“How to Bring Liberty to Syria,” by Ford Prefect

How to “Democratize” Syria
Essay by Ford Prefect
Sept. 2007  

Why aren’t Syrians taking to the streets by the millions demanding freedom, justice and democracy?  Why does the Middle East seem so resistant to modernity and liberty? Why are the Syrian people so complacent and unable to produce a viable and organized opposition to the current government and the Ba’ath Party?

As the U.S. pursues a more diplomatic approach to the previously shunned Syrian government, these questions have now become the constant preoccupation of scholars, politicians, and human rights advocates everywhere – especially on this forum. Syria is a major player to the region’s stability. This was stated by the Iraq Study Group report and by the many recent visitors to Damascus from America, Europe and Asia.

So why is democracy so elusive in Syria?  In answering this question, several causal threads seem to emerge.  One points to the fact that the current regime is a ruthless one that produced generations of scared citizens whose main occupation is surviving harsh economic realities. These harsh, anti-middle class realities have reduced the number of political actors that would have otherwise posed a formidable challenge to the regime. Subsequently, Syrians have lost their educated and technical elite, en masse, to the rest of the world.  For the vast majority of the economically deprived citizenry of Syria, participating in the political process is considered an unwarranted luxury.

Another aspect points to the war with Israel and other regional unrests as the source of legitimacy that is justifying perpetual authoritarian rule. Security and stability, therefore, are one of the main anchors of the regime’s legitimacy. For example, under the pretext of war conditions with Israel, martial law has been in effect in Syria since 1963.

And yet another, more dangerous reason can be traced to a dormant neoconservative theory that emerged forcefully after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. This theory, which eventually turned into U.S. foreign policy toward the Middle East, posits that the West cannot wait for the region to reach indigenous democracy on its own steam. Even more dangerously, Francis Fukuyama, a leading neoconservative scholar, went on to say in a column published in the Guardian (link) “…there does seem to be something about Islam, or at least the fundamentalist versions of Islam that have been dominant in recent years, that makes Muslim societies particularly resistant to modernity.”


Meanwhile, regimes on either end of the West’s blessing or wrath are busy using Islam as a means to either justify their existence as the defender and stabilizer of true Islam, such as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, or as the dam, defending against its virilent resurgence in the form of the Muslim Brotherhood, such as the regimes in Syria, Egypt, and Jordan.  In either case, governments have made clear to their citizens that any alternative will result in the loss of security and stability of the status quo, which people have finally managed to accept as a condition for their survival. Fareed Zakaria once characterized the use of fear as a tool, calling it the “Fear-of-the-Alternative” (FOTA), which gripped people across all strata of society. Better the devil you know…..

While there are many causes for the lack of democratic reform in Syria, it is impossible to escape the fact that in the West, authoritarian rule has become the prime suspect. Many in the West are convinced that Syria and other countries in the region are in desperate need of drastic measures to “import” democracy. Consequently Syria’s fate is inextricably tied to decisions made by the West.  This “need” is based more on the West’s strategic interests in the region rather than the well being of the Syrian people. Historically, the process of installing Western-style democracy ranges from military adventurism in the name of “democracy” – like the invasion of Iraq under the pretenses of spreading democracy in the region – to empowering dissidents and feeding regime-haters with further fuel in order to topple so-called rogue regimes. What is missing from the West’s approach, however, is a genuine and demonstrable desire to invest in the advancements of the people and not in their corrupt and authoritarian governments.

For democracy to grow roots and be able to defend itself through its intellectual human reserve and respected institutions, several factors must be ripe before reaching the “tipping” point.  These factors include maturity in modernization, industrialization, literacy, urbanization, secularization, citizenship, and nationality.  (More factors can be found in Rueschemeyer et al. (1992), Putnam (1993), Inglehart (1999), and Fukuyama (1992)). These factors cannot be created with a magic wand. Creating conditions conducive for democracy takes time.  Syria will only reach this maturity through an organic and stable government that is driven to adopt a liberal economy out of necessity. Force cannot produce such conditions. Washington’s reckless ideology of claiming to bring democracy on the backs of tanks or by starving Middle Easterners through economic sanctions is counter-productive. By increasing instability and pushing people into ever greater economic uncertainty, the US is effectively pushing back the horizon of democracy in the Middle East. By inflaming Muslim sentiment and creating ever greater fear, a militant and demanding US undermines the voice of mederation and compromise and justifies the retrenchment of authoritarian states. The day that we, as Middle Eastern liberals, will taste the fruits of democracy and freedom, is delayed, not brought closer.

