News Round Up (26 April 2007) - Syria Comment

News Round Up (26 April 2007)

From "Friday Lunch Club":  Chirac will move into an apartment belonging to the Hariri family. Now Chirac and Khaddam can be neighbors in Hariri supplied residences.
Jacques et Bernadette Chirac vont habiter provisoirement dans un appartement appartenant à la famille Hariri
- La nouvelle résidence des Chirac, quai Voltaire -
La nouvelle résidence des Chirac, quai Voltaire
.
From IraqSlogger, "the new UN report on human rights criticized Coalition authorities for indefinitely holding detainees without charge or trial, charging, "The current legal arrangements at the detention facilities do not fulfill the requirement to grant detainees due process." 
.
"Egypt, Saudi Arabia Edge Away From Bush as Mideast Chill Grows," By Janine Zacharia, April 26 (Bloomberg)

President George W. Bush's top Arab allies, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Saudi King Abdullah, are edging away from him, skeptical about his ability to end bloodshed in Baghdad, make progress on Palestinian statehood and contain Iran's nuclear program. Saudi Arabia, the third-biggest exporter of crude oil to the U.S., is cutting a foreign-policy path sometimes contrary to American interests, diplomats and analysts say.  "In the last quarter-century, never has America's standing with its core Arab allies, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, been as low as it is in this administration,'' said Bruce Riedel, a Middle East adviser to President Bill Clinton and to Bush in his first term. "They have come to the conclusion that Bush and his team are not part of the solution to their concerns, they are the problem.''

"The president of Yemen is coming here the beginning of May; they're friends of the United States,'' David Welch, the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, said in an interview. "I know they're not as big as Egypt or Saudi Arabia, but it would be a little unfair to say we have a problem in the region across the board.''

"What you've got is a rather large gap between the way that the Saudis, or the way that Abdullah, wants to do business in the new environment and the way Bush wants to do business,'' Indyk said.

Two years ago, largely at the urging of the Bush administration, the first elections in Saudi history were held for municipal councils in a small number of cities, including Jidda, Riyadh and Mecca. Only men could vote and only half the members were elected, but still the elections were hailed as emblems of change.

"Two years after being forced out, Syria continues to be key to Lebanon stability" (AP)

"Two Openings March 14 Might Consider" By: Michael Young | The Daily Star

It's never easy to discern movement in the midst of glacial stalemate, but the ice has definitely budged in the past 10 days in Lebanon. The Hariri tribunal is almost certain to be established, whether through Lebanese institutions or through the United Nations Security Council; and the heat is building up on the opposition to agree to a presidential election amid a widening consensus that Emile Lahoud, whatever else happens, will not remain in office beyond the end of his term…
It was Russia's deputy foreign minister, Alexander Sultanov, who lowered the knife on Syria by indicating that Moscow would not veto recourse to Chapter 7 in the event the tribunal remained blocked in Lebanon. Sultanov's message to Syrian President Bashar Assad probably went like this: Accept the tribunal through the Lebanese constitutional process, since you can then influence what happens; but once it reaches the UN, there's little we can do to help you. There are no signs, however, that Assad intends to change direction.
In order to maintain the initiative, but also to block any outside effort to sow domestic conflict over the Hariri tribunal, March 14 needs to do more. It should open up in two directions: toward the Shiite community…; and toward Aoun…
With respect to the Shiites, the majority might want to think of putting on the table a quid pro quo: a timetable to discuss constitutional reforms and a redistribution of political power among all communities, in particular the Shiites, in exchange for Hizbullah's willingness to accept a timetable for its disarmament.

Danerous Delusion on the Golan By: Aluf Benn | Haaretz

There is a new idea dominating public discourse: Israel will recognize Syrian sovereignty over the Golan Heights and hold the territory under a long-term lease agreement. But those in the know and who are familiar with the detailed history of the negotiations with Syria say Damascus will not agree to such a proposal.

Al Qaeda Strikes Back By: Bruce Reidel | Foreign Affairs

By rushing into Iraq instead of finishing off the hunt for Osama bin Laden, Washington has unwittingly helped its enemies: al Qaeda has more bases, more partners, and more followers today than it did on the eve of 9/11. Now the group is working to set up networks in the Middle East and Africa — and may even try to lure the United States into a war with Iran. Washington must focus on attacking al Qaeda's leaders and ideas and altering the local conditions in which they thrive.

Playing Safe The Economist

The selection of Abdullah Gul, the foreign minister, as the candidate of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) for next month's presidential election has taken much of the heat out of the issue.

Comments (82)


Atassi said:

Dr. Landis,
What is the credibility rating of “Friday Lunch Club” as a source of references !

April 26th, 2007, 4:19 pm

 

youngsyria said:

what is the Russian position on syria and the tribunal?are they planing a comeback to ME through supporting syria and iran (%100) or is it just a matter of temporary interests? and if its the former, what can Russian offer and what is their limit??

April 26th, 2007, 5:20 pm

 

bilal said:

To Dr. Landis & Atassi

Apparantly the writers of the “Friday Lunch Club” are part of the Syrian Regime. It shows that they are as credible as Alssiasseh which is on the other side of the spectrum. It is unfortunate that your website report such garbage. I thought this website will be much more professional not not just another Tabloid.

April 26th, 2007, 6:16 pm

 

Atassi said:

Makhloof Yea Habib
We Say in Homs “if your house is made from glass, don’t throw rocks at others” ..

April 26th, 2007, 7:03 pm

 

bilal said:

To Atassi

I agree with your reply to Imad as with that last name he should sit quit. He is mistaken about the Iraqi money as we all know you got them. At least he should have all the infos. In Damascus we say “DOUD ELKHEL MENNO EFIH”

April 26th, 2007, 7:50 pm

 

Atassi said:

What is wrong with his last name? We shouldn’t discriminate against someone based on his last name. In my last reply “comment” I was pointing to the Syrian Mafia, Not Imad Makhloof person!!

April 26th, 2007, 7:56 pm

 

Ford Prefect said:

Bilal,
You need to cease and desist your racist and unfortunate presumptuous remarks. There is absolutely no difference between one Syrian and another no matter where they come from or what last name they have. It is religious bigots and racists like you who got Syria where it is today; not the other way around. And please spare us your religious ranting and chanting, they don’t belong here – not to mention that you have an ugly voice.

April 26th, 2007, 11:00 pm

 

Enlightened said:

Yes I wonder what Khaddam and Chirac will discuss daily on the balcony when having their breakfasts? It might go something like this:

Khaddam: Good Morning Jaques

Chirac; Good Morning Abdul Halim;

Khaddam: First day in retirement Jaques, any regrets?

Chirac: Well, I actually feel like a eunuch

Khaddam: A eunuch? why

Chirac: Well all this power i had, i was a stallion and now im shorn of my power, now I have my my money, but no power?

Khaddam: Well Jaques Im planning a comeback

Chirac: Really?

Khaddam: I only have to work out how to overcome one problem

Chirac; Whtas that?

Khaddam: I have been a eunuch a lot longer than you!

April 26th, 2007, 11:53 pm

 

Joshua said:

Bilal, Click the link. It is a French news source that gives the details, not the website. Of course it may be blowing smoke, but I doubt it. And I don’t think Imad Makloof is a Makhloof at all, but anything is possible. Best, JL

April 27th, 2007, 1:09 am

 

norman said:

Aldardari is going to be prime minster , that indicate the importance of the economy in Syria and improving the lives of the Syrian people and their income , Syria is moving toward free market , today Syrians can exchange money without going to the black market , I think Syria’s economy improved more in the last 7 years than in the previous 30 years.

April 27th, 2007, 1:15 am

 

K said:

Prof,

It’s silly to link the “dirty laundry”, out of context, from 1988. If the topic is the Lebanese wars, let’s sit down and air all kinds of laundry. But to just “throw it out there” is propagandistic.

