Five undeniable facts about the Syria that I saw / by Ehsani

I have just returned from a short one-week trip to Syria. As you may recall, I had once written a note on this forum describing how Syria was made up of two countries: one for the one million well to do and another for the other 19 million. I will offer below a summary of my updated impressions since. My observations are predicated on list of what I consider to be five undeniable facts about the Syria that I saw.The first undeniable fact that I have encountered on this visit is the ever-widening gap between the poor and the wealthy of Syrian society. While this phenomenon has been in place for years, one cannot but take note of the recent acceleration in this trend. What makes this subject matter particularly interesting is the fact that Syria is still a supposedly socialist country. One would have thought that such excessive wealth concentration is the hallmark of more capitalist societies rather than Baathist ones. Perhaps the observation below can explain the reasons behind this process:

The second undeniable fact that one cannot ignore is the way with which Bashar is changing his father’s long and heavy imprints on this country. For all practical purposes, Socialism is slowly but steadily being dismantled as an economic system. The new official title of course is “social market economy”. The word “social” is presumably still there to assure the 19 million Syrians that they will still continue to receive their subsidized necessities and the most basic forms of state assistance. What is most noticeable, however, is the speed with which the “market economy” part of the new economic paradigm is spreading in the country. The new “Aishti” clothing store adjacent to the Four-Seasons hotel proudly advertises on its outside window the following:

Prada men’s shoes – SYP 27,500
Brioni mens pants – SYP 22,000
Iceberg t-shirt – SYP 13,800
Armani dress for ladies – SYP 248,500

One cannot help but wonder how the late Hafez Assad would have reacted had he seen these prices displayed in his so-called Baathist capital

Syria’s push for increased investments:

The country is abuzz with the latest wave of foreign and domestic investments. The leadership has done an outstanding job in this endeavor. Not a week passes by without an announcement of a new wave of investments from Qatar, Kuwait, U.A.E. or Saudi Arabia. Similar announcements seem to come from domestic investors in the new “holdings” companies that have been set up. Those that have already taken the risk of investing have thus far been handsomely rewarded by having seen the value of their investments in real estate (mostly still empty land) rise rather dramatically. This has encouraged more investments and a virtuous circle of higher prices and more investments to take place. The third undeniable fact is that there is no going back in this trend towards opening up the country to foreign investments and a more liberalized economy.




Whether this trend has been driven by political necessity or by genuine belief in the merits of free markets is an open question. My suspicion is that it is more likely to be the latter. It is important to note that the pace of the economic reforms is unlikely to go in overdrive mode. Instead, it will more likely be of the sure and steady variety. The already wealthy will get even richer while the poor will struggle with higher inflation and falling real wages.

The fourth undeniable fact is that the country’s fiscal budget will continue to feel the stress in the years ahead. One cannot help but be struck by how little the very wealthy are taxed. It is imperative that this broken system receives a comprehensive overhaul. Similar taxation reforms are sorely needed in the real estate area. A major reassessment needs to take place in order to more accurately reflect the new market value of real estate pricing and hence taxes levied. 

The fifth undeniable fact is that while economic reforms will continue, political reforms are unlikely to follow suit at anywhere near the same pace. This leadership appears to be extremely comfortable with its ability to hold on to power. The young leader appears to be in an absolute control of his country. Those that refuse to believe this are denying what seems to be the obvious. In this atmosphere, the pressure to offer political concessions is close to nil. The late Hafez Assad had built an incredible security apparatus that has come to resemble a fortress. It did not take the new President much time to fully appreciate the value of this intricate system that he had inherited. It seems inconceivable that he will take any risk in this area. Calls for political reform will be viewed as nothing but a trap and a slippery slope that must be avoided. Human rights advocates, for example, are likely to be sorely disappointed with the government’s willingness to deliver.


Bashar is steadily but slowly dismantling the old socialist nature of his father’s reign. He is too clever and too cautious to do this on faster scale. He is fully aware of the economic challenges faced by the vast majority of his people. Given the need to grow the economy and fix his country’s fiscal mess, opening the economy to foreign direct investments is a decision that is irreversible. The rich will continue to get richer in this environment. On the political front, Bashar is unlikely to loosen his grip and institute any significant reforms. Egypt has been down this before and it may well offer a similar model of more economic liberalism without the political reforms to match. Come to think of it, is the ultra successful economic model of Dubai any different?

Comments (88)

majedkhaldoun said:

All what you said are true, but I doubt that Syria will increase the real estate tax soon, and to fair level, syrian’s only investments is real estate, if they increase it , then people will complain, I think however that 20% increase for the next year,is palatable, a better way is to exempt properties less than 2 millions,from tax increase, while properties over 5 million lira get a tax hike of 50%, while properties over 20 million get increase of 100%.

December 24th, 2007, 11:05 pm


Innocent Criminal said:

welcome back Ehsani, its been a while.

I just arrived to damascus yesterday on my first trip in nearly 3 years. havent really seen much yet but i will make sure to look out for the changes you mentioned. is anyone else from our regular SC commentators in Syria at the moment?

December 24th, 2007, 11:22 pm


Losing Hope Quickly said:

I really enjoyed reading that, thanks Ehsani.

One point you touched upon was the rapidly growing distance between the incredibly rich and poor in Syria. I think the government’s ability to deal with this crucial issue of social disparity, will determine how long it can survive as a viable government, domestically at least.

December 25th, 2007, 12:09 am


trustquest said:

Ehsani, considering your good observation, everything you mentioned is a trigger for populist unrest, Baath party members disenchantment and a seed for political change. Syria is not Egypt. The shoes prices you mentioned which is 27000 sp stands on one side while the other shoes prices are around 1000 sp and there are nothing between. The new market economy with all its corrupt system will not be able to feed the army of hungry Baathists. Additionally, to change and build a culture like the Lebanese one where employers are respected and adorned by public, it will take a couple humps before reaching that stage. The next step for the tycoons will be importing cheap labor to get the productivity and stability in work force they wish.
It is a wait and see seen and even with the five fundamentals you mentioned, surprises are the norm in Syria.

December 25th, 2007, 1:06 am


offended said:

Ehsani, how do you think the late Hafez will react to list of prices you have mentioned?
(question is open to all)

December 25th, 2007, 1:48 am


offended said:

Merry Christmas to you Joshua, Alex, and all other respectable readers and contributors of this blog.

Ehsani, thanks for writing this interesting piece.
But you seem to be contradicting yourself a little bit, you mentioned that the economical challenges of the regime, particularly the fiscal year’s deficit, are the trigger behind the opening up of the economy and the attraction of foreign investors.
But at the same time you say that the influx of those investments into Syria is widening the gap between the rich and the poor even more.
In other words, those investment and the opening up of the economy are backfiring, because eventually, what good economic transformation is when it makes the larger portion of your population poor and angry (more than they are already)?

And by the way, what about the impact the presence of the Iraqi refugees is having on the economy?

December 25th, 2007, 2:37 am


norman said:

Good job Ehsani,

In any rapidly growing economy the rich become richer and the poor become poorer , the next step in economic development has to be correcting the inequality between the rich and the poor and that has to be done by taxation and wealth redistribution which will help the Syrian government budget and increase satisfaction of the poor and decrease the chance for a revolution ,

Majed , we do not need to make the tax system for real state more complicated , It should be simple , the first house is tax free all other houses are taxed at about 7 cents for every 1000 Syrian pounds of assessed value , that tax after it is established with a fan fair about how important it is to provide services then it can be changed up or down as needed .

Having taxes on real state will decrease empty houses where the money of the rich is parked and that will make housing more affordable for the poor through rentals or ownership.

Making it more expensive for the rich to park their money in real estate will push them to find other investments which can produce real jobs for Syrians .

There is another way to decrease inequality and improve productivity and that is by having an Estate tax ( Death Tax)to prevent transfer of wealth from parents to unproductive children .

We should remember a fair flat tax of about 15% collected every 3 months on an estimated tax system as in the US after the first 50,000.00 Syrian pounds for the self employed certified by an accountant while the employees get taxed from their wages.

December 25th, 2007, 2:43 am


majedkhaldoun said:

I am not economist,i will leave it to Ehsani, but I do not believe that the very low properties tax will increase to a reasonable level in a year or two or five.

December 25th, 2007, 4:13 am


norman said:

Majed ,Economics is my favorite subject beside Medicine ,
I am not an economist in practise but i listened to a course from the Teaching company about economics and contemporary economics and i listened to Greenspan recent book , economics is common sense ,

Taxes on real state has to be easy to digest after many years of no taxation and to give owners time to unload their properties or renting them. without that the real state market will collapse and blood will run in the streets and that what we do not want.

December 25th, 2007, 5:00 am


offended said:

Ehsani, I don’t understand?
The opening up of the market (or the transformation, if you like) is a must because the regime wants to address the issue of fiscal year deficit. But then the symptomatic pouring of investment monies into the country is widening the gap between the rich and the poor, that means the larger portion of the population is getting even more frustrated and angry than it is already…

How do you square that circle?

December 25th, 2007, 5:15 am


why-discuss said:

Excellent analysis

Egypt has been down this before and it may well offer a similar model of more economic liberalism without the political reforms to match. Come to think of it, is the ultra successful economic model of Dubai any different?
Unfortunately Egypt and Dubai are starting to feel the social tensions of the price rises. In Dubai, the working class , while growingly unhappy, is mostly imported and can be easily replaced, so it presents less of a danger of social unrest. In Egypt, having no alternative outlet to their frustrationss, the poor are moving toward extreme islamism, not a very good prospect for the future of Egypt.
The overhaul of the taxation system is a key to the development of all arab countries who do not enjoy the free flow of money from oil or gaz. Even Lebanon taxation system penalizes more the working class than the big speculators. Overhauling the tax system in arab countries requires a determination as it will be opposed by the ruling class who is benefitting itself from its loopholes. Is Bashar aware of that? is he ready to move on to a social type system, despite the opposition within his ranks? Or he believes that the Syrian society can bear the increasing injustices and will not resort to a social unrest the security apparatus cannot repress?

December 25th, 2007, 7:30 am


idaf said:


I agree with most of your observations. The part about similarities to Dubai’s model is right on. Smart politicians know that the foremost demands of the people are economic development. The model worked in Dubai and in Singapore amazingly up to a level that people are not bothered much with direct participation or democracy. There’s a question of sustainability that is addressed in these 2 places locally and organically. Can Syria follow the same model successfully? After all, democracy is merely one method for good governance and development, that may or may not lead there. If those goals where to be achieved otherwise (as in the case of the UAE, Singapore, China and several other places worldwide), then the people will happily welcome this. The Syrian leaders are betting on this. Their external foes are trying their best to make the Syrians fail on the economic front (sanctions, technological embargos, threats.. etc.) So far the Syrian leadership has been amazingly successful in avoiding these predicaments and achieving good economic results despite all odds. We will have to see if they would also be able to overcome the local challenges that are associated with these developments (the ones mentioned in your article). One have to note though, that the Syrian leadership is fully aware of this. Remember that one of the most important sections of Bashar’s second “oath speech” in the parliament this summer stressed on this message: “we have managed to achieve good –but not enough- economic growth so far. Our current challenge is to manage to redistribute this growth to be inclusive to all parts of the Syrian society”.

The one thing that struck me the most in Syria last summer, was the fast pace of developments in the country. I was on a short trip on early June and then back in end of July. I was amazed to see many of the projects I saw starting in June almost ready in July (for those who know Syria in the eighties and nineties, such projects used take years if not decades).

As I keep telling foreigners who ask me about visiting Syria today, it’s an interesting time to visit this country. A country in a transformation phase, where you can experience an interesting balance between “socialist”, traditional and original culture with the fast-spreading “globalized”, modern and “touristy” one. In few years time, the transformation phase will come to an end and the norm would be the shopping malls and the KFC and Starbucks culture. While it will still be interesting, it will be different. This transformation phase is where the real economic opportunities are in modern Syria’s history. The smart people will take advantage of this. I trust that you Ehsani are doing this already 🙂

On a separate note on the Syrian opposition, three more leading and respected figures in the Damascus Declaration front have disassociated themselves from this movement citing that the leaders of the movement’s recent close association with the US administration has formed “the second stab in the movement’s back” after the first stab of the alliance between Khaddam and the Muslim Brotherhood. Clearly we have two routes shaping in this movement, the “steady organic local change” route and the unrealistic “democracy now at any expense” one. I argue that the former is more appealing to most Syrians and have a much higher probability for success. Here’s Kuds Press article on this:

December 25th, 2007, 9:42 am


pam 53 said:

Living here is getting more and more difficult. Prices are rising quickly and as you said the poor are getting poorer. We are a middle class family , but live in a working class area where we can see how the poor are struggling , widows with children to support are left to depend on charity , young people cant find jobs and the only reason they study is so they can get a job in the Gulf .
Ehsani , I wish you would have mentioned corruption which is rife , and should be tackled along with a proper tax system .
As for Aishti shop , the rich have always been able to get expensive stuff , even before Bashar came, they would get it from Beiruit, now its just easier for them .
As you said the way forward should be slow and careful and cautious, and I wish the powers that be would remember their socialist background, showing compassion for the ones really in need

December 25th, 2007, 11:54 am


Rev Michel Nahas said:

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Well, been there, done that!

I’m Brazilian as some of you know, and my home country now is starting to correct all those inequalities. Yeah, we became one of the so called BRIC countries, mostly due to peace and a strong energy and foods crops economy, but it is undeniable how a more socially concerned government is changing the country.

My brother in law, an Egyptian Sunny, liked to tell me that there are no ex-presidents in the middle east. So, I don’t know how in a hereditary (or dynastic, if one prefers) dictatorship model social concern is going ever to be instituted.

All I can say is that the whole public employees (public servants), is still in place in my country, corruption is as high as it has always been, and despite all that, we are growing. But again I don’t know if you could look at BRIC countries and extrapolate their realities to smaller ones (Brazil, for example is the 5th largest country in area, the 10th or 11th
GDP, and has the 5th largest population in the world), and most important, it is a peaceful country.

As a Brazilian with 100% Syrian blood, I’d like to see progress in Syria, but I guess the agriculture still would have to be the base of it, for a solid growth! And by what I heard in this blog, some sort of tarifs should be placed immediately on Chinese imports!

Just my two cents!

December 25th, 2007, 1:10 pm


offended said:

There is a problem in posting comments, some of them aren’t getting through…

December 25th, 2007, 2:08 pm


Alex said:

Offended, thanks for your wishes.

It seems the anti-spam filter was very active last night. Offended, Idaf, and Rev Michel’s comments all ended up in the spam filter.

I just released them and I will continue to monitor the filter for the next two hours before I go to Church : )

In general, if you lose a comment, please do not try to post it again … it never works. Once the filter decides you are a spammer it will block all your comments… when you try to post the same message again, the software decides with higher probability that you are indeed acting like a spammer.

The way around it is to send me an email and i will release it… this tells the filter that the admins of the site do not think you are a spammer.

December 25th, 2007, 2:17 pm


majedkhaldoun said:

Merry christmass to all our christian friends

December 25th, 2007, 5:30 pm


Observer said:

My comment on this latest blog comes from my reading of Emmanuel Todd: ” After the Empire”. This economic antrhopologist has data to show that participatory governance occurs within two generations of women achieving 80% literacy. In this context the political evolution in Syria will follow the economic one. Dubai is a good example shown but more importantly China is another whereby they are essentially crunching a 100 years of 19th century industrialization into the next 25 years of progress. That pace of economic growth at 10% per year in a previously “bare” economy will lead to the same situation you have in Syria. The difference is one of cultural background. China has had several thousand year history of performing well under an autocratic system where the bureaucracy is mostly efficient and working to improve good governance. The people believe in the system because they hope to be among some of the rich. In Syria, the cultural background ( usually similar to the family structure ) is one in which autocratic rule is accepted as long as the autocrate takes care of the majority of the people. This tradition of essential social responsibility dates back to the early days of Islam when Omar used to give to the poor at night. Political turmoil will come if this kind of contract is broken and the regime understands this very well. The conondrum is how to produce such responsible governance for it requires LACK OF CORRUPTION and therefore AN INDEPENDENT JUDICIARY and POLITICAL Participation eventually. The security apparatus will remain. The regime as I said before will use the state of war with Israel to continue to rule by emergency decree if necessary. The cards that the regime has in its hands are more valuable now than having the Golan without these cards and without a full investment bonanza from the West. In this day and age, investment can and will come from all over. Some of the magnates of the ME would throw easily 100-200 million dollars into a risky business venture in Syria without losing sleep or batting an eye. As for taxation, there is no way that the system can withstand the psychological shock of a tax system when there is so much corruption and so much nepotism. The investments will disappear overnight if a tax is put in place. More importantly it is consumption tax on luxury items, tarifs on trade, and a solid banking system that is required.

December 25th, 2007, 6:26 pm


Alex said:

off topic, but … Lebanese legend Fairouz will be singing in Damascus after a 22-year absence

Here are some of my favorite Fairouz songs (on You tube):


Nassam Alyna Alhawa

Al-bint El-Chalabyia

December 25th, 2007, 7:33 pm


Ziad said:

Diputado chií no cree extradición Kassar sea peligro para españoles en Líbano

El diputado chií Ali Hasan Jalil dijo hoy a Efe que no cree que la extradición a EEUU del presunto traficante de armas sirio, Monzer al Kassar, suponga un peligro para los cascos azules españoles en el Líbano.

‘En nombre de toda la población del sur, la FINUL (Fuerza Interina de la ONU en el Líbano) y, en especial, los españoles son bienvenidos por la misión que desarrollan, que apreciamos. No creemos que hayan justificaciones para un ataque’, apuntó Jalil, del grupo chií Amal.

Jalil se refería a la noticia publicada ayer por el periódico español El Mundo sobre una nota informativa de la Policía española que avisaba del peligro que suponía, tanto para España como para los soldados españoles en el Líbano, la extradición de Kassar a EEUU.

El pasado 13 de diciembre, la Audiencia Nacional española aprobó la extradición de Kassar a EEUU para ser juzgado por suministrar armas a las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC).

