“No longer the pariah President,” by Peter Beaumont

No longer the pariah President - Bashar al-Assad - profile/Peter Beaumont

No longer the pariah President - Bashar al-Assad - profile/Peter Beaumont

No longer the pariah President
Peter Beaumont
guardian.co.uk, Sunday November 16 2008
The Observer, Sunday November 16 2008

David Miliband’s visit to Damascus this week indicates the new thaw in the West’s relationship with Syria. But while the leader’s charming wife boosts his carefully managed image, doubts remain about a much darker side.

Bashar Assad, President of Syria, is good at the people stuff. He pops his head around the door during an interview with his wife, then, all arms and legs, ushers you away, unexpectedly, for an informal chat. He talks smartly and engagingly. He talks about the prospects for peace with Israel. The dangers of the ‘War on Terror’. Relations with an increasingly bellicose US.

That was five years ago. Since then others have visited and drunk his coffee out of tiny bone-china cups in a palace largely used for ceremonial meetings, and got the same treatment. By and large they have emerged charmed by the gawky Assad and by his English-born wife Asma. And not a little baffled.

Forty-three-year-old Bashar Assad gives good interview. In such encounters over the years he has emerged as self-deprecating, thoughtful and concerned. Which leaves the conundrum over Bashar Assad and his Syria: which is how to square this carefully managed image, designed for media and diplomats, with the allegations that have been levelled against the police state he rules?

Since coming to power on the promise of reforming the paranoid state overseen by his father, Bashar Assad’s regime has been blamed for the 2005 assassination of Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in a car bomb – which he denies. He has allowed al-Qaeda in Iraq to set up bases on his territory for fighters heading across the border, resulting in last month’s cross-border raid into Syria to attack one such safe house – also denied, but increasingly less plausibly. Syria has been charged, too, with assisting the re-arming of Hizbollah after the 2006 Israeli war against Lebanon – which it does not dispute – and accused of setting up a joint project with North Korea to construct a secret nuclear reactor, subsequently bombed by Israel, which it still does.

It is a moot point, however, just how clumsy Syria has been – despite its designation in 2002 as being one of the second wave of Axis of Evil states, a powerful irritant for Bashar. For amid a sudden thawing of relations with Syria that will see Foreign Secretary David Miliband meet Bashar in Damascus this week – having already been courted by French President Nicolas Sarkozy – Syria will argue that far from having to move in its positions, what it always predicted has come true. As the ‘War on Terror’ has faltered, and the George W Bush era wound down, the world has been forced to turn back to Syria – and not vice versa. Back to a country where secret policeman follow you or stand watching at the street corners; and where as recently as last month the regime sentenced a dozen democracy activists to two and a half years in prison.

Yet the disconnect between the two Bashars remains, demanding an answer to the question – who is the real Bashar? Is he the accessible and visible President with his pretty young wife, who goes to the theatre, opera and cinema, in contrast with a father rarely seen outside of official events? Who dines in the restaurants of Damascus with his family and likes music and would like, as he once said, to improve his people’s lives with ‘the tool of democracy’? Or is he his father’s son: a leader surrounded by a tiny circle of family advisers – including his brother-in-law Asef Shawkat, husband of his elder sister Bushra – who is ruthless and astute, a great dissimulator capable of playing, and winning, a long game?

The reality is that there are no easy answers in a state that remains so secretive, and where the centre of power is so remote for most, confined to a handful of people. The result is that the majority of efforts at assessing the character of Bashar Assad – and his country’s trajectory – have devolved into a kind of Syrian-style ‘Kremlinology’, as much based on inference as hard facts based on a solid knowledge of the man. Emerging from this fog have been theories – one of which claims that Bushra and Asef Shawkat are the real powers in Damascus.

‘I think if you look at Bashar’s situation, he has inherited a lot of baggage from his father, Hafez,’ says one person who has worked with the family since not long after Bashar came to power, who is sympathetic to Bashar ‘irrespective of the dark recesses’. ‘I believe that what he has been trying to do is legitimise his presidency, not simply rely on what his father put in motion. I think he is playing a long game – and I do believe he can conceive of a future where he is no longer in power.’

But to what end? ‘If you look at what the First Lady is trying to do [in her social activism],’ he adds, ‘she makes it clear that it is in pursuit of the President’s vision. The problem is that no one knows precisely what that vision is.’