April 27th, 2007, 1:42 am

 

K said:

643 LEBANESE ROTTING IN SYRIA – SOLIDE

Lebanese activists are calling on the United Nations and the Lebanese government to increase pressure on Damascus to release final details of the whereabouts and fate of more than 600 Lebanese missing in Syrian jails since the 1970s.

As a sit-in protest in front of UN House in Beirut by the families of the missing detainees enters its third year, activists are calling on the UN to consider the missing prisoner cases as part of the implementation of a series of Security Council resolutions that have demanded Syria respect Lebanon’s sovereignty.

“Just as the UN is investigating all the assassinations in Lebanon since the killing of [former Prime Minister] Rafik Hariri, so we should have an independent international investigation into the cases of the missing prisoners,” Ghazi Aad ( Pictured left) , chairman of Lebanese NGO Support for Lebanese in Detention and Exile, or ‘Solide’, told IRIN. “This issue is beyond the Lebanese authorities and they have failed to do their duty towards their citizens.”

An estimated 17,000 people went missing over the course of Lebanon’s ruinous, 15-year-long civil war, in which Syria intervened in 1976 – a year after the war began – becoming de facto ruler of the country after the war’s end in 1990.

Since the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon under UN resolution 1559 in April 2005, Solide has registered 643 prisoners believed to have disappeared in Syrian jails.

Aad and other activists are urging the UN to consider Syria’s implementation of 1559 – which called for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon – to be incomplete until Damascus provides details of missing Lebanese prisoners it is believed to be holding.

In the past, Syrian-controlled Lebanese governments denied the existence of Lebanese prisoners in Syria. In 1995, Beirut even issued a law declaring anyone who disappeared during the civil war as officially dead.

Syria has also denied on several occasions having Lebanese detainees in its prisons. But in 2000, it released a number of Lebanese captives several years after their abductions from Lebanon.

‘Hurry up’

In the last picture Violette Nassif has of her son Johnny, he is wearing a sweater that reads simply: ‘Hurry up’.

The image has haunted her for the 17 years that have passed since the young corporal in the Lebanese army was taken to a prison in Damascus, along with an estimated 150 other soldiers, after Syria defeated the Lebanese army in 1990.

Tears stream down Violette’s face as she recalls her years of desperate effort to first find out if her son, who would now be 34, is still alive, and then to try and bring him home to Lebanon.

“After Johnny disappeared in 1990, I looked for him in morgues, in hospitals and in prisons for weeks. Finally, some friends in Syria told me he had been transferred to Damascus,” said Violette, standing outside UN House in Beirut.

The now elderly mother said that in November 1990, a month after her son’s disappearance, a Lebanese army officer gave her a telegram stating that Johnny and five others Lebanese were not dead, but that they had indeed been imprisoned in Syria.

Four years later, Violette at last managed to visit her son in Damascus’ central prison. Two years later, she saw him again for the last time. But in 2001, a Lebanese detainee released from Syria told Violette that he had been in the same prison as Johnny and that her son was still alive.

That hope keeps Violette going through her daily sit-in, demanding news that never comes.

“The government has abandoned us so we must have an independent international investigation. We have been in this camp for two years now. Are they waiting for us to die as well? How can they not bother to search for their missing soldiers?” she asked.

Syrian officials have said they would launch their own investigation into the whereabouts of nearly 800 Syrians they say have disappeared in Lebanon.

“The Lebanese crimes against Syrian citizens were mostly motivated by political hatred, with an aim to divide Lebanon into smaller states loyal to Israeli governments,” Syrian MP Faysal Kalthoum, who heads the National Committee for Syrian Disappeared in Lebanon, told the state-run Tishreen newspaper last year.

Lebanese MP and member of the Parliamentary Human Rights Committee Ghassan Mkheyber said last week the committee would investigate all the cases of Lebanese who have gone missing in Syria, Israel and Libya.

“It’s about time we all came around to this humanitarian and moral issue so that we can uncover the truth about who’s still alive and who’s not,” he told IRIN.

http://yalibnan.com/site/archives/2007/04/lebanon_familie.php

April 27th, 2007, 1:49 am

 

norman said:

It is clear that Gaga and Jumblat have more blood on their hands than Syria and Israel combined .

April 27th, 2007, 1:50 am

 

K said:

Norman,

“It is clear that Gaga and Jumblat have more blood on their hands than Syria and Israel combined.”

You’ve just surpassed Ausamaa for the prize of Dumbest Comment on SyriaComment. Mabrook.

April 27th, 2007, 2:29 am

 

majedkhaldoun said:

we will see tomorrow,if Gull become president,if not,Erdogan will have trouble from the military people,nothing for sure yet.

April 27th, 2007, 2:57 am

 

youngsyria said:

what would happen if they established Justice and Development Party in syria that is resembling the Turkish one?(on the basis that half idiot is better than full idiot,MB in that case)

April 27th, 2007, 3:18 am

 
 

Ford Prefect said:

Enlightened,
I enjoyed the nice dialogue between the Chirac and Khaddam who both enjoy less than the margin of error popularity in their respective countries. But at least Chirac is an elected president who, after years in office, lost several important brain cells.

But I think Chriac would say to Khaddam, “Bon Jour Abdul.”

April 27th, 2007, 9:25 am

 

ausamaa said:

K

If you are a GA’GA supporter, then I am sure everyone else will appear either as an “legitimate target”, a “slaughter-happy ally” or as “dumb” to you..

April 27th, 2007, 10:04 am

 

ugarit said:

Inside Story – Syrian elections – 22 Apr 07 – Part 1
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FE9R67W8Unk

Inside Story – Syrian elections – 22 Apr 07 – Part 2

April 27th, 2007, 11:36 am

 

Habib said:

I thought this was funny from Angry Arab:

Theater of the Absurd. Lebanese prime minister, Fu’ad Sanyurah, called LBC-TV to express his views on the murder in Lebanon. He made two requests to God–I kid you not: 1) he urged God to place the victims in heaven; 2) he also called on God (the merciful, he added) to take revenge–I kid you not. He asked God to form revenge squads: to promptly form vigilante teams to hunt down the killers, and to chop off their bodies–Saudi style. He recommended former torturers form the Israeli-trained South Lebanon Army. As for the Israeli war on Lebanon, Sanyurah asked God to forgive Israel because Israeli leaders…were just kidding. Mini-Hariri also called LBC-TV: he called on the families of the victims to emulate the exemplary model of the Hariri family–I kid you not, who did not cause any trouble when Rafiq Hariri was killed. These words were uttered by the head of the family which has taken the country to the verge of civil war all in the name of revenge. (I forgot to add that Hariri family calls revenge “the truth.”)

April 27th, 2007, 1:08 pm

 

norman said:

I have a question , If anybody know the answer ,

Does the Turkish cnstitution call for the president to be Muslem sunni or not and does it exclude kurds from ant position.?.

April 27th, 2007, 1:42 pm

 

bilal said:

Ford Perfect,

Read my comments again and again and you will not find any racist remarks. These are just in your head.
Anyway I answered Imad back and yes I reffered to his last name since as we all know the name “Makhlouf” is the synonym for corruption in Syria.
Don’t quote me on things I never and will never say but it looks you are trying to send a cheap message.

April 27th, 2007, 1:56 pm

 

Ford Prefect said:

Norman,

I have read the Constitution of Turkey many times before (an excellent read, by the way). The word Islam, Muslim, Moslim, Kurd, Kurdish, or any other simlar words DO NOT appear anywhere.

As for the President, there are no religious requiremesnts either.

Cheers!