La decisión final sobre su extradición la podría tomar el próximo viernes el Consejo de Ministros español, apuntó el rotativo.

Según la nota, citada por El Mundo, el jefe de los servicios de inteligencia sirio, Asef Chawkat, cuñado del presidente Bachar al Asad, envió una carta al director del Centro Nacional de Inteligencia (CNI), Alberto Saiz, en la que se afirmaba que ‘si creéis que vamos a dejar pasar de largo la afrenta que esbirros norteamericanos han cometido contra nuestro hermano no nos conocéis de verdad, ni sois hermanos del pueblo sirio’.

Jalil calificó la noticia del rotativo español ‘de informe periodístico, sin bases sólidas, sólo de los servicios de inteligencia’, y aseguró que ‘no debe dejar esa impresión de peligro), ya que no va a cambiar nuestra posición hacia la FINUL’.

Según el diputado, ‘cualquier atentado contra los cascos azules españoles es un atentado contra nosotros’.

Terra Actualidad – EFE

December 25th, 2007, 8:32 pm


Innocent Criminal said:

sorry for not being able to monitor the spam filter. im in syria and the internet here is slower than a an old snail. but glad to hear alex is on top of it.

December 25th, 2007, 11:51 pm


norman said:

Observer, I agree,
If Syria has trouble implementing fair Income tax then consumption tax could be the answer.

December 26th, 2007, 12:02 am


Atassi said:

Welcome back Ehsani, and thank you for the excellent back to the “SC Office” report. This is indeed a great effort and much needed contribution in summing the economical changes and its effects on the Syrian society. The special effects of the newly adapted policies with its sharp prospective may underline and determines the success or demise of new-found capitalists …
I wonder how long Dr. Assad will be able to hold on to the fifth undeniable fact!! And I do agree that he is living and spending form the remnants of his father earned deeds…

Merry Christmas …

December 26th, 2007, 2:15 am


norman said:

WASHINGTON – Most al Qaeda fighters in Iraq are from Saudi Arabia and Libya and many are university-aged students, said a study released on Wednesday by researchers at the U.S. Army’s West Point military academy.
The study was based on 606 personnel records collected by al Qaeda in Iraq and captured by coalition troops in October. It includes data on fighters who entered Iraq, largely through Syria, between August 2006 and August 2007

December 26th, 2007, 3:31 am


Observer said:

