News Round Up (2 May 2011) and Debate on “‘Doomsday scenario’ if Syria fails” by Sly

Is Syria really in the throws of a Jasmine revolution?
Produced by Shevonne Hunt, for Yhe Wire, a current affairs show in Australia.

There are more reports of the brutal crack down of protesters in the southern city of Dera’a… but with no independent media allowed in to the country… do we really understand what is happening in Syria? Featured in story: Dr Fiona Hill, anthropologist and long time visitor to Syria and Joshua Landis- Director of the Centre for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma.

Syria protesters given surrender ultimatum
Agence France-Presse, Damascus, May 02, 2011

The authorities in Syria on Monday set a deadline of 15 days for people who had committed “unlawful acts” to give themselves up, as a wave of arrests was reported across the country.

The ultimatum came as activists planned fresh anti-government demonstrations following the d
eaths of dozens of people in weekend protests.

In a statement, the interior ministry told “citizens who have participated in or committed unlawful acts such as bearing arms, attacking security or spreading lies to surrender by May 15 and hand their weapons in to the competent authorities.”

It also called on Syrians to “supply information about saboteurs, terrorists and arms caches… they will be spared any subsequent legal consequences.”

A military spokesman on Monday announced the arrest of 499 people in the southern flashpoint town of Daraa, a week after thousands of troops backed by tanks swooped on the town to crush protests.

The spokesman also announced the deaths of two members of the security forces “as well as 10 terrorists.” Eight soldiers were wounded and five gunmen waiting in ambush were arrested, the military added.

According to the opposition Syrian Revolution 2011 website, security forces on Monday at dawn also entered the Kafar Nubbol area, 320 kilometres (200 miles) north of Damascus, and took over houses and arrested 26 people.

The site urged Syrians across the country to mobilise every day at noon in solidarity with Daraa and all “besieged towns.”

“We say to this regime: ‘The court of the people will judge you’,” it said.

‘Doomsday scenario’ if Syria fails
By Liz Sly, Sunday, May , Washington Post

BEIRUT — The toppling of the presidents in Tunisia and Egypt precipitated a tumult of revolutionary fervor that promises to transform the Middle East, but the potential collapse of the Syrian regime could wreak havoc of a very different kind.

In Syria, the fall of President Bashar al-Assad would unleash a cataclysm of chaos, sectarian strife and extremism that spreads far beyond its borders, threatening not only the entrenched rulers already battling to hold at bay a clamor for democratic change but also the entire balance of power in the volatile region, analysts and experts say.

With Syria’s minority Shiite Alawite government overseeing a majority Sunni population, its strategic location and its web of alliances including the radical Hamas and Hezbollah movements, regime change could look a lot more like it did in Iraq than in Egypt — and the ramifications could prove even more profound.

“If the regime collapses you will have civil war and it will spread throughout the region,” engulfing Lebanon, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and beyond, said Hilal Khashan, professor of political science at the American University of Beirut. “A collapse of the Syrian regime is a doomsday scenario for the entire Middle East.”

Many believe that is why the international community, including the United States, has offered such a tempered response to the bloodshed in Syria, the latest Arab country to be swept up in the unrest roiling the region. NATO warplanes are bombing Libya to protect civilians there, but there have been no calls even for Assad to step aside, despite an increasingly violent crackdown by the Syrian military in which at least 550 people have died. On Sunday, hundreds of people were detained as the military swept through towns and villages raiding homes in search of those who participated in recent protests, human rights groups said.

Analyst Rami Khouri describes Syria as the Middle East equivalent of a bank that’s too big to be allowed to fail. “The spillover effect would be too horrible to contemplate,” he wrote in a commentary in Beirut’s Daily Star.

“The specter of sectarian-based chaos within a post-Assad Syria that could spread to other parts of the Middle East is frightening to many people.”

Part of the problem is that so little is known about what would come next should Assad be ousted. Egypt and Tunisia took great leaps into uncertainty when their regimes fell, but in each case the army, a known quantity, asserted its independence and seized power to oversee the transition.

In Syria, the army is so tightly bound to Assad’s Alawite clan that the fall of the regime would almost certainly lead to its disintegration, setting the stage for an Iraq-style implosion in which the state collapses, a majority seeks to exact revenge on a minority and regional powers pile in to assert their own interests, said Joshua Landis of the University of Oklahoma, who writes the blog Syria Comment.

“Syria is the cockpit of the Middle East, and a struggle for control of Syria would be ignited,” he said.

Implications for Iraq

It is the specter of Iraq, where U.S. troops are preparing to withdraw by the end of the year, that most haunts the Obama administration as it seeks to balance demands for a firmer response to the escalating bloodshed with America’s strategic interests, analysts say.

Syria shares a long desert border with Iraq that was for many years the chief transit point for Islamic extremists seeking to join the Sunni insurgency. Only recently, officials say, had the United States noted genuine efforts on the part of the Syrians to curtail the traffic, prompting the United States to return an ambassador to Syria in January for the first time since 2005.

“For the Obama administration, the last thing they want, just at the time they’re withdrawing from Iraq, is a destabilized Syria that would lead to open season for jihadis to cross the border into Iraq,” said David Lesch, professor of Middle East history at Trinity University in Texas.

Iraq’s own Shiite government also views with alarm the upheaval across the border, mindful that the collapse of Syria’s Shiite minority government would almost certainly herald the rise of a Sunni state on its doorstep, and perhaps renewed support for Sunni insurgents still resisting the Shiite ascendancy in Baghdad.

But Iraq is by no means the only country in the region looking askance at the Syrian upheaval. Israel has expressed misgivings about the tumult threatening its chief foe, which has reliably not attempted to recover by force the occupied Golan Heights for nearly four decades — something that could change if a populist Syrian government emerged.

Neighboring Lebanon has its own Sunni-Shiite divide that has long been delineated by pro- and anti-Syrian camps. They have fought one another on many occasions in the recent past, and it is inconceivable that Syria’s troubles would not spill over the border into Lebanon, Khashan said.

To the north, Turkey is concerned about the potential aspirations of Syria’s Kurds, who could seek to assert their identity and claims to statehood as Iraq’s Kurds did after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Iran has relied on its three-decade-old alliance with Syria to project its influence into the Arab world, and has no wish to see the country controlled by Sunnis. It would almost certainly intervene to support its Alawite allies, just as it intervened in Iraq to help Shiites there. The Obama administration has already accused Iran of helping Damascus repress the revolt.

And the Persian Gulf states, though long on frosty terms with Damascus, also are nervous about the prospect of sectarian conflict, which could leach into Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. For Saudi Arabia, there is also the worry that the assertion of Sunni power in Syria could inspire restive domestic Sunni radicals to intensify their opposition to the monarchy.

Unclear opposition

Yet little is known about who the opposition in Syria is, or who might take over should the regime fall — offering another reason that governments have been so hesitant to call for Assad’s departure.

The authorities have denied entry to the news media, and even before this latest unrest, visas were issued sparingly to journalists and academics, making it hard to know exactly who is behind the sudden, and for many unexpected, outpouring of dissent.

Syria has sought to portray its opponents as armed Islamic extremists intent on sowing sectarian strife, and indeed, the last time there was significant domestic unrest in the country was in 1982, when the Syrian army ruthlessly crushed an insurrection by armed members of the Muslim Brotherhood in the town of Hama, killing between 10,000 and 40,000 people.

Syrian activists bristle at the suggestion that their movement is dominated by Islamists, and say their revolution is no different from the one in Egypt, in which ordinary people spontaneously took to the streets to vent their frustrations with corruption, nepotism and the ruthlessness of the security forces.

“I feel disgusted by how the superpowers make these calculations based on their own interests, while my own people are dying on the streets,” said Mohammed Ali Atassi, a prominent journalist and filmmaker currently in Beirut.

“The Syrians will get their freedom, and we will decide, and the Americans and Europeans will have to accept our choice,” he said. “But in any case, democratically elected governments always go for a peaceful and rational foreign policy.”

‘Overexaggerated’ fears

Some analysts say there is indeed no reason to fear a transition in Syria, which has in any case long been blamed by the West for much of the instability plaguing the region. Predictions of the chaos that would ensue if the regime in Damascus were to fall “are way overexaggerated,” said Riad Kahwaji of the Dubai-based Institute for Gulf and Near East Military Analysis.