So it is most often to his father that Bashar is inevitably compared in attempting to understand the paradox of his rule. Thirty years in power, Hafez Assad built up a cult of personality around his rule that stood atop layers of loyalties constructed in the state’s rival centres of power. Brutal when it was required – not least in the slaughter of up to 20,000 during the Islamist uprising led by the Muslim Brotherhood in 1982 in the city of Hama – Hafez was also capable of a far more nuanced authoritarianism than neighbouring Iraq under Saddam, carefully sidelining threats to his rule.

With the death of his brother Basil in 1994, it was Bashar – who had trained to be an opthamologist in London, where he perfected his excellent English – who became his father’s political heir. What followed Hafez’s death in 2000 was a seamless transition that has been described as marking the emergence of the ‘first Arab republican hereditary regime’. The Damascus Spring that came after his confirmation as President by referendum was a short-lived experiment, the highpoint of which was the shutting down of Mezze prison and the release of hundreds of political prisoners. All that remains from those days is his request that the media not call him ‘immortal leader’.

But whether or not Bashar was serious in talking of liberalising Syria, the circumstances of his coming to power – shortly before 9/11 and the start of the ‘War on Terror’ – has been defining his rule so far. It was a conflict, he accurately predicted to The Observer a few months before the invasion of Iraq, that would lead to a quick victory in the first instance but subsequent chaos. Even Bashar could not have predicted the huge flow of Iraqi refugees that would head for his country, fleeing the consequences of the US war with the insurgency and sectarian violence. Since then Bashar has charted an oddly seesawing relationship with the US. He made Syria’s prisons available for torture of terrorist suspects at America’s behest – until the invasion of Iraq, that is – then with that war, flip-flopped.

The explanation is as much about how Syria sees itself as it is about Bashar. Despite its history of impoverishment, it conceives itself as an important regional player. It hosts Hamas and other anti-Israeli groups’ offices as much to remind the world that peace with Israel is impossible while Syria is ignored. Its own history of long being interfered in by its Arab neighbours, prior to Hafez’s rise, has resulted in a policy of interference in its neighbours’ affairs – including allegations that jihadis returning from the war in Iraq are targeted by Syria’s intelligence services as assets, before being allowed to return.

Syria also – encouraged by Bashar – sees itself as the ‘capital of Arab resistance’. According to Abdel Halim Khaddam, Syria’s former Vice President, now involved with the opposition National Salvation Front, who was recently interviewed in Brussels for the New Republic, it is an issue of national cohesion. ‘Fighting the Americans in Iraq is very dangerous. But it also makes Bashar popular. Under the banner of resistance, anything is popular.’

The necessity of such a policy – as well as the equally popular financial and logistical support for Hizbollah in the Israeli-Lebanon war of 2006 – is the existence of a fundamental contradiction in Bashar’s expressed but little acted on desires for an economically and politically reformed Syria, a consequence of which some believe would be the collapse of his regime, dominated as it is by the minority Alawite Shia sub-sect.

Reem Alaf, an associate fellow at Chatham House – and Syrian herself – believes that the result of the latest diplomacy to engage with Syria has been that Assad’s strategy has been shown to have worked in the long run. And while she believes that many Syrians are unhappy because Bashar Assad did not turn out to be more like King Abdullah of Jordan or President Mubarak of Egypt, Bashar is able to tap into a popularity born from a coincidence of agendas. ‘Syria is unique because both the regime and the people are concerned with the same issues: they agree over the Arab-Israeli conflict; they agree in supporting the Palestinians; they agree over the Anglo-US invasion of Iraq. I don’t know how you measure popularity, but in that sense he is supported.’

She is dubious, too, about the claims that others are more powerful than Bashar. ‘He runs everything, although there is not one person in charge for everything within his circle. It is one for all. There is no weak link.’

The Assad Lowdown

Born: Bashar Assad, 11 September 1965, in Damascus.

Best of times: Marriage to Asma (Emma) Akhras and birth of his three children. He has made a point of building up his wife’s social projects – particularly with the young – as a foil for criticism of the regime, with her role modelled on those of the First Ladies of Jordan and Morocco.

Worst of times: The assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005, in which his circle was accused of complicity. Bashar Assad himself twice refused to be interviewed in the subsequent UN investigation before finally complying, and has denied involvement. The murder led to the withdrawal of Syrian troops and agents from neighbouring Lebanon, following international pressure.