This is a new summary analysis from the Israeli center for security regarding the 2006 war. I hope it could be translated into English
كتاب إسرائيلي
“حرب لبنان الثانية: نظرة استراتيجية”
قضايا النهار – 24-12-2007
يقدم الكتاب الجديد عن الحرب الاسرائيلية الأخيرة على لبنان “حرب لبنان الثانية: نظرة استراتيجية”(•) الصادر عن معهد دراسات الأمن القومي في اسرائيل فرصة للقراء العرب عامة واللبنانيين بصورة خاصة لتكوين صورة شبه شاملة لهذه الحرب “المختلفة ” عن سابقاتها بكل أبعادها الاسرائيلية العسكرية واللبنانية والعربية والإقليمية والدولية، لا سيما أن الكتاب منشور باللغة الإنكليزية على الموقع الإلكتروني للمعهد المذكور.
يضم الكتاب نحو 16 دراسة وثلاثة ملاحق (الملحق الأول عن مزارع شبعا منشور ادناه) وضعها نحو 17 باحثاً وخبيراً اسرائيلياً موزعة على جزئين: الجزء الأول تناول الابعاد الاسرائيلية لهذه الحرب؛ والجزء الثاني درس الابعاد الإقليمية.
ما يميز هذا الكتاب عما سبقه أنه يضع هذه الحرب في منظور أوسع بكثير من مواجهة غير متوازنة بين قوة عسكرية هي الأقوى في المنطقة اي الجيش الاسرائيلي وقوة عسكرية أدنى منها بكثير تمثلت بمقاتلي “حزب الله” وبترسانته الصاروخية القصيرة والمتوسطة المدى والمضادة للدروع؛ ويجعل منها مناسبة للتعرف على صورة “الشرق الأوسط الجديد” الذي ظهّرته هذه الحرب والمتغيرات الإقليمية من صعود الاسلام الراديكالي الى ضعف الأنظمة العربية على حساب ازدياد الكبير في قوة المجموعات الخارجة على الدولة في العالم العربي، وتعاظم دور اللاعبين غير العرب في المنطقة وعلى رأس هؤلاء: ايران واسرائيل وتركيا.
انقسمت دراسات الجزء الأول من الكتاب التي تعالج البعد الاسرائيلي للحرب الى ثلاث مجموعات: الأولى تناولت التحليل الاستراتيجي للحرب بصفتها كما يقول كاتب الدراسة الأولى شلومو بروم” حرباً محدودة لدولة نظامية ضد مجموعات خارجة عن الدولة” تعمل انطلاقاً من دولة عاجزة وفاشلة والمقصود بالطبع لبنان. من هنا صعوبة تحديد نتائج هذه الحرب التي خلفت شعوراً عاماً بالاحباط لدى الجمهور الاسرائيلي الذي اعتبر ان الحرب لم تؤدّ الى حسم عسكري واضح لصالح الجيش الاسرائيلي ولا الى الحاق هزيمة واضحة بحزب الله”. في رأي الكاتب ان الاخفاق الأساسي للجيش الاسرائيلي يعود الى امرين: عدم النجاح في مواجهة حرب العصابات والفشل في وضع اهداف سياسية للحرب. وفي رأيه ان الحرب الأخيرة يجب ان تدفع اسرائيل الى وضع سيناريوات لمواجهة حرب عصابات مماثلة على جبهات اخرى غير الجبهة اللبنانية. في الدراسة الثانية للمجموعة الاولى يعالج غيورا ايلاند عملية اتخاذ القرارات في اسرائيل، ويخصص يائير عفرون مقاله لدرس الضرر الذي ألحقته هذه الحرب بقدرة اسرائيل على الردع.
المجموعة الثانية من الدراسات ركزت على الجوانب العسكرية المحضة للحرب لا سيما نتائج المواجهات وتدمير القدرة الصاروخية لـ”حزب الله” مدعومة بالأرقام والرسوم البيانية التي تحدد بدقة يوماً بيوم ما كانت عليه نتائج العمليات العسكرية. اشتملت هذه المجموعة على دراسة مهمة للمسؤول السابق للمخابرات زئيف فركش الذي حلل الدور الذي قامت به المخابرات في الحرب متوقفاً عند نقاط الضعف في أدائها.
المجموعة الثالثة تناولت الجبهة الاسرائيلية الداخلية التي تحولت في الحرب وربما للمرة الأولى الى ساحة للمواجهة نتيجة استهدافها بصواريخ الحزب حتى الساعات الأخيرة التي سبقت اعلان وقف النار. تضمنت هذه الدراسات نقداً كبيراً لأداء المؤسسات الحكومية خلال الحرب وتقصيراتها في مساعدة السكان المدنيين الذين استهدفهم القصف، وقدمت عدداً من المقترحات حول كيفية تجنب حدوث ذلك مجدداً في اي مواجهة جديدة. كما نقع هنا على متابعة تفصيلية لمواقف الجمهور الاسرائيلي من الحرب يوماً بيوم والتي تظهر انه طوال ايام الحرب ظل الرأي العام الاسرائيلي يدعم الحرب ويراها حرباً مبررة ولكن تأييده للقيادتين السياسية والعسكرية اخذ يتراجع نتيجة ترددهما واخفاقهما في حسم المعركة لمصلحة اسرائيل.
المواجهة الأولى غير المباشرة
قد تكون أهم دراسة تضمنها الجزء الثاني من الكتاب هي دراسة أشر ساسر عن الاطار الإقليمي للحرب ( من صفحة 175 الى صفحة 186). يربط ساسر الحرب بالمتغيرات الإقليمية التي شهدها الشرق الأوسط وأهمها: الضعف النسبي للأنظمة العربية، وصعود انظمة شرق أوسطية غير عربية، ازدياد نفوذ المجموعات التي لا تنتمي الى الدولة في حياة المجتمعات العربية، والتغير في موازين القوى بين السنة والشيعة، والتغير في النظرة الإقليمية الى المركز والأطراف. هنا يبرز الدور الكبير الذي لعبه الغزو الأميركي للعراق في تحفيز هذه المتغيرات التي كانت بدأت قبل هذه الحرب وجاءت الحرب لتعمل على دفعها قدماً لا سيما في ما يتعلق بعودة التوتر في العلاقة بين الطائفة الكبرى في العالم العربي السنة والشيعة الذين يعتبرون ان ايران ممثلتهم في الشرق الأوسط.
يرى الكاتب ان العراق وقع تحت سيطرة الطائفة الشيعية العراقية ويشير الى الصعود الكبير في نفوذ الطائفة الشيعية في لبنان ومحاولاتها السيطرة على الحكم مستندة الى كونها غالبية تشكل40 في المئة من مجموع السكان وان “حزب الله” يملك قوة عسكرية تفوق ربما ما يملكه الجيش اللبناني. يتحدث الكاتب عن الدولة ضمن الدولة التي أقامها “حزب الله” بمساعدة كبيرة من كل من سوريا وايران التي تعتبر الحزب موقعها المتقدم لردع اسرائيل. ويشرح كيف يشكل الحزب جزءاً مهماً من الأسس الاستراتيجية الأمنية الايرانية.
يقول ساسر ان الحرب أظهرت التغييرات العميقة في مكانة الدول العربية. فمصر التي كانت من دول “المركز” وتتمتع بنفوذ كبير على دول المنطقة تحولت الى دولة “طرفية” والدول “الطرفية” مثل تركيا وايران تحولت الى دول مركز، مما أدى الى تظهير النفوذ الجديد الكبير لإيران التي باتت اليوم تسيطر على العراق عبر الشيعة وتمد نفوذها الى دول الخليج الذي يبقى في نظرها” الخليج الفارسي” وليس العربي وفق ما تقوله الدول العربية السنية.
في هذه الاصطفاف الاقليمي الجديد تغيرت المخاطر التي تتهدد اسرائيل بحيث لم يعد مصدر الخطر نشوب مواجهة عسكرية مع الجيوش العربية التقليدية؛ وانما المواجهة مع الارهاب وحرب العصابات التي تخوضها مجموعات لا تتبع الحكومات مثل “حزب الله” و”حماس” والتي من الصعب حسمها، وبروز خطر السلاح النووي الايراني، والخوف من ان يؤدي ضعف الأنظمة العربية الى قيام الفوضى في الهلال الخصيب لا سيما في دول مثل سوريا ولبنان.
في استعراضه لتقويمات اولية لنتائج الحرب الأخيرة يشير الكاتب الى الجهود الكبيرة الداخلية اللبنانية والعربية والدولية من اجل لجم نفوذ ايران في لبنان وكبح “حزب الله” الذي يراه الكاتب مستعداً للتضحية بمصالح بلده من اجل الدفاع عن المصالح السورية والايرانية.
لكن السؤال الذي يطرحه الكاتب هو الى اي مدى باستطاعة هذه الجهود مواجهة الضغط الذي يمارسه “حزب الله” وايران وسوريا على الحياة السياسية اللبنانية ؟ ويخلص من هنا الى القول: “لقد تحول لبنان الى حقل اختبار للمواجهة بين الشرق الأوسط الجديد للدول الاسلامية السنية المعتدلة المتمثلة بمصر والسعودية والاردن الساعية الى دعم الاستقرار في لبنان ولجم ايران، والشيعة واللاعبين الذين لا ينتمون الى الدول (non-state players) الذين يحاولون تغيير موازين القوى.وفي الحقيقة تجد اسرائيل نفسها في المعسكر الأول. وللمرة الأولى تجد نفسها تشكل جزءاً من معسكر الخصم ولم تعد أسيرة النظرة التقليدية لها بصفتها دخيلة على العالم العربي. لبنان على مفترق طرق تاريخي. فمنذ نشوئه كان يصارع في الدفاع عن هويته المتنازعة بين الهوية الغربية والعربية بصفته الدولة العربية الوحيدة ذات الغالبية المسيحية التي تربطها علاقات وثيقة بفرنسا، والدولة التي تتقاسم فيه النفوذ الطائفتان الكبريان: السنة والموارنة واللتين من مصلحتهما الحفاظ على الاستقرار الداخلي للبنان بصفته جزءاً من العالم العربي… ثمة مصلحة مشتركة بين اسرائيل والدول العربية السنية هي الدفاع عن السيادة العربية اللبنانية واضعاف الدولة ضمن الدولة التي أنشأها “حزب الله”، والسعي الى تحجيم قدرة الحزب على قضم السيادة اللبنانية خدمة لمصالح كل من سوريا وايران “(ص 185). برأي الكاتب المطلوب الآن احتواء “حزب الله” داخل السياسة الداخلية اللبنانية وتقوية مؤسسات الدولة المركزية واضعاف الجماعات التي لا تنتمي الى الدولة.
“النصر الإلهي والإخفاق الأرضي”
في الفصل التاسع يستعرض يورام شوايتزر انجازات “حزب الله” واخفاقاته في الحرب الأخيرة. ليلخص الانجازات بالآتي: انزال ضربات باسرائيل حتى اليوم الأخير من القتال؛ استمرار قناة “المنار” بالبث رغم القصف الذي تعرضت له؛ مواصلة السيد حسن نصر الله اطلالاته التلفزيونية على الناس؛ النجاح النسبي للحزب في اسكات الأصوات الداخلية المنتقدة له اثناء المعارك واظهار الالتفاف الشعبي حوله. اما أهم الاخفاقات: عدم التقدير الدقيق لرد الفعل الاسرائيلي على عملية الخطف؛ لم تتحقق مقولة ان المجتمع الاسرائيلي “خيوط عنكبوت” لن يصمد امام القصف الذي يتعرض له؛ قيام تكتل عربي – سني ضد “حزب الله”؛ الانتقادات الداخلية التي وجهت الى الحزب بسبب الدمار والخسائر الباهظة التي دفعها لبنان وشعبه. ويرى الكاتب ان أهم التحديات التي تواجه الحزب في المستقبل القريب: التعويض على سكان الجنوب خسائرهم جراء الحرب؛ كيفية ترميم علاقاته مع السنّة والدروز. ويخلص من هذا كله الى القول ان الاشتباك بين اسرائيل و”حزب الله” لم تنته فصوله بعد.
حرب تموز والصراع على لبنان
يستعرض أيال زيسار في الفصل العاشر من الكتاب ما آل اليه الوضع في لبنان وسوريا غداة انتهاء الحرب مسلطاً الضوء بصورة خاصة على الانعكاسات او بالأحرى المحاولات السورية في توظيف انتصار “حزب الله” في مواجهاته مع الجيش الاسرائيلي في مصلحة سوريا. وبرأي الكاتب جرى ذلك على مستويين: المستوى الأول على صعيد السياسة اللبنانية الداخلية اذ رأى بشار الاسد أن ما حدث صيف 2006 يجب ان يقلب الأوضاع التي سادت لبنان عقب “ثورة الأرز” ويعيد “حزب الله” الى قلب المعادلة الداخلية اللبنانية. اما على صعيد المواجهة مع اسرائيل فقد اعتبر الأسد ان ما حدث هو انتصار لسوريا من هنا مطالبته بمعاودة المفاوضات السلمية من موقع القوة، وارسال تهديدات الى اسرائيل في حال عدم تجاوبها مع المطلب السوري بأن لا مناص من حدوث المواجهة.
يتطرق الكاتب في هذا الفصل الى الجهود الكبيرة التي وظفها الأمين العام لـ”حزب الله” حسن نصر الله من اجل تحويل الحزب الى قوة اجتماعية وسياسية فاعلة وليس قوة عسكرية فقط سواء من خلال النواب الذي يمثلونه في مجلس النواب او من خلال ممثلية في مجالس البلديات الذين يبلغ عددهم اربعة آلاف مندوب او عبر عشرات المدارس التي يدرس فيها نحو مئة ألف تلميذ، ناهيك عن المستشفيات والعيادات وشركات التأمين وسلسلة التعاونيات الاستهلاكية. يقول الكاتب: ” لقد قصر نصر الله حياته على بناء الحزب او الامبراطورية التي ستسمح له في ما بعد بالسيطرة على لبنان. هذه العملية المستمرة منذ الانسحاب الاسرائيلي من لبنان عام 2000 أعطت الحزب وقادته الثقة بأنهم قادرون على تغيير الواقع اللبناني وتحقيق سيطرتهم على لبنان عبر انتخابات ديموقراطية او عبر توافق ضمن الطوائف يضمن تغيير النظام السياسي اللبناني لمصلحة الطائفة الشيعية.” (ص 142).
يقول الكاتب ان اسرائيل ألحقت ضرراً بالغاً بقدرة الحزب على تحقيق أهدافه. فواحد من أصل اثنين من شيعة لبنان تحول الى مهجّر خلال حرب تموز، وغالبية الشيعة الذين عادوا الى قراهم وجدوها مدمرة. ورغم ذلك ليس امام هؤلاء برأي الكاتب سوى الالتفاف حول حسن نصر الله لأنهم لا يملكون خياراً آخر.ولكن الضرر الكبير الذي لحق بالشيعة اذا كان لم يغير من تأييد الشيعة لنصر الله فانه قلص من قدرة الأخير على المناورة لا سيما بعد اعترافه في ايلول الماضي بأنه اخطأ في حساب رد فعل اسرائيل على عملية الخطف. يقول زيسار: ” يحتاج حسن نصر الله الى الوقت والى فترة من الهدوء من اجل اعادة الاعتبار الى مشروعه واعادة بناء البنية التحتية المدنية التي تدمرت.وكونه ما زال يعيش متخندقاً هذه العملية اصعب”.
في نهاية دراسته يتساءل الكاتب هل السلام مع سوريا من مصلحة اسرائيل اليوم؟ ويجيب ان السلام مع سوريا سيجلب الهدوء الى الجبهة الشمالية ويبعد ايران عن المنطقة ويقلص نفوذها لدى المنظمات الفلسطينية و”حزب الله”، ولكن من الصعب رؤية بشار الأسد يدخل فعلاً في المفاوضات اليوم لا سيما وانه يعتبر نفسه في موقع قوة. ويخلص الى ان الحرب الأخيرة لم تؤدّ الى تغيير عميق في المعطيات التي كانت قائمة قبلها، فهي أضعفت “حزب الله” من دون ان تهزمه، قوّت حكومة السنيورة من دون أن تجعلها قادرة على اخضاع الحزب لإرادتها، زادت من المواقف الاستفزازية للأسد ضد اسرائيل وأميركا ولكن من دون الخروج تماماً عن السياسة التصالحية التي ورثها عن والده.
حدود القوة الايرانية في الشرق الأوسط الجديد
في الفصل الحادي عشر من الكتاب يعالج ديفيد مينشاري كيف ساهمت حرب لبنان الثانية في خدمة السياسات الايرانية. فيشير بصورة اساسية الى تحول لبنان ساحة صراع لا سيما بعد صعود المحافظين الجدد في ايران وانتخاب محمود احمدي نجاد رئيساً للجمهورية الاسلامية في ايران. يقول: “تحول لبنان الى نموذج مصغر لأشرس صراع بين حضارتين: الحضارة الغربية في مواجهة حضارة الاسلام، وبين الاسلام الذي تتزعمه ايران؛ والصراع والعالم الاسلامي ذي الغالبية السنية” (ص 155). يشير الكاتب الى ما سبق واشار اليه أكثر من باحث وهو ان ضعف الأنظمة العربية كان عاملاً مؤثراً في صعود الطائفة الشيعية، متوقفاً بصورة خاصة امام النفوذ الكبير التي تملكه ايران في لبنان لا سيما بعد الانسحاب الاسرائيلي من جنوبه.
ويعتبر الكاتب ان الاسباب الأخرى التي ساهمت في صعود ايران في المنطقة هو مشروع السلاح النووي. ورغم ذلك يرى ان ايران تواجه الكثير من التحديات التي قد تعوق تحقيق طموحاتها في السيطرة الإقليمية من بينها:تصاعد حدة الانتقادات الداخلية الايرانية وازدياد السخط الشعبي على سياسات أحمدي نجاد في ظل الأزمة اقتصادية التي يعيشها الايرانيون؛ تزايد التوتر بين ايران والدول العربية المجاورة لا سيما الخليجية منها ؛احتمال ان تؤدي معاهدة السلام بين سوريا واسرائيل الى ابعاد سوريا في المستقبل عنها؛ ناهيك بخطر التعرض لضربة عسكرية أميركية.وتكمن احتمالات الحل في حدوث تغيير على صعيد الحكم او على الصعيد الحياة العامة في ايران.
مراجعة رنده حيدر
(بقلم مجموعة من الخبراء والباحثين الاسرائيليين تحرير شلومو بروم ومئير ألران، صادر عن المعهد القومي للدراسات الاستراتيجية التابع لجامعة تل أبيب-2007)
مزارع شبعا(•): مقاربـة إسرائـيليــة
عاموس جيلباو
ظهرت مزارع شبعا، وهي عبارة عن مرتفعات تشكّل الامتداد الغربي لجبل حرمون على مقربة من المورد المائي الأساسي لإسرائيل، على جدول الأعمال بعد انسحاب قوات الدفاع الإسرائيلية من لبنان في أيار 2000، وبرزت من جديد وبطريقة لافتة خلال حرب لبنان الثانية وبعدها. طالبت الحكومة اللبنانية مراراً وتكراراً بالسيطرة على مزارع شبعا المعروفة في إسرائيل بجبل دوف. ويأتي قرار مجلس الأمن 1701 صراحةً على ذكرها كمسألة يجب مناقشتها في سياق العلاقات بين لبنان وإسرائيل، ويطلب من الأمين العام للأمم المتحدة أن يرفع إلى مجلس الأمن توصيات لحل النزاع. علاوة على ذلك، لفت الرئيس بشار الأسد في مقابلة تلفزيونية في 26 أيلول 2006 إلى أنه ينبغي على إسرائيل قبل أي شيء آخر الانسحاب من مزارع شبعا؛ وتنشر الصحافة اللبنانية بيانات عامة للحكومة اللبنانية تدعو فيها السكان السابقين للمزارع إلى تقديم سندات الملكية.
يهدف هذا البحث إلى إلقاء الضوء على نزاع مزارع شبعا: ما هو في الواقع، وكيف وصلت إسرائيل إليه وكيف تطوّر – واستمر في التطور – ليتحوّل مسألة. ويولّد أساساً من الوقائع للنقاش العام حول السياسة الإسرائيلية في هذا الإطار.
قبل انتهاء الأعمال الحربية في حرب الأيام الستة، اجتمع كبار المسؤولين العسكريين في مقر الوحدة 36 التي كانت مسؤولة عن مرتفعات الجولان. توجّه عازار وايزمان الذي كان آنذاك مدير العمليات في قوات الدفاع الإسرائيلية، إلى وزير الدفاع موشي دايان بالقول “ألا تظن أن القوات الجوية تستحق مكافأة؟” فأجاب دايان “بالتأكيد، اطلبوا أي شيء”. في ذلك الوقت، كانت قوات الدفاع الإسرائيلية قد وصلت إلى قرية مجدل شمس عند سفح جبل حرمون. أشار وايزمان إلى جبل حرمون وقال “أريد أن يكون لنا موقع هناك، النقطة التي يمكن رؤية دمشق منها”.
أين كانت تلك النقطة؟ نظر الجميع إلى المسؤول عن الاستخبارات في الوحدة، داني أغمون، وهو من الآباء المؤسسين للاستخبارات القتالية في قوات الدفاع الإسرائيلية. جلس أغمون وأجرى حسابات وقام بقياس الخرائط وتوجّه إلى المكان في مروحية. وتبعه جنود من الجولان، وفي اليوم التالي توجّه طاقم من الأمم المتحدة ومسّاح إلى الموقع لأخذ القياسات وتحديد المكان على الخرائط كموقع لقوات الدفاع الإسرائيلية. لكن مشكلة وقعت: امتدّ الخط حتى الحدود اللبنانية. بحسب العلامة “المقبولة” لحدود دولية على خريطة ضابط الاستخبارات مقاس 1:100000، تمركز عدد من الجنود على قمم التلال البارزة على طول الحدود. جاء طاقم الأمم المتحدة والمسّاح فلاحظوا أن الخط الذي رسمته قوات الدفاع الإسرائيلية على خرائطها يتبع خط الحدود الدولية بين سوريا ولبنان.
لاحقاً غادرت قوات الدفاع الإسرائيلية المنطقة الواقعة على الحدود السورية-اللبنانية. لكن في مطلع السبعينات، تسلّل الإرهابيون الفلسطينيون إلى المنطقة التي أُطلِق عليها لاحقاً اسم “فتح لاند”. فاستولت قوات الدفاع الإسرائيلية عليها، وعبّدت طريقاً وأقامت سلسلة مواقع هناك. وأصبحت التلة التي كانت تدعى جبل روس، تُعرَف بجبل دوف تيمناً بالكابتن دوف رودبرغ الذي قُتل هناك في آب 1970 في معركة مع الإرهابيين. وفي هذه الفترة أيضاً، غادر المزارعون الذين كانوا يعيشون هناك منازلهم، ومنذ ذلك الوقت المزارع فارغة من السكان. بعد حرب يوم الغفران وتوقيع اتفاقية فك الارتباط بين إسرائيل والسوريين، أنشئت قوة مراقبة فك الارتباط التابعة للأمم المتحدة وبطبيعة الحال تضمّنت خريطة المنطقة العملياتية جبل دوف بالاستناد إلى ترسيم الحدود الدولية كما وضعه مسّاح الأمم المتحدة وداني أغمون عام 1967.
عندما قرّر رئيس الوزراء باراك، في ضوء الاجتماع الفاشل بين الرئيس كلينتون والأسد في 26 آذار 2006، الانسحاب من لبنان من دون اتفاق مع سوريا، اعتبر أن الانسحاب سيكون جزءاً من قرار مجلس الأمن 425 الذي أُقرّ بعد عملية الليطاني عام 1978 وينص على انسحاب إسرائيل إلى الحدود الدولية بينها وبين ولبنان. وقد أُرسل مبعوث الأمم المتحدة، تيري رود لارسن، إلى إسرائيل ولبنان، إلى جانب فريق من مسّاحي الأمم المتحدة، من أجل توضيح الخط الذي يجب أن تنسحب إليه قوات الدفاع الإسرائيلية بموجب القرار 425، من بين أمور أخرى. وكانت المشكلة الأساسية الحدود مع لبنان التي رُسمت عام 1923: أين كانت تمر بالتحديد؟ في ما يتعلّق بالحدود الشرقية، من نهر الحاصباني شرقاً أي الحدود اللبنانية-السورية، لم تكن هناك مشكلات خاصة ما عدا موقعين مهمين لقوات الدفاع الإسرائيلية داخل الأراضي اللبنانية.
ثم حصلت مفاجأة كبرى. التقى لارسن وفريقه الرئيس اللبناني إميل لحود في الرابع من أيار. وقد قال الرئيس الذي كان مقرّباً من السوريين، للارسن إنّ الحدود مع إسرائيل لم تكن تهمه في ذلك الوقت، وإن الحدود الشرقية أهم بكثير بالنسبة إليه. وزعم أن هذه المنطقة التي تسمّى مزارع شبعا، لبنانية وليست سورية، وينبغي على إسرائيل الانسحاب منها بموجب القرار 425. ولفت لحود إلى أن هناك 14 مزرعة على الأقل في هذا الموقع، وأكبرها هي مزرعة شبعا (التي أعطت اسمها لمنطقة المزارع، ويجب عدم الخلط بينها وبين قرية شبعا اللبنانية)، ومن المزارع الأخرى فشكول ورمتا وزبدين وخلة الغزالة.
وعلى الفور أذاعت وسائل الإعلام اللبنانية ولا سيما إعلام “حزب الله” ورئيس مجلس النواب اللبناني نبيه بري، النبأ. عاد لارسن إلى إسرائيل حيث عُرضت عليه خريطة لبنانية مع الحدود اللبنانية-السورية المقبولة، وتظهر فيها مزارع شبعا بوضوح في الأراضي السورية. ادّعى اللبنانيون أن الخريطة ليست محدّثة، وأنها غير دقيقة في مختلف الأحوال، وأصروا على أن منطقة مزارع شبعا (من دون تحديد حدودها في شكل دقيق) تقع داخل لبنان. ومنذ تلك اللحظة وصولاً إلى التقرير الذي رفعه الأمين العام للأمم المتحدة إلى مجلس الأمن في 23 أيار، وقع خلاف حول الحدود السورية-اللبنانية وإذا كانت مزارع شبعا ملكاً لسوريا أم لبنان. طلبت الأمم المتحدة من إسرائيل ولبنان تقديم أدلة لدعم أقوالهما، وباشرت التحقيق في الموضوع بنفسها.
تقع حقيقتان تاريخيتان أساسيتان في صلب هذا الخلاف: الحقيقة الأولى هي عدم وجود اتفاق رسمي بين سوريا ولبنان حول حدود دولية رسمية، والثانية هي عدم حصول ترسيم متفق عليه للحدود. فالحدود الحالية بين لبنان وسوريا وضعها الفرنسيون عام 1920 عند إنشاء دولة لبنان.
كانت لدى اللبنانيين أربع حجج:
– تشهد سجلات الأملاك السورية على أن المزارع ملك للبنانيين.
– تظهر وثائق عدة أن مسؤولين دينيين من لبنان كانوا يحيون الطقوس الدينية لسكّان المزارع.
– ورد في محاضر جزئية لاجتماع لجنة الحدود اللبنانية-السورية عام 1964، أن الجانب السوري وافق على أن المزارع تابعة للبنان، ويجب تعديل مسار الحدود.
– تظهر خريطة لبنانية من عام 1966 المزارع كجزء من الأراضي اللبنانية.
رأت إسرائيل في هذا ذريعة من “حزب الله” لاختراع مشكلة تبرّر أعمال العنف بعد انسحاب قوات الدفاع الإسرائيلية، وذلك عبر الزعم بأنها أراضٍ لبنانية محتلة. تضمنت الحجج التي رفعتها إسرائيل إلى الأمم المتحدة لإثبات أن المنطقة سورية وليست لبنانية:
– رفض الزعم اللبناني بامتلاك إفادة شراء على اعتبار أنه لا يمت بأي صلة لمسألة السيادة.
– تقديم إثبات على أن ما يعرف بمحاضر 1964 التي قدّمها اللبنانيون، هي في الواقع مزوّرة.
– تقديم عشرات الخرائط اللبنانية التي طُبِعت بعد 1964، بما في ذلك خرائط من وزارة الدفاع اللبنانية، وهي تشير بوضوح إلى أن المزارع تقع في الأراضي السورية.
– خرائط سورية تقدّم المعلومات نفسها.
– أُحضِرت خرائط فرنسية إلى جانب شهادات من مسؤولين فرنسيين وصفوا المسار الذي سلكته الحدود بين سوريا ودولة لبنان الجديد.
– كان سكان المزارع جزءاً من إحصاء سكاني سوري أجري عام 1960 (وراوح عددهم بين بضع عشرات والمئات في كل مزرعة).
– ورقة الألف ليرة لبنانية التي أُطلِقت عام 1988 وعليها خريطة لبنان. يشير مسار الحدود السورية-اللبنانية المرسوم على الخريطة، إلى أن مزارع شبعا هي في الواقع أرض سورية.
– الخرائط التي تملكها قوة مراقبة فك الارتباط التابعة للأمم المتحدة وقوة الأمم المتحدة الموقتة في لبنان (اليونيفيل)، بما في ذلك مناطق نشاطهما، ويظهر فيها الخط “المقبول” للحدود السورية-اللبنانية.
– جاء في بيان الأمم المتحدة عام 1978 (عملية الليطاني) أن إسرائيل أتمّت انسحابها من كل الأراضي اللبنانية (من دون الإشارة إلى أن مواقع القوات الإسرائيلية في جبل دوف تابعة للبنان). آنذاك لم يقل لبنان إن مزارع شبعا ملك له، ولم يطالب بأن تنسحب إسرائيل من المنطقة كجزء من انسحابها من كل الأراضي اللبنانية. وافقت الأمم المتحدة على الموقف الإسرائيلي وأعلمت الحكومة اللبنانية بالأمر بعد بضعة أيام من رفع تقرير الأمين العام للأمم المتحدة إلى مجلس الأمن في 23 أيار 2000. وكان السبب الأساسي وراء رفض الأمم المتحدة للمطلب اللبناني، على ارتباط بخرائط قوة مراقبة فك الارتباط واليونيفيل. وقد وردت خريطة قوة مراقبة فك الارتباط في بروتوكول اتفاقية فك الارتباط بين إسرائيل وسوريا في أيار 1974 الذي وقّعته سوريا، فكان هذا بمثابة تثبيت منها بأن منطقة مزارع شبعا تقع في سوريا، كجزء من مرتفعات الجولان المحتلة؛ ولم يتذمّر لبنان قط لأن منطقة عمليات اليونيفيل لا تضم مزارع شبعا.
لم يستسلم اللبنانيون. فقد كرّروا زعمهم بأن المنطقة لبنانية، واعتبروا تالياً أن موقف الأمم المتحدة غير مقبول. ودعم السوريون اللبنانيين، وفي اتصال هاتفي بالأمين العام للأمم المتحدة، قال وزير الخارجية السوري فاروق الشرع إن مزارع شبعا هي في الواقع لبنانية. وهكذا زعم السوريون آنذاك وما زالوا يزعمون الآن أن المزارع ملك للبنانيين. في ما يتعلق بالملكية، المزارع هي في الواقع ملك للبنانيين. غير أن السوريين حرصوا أيضاً على عدم الإعلان بأن المزارع تقع ضمن السيادة اللبنانية وليس ضمن السيادة السورية.
في 20 أيار 2000، ولأول مرة منذ عام 1983، أطلق “حزب الله” عدداً من القذائف على موقع غلاديولا للقوات الإسرائيلية في جبل دوف. في ذلك اليوم، أعلن نصرالله أنها أرض لبنانية محتلة، مانحاً بذلك مشروعية لممارسة مزيد من العنف ضد المواقع في جبل دوف.
في الوقت نفسه، أطلع الأمين العام للأمم المتحدة رئيس الوزراء باراك على الضغوط التي تمارَس عليه في المسألة، بما في ذلك الاتصال الذي تلّقاه من وزير الخارجية السوري. قرّر باراك أن يختبر السوريين ويدعوهم إلى تنفيذ ما يقولونه. فاقترح على الأمين العام أن يطلب من الرئيس حافظ الأسد أن يوجّه رسالة رسمية إليه يذكر فيها أن مزارع شبعا ليست جزءاً من سوريا ومرتفعات الجولان بل هي جزء من السيادة اللبنانية. وعلى سوريا أن توقّع اتفاق حدود رسمياً مع لبنان، وتعمد إلى ترسيم الحدود (بطريقة تبيّن أن المزارع هي داخل الأراضي اللبنانية) وتنفّذ الآليات الدولية المقبولة المتعلقة بتحديد الحدود الدولية (موافقة في البرلمان، إرسال خرائط إلى الأمم المتحدة، وما إلى هنالك).
كان باراك واثقاً من أن الأسد لن يوقّع، لأنه إذا فعل فسوف يعني ذلك رسمياً أنه يتخلى عن جزء من مرتفعات الجولان المحتلة منذ 4 حزيران 1967. وعبر القيام بذلك، يخلق سابقة تضرّ بالموقف السوري الأساسي. كان افتراض باراك صحيحاً. فقد جرى تقديم طلب رسمي إلى الأسد حول الحدود في منطقة مزارع شبعا، لكنه لم يتجاوب معه ولم يبعث بالرسالة التي اقترحها باراك.
وقد جرى تبني الموقف الإسرائيلي رسمياً في التقرير الذي رفعه الأمين العام للأمم المتحدة إلى مجلس الأمن في 23 أيار 2000. وفي الوقت نفسه، شدّد التقرير على أنه لا يستبعد احتمال أن يوقّع لبنان وسوريا في المستقبل اتفاقاً ملزماً حول الحدود الدولية (ويجري فيه حسم موضوع السيادة على المزارع). منذ ذلك الوقت، أصبح جبل دوف المنطقة الأساسية – والوحيدة تقريباً – التي يطلق “حزب الله” قذائف باتجاهها من حين لآخر. ومن جهتها استمرّت الحكومة اللبنانية في المطالبة بمزارع شبعا في المجتمع الدولي.
بعد اعتماد القرار 1559 في أيلول 2004 وانسحاب السوريين من لبنان في العام التالي، طرح مبعوث الأمم المتحدة في الشرق الأوسط تيري رود لارسن فكرة إخلاء إسرائيل منطقة مزارع شبعا ونقلها إلى الحكومة اللبنانية (أو في البداية إلى الأمم المتحدة). كان هناك مكوّنان في أساس هذا المنطق. أولاً، يقضي على الذرائع التي يستعملها “حزب الله” لقصف إسرائيل ويؤدّي إلى استتباب الهدوء الكامل عند الحدود الشمالية. ثانياً، يعزّز القوى الإصلاحية في لبنان (مثلاً رئيس الوزراء السنيورة) ضد “حزب الله” ويضيف ثقلاً إلى المطالبة بنزع سلاح “حزب الله” بموجب القرار 1559. وجد لارسن درجة من التجاوب مع الفكرة في إسرائيل، ولا سيما في مجلس الأمن القومي. غير أن الموقف الإسرائيلي الرسمي رفض الفكرة برمتها، وكانت الحجة الأساسية أن هذه الأراضي ليست لبنانية، و”حزب الله” يستعملها عذراً واضحاً لمواصلة القصف على إسرائيل. وإذا لم يعد “حزب الله” يملك ذريعة مزارع شبعا، فسوف يجد ذريعة أخرى، مثلاً المطالبة بإعادة سبع قرى شيعية إلى لبنان يدّعي الحزب أن إسرائيل تسيطر عليها منذ 1948. واعتبر هذا الموقف أنه من شأن نقل السيادة على المزارع إلى لبنان أن يقوّي “حزب الله” وليس السنيورة. علاوة على ذلك، جبل دوف هو ذو أهمية استراتيجية قصوى إذ يسيطر على المنابع المائية الثلاثة لنهر الأردن (دان والحاصباني وبانياس). وفي شكل عام، ليس هناك ترسيم جغرافي دقيق وواضح لمزارع شبعا. بحسب بعض المزاعم اللبنانية، تمتد المنطقة حتى مستعمرة سنير والجانب الإسرائيلي من جبل حرمون.
هذه هي خلفية الوضع الحالي. لا شك في أن مسألة مزارع شبعا ستبقى على جدول الأعمال السياسي والديبلوماسي وحتى العسكري في المستقبل. هناك خمسة لاعبين مباشرين أساسيين في هذه المسألة: الأمم المتحدة والحكومة اللبنانية و”حزب الله” وسوريا وإسرائيل.
في ما يتعلق بالأمم المتحدة: يطلب البند العاشر من قرار مجلس الأمن 1701 من الأمين العام للأمم المتحدة أن يعدّ مقترحات في غضون ثلاثين يوماً حول إمكان إيجاد حل لمسائل الحدود الدولية للبنان غير الواضحة والمثيرة للجدل بما في ذلك منطقة مزارع شبعا. انقضت ثلاثون يوماً من دون أن تُقدَّم هذه الاقتراحات. يمكن الافتراض مع درجة عالية من الأرجحية، أن أي اقتراح يرفعه الأمين العام للأمم المتحدة في المستقبل لن ينطلق بالضرورة من الموقف الذي عبّرت عنه الأمم المتحدة قبل الانسحاب الإسرائيلي من لبنان. بعبارة أخرى، هذه المسألة خاضعة للموافقة السورية-اللبنانية، وسوف تُحدَّد رسمياً بما ينسجم مع إقامة حدود دولية مقبولة من البلدَين.
فؤاد السنيورة، رئيس الوزراء اللبناني، هو الطرف المعني الأساسي بتسوية سياسية-ديبلوماسية لمشكلة مزارع شبعا. منذ انتخابه رئيساً للوزراء، طلب من سوريا مرات عدة التوصل إلى اتفاق خطي معه يعترف بسيادة لبنان على منطقة المزارع، مما يولّد دينامية من الضغوط الدولية على إسرائيل للانسحاب من المنطقة. وقد أدّى عناده إلى ذكر المزارع بوضوح في البند العاشر من القرار 1701. يصعب أن نعرف إذا كان السنيورة يعتبر حقاً أن المزارع تقع ضمن السيادة اللبنانية. فبالنسبة إليه، ليست مسألة أراضٍ وحسب بل هي مسألة أساسية وتتعلّق بتوازن القوة الداخلي في لبنان والعلاقات مع سوريا: إذا نجح في إعادة المزارع إلى السيادة اللبنانية من خلال الوسائل الديبلوماسية-السياسية، فسوف يعزّز موقفه في مقابل “حزب الله” ويفتح فصلاً جديداً وإيجابياً في علاقاته مع سوريا ويظهر أنه يتمتع بدرجة من القوة.
بطبيعة الحال يعارض “حزب الله” مفهوم السنيورة معتبراً أنه ينبغي على إسرائيل الانسحاب من مزارع شبعا قبل توقيع أي اتفاق سوري-لبناني.
وقد أعلن أن وجود إسرائيل في المزارع، تماماً كتحليقها في الأجواء اللبنانية، هما خرق للقرار 1701، ويحق للحزب أن يردّ من خلال المقاومة المسلّحة. لن يكون مفاجئاً إذا استعمل “حزب الله” العنف من جديد ضد معاقل إسرائيل في جبل دوف كجزء من معركته.
في الوقت الحاضر، من الصعب أن نجد سبباً مرضياً من شأنه أن يدفع السوريين إلى مساعدة السنيورة ونقل مزارع شبعا إلى لبنان بطريقة رسمية وملزمة. على العكس، يبدو أن لدى السوريين أسبابهم لعرقلة السنيورة. فهم يعملون مع نصرالله على إطاحته؛ وينصبّ اهتمامهم الوحيد على تقوية نصرالله؛ ويملكون كل الأدلة التي تثبت أن مزارع شبعا تقع ضمن الأراضي السورية السيّدة كما حدّدها الفرنسيون عام 1920؛ وليست هناك سابقة تخلّت فيها سوريا عن أراضٍ إلا عند مواجهة قوة تتفوّق عليها (مثل تركيا في مسألة الإسكندرية)؛ وفي شكل عام لماذا يُترك “حزب الله” من دون ذريعة لمواصلة معركته المسلّحة؟ وماذا عن إسرائيل؟ تكفي الإشارة هنا إلى نقطتين موجزتين. الأولى عملية جداً. يتحدّث الجميع عن مزارع شبعا، لكن المهم هو أنها ليست منطقة محدّدة تحيط بها خطوط طوبوغرافية واضحة. وفي مختلف الأحوال، تسيطر مرتفعات جبل حرمون على كامل الموارد المائية لإسرائيل. والنقطة الثانية أساسية. إذا وافقت سوريا لسبب ما على توقيع اتفاق حدود مع لبنان يشمل منطقة المزارع، فقد تفكّر إسرائيل عندئذٍ في ملاقاة السنيورة في منتصف الطريق؛ وإلا يجب ألا تسارع إلى الانسحاب من مزيد من “الأراضي اللبنانية” كنتيجة من نتائج حرب لبنان الثانية