Why would the Syrian regime be forced to adopt and promote liberal economy? The answer is the self-enrichment and self-preservation of the regime’s elite.  Ironically, economic liberation as a survival necessity for today’s authoritarian regimes is also the reason for their gradual demise.  Guillermo O'Donnell et al. argue that democracy results from the stable equilibrium between the military, industrialists, technocrats, financiers, and other elitist groups to share power under a system of “checks and balances” in a market-driven expanding economy.  The system of checks and balances (to initially protect their economic interests) is democracy’s best friend and incubator.  Therefore, it is noteworthy to point out that democracy in Syria will be born not out of the threats from the U.S., the EU, or Israel, but rather out of the various struggles to get rich in a market economy that is spreading globally. 

One can already see indications of a growing market-based economy in Syria. The emergence of a private banking system and increasing foreign investment are evidence of a move toward free markets. Ehasni2 on this blog, for example, noticed how today’s young bankers in Syria are scrambling to pursue MBA degrees in order to keep their jobs. In order to sustain economic growth and strengthen a liberal economy that can continue to provide wealth, Syrian elites will sooner or later demand an independent judiciary and government institutions that favor fair trade and the rule of law – another democratic institution.  It is the beginning of Glasnost; the genie is out of the bottle.

If the West and patriotic Syrians are truly committed to liberal democracy in Syria, a call for a liberal economy should be the first and the loudest.  Bringing down the current government in the name of Hariri revenge, freedom-of-speech, Israel’s security, or any one of the smorgasbord of reasons supplied by neoconservatives in Washington and their surrogates everywhere will only delay Syria’s progress toward democracy.

Comments (34)

Bashmann said:

WordPerfect, this is a truly well articulated view of the reasons why democracy is lacking in Syria, however, I’m afraid I do not share your view in the outcome. The liberalization of the economy and the push towards an open market economy in Syria will only create an elite that will eventually clash with the titans of the regime’s biggest benefactors such as Rami Makhlof and companies. Rami and his special entitlement groups of investors have taken the country’s economy to a new level of corruption that is unprecedented in the history of Syria. If we take the yearly revenues from the Free Trade Zones and the cell phone company that he owns we can close the gab on the Syrian budget deficit in a couple of years. Rami and his Gulf States investors and partners have created a new class in Syria that feeds off each others and have mutual benefits in keeping the status quo in place. Therefore, your analysis is erroneous. I’m afraid Syria is an exception to the rule when it comes to natural democratic forces coming into play over the long run. Only when people inside Syria break free from the fear of the security forces and with the help of the international community in pulling the rug from under this regime in terms of international legitimacy can a true move toward democracy happen.


October 1st, 2007, 12:14 am


Bashmann said:

Sorry for the name, should have said Ford Perfect.


October 1st, 2007, 12:15 am


wil said:

Install democracy inside America first. But its not “democracy” neocons are shooting for- its power and control. They are going to ram the New World Order through under whatever gimmick/name (“national security”, democracy etc.) they can. Maybe more state-of-the-art, inhanced refinements in surveillance, torture and other democratic methods can help to bring it about. Like in the USA.

October 1st, 2007, 12:34 am


norman said:

Bashman, The inequalities between the poor and the rich can be decreased by taxation and spending the tax revenue on social programs and job training for the poor.
Makhloof company is in the growing mode which is needed in Syria to take and execute large contracts by Syrian companies instead of forign ones , but like in the US with AT@T and the oil companies they were broken when they became big and other players came to the market, That could happen with Makhloof company at the right time.

October 1st, 2007, 12:44 am


Jamal said:

Well said FP and thanks for putting it so well.

The evidence is there that economic imperatives are a stronger stronger force than ideology in a push for democracy. The crisis in Burma, for example, has come out of economic desperation, the undercurrents of opposition in Iran come from frustration at economic incompetence and so on.

FP wrote: “Creating conditions conducive for democracy takes time. Syria will only reach this maturity through an organic and stable government that is driven to adopt a liberal economy out of necessity.”

I’m not too sure about that. What Bashmann says is right. I don’t think they have it in them. The current regime in Syria lacks competence and credibility, to put it politely. Building institutions and running them even halfway effectively takes a hell of a lot of boring hard work, meritocracy, rule of law, to name just a few minor details…

This is not inconsistent with Norman’s hopes, but HOW?

