“Authoritarian Upgrading in the Arab World,” by Steven Heydemann

Two new good papers at Brookings:

Steven Heydemann writes about "Authoritarian Upgrading in the Arab World." He says "Comments welcome." [sh267@georgetown.edu]. It features Syria, about which Steven has written an excellent book and many articles.

Bilal Saab writes: "Scenarios – Lebanon’s Presidential Elections"

Also on opposition news see "Letter Addressed by Damascus Declaration Beirut Chapter To the Jews of the World"

Comments (23)

Syrian said:


Why is the “Letter by Damascus Declaration…” copyrighted by RPS??

October 26th, 2007, 2:07 am


AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

I am beginning to understand the one sidedness of the comment section (from Heydemann’s article):
“In Syria, those who wish to subscribe to an internet service provider (state-controlled, of course) are required to fill out an application containing not only names and extensive personal information, but also their user names and passwords.”

Annie, I now understand why you can’t discuss politics, unless it is bashing Israel of course. We cannot get any dissenting views from within Syria. For people like me who are not Syrian and are reading this blog, this helps understand why the discussion and views of those within Syria are so narrow.

October 26th, 2007, 2:54 am


annie said:

AIG “In Syria, those who wish to subscribe to an internet service provider (state-controlled, of course) are required to fill out an application containing not only names and extensive personal information, but also their user names and passwords.”
This is bs; it is outdated information.
Anyone can buy a card and connect on a pay as you go basis. And you have private providers as well.
About bashing … You know full well that criticizing Israel, which deserves it a thousand times, has most probably gotten me branded as antijewish (antisemitic is a wrong word since Arabs are semites as well).
I do not wish to discuss politics here; should I want political activities I would do it in my own country where there are enough causes to fight for. I leave Syrian business to Syrians.

October 26th, 2007, 5:04 am


Nour said:


You have no clue what you’re talking about. You don’t know anything about Syria or about the people posting here. But if articles like Heydemann’s make you feel better, just keep reading them and believing them.

October 26th, 2007, 5:06 am


annie said:

Who is this guy Heydeman ?
“despite the best efforts of the United States, its European Union part­ners, and Arab democrats to bring about sustained and systematic political reform over the past two decades”
He means, like in Irak ?
You know they have given democracy a bad reputation.
He means, like in Palestine (rejecting the Hamas victory?).
Arab democrats ? He means an Arab state ? Which one ?

October 26th, 2007, 5:16 am


MSK said:

Dear Annie,

I think you misunderstood what Stephen Heydemann said about internet access in Syria.

He talks about “subscribers” to internet lines. Of course you, as a person, can just walk into an internet cafe & brows the net and write e-mails without giving your personal information. But the cafe’s owners have to provide all that information and can be held accountable for anything that is being done on/through their computers.

And as the internet, like much of the phone system, is monitored, subscribers (be they private or businesses) can get into trouble if they transgress the red lines. I am not saying that they definitely WILL get into trouble, but the danger is there, and it is up to every individual to decide how far s/he wants to go.

For example, when I’m in Damascus and go to an internet cafe, I don’t read Ha’aretz online because I don’t want to get the cafe owner into trouble. Maybe that’s overly cautious, maybe reading Ha’aretz is no big deal. But I am a guest at the internet cafe & thus it’s not my decision to make.

On a not-quite-related note: So you don’t discuss Syrian politics because you “leave Syrian business to Syrians”. Why then, as a Belgian, do you keep discussing Israeli, Palestinian, and US-American politics? Just a thought … 😉


October 26th, 2007, 6:22 am


Alex said:


… Then how come all the anonymous Syrian bloggers who live in the west, have the same “narrow view” that you do not like? … are they also afraid the Syrian regime can read their comments here?

And if you have not notices … Annie loves Syria and she is happy to “defend Syria” … no one will force her to login to Syria comment and write those comments.


This is post 9/11 … the Syrian regime can use the excuse of trying to maintain security… just like they are using it in the west : )

Out of millions of Internet sessions in Syria .. how many people were arrested as a result of monitoring their emails?

October 26th, 2007, 6:57 am


Steven Heydemann said:

To all who posted comments, my thanks. Concerning the “best efforts” of the US in promoting democracy, the whole point of the paper is that these efforts have been ineffective. My doubts about the enterprise of democracy promotion should be clear from the opening of the paper onward.