(ترجمة نسرين ناضر عن الانكليزية appendix 1 – the second Lebanon war: Strategic perspective)

December 26th, 2007, 1:50 pm


norman said:

This is interesting and confirms Ehsani’s observations

from the December 27, 2007 edition –
Syrian expatriates return home in hopes of new wealth
Many Syrian-Americans are leaving for Damascus, lured by the opportunities offered by a newly open economy.
By Julien Barnes-Dacey | Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor

Damascus, Syria
For Louay Habbal, sipping his latte in an upmarket coffee shop in Damascus, the US will always be home.

The warmth of the people, the possibility of achieving success from nothing, and the vast open spaces are unparalleled, he says, delight filling his face as he remembers 28 years spent in America working for a succession of leading banks, including Merrill Lynch and Riggs.

“America is the only country on earth where a foreigner is not called a foreigner,” he says. “It’s the only country in the world where you can land at [John F. Kennedy Airport] and within 24 hours be working, with a place to live and a license to drive.”

But, in January, Mr. Habbal uprooted his wife and two US-born children and returned to Damascus to establish a new bank.

President Bashar al-Assad’s economic liberalization policies have spurred many Syrian-Americans, like Habbal, to leave their comfortable American lives and return to Syria. “There are tremendous opportunities right now in Syria. Things economically are accelerating rapidly and every day there are new unorganized opportunities,” Habbal says.

New laws are easing over 40 years of private investment restrictions, opening up most economic sectors to private capital, dramatically loosening Syria’s tight foreign exchange regulations, and rationalizing tax rates.

According to the International Monetary Fund, nonoil GDP growth in 2006 was a strong 6 to 7 percent.

An estimated 20 Syrian-Americans play leading roles in Syriatel , the country’s leading communications firm. Others have set up IT companies, established manufacturing firms, and even opened high-end American-style cafes.

Expatriates are successful, says Syrian economist Samir Seifan, because they combine a Western work ethic with a native’s knowledge of the notoriously labyrinthine Syrian business system.

“The business mentality they bring and the experience of managing are important, but at the same time you need local experience. We have more bureaucracy than America, we have more difficulties, and we don’t have the mentality for business and a market economy,” he said.

However, readapting to life in the Arab world has been difficult for some.

“I will leave as soon as I find a job in the US again,” said one Syrian-American businessman, who wished to remain anonymous, as he complained about everything from the tightly controlled security regime to the lack of 24-hour supermarkets and gyms.

A key dilemma for those who stay has been one of identity. After years in the US, many have come to love a country widely condemned in the Arab world. But, faced with criticism, Syrian-Americans say they try to shine a positive light on America.

“I tell them that if you live in America you can never find as good a place in terms of lifestyle, freedom, options, and opportunities. There is no place on earth like America. Forget politics – in terms of the human condition and the living environment you cannot find a place like the US,” says Ghiath Osman, a senior project manager for Syriatel who spent 10 years in Silicon Valley.

Despite the fact that his loyalty was questioned after 9/11, and that he opposes the Iraq war, Habbal calls himself an “American ambassador.” “I tell people America is a good country with good but misguided people,” he says.

Precise figures on Syrians returning home remain unavailable. But they seem to be making an impact on the domestic economy.

Investment projects have increased by 250 percent since 2004, touching $9.2 billion last year. Much of this increase has been boosted by expatriates focusing their finances and expertise on Syria, says Bouthaina Shaaban, minister of expatriates. Se points out that investment projects constitute 26 percent of the GDP.

Foreign direct investment was also up 82 percent from 2004, touching $500 million in 2005, according to official Syrian figures. The ministry of expatriates, established in 2002, has pushed forward many rule changes, including easing military service for expatriate children, to draw Syrians home. It is now seeing the results, it says.

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December 26th, 2007, 5:17 pm


norman said:

Israel Ready to Talk with Syria

Tel Aviv, Dec 26 (Prensa Latina) Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced on Wednesday that he is willing to resume peace talks with Syria, informed official sources.

The Israeli government has been insisting for months in holding talks with Damascus if it breaks up relations with the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, and the Lebanese Hezbollah, recalled the media.

On the other hand, Syria holds that Tel Aviv’s proposal will only be viable if the return of the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel during the Six Day War in 1967, is openly discussed.

The Syrian government also announced that it will never accept secret talks and will only accept that meeting with the participation of other country as mediator.

Olmert´s statements were made during an exchange with US Republican Senator for Pennsylvania Arlen Spector on a visit to Israel.

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December 26th, 2007, 6:25 pm


ausamaa said:

“Israel Ready to Talk with Syria”

Damn sure! Not to seeks and persue Peace, but ONLY to divert attention from the Palestinian-Israeli track that the US Admin is pushing Israel to deal with right now.

When there is pressure on Israel to address the Palestinian track, Israel fings interest in the Syrian track, and when Israel is under pressure to do something about the Syrian track, it fings interest in the Palestinan one.

Same old Israeli game, with a new departing American “peace-enthusiastic” Admininistration!!!!

December 26th, 2007, 9:22 pm


Sami D said:

Dear Ehsani2,

Good observations on Syria’s economic situation, especially
on the issue of rapid wealth divide. Thanks! I saw that
first hand in Syria this past summer. Some observations on
your observations, if I may. You write:

“The already wealthy will get even richer while the poor
will struggle with higher inflation and falling real wages.”

Amen! But have you seen anywhere the case where the
liberalization and privatization of an economy, was not
accompanied by the rich getting richer, while the majority
works harder and harder, barely making ends meet? Where the
few monopolize ownership of the resources, while the
majority have only their labor to sell, competing with
growing number of their rank for lower and lower wages? This
is now almost by definition, no? Only in places where this
liberalization was curbed and contained by a government that
these policies lead to some equitable outcome? You continue

“how little the very wealthy are taxed. It is imperative
that this broken system receives a comprehensive overhaul.
Similar taxation reforms are sorely needed in the real
estate area.”

Am I reading this correctly that you, a passionate proponent
of free market capitalism on this blog, are advocating more
taxes on real-estate owners? Isn’t increasing taxes on the
rich counter to the principals of the holy free market?
Shouldn’t we instead cut those taxes so that the rich will
use the extra money to invest further in the economy, as the
official mantra of capitalism today has it? Unless what is
meant by this is the usual installation of government
policies to put a brake on capitalism stopping it from
realizing its true full destructive potentials? You write:

“Whether this trend has been driven by political necessity
or by genuine belief in the merits of free markets is an
open question. My suspicion is that it is more likely to be
the latter.”

The Russian oligarch too figured out the merits of the free
market — for their interests of course (at the
expense of the majority); as did the rich everywhere,
starting two centuries ago, supporting “think-tanks” and
institutions that produce literature to trumpet the great
benefits of capitalism. It made them astronomically rich
and powerful, while at the same time working under the
banner of “freedom” (that come from capitalism),
monopolizing the resources and dominating production (hence
power) in fewer hands. You continue:

“The country is abuzz with the latest wave of foreign and
domestic investments. The leadership has done an outstanding
job in this endeavor. Not a week passes by without an
announcement of a new wave of investments from Qatar,
Kuwait, U.A.E. or Saudi Arabia.”

After the dust of the excitement over the massive capital
influx, settles ask some poignant questions must be posed
and needed observations made: Is this capital getting
invested in important and much needed infrastructure, such
as better free schools and universities, better free
health-care system, libraries, public parks, electricity,
roads? Or will it be invested in quick money-making luxury
sectors, hotels, clubs, restaurants, fashion shops, the
commodification of Syrian-culture, aka tourism? In other
words, will it be invested to empower the average citizen or
to further enrich the local oligarchs (and their foreign
sponsors), old and new? Will these investors invest for the
long term, or will they resort to the usual speculation
“investing”, where the spotting of an even small higher
return potential elsewhere will lead to the abandonment of
the Syrian communities that were invested in? When outside
entities invest in a country they are seeking increased
return, the sooner the better. They don’t care about the
long term interest of the communities they are “investing”
in; they just want to milk the system quick -be it its
natural resources, labor, markets– before the other
investor discovers the newly found milking cow. They could,
for example as mentioned above, at the drop of a hat draw
all that money, for a possibility of a minor increase in
return elsewhere, leaving behind devastated communities.
Maybe Syria should do like the South Korea, putting the
death penalty on capital flight? Most importantly, will a
free Syrian public be able to democratically determine and
control where this cash influx get invested (ie, where it is
really needed), or will greedy investors (greedy by
definition, or else face elimination by greedy ones), along
with their local self-interest-seeking class, get to decide?
All these are issues that must be discussed and addressed,
in a democratic fashion by the Syrian public, not by elite,
wealthy entities.

While we’re at it we may note other features that accompany
capitalism on display in Syria: Rise of individualism,
consumerism –consumption not out of need, but to conform
and fit the latest fashion– materialism, waste, the decline
in neighborly values, in community, decline in subsidy to
the vital institutions, astronomical rise in property value
(due in PART to incoming Iraqi refugees) putting it beyond
the reach of the majority, while a minority “invests” in
housing by buying and renting. While I don’t have concrete
data, using plain-ol observation sense one can tell that one
of the most rising professions in Syria is restaurant
waitering. We may also note the decline of the citizen that
cares about the fate of his/her have-not fellow citizens,
and the rise of the selfish shopping-freak, nouveaux riches,
latest-fashion-seeking, restaurant-frequenting,
plastic-surgery-hungry, Ipod/cel-phone carrying consumer. I
find it more productive talking to older generation on
common ground, than the new apathetic, “wawa”-crazed one,
about real societal problems. Gone is the concern about
political freedom or Palestine (a symbol for fighting
foreign hegemony); in is the anxiety about having the latest
model or about which country the person who won the latest
“Super Star” (what’s the name of that show that auditions
singers?) singing contest, came from. We may also note, in
line with your fact #5, that the intelligence system of the
state will not dwindle in line with the mantra “capitalism
is freedom”, but in fact may strengthen, in support of the
new oligarchs, now needed to keep the growing, local, have-not
rabble in line. Although, now more PR-conscious, the “new”
intelligence apparatus will surely curb its most crude
manifestations — but only in favor of same/more underground
function. Do you not see that as a need of the new rich class,
and not just the old dictatorial guard? You note that Egypt
and even the “successful” Dubai have also seen economic but
not political freedom, but again see no connection to
the widening wealth gap produced by economic liberalization?
(Besides, who was Dubai model successful for? The hordes of
Pakistani and Indian slaves, living with their sewers, who
built this city, the massive waste and pollution, the destruction
of coral reefs, the brothels?) Rather than admit that any of
these problems, seen across the economically liberated third
world and not just Egypt, Dubai or Syria, are inherent to
capitalism, maybe its advocates will again retort with the
common “Can you suggest a better system”, or perhaps blame the
usual corruption and not-enough-liberalization for the failure.