October 1st, 2007, 12:48 am


Bashmann said:

Norman, To burden the population with additional taxation there has to be visible and tangible government services prior to taxation otherwise ones risk instability and violence. The government in Syria has barely made a single improvement in the infrastructure of the country in the last 6 years since Bashar took power, the latest evidence is the fiasco of the lack of electrical power in the country during this past summer season.
The recent article which was posted here by the Economist, clearly shows the government is flirting with the Value Added Tax idea and working on introducing it in the next year or so. However, I believe this will only inflame emotions of the poor against the government.

As for Makhloof, I’m afraid your comparison to a true Free Market economy as in the US is misplaced. Syria is not the US and what Makhloof and companies want becomes the law of the land. The collusion of power and money have never been so intimately shared as in the case in Syria.


October 1st, 2007, 1:09 am


norman said:

Bashmann ,
I do not know what you know about taxation in Syria but Syrians do not pay property Tax , free businesses rarely pay their fair share of income tax and for saying that Syria does not give anything to it’s people , that could not be further from the facts , Syria offers free college education , free health care might not be as good as in the US but free , Taxation does not have to be painful , we all pay taxes in the US federal tax , state income tax , Sales tax , and property tax , we get in return of all these taxes good army , no free education in college or free health care , and let me make it i am not calling for either , but in comparison Syrians get a lot more for what they pay than we do in the US , it is time for the Syrians who can pay to do so , so Syria could have better roads and traffic rules and better services , a Tax after the first fifty thousands Syrian pounds a year will safeguard against taxing the poor and a flat tax of 15% after the first 50,000 Syrian pounds paid in estimate tax every three months will give enough revenue to increase the services that the government can provide,
About the comparison of Mahklouf to the US we should remember the Rockefeller and the others who were dominant in the country in early years of the twentieth century.

October 1st, 2007, 2:01 am


abraham said:

I thought it was worth pointing out that Fukuyama has shed and disavowed his prior neoconservative theories. It doesn’t absolve him of his shared responsibility for the fiasco in the ME, but he is at least singing a very different tune these days.

Democratic change will come to Syria eventually. But whether it takes 10 years or 10 decades, I’d rather it come from within, and I certainly don’t want it to get the Iraq treatment.

As soon as outside powers stop meddling in ME politics and stop propping up the dictators in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan, and end their backing for the biggest problem in the area, which is Israel, democracy will naturally and organically sweep through the region as these petty ruling families are overthrown and killed or forced into exile, one by one. The people just need a chance, but as long as the US insists on hegemony in the region, they’ll never get it.

I am willing to wager that the Assad’s will relinquish control to a democratically elected government as soon as the threat from Israel evaporates.

October 1st, 2007, 2:53 am


Jamal said:

Good points about free services and tax, Norman.

One conspicuous problem in Syria is that there are a layers of lazy, unqualified regime-dependent people being paid a lot for doing very little, and there are far more (eg professionals in the teaching, medical, engineering and other sectors) who are paid very poorly and have their abilities and aspirations squashed under the fat backsides of the former group. These pathetically paid professionals are the ones who will sacrifice anything to get their kids out of the country to study and live abroad.

But how would you reverse that in Syria?

Imagine what a bang for the buck Syria would get if they ran all those free services even mildly efficiently, on merit and without corruption. (Things have tottered along thanks to the goodwill and good nature of Syrians, but this is starting to crack and collapse under the weight of Syria’s population growth, Iraqi refugees and fatigue, frustration and lack of hope of those who work in these services.)

But how could you organise that in Syria?

Imagine what a mega-bang they would get for their buck if they had a system which taxed those who could easily afford to pay. Something even roughly like the tax system in western democracies which functions on the expectation that it is gathered equitably and will be spent appropriately.

But how could you deliver that in Syria?

Even the slightest move in any of these directions would require depriving the “leaders” of their guns, security goons and patronage networks and turning off the unearned money tap. I can’t buy Abraham’s fantasy that the Assads would voluntarily pack their bags and move out of the palace once Israel is sorted out.

October 1st, 2007, 3:37 am


IsraeliGuy said:

A very interesting article, Ford Prefect.

However, I don’t believe that the economy will do it.
I mean, let’s see what happened in China in the recent decade or two.

No doubt its economy went through a massive revolution.
Did it bring liberty to the Chinese people?