Syria has been implicated in the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, hosts the remnants of Hussein’s Baath Party facilitating the insurgency in Iraq, and enables Iran to ship weapons to Hamas and Hezbollah through its territory. A new regime could prove far more moderate, Kahwaji said.

Yet Syria’s long history as the master manipulator of the Middle East may be another reason that the world is reluctant to alienate Assad. With its long record of sponsoring multiple, shadowy extremist groups in pursuit of foreign policy goals, the Syrian regime is also in a position to unleash considerable chaos across the region should it feel unduly threatened, analysts say.

And that, according to Khashan, the American University of Beirut professor, makes it unlikely the Syrian regime will fall. “Because, to tell the truth, no one wants it to fall, including Israel, the U.S. and the gulf states,” he said.

Arab leaders pressed to break silence on Syria
By Roula Khalaf in LondonPublished: May 1 2011 20:18

Pressure is mounting on Arab governments to take a stance against Syria’s brutal crackdown of the popular uprising at a time when western states are adopting initial sanctions to isolate the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

The Arab League played an instrumental role in facilitating the international military intervention in Libya, with its call for a no-fly zone. But while the US targets figures in the regime with sanctions and the European Union prepares similar measures, the League has issued only a general statement saying peaceful protesters in Arab states deserved “support, not bullets”….. “The silence is embarrassing,” admits one senior official in the region.

Handing Jihadis Cause
Assad says fundamentalists are behind the unrest. They’re not. But his iron fist could bring them home.
by Nibras Kazimi for Newsweek

When Syrian army tanks stormed the southern town of Daraa last week, a military spokesman explained that the assault targeted “extremist terrorist groups.” The justification fell in line with the media campaign propagated by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime ever since countrywide protests began more than a month ago: behind the demonstrations are jihadists.

The reality is anything but. In fact, the popular uprising has followed on the wider revolt that has rocked the Middle East since January. In Syria, too, it has erupted, in large part spontaneously. What little coordination that has happened has come from human-rights activists and young, Internet-savvy professionals taking their cues from the astonishingly effective model on display in Egypt. The human face of it all, as evidenced by the left-leaning intellectuals and spokespersons talking to the outside world, has been secular and democratic. If there was indeed a jihadist element active in all this—as the regime claims—any role it has played has been nothing more than marginal. Even the former long-serving leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Ali al-Bayanouni, said last week in a television interview with Alhurra that “none of the opposition groups can claim ownership of this youthful revolution.”

That is hardly the message Assad’s Damascus wants the fence-sitters to see. His regime would like to face these protests with the same coalition—urban Sunni bourgeoisie, Christians, and heterodox Muslim sects—that his father cobbled together almost 30 years ago to face down a threatening Islamic fundamentalist insurgency. That showdown culminated with the smashing of the central city of Hama during a three-week battle in February 1982, leaving tens of thousands killed. Hafez Assad’s triumph brought on nearly three decades of stability.

It is ironic that the regime has worked assiduously to erase the battle over Hama from the country’s collective memory, as it would like nothing more than what happened there to be remembered now. Today, Bashar al-Assad would like to go to battle against the very same fundamentalist bogeymen his father fought back in the 1980s. Such a specter would sufficiently scare vested interests and confessional groups within the country, bringing them around to his side. And if the enemy were just an ideological shade away from Al Qaeda, the West would not intervene, but instead would let Damascus do its dirty work.

That’s not to say there aren’t Syrian jihadists. To the contrary, actually. In the years following Hama, successive generations of Syrian fundamentalists joined the jihad; they just did so abroad. Abu Musab al-Suri became Al Qaeda’s chief tactical theorist, bouncing around the globe before he was arrested in Pakistan. The prolific London-based writer Abu Baseer al-Tartousi turned out to be one of Al Qaeda’s leading ideologues. Many young Syrians joined Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi in Afghanistan and later in Iraq, helping him rise to infamous heights—some even became Zarqawi’s top aides. There’s no doubt much of this happened with the connivance of Syrian authorities, which allowed jihadists to wreak havoc in places where their nihilism converged with the regime’s own interests in fomenting mayhem: radical Syrians abroad were able to stick a wrench in Iraqi and Lebanese affairs when it saw fit.

Damascus, meanwhile, figured the risk of blowback was minimal, or, at worst, manageable. So far it has been. Save for the attack on the U.S. Embassy in September 2006 and a car bomb at a security checkpoint two years later, news from Syria has been devoid of any jihadist-inspired headlines.

What’s most important, though, is that by invoking the threat of jihadists as cover for his crackdown on Arab Spring protesters, Assad risks drawing jihadists back into his country. Further brutality on demonstrators may look, on television screens in the West, like just another Arab strongman squashing dissent. But to militant expatriates, the scene is different: officers from the minority Alawite Shia sect beating down on a Sunni majority. The perception will drive anti-Shia jihadists back to Syria. Meanwhile, the regime will work to draw frightened minorities and urban Sunni merchants into its fold. Sectarianism, historically rife in Syria and known to anyone who has experienced life under the Assads, is the fast-burning fuel that could quickly spark what would surely be a vicious civil war.

The jihadists, should they return, would come with a fury. In past years, security sweeps have kept control over most Islamic fundamentalists who had come home to roost. Take the shadowy outfit that called itself by the same name that al-Zarqawi had adopted for himself at the onset of his jihad. It made two audio releases a few months apart in 2007 laden with threats and grandiose visions. But it couldn’t galvanize followers (perhaps there weren’t enough to be rallied in the first place). In the end it was all smoke, no fire.

But a new crop of militants has been battle-hardened by Iraq. And the arid lands of western Iraq, abutting the Syrian border, could quickly become a Waziristan-like haven from which they could restock munitions, raise funds, and train new recruits. Sunni Iraq has ejected Al Qaeda but will likely sympathize with these Syrian insurgents for sectarian and cultural reasons. After all, the people on either side of the border of the Euphrates Valley, and farther north toward the lands west of Mosul, are indistinguishable by accent, tribal affiliation, and sect.

According to a well-placed Iraqi security source, the man who seems poised to lead a potential jihad in Syria—the 43-year-old Abdel-Hakim Ali Ashayish al-Ugaili—is a native of the Syrian town of Dayr az Zawr, which lies a short drive from Iraq’s Anbar province. He is a veteran of Chechnya, Bosnia, and a bunch of other jihadist hotspots. For the last few years he’s been working between Syria and Baghdad.

These ties matter. Daraa lies on the northwestern rim of the Hawran plain, mirrored by the lands of northern Jordan in the southeast. It was in that corner of Jordan that al-Zarqawi was born and reared in a cultural ecosystem that is itself indistinguishable from Daraa’s.

What happens in Syria won’t be easily confined to its own borders. The spillover effect would mean that Jordan, where a shaky monarchy is trying to stay a step ahead of popular demonstrations, would be pulled into the chaos. Another flash point would be the Sunni enclaves in Lebanon that border Syria. Lebanon has been simmering with Sunni-Shia tensions for a while, and in the last few years Sunnis and Alawites have sporadically clashed in the north with light arms and mortar barrages. All more than enough for serious concern.

Assad has called out the jihadists as his enemy of choice. The rhetoric may not represent reality, but the jihadists would like nothing more than to oblige. Strategically, Syria would be an ideal cauldron in which militants could fan the flames of a jihad that is dying out in Iraq and Afghanistan. What Damascus doesn’t realize is that the rougher the repression on the Arab Spring, the more it is instigating a jihadist campaign of violent vengeance. It has a real chance at success. And the West, despite its reluctance, will then have to contend with multiple Fallujahs sprouting within striking distance of the Israeli-held Golan Heights.

Kazimi is the author of Syria Through Jihadist Eyes: A Perfect Enemy (Hoover Press).

From an Aleppine Reader:

My dad just traveled back to Turkey from Aleppo this AM. Here are his high level observation:
– Arab media is sensationalizing the event so much. He said during the “Friday of anger”, he stayed home fearing turmoil, but there was sooooo little problems in Halep compared to what the media reported the next day.
– His tribal business partners who are from Halep could care less about who is in power. They want the economy to prosper. He deals with three business partners who have ~8-10 kids each. So economy is all what they care about.
– He said Daraa is not representative of what is happening in Syria and that God helps us all if Deraa is representing the Syrians view point.
– the public opinion in Turkey is with a reformist Assad. They want him in power but not as is.
– He believes that Assad has no choice but to reform and he thinks it is still possible. (I am surprised with his point of view because dad was very hawkish on this issue).

