News Round Up (22 Aug. 2012)

Qadri Jamil, Syrian Deputy PM, Claims Assad ready to discuss resignation

In a press conference that followed a meeting with the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow, Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil said that all issues can be discussed during direct negotiations with the opposition and even ready to discuss Assad’s resignation. This follows in a long line of offers by the Russians and the Assad regime to offer negotiations to the opposition, which has continually insisted that the regime is simply playing for time attempting to shift blame.

Sectarian violence sparked by the conflict in neighboring Syria has erupted in the Lebanese city of Tripoli, with at least eight killed and 75 wounded in clashes between Sunnis and Alawites.

The Free Syrian Army says it controls more than 70 percent of Aleppo. The death Toll yesterday reached 250 according to the opposition with calimed it had killed at least 50 army soldiers – (Damascus: 115, Aleppo: 56, Daraa: 33, Deir Azzour: 17, Homs: 12, Idlib: 5, Latakia: 4, Hama: 3, Suwaida: 1)

The Free Syrian Army captured the state security headquarters, a police station, a military checkpoint and a tank in the Deir Azzour suburb of Mayadin.

Once Deir al-Zur, the capital of the North-eastern region falls to opposition forces, the Syrian government will have lost control of the Jazeera, the region beyond the Euphrates river, which produces much of Syria’s cash crops, such as cotton as well as staple foods, such as wheat. It is also the main oil and gas producing region of the country. The Kurdish parts of the Jazeera have already fallen out of government control and into the hands of the Kurdish Communist Party. It will not be long before most of the Arab tribal regions are lost to the government. The tribal leaders have been the focus of government largesse, diplomacy, and intimidation in an effort to keep them from joining the opposition, but most Arabs in the region are angry at the government for its long neglect of the East, which suffers from widespread poverty, joblessness, and lack of government investment.

Syrian rebels say aid from the United States has been slow to arrive.

Risks of Syrian Intervention Limit Options for U.S.

WASHINGTON — Despite President Obama’s warning to Syria not to use its arsenal of chemical weapons or allow them to fall into the hands of extremists, the administration’s options for intervening remain limited by what its officials have described as a simple calculus: It would make the conflict even worse.

American military operations against Syria, officials reiterated on Tuesday, would risk drawing in Syria’s patrons, principally Iran and Russia, at a much greater level than they already are involved. It would allow Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, to rally popular sentiment against the West and embolden Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups now fighting the Assad government to turn their attention to what they would see as another American crusade in the Arab world.

Syria’s deputy prime minister, Qadri Jamil, made the point in Moscow on Tuesday, dismissing Mr. Obama’s warning, and declaring that any foreign military intervention would lead to “a confrontation wider than Syria’s borders.”

At the same time, Mr. Obama’s remarks underscored the fact that there could be limits to the American reluctance to intervene. But it would require a threat to American interests and values that a civil war inside Syria by itself does not: a nightmarish attack using chemical weapons or the transfer of those weapons to hardened enemies of the United States and its allies, including Israel, which the president mentioned on Monday.

“We say it for deterrence effect, of course, but it’s also a reality,” one official said Tuesday, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the administration’s internal strategy deliberations. “The United States is not going to be able to sit it out if Syria starts using chemical weapons on its people.”

The Syrian Foreign Ministry pledged in late July that its stockpile of chemical weapons would be used only against foreign intervention, and that it would “never, never be used against the Syrian people or civilians during this crisis, under any circumstances.”….

Independent: Robert Fisk: ‘No power can bring down the Syrian regime’

But a halo of brown smoke embraces the horizon and the driver knows better than to follow the motorway signs from the airport. He turns left, gingerly bouncing over the broken median rail, then between two huge piles of rocks like a frightened cat. …

I asked one of the Syrian military elite here if he had any reaction to US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, who announced two weeks ago that Aleppo would be “a nail in Assad’s coffin” and that of the regime. This was the officer’s reply: “The Syrian regime will stay for ever. No power on earth can bring it down. All regimes will fall – but Syria will stay, because God is on the side of those who are in the right.”…

But access to the Syrian army can sometimes produce a factoid more powerful than statistics. Ahmed, a 21-year-old conscript, tells me how his brother, Private Mohammed Ibrahim Dout, was “martyred” by a sniper. His comrade says: “We are sorry for our brother soldier, but he is now in paradise.” A General tells me of a friend, a Lieutenant in the full-time Syrian army in the Damascus suburb of Douma: “He was married three months ago and was walking to his home in Douma when some men in a van greeted him and offered him a lift.” Lieutenant Assem Abbas, 23, accepted the gesture in good faith.