October 1st, 2007, 3:51 am


Jamal said:

Israeliguy, many people are predicting that it won’t be long before fast-festering economic inequality brings about some kind of blowup in China. The Chinese authorities are openly worried but limited in their ability to change things to avert it.

October 1st, 2007, 4:07 am


AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

This is just another hoax that Sria is trying to pull. What is the best way to argue against sanctions? Try to convince feeble minded people that these stand in the way of democracy because the way to democracy is through liberal economy.

Personal enrichment? The Asads are interested in perserving power, not in getting wealthy. If they let go of their control, the Alawites will be steam rolled by the Sunnis. Liberal democracy will only create a strong Sunni middle class and bring the regime down even faster. Therefore, no need to worry that any such thing will happen in Syria.

October 1st, 2007, 4:29 am


Thomas said:

Ford Perfect:

I’m enjoyed your essay. It made sense in a lot of ways. You resisted almost to the very end the urge to blame all of the world’s problems on the “neoconservatives”. I find it ironic, however, that probably most “neocons” you speak of would wholeheartedly endorse your notion of a liberalized market driven economy.

October 1st, 2007, 4:44 am


Bashmann said:

Norman, I see that living in the US have rubbed you the right way, in a capitalist manner is what I’m referring to. Yet, I’m certain your views about the free medical services Syria offers its citizens would change quickly if you paid a single visit to a public hospital in Damascus, like the infamous Mouassa Hospital on the road to the Mezzah district.
A few years back, my aunt, bless her soul, came down with stomach cancer which was not discovered ‘till the disease had taken its toll on her body. My other aunt, knowing
she could not do much to her dying sister took her into this hospital while she was experiencing the most severe pain during her last few days on earth. After several attempts she was finally able to admit her into this fine public health facility, which is paid for and operated by the esteemed government as a service to the public as you state. A government paid doctor walked into the room and took a one minute look at my dying aunt sitting in her blood soaked vomit in a filthy hospital bed then turned to my other aunt and said “Why did you bring her here? Take her home, she will die in a day or two”.!!
That’s the free health care offered by the government which you refer to in your comment.

As for the education system, you might want to visit Damascus University one day if you get the chance, the 700 plus student class size will certainly leave a positive impression on you. The overcrowded public school system is only the beginning, the lack of qualified teachers and trained professionals and depleted school buildings and facilities, are another aspects of the ill-funded school systems. Well to do Middle-Class Syrian families have learned this fact years ago, therefore the private educational sector is the fastest growing in Syria.

True, Syria pride itself on offering all these fine services to its citizens, yet few “connected” citizens get the most out of it while the rest are suffering the mismanagement, bureaucracy, and corruption of morally bankrupted government employees who have lost their humanity in country that is being raped by a one family rule.

Taxing people when they can’t share in the decision making process of their communities, towns, cities, and country would bring disastrous consequences to the government. I’m sure that you are aware of “Taxation without representation” which started the American Revolution, remember? Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for it if the results would be similar in Syria.

As for your Rockefeller comparison to Mr. Makhloof, is far from reality. Rockefeller flourished in a democratic system built on independent institutions that allowed him to grow his capital into a power that could shake and move the country.
I’m afraid the same thing can not be said about Mr. Makhloof as you and I both know.

I agree with Abraham, democracy in Syria will eventually come from within, however without breaking the psychological barrier of the fear of the security agencies and without true homegrown disenchantment with the regime, do not expect much to happen in the near future. Unless of course the international tribunal surprises us all, only then things can develop on a faster pace.


October 1st, 2007, 5:08 am


majedkhaldoun said:

“flat tax of 15% after the first 50,000 Syrian pounds paid in estimate tax every three months will give enough revenue ”

50,000 syrian pound,is one thousand dollar, Norman are you talking about taxing the poor and the middle class,their salary is not enough to go through just a week, please do not talk about taxing these people,you need to increase their salary,seven time, not taxing them.
tax Makhloof at 10% and this will be enough for all of Syria.

could you tell me how many member in your party,excluding your family?
I adore liberty,just like all of us living in USA do,your party must have activities inside Syria,do you have any?

October 1st, 2007, 5:35 am


antika said:

as usual…writers write about the context they do not know…syria will never move to democracy as a must for change…iraq’s war is the factor and the development of communication…free economy in syria’s terms is enriching a gang of thieves at the expense of people… it is already happening..

October 1st, 2007, 10:26 am


t_desco said:

Syrian president tells BBC Israeli warplanes struck “unused military building” last month

Syrian President Bashar Assad told the British Broadcasting Corp. on Monday that Israeli warplanes attacked an “unused military building” in his country last month and said Damascus reserves the right to retaliate.