Concerning the internet in Syria, I have also walked into public internet sites without registering, and used my laptop in cafes, but subscribers, as one person said, are required to register. Human Rights Watch, which is cited in the report, has published a lengthy study of internet controls in the Arab world. It includes an image of the form Syrians are required to fill out. The information requested/demanded is far more extensive than I mentioned in the document.

A last note — though the paper uses some data from Syria, it is addressing a region-wide phenomenon: the way Arab regimes have adapted to insulate themselves from pressures for political reform. This isn’t simply a Syrian phenomenon. In some respects, as Ibrahim Hamidi’s very nice piece on the Beirutization of Damascus makes clear, Syria is behind the curve in terms of “upgrading,” though it is catching up quickly.

Again, thanks for posting comments.

October 26th, 2007, 7:00 am


MSK said:

Ya Alex,

How would we know? Syrian police stations/prisons don’t publish their numbers. 😉

As for “the West” – that’s illegitimate and wrong. And Western courts are canceling those rules. When will the Syrian Constitutional Court declare the Syrian rules illegal? 😉


October 26th, 2007, 7:18 am


Alex said:

How would we know? Syrian police stations/prisons don’t publish their numbers. 😉

oh … no need to wait for police stations to publish those numbers … the good news is that we have president Bush personally announcing it every time Syria arrests a blogger or a dissident : )

October 26th, 2007, 7:25 am


ausamaa said:

Imagin: Arab Diplomates are upset with Syris’s descioin not to extend GAS SUBSIDIES offered to the Syrian people to All diplomatic Missions operating in Damascuse!!! They must be on a very tight budget. Gas wise. But not on other entertainment items I suspect.

What a SHAME on those Governments and dipolmates (beggers!!!); The saying applies: Etha lam tastahy….


استياء دبلوماسي عربي من قرار الحكومة السورية
GMT 7:00:00 2007 الجمعة 26 أكتوبر


بهية مارديني من دمشق: أعربت مصادر دبلوماسية عربية عن استيائها من قرار الحكومة السورية بيع مشتقات النفط للبعثات الدبلوماسية بالسعرغير المدعوم .

وقالت ان هذا لايخضع لمبدأ المعاملة بالمثل ، واشارت الى ان بيع سوريا للبعثات والسفارات بالاسعار غير المدعومة لن يجني ربحا او كسبا كبيرا للخزينة السورية الامر الذي كان من الاجدى الا يكون هذا القرار .وقالت انه يمكن التحايل على هذا القرار بالاستعانة بمواطنين سوريين للشراء.

من جانبه قال وزير النفط السوري سفيان العلاو إن بيع المشتقات النفطية بأسعارها الحقيقية دون دعم في الأسواق المحلية هو أحد أساليب ترشيد استهلاكها لافتا ا إلى الفروق الكبيرة بين أسعار المشتقات العالمية وأسعار مبيعها في سورية.

وكان الفريق الاقتصادي في سوريا أعلن عن خطط لرفع أسعار المشتقات النفطية بالتدريج على مدى خمس سنوات وصولا إلى الأسعار العالمية لمواجهة عجز الميزانية ، مشيرا إلى أن فاتورة الدعم ستصل العام المقبل إلى 350 مليار ليرة سورية الا ان هذه القرارات لم تطبق بعد وواجهت معارضة قوية اقتصادية و شعبية واستياء كبيرا بسبب التخوف من تأثير رفع أسعار المشتقات النفطية على مستوى المعيشة والغلاء الذي بات فاحشا بمجرد تسريب هذا الخبر .

واكد العلاو في حديث للصحف السورية الرسمية أن الخسارة في الميزان النفطي بدأت بالظهور بسبب تراجع الصادرات النفطية السورية وتزايد المستوردات من المشتقات.

وأضاف أن سورية سوف تصدر عام 2008 نحو 6 مليون طن من النفط الخام بينما سيصل الاستيراد إلى 8 مليون طن من المشتقات النفطية المختلفة وقال “وهذا يؤدي لدفع فاتورة أعلى وارتفاع أسعار النفط سيؤثر سلبا”.