While riding a falling-apart taxi in Syria 4 summers ago,
(as opposed to the new air-conditioned, and foreign-named “Star
Taxis”) the driver pointed angrily to a crowd of patrons at an
outdoor restaurant in Damascus and said to me, just out of
the blue: “These people’s day will come; let them giggle
while they can, while we continue to wallow in misery; this
won’t last”. (From the back seat, my wife reacted by
covertly grabbing my arm, in the usual
he-might-be-a-mukhabarat firmness). Only democratic control
of the economy by free people, not by foreign “investors”, can
lead Syria to a better future. Until such is possible, only
more misery and obscene wealth concentration will be the
likely outcome.

Thanks for your post on an important issue.

December 27th, 2007, 12:16 am


Ford Prefect said:

Dear Ehsani,
Many thanks for the telling observations. I can detect a sense of optimism in your article – which is the same I had when I visited Syria last summer. It is nothing short of a miracle Syria, under assault by very rich and powerful forces (in fact, the richest and most powerful), is growing economically.

You posed an important question that is being pondered by interested parties around the globe: is the observed progress in Syria coming from political necessity or is it stemming from a genuine desire (by the leadership) to have a free economy? You leaned towards the latter, which I agree. However, don’t forget the former. Today’s regimes, from China to Venezuela (with very few exceptions) are finding it harder and harder to rule without economic liberalization. The latter is making the former a necessity, and the two are now tightly coupled.

If the regime family, supporters, cronies, and the top society elite are to progress financially and get richer, they must play the globalization game. Globalization and the global consumer market is now the political necessity for survival. Those rulerss who don’t see it are living on borrowed time.

By the way, those $600 pair of Prada shoes sell everywhere in the world for about the same price – thanks again to the global consumer market that ties government to the prices of Prada shoes!

Offended asked the question of how Hafez would have reacted to the prices you listed. Well, if Hafez were alive (darn it, just the thought of him being alive is scary enough), he wouldn’t have noticed it (or cared) anyway. He lived in his world of fantasy – believing that every Syrian in the world is ready to die for him. He was truly full of himself and thought that Syrians were rich by default. He reacted little when people paid close to $50,000 for a little Korean clunker car – and that was after the government kept that money for years. Syrians today are much better of than they were during the late sorry-state of Hafez – Prada notwithstanding.

Cheers Ehasani for your well-articulated thoughts. I believe Syria is moving in the right direction – mostly involuntarily.

P.S. Happy Eid, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year everybody. But please be easy on calories – I am can see all of them now by looking into the mirror.

December 27th, 2007, 1:53 am


norman said:

SamiD ,

Free market does not mean greed and robbery , In the US where free market is the law , only 10% are very rich while 10% are poor , but 80% are middle class and they are middle class because the Tax system decreases inequality ,Syria should do that to prevent the revolution that your driver was talking about , taxation and wealth redistribution is a way to protect the rich from the poor, About decreasing taxes and increasing government spending , that is only done when there is stagnation in the economy to stimulate it ,that what president Bush did in 2001, that is the free market on the other hand when the economy is strong taxes are usually increased like during the early ninety when president Clinton took office to decrease liquidity in the market. and decrease growth and slow down the economy and prevent inflation.,you can look at my note above for more info.

December 27th, 2007, 2:02 am


majedkhaldoun said:

you said you were in Syria just one week, you noticed five undeniable facts, may be if you stayed one more week you will find more undeniable facts,
state of corruptions, this is long story
deterioration of legal system
increase problem of ethnicity
deterioration of health problems, and high education.
severe problems with housing , especially with arab refugees
traffic congestion
price increase
polarization of society

December 27th, 2007, 2:38 am


Sami D said:

Norman, What you describe (80% are middle class) is not the US of today, but more like the US of the 1950s-60s, when the free market was on the margins and Keysianism/government intervention ruled the day. Today, the median income in the US is around $39K, barely above poverty of $24K. To have a basic comfortable life you need to belong not to the middle class, or the upper middle, but at least to the top 20-25%, where the income is around $75 to make ends meet, just barely. Yes you can curb the inequality with taxation and government spending and that is NOT free market, but more like Keynesiansm. There was indeed more free market since Reagan, and that was accompanied by the usual inequality. Meanwhile Reagan’s time was the most protectionist period in recent history (ie anti-free market!). How so? For Reagan, like for Bush, the “free market” means protection for big industry, while free market for the majority, attack on unions, less taxation for the rich, while workers have to compete with exploited labor overseas, accepting lower and lower wages. Indeed, in real money, the minimum wage has not changed since the late 1960s, while US worker productivity increased, and CEO-to-worker income ratio increased 10 folds since 1980. The Reagan-Bush “free market” era was also accompanied by increased “defense”, which means in plain English more tax-payer money pumped into private companies. This is, again, not free market, but government intervention/military Keynesiansim, which is, basically, a way to save capitalism from itself. More on greed and free market if I get a chance, later perhaps.


PS. Some recommended reading, if there is interest:
The American Dream Is Alive and Well … in Finland! (Alternet)
Report Says That the Rich Are Getting Richer Faster, Much Faster (NY Times)
The future of the corporation (Boston Globe)

December 27th, 2007, 2:41 am


Snaw said:

Thanks for this interesting analysis, I think its necessary to link economy with politics and vice versa to understand Syria. I lived in Syria and in Egypt, I dont think we can compare the economic reforms in the two countries. Egypt really experienced liberalization since 2004. In Syria, it stills very much controlled by the Baath and the ruling even the appearance of free market. The telecommunication field, where the 2 networks are own by the same person,Rami Makhlouf, cousin, of the President is explicit enough. (although Syriatel is now for sale);
A lot of sectors are still closed to private investors. And the climate of investing is still very chilly for foreign investors. Some import taxes can reach 150%! (that’s also why the Prada shoes have indecent prices. In Egypt also its not affordable, even if the taxes are lower, believe me)

Egyptian ministers are mostly businessmen, even if they are very close to Gamal Moubarak, they think, act and govern according to business priorities. I don’t feel the economic reformists have that much freedom in Syria, because real liberalisation and real free market means reducing the privileges and the wealth of the ruling ones. I see the liberalization in Syria as a trompe l’oeil.

Still in both countries you have a very wealthy minority and a majority who suffers. But the reason for it is different. In Egypt it is because the liberalisation and the free market, without correction and redistribution, increased dramatically this situation, in Syria its because the ones who detain the political power are the economic barons.

December 27th, 2007, 8:32 am


Innocent Criminal said:

After 5 days in syria i would like to play the devil’s advocate on a couple of points

• For one, as Sami D said, the rich do get richer pretty much everywhere else. But there are social changes that have also affected the appearance of this acceleration in Damascus. People have always had money here but they never showed it off. But now it’s starting to be more accepted to do so.

• We cannot compare the Dubai model to Syria’s for one main reason (and i don’t mean oil). But because Dubai has the blessing and the support of the international community (i.e. the US) to prosper while Syria does not. Dubai would never have been allowed to develop this quickly or for all these major corporations to have their regional office there if it weren’t for their support of American policies in the region. Same goes for Qatar which so happened to see a huge boost in its economy right around the same time it allowed the US air force to move its base to Doha. So you would be hard pressed to see an anti-american country in this region that can prosper economically. That is not to say that most of Syria economic shortfalls are not her fault

• Sami D – here is the list of the countries by GDP per capita and while the US is not in the first position it is by far the strongest country economically so 39-43k (depending on the source) is far from poor. I am no economist but I understood that the poverty line is anything below 2$ a day so can you please explain where you got the 24K from? I would be really surprised to learn that the European Union or South Korea are living barely above the poverty line.

December 27th, 2007, 9:31 am


norman said:

الداخلية الباكستانية:مقتل بنظير بوتو في انفجار استهدفها

Benazir Bhutto assassinated

December 27th, 2007, 2:09 pm


Alex said:

Very true … we always had those who were very rich in Syria but they pretended not to be anywhere as rich. They lived in regular apartments, drove old white Peugeot 404s

Now they drive Hummers and Bentleys.

Here is one of the newer houses in Ya3four near Damascus.

December 27th, 2007, 2:11 pm


offended said:

Benazir’s dead.

December 27th, 2007, 2:13 pm


Ford Prefect said:

Offended, your headline should have read: “Benazir’s dead, Syria is suspect, again.”

December 27th, 2007, 2:19 pm


t_desco said:

Al Quaeda rivendica l’attentato
E’ stato il numero due di Al Qaeda Ayman Al Zawahiri a ordinare l’uccisione del capo dell’opposizione in Pakistan Benazir Bhutto. E’ quanto avrebbe dichiarato il principale portavoce dell’organizzazione terroristica Sheikh Saeed da una località sconosciuta.
“Abbiamo eliminato il più importante asset nelle mani degli americani. L’assassinio sarebbe stato realizzato – secondo quanto riferito dal portavoce – da militante della cellula terroristica Lashkar-i-Jhangvi del Punjab.

Ford Prefect, I think in this case Musharraf takes the place of Syria…

English version:

Pakistan: Al-Qaeda claims Bhutto’s death

Karachi, 27 Dec. (AKI) – (by Syed Saleem Shahzad) – A spokesperson for the al-Qaeda terrorist network has claimed responsibility for the death on Thursday of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

“We terminated the most precious American asset which vowed to defeat [the] mujahadeen,” Al-Qaeda’s commander and main spokesperson Mustafa Abu Al-Yazid told Adnkronos International (AKI) in a phone call from an unknown location, speaking in faltering English. Al-Yazid is the main al-Qaeda commander in Afghanistan.

It is believed that the decision to kill Bhutto, who is the leader of the opposition Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), was made by al-Qaeda No. 2, the Egyptian doctor, Ayman al-Zawahiri in October.

Death squads were allegedly constituted for the mission and ultimately one cell comprising a defunct Lashkar-i-Jhangvi’s Punjabi volunteer succeeded in killing Bhutto. …

December 27th, 2007, 2:25 pm


Alex said:

Poor Benazir.

The Mujahideen are dominant in Pakistan … 20 years after they accomplished their task of defeating the Soviet Union.

A reminder to those who are still playing with fire today… if you don’t know what you are doing, the fire you start will be burning long after you are finished with it.

December 27th, 2007, 2:34 pm


EHSANI2 said:

The U.S should keep its eye on the ball. It is Al-Qaeda and its offshoots that it must focus on. Lebanon is sure to take a back seat now.

As for all the excellent comments above, I will be responding to you shortly

December 27th, 2007, 2:55 pm


Alex said:

Conspiracy theory lovers … Look at Pakistan’s history from 70’s to 90’s … notice what happened there when Pakistan was needed to join the war on the Russians in Afghanistan .. late 70’s. Then when the war was finished late 80’s

Presidet Zia was the one who opened the Masdrasas and backed the Taliban… his predecessor, Zlfikar Ali Bhutto (Benazir’s dad) was not compatible with the task.

December 1971: Yahya hands power to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who becomes chief martial law administrator of West Pakistan.

April 1972: Martial law is lifted and an interim constitution enforced.

July 1972: Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi sign peace accord in Simla, India.

April 1973: Parliament approves new constitution.

August 1973: India agrees to release Pakistani prisoners of war held since December 1971.

July 1977: Army chief General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq seizes power, arrests Bhutto and declares martial law. Constitution is suspended.

April 1979: Bhutto is hanged after disputed conviction for conspiring to commit a political murder.

February 1985: Zia holds non-party elections and names Mohammad Khan Junejo prime minister.

December 1985: Martial law is lifted. The constitution, with amendments, is restored.

August 1988: Zia and many senior military officers are killed in plane crash near Bahawalpur.

Will planet earth mobilize for a Hariri-like investigation to find who was behind killing Benazir Bhutto? … Musharraf? The Saudis? Alqaida? Pakistani Intelligence?

December 27th, 2007, 3:17 pm


Akbar Palace said:

A reminder to those who are still playing with fire today… if you don’t know what you are doing, the fire you start will be burning long after you are finished with it.

Alex –

I agree. There are too many “still playing with fire today”, and the Islamic jihadists are killing more muslims than the Americans and Israelis could ever want or hope for.

Let’s see how the Muslim and Arab world will respond in the UNSC.

Of course, the best way to respond would be for the Muslim and Arab world to stop promoting jihad and martyrdom in their government controlled media, and instead, promote tolerance.

December 27th, 2007, 3:24 pm


Idaf said:

Will the US administration and “international community” now blame the Saudi regime for Benazir’s death (a la Hariri)?!

Benazir had a considerable support among expatriate secular and rich Pakistanis in the gulf (she was based in Dubai). Saudi Arabia however, hosted her rival Nawaz Sharif since the Musharaf’s coup. Sharif is close to the Saudi regime and now will benefit from Bhutto’s death politically, as most likely Musharaf will take the blame.. The ground is fertile in Pakistan now for manufacturing a revolution a la “cedar revolution” (a “curry revolution” in this case?!). There are many external parties that want to Lebanonize Pakistan. Al-Qaida is one of them, India and even Israel would be suspects as well (remember the nuclear “Islamic bomb” rhetoric in the nineties?)

International media used this reasoning for around 3 years now with Syria in Lebanon. Has the media learnt the lesson? Or will the media blame Saudi for Pakistan the way Syria was blamed for Lebanon?! It will be interesting to watch this from a comparative perspective.

December 27th, 2007, 3:39 pm


Sami D said:

Innocent Criminal wrote: “Sami D – here is the list of the countries by GDP per capita and while the US is not in the first position it is by far the strongest country economically so 39-43k (depending on the source) is far from poor. I am no economist but I understood that the poverty line is anything below 2$ a day so can you please explain where you got the 24K from?”

IC, Yes the US is one of, if not THE strongest economies. But then comes the important issue of inequality, which shows that within this rich economy, the great wealth it generates gets sucked upward by few. In inequality index (gini) the US ranks at the bottom of other developed countries. The $2/day is a global poverty measure, for people living in slums next to garbage heaps and sewers, with no water/electricity, not a US one. Poverty is measured depending on locality/cost of living. Of course $2/day is shameful enough, below which two billion people “live”. The poverty-line number that I got was from the NY Times for a family of 4 (sorry I forgot to mention that), from 3 years or so ago after extrapolation to the present, counting in the skyrocketing oil prices/dollar fall, heating bills, food prices, house prices, medical costs, college fees — just in the past 3 years. But even that poverty-line number is understated, as many would attest. Almost anyone living in the US knows that you definitely need more than double that to make just basic ends meet, ie that that number is not high enough. Of course that too is a function of where you are within the states.

A glimpse at this inequality comes from the NY Times article I linked to above:

“The increase in incomes of the top 1 percent of Americans from 2003 to 2005 exceeded the total income of the poorest 20 percent of Americans, data in a new report by the Congressional Budget Office shows. The poorest fifth of households had total income of $383.4 billion in 2005, while just the increase in income for the top 1 percent came to $524.8 billion, a figure 37 percent higher. The total income of the top 1.1 million households was $1.8 trillion, or 18.1 percent of the total income of all Americans, up from 14.3 percent of all income in 2003. The total 2005 income of the three million individual Americans at the top was roughly equal to that of the bottom 166 million Americans, analysis of the report showed.”

December 27th, 2007, 4:50 pm


t_desco said:

The West’s Pakistan policy reminds me of the current Lebanon policy.

It is as ill-advised and it is pushing both countries to the brink.

And there is also the same dangerous tendency of underestimating/playing politics with al-Qa’ida

Media coverage of Pakistan is almost as abysmal as media coverage of Lebanon/Syria.

For example the BBC keeps repeating that Rawalpindi is “one of the country’s most secure cities”. And what does the BBC Website say when we search for “Rawalpindi”? Let’s see:

“Suicide blasts in the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi have killed at least 30 people, officials say.
24 Nov 2007”

“A suicide bomb attack has killed at least seven people near Pakistan’s army headquarters in Rawalpindi.
30 Oct 2007”

“At least 24 people have been killed in two bomb blasts in the Pakistan city of Rawalpindi.
4 Sep 2007”


Apparently the media has no memory.

December 27th, 2007, 5:16 pm


majedkhaldoun said:

In the last 3 months Pakistan has been the main concern for the US adminstration, but they do not know how to deal with it, US wanted substitute to Musharraf, Butto was cooperating with the CIA, as her father did, and that is why US sent her, major trouble is ahead for Musharraf , and G. Bush, in that area.
yes Lebanon is back again to sarkozi.
this assassination will play into the hands of Iran, now there are three reason why US can not attack Iran
1) HA reaction against Israel
2) more troops in Iraq, makes it unlikely to jeopardize their
lives, and this is main Iran strategy,which why Iran encourage
her Iraqee supporters to give the impression that the surge is
3) major trouble in Pakistan, get the US busy there.

December 27th, 2007, 5:45 pm


EHSANI2 said:

Dear all,

Of my list of undeniable facts, I think that the most important is the second which deals with the fact that “one cannot ignore the way with which Bashar is changing his father’s long and heavy imprints on this country. For all practical purposes, Socialism is slowly but steadily being dismantled as an economic system.”

Most of the commentators seem to want to focus on my observation with regards to wealth concentration.

Syria’s problem is not the wealth concentration. The country’s real problem lies in the painful destruction that the socialism of the past 43 years has inflicted on its economy. Poverty in Syria is not because the rich of that society stole the money from the poor. The real culprit has been poor economic growth and a vast misallocation of resources under a failed planned economy.

Bashar has finally realized that the failed socialism experiment needs to be put to rest. His first step was to dig out the post WW II German system of “social market economy” and replace socialism with it. This was a clever tactic that shields him from critics of a pure market based system. I wish that he had gone even further and faster into his liberalization experiment. My suspicion is that he is wary of the political angle of this suggestion. As a result, he is proceeding with his customary caution.