What he says: ‘When our interests have matched, the Americans have been good to us. When the interests have differed, they wanted us to mould ourselves to them, which we refused.’

What others say: ‘If we do not talk with [Bashar] Assad, there will not be peace in the Middle East.’ President Nicolas Sarkozy to President Shimon Peres during a visit to Israel.

The Times (GB): Barack Obama links Israel peace plan to 1967…
2008-11-16 05:23:17.340 GMT

……Peres was loudly applauded for telling King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who was behind the original initiative: “I wish that your voice will become the prevailing voice of the whole region, of all people.”

A bipartisan group of senior foreign policy advisers urged Obama to give the Arab plan top priority immediately after his election victory. They included Lee Hamilton, the former co-chairman of the Iraq Study Group, and Zbigniew Brzezinski, a Democrat former national security adviser. Brzezinski will give an address tomorrow at Chatham House, the international relations think tank, in London.

Brent Scowcroft, a Republican former national security adviser, joined in the appeal. He said last week that the Middle East was the most troublesome area in the world and that an early start to the Palestinian peace process was “a way to psychologically change the mood of the region”.

Advisers believe the diplomatic climate favours a deal as Arab League countries are under pressure from radical Islamic movements and a potentially nuclear Iran. Polls show that Palestinians and Israelis are in a mood to compromise.

The advisers have told Obama he should lose no time in pursuing the policy in the first six to 12 months in office while he enjoys maximum goodwill.

Obama is also looking to break a diplomatic deadlock over Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons technology. A possible way forward, suggested last spring by Dennis Ross, a senior Obama adviser and former Middle East envoy, would be to persuade Russia to join in tough economic sanctions against Iran by offering to modify the US plan for a “missile shield” in eastern Europe.

President Dmitry Medvedev signalled that Russia could cancel a tit-for-tat deployment of missiles close to the Polish border if America gave up its proposed missile defences in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Ross argued in a paper on How to Talk to Iran that “if the Iranian threat goes away, so does the principal need to deploy these [antimissile] forces. [Vladimir] Putin [the Russian prime minister] has made this such a symbolic issue that this trade-off could be portrayed as a great victory for him”.

Ross and Daniel Kurtzer, a former American ambassador to Israel, accompanied Obama on a visit to Israel last July. They also travelled to Ramallah, where Obama questioned Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader, about the prospects for the Arab plan.

According to a Washington source Obama told Abbas: “The Israelis would be crazy not to accept this initiative. It would give them peace with the Muslim world from Indonesia to Morocco.”

Kurtzer submitted a paper to Obama on the question before this month’s presidential elections. He argued that trying to reach bilateral peace agreements between Israel and individual countries in the Middle East, was a recipe for failure as the record of Bill Clinton and George W Bush showed. In contrast, the broader Arab plan “had a lot of appeal”. A leading Democratic expert on the Middle East said: “There’s not a lot of meat on the bones yet, but it offers recognition of Israel across the Arab world.”

Livni, the leader of Kadima, which favours the plan, is the front-runner in Israeli elections due in February. Her rival, Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of Likud, is adamantly against withdrawing to borders that predate the Six Day war in 1967.

Ehud Olmert, the prime minister, last week expressed his support for Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank Golan and east Jerusalem.

Iraq assures Syria on US raids
Sat, 15 Nov 2008 02:30:12 GMT

Syria’s Ambassador to the UN Bashar Ja’afari
Damascus has said that Baghdad in a message has assured Syria that US forces will not use Iraqi soil to carry out attacks into Syrian territory.

Syria’s Ambassador to the UN Bashar Ja’afari said on Friday that Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari delivered the message to Syrian President Bashar Assad at a meeting in Damascus this week.

Ja’afari said that Syria is still not satisfied by the “American promise that this aggression will not be repeated.”

On the 26 of October, US commandoes in four helicopters attacked the Syrian village of al-Sukkariya some eight kilometers from the Iraqi border at about 5:45 pm local time (1445 GMT). The assault, which was carried out from inside Iraq, took nine civilian lives and inflicted injuries upon 14 others.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also expressed in a report to the Security Council this week his “deep regret over the loss of civilian lives” because of the US attack on a house in the Syrian village of al- Sukkariya.

Comments (167)

Zenobia said:

They did put this on the BBC website front page.