ورأى العلاو أن من الضروري زيادة تصدير النفط وتخفيف استيراد المشتقات لتحقيق تعادل بين الصادرات والمستوردات عن طريق ترشيد الاستهلاك وتحسين أساليب استخدام المشتقات النفطية.

وأضاف أن أحد أساليب الترشيد هو “بيع السلعة بقيمتها الحقيقية فأي سلعة يشتريها المواطن بأقل من قيمتها يستهلكها أكثر من حاجته أما عندما يشتريها بالسعر الحقيقي فيحافظ عليها ويرشدها”.

وطرح أعضاء في الحكومة خطة أخرى بديلة للحد من الهدر والتهريب للمشتقات عبر استخدام البطاقات الذكية في بيع المشتقات للمواطنين.

واعلن في سوريا عن مشروع لإنشاء صندوق بقيمة نصف مليار دولار لتشجيع المواطنين على استخدام السخانات الشمسية بدلا من المازوت والكهرباء.

October 26th, 2007, 8:00 am


t_desco said:

Syria Update: Suspect Reactor Site Dismantled (PDF)
by David Albright, Paul Brannan, and Jacqueline Shire
October 25, 2007

A possible difference between the Yongbyon reactor and the Syrian building?

“1980: US spy satellites identify reactor components co-located with a large hole dug for the reactor’s foundation.”
Dr. Jeffrey Lewis

(my emphasis)

Perhaps the foundations were removed or covered? In any case, IAEA inspectors should be able to determine if there ever was a “large hole” in the ground at the site.

October 26th, 2007, 8:16 am


Torstein said:

A friend of mine who used to run an internet cafe told me that he would regularly get the mukhabarat on his door with questions about his customers as they were accessing politically suspicious sites (I don’t think they care about porn or dating sites…)
He promised me he wouldn’t tell them about me and my dubious internet searches 🙂

Alex, I think plenty more people get in trouble for their postings on the net than George Bush knows about.

October 26th, 2007, 9:11 am


idaf said:


Next time you’re in Syria, please feel free to browse Ha’aretz or Ynet as much as you like. I always do it from my home phoneline (not Internet cafes) while in Syria and never got a “mukhabarat showing up on my door”!

And on the writing down password while registering for an internet line in Syria, this is a regular practice even in the gulf countries. Of course in Syria or the gulf you can always then change your password online. Can’t understand why this is even worth mentioning or debating.

This said however, Internet surfers and bloggers are occasionally harassed, whether in Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi or many other countries in the region. It is even much worse in Egypt and Saudi than it is in Syria. The redlines there are way too many (religious, political, “moral”, etc.), the obsession with monitoring and the technology used are draconian and the amount of money and man power put in censorship and monitoring internet users are hundreds folds more than the case of Syria.

This is not a justification of Syrian authorities ill-treatment of online users, but putting this in perspective (ie. Syria is on par with the regional norms of dealing with online users, not worse as repeatedly implied by many).

October 26th, 2007, 10:04 am


MSK said:


If I was living in Damascus & had internet at home, I’d wouldn’t care about which sites I visit, but when I’m in an internet cafe, it would be “impolite”, to say the least, to cause them potential trouble.

As for the regional context – I’m not sure if censorship in Egypt is worse than Syria. And as for harassment of bloggers … well, in Egypt there are way more anti-regime bloggers than in Syria. And absent any data, it’s hard to do any meaningful comparisons.

In the end, each country is specific. Syria is not the worst, but that’s not really anything to write home about. “Among the blind the one-eyed is king.”

But yesyesyes, it’s much better than even a few years ago & there IS progress.


October 26th, 2007, 10:24 am


fadal said:


I cannot understand how you can alter facts about syria. in syria everyone who is connected to the internet is monitored. it looks you are trying to hide a very clear truth. it happened to me once when i used to surf some “enemy sites” and got my connection stopped and got an invitation to the people who know better what freedom is.

even when you go to cafe net, you can be identified and observed and it is not long time ago where i needed to hand in my ID before statring a session. stop fooling people…

from a tachnical point of veiw, the syrian gateways to the WWW is limited and it is monitored on a daily basis…they cannot control emails content but they can block the whole thing. the branch for information near the chief of staff office in damascus is the one responsible for that.

they are actually very active that when they find that many visitors are getting to a site or hear a rumor even if it is silly or untrue they block the whole access and write an order to the MoTelcom to do the same without explaining why.