The people our dad deals with are the microcosm of the Aleppo Sunni business establishment. 6 brothers own a whole block of stores in the heart of the city’s commerce hub.


Anatomy of a failed public sector: Syrian Tire Company

A friend of mine imports tires from Turkey to Syria because tires made in Syria are inferior in quality and much too expensive. They are all made by a government subsidized and controlled company. He writes: “It has lost close to syp one billion. How the country can keep pouring good money after bad into this industry is astonishing. Rather than an urgent debate, the horror show continues. Read this article in Arabic in Watan.”

Qunfuz writes in the comment section:

Those worrying about sectarian civil war should oppose this regime as strongly as they can. The unleashing of the Alawi shabeeha, the massacres of the people, the Israeli-style house demolitions, the torture and mass arrests, the non-stop lies about Salafis – these will make sectarian war inevitable. The only chance to stop it is for these gangsters to be removed urgently. If the people can organise politically, openly, around practical issues, the sectarian poison can be treated. Certain members of the Syrian minorities are looking at Syrian Sunnis in the way Iraqi Sunnis looked at Iraqi Shia. Those people on this site and elsewhere justifying and openly encouraging the murder of innocent, freedom-loving Sunnis should examine themselves.

It’s interesting to see the defences of the regime and the debunking of opposition claims. I suppose not many other sites are doing it. But it’s very one sided indeed. For news about the crimes this traitorous regime is committing, one has to look elsewhere.

Robert Fisk should have retired years ago, but these interviews with refugees driven from Tell Kalakh are good.

Quote: “Even before the shooting started on Wednesday, the military and the plain-clothes gunmen spent some time separating Sunni Muslims from the Alawi inhabitants, telling the latter to stay in their houses – as good a way of starting a local civil war as you could find in Syria.”

Comments (63)

Akbar Palace said:

Is it possible that living under the thumb of the Assad family IS the “Doomsday Scenario”? Freedom, with all its uncertainty, may be a lot better than what the regime supporters are saying.

May 2nd, 2011, 11:14 am


Mohammed Kanj said:

Qunfuz. – i live I’n the city of Homs , and we all know about the inhabitants of tell kalakh. They are smugglers and thugs who trade illegally I’n between the Syrian and Lebanese borders. They deal with weapons and drugs and diesel. Robert Fisk is just a puppet for harriri and co. He has no clue what he is talking about. Maybe you should watch the video of the tell kalakh protestors shouting out sectarian words ” allawis go to the coffin and Christians go to beirut”. I’m a Sunni Muslim and when i heard that chant by the protestors I’n tell kalakh i like the majority of Sunnis distanced ourselves from them. We are Syrian first and foremost and 2nd i am a Sunni . The residents of tell kalakh , bab omr, khaldieh, baydieh, are all known I’n the Homs area as being thugs who have no respect for authority and others. Thank god for the Syrian army

May 2nd, 2011, 11:14 am



Because of a group of suckers from Tell Kalakh (that today are smugling against the regime as yesterday did it proregime) we have to conclude that all the causes, reasons and effects of the revolution as well as all the people fighting for freedom and wellfare are senseless and invalid?

There are people, too many in this forum, that use any excuse to discredit the revolution and try to give life to the dictatorship by any means.

I understand that during 40 years many people living in Damascus have reached good clientelist relations but please think about millions and millions of people in suburban and agricultural zones that are coming to you to let you share…

May 2nd, 2011, 11:43 am


Ayman said:

The Freedom Movement Comes to Syria
It is unlikely that the Gadhafis and Mubaraks could have entertained thoughts of succession for their sons had they not seen the ease with which Syria became an odd creature—a republican monarchy.

It was inevitable that the caravan of Arab freedom would make its appearance in Syria. It was there, three decades ago, that official terror hatched a monstrous state—and where practically everything Arabs would come to see in their politics in future decades was foreshadowed.

Hama was one of the principal cities of the Syrian plains. With a history of tumult and disputation, this Muslim Sunni stronghold rose against the military rule of Hafez Assad in 1982. The regime was at stake, and the drab, merciless ruler at its helm fought back and threw everything he had into the fight.

A good deal of the center of the inner city was demolished, no quarter was given. There are estimates that 20,000 people were killed.

After Hama, Hafez Assad would rule uncontested for two more decades. Prior to his ascendancy, 14 rulers came and went in a quarter-century. Many perished in prison or exile or fell to assassins. Not so with that man of stealth. He died in 2000, and in a most astonishing twist, he bequeathed power to his son Bashar, a young man not yet 35 years of age and an ophthalmologist at that.

By then Syrians had fled into the privacy of their homes, eager to escape the ruler’s whip and gaze. Rule became a matter of the barracks, the ruling caste hunkered down, and the once-feisty republic become a dynastic possession. Assad senior had come from crushing rural poverty, but the House of Assad became a huge financial and criminal enterprise.

Around Bashar Assad were siblings, cruel and entitled. At the commanding heights of the economy were the Assad in-laws, choking off the life of commerce, reducing the trading families of yesteryear to marginality and dependence. And there was the great sectarian truth of this country: The Alawis, a mountainous community of Shiite schismatics, for centuries cut off from wealth and power, comprising somewhere between 10% and 12% of the population, had hoarded for themselves supreme political power. The intelligence barons were drawn from the Alawis, as were the elite brigades entrusted with the defense of the regime.

For the rulers, this sectarian truth was a great taboo, for Damascus had historically been a great city of Sunni urban Islam. That chasm between state and society, between ruler and ruled, that we can see in practically all Arab lands under rebellion was most stark in Syria. It is unlikely that the Gadhafis and Mubaraks and the ruler of Yemen could have entertained thoughts of succession for their sons had they not seen the ease with which Syria became that odd creature—a republican monarchy.

When the Arab revolutions hit Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen, Bashar Assad claimed that his country would be bypassed because it was the quintessential “frontline” state in the Arab confrontation with Israel. Let them eat anti-Zionism, the regime had long thought of its subjects. Tell them that their desire for freedom and bread and opportunities, their taste for the new world beyond the walls of the big Assad prison, would have to wait until the Syrian banners are raised over the Golan Heights.

But the Syrians who conquered fear and doubt, who were willing to put the searing memory of Hama behind them, were reading from a new script. Bashar could neither hear, nor fully understand, this rebellion.

He sacked a subservient cabinet and replaced it with an equally servile one. He would end the state of emergency, he promised—though a state of emergency that lasts nearly half-a-century is a way of life.

But a new country is emerging from hibernation. When the Assads came into their dominion nearly 40 years ago, Syria was a largely rural society with six million people. The country has been remade: It has been urbanized. Some 15 million people have known no other rule than that of the Assads and their feared mukhabarat, the secret police. From smaller provincial towns, protests spread to the principal cities. The cult of the ruler—and hovering over him the gaze of his dead father—had cracked.

In the regime’s arsenal, there is the ultimate threat that this upheaval would become a sectarian war between the Alawites and the Sunni majority. Syria is riven by sectarian differences—there are substantial Druze and Kurdish and Christian communities—and in the playbook of the regime those communities would be enlisted to keep the vast Sunni majority at bay. This is the true meaning of the refrain by Bashar and his loyalists that Syria is not Egypt or Tunisia—that it would be shades of Libya and worse.

Terrorism has always been part of the Assad regime’s arsenal. It killed and conquered its way into Lebanon over three decades starting in the late 1970s. It fought and bloodied American purposes in Iraq by facilitating the entry of jihadists who came to war against the Americans and the Shiites. And in the standoff between the Persian theocracy and its rivals in the region, the Syrians had long cast their fate with the Iranians.

Under Bashar, the Syrians slipped into a relationship of some subservience to the Iranians—yet other nations were always sure that Syria could be “peeled off” from Iran, that a bargain with Damascus was always a day, or a diplomatic mission, away. It had worked this way for Assad senior, as American statesmen including Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton were confident that they could bring that man, at once an arsonist and a fireman in his region, into the fold.