Obama aide apologises to US-Arabs

President-elect Barack Obama’s White House chief-of-staff Rahm Emanuel has apologised to the US-Arab community for remarks made by his father.

Benjamin Emanuel told an Israeli newspaper that his son, who is Jewish, would “obviously influence the president to be pro-Israel”.

He also referred to Arabs in a way which a leading Arab-American group called an “unacceptable smear”.

A spokesman for Rahm Emanuel said he had called the group to apologise.

Mr Emanuel also offered to meet members of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

In the interview last week with the Israeli daily newspaper Ma’ariv, Israeli-born Benjamin Emanuel talked about his son’s new job.

Anger at remarks

He said: “Obviously he’ll influence the president to be pro-Israel. Why wouldn’t he? What is he, an Arab? He’s not going to be mopping floors at the White House.”

His remarks angered the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, which called on Rahm Emanuel to condemn them.

On Thursday, his office issued a statement saying that the veteran Democratic congressman had called the group’s president, Mary Rose Oakar.

We cannot allow Arabs and Muslims to be portrayed in these unacceptable terms
Mary Rose Oakar, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee

It said that he had “apologised on behalf of his family and offered to meet with representatives of the Arab-American community at an appropriate time in the future”.

On its website, the committee quoted Mr Rahm as saying: “From the fullness of my heart, I personally apologise on behalf of my family and me. These are not the values upon which I was raised or those of my family.”

Ms Oakar welcomed the apology, saying: “We cannot allow Arabs and Muslims to be portrayed in these unacceptable terms.”

Rahm Emanuel served as deputy chief of staff to Bill Clinton and analysts say he has a reputation for forceful negotiation and unwavering loyalty.

As Mr Obama’s chief of staff – and one of his closest advisers – he will be responsible for delivering the president’s policy platform.

Some Middle East commentators have voiced concern about the appointment of Mr Emanuel, who has a pro-Israel record.

However, the congressman himself dismissed the idea and said that Mr Obama did not need his influence to “orientate his policy toward Israel”.
Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2008/11/14 11:07:31 GMT

November 16th, 2008, 8:09 am


Omar said:

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November 16th, 2008, 11:20 am


norman said:



Iranian officers affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) have in the past four months established intelligence cells in Lebanon, comprised of Syrian agents and Hizbullah members, whose aim is to track down and annihilate extreme Sunni armed cells, the Kuwaiti-based daily A-Siyasa reported.

The paper quoted a diplomatic source from the Gulf, who revealed the content of a report compiled by European intelligence agencies.

“Approximately 200 IRGC agents, who were based in Iraq, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, have arrived in Lebanon via Syria since late July, and began forming cells comprising members of [the Lebanese Shi’ite movements] Hizbullah and Amal, as well as Syrian intelligence officers,” the diplomatic source told A-Siyasa.

The cells included between 10-20 people each, and were residing in apartments belonging to pro-Syrian parties and individuals, including former Lebanese legislators and ministers.

The intelligence report stated that the IRGC-trained cells’ prime target was to track down members of Sunni terror cells and to reveal their sources of weapons and money. Another aim was to assassinate or arrest Sunnis affiliated with terror in Lebanon. This, the report maintained, would serve to prove Syrian Bashar Al-Asad’s claims that Lebanon has turned into a terror hub.

“This will also prove to the United States, Europe and Israel that Syria is mending its ways,” added the report.

The cells have already begun to operate, when last week several Sunnis were kidnapped and others were killed inside Palestinian refugee camps.

The Syrian army has amassed thousands of troops along its border with Lebanon in the past few weeks. This move followed statements by top Syrian officials, according to which Lebanon has turned into a terror hub that threatens Syria’s stability.

Syria has nevertheless asserted that its troops along the Lebanese border are not aiming to enter Lebanon, but are rather tasked with preventing cross-border infiltration and smuggling.

By The Media Line Staff on Sunday, November 16, 2008


November 16th, 2008, 1:54 pm


Alia said:


Thanks for this and for the Khaddam interview

To me, at least, they show the futility of us trying to make a correct guess about anything that is going on. We are all wild-eyed and naive when it comes to understanding how the Asad clan functions. And it seems that both Lesh and Beaumont are equally clueless ( except that Lesh seems to think that he knows something) …

I liked particularly the quote from “a person close to the circle” [ Beaumont article above]
( we are supposed to take that as a really reliable source) and esp. when that person states at the end…
“and I do believe he (Asad) can conceive of a future where he is no longer in power.’