Syria still needs to proceed with more conviction into the free market camp. It needs to admit that its socialist policies of old has failed its people and left them poorer and ill prepared to compete in the global economy.

As my friend Ford Prefect keeps reminding us, this is hardly a choice anymore:

“Today’s regimes, from China to Venezuela (with very few exceptions) are finding it harder and harder to rule without economic liberalization.”

December 27th, 2007, 5:52 pm


Nur al-Cubicle said:

A reminder to those who are still playing with fire today… if you don’t know what you are doing, the fire you start will be burning long after you are finished with it.

Knock knock. Bin Laden in Afghanistan at the behest of Zbigniew Brzezinski, who as a Pole, hated the Russians and the commies so bad that is impaired his judgment. Double bad on the US administration for admitting loose cannons to its inner circle but then, that is the way of the future.

BTW, MAJEDKHALDOUN makes some geo-strategic points worthy of contemplation. That said, the nightmare of Pakistan’s security community is Iranian influence in Afghanistan.

December 27th, 2007, 5:57 pm


EHSANI2 said:

If I were Bashar, I would request the start of a U.N. International Tribunal that would investigate the murder of fellow secularist Bhutto

December 27th, 2007, 6:14 pm


kingcrane jr said:

The authorities in Syria are counting on an internal market for most Syrian citizens (the 19 million) that will need infrastructural help. This market has existed for years, decades, and centuries, and it will need some protection from the predatory behavior of the market for the upper-richer-class (the 1 million). This is fundamental: once all the money that can be made is made in real estate and other quick-money sectors, there will be the hopefully inevitable big corporate raids on other sectors, which may destroy the surviving small and middle-sized enterprises that used to do well prior to the ill-fated union with Egypt. All we can have is hope that the authorities really pay attention to this issue.

December 27th, 2007, 6:25 pm


Atassi said:

why some of you taking a shot @ the U.N. International Tribunal !! I don’t see any similarity between the Hariri murder and Bhutto assassination.
The Hariri killing was done to silence an opposing voice and circumvent ongoing effort by an external power to establish a new order in Lebanon.
The Bhutto assassinations is an effort to boost the extremists views by scoring a painful hit on the secular part of the society, create a political conflicts between the Pakistanis people and the ruling elite, and establish a final order of a failed nuclear state being ruled by a self-distractive force. The extremists imprints on the Bhutto assassination is visible and being claimed already…

December 27th, 2007, 7:56 pm


Atassi said:

In my own opinion, The Social market economy is not something new in Syria, the market economy was an exclusive privileges given to some of the Damascus and Aleppo’s business elite in exchange for loyalty.
Socialism was used as a tool and order to control the workers and peasants and enrich the ruling family and it’s cronies.
Nowadays, the older ruling elite generation don’t need to be a silent partners anymore, they don’t have to rely solely on the traditional business community to access to the wealth as a newly more educated and integrated generation emerged with a modern economic challenges to spread the wealth among themselves.
The “economic title” has been twisted, but the intention still the same…

December 27th, 2007, 8:04 pm


Alex said:


What you suggested in both cases (Hariri and Bhutto) were possibilities … not facts.

But there is an undeniable fact … the Hariri investigation received an unprecedented international (Western) degree of attention … no other assassination comes close (Kennedy’s was a purely US affair). And I’m sure Bhutto’s assassination will not be followed up on a daily basis by French and American presidents for a couple of years.

December 27th, 2007, 8:23 pm


Atassi said:

it will have a major impact on the political and social life of the Pakistani nation, in my humble opinion, this act a bad miscalculation by the extremist, it may bring their demise in this part of the world… and no needs to be followed up on a daily basis by French and American presidents
Alex Habibi, the Hariri investigation is not over yet, It’s purely being stated as “a very deceitful trap” !!!

December 27th, 2007, 9:17 pm


majedkhaldoun said:

international tribunal for Butto murder? wow!
this is internal problem, it is not a foreign regime of large state killing PM of lebanon, small state,it is equal to declaring war, that is why it requires international tribunal.Kennedy and Butto are internal problems.

on another point,I urge Arab American to vote for Dr. Ron Paul.
I agree with him that US must stop interfering with foreign countries.

December 27th, 2007, 10:15 pm


Honest Patriot said:

Idaf said:

Will the US administration and “international community” now blame the Saudi regime for Benazir’s death (a la Hariri)?!
[…]The ground is fertile in Pakistan now for manufacturing a revolution a la “cedar revolution” (a “curry revolution” in this case?!)

Idaf – Please leave the silly irony to yourself and your fantasies. The Cedar Revolution was NOT manufactured. My cousin and her family who had never participated in politics drove to downtown that day to express the will of the Lebanese silent majority. Myriad other true Lebanese did. Real people made up that crowd. Hezbollah has since tried to copy it in the most despicable fashions and continues to paralyze a country which, left to the true Lebanese patriots without any foreign interference may well stumble a few times but eventually triumph as the only beacon of hope in the Dark Age Middle East.

The Hariri investigation is not yet successful and the murderous Syrians have not yet been brought to justice, approaching three years after their cowardly deed (not to mention the series of assassinations that the Machiavellian Syrian leadership has used for the past 30 years to control its neighbor). Let that investigation continue to be a sore in your eye and the eye of every cynic in this forum. One day truth will prevail. One day Lebanon will triumph as a fully independent country. Lebanon’s interests as a country will be protected by true patriots and statesmen, like Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. One day the Palestinians will see the light of the inevitable peace with Israel and agree to the very well known elements of what the final settlement should be. After those events, an interim period will continue to exist where religious fervor continues to control the governance of many Middle Eastern countries… until, in the words of Thomas Friedman, Islam 2.0 emerges and becomes accepted, at which time, the enlightened modern Judaism, the devout true Christians, and the neo-Islamists (adopters of 2.0) will collectively and progressively agree to migrate toward true secular governments and true separation of church (or mosque / temple) and state. Only then will the ME have true peace.

Until then, I’m watching carefully as true patriots are doggedly pursuing the murderers of Rafiq Hariri, a true patriot whose life was snuffed by the Syrian bunch of fanatical cowards.

I don’t know much about Pakistan nor Bhuto, but I do have Pakistani friends (where I am, in the US) whose friendship I value as much as my Lebanese, Syrian, Israeli, French, Candian, US, and Bulgarian friends and with whom I grieve for the continued prevalence of terrorism and murder as weapons in the hands of those who lack any principle of civilization in participating in the government process.

December 27th, 2007, 10:16 pm


offended said:

Alex, this is not fair! where are my comments?!

December 27th, 2007, 10:35 pm


idaf said:

Honest Patriot,

Appreciate if you spare us your overzealous lectures. My sincere advice would be to stop watching news regarding Lebanon or Syria on Future TV. It would be as seeking balanced coverage on the Middle East from Fox News.

By the way, did you by any chance used to write speeches for George W. Bush?.. “triumph as the only beacon of hope”, “murderous Syrians”, “cowardly deed”, “investigation continue to be a sore in your eye and the eye of every cynic in this forum”, “truth will prevail”, “patriots and statesmen, like Prime Minister Fouad Siniora”, “Islam 2.0”, “enlightened modern Judaism”, “devout true Christians”, “true patriots”.. With all due respect, I couldn’t help but smile while reading your post 🙂

And for the record, there are many reports (and some academic papers as well) on the “manufacturing” of the “cedar revolution” (the “brand building” campaigns, the systemic funding, the organized paid workforce “volunteering” for organizing “events”, the systematic organized media campaigns.. etc.) Of course most of regular people who participated (in the earlier opposition’s and current one’s movements) were driven by their own different grievances and the electrifying emotional atmosphere hugely magnified by the Saudi-financed Arab media and local Lebanese media as well as by intense political propaganda from both sides.

If it makes you feel better, yes many of the current Lebanese opposition “revolutionary” movements are “manufactured” (the same way it was manufactured by different elements related to the former opposition in 2005). It might help if you try to be more realistic and stop over-romanticizing.

December 27th, 2007, 11:05 pm


Alex said:

international tribunal for Butto murder? wow!
this is internal problem, it is not a foreign regime of large state killing PM of lebanon, small state,it is equal to declaring war, that is why it requires international tribunal.Kennedy and Butto are internal problems.

Majed, again, both cases are assumptions … five minutes after Hariri was killed the Syrians were accused…. irrefutable evidence was availabe … from the pen that recorded Assad’s threats to Hariri, to the fact that the bomb was underground (which supposedly meant that the Syrian moukhabarat must have put it there) … both turned out to be wrong … then all of Mehlis’ evidence turned out to be useless …

Of course Syria is one of the prime suspects … but we can not insist that the Hariri case is obvious… maybe you can if you want to, but that’s not how the legal system works.

December 27th, 2007, 11:19 pm


norman said:

I do not know why you argue if Hariri’s killing and Botu killing are similar , It is obvious that Hariri’s killing was used and still being used to abuse Syria and her people and government to force them into submission to well of the US and Israel, Butu.s killing will be used to make military dictatorship permanent in Pakistan .

December 28th, 2007, 2:07 am


offended said:

Musharaf can always lay the blame on Al Qaeda, and it seems to me the American-lead war on terror has no choice but to support him. The more vulnerable Musharraf becomes, the more the west’s support of him will become warranted. Which brings us back to square one of the fu**ed-up American policy in the region, which is to back up those leaders who are too weak and too dubious to take control of their countries, but not weak enough to lose the grip over that country’s potential (nuclear arsenal in the case of Pakistan)

Akbar Palace, I have two reading recommendation for you:

“The Read Cardinal ” by Tom Clancy 1988
“The Afghan” by Frederick Forsyth

December 28th, 2007, 6:32 am


ausamaa said:

Whowever it was that assasinayed Benazir, the clear result is that it demonstrates how easy it is to shred to pieces the Grand Designs drawn in the comfort of the offices of forigne policy makers sitting thousands of miles away from where things are happening.

Will they learn? Will their “tools” learn?

December 28th, 2007, 9:32 am


why-discuss said:


December 28th, 2007, 11:19 am


t_desco said:

Ehsani, first of all my apologies to you for hijacking the discussion of your excellent article (I’m particularly impressed to see you calling for taxation reforms).

It may seem odd to start discussing Pakistan in this forum, but there are some striking similarities with the situation in Syria/Lebanon.

There are also important differences, for example:

“On December 6, a Pakistani intelligence agency tracked a cell phone conversation between a militant leader and a local cleric, in which a certain Maulana Asadullah Khalidi was named. The same day, Khalidi was arrested during a raid in Karachi. The arrest, in turn, led to the arrest of a very high-profile non-Pakistani militant leader, which, it is said, revealed an operation aimed at wiping out “precious American assets” in Pakistan, including Musharraf and Bhutto.

The operation is said to have involved hundreds of cells all over Pakistan to track targets and communicate with their command, which would then send out death squads.”
(“Al-Qaeda claims Bhutto killing “, Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times).

It seems likely that they indeed do have “hundreds of cells all over Pakistan”. Fortunately this isn’t the case in Syria/Lebanon. Regarding the series of assassinations in Lebanon, I think that it is safe to assume that they had the technical abilities to do it (after all, they had plenty of practice and gained a lot of experience with car bombs and IEDs in Iraq; see for example the NYT video interview with Abu Omar in Ain al-Hilweh), but I always had some doubts if they had the manpower to do the surveillance, particularly in the two cases where the victims had only just returned to Lebanon.

I don’t know if the Asia Times’ Syed Saleem Shahzad is also working for AKI or if this is a renewed claim of responsibility by Mustafa Abu al-Yazid. It is certainly surprising that the commander and spokesman of al-Qa’ida in Afghanistan is confident enough to use a telephone (if it is indeed him):

““This is our first major victory against those [eg, Bhutto and President Pervez Musharraf] who have been siding with infidels [the West] in a fight against al-Qaeda and declared a war against mujahideen,” Mustafa told Asia Times Online by telephone.

Mustafa referred to a recent address by Bhutto in North West Frontier Province, in which she lambasted Islamic extremism and asked the people to stand against it. Bhutto was the only Pakistani leader who regularly spoke against al-Qaeda.”

This bit in the Asia Times article is new compared to the report by AKI, but it seems that so far the claim of responsibility has not been repeated on the usual Islamist Web sites.

As predicted, Musharraf is now being blamed in pretty much the same way as Syria is whenever there is an attack in Lebanon (though, in comparison, his involvement seems much less likely). In Lebanon, the West seems to be pushing for presidential elections at any cost, risking the country’s stability and ignoring the necessity of finding a consensus prior to any election. In Pakistan, the West was pushing for quick elections and the lifting of the state of emergency, completely ignoring the fact that, following the Lal Masjid siege, al-Qa’ida and its allies had begun an offensive, dealing heavy blows to the Pakistani military (e.g. all the suicide attacks in Rawalpindi in recent months). How one can expect a normal election campaign under such conditions is beyond me.

This is just speculation on my part, but I had always the suspicion that Bhutto was “injected” (to quote Zbigniew Brzezinski) into Pakistan by the Bush administration in order to gain some leverage on Musharraf (perhaps with regard to Iran?).

In any case, the West seems to be more interested in “ballotocracy” (Richard Haass) than in creating the necessary conditions for real and sustainable democracy, in Pakistan as well as in Lebanon.

December 28th, 2007, 11:56 am


t_desco said:

New Clues Surface in El-Hajj Murder Case

New clues have surfaced in the murder of the Lebanese army’s operations chief Brig. Gen. Francois el-Hajj after authorities identified the owners of the BMW car that was used in the Dec. 12 assassination, according to local media reports.

Beirut dailies An Nahar and As Safir on Friday said progress has been made in the investigation into el-Hajj’s murder after the Lebanese intelligence service obtained pictures of the two men who bought the car that was used in the bombing.

The BMW vehicle that was rigged with over 35 kilograms of explosives was bought in the village of Abra east of the southern port city of Sidon.

An Nahar said the intelligence apparatus in south Lebanon was able to determine how the car was purchased prior to the explosion in Baabda that killed el-Hajj and his bodyguard, Kheirallah Hadwan.

It said the two suspects are believed to be Lebanese.

Meanwhile, As Safir raised questions as to why the suspects’ photos were not published in the media.

It quoted sources, however, as saying that a U.N. international probe investigating the assassination of ex-Premier Rafik Hariri and seven other anti-Syrian figures has demanded that the suspects pictures not be published.

Saeed Mirza, Lebanon’s prosecutor-general, described as “inaccurate” the reports by An Nahar and As Safir and asked for an investigation into the matter.

December 28th, 2007, 1:05 pm


t_desco said:

So Khalilzad was responsible for creating this mess (or at least for starting it).

Again, I wonder if it was somehow linked to the administration’s Iran policy.

December 28th, 2007, 2:33 pm


Observer said:

Musharraf is both weakened and strengthened by the event. He is weakened as it happened on his watch and he will be accused of either complicity or incompetence. He is strengthened as he will now justify dictatorial powers in the name of security and the political arena is devoid of choices.
How blame is going to be put will give us an indication of where the administration stands with regard to Musharraf.

On a different note, I like the post of Honest Patriot. He does have very valid points that he makes about the issues, but he is so emotional on the one hand and so “superior” on the other hand that he reminds me of the Christian and Sunni elites of Lebanon. They still think that they have a superior take on all others in the region and yet the facts speak of their utter disarray. And that comes across nicely in his comments.

December 28th, 2007, 4:36 pm


offended said:

Alex, re: the house in Ya3for. This is amazing man, I wouldn’t have thought we’d have such things in Syria. This looks more like a hot property in Malibu or Orange county.

Thanks for sharing!

December 28th, 2007, 5:13 pm


EHSANI2 said:


Who could argue with your following quote?

“I grieve for the continued prevalence of terrorism and murder as weapons in the hands of those who lack any principle of civilization in participating in the government process.”

The leaders of our region don’t hang on to power based on a civilization metric. Instead, they adhere to the famous saying of:

“Inn lamm takon Zeaban akalatka Alzeaabu”

It is this metric that governs our regional politics. It sure is not as civil or as pure as your dream but I am afraid it is the sad reality.


Your article on how the U.S. pushed for Bhutto’s return is most interesting. I am also thankful that you noticed my calls for tax reform in Syria. Hating socialism is one thing but to support almost zero taxes on the wealthiest of society is a step that even Adam Smith would not have supported. The Syrian fiscal balance will not be sustained unless the wealthier segment of that society pays a larger share of taxes. Taxation on Idle land is a place where I would start given its unproductive nature.

December 28th, 2007, 6:21 pm


norman said:

Ehsani, I agree,

Taxation on Idle land is a place where I would start given its unproductive nature.

Can we add Taxaton on empty Appartment Buildings and houses,

That will make owners rent them or sell them both will help the housing problem.

December 28th, 2007, 6:40 pm


Seeking the Truth said:


I have not read all the details of your postings regarding the investigation of Hariri’s murder, but please give me a clarification for this simple question if you have one. If Al-qaeda or extremists of similar ideology were the main culprits, why has not Ahmad Abu Adas or his remains been found so far? What would be the motive for his hiding after taking the responsibility for the assasination?

December 28th, 2007, 7:04 pm


majedkhaldoun said:

anyone who advocate large tax increase, or tax on idle land, is not on my side, tax is against freedom, it should be only for goverment services, but tax to increase the power of the goverment to control its people is wrong, tax to encourage laziness by some (entitlement),or to help people who made dum decisions,I am against it.

anyone who want to pay his money to the goverment voluntarily is welcome to do so.

December 28th, 2007, 7:59 pm


Alex said:


Raghad Mardini, architect who designed the Ya3four house, got an award for this project.

She also turned an old Damascus house into a fancy Boutique Hotel … The Talisman Hotel.

Ya3four has tens of palaces or large houses… elaborate gardens and swimming pools, tennis courts …

You can have the best view from Google earth if you can locate Ya3four along the Damascus-Beirut highway.

December 29th, 2007, 1:30 am


Alex said:

What do you think? Too much?