But Assad said his country was not about to attack Israel in response, suggesting he did not want to hurt chances at peace talks with the Jewish state.

The comments were the first by the Syrian leader about a mysterious Sept. 6 Israeli air incursion over Syria that raised speculation that warplanes had hit weapons headed for Hezbollah or even a nascent nuclear installation, reports Damascus has repeatedly denied.

“Retaliate doesn’t mean missile for missile and bomb for bomb,” Assad told the BBC in an interview in Damascus. “We have our means to retaliate, maybe politically, maybe in other ways. But we have the right to retaliate in different means.”

“But if we wanted to retaliate militarily, this means we’re going to work according to the Israeli agenda, soemthing we don’t look for. That doesn’t mean we squander any opportunity for peace in the near future,” he added in the interview, which was monitored in neighboring Lebanon.

But Assad said Syria was not about to attack Israel. Asked whether Syria was considering striking at Israel, he said “it’s possible, but we don’t say this is the option that we’re going to adopt now. We say that we have very different means.”

Previously, Syrian officials had said only that the Israeli warplanes entered the country’s airspace, came under fire from anti-aircraft defenses, and dropped munitions and fuel tanks over northeastern Syria to lighten their loads while they fled.

The BBC quoted Assad in the interview as saying the attack was on an “unused military building.” The BBC did not air that part of the interview.

Israel has clamped a news blackout on the incident. U.S. officials have said Israeli warplanes struck a target, wiht some saying it was a cache of missiles headed for Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas allied to Syria and Iran.

But at the same time, a senior American nonproliferation official said that North Korean personnel were in Syria helping its nuclear program, resulting in speculation nuclear installations had been targeted.

Syria and North Korea both denied the reports and accused U.S. officials of spreading the allegations for political reasons.

On Saturday, Syrian Vice-President Farouk al-Sharaa said everything reported so far about the Israeli air raid was wrong and part of a “psychological war” against Damascus intended to lay the ground for future attacks.

Asked in the BBC interview whether Syria was rearming and strengthening its missile capabilities, Assad said: “This is very normal and self-evident that we’re going to prepare ourselves for that.”

“That’s why you have the army, to defend your territory. We don’t build the army to make any aggression but defend our country, and this is normal — especially after the war on Lebanon last year, when we see the Israelis wreaked havoc on Lebanese cities in Beirut, in south of Lebanon,” he added, referring to the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel.

Assad also said Syria needs to know details of an international peace conference on the Middle East planned in the United States later this year before it decides whether to participate.

“This conference or any conference is going to be an opportunity but it should be purposeful. It should be substantive,” he said. “I don’t see where is the purpose and what is the substance of this conference. What are they going to talk about?”

“It needs more clarifications for Syria to take a decision,” he said.

“Concern is also growing in the CIA and the Pentagon that the White House exaggerated intelligence used to justify an Israeli air raid on a suspected nuclear facility in Syria earlier this month, which some neo-conservatives hope is a precursor to war with Iran.”
Neocons seek to justify action against Teheran
Daily Telegraph

October 1st, 2007, 12:31 pm


youngsyria said:

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October 1st, 2007, 12:32 pm


t_desco said:

UNDOF commander concerned about Israeli offensive build-up on Golan Heights

Berlin, 30 September – Major General Wolfgang Jilke, the Austrian commander of the UN Disengagement and Observer Force deployed on the the Golan Heights, voiced out his concerns over the continuing military build-up on the Israeli side of the 75-km long buffer zone. In an interview released to the German Der Spiegel, Jilke alerted public opinion to the danger of clashes breaking out due to Israel’s unpreceented concentration of troops and military build-up in the Golan Heights.

He stressed that contrary to what is currently being reported in the Israeli press, the Syrian side has not enhanced its troops’ deployment and has remained absolutely quiet, whereas the Israeli side is going into the fourth month of continuous build-up, involving a massive surge of military exercises and an enormous construction activity.

Furthermore, the Israeli army is digging many kilometers of trenches. According to observations of Jilke, the Israeli activities are clearly aimed at preparing for a military offensive involving heavy artillery and air force.
Arab Monitor

Kriegsgefahr in Nahost
29. September 2007

October 1st, 2007, 12:35 pm


mslevantine said:

But of course, free economy = free people. Brilliant insight Mr. Perfect.