“We found him later,” the General says, “cut into two pieces and thrown into a sewage tank.”

In Syria, the Soap Opera Is a Casualty of War
Published: August 17, 2012

IN the Syrian town my family comes from, every afternoon during the holy month of Ramadan the streets were jammed with people. They were rushing home not only to escape the heat and to prepare the iftar, the evening meal that breaks the fast, but also to catch the latest episodes of their favorite soap operas – the musalsals.

This year’s Ramadan is different. In the midst of a brutal civil war, Syrians are getting more than enough drama from real life. At the same time, Syrian production companies have shelved new shows; investors with ties to President Bashar al-Assad’s government have found their bank accounts frozen; and viewers throughout the Arab world have called for a boycott of Syrian satellite channels. A tax break issued by the government has failed to revive the industry.

While the outcome of the fighting is uncertain, one thing seems clear: in losing the soap opera, the Syrian government has lost one of its most powerful means of spreading ideas and political messages, both within and beyond the country’s borders.

Syrian soap operas took off in the ’90s, when satellite-television access increased across the Arab world, and were watched by tens of millions of people from Morocco to the Persian Gulf. The most successful production companies were always affiliated with the regime and toed the line of government censorship. But in the new millennium, following the second Palestinian intifada, the attacks of 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq, Syrian soap operas became more explicitly aligned with the Assad government’s Baathist – or Pan-Arab – ideology. They were increasingly set in the distant past, featuring Arab heroes and glorious wars.

The most prominent of these was a musalsal on the life of Sultan Saladin, the 12th-century defeater of the Crusaders and liberator of Jerusalem. The plot presented Saladin as the ultimate Arab hero, without mentioning his Kurdish origins, and the dialogue was stuffed with Baathist propaganda arguing for the “unity of the Arabs.” Even the most naïve viewer could not fail to associate the Crusaders with the Israelis and Americans or Sa’war – the corrupt Egyptian leader – with President Hosni Mubarak.

As the region’s politics changed, so, too, did Syria’s soap operas. Historical dramas from the ’90s, like “Damascene Days,” showed Arab patriots struggling against Ottoman oppression. But in the series written after the 2003-4 détente between Turkey and Syria, the foes were no longer the Turks but European colonialists. One of the most popular soap operas ever, “Bab al-Hara” or “The Neighborhood’s Gate,” recounts the adventures of the inhabitants of an old Damascus neighborhood who, regardless of their sectarian backgrounds, were united in their opposition to the French.

It may have been propaganda, but for a while, it worked. We, too, regardless of whether we were Christian or Druse, members of the Sunni majority or Alawites like the ruling Assads, cheered Mutaz, the mustachioed tough guy who confronted the chicken-hearted French soldiers; we celebrated the heroism of Um Joseph, the Christian woman who protected the Muslim neighborhood; and we mourned when Abu Issam, the beloved barber and doctor, passed away (or was killed off because of a controversy between the actor and director).

But after this year’s bloody crackdown, anti-sectarian slogans are simply no longer credible. The strength of Syrian drama turned into its weakness.

While there are few soap operas left on television, their stars continue to play a role in Syrian politics. After the authorities assaulted Dara’a in March 2011, hundreds of actors and writers signed the so-called Milk Petition, condemning the crackdown and requesting aid for the region’s children. In response, more than 20 production companies issued a notice accusing the signers of treachery and announcing that they would never work again. If the war goes the other way, the loyalist actors – those who rushed to defend the regime, appearing on talk shows to condemn terrorist groups and foreign conspiracies – will have an equally hard time finding their way back to the screen.

Perhaps the greatest theatrical blow to the Assad government and its myth of a unified Syria came last fall, when Jamal Suleiman, an Alawite actor and the son-in-law of a former minister of information, failed to return from a trip abroad. Just 10 years earlier, he played the role of Saladin, liberator of Jerusalem.

All of these stars and their shows were once tools of the regime, and thankfully they are no longer. But when this war is over, we should remember that the musalsals were also a source of pride for the Syrian people, a homegrown popular art form that once brought all of us together. The rest of the Arab world will not mourn them much; popular Turkish soap operas have already stepped in to fill the gap. But in the hot afternoons of Ramadans to come, in Syria, even the staunchest opponents of the Assads will miss the musalsals.

Omar Adam Sayfo is a researcher in the Netherlands specializing in Arab media.

Der Spiegel: Star Witness Top Syrian Media Host Abandons Assad for the Truth

Star Witness Top Syrian Media Host Abandons Assad for the Truth By Bastian Berbner in Paris J. B. Russell / Cosmos / Agentur Focus For 15 years, Ola Abbas presented the news on Syrian state television …

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