The son learned the father’s tricks. There is a litter of promises, predictions by outsiders that Bashar Assad is, at heart, a reformer. In 2000, our emissary to his father’s funeral and to his own inauguration, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, praised him in such terms. He was part of the Internet generation, she said.

But Bashar is both this system’s jailer and its captive. The years he spent in London, the polish of his foreign education, are on the margin of things. He and the clans—and the intelligence warlords and business/extortion syndicates around him—know no other system, no other way.

“We need our second independence in Syria,” an astute dissident, Radwan Ziadeh, recently observed. “The first was the freedom from the French and the second will be from the Assad dynasty.” Would that the second push for freedom be as easy and bloodless as the first.

Mr. Ajami is a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is co-chair of the Hoover Working Group on Islamism and the International Order.

May 2nd, 2011, 11:51 am


S.A. said:

As much as I enjoy reading all the different views in this blog, I was really unpleasantly surprised to see that Mr. Ajami’s hate filled article was actually posted. I have heard Mr. Ajami speak many times on CNN and wondered every time whether he was paid by the utmost haters and enemies of Syria to say what he ususally says in his very colorful language. I suppose he has nothing to lose and everything to gain by unleashing all his hate analysis to the right audiences who get all their foreign education from Fox News and CNN.

I just wanted to say in brief that coloring the whole Arab speaking countries in the same color is a pretty shortsighted way of looking at things. Every time I heard Ajami speak in the past he always said the same thing and surprisingly enough he even talks about the Arabs like they were all one bad race that he has nothing to do with. In addition to being highly inaccurate, simplistic in his analysis and adding no new information to the news that one might get from Fox News, CNN or even maybe some Israeli news agency, he also talks in racist tones.

I wonder how he got his degree from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies! Maybe he earned his degree in hate speech and his professor was a Neocon or the like.

May 2nd, 2011, 12:22 pm


why-discuss said:

Some of Fouad Ajami friends and declarations…

Ajami had significant political influence with the George W. Bush Administration. Condoleezza Rice was known to summon him to the White House for advice, and former Bush Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, a friend and former colleague at SAIS, paid tribute to him in speeches on Iraq.[22]

… Ajami was an outspoken supporter of the Iraq War, the nobility of which he believes there “can be no doubt”.[1]

About Tunisia and Egypt: [Bush] can definitely claim paternity…One despot fell in 2003. We decapitated him. Two despots, in Tunisia and Egypt, fell, and there is absolutely a direct connection between what happened in Iraq in 2003 and what’s happening today throughout the rest of the Arab world.[20]

May 2nd, 2011, 12:32 pm


Sophia said:

I simply do not read Fouad Ajami. He is a shallow scholar who compensates for his shallow scholarship by sailing with the winds. There are a lot of his kind, in all countries and political parties. It is a waste of time to read these people.

May 2nd, 2011, 12:44 pm


why-discuss said:

In Europe in 1968 there has been a wave of protests in Berlin, Tokyo, Berkeley and many countries worldwide, the most important were Prague and France. “May 1968 was a political failure for the protesters, but it had an enormous social impact” It brought back De Gaulle in power triumphant, yet it triggered many changes.
It impacted the whole Europe and brought new movements on the forefront and changes.
I see many similarities in the wave of protests in arab countries.
The role of TV back in 1968:
“Television, so influential in forming the political identity of this generation became the tool of choice for the revolutionaries. They fought their battles not just on college campuses but also on the television screen by courting media coverage.”

May 2nd, 2011, 12:50 pm


why-discuss said:

Talking about a Revolution: An Interview with Camille Otrakji

May 2nd, 2011, 12:55 pm


Souri333 (formerly Souri) said:

Robert Fisk, Fouad Ajami… what great names. Robert Fisk claims to be expert on the region, but he really knows nothing other than the typical Western prejudices. He is just a hater. I don’t trust his accounts. It is obvious from the way he interprets the Tell Kalakh incident how biased he is.

May 2nd, 2011, 12:59 pm


Mouna said:


Thank you really so. Dr Ajami is an arch hawk indeed but this time he got it right.

{One man, having described detainees from the town who had returned home with their nails ripped out and their beards burned off, broke down in tears. “We will never cease our struggle until we bring Assad down,” he cried. “For 40 years, we have not been able to breathe.”}

May 2nd, 2011, 1:36 pm


Aboud said:

Mohamad Kanj, kindly post the link to the video where you think you heard the inhabitants of Telkelakh saying the slogans you claim.

Mr Landis, Fisk’s account of events in Telkelakh are absurd. There was no massacre. The town has a number of smugglers who have been well armed for years now. At a demonstration, the ill disciplined security forces present in the town tried to disperse the crowd with live gunfire, and the idiots were shot back at for their troubles.

A massive firefight ensued, with Bashar’s armed thugs turning tail and running out of the village, proving once and for all that the Shabiha are not soldiers, they are not fighters, they are thugs with weapons, and if there was really a Salafi armed insurrection, there would have been nothing to stop them taking over the country.

The following day there was an orderly exodus of people from the village, but by now they have all come back. I find the line about people’s beards being burnt as particularly absurd. Even the town’s sheikhs don’t sport much of a beard.

May 2nd, 2011, 1:59 pm


majedkhaldoon said:

The death of Bin Laden has lifted the spirit of american,and increased the chance of Obama to be re-elected.This would improve the likelihood that troops will be pulled out of Afaganstan,and this explain the recent trip of the secretary of defense to that area.
The set back Gaddafi has sustained in Libya,means he is realizing more and more that He must leave Libya.
As far as Syria,I expect to hear and see major statements ,things will be different next week,I hope Assad will understand that what USA says ,USA means.

May 2nd, 2011, 2:34 pm


ziadsoury said:

Here is the contact information for the interior ministry.

Per their request, I did my duty as a Syrian citizen and called them and reported the criminals in this article

You guys should do that.

May 2nd, 2011, 2:41 pm


Mina said:

Like in Somalia and Iraq?

May 2nd, 2011, 2:45 pm


ziadsoury said:

Al Jazeera and other media outlets conspiracy:
It looks like Al Jazeera and the rest are conspiring against Al Qaida today. They are giving Syria a break. LOL.

May 2nd, 2011, 2:45 pm


s.s said:


Mr. Majedkhaldoon:

Only Sunnis’ are feeling sympathy for the killing of this dog. This criminal called Bin Laden. Minorities are cheering his death. I brought you some evidence from your beloved Aljazeera for your attention. USA knows that Syria now is anti terrorism. Your MB will be feeling sad now I guess.

Look at these shameful comments

ورقلة الجزائر
والله العظيم حرام على امريكا فابن لادن رجل عظيم
abdrahman bachir
tora bora
بسم الله الرحمان الرحيم في إطار حملة الثأر لإستشهاد الشيخ أسامة بن لادن ستقوم قاعدة الجهاد بضرب مكاتب الجزيرة في أي مكان و زمان لتمجيدها للأمريكان و الصهاينة في تغطيتها للحدث
حسبي الله و نعم الوكيل يالله المستعان ياعرب على هذي المسخره الله يرحمك ياشيخ الجاهدينو اسكن جنة الفردوس وكلنا اساااااااامة
toufik brahimi alger
إن كان صحيحاً فكلنا ميّتون وإن كان كذباً إن تلك لُعبة جديدة تضاف للألاعيب السابقة والمراد منها احد شيئين والأول منهما هو الأقرب 1- حتى ينسحبوا بأمان من أفغانستان ( بعد الهزيمة هناك ) ويقولوا جئنا لقتل أسامه فهانحنُ قتلناه وانتهت مهمتنا 2- حتى يُشغلوا الرأي العام عن الأحداث الحاليّة(فلسطين وانتفاضتها والمصالحة)(سوريا) (ليبيا)
إنا لله وإن إليه راجعون اللهم أجرنا في مصيبتنا واخلفنا خيرا منها….أسد من أسود الله صال وجال نشهد بأنه جاهد في الله بماله ونفسه حتى أتاه اليقين…عاش عظيما ومات عظيما….ألم ترو رهبة الناس منه وهو مقبور في البحر…اللهم إغفر له وارحمه .
نعي لشهيد البطل اسامة بن لادن
السلام عليكم انا المواطنة الليبية بتول البركي المقيمة في مدينة بنغازي الحره اتقدم بأحر تعازي الي اسرة الشهيد البطل المغوار أسامة بن لادن شهيد الامة الاسلامية

May 2nd, 2011, 2:46 pm


Stephen said:

Since WWI the Syrians have been told that they are unfit for democracy by outsiders like the Turks, the French, the English. The Ba’ath Party does not believe democracy is good for Syria. But the underlying rationale for all the naysayers is preserving their own self-interest. The Syrians should not listen to the naysayers and the doomsday analysis from the analysts, including Mr. Landis. It is high time democracy came to Syria. The Syrians will know what do with it, because the Syrians are fit for democracy. Any one who says otherwise is selling something.