Not to worry, rumor has it that Syria will be razed soon to make room for an inter-galactic highway.


October 1st, 2007, 2:04 pm


EHSANI2 said:

My friend Ford Prefect,

Long before the arrival of the Neoconservatives, Syria’s leadership has long resisted the forces of capitalism and free market economics. Having survived at the helm for close to half a century, the leadership seems to have adopted your view that “economic liberation can also act as a force for their gradual demise”. The longer the leadership survived, the more it believed in holding to the status quo.

While there is no denying that a certain amount of economic reforms have been embraced recently, it is important to highlight that the Syrian economy continues to suffer under the weight of an outmoded socialist ideology.

Promises of economic reforms have been fast and furious. Regrettably, the effectiveness and implementation phase of these promises have been at a snail pace. I have no doubt that the current leadership is not against economic liberalism per se. However, two conditions have to be met in the interim:

First, the heads of security have to be convinced that more economic liberalism is not negatively correlated with tight security (why take a risk will be their recommendation)

Second, the current economic bosses will have to accept sharing the pie with other agents in the economy rather than keeping the lion’s share for themselves (what is the incentive to share unless one is forced to?)

Adopting market economics is very straightforward. All you need is the will and conviction. I must admit that I am skeptical that either of the two exist at the leadership level today.

October 1st, 2007, 4:13 pm


Majhool said:

Ford Perfect,

Thank you for the great article. I totally agree with your statement:

“Why would the Syrian regime be forced to adopt and promote liberal economy? The answer is the self-enrichment and self-preservation of the regime’s elite”

Although I accept Ehsani’s reservations, I remain more optimistic in a sense that the pull-out of Lebanon, the stoppage of gulf aid, will continue to force the regime to open up the economy in order to create venues to 1) enrich the corrupt (now that Lebanon is closed) 2) finance gov operations.

You could already feel that economic forces are growing stronger and that their voices are being heard more by the ruling elite.

I have no doubt that this will widen the gap between rich and poor in Syria in the near future, however in the long term it will help create viable institutions and rule of law, etc.

I say, if we stay out of Lebanon, remain under international pressure and escape an American/Israeli lead invasion we will be on the right track.

October 1st, 2007, 4:40 pm


Trillian said:

Dear Ford PREFECT (not Perfect, although close!):

Thank you for your enlightening and well-written essay. I agree with you on a number of points, including that force is not the way to go to impose “democracy” on unwilling citizens in the Middle East.

I’m also wondering how much more the Syrian regime can accomplish domestically if so much of their time wasn’t wasted on defending itself against a constant barrage of unwarranted accusations and attacks from Israel, the U.S. and the international community. It seems that Syria is now the new “weapon of mass destruction” that the US/Israel propaganda machine is using to gear up to wage yet another campaign in the Middle East.

October 1st, 2007, 5:33 pm


Youssef Hanna said:

Prefect’s argument is smarter than many, especially by representing the author thereof as anti-regime, and advancing that all sanctions and isolation against the regime are sterile (shd be lifted?) so that liberal economy bear the fruit of democracy over a decade or two. Exactly as John Kennedy obtained from King Fayssal the abolishment of slavery, G.W.Bush and whoever will follow him shd maintain the pressure on the present dictatorship, particularly the international tribunal. Incidentally, this will force the Syrian regime to stop the assassinations, if they r perpetrated by the Syrian regime, and to effectively withdraw from Lebanon (not “stay out of Lebanon”, Majhool). The struggle between the Syrian model and the Lebanese model must turn in favor of the latter, so that democracy prevail over Old Syria.

October 1st, 2007, 6:08 pm


Alex said:

Youssef … you like the Lebanese model? … “so that democracy prevail over Old Syria”?

October 1st, 2007, 6:22 pm


Youssef Hanna said:

Alex, against the overwhelming majority of Lebanese democrats advocating mutual non interventionnism, Samir Kassir claimed that Lebanese democracy wd remain under threat as long as Syria is under dictatorship, and called for a cultural/political immediate and merciless counterattack in Syrian politics; Michel 3awn is no different from Syrian generals who dreamed of changing society through dictatorship in the sixties in Syria. I too do share the Syrian regime’s motto of “we7dat el massiir wal massaar” (between Syria and Lebanon): in our twin countries, one common political model will end up prevailing over the other, or there will be no stability.