April 27th, 2007, 2:04 pm

 

Ford Prefect said:

I am sorry Bilal! I stand corrected as I meant to address my comment to someone else (I believe you know who by now). I offer my sincere apologies to you and to the readers.

April 27th, 2007, 2:08 pm

 

norman said:

Fp , Thanks , Why can’t Syria have this kind of constitution.

April 27th, 2007, 2:14 pm

 

Ford Prefect said:

Norman,
I hear you. I can’t answer the “why”, but I can say that having the same would be my wish.

April 27th, 2007, 2:33 pm

 

bilal said:

Ford Perfect,

Thanks for your clarification which I greatly appreciate. That is very professional from your side. God bless you.

April 27th, 2007, 3:19 pm

 

bilal said:

Dr. Landis,

Yes I read the article on the French news agency but there is no mention of Khaddam. This is an illusion by this web site only. My concern is that we all know who Friday Lunch is and how UNRELIABLE he is. He claims to be a close advisor to President Lahoud. It is widely known that he has changed camp a few years ago as he was not more than a blind follower of the Hariri family. Just the “Hader Sidi” type. Anyway we should not be surprised if he changes camp once again.
My concern is that we should neither quote or follow such TABLOID sites.

April 27th, 2007, 3:37 pm

 

majedkhaldoun said:

عبد الله جول يفشل في الجولة الاولى من التصويت

April 27th, 2007, 3:57 pm

 

Alex said:

Majed, he will win in the next rounds.

Joshua,

I wish one day you will write a post discussing the pros and cons of importing a modified version of the Turkish system of government (and constitution?) to Syria.

Maybe Ehsani and FP will work on it.

April 27th, 2007, 6:03 pm

 

Alex said:

Endgame in Damascus and Gaza

By Akiva Eldar | Haaretz

If the official in the Prime Minister’s Office is to be taken seriously, the Winograd Committee has already accomplished something. “Do you really believe that after all the troubles with the Second Lebanon War, [Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert will take the chance that one day he will have to explain to another committee of inquiry what he did to prevent war with Syria?” the official asked. He suggested that the prime minister is being truthful when he says he is examining the sincerity of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s intentions regarding peace.

A senior official in the security establishment has recently suggested treating Assad’s messages regarding peace quite seriously, because if we don’t, the alternative will not include a continuation of the status quo. The official’s comments are quoted in “Restarting Israeli-Syrian Negotiations,” a detailed report released this month by the International Crisis Group, an independent, Brussels-based, nongovernmental organization. One of the founders of the group, which aims to prevent and resolve deadly conflict via field-based analysis and advocacy, is Thomas Pickering, formerly U.S. undersecretary of state and ambassador to Israel.

The senior Israeli official quoted in the report told the Crisis Group researchers – led by Rob Malley, a top National Security Council official in the Clinton administration – that Syria is behaving like a country preparing for war, and that if the present trend continues, war will indeed break out. Israeli diplomats and security officials have compared the situation on the Syrian front to the situation with Egypt on the eve of the Yom Kippur War.

The report quotes MK Yisrael Hasson, the No. 2 man in the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party, as saying that the real question is whether Israel will begin negotiations with Syria now or in another six months, when the tension rises and the threat of war looms.

“It won’t have to be a conventional military confrontation or a guerrilla attack, for Syria has many ways of increasing the tension – a mere threat of missiles, for instance,” said Hasson, former deputy chief of the Shin Bet security service. “The question is do we need a confrontation to get

No ‘central brain’

If it becomes clear that Olmert hasn’t done enough to prevent war with Syria, he’d be better off not appointing Winograd Committee member Prof. Yehezkel Dror to the next such panel. In the draft of his new book, “A Breakout Political-Security Grand-Strategy for Israel,” Dror – a political science professor emeritus at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and founding president of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute – leaves no room for doubt about his opinion on the prime minister’s Syria policy.

“Israel doesn’t always have to follow the United States’ policy line,” writes Dror. “Sometimes it’s preferable to encourage the United States to open talks with a ‘boycotted’ party, when it benefits Israel and also, according to Israel’s best judgment, benefits the United States. Dialogue with Syria after the war in the North is an example of this.”

Dror rejects Olmert’s precondition for talks with Syria, and says: “A condition like cessation of support for terror activity is justified only when there is a basis for thinking that the other side will meet the condition, or when negotiations without fulfillment of the condition would encourage activity that is hostile to Israel … It’s preferable not to set preconditions, but rather to direct the negotiations themselves toward fulfilling the conditions – or, alternatively, to open negotiations in unofficial ways.”

Dror is not convinced that even Iran is a “total enemy” that justifies a decision by Israel to refrain from negotiations for fear of projecting an image of weakness and fear. “This is not self-evident,” he explains, “and requires further deliberation.”

But a 2005 Israel Prize laureate for political science doesn’t hang his hopes on the level of deliberations conducted by the political leadership and the intelligentsia. “Israel, with important but too few exceptions, lacks outstanding diplomatic and, moreover, spiritual-ethical leadership,” writes Dror. “The Israeli government, with all the quality of many of its staff, lacks a real ‘central brain.’ The vast majority of Israeli intellectuals (referred to as ‘men of letters,’ for some reason), tend toward ‘closed’ positions on the left and occasionally on the right, while avoiding expression of original political ideas.”

Dror also has an opinion about the failures in the south of the country: In the draft of his book, he criticizes Israel’s moderate response to the rocket fire from the Gaza Strip after the disengagement.

“All rocket attacks on us must be met with a punitive ‘disproportionate’ response,” writes the “father” of systems analysis in Israel. “Under no circumstances should a non-state entity that is not sensitive to deterrence be allowed to establish a cache of assault weapons, like Hezbollah rockets. A similar cache must not be allowed to be built within Palestine.”

However, Dror believes that deterrence and preventive-destructive activities should become primary methods of home front defense only when the main route to ensuring that defense has been blocked. The professor wants us to constantly keep in mind that this route involves making peace with our neighbors. Dror has no problem with holding talks, even indirect ones, between Israel and Hamas, and is not convinced that they are predestined to fail.

April 27th, 2007, 6:06 pm

 

ausamaa said:

Apart from the above, it seems that the resolve of the Feb 14 camp is weakening. There are many indications that they are starting to tune down their attacks on Hizbullah and Amal.
With Chirac departing, Bush in no position to launch new wars from which they think they will beninift, and with Israel in a confusing internal debate, they may have been “forced” to reverse sails.
Perhaps someone has whispered the “secret word” in their ears.

April 27th, 2007, 6:49 pm

 

Fares said:

I thought you might like to read this brief eye-witness account of Anwar al-Bunni’s sentencing.

“When the judge read the final sentence to the court, Anwar smiled bravely. His attitude was very courageous, to show that he could face all this abuse and anger with a smile. He seemed to be telling all of us that, no matter how long the injustice lasts, it will not last forever and the day will come when our country will be set free and however great the sacrifice we have to make, it is the price of freedom.

All of us who were in the court-room that day had a strange feeling: we did not know whether to cry or to scream a very loud scream that would wake all the Syrian people from their long sleep.

But, of course, nobody cried – especially not in front of the Security, who would love to see any sign of weakness.”

April 27th, 2007, 7:10 pm

 

Alex said:

That’s one direction Ausamaa. The other one remains: war.

Randa Tekkeidin, Alhayat Lebanese reporter (M14 supporter) from Paris keeps writing the same thing: If the Syrians are dreaming that they will be safe after Chirac, they are dreaming …Sarkozy will be tougher on them.

April 27th, 2007, 7:11 pm

 

Fares said:

Alex, Syrian regime need to watch their regional actions since their behaviour won’t be tolerated anymore regardless of who is in power in France or the US or Israel.

They should adjust to this new reatity and change their 70s mentality. They should be thankful that no external power is interfering in them robbing Syria of its wealth.