May 2nd, 2011, 2:48 pm


ATASSI said:

Mohammed Kanj
I am form HIMS “Homs” and I report you are lair, The The residents of tell kalakh , bab omr, khaldieh, baydieh are Poor BUT they are very honest , hard working, FORM HOMS and will bring your regime down very soon.
This is what your Assad regime portray as a good person..
Shame on you … and you are NOT sunni, NOT Alawi ..You are a lair.

May 2nd, 2011, 2:50 pm


jad said:

“the naysayers”!
Know how to write it first before sharing with us your priceless comment.
“Any one who says otherwise is selling something.”
I guess we know who is selling ‘something’ here..we are not buying what you are selling, try another bazaar

May 2nd, 2011, 2:56 pm


Stephen said:


What in god’s green earth are you talking about? You are spewing gibberish. Do you have any thing of of substance to say?

May 2nd, 2011, 3:22 pm


Jad said:

Naysayers reads like Nousayres, a sectarian word about the Alawite sect.
My bad.

May 2nd, 2011, 3:27 pm



JAD has nothing of substance to say, just try to defend it fix ideas whatever it happens around (stealing, deaths, torture, massacres, drama…). And he is the one that orders when the conversation finishes, beware. Good night and good luck for those of you who are in Syria.

May 2nd, 2011, 3:28 pm


Stephen said:

It appears that Syria will not transform in one season like Egypt, Tunisia and perhaps Libya. Although Libya might take a few seasons as well. But Syria will take a few more years, I believe. As such, I think the U.S. and its allies should use their influence and the regional and international institutions to help the protesters beat back the regime — to soften the response — so that dissent may be prolonged. I think former Ambassador Khattouf was correct when he said that the protesters will need a larger base of support to change the regime. That base of support will come in due time. Therefore, international pressure should be asserted on the regime in order to give the protesters time. In order to allow an open expression of dissent from time to time without the deadly reaction by the regime. In that way, Syrians will feel safer over time to express their dissent and their desire for democracy.

May 2nd, 2011, 3:38 pm


Jad said:

Sandro the fake outlaw
Go back to the cage I made it for you and shut it!
Besides, didn’t you write that syrians deserve what they have so why you came back interfering with Syrian issues?!
Again shut it!

May 2nd, 2011, 3:39 pm


Stephen said:

No problem, JAD. The word Nusariyes has given rise to much confusion in the past, such as the whole fable about the Hashashin, or Assassins, in Syria. And I have no idea what position the Nusariyes take in this whole matter. I expect that a majority of Syrians are willing to look beyond sectarian, clan and family rivalries in favor of making a prosperous Syrian state.

May 2nd, 2011, 3:42 pm


Solitarius said:

Mashalla alaik Atassi

“The residents of tell kalakh , bab omr, khaldieh, baydieh are Poor BUT ”

It’s one thing that Kanj did not write those names perfectly, but it’s something else that you copied them wrong faithfully.

the area are Talkalakh (written as one word), BABA Amr (Or Amro) and not bab, khalidieh (correct) and Al Bayyada.. as in the egg layer or the whitner.. not al baydieh?

And I second what Kanj said. Every Homsi knows what Talkalakh people do for a living, and especially what the rest in Baba Amro (Mostly Bedouin and drug dealers), AlBayyada and Deir B3albi..
The Khaldieh, Bab el Sba3 and Bab El Dreib people I cannot comment on. But these are poor areas in Homs that certainly have seen lots of economic hardship and I salute their stance for the rights and freedoms however we have heard of troubling slogans also coming their way. Till this day we haven’t seen any supportive movement from any of the middle/upper class Homsi people (Except during the sit-in at the New Clock)

May 2nd, 2011, 3:42 pm


Jad said:

Again my bad, but lately we are reading lots of sectarian comments that need to be stopped, this is why I react to your comment when I missread the word Naysayers. I apologize 🙂

May 2nd, 2011, 3:48 pm




I read you message before I leave home. People like you and like most of syrians in this forum defending the killing of syrians is what motivates me the most. I will keep interfering in the syrian issues because I have a lot of motivation to do it. I will interfere until the day I die. No one, israeli or pseudosyrian, can stop while I am alive. So, open your mind or put your head under earth because times are changing. By the way, why are you interfering in Lebanon, Irak, or United States politics? Are you lebanese, iraki or american citizen? Also, please notice that I may be syrian and nothing probes that you are a syrian.

Now, finally, good night and good luck. I Swear not to check any answer. There is no internet in my cage.

May 2nd, 2011, 3:51 pm


Solitarius said:

Stephen at 26: I expect that a majority of Syrians are willing to look beyond sectarian, clan and family rivalries in favor of making a prosperous Syrian state.

I hope so. But unfortunately it might not be the case. never was even before the events. Perhaps the people of Aleppo and Damascus have moved on slightly, but Sunnis will always look at down at the Alawites and consider them unworthy of what they have and what they have accomplished. This is most evident in fault lines in cities that have mixed populations such as Homs and the coast. Christians have the advantage sometimes of being able to speak honestly to both Sunnis and Alawites (or more accurately, listen to what THEY say). Frankly neither party speaks highly of the other.

Whoever says Syria is ready for democracy is just being a dreamy idealist. Democracy doesn’t come from vacuum. Europe accomplished democracy after long years of struggle and pools of blood and built it on specific ideas that defined equality and citizenship.

I don’t think the smugglers of talkalakh and the sectarian/hatred driven populations of i-don’t-know-what-little village near Homs are going to be the foundation of democracy in Syria. instead, the will ruin it for the rest of us with their use of violence and stupidity.

May 2nd, 2011, 3:52 pm


why-discuss said:

“It is high time democracy came to Syria. The Syrians will know what do with it, because the Syrians are fit for democracy. Any one who says otherwise is selling something.”

It’s so simplistic. Democracy is not an event, it is a long and tedious process. Please name me one single Arab country where there is democracy or even half a democracy, Qatar? Iraq maybe, Lebanon, Egypt? Any model of a democracy in a moslem country worlwide?

May 2nd, 2011, 3:56 pm


Akbar Palace said:


Which statements did Ajami make that you consider “hate filled”?

May 2nd, 2011, 4:01 pm


norman said:

Anybody knows , how many people in each district in Syria

May 2nd, 2011, 4:02 pm


Aboud said:

@27 Solitarius

“Till this day we haven’t seen any supportive movement from any of the middle/upper class Homsi people”

Wrong. Very very wrong. Last Friday there was a sizeable demo at the Ghota area, near the Gardenia roundabout, a very upper class neighborhood. And I find it peculiar that you would dismiss out of hand the massive protest at the New Clock, which so scared the regime shitless that they expended more ammunition in dispersing it, than anything they would have used on the Golan.