October 1st, 2007, 8:22 pm


Majhool said:


The only viable democratic model for Syria to adopt is the parliamentary/secular system, something similar to that of the 40s, and 50s, or maybe to that in Turkey.

Lebanon’s democracy is not even viable in Lebanon (with or without Syria’s intervention).

On the other hand, what’s viable in Syria would be a Lebanon-like adoption of ATTITUDES such as freedom of speech, open economy, and social progress. I believe that what Kassir meant.

October 1st, 2007, 9:07 pm


abraham said:


Even the slightest move in any of these directions would require depriving the “leaders” of their guns, security goons and patronage networks and turning off the unearned money tap. I can’t buy Abraham’s fantasy that the Assads would voluntarily pack their bags and move out of the palace once Israel is sorted out.

It won’t be their choice to make. The options presented will be 1) leave peacefully or 2) leave in a coffin.

First, let’s take care of zionism and American hegemony. When that is done, then we take care of the Assads. On our terms.

October 1st, 2007, 9:48 pm


norman said:

The education system in Syria might not the best in the world but the students there are the best in Syria , I am a product of that education system , I went to medical school in Syria then came to the US , I passed my tests in the US mostly from i had at school in Syria with training in the US , what they need in Syria is more practical experience , high number of students in classes is not limited to Syria classes in Pen State and Rutgers are close if not as high as in Syria.
About health care , I agree with you it is terrible and that comes from price control the government uses to improve access to private health care only to push people who wants better health care to go to Lebanon like my uncle who had to go Lebanon so he can get Radiation therapy because as i was told that there is only one Radiation therapy center and that is in Damascus , That is embarrassing , Syria should lift price control on health care services and tax the proceeds at 15% and use the revenue to improve government’s provided health care for the poor , that will decrease the pressure on the government institutions and will encourage entrepreneur to invest in very expensive technology .

Majed ,
most Syrians live on 4,000.00 Syrian pounds salary a month so taxing after the first 50,000.00/ year makes sense as i think most Syrians are below that level and will not be paying any taxes , we can also use deduction for children and mortgages , all that will make it unlikely for more than 70% of the Syrians to pay any taxes .

October 2nd, 2007, 2:23 am


Roland said:

When I travelled in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt in 2005, I found little to indicate any distaste for modernity. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised by the level of enterprise and liking for innovation displayed by many people in all four countries.

With regard to religious fundamentalism, it is worth bearing in mind the important role played by fundamentalists in the development of popular institutions of government in both England and America. The very same people who banned plays and burned witches also ensured the supremacy of Parliament!

As for China, I’m afraid their government will do everything it can to incite Chinese nationalism, in order to foster unity in a society with deepening economic divisions. Launch people into space, host the Olympics, rattle the sabre at Taiwan, etc. Even though many Chinese have yet to benefit from the recent economic growth, nevertheless they can all take pride in the signs of national strength. Combined with the deep-seated cultural pride of the Chinese, these are tools that their government can use to fix internal political crises.

October 2nd, 2007, 4:10 am


Youssef Hanna said:

Majhool, you need to cajole the genie of confessionalism into the political system or he will get out of the bottle, as happened after decades of denial of confessionalism under Iraqi baathism. Fragmented societies like Belgium or Lebanon shd account for it in their political system unless a dictatorship by one of the communities is warranted eternal. While i sense the vulnerability of the lebanese system, i think it owes more to the social/cultural/economic disparities (pls note the present rift is only partially communautarian). In Syria, there will be no peaceful transition to democracy unless minorities, including the one now at the helm of power, r accomodated to accept it. This being said, i do agree that freedom of speech, open economy, and social progress, must come together, and disagree with Prefect’s skillfully disguised call for the lift of foreign pressure on the regime.

October 2nd, 2007, 4:30 am


Friend in America said:

In an interview broadcasted on BBC Monday evening, President Assad said the Israeli air strike hit an ” unused military building” and its contents were of “no significant importance.”

Within the last 24 hours Israeli military censors released a statement admitting Israel in fact did make an air strike on 8 September that hit a military target deep in Syrian territory. No further explanation was given.

These statements are more interesting for what was not said than what was said. For Assad, if there was no significant damage, an on site tour by the international press would result in a big win in international respect over israel. But he is passing that up- there has been no disclosure. What is his vulnrability? Maybe disclosing the equipment at that site would cause problems too hard to easily explain, such as existance of non conventional weapons or uranium enrichment equipment.