بدأت بأسماء المحلات ورياض الأطفال لتطاول الدراما السورية وأسماء المواليد؟ … حملة لـ «تنصيب» دمشق عاصمة للغة العربية… الفصحى
دمشق – ابراهيم حميدي الحياة – 28/12/07//

من الآن فصاعداً، اذا أراد أحد الديبلوماسيين في دمشق تناول غداء عمل في مطعم «لافونتانا» الايطالي في حي المزة، جنوب دمشق، عليه ان يبحث عن مطعم يحمل اسم «النافورة». وعلى من يريد، في سورية، تسمية مولوده اسماً اجنبياً، الحذر والبحث عن اسم عربي قح. كذلك حال ابطال الدراما السورية الذين يتوجب عليهم البدء بالتكيف تدريجاً للتحدث بلغة وسط بين المحكية والفصحى قبل الانطلاق الى المرحلة الثانية القائمة على الحديث بلغة فصيحة فقط. هذه بعض النتائج التي يتوقعها رئيس «لجنة تمكين اللغة العربية» الدكتور محمود السيد، لمناسبة اختيار «دمشق عاصمة عربية للثقافة» للسنة 2008.

وكان مقرراً ان تنجز اللجنة التي ترفع تقاريرها الى نائبة الرئيس السوري للشؤون الثقافية نجاح العطار، مسودة قانون يقضي بالتزام كل الوزارات والمؤسسات العامة والخاصة توصياتها و»وضع خطة بغية الارتقاء باللغة العربية»، لكن تقررت العودة الى «قانون حماية اللغة العربية» الصادر العام 1952.

وبموجب التعليمات الجديدة، فإن اسماء الفنادق والمحلات ذات الصفة العالمية، يجب ان تكتب باللغة العربية الى جانب الاجنبية. ويوضح السيد: «اذا كان اسم المحل اجنبياً (لكن ليس جزءاً من سلسلة عالمية) يجب تعريبه وان يوضع الاسم باللغة العربية أولاً». ويعني هذا ان المطعم الدمشقي الشهير «نيوترون» صار اسمه «النواة» مع تقديم لهذا الاسم. كما هي الحال مع سلسلة مقاهي «لا نوازيت» التي بات اسمها «البندقة».

ولا تشمل هذه التعليمات اسماء المطاعم والفنادق فحسب، بل تمتد الى الانتاج الثقافي والتعليمي والاعلامي، اذ اشار رئيس اللجنة الى ان «التوجه هو ان تكون المواد الاعلامية والدرامية بالفصحى، لكن بالتدرج وقدر الامكان وليس دفعة واحدة… نريد روح العامية وثوب الفصحى».

هل هذا يعنى ان الجزء الثالث من مسلسل «باب الحارة» الشامي سيكون بالفصحى؟ وكيف سيتحدث «العقيد» الى «ابو عصام» والأخير لزوجته سعاد؟ الاجوبة رهن تنفيذ هذا الاتجاه وسرعته وما اذا كان سيشمل جميع الانتاج الدرامي أو بعضه، كما هي الحال مع مسلسل «سقف العالم» الذي مزج بين المحكية والفصحى، وشارك اخيراً مخرجه نجدت انزور وكاتبه حسن يوسف في ندوة عن «دور الدراما السورية في تمكين اللغة العربية».

وتشمل «الخطة الوطنية» ايضاً التدخل في اعلانات الطرق، بحيث تمنع الاعلانات باللغة المحكية او باخطاء املائية او قواعدية، اضافة الى تدخلها في الجمل والعبارات التي تكتب على السيارات الخاصة او العامة. واشار الدكتور السيد الى «مثال حي: هناك شعار يقول: دارك داريها. اننا نريد تصحيحه بحيث يصبح: دارك دارها».

وكانت اللجنة خاطبت ايضا وزارة الاوقاف طالبة اشتراط موافقتها على تعيين خطباء المساجد بناء على قدرتهم على التحدث باللغة الفصحى، لأن الاتجاه هو لإلزام الخطباء «القاء الخطب بلغة فصيحة وصحيحة وتناول قضايا معاصرة». وزاد السيد: «يجب ايضاً على المعلمين التحدث بالفصحى. ليس فقط اساتذة اللغة العربية، بل جميع الاساتذة. لا نطلب لغة مقعرة او لغة ابي حيان التوحيدي بل لغة فصيحة وبسيطة» على ان تبذل جهود لتعديل المناهج التربوية للوصول الى «لغة الحياة وليس لغة وحشية».

وبحسب رئيس اللجنة، فإن الخطة تهدف ايضا الى تأهيل المشرفين على رياض الاطفال لـ «البدء بهم وتعليمهم» بالتوازي مع الزام سائقي الباصات التحدث معهم… بلغة فصحى. وقال: «نريد كل ما تقع عليه عين الطفل في الحافلات والمحلات والمدارس والشوارع والتلفزيون والمطعم، ان يكون فصيحا» وصولا الى الجامعات الخاصة التي يدرس بعضها باللغة الانكليزية.

وهل يعني هذا منع أي شخص من تسمية ابنه اسما اجنبيا؟ أجاب السيد: «لم نتعرض لهذا الأمر. لكن الطبيعي ان تكون الاسماء عربية ولها دلالات عربية وليست اسماء اجنبية»، مشيراً الى ان البعض شاور اللجنة في تسمية محله اسم «كليوبترا» فأجابته بالموافقة كما هي الحال مع اسم «ملقة» لأنه «عربي أصيل»!

December 29th, 2007, 1:52 am


norman said:

Alex, at first i thought that this ideas terrible and dictatorial then i thought about the custom in the US ,most names are in English and teachers and most educated people speak and right in standard English not of the most complicated but the kind that make everybody understand the conversation or the righting , actually having the Syrian dramas in simple standard Arabic will make them more popular ,
Syrian should do what we do in the US , my children has two names American first name and an Arabic middle name , In Syria they can do the same if they use both kinds of names ,
There are some names in Syria which has been used for a long time with Arabic flavor , like Alex, Norman , Edwar ( Edward), Victor , Emil .and George .

December 29th, 2007, 2:51 am


norman said:

بحسب صحيفة “هآرتز”
الخارجية الإسرائيلية “تسعى” لإخراج سوريا من”محور الشر”

December 29th, 2007, 3:20 am


Observer said:

On a different subject this is from the Guardian about Gaza
Smother until surrender
Laila El-Haddad
December 28, 2007 1:00 PM

How have things in Gaza changed over the past 12 months? Sadly, there are no rosy reflections to be found here. Things were bad in Gaza this year. Very bad. Whether looked at from a political or purely humanitarian perspective, it’s difficult to see the upside where there is such an orchestrated global drive to maintain the status quo: smother until surrender.

The health indicators are telling: about a quarter of essential drugs and a third of essential medical supplies were unavailable in the Gaza Strip in October 2007. Less than half of Gaza’s food import needs are currently being met. Fuel reserves are almost at zero after punitive cuts by the Israeli government began last month. And with diesel-run water-pumps unable to function, tens of thousands of Gazans are without access to fresh drinking water. Everything considered “non-essential” has disappeared from supermarket shelves (including chocolates, as one friend half-jokingly lamented).

It is as though depriving a nation of medicines and fuel and freedom of movement and sanity will somehow make them turn against their rulers. And as though providing them with a trickle of “essential” supplies every few weeks is going to exonerate those imposing and supporting the siege. Or sustain the besieged just enough so that they don’t wither and die; because somehow, the onus is on them to undo all of this, and they need all the energy they can get.

Gaza’s isolation has also come full circle this year. Travelling in and out of the occupied coastal territory has always been an exercise in the impossible, but now, it’s no longer an option that can even be exercised, in whatever degree of difficulty.

We Gazans stuck on the outside cannot return to our homes. The noose continues to tighten, even when we thought there was no more room to tighten it.

I was in Gaza through June. My son was with me. When I finished my work there, I left after a gruelling 48-hour journey across Rafah Crossing along with my family, who were coming to the US to visit my brothers. That was the last day Rafah opened this year.

In fact, both my family and myself have been unable to return to Gaza since that time. No, we don’t carry foreign passports (and even if we did, there is no way in unless you are affiliated with a humanitarian organisation). We carry PA “passports” (Passport to where? What good is a passport that can’t even get you back home?) We are residents of Gaza. And we have nowhere to return to now. The only way in to Gaza is the Rafah Crossing. And it is not controlled by Egypt or by the Palestinians, as many assume. It is, and always has been, even after disengagement, controlled by Israel.

What do rockets or tunnels or elections have to do with letting people return to their homes? Or with allowing students and the ill and even the average human being with no pressing concern, to leave and live their lives?

If one can say anything definitive about this year, it is that people’s attitudes in Gaza (and the West Bank and East Jerusalem for that matter) about the future have changed. They no longer believe in the myth of two states, and very likely, the west’s call for democracy. This is not to say they don’t want peace. They just no longer believe “peace”, as defined and promoted by, well, virtually all the major powers that have a stake in it, is possible. Is peace living in two states, three territories, fragmented and divided by Israeli colonies and encircled by an enormous barrier, all of whose borders are still ultimately controlled by Israel and for whose security you, the occupied, are responsible? Is it not being able to freely pray, think, move, live?

According to a poll by Near East Consulting more Palestinian than ever before think not. In fact, 70% of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, West Bank, and East Jerusalem now support a one-state solution in historic Palestine, where Muslims, Christians and Jews live together with equal rights and responsibilities.

This is not a state that prefers and attempts to sustain its Jewish population at the expense of its Palestinian ones.

What has also changed is the Israeli government’s recognition of this reality and their frank discourse surrounding it. Only two days after the theatrics of Annapolis, Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, warned about the consequences of facing a struggle for one state: “If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights (also for the Palestinians in the territories), then, as soon as that happens, the state of Israel is finished,” he declared ominously in an interview with Haaretz.

It doesn’t matter, then, how this Palestinian state will be fashioned, or what it will look like, so long as it is fashioned; for the sake of demographics alone.

His statement – similar to one he made in 2003 – complemented by his call for Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, to recognise Israel as a purely Jewish state, as though the Muslims and Christians living there were aliens, is essentially an acknowledgment not only of the untenable nature and the inequity of the so-called two-state solution and everything it entails, but also of the increasing inevitability of a one-state solution. As some commentators have noted, it is no longer an option up for debate; it is the new reality.

Israel in 2007 continued with its attempts to create its own realities on the ground to counter this phenomenon. (It also ironically continues to render a two-state solution a practical impossibility as it impedes any future plans to divide the city.) Earlier this month, its housing ministry gave the go-ahead for a new illegal settlement to be built in occupied East Jerusalem, with the deputy mayor affirming that he sees “no problem in building all-Jewish neighbourhoods” (the housing minister has since backtracked, but plans have not been totally scrapped).

So if anything has changed in 2007, perhaps it is the global complacency and indifference towards Gaza and what is being done to its people with such purpose. And perhaps this is the most troubling aspect of it all, not that it is happening, nor even that it is happening so methodically, but rather that we, the collective world governments, mass media, and yes, Abbas, no longer seem to find it so morally troubling. After all, Gaza is now a hostile territory. So anything goes.

December 29th, 2007, 4:09 am


norman said:

I wonder how long will it take the Palestinians to start deffending themselves and attacking the EU as they did in the seventies to wake up the world to their suffering.

December 29th, 2007, 4:27 am


Akbar Palace said:

Norman recommends terrorism here on Professor Josh’s (Director, Center for Peace Studies, University of Oklahoma) website:

I wonder how long will it take the Palestinians to start deffending themselves and attacking the EU as they did in the seventies to wake up the world to their suffering.


Perhaps the Palestinians found out that terrorizing Europe won’t bring them a state.

Of course, if you think it will help, why don’t YOU do it?

December 29th, 2007, 6:06 am


Honest Patriot said:

Idaf, Observer, and Ehsani all like certain portions of my posts and all (as well as other bloggers) comment on the emotional content that clouds some of my thinking.

I plead guilty.

I’ve seen my native country of Lebanon all too often deprived violently of genuine sons who were ready to put it on a track of true independence asymptotically converging towards neutrality and superb economic triumph – a triumph that should have borne benefits to all its citizens. I’m thinking of Beshir Gemayel (regardless of how he was unfairly painted as an Israeli agent) and most recently Rafiq Hariri. I suppose most bloggers on this forum view these as just other ME assassinations – to some extent the way business is done in that area of the world. I don’t, and at the risk of continuing to be seen as of utopic thinking, I do believe that a prosperous, eventually secular structure in Lebanon is achievable. It is only through people who uphold beliefs of that nature against the surrender of cynicism that true change happens. Perhaps if more joined me in such beliefs and worked within whatever circle of influence they had towards that end it would no longer be a utopia. The Cedar Revolution — a true historic outpouring of silent majority opinion (notwithstanding the re-writing of history that is attempted [see the post of IDAF about “academic” papers written on that subject) — is, to me, evidence of the existence of the right sentiment to effect the dream of a neutral, prosperous, secular Lebanon. It’s not emotion. It’s observation of facts coupled with the courage to have a clear vision and to articulate it. I’ll concede that my rantings about the Syrian MO in Lebanon are emotional. While Syria has so much potential wasted through the inefficient feudal system and sorry alliances its leaders forge, it is a true tragedy that its leaders have chosen to exploit Lebanon in every possible respect instead of leveraging the enlightenment of its people and the strategic advantages of its economic system. And to those who will argue that the Lebanese are as much to blame for the destruction of their country, I agree. Lebanon and its citizens have learned a lot from their mistakes and clearly have still quite a bit to do to evolve the civic sense and the sense of belonging to a nation/country first before “belonging” (i.e., being owned by) a religion. This by itself is a challenging evolution. Compound it with the regional and international interference and you get the mess the country is in. There is plenty of blame to go around but that’s not really the ticket to a solution. Moving towards the future requires true vision (yeah, I know, you’ll call me a dreamer again) to effect the following:
– True economic opportunity and a kind of “affirmative action” for the many poor (including a disproportionate percentage of Shi’a) who have always been neglected
– Full political neutrality along the model of Switzerland
– Complete separation of church/mosque/temple and state
– An ironclad internal security and internationally guaranteed (and monitored) borders
– A political class that works only for the interests and benefit of Lebanon as a country – without shifting allegiances to any foreign country or interest, nor, for that matter, religious grouping
– Adequate conditions for the Palestinian refugees guaranteeing better than the minimum of human rights, while at the same time reclaiming full control for the Lebanese authorities of every aspect of refugee camp life – in particular eliminating ANY weapons.
I know that the vision of the political movement of General Michel Aoun contains elements that would lead to many of the goals above. Yet, his current positions – seen from the perspective of someone living in the U.S. – are utterly incomprehensible. On the other hand I also know that many Christians trust Aoun’s honesty and refer to his previous positions that – in hindsight – seem to many to have been vindicated. It is not at all clear to me that this is the case today.
As far as seeing some “Christian and Sunni” elitism in my previous post (see Observer’s earlier comments), I wonder whether that impression comes from advocating positions that go against what Hezbollah is trying to achieve. I have written before that Hezbollah is made up of Lebanese (hence with full rights to participate in the Lebanese political process), most of whom are decent folks. I do take strong issue with Hezbollah’s unceasing attacks on the current Lebanese government and the insistence on veto-power at a time where their maneuvering suggests in no uncertain terms that the veto will be used (or would have been used) to foil the international tribunal of the Hariri assassination. Hezbollah’s positions belie their true agenda: recall the “red line” they talked about as far as the Lebanese Army entering palestinian camps; recall their declaration that even if the Shebaa farms were returned to Lebanon they would never give up their arms. At the risk of offending again, I see elements of fascism in their military organization. I see Aoun’s agreement with Hizbollah as nothing more than Chamberlain’s agreement with Hitler. Before you unleash your Big Guns (in words) on me for those remarks, please hear me again that I know that Hezbollah has yielded a tremendous amount of good social benefit, has given the oppressed Shi’a a point of pride. I believe Hezbollah has a rightful place in Lebanese politics – through the democratic process (not through usurping that process to ensure the paralysis of the country). Hezbollah and its constituency have rightful grievances against economic inequality and abuse by the Sunni and Christian economic elite. I agree with all that. I even agree that Hezbollah’s “resistance” was a major factor (if not the decisive one) in leading to the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000. I just don’t see the justification for the methods they currently use for continuing their struggle nor do I trust that the allegiance to Lebanon of their leaders supercedes their ideological fervor to turn Lebanon into an Iran-like theocracy. That may regrettably happen one day by the sheer reality of the demographic dynamics at play (where the birth rate of Shi’a is about 4x the birth rate of Christians). Unless, that is, in the interim, a secular Lebanon emerges where economic opportunity catalyzes a move away from religious fanaticism.

Two more points:

1- If everyone in the ME was made up of folks who participate in this forum, I doubt there would be any conflict at all. Despite the strong opinions and disparity of goals, we are clearly joined together by a desire to have conflicts resolved through civilized discourse. In that vein, I offer my greatest gratitude and respect to Professor Landis and admire his courage and persistence to pursue the study of this region. He is the one (along with the folks who help moderate this blog) who make this exchange possible for all of us. It is a healthy outlet that lets folks like me — a mere observer who left his native country of Lebanon over a quarter century ago — to express our opinion and comment on the events in the region.

2- (As mentioned in my previous post) The solution to the key issue of the ME – the Israel-Palestine conflict – is well known. What gets in the way is the extremism on both sides, fueled by religious fanaticism. On the Arab side, the fixation by some to want to eliminate the state of Israel is a sad reflection of utter ignorance of the facts of what constitutes Israel, its people, the support it enjoys and the inspiration it gives to millions around the world. Let Israel be. Learn to appreciate all the positives it can bring. Learn to live with your cousins by conceding to them the little space they want. On the Israeli side, an acknowledgment of the human rights of Palestinians and of the suffering that was inflicted upon them throughout the years is necessary. Notwithstanding the horrors of terrorism that was used at various times by Palestinian zealots, there is a large population that, in our modern times, has suffered probably more than any other the deprivation of a national identity. The extremist voices claiming that there was never a Palestine (that it was really only Jordan), etc., must be put in check. Fair compensation and an equitable set of living conditions must be granted to the Palestinians. And, by the way, what’s with continuing to build settlements on Palestinian land ? That sure doesn’t sound like a country seeking peace. There’s plenty of blame to go around but NOTHING, NOTHING is worse than terrorism, i.e., the killing of innocent civilians. And I don’t buy the moral superiority of the Israeli approach where it’s acceptable to have innocent civilians killed while assassinating a Hamas leader because the civilians were not the ones targeted. It’s all terrorism, pure and simple.