Also even though the world powers are not defending as they should the oppressed Syria people and their prisoners, the regime should know better not to abuse its treatment of citizens because it might cause a lot of unrests like it happened in Raqqa and then the civil war that you don’t want to hear about will erupt very easily from there.

April 27th, 2007, 7:20 pm

 

bilal said:

To Ausamaa,

Yes you are right providing of course M14 are tuning down their attack. In fact on the contrary they are esclating their attacks especially against the Syrian Regime. Do not underestime their local & global power.

April 27th, 2007, 7:41 pm

 
 

Atassi said:

Two faces of Damascus

1 May 2007
Economist Intelligence Unit – Business Middle East
Business Middle East
1
Number x
English
(C) 2007 The Economist Intelligence Unit Ltd.

Syria has promised to work with the UN on solving the Lebanon crisis, and its main economic reformer is poised to become prime minister. How much has really changed?

Syria has presented a number of starkly contrasting images in recent days. The parliamentary election has attracted an unusually high level of attention, with opposition activists claiming that the turnout was pitiably low and that there had been many instances of blatant ballot-rigging. The issues of human and political rights have also been highlighted by the sentencing of Anwar al-Bunni, a prominent lawyer and regime critic, to five years in jail for “spreading hostile information”—a charge relating to his signature of a declaration in May 2006 calling for the establishment of normal diplomatic relations between Syria and Lebanon.

At the same time, the president, Bashar al-Assad, has received UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, who reported that the Syrian leader had agreed to reactivate the border committee with Lebanon and had said that he was ready, in principle, to establish diplomatic relations with Beirut. In another sign of Syria’s “progressive” face, the local press has reported that Abdullah al-Dardari, the architect of the EU-backed economic reform programme, is likely to be appointed prime minister in a cabinet reshuffle to take place after the general election, or else after the referendum to be held in May for the renewal of Mr Assad’s presidential mandate for seven more years.

The election is of largely symbolic significance. The Baath Party and nine allied formations are allocated two-thirds of the 250 seats, meaning that there is no scope for any meaningful policy debate. Of the remaining seats, the battle among independents is essentially a struggle for patronage rights, pitting different, regime-subservient, business factions against each other. For the Baath party, a healthy turnout is important so as to demonstrate popular consent to its control of institutions and to the rule of the Assad regime.

Comments on officially sanctioned websites such as Champress and Syria-News (owned by rival interests within the establishment) reflected widespread cynicism about the worth the election, which took place on April 22nd and 23rd. There was also a running commentary provided by an externally-based opposition site, based on reports from researchers on the ground. These reports pointed to disturbances in a number of areas in the north east as a result of official interference to block the election of Kurdish political leaders standing as independents. The delay in the announcement of the results of the election, which had still not appeared 48 hours after the polls closed, served as confirmation that the process had not run as smoothly as the authorities had wanted.

If there had been room for an open policy debate, the central questions in the election would have included Syria’s international relations and the direction of the economy. The visit of the UN Secretary-General provided a fresh opportunity for Syria to demonstrate its contention that the efforts of the US and France (or, more to the point from the Syrian perspective, the soon-to-be-departed President Jacques Chirac) to isolate it are failing. Mr Ban did manage to extract a concession from Syria on the Lebanese border question (one week before this meeting, the UN Security Council had expressed “serious concern at mounting information of illegal arms movements across” the border). However, this was in the context of a patently disingenuous Syrian pledge to use its good offices to build a political consensus in Lebanon that would lead to the ratification of a law establishing a mixed tribunal on the Hariri assassination. Behind the smiles, the harsh reality is that Syria is anxious to head off moves at the UN Security Council to set up the tribunal on the basis of a resolution passed under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.

Syria is making a determined diplomatic effort to foster at least the illusion of normality in its international relations. The hoped-for dividends from this include increased flows of aid (from the EU and Arab states in particular) and foreign investment to enable the country to meet the 7% annual real GDP growth targets that Mr Dardari has set in his five-year plan for a transition to a “social market economy”. With oil running out, these external props will be of increasing importance. However, to take full advantage, the Assad regime has to make some difficult political choices.

SOURCE: Business Middle East

April 27th, 2007, 8:35 pm

 

ugarit said:

Let’s not forget that Syria’s current constitution did not have the religion of the president stated in it until the MB and their proxies protested.

April 27th, 2007, 8:51 pm

 

EHSANI2 said:

UGARIT,

The MB have asked and protested about a lot of things. Why do you think the late Hafez obliged when it came this particular demand?

April 27th, 2007, 8:54 pm

 

Ford Prefect said:

Alex, It would be great for the Syrian people if Sharkozy is tough but smart – as long as he is not senile and plain stupid, any great leader will be good to Syria.

April 27th, 2007, 9:55 pm

 

Ford Prefect said:

Ugarit,
I believe it was not the MBs who asked for adding the religion to the constitution, it was there before Hafez time. If my memory serves me, the constitution of Syria said that not only the President must be a Muslim, it called for a Muslim sunni too! When Hafez came to power in 1970, there was a huge dilemma. The constitution had to be promptly changed to just Muslim!

If I have my facts wrong, someone please correct me. I tend to forget all topics related to mass-marketed religions.

April 27th, 2007, 10:04 pm

 

Ford Prefect said:

Ugarit,

Here is the Syrian Constitution ratified in 1973 to account for the charm of Hafez. Check out article 3.1
http://www.damascus-online.com/history/documents/constitution.htm

April 27th, 2007, 10:09 pm

 

K said:

NO RESULTS IN DAMASCUS

Having finished hosting U.S. politicians, Syria’s dictator has returned to jailing dissidents and sponsoring terrorism.

The Washington Post
Friday, April 27, 2007; Page A22

THE CONGRESSIONAL leaders who visited Damascus this month to meet Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad gave a practical test to the oft-stated theory that “engaging” his regime is more likely to produce results than the Bush administration’s policy of isolating it. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was particularly unstinting in her goodwill, declaring that she had come to see Mr. Assad “in friendship, hope, and determined that the road to Damascus is a road to peace.” In a statement, her delegation reported that it had talked to Mr. Assad about stopping the flow of foreign terrorists to Iraq and about obtaining the release of kidnapped Israeli soldiers. It also said it had “conveyed our strong interest in the cases of [Syrian] democracy activists,” such as imprisoned human rights lawyer Anwar al-Bunni.

Three weeks have passed, so it’s fair to ask: Has there been any positive change in Syrian behavior — any return gesture of goodwill, however slight?

Mr. al-Bunni might offer the best answer — if he could. On Tuesday, one of Mr. Assad’s judges sentenced him to five years in prison. His “crimes” were to speak out about the torture and persecution of regime opponents, to found the Syrian Human Rights Association and to sign the “Damascus Declaration,” a pro-democracy manifesto.

By condemning Mr. al-Bunni to prison, Mr. Assad was delivering a distinct message to Syria’s would-be liberal reformers and those who support them: There will be no change on his watch. The same message came in the parliamentary “elections” that the regime staged on Sunday and Monday. No independent candidates were permitted; a predetermined number of winners from the official party ensured that the parliament will remain a rubber stamp.

What of the other items on the U.S. congressional agenda? Well, there has been a major surge in suicide bombings in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq this month, in what U.S. commanders describe as an attempt by al-Qaeda to defeat the new security operation in the capital. According to U.S. and Iraqi officials, almost all suicide bombers in Iraq are foreigners, and some 80 percent of them pass through Syria. The border remains as porous as ever.

Meanwhile the military wing of Hamas, whose headquarters is in Damascus, launched a barrage of rockets and mortar rounds at Israel from Gaza on Tuesday. Israeli officials said the attack appeared aimed at creating a diversion that would allow Hamas to capture more Israeli soldiers. If so, the operation failed — but none of the hostages Ms. Pelosi said she spoke to Mr. Assad about have been released.