Israel would not engage in as high risk adventure as the raid unless israel considered it was necessary for Israel’s security. But, Israel passed up an opportunity to put Syria on the defensive regarding the activity in that building(s). Did Israel have a vulnerability? Maybe, or was it a voluntary give up? If so, why?

Here is one way the pieces of the puzzle might come together. Today it was revealed in Beijing that after 4 days of negotiations Noth Korea agreed to a detailed plan for the disassembly of its nuclear bomb faciities to commence this year. Dates for bringing work crews and international inspectors on site will be established next week but likely in November.
In this scenario, this is the key piece to the puzzle. At U.S.’s insistance Israel has kept a total silence on the raid because U.S. wanted nothing to jeprodise what was the then pending negotiations on disassembly. North Korea sent a similar request of silence to Syria beause it did not want the “fruits” for North Korea in the pending plan to be jeprodised.

The full explanation might not be revealed for a year but I think it will be more like months. We will just have to wait and watch. The world is getting smaller and smaller, guys.

October 2nd, 2007, 8:44 pm


Ford Prefect said:

Firstly, apologies for being away (can someone please contact my employer to let them know that I mean no harm and I need the time to blog on my beloved SC?) I have just returned from a long journey.

Secondly, many thanks to all of you who commented on this important topic. Being a humble ITer, I profess o direct political skills. However, it is high on my thinking that Syria needs to be preserved and protected from external dangers first.

Here are some thoughts and notes to the bloggers who contributed here. I am always obliged to your thoughts and knowledge.

Bashman: I hear you. Since the Ba’ath (modeled after Nazi doctrines) took over in 1963, fear combined with indiscriminate and ruthless oppression of any opposing idea (or person) did prevent many political actors from emerging. However, opposing ideas produced by a society with a low Human Development Indicators (HDIs), as is the case in emerging Syria today, will yield not to only pluralism (intended result) but also, I am afraid, to anarchy and chaos (unintended results). Why? Well, you will have to give immature ideologies and their political actors the same chance as those mature ones (but who is the judge, the humble masses?) In a developing society like Syria, where political institutions are not as entrenched as sectarian ones, dangerous liaisons will occur. In fact I still hear arguments coming from some educated Syrians of Alawites vs. Muslim Brotherhood. As if the “Alawites” is a distinct ideology. Political immaturity produces injustice.

Norman and Jamal: Even Makhloof and company will eventually need an impartial judiciary in this age of global consumerism. And I agree with Norman and Jamal. In fact, Jamal brought up an excellent point: how do you trust the discredited regime actors to steer Syria towards liberal democracy? (A question I am genuinely struggling with!)

Abraham, thanks and I agree. Fukuyama is one of my favorite political scientists (His writing skills are impeccable as well). While I disagree with his neo-conservatism ideals, I find his arguments highly intelligent and thought provoking. And yes, indeed, he has distanced himself from Fox News and the hypocrite neoconservatives. I would like to add my wager to yours – I believe you are correct.

Israeliguy: Your point is well taken, but I must say that while no democracy can be found in China, political liberalism (as defined by Bryce) and economical liberalism can be observed. I think China today, without a doubt, much better than it was 10 years ago. Is it enough? No. Is it a start? Yes. Cheers for your comment.

Thomas: you caught me with my hand in the cookie jar! Yes, not only necons will endorse the ideas of liberal economy; but also almost everybody else will. The problem we have today in the administration’s neocon junta is not their economic philosophy (which is mostly laughable but nevertheless harmless!) but their political agenda of rearranging the Middle East (in favor of Israel, that is). That is where their reckless incompetence starts to kill innocent people. For them to advocate war where fighting in battles is something they never practiced even in their dreams is a tragic misuse of American ideals and military resources.

Ehsani said it well: The Syrian economy, while it has experienced a “surge” in activities, remains ad hoc and short of any solid planning, liberalization, and real accomplishments. Why? Look at the cadre of skilled economic thought leaders in Syria. They are not there. Import them from their diaspora? Good luck. We are getting, as Syrians, what we are paying for.

Majhool, I see and sense Ehsani’s reservation just like you do. I have it in me as well. However, I agree with you that I like to look at the glass as being half full. And YES, by all means for crying out loud: STAY THE HECK OUT OF LEBANON. Learn from that huge tragedy and move on.

Trillian: Nice name! Are you a hitchhiker too?

Youssef Hanna. No comment from my end. Your argument is no making sense to me, at least. But cheers to commenting.

October 3rd, 2007, 3:38 am


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