Well, I probably managed to upset or offend quite a few folks here. For that, I ask forgiveness. Just my modest, honest, opinion. And my vantage point is one of someone who wants to see Lebanon a truly independent, secular, and prosperous country. I don’t have illusions that the probability is high that it will happen in my lifetime. But I believe the possibility is indeed there.


December 29th, 2007, 7:33 am


t_desco said:


very good question! Nibras Kazimi (“Analysis of the Faisal Akbar testimony and how it relates to the Hariri assassination”, 05.11.2007, Talisman Gate) has suggested that Adass accompanied the suicide bomber based on the fact that “another tooth, a lower right central incisor, was found in June 2006 nearby and it cannot be conclusively determined, since no DNA was extracted, that this tooth belongs to the same suicide bomber.”

He could also have quoted the first Mehlis report which states that “there is always the possibility that no trace of DNA of a suicide bomber conducting a massive blast would be found” (Mehlis I, §181). For example, if Adass stood alongside the vehicle he would have been closer to the source of the blast than the actual suicide bomber.

The problem with this version, at least regarding the second tooth, is that while there is no DNA evidence, the isotope composition of the second tooth would still match that of the first tooth in case it belongs to the same person or be significantly different if it belongs to a second person (unless both persons lived in the same placed at the same time). Brammertz does not mention the second tooth, but he still speaks of only one suicide bomber which suggests that the result of the isotope analysis showed that it also belonged to him.

I find it much more plausible (if Adass wasn’t kidnapped) that he was chosen to be the suicide bomber, made the tape but then got cold feet. I have read that, contrary to legend, this happens rather often in Iraq, people opting out or exploding their vehicles well before they reach their destination.

They had only one chance to hit Hariri, so the suicide bomber had to be both highly motivated and very precise in his actions to explode the device at the right moment (this is also the reason why I don’t believe that he was coerced into doing it).

Perhaps Adass had volunteered to go to Iraq to fight (this wouldn’t be too unusual for a young man in his situation) but his emir selected him for this mission instead. So he could still be alive and hiding somewhere, he may have gone to Iraq or he may have been killed for refusing to follow the orders of his emir. Of course, this is all just speculation on my part.

In contrast, the UN investigation has probably already gathered enough evidence to determine if Adass was kidnapped or if he left his home to join an extremist group, because progress has been made to identify “Mohammed” (Mehlis I, §171), the man who accompanied Adass on the day he disappeared:

“35. A number of aspects regarding the role Abu Adass played in the crime remain under active investigation by the Commission. Through 16 interviews in this reporting period, forensic analyses and other investigative steps, the Commission has reached a more detailed comprehension of Abu Adass’ activities in the years preceding the crime, particularly those activities which brought him into contact with one or more persons linked to known extremist groups. In particular, progress has been made in establishing the identity of the individual who is believed to have disappeared with Abu Adass on January 16, 2005.” (Brammertz VII, §35).

(my emphasis)

December 29th, 2007, 11:45 am


Sami D said:

Hello Ehsani,

You write:

Syria’s problem is not the wealth concentration. The country’s real problem lies in the painful destruction that the socialism of the past 43 years has inflicted on its economy. Poverty in Syria is not because the rich of that society stole the money from the poor. The real culprit has been poor economic growth and a vast misallocation of resources under a failed planned economy…. Hating socialism is one thing but to support almost zero taxes on the wealthiest of society is a step that even Adam Smith would not have supported

Every country employs, more or less, a great measure of economic planning, which is the opposite of free market. There’s nothing wrong with planning, per se, if it is done democratically by a free people, and especially when it covers the major things society needs: roads, bridges, healthcare, education, basic food. Can we really say that that was the case in Syria during the recent decades? Note also that a major part of resource mis/allocation in Syria was the military, justified or otherwise. As mentioned here, Syria already had a measure of free market, perhaps more in the benign manner envisioned by Adam Smith, of small businesses: butchers, bakers, artisans, farmers, shoemakers, rooted in their communities. The US, as does the entire industrialized world, more or less employs planning as well, and that planning –again, state planning is the opposite of free market– coincided with a lot of prosperity and proper allocation of resources, not simply a rise in GDP. Planning, not the free market, contributed essentially to the creation of the middle class in America, the same class which the Bush-Reagan-Clinton have been dismantling over the past quarter century using economic liberalization: attack on labor unions, tax-cuts for the rich, channeling the money into the military, security apparatus and their spin-offs. US’s more recent planning period began with FDR’s new deal, all the way through the 50s and 60s. Building of the highway system, the GI college bill, the semi-conductor and computer industry, automation, communication networks, electronics, the internet, development of medication, agriculture … the backbone of US economy, involved massive US government planning, protectionism, funding and subsidy. Were these fruits of anti-free market planning a misallocation of resources?

The free market exists already more or less everywhere – as does planning. They fluctuate depending on the need of a country and who makes the decisions. While developing, advanced countries used more planning, protection and government subsidies, and only little free market. After they developed these countries adopted more free market, but the government stayed alert to protect society from the known ills of the free market: its natural instability, bubbles and recessions, the sometimes destructive effects of outside competition, and to prevent the rich from sucking societal wealth up (ie, inequality, or the lopsided distribution of output that the market is notorious for). Meanwhile, these developed countries, led before by Britain and now mastered by the US, are making sure to force the free market down the throats of the third world, knowing full well that their labor laws, regulations are weak, corruption is high and their governments dictatorial enough to help control the people who might think of standing in the new way of wealth-making for the rich inside and outside of that country. This is why it is dangerous for a country like Syria to plunge itself in the free market, opening its land, people, resources for exploitation, tying future generations with growing debt and subservient dependence on foreign capital. In other words, spreading the free market, aka “freedom” is the new way of empire, through the cheaper method of economic, rather than the traditional/colonial, domination. It is only telling that the first thing Bush did in Iraq was force “shock therapy” on its economy, or that part of Bush’s message after 9-11 to the American public .. to get out and shop, or that terrorism will be more with more “free trade”! For a weak country the free market is a tool of empire, exploitation and plunder, not of freedom.

Taxing the rich by the government is indeed a good idea; doesn’t that fall more on the government planning side of things rather than the free market one? Taxing is a way for the government to force-reallocation of the resources, mis-allocated by the free market. Add to that the regulation, the labor laws, subsidies to industry, bailing out of banks and airlines, all these are not free markets, but methods to restrain and salvage industries from the ravages of the market. Nor does the free market necessarily produce the best allocation of resources. The massive advertisement-PR industry, sucking a TRILLION dollars a year, whose goal is in essence to “convince people to buy things they don’t need” (in the honest words of one advertising executive), is one example of the obscene misallocation of resource in the free market. Another massive misallocation of wealth is the rise of the financial speculation sector since the late 1970s. Most of the money traded on the stock markets, well over a trillion dollars per day, is not money aimed at long term development, but cash-seeking short-term casino-style money “making”. The money is not kept long enough anywhere to help develop anything and that’s unhealthy for a society. Pollution, waste, plundering of resource, nature, trees, mountain tops, water supplies, rivers, oceans, fisheries, have reached mammoth proportion under capitalism in its frenzied drive for growth, GROWTH, more and MORE G R O W T H, more GDP, beyond sustainability and beyond what’s really needed. Under capitalism we just have to keep producing more and more and more, and when people don’t really need more, just change the style or the fashion, (often adding a little in substance) and tell people they need to get the latest designs, sending the out-moded to the piling waste, else risk being sneered at socially. What is needed is not so much more and more growth – making the pie bigger– (some of which is surely necessary and healthy), but better distribution of what’s already being produced, which the market does a bad job at. Growth and rising GDP, a small portion of which trickles down depending on country and rights, as well as the carrot promise of illusory riches, have become a tool for the rich to distract the majority from the upward vortex of wealth suction and to keep the people working hard to produce that wealth. And capitalism is quite resilient, creating its own denial industry and “think tanks” in the process, to hide all the above and produce compliant politicians.

When Adam Smith recommended the free market, he saw it as a tool to spread equality, not the abomination of today’s inequality. He would’ve been appalled at the conglomerates, monopolies, lobbyists, mass media, Walmarts and wealth concentration we now have. He made sure to warn about where the free market could lead, like the many ills we see today: monopoly, inequality and the division of labor when it reaches its limits. But that part of his legacy is shadowed in favor of his free market advocacy, essentially taken out of its context. He spoke about the importance of public investment to improve the social welfare, that economic liberalism would be good provided care is given to basic human rights, that free enterprise and capital should be rooted in its community, that the government should intervene to prevent the worker from being reduced (under capitalism) into “as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to be”. He warned how the industrialists of his time “generally have an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public” and that “People of the same trade seldom meet together but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public”. Or when he noted that the interests of the architects of policy are not those of the public. “Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defence of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all.” Or when he spoke about how “inequality of fortune .. introduces among men a degree of authority and subordination”. While he admired individual enterprise, he showed his distaste for “the vile maxim of the masters of mankind”: “All for ourselves, and nothing for other people” (the opposite of how his “invisible hand” is hijacked by business to extol the greatness of selfish and greed). Or his advocacy for the free movement of labor, as opposed to today’s national boundary and emigration restrictions. In other words, the world, especially the developing one, now needs more to heed the warnings of Adam Smith and not his de-contextualized free market recommendations.

“The leaders of our region don’t hang on to power based on a civilization metric. Instead, they adhere to the famous saying of: “Inn lamm takon Zeaban akalatka Alzeaabu”

Doesn’t this infamous cliché describe the environment created by individualistic, materialistic capitalism?

December 29th, 2007, 6:30 pm


norman said:


You get what you give , Israel should know that ,It’s terror on the Palestinians brought only death and mahum to Israel , Israel should treat people the way she likes it’s people to be treated otherwise sooner or later people will give up on peacfull coexistant and seek violence as the one imposed on them.

December 29th, 2007, 8:11 pm


Akbar Palace said:


You side-stepped my question about YOUR call for terrorism against Europe and my suggestion that you help.

This reminds me of a statement I found today:

The most evil of the traitors are those who trade away their religion for the sake of their mortal life.;_ylt=AsC_BoqVN6G3xDXFMWINDoQE1vAI

The same person who made the above statement is the same person who has been in hiding for the past decade. I always find it interesting that those calling for jihad and “martyrdom” are always asking other people to do their dirty work.

You get what you give

And so far, the Palestinians haven’t given anything. Since 1967, the Israelis have given land back to the Jordanians, the Eygptians and the Palestinians.

December 29th, 2007, 10:29 pm


wizart said:

Monday, 14 Apr 2008
Fortune’s New Cover Boy: “What Warren Thinks

Fortune’s Nicholas Varchaver sat in recently as Buffett hosted 150 business students from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School for a Q&A session, chicken parmigiana at Piccolo Pete’s, his favorite restaurant, and individual pictures with the Oracle. (He does this sort of thing about once a month.) Varchaver also got his own one-on-one interview with Buffett.

Among the highlights from Buffett’s comments:

* “It’s very, very hard to regulate when you get into very complex instruments where you’ve got hundreds of counterparties. The counterparty behavior and risk was a big part of why the Treasury and the Fed felt that they had to move in over a weekend at Bear Stearns. And I think they were right to do it, incidentally.”
* “It seems everybody says it’ll (the economic slowdown) be short and shallow, but it looks like it’s just the opposite. You know, deleveraging by its nature takes a lot of time, a lot of pain. And the consequences kind of roll through in different ways.”
* “The markets have not gotten more rational over the years, They’ve become more followed. But when people panic, when fear takes over, or when greed takes over, people react just as irrationally as they have in the past.”
* Along with being a “political bigamist” by supporting both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for President, “I feel that if a Republican wins, John McCain would be the one I would prefer. I think we’ve got three unusually good candidates this time.”
* “If you gave me the choice of being CEO of General Electric or IBM or General Motors, you name it, or delivering papers, I would deliver papers. I would. I enjoyed doing that. I can think about what I want to think. I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do.”

April 16th, 2008, 4:03 pm


wizart said:

Humanist Manifesto I

The Manifesto is a product of many minds. It was designed to represent a developing point of view, not a new creed. The individuals whose signatures appear would, had they been writing individual statements, have stated the propositions in differing terms. The importance of the document is that more than thirty men have come to general agreement on matters of final concern and that these men are undoubtedly representative of a large number who are forging a new philosophy out of the materials of the modern world.

– Raymond B. Bragg (1933)

The time has come for widespread recognition of the radical changes in religious beliefs throughout the modern world. The time is past for mere revision of traditional attitudes. Science and economic change have disrupted the old beliefs. Religions the world over are under the necessity of coming to terms with new conditions created by a vastly increased knowledge and experience. In every field of human activity, the vital movement is now in the direction of a candid and explicit humanism. In order that religious humanism may be better understood we, the undersigned, desire to make certain affirmations which we believe the facts of our contemporary life demonstrate.

There is great danger of a final, and we believe fatal, identification of the word religion with doctrines and methods which have lost their significance and which are powerless to solve the problem of human living in the Twentieth Century. Religions have always been means for realizing the highest values of life. Their end has been accomplished through the interpretation of the total environing situation (theology or world view), the sense of values resulting therefrom (goal or ideal), and the technique (cult), established for realizing the satisfactory life. A change in any of these factors results in alteration of the outward forms of religion. This fact explains the changefulness of religions through the centuries. But through all changes religion itself remains constant in its quest for abiding values, an inseparable feature of human life.

Today man’s larger understanding of the universe, his scientific achievements, and deeper appreciation of brotherhood, have created a situation which requires a new statement of the means and purposes of religion. Such a vital, fearless, and frank religion capable of furnishing adequate social goals and personal satisfactions may appear to many people as a complete break with the past. While this age does owe a vast debt to the traditional religions, it is none the less obvious that any religion that can hope to be a synthesizing and dynamic force for today must be shaped for the needs of this age. To establish such a religion is a major necessity of the present. It is a responsibility which rests upon this generation. We therefore affirm the following:

FIRST: Religious humanists regard the universe as self-existing and not created.

SECOND: Humanism believes that man is a part of nature and that he has emerged as a result of a continuous process.

THIRD: Holding an organic view of life, humanists find that the traditional dualism of mind and body must be rejected.

FOURTH: Humanism recognizes that man’s religious culture and civilization, as clearly depicted by anthropology and history, are the product of a gradual development due to his interaction with his natural environment and with his social heritage. The individual born into a particular culture is largely molded by that culture.

FIFTH: Humanism asserts that the nature of the universe depicted by modern science makes unacceptable any supernatural or cosmic guarantees of human values. Obviously humanism does not deny the possibility of realities as yet undiscovered, but it does insist that the way to determine the existence and value of any and all realities is by means of intelligent inquiry and by the assessment of their relations to human needs. Religion must formulate its hopes and plans in the light of the scientific spirit and method.

SIXTH: We are convinced that the time has passed for theism, deism, modernism, and the several varieties of “new thought”.

SEVENTH: Religion consists of those actions, purposes, and experiences which are humanly significant. Nothing human is alien to the religious. It includes labor, art, science, philosophy, love, friendship, recreation–all that is in its degree expressive of intelligently satisfying human living. The distinction between the sacred and the secular can no longer be maintained.

EIGHTH: Religious Humanism considers the complete realization of human personality to be the end of man’s life and seeks its development and fulfillment in the here and now. This is the explanation of the humanist’s social passion.

NINTH: In the place of the old attitudes involved in worship and prayer the humanist finds his religious emotions expressed in a heightened sense of personal life and in a cooperative effort to promote social well-being.

TENTH: It follows that there will be no uniquely religious emotions and attitudes of the kind hitherto associated with belief in the supernatural.

ELEVENTH: Man will learn to face the crises of life in terms of his knowledge of their naturalness and probability. Reasonable and manly attitudes will be fostered by education and supported by custom. We assume that humanism will take the path of social and mental hygiene and discourage sentimental and unreal hopes and wishful thinking.

TWELFTH: Believing that religion must work increasingly for joy in living, religious humanists aim to foster the creative in man and to encourage achievements that add to the satisfactions of life.

THIRTEENTH: Religious humanism maintains that all associations and institutions exist for the fulfillment of human life. The intelligent evaluation, transformation, control, and direction of such associations and institutions with a view to the enhancement of human life is the purpose and program of humanism. Certainly religious institutions, their ritualistic forms, ecclesiastical methods, and communal activities must be reconstituted as rapidly as experience allows, in order to function effectively in the modern world.

FOURTEENTH: The humanists are firmly convinced that existing acquisitive and profit-motivated society has shown itself to be inadequate and that a radical change in methods, controls, and motives must be instituted. A socialized and cooperative economic order must be established to the end that the equitable distribution of the means of life be possible. The goal of humanism is a free and universal society in which people voluntarily and intelligently cooperate for the common good. Humanists demand a shared life in a shared world.

FIFTEENTH AND LAST: We assert that humanism will: (a) affirm life rather than deny it; (b) seek to elicit the possibilities of life, not flee from them; and (c) endeavor to establish the conditions of a satisfactory life for all, not merely for the few. By this positive morale and intention humanism will be guided, and from this perspective and alignment the techniques and efforts of humanism will flow.

So stand the theses of religious humanism. Though we consider the religious forms and ideas of our fathers no longer adequate, the quest for the good life is still the central task for mankind. Man is at last becoming aware that he alone is responsible for the realization of the world of his dreams, that he has within himself the power for its achievement. He must set intelligence and will to the task.

May 1st, 2008, 1:34 pm


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