To recount this dismal record is not to endorse President Bush’s refusal to engage in high-level bilateral contacts with Mr. Assad’s regime. In certain contexts it may be worth trying to talk to Syria — for example, when negotiations are directed at particular ends, such as securing Iraq’s borders, and coupled with forceful diplomatic and economic steps to raise the pressure on the dictatorship. The danger of offering “friendship” and “hope” to a ruler such as Mr. Assad is that it will be interpreted as acquiescence by the United States to the policies of dictatorship. Ms. Pelosi’s courting of Mr. Assad didn’t cause Mr. al-Bunni’s prison sentence this week — but it certainly did not discourage it.

April 27th, 2007, 11:48 pm

 

Enlightened said:

Ford ;

My French is a little rusty!

Those damn politicians are corrupt no matter were they are.
When a politician enters politics in Australia he/she has to declare all his interests and assets in a pecuniary register, and they are not alowed to hold portfolios where their interests are affected.

I wonder how true the story is about Chirac and the Harriri apartment is however? I know he used to contribute strongly to his compaigns, money and power man how i wish i had some (lol)

You are right about the constitutional dilema , it was changed to just muslim if my memory is correct

April 28th, 2007, 12:19 am

 

norman said:

In 1973 the year that the new Syrian constitution was to be ratified , that constitution was written after Ha fez came to power , that constitution did not have anything about the religion of the president or the religion of the Syrian state , The MB went on a rampage in Hama,Homs ,Aleppo and Latakia , Ha fez Assad was not ready to confront the MB in May of 1973 as he was preparing for 1973 / October war so he changed the religion of the president to Muslim but kept the religion of the state from being Only Islam.

April 28th, 2007, 1:43 am

 
 

ugarit said:

Has the National Salvation Front released a proposed constitution for Syria?

April 28th, 2007, 2:08 am

 

ausamaa said:

This is no problem. When they get to it they will surely propose a copy of the new Iraqi Constitution.

April 28th, 2007, 9:13 am

 

Bakri said:

Aussama,the syrian regime and those who backed the iraqi constitution are close friends …those have offices in Syria.

April 28th, 2007, 9:50 am

 

bilal said:

Ugarit,

The MB as per NSF statements clearly says that the new president religion should not be specified.
The NSF in their publications proposed to go back to the 1951 constitution as it is more democratic than what we have now. Then new legistaltive elections will take place to elect a new people assembly which will create to a new government based on this assembly. During 2 years this people assembly will write a new constitution and new legislative election laws and will dismiss itselft to create a new people assembly.

To Ausamaa,

Please be logical and don’t just claim rumors. As Bakri has said, whoever wrote the Iraqi constitution are much closer to the Syrian Regime than the NSF.

April 28th, 2007, 12:06 pm

 

ugarit said:

Bilal:

Is there a link to the 1951 constitution that we can read?

April 28th, 2007, 3:41 pm

 

ausamaa said:

Bilal

In case you have any illusions, the Big Boss of the MB & Co. is the same Big Boss of the Al Maliki.

And I would urge you to forget about any possibility of ever having some one like the Moslim Brotherhood rule us in Syria. We have seen of them in Hamma, Algeires and Afghanistan.

If Syria has to move up, it should move up to something more Modern, more Civilized, more Open and more Democratic, and who Must offer much mor than a Muslim Brotherhood or a nonexisting so-called NSF are offering.

Who the hell are they anyway?

April 28th, 2007, 5:24 pm

 

majedkhaldoun said:

NSF is not supported by the majority of syrians,because of two reasons,mainly.
first they do not trust Abdulhalim Khaddam, second the Kurds represent a large segment in it, Kurds who want to seperate as independent state,mostly from northeast,(not the kurds from Damascus), we should never allow kurdish state, it will be another Isreal,in my opinion it is treason, if the kurds do not understand this, they will pay dearly for their ambition, in the USA we have people from different ethnic background, no one ask to seperate, they need to learn to co-exist.
As america realize they lost the war in Iraq, and they pull out, Iraq have very good chance to be with Syria,and the kurds will have to apply for syrian-iraqi citizeship, by then ,I hope the lebanese syrian crisis will be over,we will have new leaders in the arab world,since the new leaders are old,and may die.

April 28th, 2007, 6:45 pm

 

Bilal said:

To Ugarit,
I am not sure about the link to the 1951 constitution but I will try and let you know.

To Ausamaa,

I am sorry but I did not realize who is the boss of AlMaliki?
I agree with you to hope that the MB does not rule Syria but I would definitely respect the decision of the majority of Syrians as neither one of us does not OWN Syria. You have to learn to be a true democratic and accept other people ideas. If you are going to open the Hamma issue you have to open it in an open mind way. Until there is a true unbiased investigation about what really happened we couldn’t reach judgments. It is almost impossible to conduct such an investigation after such a long time so it could be better not to bring the whole issue. I can tell you about a massacre that was committed again a whole neighborhood in Hamma just because they suspected a person living in that neighborhood. If it was your neighborhood I am sure your sentiments will be different. Anyway we will never know what really happened in Hamma so it is better to let it go but at least we are sure that BOTH sides were Extremely violent & bloody & committed a lot of massacres against innocent civilians but we do not know who started it. Who came first the chicken or the egg?
Yes we should move up from this regime. Maybe the MB or the NSF are not the best to have but they are all of what we got in addition to the Damascus Declaration of course. So we have to encourage them and others to move ahead and help us get ride of this corrupt family regime of ours. The NSF was successful in getting recognition from a lot of regional and international countries. This is a great achievement. Also the Damascus Declaration has won the trust of many. The great thing is that they are both cooperating and helping each other. That is a great thing for Free Syria.

To MajedKhaldoun,

That what you think but NO as a great deal of the Syrians trust and support the NSF but obviously cannot dare say it due to law 49 & they see what is happening. Khaddam was the most trusted Syrian Officials until 1996 when the regime itself started destroying his image by spreading rumors in order to kill any opportunity for him to compete against Bashar. Hafez was smart as he saw it happening so he made sure to instruct his security people to spread those rumors about Chemical wastes and others that was proved later to be just lies. To prove this, the regime is trying to find any corruption case against Khaddam for the past year and could not find any.
As for the Kurds I do not know from where you got your info that the Kurds within the NSF want to create an independent state. This was never and will never be accepted by the NSF. Read their statements as it all say that the Kurds are an important part of the Syrian people. Do not believe what the regime is spreading. Read the NSF statements and judge them on that and not on what the regime is saying about them.

April 28th, 2007, 7:27 pm

 

Omar said:

The NSF is supported by the majority of Syrians, because of one reason Abdulhalim Khaddam is sunni and most Syrians are sunni.
Sunni always support each other for one reason they follow Prophet Mohammad legacy.

April 28th, 2007, 7:34 pm

 

ausamaa said:

OMAR,

Go fly a kite. What Sunni and non-Suni BS are you talking about?

April 28th, 2007, 7:48 pm

 

ausamaa said:

BILAL,

Please! You do not know what happened in Hamma? Fine. I know what happened in Hamma. A lot of people know what happened in Hamma. We lived through what happened in Hamma. And we lived through the MB’s bombs near the elementary schools and the bus stations in Damascuse and other places. We lived through the whole lot. We know what happened! A movement supported, financed, and used by outside countries tried to attack the establishment. It drew a harsh and very tough and sometimes an indiscremenate resoponse for sure. And the MB response to the government was not that clean or discrimenate niether. But without such a response from the authoreties then, I am sure that Syria would have gone through what Egypt anf Algeria went through. Remember what the salafies did in Algeria, and they arnt finished yet? That what would have happened to us in Syria. And thanks God it did not.

