analyzes four possible scenarios: regime survival, implosion, full-blown civil war, and military intervention.

Bashar Jaafari, Syria’s UN envoy, wrote to United Nations Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon and the president of the Security Council, British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, to say, “There shall no forgiveness for those who support terrorism.” Bloomberg

Independent: Patrick Cockburn: The attempt to topple President Assad has failed

Severe economic sanctions were slapped on Syria’s already faltering economy. Every day brought news of fresh pressure on Assad and the momentum seemed to build inexorably for a change of rule in Damascus. It has not happened. Syria will not be like …

Shattered residents regroup after Syrian offensive in Idlib

They describe a government onslaught marked by bouts of terror, wanton destruction behind closed doors and strange moments of kindness by soldiers.


“In light of the deteriorating conditions in Syria, I am announcing that DHS will be designating Syria for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Syrians currently present in the United States. Conditions in Syria have worsened to the point where Syrian nationals already in the United States would face serious threats to their personal safety if they were to return to their home country. Early next week, the Department will publish a notice in the Federal Register that will provide further guidance about TPS eligibility requirements and registration procedures. All applicants must undergo full background checks and while Syrians in the United States are encouraged to apply, they should not submit their applications before the notice is published.”

Al-Duniya TV on how Free Syrian Army videos are filmed for al-Jazeerah

A leading Priest in Damascus denies that ethnic cleansing of Homs Christians has taken place, as was reported earlier

القاصد الرسولي لدى دمشق: لا تطهير عرقي يستهدف المسيحيين بحمص

الفاتيكان (23 آذار/مارس) وكالة (آكي) الإيطالية للأنباء
نفى القاصد الرسولي في دمشق المونسنيور ماريو زيناري الجمعة وجود مذبحة بحق المسيحيين في مدينة حمص السورية، وقال في تصريح لوكالة الأنباء التبشيرية ميسنا “المدينة لا تشهد تطهيرا عرقيا”، ملفتا إلى أن غالبية مسيحيي المدينة هجروها منذ فترة

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Turkey Eyes Syrian Crisis Through Lens of Kurdish Stability
By Maria Fantappie
March 23, 2012

The escalation of the Syrian crisis provides an opportunity for the Turkish Kurdistan Workers’ Party to consolidate its influence within Syria and increase its presence on the Syrian-Turkish border.

Turkey appears to be keeping all options open for intervening in Syria – even arming the opposition. But Ankara’s failure to monitor the development of the Kurdish issue in Syria, and Bashar Al Assad’s struggle for power, have left room for others to instill their agendas there.

In Syria’s Kurdish-populated areas, the Turkish Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the PKK, is expanding its military front against Turkey. Leaders in Iraqi Kurdistan are stretching their political influence and campaigning for the establishment of a Kurdish region in Syria.

The PKK and Iraqi Kurdish agendas in Syria could open a Pandora’s box of the Kurdish issue in Turkey, furthering Kurdish demands for autonomy and bolstering armed struggle. Turkey is in a state of alarm. It is using all means to influence the situation in Syria to avoid a domestic crisis of its own.

Armenian News: An Invented Country, About To Fall Apart

AN INVENTED COUNTRY, ABOUT TO FALL APART by Geoffrey Clarfield National Post March 22, 2012 Thursday Canada Since the collapse of the Ottoman empire, Syria’s Sunnis, Alawis, Kurds and Christians have been held together by a succession of dictators. …

An Iraq ruled by one – or none
by Michael Bell is a former Canadian Ambassador in Egypt and Israel, as well as “from 2005 to 2007, chair of the donor committee of the International Reconstruction Fund Facility for Iraq”
From Thursday’s TORONTO Globe and Mail

Iraq is headed for another dark age. Next week’s Arab League meeting in Baghdad is nothing but cover for a state collapsing at full force. The surface manifestations are real: 46 people killed and many more wounded this week in apparently co-ordinated attacks in Baghdad, Karbala, Kirkuk and other Iraqi cities on the ninth anniversary of the U.S. invasion. The prevailing mood on the street is one of fatigue, desperation and fear. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government cannot control the chaos; indeed, it may be contributing to it as the façade of democratization and pluralism crumbles, accelerated by the departure of the last U.S. troops last December.

There can be no clearer indictment of the neo-conservatives who dominated the U.S. political process during George W. Bush’s presidency. Their statement of faith, the Project for the New American Century, issued in 1997 and warmly embraced by Mr. Bush as a new and largely inexperienced president, called for the forceful imposition of American values on Third World countries suffering from autocracies. The Iraq intervention shows the flaws in this reasoning. The thousands of deaths and injuries suffered in this imperial enterprise is testament to willful ignorance. Millions of Iraqis have fled the country and the oldest Christian communities on Earth have been obliterated.

The behaviour patterns and governance codes of different societies and communities cannot be changed through the exercise of foreign military force – in this case, by what many came to see as outside predators. Such societal practices are embedded differently in different cultures no matter how much we might wish it were not so. The neo-conservatives chose to ignore this reality. Instead, they have created a system that may ultimately have the same potential for brutality as Saddam Hussein’s.

Despite Iraq’s fractured polity, this seems hard to believe. There has been little focus on Iraq lately, given the international preoccupation with Iran, the Palestinians, the Syrian revolt and the Arab uprisings. But ironically, at a time when there is room for hope that Egypt, Tunisia and others may evolve their political culture, Iraq seems headed back to the bad old days. Despite a representative parliament and on-paper attempts at power sharing, Mr. Maliki consolidates authoritarianism anew.