May 2nd, 2011, 4:04 pm


jad said:

Norman, you can get the numbers from the previous post,
here they are:

Governate Population* ( in millions)
Damscus (City) 1.648
Damscus (Subrubs) 1.711
Aleppo 5.315
Homs 1.977
Hama 1.938
Latakia 1.161
Deir ElZor 1.511
Hasaka 1.445
Raquah 0.903
Swaydaa 0.46
Daraa 1.011
Tartous 1.011
Qunaytira 0.904
Tartous 0.446
Idlib 1.865
Total 23.306

May 2nd, 2011, 4:08 pm


norman said:


I thought Damascus is bigger than Aleppo now you and Alex moved West,

I mean districts not cities like what we have in the US or Canada,

May 2nd, 2011, 4:13 pm


Atassi said:

@27. Solitarius

Please read this..
I am form HOMS, We are from the middle/upper class Homsi people and We support the movement. The only reason you are not seeing more form Al Hamara, Gouta, Al inshaat and Al Waar area.. Because of the brutality of the regime and the killing…More will be stepping out soon…
Robert Fisk:’We will never cease our struggle until we bring down Assad’
Mon, 02 May 2011

Something terrible happened in the small Syrian town of Tel Kalakh. At the most it was a massacre of 40 civilians; at the least a day of live-firing into unarmed protesters, torture, arrests and panic. Almost half the Sunni Muslim population fled over the river frontier into Lebanon, babes in arms, old people in wheelchairs, pushed through the shallow waters of the Nahr el-Kbir.

Perhaps 4,000 of the Syrian Sunnis made it to the safety of Lebanon to be given food, shelter and blankets by relatives and by strangers and they were there yesterday – 80 living in one house alone scarcely 20m from Syria, desperate to praise the kindness of the Lebanese, fearful of the things they had seen, ferocious in their anger against their president.

One man, having described detainees from the town who had returned home with their nails ripped out and their beards burned off, broke down in tears.”We will never cease our struggle until we bring Assad down,” he cried.”For 40 years, we have not been able to breathe.”

The men responsible for the killings in Tel Kalakh were members of the Syrian army’s 4th Brigade – the same unit, commanded by President Bashar al-Assad’s little brother Maher, that is besieging the southern city of Deraa – along with government snipers and “shabiha” thugs from the Alawi mountains. Dressed in black, the latter spent some time, according to Syrian refugee women, tearing the veils off girls and trying to kidnap them.

Tel Kalakh, which lies 20 miles due west of the rebellious city of Homs, had a population of 28,000 – 10,000 of them Muslims, the majority Alawi Shia, the same group to which the Assad family belongs. Even before the shooting started on Wednesday, the military and the plain-clothes gunmen spent some time separating Sunni Muslims from the Alawi inhabitants, telling the latter to stay in their houses – as good a way of starting a local civil war as you could find in Syria. Then they shot into the crowds, firing also with tank-mounted machine guns into homes on both sides of the main streets.

None of the Syrian adults would give their names or have their photographs taken but they spoke with fury of what had happened to them six days ago. Several claimed that their protests against the Assad government started two months ago – an intriguing assertion which suggests the first rural protests in Syria may have begun weeks before the world knew what was happening – but that the protesters, all Sunnis, had been protected because of the intercession of the respected Sheikh of the town’s mosque, Osama Akeri.

But last Wednesday morning, armed men seized the sheikh from his home and the Sunni Muslims of the city poured on to the streets.”We were shouting ‘independence – give us freedom and independence’ and they came in tanks and opened fire, the shabiha shooting at the men at the front; everyone started running but they went on shooting at us from the tanks and people fell everywhere,” one man said.

“The tanks completely surrounded the town. People were running away into the fields, the babies screaming, trying to get to Lebanon.”

In sight of the village of Arida Sharquia – on the Lebanese side of the border and linked to Syria by a stone bridge – many women and children were stopped by a military checkpoint, but it appears that men from Tel Kalakh set the roadblock on fire.

For three days, the Sunni Muslims fled their town, many creeping from their homes at night as shooting continued across the streets – the entire military operation a miniature version of exactly the same siege that is crippling Deraa – and some men had the courage to return from Lebanon with food for their families. Others did not dare. Tel Kalakh – just like Deraa – is not only surrounded, but all electricity and water supplies have been cut.

So fearful were those who had avoided the killings that they hid in their homes for more than 24 hours, too frightened to attend the funerals of the dead.”We didn’t want to risk being killed again,” another man said, apologising for not being able to give me even his first name.”The close families of the dead went to the cemetery and some old people. That was all.”

One of the 40 dead was Muntaser Akeri, he said, a cousin of the arrested sheikh. Villagers tell different stories of the events. Shooting apparently went on for more than 24 hours and it was only on Thursday that some of the men dragged away in buses and cars by the “mukhabarat” secret police came back.

“Some had had their fingernails torn out and the ones with beards had had them burnt off,” another man said.”There were so many soldiers and plain-clothes police and thugs that we couldn’t escape. The Alawis didn’t join our protest. We were alone.”

Arida lies on both sides of the border of Lebanon – Sharquia means “east” and the western side of the town – Arida Gharbia – stands scarcely 20m away across the river, inside Syria.

Along with the refugees, it is also a smuggling centre – indeed,children were bringing barrels of Syrian propane gas across the river yesterday – and it was possible to talk to Syrians on the other side of the water. So close to Syria are the refugees that while I was talking to them, my Lebanese mobile phone kept switching to the “Syriatel” mobile system in Damascus, the message “ping” constantly – and ominously – drawing my attention to the words “Welcome to Syria… for tourist guide, dial 1555. Enjoy your stay.”

But the men and women – and the hundreds of children – from Tel Kalakh have torn the lid off any such fantasy. Here at last were Syrians who had just fled their town, talking for the first time of their suffering, free of the mukhabarat, abusing the Assad family. A few had tried to return. One woman I spoke to walked back to Tel Kalakh yesterday morning and returned in the afternoon, shouting that it was a “hostile” town in which it was impossible for the Sunni Muslims to live. Many of the men said that all government jobs were given to Alawi citizens of Tel Kalakh, never to them.

There is, of course, room for exaggeration. No one could explain to me why so many soldiers were being killed in Syria although they said their own protests had been totally unarmed. Shooting is still heard at night on the Syrian side of the frontier, a phenomenon that has persuaded the Lebanese army to send night patrols through the orchards and olive groves on the Lebanese side. Just in case the Syrian military is tempted to chase in hot pursuit of their own refugees.

May 2nd, 2011, 4:18 pm


jad said:

اعترافات ابراهيم المسالمة قائد المسلحين في درعا

May 2nd, 2011, 4:29 pm


Stephen said:


Democracy is absolutely an event. It’s called an election. A free, fair, open election. Yes, of course, democracy requires multiple elections over many years and through many conflicts to be called successful. But you have to start some where. There were large-scale movements towards constitutional democracy in the Middle East prior to WWI, so the idea of democracy is not new to the region. It is my opinion that the state system that was created following WWI, particularly in the Middle East, is one of the primary reasons we do not see democracy in the Middle East today.

In carving out the states of the MIddle East, the Entente Powers also carved out an exception from the nascent system of states, and that exception was imperialism — the right of stronger, western states to interfere in the politics of weaker, non-western state. The primary example of that interference is oil, and the interference that has taken place over the last century to secure access to it, including the position and/or acceptance of authoritarian regimes in the MIddle East. The second example is Israel.

I do not subscribe to the view that the reason we don’t see democracy in the Middle East is some flaw in the Arab-Muslim peoples. I know too many who know and want democracy to believe there is such a trait, or lack of traits, in that region. That said, I understand the power that sectarianism has in the region. But it can be overcome. Syria has spent too long in the shadows. It is a strong state, but not a prosperous state. Syria has been willing to trade prosperity in order to keep itself strong and a political power in the region. But power alone will no longer assure Syria its position in the region. The Ba’ath Party is digging a hole for itself with this crackdown. It is deligitimizing itself. I believe the harder the Ba’ath fights the protesters, the harder it will fall. In falling, a political vacuum is sure to exist, since the Ba’ath occupied the entire political space. That is why time is needed. Time for the Syrians to understand that it is their own best interest to rise above their petty sectarian and clannish points of view and start thinking like a nation of one people — Syrian people. But that won’t happen without the discussion that dissent brings. So I believe the more protesting the better.