So let us not keep using that Qamees Othman Hamma Story !

April 28th, 2007, 7:59 pm

 

ausamaa said:

I hope So!!!

Jumblat intends to launch a Political Initiative to resolve the Lebanon internal crisis.

Bahrain News Agency.

جنبلاط يعتزم إطلاق مبادرة سياسية لحل الأزمة اللبنانية
GMT 17:00:00 2007 السبت 28 أبريل
وكالة اأنباء البحرين – بنا

بيروت: أفادت صحيفة لبنانية أن رئيس اللقاء الديمقراطي في لبنان النائب وليد جنبلاط يعتزم إطلاق مبادرة سياسية حوارية بهدف حل الأزمة السياسية التي تعصف بلبنان منذ عدة أشهر.

وقالت صحيفة “الأخبار” اللبنانية الصادرة اليوم، إن مبادرة وليد جنبلاط تستند إلى المواقف الهادئة التي أطلقها يوم أمس في تشييع شابين من أنصاره عثر عليهما مقتولين أول أمس الخميس في جنوب بيروت.

وأوضحت الصحيفة إستنادًا إلى مصادر مطلعة على موقف جنبلاط الذي يعد من أبرز قادة الأغلبية النيابية في لبنان، أن ما شجعه على التفكير في إطلاق مبادرة سياسية هو الصدى الإيجابي الذي تلاقيه مواقفه الراهنة لدى الرأي العام اللبناني.

ونقلت هذه المصادر عن جنبلاط قوله أمس إن كل هذا الإجماع على إدانة الجريمة من جميع الأطراف لا قيمة له في السياسة إذا لم يبادر أحدنا إلى طرح مبادرة سياسية لأن هذا الإجماع يضمحل بعد 24 ساعة ونعود إلى التعبئة، مما قد يوفر أسبابًا لإرتكاب جرائم أخرى قد تكون أكبر وأفظع.

April 28th, 2007, 8:31 pm

 

majedkhaldoun said:

Bilal;
I went to Syria and stayed there two months ,from may till july,last year, I talked to kurds, many car drivers were kurds, they want to have autonomy, and with Iraq kurds they want to have seperate state, ,my source was not the goverment, it was the kurds themself.

April 28th, 2007, 8:32 pm

 

bilal said:

To Ausamaa,

This is what you think or heard happened in Hamma. I am not saying that this did not happen but a lot of other things happened as well even worse than this. You have to bare in mind that in 1982 a general strike was called and all of Syria except Damascus joined the strike. The regime exerted immense pressure so that Damascus does not strike. This shows you that there was a considerable support for the people of Hamma within the Syrian population. I said the people of Hamma and not the MB as the MB were forced to this struggle by the regime itself as it was proven later that the first bloody attack on the regime that was blamed by the regime as done by the MB was not. This is a proven fact that the Regime does not dare admits. Because they mistakenly accused the MB the regime started fighting and massacring them which forced them to fight back. They are both criminals against innocent civilians. Anyway whatever the regime has done or is doing is to protect itself and not Syria. Why? Because it is known that the Security forces are there to protect the regime & the army to protect the country. Look how preferential treatment, equipment, & support the security generals get where at the same time the army is very badly trained, equipped, & supported. Anyway we will never get anywhere if we discuss Hamma and what did what and who started and what if.

To MajedKhaldoun,

OK some Kurds have this dream but the Kurds that have joined the NSF does not. That is according to various NSF statements. As I told you read NSF statements and you will find that they always say that Kurds are an important factor of the Syrian people.

April 28th, 2007, 10:00 pm

 

Ford Prefect said:

Ausamaa is right and his feelings are mine. I lived through the horrors of the MBs. I also was in Damascus in the late seventies when the MB’s went on a killing and bombing carnage. Their rage was directed not against the Ba’ath and its failing ideology, but at others who they considered not to be true Muslims, shamefully. I usually try to avoid any personal stories and anecdotes, but I can’t help telling this story – now that the MB’s are in focus.

In 1978, three misguided MBs, in the name of Allah, walked in broad daylight to the Science Faculty at Damascus University and shot the best professor ever – my dear late teacher and mentor, Professor Adnan Ghanem. Adnan was not an ordinary Syrian. He was a prodigy child- having earned his PhD with honors at the age of 23! Being a secular scholar, a world-renowned publisher of many papers, a talented artist, and a famous lecturer did not help spare him from the bullets of the MBs. His only fault in life was that he belonged to a sect that the MBs did not see as legitimate Islam. I don’t want to get into naming religions and sects, as I consider Syrians to be just that; but I can say that I am a Sunni from a family that produced the most muftis in the history of Syria. I cried when he was killed – more than I cried for loosing my own father.

All of his students, Muslims, Christians, Kurds, Armenians, Shia’s, and others felt the horror and the savagery of the MBs. How do I know it was the MBs? I really don’t know for sure as I am not a police investigator. But Adnan showed me the repeated threats he received from MBs. I have seen and read the notes left under his door in his one room basement apartment in 3arnoos, Damascus. I had him come and sleep in my house many times, sometimes for weeks, due to the threats he received from the MBs. These same criminals tried to recruit me at the time, saying it is my duty as a Muslim to kill the infidel. I remember the days. I have the evidence.

The MBs bullets went into my heart as well as of Adnan’s. I can still feel them and they immensely hurt. Have the MBs changed? I doubt it. They are just morphing from one sick color to another so they can reach power in Syria. Their message, they claim, is divine; from Allah directly and they have the responsibility of enforcing it. Now they have set up shop in Washington, begging the same people who gave us one million cluster bombs in southern Lebanon last July. What a shame to still have them around, now with a Ba’athist on board.

April 28th, 2007, 10:24 pm

 

bilal said:

To Ford Perfect,

I fully agree with you and almost felt was you have gone thru. Yes their acts were criminals and for sure not justified under any circumstances. What I am trying to say is that the other side was as criminals and also the regime action is not justified as well. During that time a lot of crimes were committed and blamed on the other party which proved to be wrong. There is this famous crime against, if I remember right, the head of Damascus University that then was discovered to be committed by others.
We cannot blame one party and leave the other whether it is the regime or the MB. There are a lot of stories from both sides that can be told which make all of us cry.

April 28th, 2007, 10:45 pm

 

bilal said:

To Ausamaa,
By the way, what Omar is saying have some truth whether we like it or not. Personally I don’t but this is a fact. Look how the Syrian people have fully supported Mr. Hassan Nassarallh during the July war. You can find his posters everywhere. Then when there were talks about Sunni Cheite conflict in Lebanon a lot of these posters disappeared and his popularity greatly decreased in Syria & the whole Arab region.
Mr. Khaddam was the most senior Sunni official in Syria and despite this he did not have any power over the internal security of Syria. He was excluded to foreign policy only. When they felt he could compete with them they started destroying his image in Syria by spreading lies & rumors. I
I know we should not look at it like this but this is exactly what happened. Yes?

April 28th, 2007, 10:56 pm

 

Omar said:

To Aussama
You should fly a huge kite to take you to that new planet were you belong.

http://freesyria.wordpress.com/2007/04/27/syrian-regime-mentality/#comments

April 28th, 2007, 10:58 pm

 

Ford Prefect said:

Bilal, indeed, I agree with you. Both sides were and still stand guilty of heinous crimes. Your argument that we cannot blame one and not the other makes perfect sense.

However, my argument is that while we cannot blame one over the other, we should not also allow one to be replaced with the other. Both have a record, and I would vote for neither of them (I am talking about the Ba’athists; as I refuse to discredit any religion or sect).