From 2005 to 2007, I was chair of the donor committee of the International Reconstruction Fund Facility for Iraq – a frustrating endeavour, not withstanding my respect for many of the Iraqis and international public servants I worked with. Despite best efforts, our accomplishments were modest. Given the chaos, they could not have been otherwise. Although they remained publicly positive, many internationals believed they were working in a glass bubble, waiting for the collapse. Some joked about who would be the last ones on the last helicopter out of Baghdad, as with the lifts from the roof of the U.S. embassy in Saigon during America’s final days in Vietnam.

In a literal sense, they were proven wrong. The Americans had sufficient control and influence to prevent a rout in Iraq, but as that control dissipated and their efforts at democratization became increasingly problematic, they changed horses. Since their departure, they have devoted their best efforts to helping Mr. Maliki consolidate Iraq as a viable state player because of its geostrategic importance, despite his increasingly well-documented abuses. Barack Obama’s administration is proceeding, reluctantly, with the sale to Iraq of more than $10-billion in military equipment, much of which is serviceable for control and intimidation.

Mr. Maliki has increasingly used the power of the state to consolidate his own autocracy, accused by human-rights groups of intimidation, corruption, deceit, torture and cronyism. Witness the arrest warrant issued for his Sunni vice-president, Tariq al-Hashimi. Witness his son and deputy chief of staff Ahmed, reputed to be the most powerful person in his entourage. Anyone deemed a threat is at risk for their lives in Mr. Maliki’s Iraq.

Without questioning Mr. Obama’s commitment to human rights and pluralism, there is little his administration can realistically do. Either Mr. Maliki will be successful in consolidating his one-man rule or Iraq will self-destruct, breaking into a series of quasi-independent entities based on religion, ethnicity and tribe. Attempting to put it right through heavy engagement with Baghdad seems like a moral imperative. But the chance of success is virtually nil.

Lessons should be learned from this carnage. Despite the moral umbrage one may feel, don’t involve yourself in the affairs of others unless knowledge, reflection and debate suggest an even chance of success. Gut feelings and theoretical constructs can be strongly felt, but most often lead to catastrophe. The law of unintended consequences should be kept in mind regarding Afghanistan, any intervention in Syria and the thought of attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Instead, the United States and Europe need to reach out to Moscow, at the most senior levels, in a private, concerted effort to understand Russia’s bottom lines. Timing for this interaction may be ideal after the Russian presidential elections, slated for March 4 and likely to yield a Putin victory. This dialogue must be genuine in approach, seeking to understand how the Russians view the situation inside Syria, their strategic and security concerns, and opening a joint exploration of how those concerns can be addressed in a post-Assad Syria.

These discussions would then facilitate a Russian approach to the senior Alawite officer corps whose interests do not necessarily align directly with those of Bashar and his immediate family. Not all Alawites have benefitted from the past decade of corruption, and the past several months of unrelenting repression have surely injected an element of fatigue in the military. Anecdotal reporting has also pointed to growing disquiet among retired Alawite officers who fear the president is driving the country off a cliff.

The Syrian uprising is notable for the lack of senior level defections. Syria’s mukhabarat state has virtually assured against internal coups given the atmosphere of deep-seated suspicion and fear. However, Russia’s ties to the Syrian military may provide the necessary mechanism for facilitating what some have described as “brewing defections.” At a minimum, the Russians can use their influence in these circles to explore possibilities of peeling away key elements in the military leadership.

In addition, international economic pressure and diplomatic isolation aimed at Syria must continue and intensify. The latest European Union sanctions freezing Syria’s central bank assets among other measures represent an excellent next step. The Arab League and Turkey should follow suit by implementing previously-promised sanctions and deepening Syria’s diplomatic isolation. Ideally, the cumulative effect of these and previous measures will shift the allegiances of the business elite — the other critical pillar of regime support….

Comments (3)

norman said:

Let the MB start by calling to cancel article 3 , they can not be trusted,

March 26th, 2012, 12:36 pm


jad said:

Isn’t it obvious that JL is on a polishing mission for the MBs.
Just couple days ago he was in support for them to use ‘sectarianism’ as the only way to win over SYRIANS, besides, who believes anything the MBs promise…really!

Ashraf Almoukdad
الاتراك يعاملون السوريين وسورية كمستعمرة والمجلس كحكومة عميلة لهم يريدون فرضها “بالزور على شعبنا والمعارضة حتى ومع كل الاثباتات عن عدم تمثيل المجلس الا نفسه والجماعات المتضاربة به….وتركيا تريد فرض مؤتمر العار والخداع الكبير “توحيد المعارضة”…..ما يخزي هو خنوع وتكالب المجلس على هذا ….بالرغم من عدم وجود أي اثباتات عن فائدة الموقف التركي أو اي فائدة للثورة والثوار من الاستسلام للإرادة التركية-الاخونجية لهذا الخنوع……لو لهذا الخنوع اي فائدة أو تحرير لسورية لوافقنا ورددنا مع المجلس “حاضر أفندم” لكن الأتراك يريدوننا اذيال وبدون اي ضمانات أن هذا سيعود بالتحرير لشعبنا……..لاحول ولاقوة الا بالله

March 26th, 2012, 12:45 pm


Forrest said:

The final four paragraphs in the above commentary appear not to come from Mr Bell’s original piece; they appear to come from some other commentary by someone else, and I think would be very much contrary to any advice Mr Bell would give.

March 27th, 2012, 5:16 pm


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