May 2nd, 2011, 4:33 pm


Solitarius said:

Aboud at 34

You are right I stand corrected. There was a Ghota demonstration around al gardinya but i can’t independently verify it or verify who exactly was part of it. I wouldn’t mind seeing the video but I certainly heard about it and was pleased to hear about it. Nothing will please me more than to see the REAL reasonable voices of Homs take over and control what’s going on in a civilized manner. Unlike the bullshit that we saw at Nadi al doubat and elsewhere

re the sit in at the clock. I agree and I think i mention it. It was a very nice thing but I think people didn’t know when to end it. The details in the final hours are still fuzzy. But I know for sure that security was extremely careful and cooperative until the final hours when the final 1000-1500 of protesters demonstrated that all they wanted was to topple the regime. What happened next was a crime but the severity of it, the extent, and the circumstances i think will be unknown for a little while to come.

the security were not brutal during the sit in for the largest duration of time. it could be understood if people wanted to peacefully demonstrate they were allowed. however not at this stage with the current development of events. I wouldn’t demonstrate personally because i understand that the regime considers the current events as a direct assault on the nation.. so knowing their stance i know what to expect.. i’m just being pragmatic and reasonable. there is a right time for everything. the violent demonstrators and foreign-backed or hatred-backed elements ruined it for everybody.

May 2nd, 2011, 4:39 pm



A Lebanese response to the chant “Alawis to the coffin and Christians to Beirut”.
By Mr. Tony Marouni

May 2nd, 2011, 5:00 pm


Aboud said:

Attassi @ 37

My friend, Fisk’s account of what happened in Telkelakh is wrong. There was no massacre. The 4th Div are nowhere near Telkelakh (it was the 11th division that was tasked with surrounding the town). In fact, in the firefight more security personal were wounded than their opposition.

I am not an apologist for the regime, but nothing of the sort that Fisk described actually happened. There was a demo, which someone shot at. Being well armed from years of smuggling, some inhabitants shot back. The security forces retreated and then tried to re-enter the town at night. There was a massive exchange of fire, and the security forces withdrew again.

The next day people were allowed out of the village, and the government negotiated with a delegate, that the army would withdraw, if no more demonstrations took place. This being Telkelakh, the young men promptly went out and demonstrated anyway.

Things are back to normal, it is by no means a “ghost town for Sunnis”. Sheikh Usama Al-Akari was released and was happily denouncing the regime from his Friday prayers pulpit two days later.

Would there have been a massacre had the security forces managed to overcome the resistance they met? I hope to God we never have to answer that question.

But please keep in mind that Telkelakh has been awash with small arms for years, it is not a new development.

May 2nd, 2011, 5:00 pm


Qifa Nabki said:


Why aren’t you over at coming to Alex’s defense? 😉

May 2nd, 2011, 5:16 pm


NAJIB said:


The death of Bin Laden has lifted the spirit of american
I hope Assad will understand that what USA says ,USA means.

and ‘they quickly buried him in the sea’ 🙂 only hillibillies believe or lift their spirit with such things.

If Bush did not impress Assad , why would bankrupt Obama?

you go to hell with your threats OK. whatever USA means.

Syria is Strong.

May 2nd, 2011, 5:24 pm


jad said:

خرجو الله لا يئيمو، لكان في حدا سوري مع النظام بروح لعند بلوغ 14 اذار بدو يجادلون! بيستاهل
اليكس الله يسامحك على هلعملة!

May 2nd, 2011, 5:36 pm


Alex said:

Why Jad? : )

Don’t worry. most of them I bored them to death … it is 8 pages long. Only the brave few read it.

Thanks for the link Dr. Landis.

May 2nd, 2011, 6:06 pm


Shami said:

It’s good thing that we eventually saw on Syrian Comment how deep is the hatred of paranoid minority members towards their environment.

May 2nd, 2011, 6:09 pm


Mark A. said:

First, I am by no means an expert on Syrian History or economic development, but I have a few observations.

I failed to find data that would confirm my hunch that Syria has less natural resources per capita than Turkey or China. What is clear from the numbers is that Syria has much less industry than Turkey or China. Syria’s Labor force – by occupation: agriculture: 17%; industry: 16%; services: 67% (2008 est.). Turkey’s Labor force – by occupation: agriculture: 29.5%; industry: 24.7%; services: 45.8% (2005). China’s Labor force – by occupation: agriculture: 38.1%; industry: 27.8%; services: 34.1% (2008 est.) – data from the CIA Factbook.

Syrians are poor. According to the CIA Factbook: GDP – per capita (PPP, 2010 est.): Syria: $4800; China: $7400; Turkey: $12,300. I could not find any hard data on income distribution. My impression from a business trip to China last month is that China also has an income distribution issue and there is a lot of unhappiness among the “have nots.” However the Chinese, at all economic levels I spoke to, are happier today than under Mao and especially the Cultural Revolution. Also there is a feeling that China is moving ahead so I don’t feel that people want to dismount an economic “winning horse.” Turkey is clearly winning compared to Syria in economic metrics and is still on ascendancy. Turks may be unhappy with a particular party in power but they aren’t going to revolt against the system that is “bringing home the bacon” (with apologies to my “halal” friends).

My point is any talk of Syria adopting the “Turkey model” or the “China model” needs to be underpinned by massive industrial growth. Syrian government policies do affect the wealth generated and how it is distributed. I understand why people are willing to protest against the government for “a better life.”

Political rights are not high in Syria, China (e.g. Tibet) or Turkey (e.g. Kurdish). For sure there are some Syrians who have hate for the government based on abuse they suffered in the past. It is obvious that they will protest against the government to “change the government”. To these people it is a nuance that Bashar isn’t Hafez. However I believe as long as an individual hasn’t been tortured, has some discretionary income and savings, their willingness to protest for political rights is not as high as if they were dirt poor. My point is a government that enables economic advance buys good will and tolerance from the people.

My observation is that Syrians enjoy greater minority rights and religious freedoms than the Turks or the Chinese. Of course there are some who would actually want to see the religious freedom reduced, the likes of the Muslim Brotherhood who has as its slogan “Islam is the solution” and/or Wahhabism that advocates purging Islam of “impurities”. I understand why these people would want to protest and ferment social disorder, for them this uprising is a golden opportunity not to be missed. It is a well-worn trick for a few confederates to join in a peaceful protest, provoke the security services and precipitate a violent crackdown. I suggest that those protesting for “a better life” need to watch out that their efforts don’t get high jacked by a few bent on Radical Islam.

There is another group who will benefit from a change of government, and those are the individuals who will take power in the new government. A post in the new government will be the opportunity to accumulate more money in a few months than possible to make via hard work in business or industry in a lifetime. How would one go about this? This is a classic long odds scenario. An algorithm would be to become vocal about the government, flee the country for London or Washington, spent lots of time drinking coffee in a swank cafe with friends, form a foundation or committee, get charity, oops, I mean grants and contributions, make grand plans, give interviews and hang around for something to happen. A must have is a website and/or Facebook account. If revolution never happens, it is not that hard of a life. If revolution happens, you can wait out the messy parts, safe in London or Washington. Then once the blood has stopped flowing you can make a triumphal return to take your rightful place in the government. The most difficult decision you would have had to make is what color to use as a background on your website. I suggest that those protesting for “a better life” need to watch out for individuals “helping” the revolution from a safe distance.

The case against the government is clear. Of course there are things outside the government’s control like droughts, youth bulge, actions by neighboring countries, international commodity prices. However economically, Syrian has not prospered. I believe economic improvement is more important than political rights. A Syria with freer speech and the right to vote would still be a poor country in a drought with a youth bulge and a lack of inward investment.

The case for the government (Bashar) is also clear. I believe that civil war, assassinations, ethnic cleansing and property expropriation are a real possibility. These have gone in four of Syria’s boarding countries, Lebanon, Palestine/Israel, Iraq and Turkey (against the Kurdish and Armenians). I see no reason to believe “it can’t happen here”. Once started it could spiral out of control quickly. There will be no external power to stop it. It could get very bad. For those protesting “a better life” they need to be aware there is a potential downside of change.