April 28th, 2007, 11:03 pm

 

bilal said:

Yes you and I will not vote for either. This is a promise that I will respect. But I do not know about the other 18 Millions Syrians. True democracy will make sure these crimes will never happen again. But we should not keep the present regime at the same time.

April 28th, 2007, 11:20 pm

 

norman said:

FP, i had a similar experience to the one you had , so did many of us who lived in Syria in the late seventies ,

You know now why we are concern about the MB.

April 29th, 2007, 1:36 am

 

Bakri said:

If u are a pro dictature ,pro moukhabrat pro syrian people mass killing for sure you belong to one of the minorities which fear to see syria ruled by its own people …you have to accept that the overwhelming majority of the syrian people are not secular nor religiously indifferent.
This hatred towards the syrian people is not new ,some of the minorities as ,secular extremists,kurdish nationalists,the extremist alawites and some assyrians were the collaborators of the french occupation and it’s said that one of them was the grandfather of hafez who supplicated the french government to destroy Syrian unity.

If we are not secularist is that mean we will oppress the minorities and threaten what is left from syrian religious pluralism ?

I ask you to find the answer by yourself and read about the cosmopolitan character of the islamic cities as Aleppo,Hama,Stamboul,Izmir,Homs,Damascus,Cairo,Sarajevo ….or the medieval Cordoba and Sevilla in Al Andalus …. or even compare the religious coexistence in the syrian cities and the power of the christian community in all fields prior to hafez asad with today after 35 years of the minority sectarian rule.
Let me to give u some numeric facts….

In 1900 ,Aleppo population was 10 % jewish ,25 % christian …..
In the 1960’s prior to asad rule ,the christian community in Aleppo was 20 %
Today :less than 5%.
And if that regime remains more in few decades ,their percentage will be inconsiderable.
I’m not a secularist but what i say above is not far from Michel Kilo’s opinion developped in his last article before his imprisonment.

April 29th, 2007, 2:29 am

 

Bakri said:

Again Aussama ,avoid us such baathi non sense.
The MB if they are the friends of the CIA ,they will be in power in most arab countries since long time ago.Who own the popularity ?
As for Malki or Talebani the actual leaders of occupied Iraq…from what i know they are sons of the syrian moukhabarat.

April 29th, 2007, 2:47 am

 

Joshua said:

Thank you all for discussing this most important episode in Syrian history with such balance and humanity. It is important and it has divided Syria more than anything else.

I spent 1981-1982 at the University of Damascus, living at the University City in wahda al-uwla on the second floor. However, I spent most of my time on the first floor, where the blind students were given rooms. They were the students patient enough to listen to my bad Arabic and correct me, explaining the finer points of Arabic grammar and how `amiyya was constructed differently from fusHa. They always welcomed my intrusions with a warm welcome, pot of tea, and by hitting on the beds next to them so I would sit down for a gossip. Of course the blind students had few visitors and could not go out easily so conversation even with an American with only a small vocabulary and broken grammar was a diversion for them.

I became fast friends with many of the blind students living on the first floor and every Friday evening I would go out shopping in the stores of Mezzeh for lamb minced with parsley in order to make a big dish of meatballs cooked in several kilos of tomatoes with tons of lemon juice. It all had to be cooked in one pot over a small gas burner in some one’s dorm room. I was receiving a princely stipend of $400 a month. The blind students had to make do with 500 SP, which at the time was equivalent to little more than $80. They subsisted on bread, yoghurt, jam and sweet tea. In the evenings they would fry eggs, feeling the yokes ever so often to decide if they had begun to harden and were cooked. So the lamb on Fridays was a welcome change. When it was cooked and had filled the room with a savory smell, 1o to 15 of us would eat it from the pot with bread.

A student from Hama, Ahmed, who was studying at the Sharia College and who frequently ate with us, lost 21 members of his family in the bombardment of his city. None of use knew what to say to him or how to console him. It was a terrible time, full of whisperings and anxiety. Few students wanted to talk of what happened at Hama with an American. None of us really knew what went on until weeks later, when rumors and gossip began filling in where the news stations would not.

Some months after Hama, I went to Ahmed’s room to check in on him and discovered that his sheets were brown and filthy. Neither he nor his roommate could see how dirty they were. It was clear that Ahmed’s family was not visiting him. His life had been turned upside down. I mentioned it to some of his friends who arranged to have his bedding washed without embarrassing him. All the same, the scene sticks in my mind as a symbol of the stain of Hama.

Anyway, I have often wondered what happened to Ahmed. I never saw or heard from him again after leaving Wahda al-Uwla.

April 29th, 2007, 3:19 am

 

Bakri said:

Ford Perfect,i respect your desire to behave as non sectarian syrian patriot but as i said we must call a spade a spade and the mass killing of syrian civilians is related to a deep sectarian hatred of asad familly towards the syrian cities dont deny this fact…Hafez asad was a sadistic criminal and is not representative of the alawite community,what threaten the community is asad familly behavior ..but i underline it again and again ,the alawite community is a authentic syrian community and one of the oldest syrian community and they gave heroes and theur blood to syria as Sheikh Saleh al Ali or the poet Badawi al Jabal and today amongst the most brave syrian patriots are from this community: Aref Dalila,Mahmoud Sarem ,Fateh Jamous ,Abdulaziz Al Khayer.

April 29th, 2007, 3:40 am

 

norman said:

Joshua, That is a very touching story ,

Syria had peace since then.

April 29th, 2007, 3:40 am

 

norman said:

Bakri , If you admire the Alawat that much can you tell us why only Alawat and christians were killed by the MB , Didn’t they find any corrupt Sunni Baathist who desereved to die?.

April 29th, 2007, 3:46 am

 

Bakri said:

Dr Joshua Landis, thank you.

April 29th, 2007, 3:48 am

 

Bakri said:

Norman stop your lies here …the only one who bombed christian quarters and churches was hafez asad.

The brotherhood exist in Syria since the 30’s and became a political in the 40’s ,they always respected the democratic rule and some of them called the prime minister Fares al Khoury our sheikh….. and no crimes of this kind were known in Syria prior to asad rule….

April 29th, 2007, 3:52 am

 

norman said:

Histery is clear in the MB killing of the university teachers , the sun rises from the east , it is that clear what the MB did ,

this article will make you angry . I did not write it.

Catalytic Converters
Abbas

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By ANDREW TABLER
Published: April 29, 2007
The Middle East is abuzz with talk of “Shiitization.” Since the war in Lebanon last summer, newspapers, TV news channels and Web sites in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere have reported that Sunnis, taken with Hezbollah’s charismatic Shiite leader Hassan Nasrallah and his group’s “resistance” to Israel, were converting to Shiite Islam. When I recently visited the semi-arid plains of eastern Syria, known as the Jazeera, Sunni tribal leaders whispered stories of Iranians roaming the Syrian countryside handing out bags of cash and macaroni to convert families and even entire villages to Shiite Islam.

Much of the buzz is surely propaganda from the region’s Sunni governments, which are known to whip up fears of Shiite plots when it suits them. But there are signs in Syria of a possible shift. Over time, could this predominantly Sunni country change its religious orientation — solidifying its ties to Iran and creating strong repercussions throughout the Middle East? Pinning down facts is complicated not just by Syria’s restrictions on the press but also by growing Sunni-Shiite violence in Iraq, which has made normally hospitable Syrians wary of prying questions about sectarian issues. Furthermore, Syria is an authoritarian state that strictly enforces Ba’athism — a secular ideology that subsumes sect and religion under a pan-Arab identity. In most of the Arab world, meddling in sectarian issues is discouraged. In Syria, it is illegal.