October 26th, 2007, 12:00 pm


Innocent_Criminal said:

I don’t know why there is even a debate on freedom of internet surfing in syria. Its simply non-existent and i dare anyone to deny the fact that a syrian citizen would get in serious trouble if he/she created a website supporting certain Syrian opposition elements. the fact that the situation might be less shitty than Egypt’s control on web surfers doesnt change the fact that it is…shit.

October 26th, 2007, 4:03 pm


majedkhaldoun said:

should Syria provide oil to Turkey?or would KSA provide Turkey with oil,if Iraq close their oil supply

October 26th, 2007, 4:03 pm


Innocent_Criminal said:

and here’s an interesting read. its mostly turkish propaganda but it shed’s some light on the closer relation iran/syria/turkey are having.

“…The analyses and comments referring to this strategy as an attempt to drag Turkey into the region have lost their prominence and credibility. The latest attacks once more revealed that the evil outside our borders is spreading toward our territories. Therefore, Turkey is involved in the turmoil, anyway. This turmoil will proliferate not only through Turkey but also through the entire region. For this reason, Syria pledged to support Turkey in its actions. This support may be taken as indirect support by Iran for Turkey given the alliance between Syria and Iran.

Even though Iran has not openly expressed consent for a probable cross-border operation by Turkey so far, the recent actions and the regional policy of Iran imply the existence of a hidden alliance between Turkey, Syria and Iran. The attempts to inflict harm on Turkey through the PKK and on Iran through PJAK (Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan) and to legitimize the de facto Kurdish state in northern Iraq are visible. Therefore, Iran is a supporter of Turkish actions, not an obstacle. It has to support Turkey simply because the regional countries including Iran and Turkey have realized that the Greater Middle East Project promoted by the US is a devilish plan that seeks to reshape the entire region. At this point, it is the right time for a bilateral rapprochement between Turkey and Iran…”


October 26th, 2007, 4:07 pm


Alex said:


let’s just say that things improved a lot (before they deterorated a bit lately). Most Syrians I know are very much enjoying being online.

But … it depends. If your father was a known Ikhwan member and you are constantly on anti-regime sites .. I imagine they will pay you a visit.

It also depends who takes that decision that day … I wouldn’t be surprised if the “rules” are not too clear … that an officer can decide to question a surfer of opposition sites if he was in a bad mood today.

October 26th, 2007, 4:33 pm


Zenobia said:

I will agree with Alex. It is all random. And also I believe that although site use is monitored…. the actual responses amount to intimidating people and blustering, and if necessary shutting down a site so it can’t be accessed in Syria.
but… i doubt it amounts to arresting people for websurfing. is there anyone reading here who knows someone who has been in prison or jail for web surfing?
i doubt it.

I have been inside a number of government buildings now….and sadly, haven’t seen hardly a computer anywhere. I haven’t even seen the ‘security’…. maybe they are out back having a cigarette.
people are drowning in paper….stacks and stacks of paper…. now… stacks of paper about thousands of Iraqis…..wishing to become syrians…..
all of the information….is on paper…with piles of paper stapled to it….and piled in big books and in bins….
i have never seen anything like it.
and people sitting at desks…. looking like…they have all the time in the world….

i am not sure…they have the ability to monitor hardly anything…. beyond…sending some ridiculous bloke to ask absurd questions…and look tough, while scaring the crap out of the ‘normal’ folk… just out for a ride on the web.

October 26th, 2007, 6:01 pm


MSK said:

Ya Alex,

I am in full agreement with your last comment (yes, that’s a first – mark the date in the calendar ;)).

And because the repression can be very random, I would not chance the risk of getting an internet cafe owner into trouble over my surfing of “taboo” websites, since I am a guest in his place.


October 27th, 2007, 11:26 am


annie said:

Fadal this is old hat now but just to put the record straight: unless I am mistaken, you buy a sawa card for instance and connect from your house. I did not speak about being monitored or not.
In Damascus, I visit Haaretz; before, there was a panel saying “forbidden”. It does not exist anymore.
Does not mean THEY do not know that you access it, but in my case I had never any problem.

October 28th, 2007, 9:01 am


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