My preferred way forward, short of putting me in charge, would be for Bashar to:
1. Strengthen the court systems. A fair and impartial court system is a prerequisite for economic growth.
2. Establish Capital Punishment for corruption. Okay, this is extreme, but China uses it to keep control.
3. Establish a cabinet for economic growth. For too long under Hafez the cabinets have been around politics and the military. Bashar hasn’t distanced himself enough from this legacy.
4. Break up the monopolies. Enable competition based on price, quality, and availability. “The Sin in Syria is Low Wages” by Ehsani October 17, 2010 here in Syria Comment is one of the best articles I have read on the subject.
5. Curb the “super wealthy families” and allow more to obtain wealth. Currently Syria is akin to a Russia model with their oligarchs where as the China model has more competition. The point is in Syria the “super wealthy” use their position to stifle competition, which is counter productive to growth.
6. Emulate Turkey for economic growth; they are the “hot” economic growth engine in the neighborhood. It is interesting that the uprising is strongest in the south, away from Turkey.
7. Cut a deal with Israel, or at a minimum present a reasonable plan and make the Israelis look incalcitrant. (The government should “leak” transcripts of the negotiation about the Golan to Wikileaks so the world can see the positions of the two countries and realize that Syria made real concessions only to have the negotiations torpedoed by the Israelis). While the Golan is an important issue, catching up with Turkey’s $12,300 GDP per capita is an order of magnitude more important.
8. Limit presidential terms. This will allow people to wait it out and not feel compelled to take to the streets.
9. Set a bold target like applying for associate membership in the European Union in 2020 (Turkey applied for associate membership in the European Economic Community in 1959).
10. Keep a tight lid on Radical Islam.

May 2nd, 2011, 6:09 pm


ziadsoury said:

May 2nd, 2011, 6:16 pm


jad said:

To those who think that Aljazeera will give break to Syria, no worries, they wont, out of the main 8 news they have on their website, 4 about bin laden and 4 about Syria, I guess there are no news anywhere else in the world.

May 2nd, 2011, 8:28 pm


tarek said:

Now that you saw how the minorities feel, We should ask ourselves, Why do the minorities like president Assad and the Baath party, Is that because of the benefit they get, the high power jobs, The economic privileges that are allowed only to them,

I wounder if you can figure that out by yourself as if you can, then you would isolate the president and his Baath party, and entice the minorities to join your cause, I doubt it .

May 2nd, 2011, 8:30 pm


why-discuss said:

Qifa Nabki

Thanks for the invitation, I am in total agreement with the realistic and thorough analysis of Alex. I am not interested in interacting with people who, contrary to Alex, are motivated by very narrow ideas and ambitions: revenge, idealism, sectarism etc… No, really I prefer to ignore them and I think there is nothing to defend anyway.

May 2nd, 2011, 8:48 pm


Real Syrian said:

Are you proud of Bin Laden????… Before inviting US to invade Syria please try to know what is running around…..Syria and US are real partners in fighting terrorism….Days will prove this idea….Do not fell happy.

May 2nd, 2011, 9:04 pm


why-discuss said:

On the Al Jazeera english web page, the daily “Syria Blog 2 May” that was empty has suddenly being removed. It looks that NOTHING was reported by the protest organizers on 2nd May that was worth noting.

May 2nd, 2011, 9:05 pm


Jad said:

Dear WD,
Check the Arabic site.
Now Ardoghan is threatening the regime using Hama massacre, I doubt that the regime will commit another Hama, that will be suicidal to all Syrians.

May 2nd, 2011, 9:25 pm


majedkhaldoon said:

The one who call himself Real syrian

Bin Laden did us harm,in USA, He killed many innocent people,for that I do not support him, may be you do, I doubt it.
US is not a friend of Assad,but he will kiss US feet to be his friend,all what he care about is to stay in power, that is why he is killing his people,He doesnot know democracy he is continueing his father way,the great butcher,Hafez Assad,who did nothing good to Syria,and did not respect the people freedom,nor he get us back the Golan, nor he achieved unity with any Arab country,he brought us severe corruption, and he changed Syria to a country where small group of Alawite control the rest of the people,and treat us bad,he and the people he brought deserve severe punishment,time will come where they are punished for their crimes,and the people who support him.
The Baath party has nothing to do with the current people who call themselvs Baath,what we have now is oppurtunistic people,they will be in jail soon,they stole money ,they have to return it,every drop of blood ,syrian lost , will be the oil to ignite the fire of this revolution,every cry of torture will be the anthem of future Syria, Syria the free,Syria the justice.

May 2nd, 2011, 11:12 pm


Real Syrian said:

Thank you to be clear in everything…….your message has arrived….
Do you think that the time of Safar Barlik is coming back???????????
You intend to punish the Alawaite people who treat others bad????????
I think that you do not know what is inside Syria……Alawaite people are good people who had suffered a lot from the radical Islamic groups….After 50 years of freedom I think they will not surrender easily to the radicals who want to eradicate them.
Most Alawaite people are poor and have no benefits from the regime,they live in peace with the good Sunni people and all other minorities….
My dear If you intend to control Syria …Be away from this language….God protect us from another Iraq.

May 2nd, 2011, 11:45 pm


Mick said:

I have lots of contacts and exchanges with people. But this accidental e-mail was quite funny:


In your article you described the 4th Brigade as attacking Talkalakh. I told you it was the 4th Division! You really are getting senile. It looks really bad when people see a supposed authoritative statement that can’t even get the unit right. People might start to doubt that you have a grasp on reality.

Tomorrow, when I tell you that Asif Shawkit is meeting with Osama, don’t get it wrong.


May 2nd, 2011, 11:48 pm


why-discuss said:


This is what Erdogan said. He is obvioulsy worried that Deraa would turn into another Hama and he is right. No one wants that. I don’t think Bashar would do that foolish act. I guess he has the situation under control

Turkish Premier Says Turkey does not Want Separation of Syria
Monday, 2 May 2011

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said, “Turkey definitely does not want separation of Syria. And Syria should not allow any attempts that could pave the way for separation.”

Erdogan told a TV program on Sunday, “we have friendly and historical relations with Syria. Following the developments in northern Africa, we felt uneasy whether those developments could trigger similar incidents in our region. During my latest visit to Damascus, I shared those concerns with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. I urged him that the emergency rule imposed in Syria for more than 40 years should be ended. President al-Assad did not voice any opposite views, but he failed to take the necessary steps. In the end, Syria has come to this point.”

“We have opened the border crossing with Syria to let Syrian people in. We cannot close the door to them. But, we have also taken a series of measures,” he said.

“Turkey definitely does not want separation of Syria. And Syria should not allow any attempts that could pave the way for separation. It is people’s freedom we are talking about. President al-Assad should assume a determined attitude in this struggle for freedom. He declared that the emergency rule was lifted, but the decision should be put into practice. People should not be killed,” he said.

Erdogan referred to corruption in Syria, “we are ready to do our utmost to assist Syria in its combat against corruption.”

“Eventually, the UN Security Council will discuss the incidents in Syria. Syria should not face another massacre like the one in Hama in 1982. I urged President al-Assad to be extremely sensitive about it. If such a massacre is carried out once again, Syria cannot deal with its consequences. Because, the international community will display a harsh reaction. And, Turkey will have to fulfil our responsibilities in such a situation,” he added.

May 3rd, 2011, 12:04 am


majedkhaldoon said:

real syrian
I said a group of Alawite, I did not say all the Alawite,Yes I know a lot of Alawite are underserved,I undertsnd there are four group of Alawite, but what I was talking about are Assad family and As-ad family and their close friends who are helping Bashar, I consider the rest of the Alawite are innocent from Bashar crimes.

May 3rd, 2011, 12:06 am


Mina said:

How else do you call it? When al Jazeera broadcasted the B al Assad speech where he announced the lifting of the emergency law, the law for the creation of parties etc, they had a red banner on the bottom of the screen less than 2 mn after the end of the speech with “Syrians call for more demonstrations”.
Which Syrians? 3 anonymous guys on Facebook? (i was reading Twitter on that day during the speech and it was no more than 5 anonymous guys there). So what kind of source?

And why is the Western media not giving proper coverage of the hundreds of thousands Yemeni in the streets? Isn’t it that in one case, the West would like a bigger market for its productds (there is an economic crisis in the West, in case you missed it), while in another, it is afraid for the trade roads on the Red Sea?

May 3rd, 2011, 2:15 am


Mina said:

Being a rare report on the events of Daraa these days, it would deserve some subtitles. Or is clumsiness to stay in the Syrian gov for ever? The guy doesn’t look like he fell in a Saddam-owned jail.

May 3rd, 2011, 2:31 am


S.s said:

we have a bin laden supporter here who is trying to defend himdelf as not being so. All you write reflects your sympathy to some one like bin laden who reflects your idiology and logic. you language holds a lot of terrorism in its lines as well. well done real syrian for uncovering this person

May 3rd, 2011, 7:38 am


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