Although the regime of President Bashar al-Assad hails from an obscure offshoot of Shiism — the Alawites — Syria is nearly three-quarters Sunni, with Alawites, members of other Muslim sects and a considerable number of Christians making up the rest. The country’s leading Islamic institutions reflect conventional Sunni beliefs and traditions. Over the last five years, however, Iranian donors have financed the restoration of half a dozen Shiite tombs and shrines in Syria and built at least one Shiite religious school near Damascus; the school is named after Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei. Meanwhile, Iran and the Shiite militias it supports in Iraq now sponsor a number of Arabic-language Internet portals as well as satellite TV stations broadcasting Shiite religious programming into Syria.

Direct inquiries into Shiite numbers in Syria raise more questions than answers, as the sensitive topic gives observers complex incentives to round up or down. When I asked Sayyid Abdullah Nizam, leader of Syria’s Shiite community, to estimate the size of his flock, he put it at less than 1 percent of the population of 19 million. Asked the same question, the leader of Syria’s Sunnis, Grand Mufti Sheik Ahmad Badr Eddin Hassoun, replied carefully; he said that 6 to 8 percent of Syrians now adhere to the “Jaafari school,” the school of Islamic jurisprudence followed by mainstream Shiites in Iran and Lebanon.

It was only when I met an actual convert that the mufti’s words began to make sense. Louay, a 28-year-old teacher in Damascus wearing jeans, a wool sweater and a close-cropped beard, seemed the epitome of the capital’s Sunni middle class. Yet within the last year, as Hezbollah rose to national prominence in the Lebanese government, he — along with his mother — began practicing Shiite Islam. He changed the wording of his prayers and his posture while praying, holding his arms at his sides instead of before him, and during Ramadan he followed Shiite customs on breaking the fast. In many Middle Eastern countries, his conversion wouldn’t be possible — it would be considered apostasy. The Syrian regime restricts its people’s political liberties, but unlike most other ruling dynasties in the Arab world, it allows freedom of religion. “In Saudi Arabia, they ban books on other faiths,” Louay said. “In Syria, I can buy whatever book on religion I want, and no one can say a word.”

Politics, it seems, is only one of the attractions of Shiism. In addition to Louay, I spoke with four other Syrian converts, who asked not to be identified for fear of harassment by Sunni fundamentalists. Louay and the others all spoke of religious transformation as much as of Hezbollah. “Half the reason why I converted was because of Ijtihad,” Louay said, using the Arabic word for the independent interpretation of the Koran and the words and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad. Suddenly the mufti’s enigmatic answer became clearer. Ijtihad is practiced more widely by Shiites of the Jaafari school than by Sunnis. These Shiites believe that, on all but the largest moral issues, Muslims should interpret their faith by reading holy texts and reasoning back and forth between them and current issues. Many Sunnis say they quietly practice Ijtihad in everyday life as well, but conservative Sunnis do not encourage individual interpretation of the Koran.

For Louay, the difference is immense. “Take the Internet. Some conservative Sunni sheiks say the Internet is haram,” or illegal, he said. “If I go back to Jaafar al-Sadiq” — the eighth-century founder of the Jaafari school — “I will not find a ruling on it. So instead I use my mind to sort it out. On the Internet, some things are positive, some negative. I choose the positive for myself.”

Americans might find it surprising that the man Louay looks to for more current and oftentimes liberal guidance on controversial issues is Ayatollah Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran. For four decades, Syrians had to rely on advice from the local Sunni clerics who appeared in state-owned media. With the advent of satellite television and the Internet, however, Louay said he is now able to keep up with his favorite scholars across the Islamic world. You could easily draw a comparison with the way Protestants in Europe were able to follow the likes of Martin Luther after the introduction of movable type.

Even if Shiitization is at this point as much a rumor as a confirmed fact, the subject is highly charged. It is part of a much larger discussion among Washington’s Sunni allies about the rise of a “Shiite Crescent” — an Iranian-backed alliance stretching westward from Iran to Syria to Lebanon that could challenge the traditional power of Sunni elites. With its Sunni masses and minority Tehran-backed regime, Syria is the weak link in the chain. Many Syrians say they are worried Iraq’s sectarian strife might spread to Syria; the execution of Saddam Hussein, a Sunni, at the hands of Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government, infuriated many. The conversion of Syrians to Shiism could create still more conflict.

Meanwhile, the regional politics are becoming ever more delicate. Damascus is reportedly unhappy about Iran’s recent dialogue with Saudi Arabia over the future of Lebanon; Tehran, in turn, is rumored to be questioning Assad’s recent peace overtures toward Israel. Both sides denied a rift when Assad visited Tehran in February. But only days later, a group of Syrian intellectuals and parliamentarians loyal to Assad lambasted an Iranian deputy foreign minister in scripted fashion in a closed-door (but widely reported) session. The point of contention? Their unhappiness with what they saw as Iranian support for the Shiitization of Syria.

Andrew Tabler is a fellow at the Institute of Current World Affairs and the editor in chief of Syria Today magazine.

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April 29th, 2007, 4:14 am

 

Bakri said:

This attempt to spread Shi’ism in Syria is not new ,the initiator of this policy was hafez asad’s brother jamil,it’s said that he studied in Qom in Iran and founded an iranian backed militia called al Murtada whose aims was to propagate Iranian’s regime propaganda in Syria

April 29th, 2007, 4:38 am

 

Joshua said:

Bakri, Jamil al-Asad did have delusions about playing a religious role. At one point in the 1980s he encourage people to see him as the Mahdi and entertained a much larger persona for himself. Hafiz had the wisdom to send him off to France, insisting that he return only when he had abandoned his ambition to become a Messiah.

Hafiz was smart enough not to try to cross the religious establishment, as both his brothers frequently did. He understood the delicacy of religion in Syria. Rather than try to convert Sunnis to Shiism, which would have inflamed the Syrian population even more than it was already inflamed by having an Alawite president, he encouraged Alawites to Sunnify and become more main stream. He set the example himself by going to mosque, admonishing leading Alawite shaykhs to renounce publicly any exaggerated devotion to Ali, and to observe the five pillars of Islam. Even if many Alawites understood Hafiz’s religious observance to be motivated by politics, so what? The point is that he was not trying to take Sunnis out of the fold. On the contrary, he sought to make Alawites behave more like Sunnis.

Tabler, whose article is published above, is a good journalist. He undoubtedly scoured the country looking for converts to Shiism and could only track down a few. The one person he was able to interview, converted for philosophical reasons. He does not sound like he was railroaded or did it out of ignorance. It is only natural that some small number of Syrians should change their confession. I am sure that one could also find Shiites or Christians who have converted to Sunni Islam, if one looked. In the Middle Ages there were many more Shiites and Christians living in Syria than there are today. Sunnis have clearly won the conversion game. There are no significant number of conversions going on in Syria today. It is hard enough to marry across religious lines in Syria, not to mention convert. Anyway, the freedom to chose one’s religion is perhaps a good thing.

April 29th, 2007, 6:19 am

 

Ford Prefect said:

Has anyone noticed that conflicts between Shias and Sunnis have increased greatly since the invasion of Iraq?

Has anyone noticed that the Bush Administration and its mouthpieces everywhere are spending enormous time explaining to the world how Shia Islam is different than Sunni Islam and how the two are in deep conflict with one another?

Has anyone noticed that Israel can only speak about Arabs in terms of whether they are Druze, Sunnis, Christians, Alawites, Kurds, Shias, or whatever?

Has anyone noticed that Syria is the ONLY remaining large country in the region where such divides do not exist? And now this country is bothering the US so much that it needs to “install” democracy in it?

Coincident?

April 29th, 2007, 6:54 am

 

bilal said:

Bakri,
I fully support you when saying “alawite community is a authentic syrian community and one of the oldest syrian community and they gave heroes” because this is what really happened. Unfortunately the Assad Regime is using them as much as it is using the Baath party to cover their mistakes & corruption.

April 29th, 2007, 10:03 am

 

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