Ya- right- May be he will then dedicate himself to writing thrillers (ref: QN)..

November 16th, 2008, 2:21 pm


norman said:


I am glad you read the articles i post , That does not mean I agree with them , I just post them.

Syria needs to evolve , That might take some time but It will take place.


The Israeli leaders might just need somebody like Obama to show their people that they have no choice but to comply , Just to cover their ( You know what ) from criticism.
On the long run that will be good for Israel and the US and the region.

November 16th, 2008, 2:45 pm


Alia said:


I do read and am grateful to you for sharing ..most of the time, one cannot agree or disagree. It is information to evaluate.

Here is something. Shai referred to in the past couple of days- from the New York times

November 15, 2008
Israeli Candidate Borrows a (Web) Page From Obama

JERUSALEM — Click on the Russian-language version of the campaign Web site of Benjamin Netanyahu, the conservative Likud leader running for prime minister of Israel, and up pops a picture of him with Barack Obama. On the Hebrew version, Mr. Obama is not pictured. But he is, in fact, everywhere.

The colors, the fonts, the icons for donating and volunteering, the use of videos, and the social networking Facebook-type options — including Twitter, which hardly exists in Israel — all reflect a conscious effort by the Netanyahu campaign to learn from the Obama success.

“Imitation is the greatest form of flattery,” noted Ron Dermer, one of Mr. Netanyahu’s top campaign advisers. “We’re all in the same business, so we took a close look at a guy who has been the most successful and tried to learn from him. And while we will not use the word ‘change’ in the same way in our campaign, we believe Netanyahu is the real candidate of change for Israel.”

Those who created the Obama Web site, including Thomas Gensemer, managing partner of Blue State Digital, say the Netanyahu site is closer to Mr. Obama’s than any others they have seen.

“Nothing has been so direct as the Netanyahu Web site, though we have seen others with shades of it,” he said. When a campaign is successful, he added, “people are going to knock things off, both in terms of functionality and aesthetic.”

Web sites aside, for liberals in both countries, the idea of Mr. Netanyahu as the Obama candidate of Israel seems mystifying. Of the three main contenders for prime minister in February’s election, including Tzipi Livni of Kadima and Ehud Barak of Labor, Mr. Netanyahu is the most hawkish and the least interested in the focus on dialogue with adversaries that Mr. Obama made a centerpiece of his foreign policy platform. Mr. Netanyahu has said he would shut down the current negotiations with the Palestinian leadership.

But it is precisely the break with the current policy that Mr. Netanyahu, known by his nickname, Bibi, believes will help him win. The most recent polls show him slightly ahead of his rivals.

Sani Sanilevich, who is managing Mr. Netanyahu’s Internet campaign, said the Web was one of the biggest focuses of the campaign, and with good reason.

“The main advantage of the Internet is the ability to communicate with citizens and people directly,” he said. “You can actually hear them and get them involved in this campaign. The whole idea is, together we can succeed.”

The phrase “Together we can succeed” is the campaign slogan on the Netanyahu site, and it echoes, to some extent, Mr. Obama’s “Yes we can.” Mr. Sanilevich said the Netanyahu campaign plans to make use of Twitter, the mass text-messaging service that sends out short “tweets.”

“There are a couple thousand in Israel on Twitter,” he said. “We have lots of people using the Web sites registered as volunteers, and I am sure we will be able to use Twitter, which is an amazing tool. I have it on my phone, and I go around with Bibi and everywhere we go he gives me things to say on Twitter.”

Netanyahu aides say direct communication with voters is important for many reasons; one of them is their belief that Israel’s mainstream news outlets are not sympathetic to the candidate, and he needs to go around them.

The campaign said that like the Obama operation, it would bombard its supporters with messages for volunteering and donating and set up a site where supporters could communicate with one another without the campaign’s direct involvement.

At least before Mr. Obama’s victory last week, Mr. Netanyahu might have been expected to have a stronger political rapport with Senator John McCain. The Republican positioned himself as the more reliable friend of Israel. His campaign portrayed Mr. Obama as an uncritical friend of a prominent Palestinian critic of Israeli policies in the West Bank, and accused him of associating with a terrorist.

But Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations and a close Netanyahu adviser, said the Likud leader liked and respected Mr. Obama, so it was not strange that he had taken a page from the president-elect. Mr. Gold said the two meetings they had held so far, in Washington in 2007 and in Jerusalem last summer, had gone well.

“I was at both meetings, and it was clear that the two leaders established a very good chemistry very quickly,” he said. “We are convinced that the Obama administration will be open to hearing new ideas from Israel on how to make progress in the region.”

Mr. Netanyahu is positioning himself as the candidate of new ideas both for Israel itself and for peace with the Palestinians.

The ideas revolve around economic opportunities, aides say, cutting red tape to improve the Palestinian economy; building peace from the ground up, not the top down; and improving life in Israel with a bold domestic agenda involving improved education, economic growth and personal security against increased crime.

The aides are convinced that negotiations with Palestinian leaders will lead nowhere and that the best steps Israel can take, as it waits for Palestinian attitudes to change, involve building the Palestinian economy. Ms. Livni has vowed to continue the talks with the Palestinians, which she is helping to lead.

Mr. Netanyahu’s aides add that just as the Obama campaign linked Mr. McCain to President Bush, they plan to label Ms. Livni as a continuation of the status quo and Mr. Netanyahu as the candidate of change.

“Yes he can,” one aide said, with a touch of self-parody. “He believes he is the guy who can do it.”

Ethan Bronner reported from Jerusalem, and Noam Cohen from New York.

November 16th, 2008, 2:59 pm


Shai said:

Alia, Norman,

If we can see the amazing power of the internet, I guess it’s only to be expected that Netanyahu will as well… But if you recall the comment I made recently, about the Likud’s stated policy regarding concessions in return for peace (on Bibi’s Obama-style website), it’ll be interesting to see what they do with it… In Hebrew, it very clearly insinuates readiness to withdraw from the Golan, in return for “real and reliable peace”. AIG hasn’t exactly adopted this stance, apparently preferring the contradictory newspaper articles that state the opposite… Once the campaign gets under way, I at least will be asking a few Likud people to clarify this statement. In the past, they’ve been known to “suddenly” erase such potential embarrassments… 🙂 But we’ll be there to remind them, in case it disappears…

November 16th, 2008, 3:38 pm


Alia said:


Yes, I remember well your quotation.

I am struck here by the mention of “economic opportunities for the Palestinians, improving the economic situation, building from the ground up” I don’t know what that translates into exactly but it would be helpful to know. I have such a dim view of peace negotiations and peace accords that do not make a tangible difference in the lives of the Palestinians…

You may enjoy watching one of the most brilliant Jewish political thinkers of all time speaking at the end of her life about the U.S. constitution. One can apprehend a vision of what political thinking could look like as opposed to the pure ideology that is called “political thinking” nowadays. Hannah Arendt has spoken of “power” like no one has. Unfortunately, you have to listen to her English subemerged under the French translation.


You might want to listen to the description of the necessity of ” the opposition” in the political system.

Interestingly, Arendt who deeply believed in the success of the American Revolution would not refer to the American system as a democracy…but I digress

November 16th, 2008, 4:34 pm


Off the Wall said:

Dear Ali and Sahi
I went to Natenyahu’s site trying to find english translatin of his speach during the French President’s visit to Israel. It says that English page is under development. Now after reading the article, I want to see more details about what he says about improving the palestinian economy and understand in more details what is meant by “building peace from the grounds up”

November 16th, 2008, 5:03 pm


offended said:

The brave men of Israeli army shooting at Palestinian fishermen.

November 16th, 2008, 5:12 pm


norman said:


Assad urges Arab action to break Gaza siege

2008-11-16 17:00:01 –

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) – Syrian President Bashar Assad has called for Arab League action to help break Israel’s siege of the Gaza Strip.
The Syrian News Agency says Assad expressed Syria’s deep concern over the «deteriorating situation in Gaza» during a meeting in Damascus Sunday with Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa.
Israel has sealed Gaza’s border crossings since fighting erupted, barring badly needed goods and fuel from entering the impoverished territory. U.N. food supplies in Gaza have been depleted.
SANA said Assad stressed the need for the 22-member Arab League to take decisions at an Arab ministerial meeting in Cairo later this month to put an end to the Israeli siege.

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November 16th, 2008, 5:44 pm


AIG said:


These are called shoots across the bow. As you can clearly see, the shots are in the water. You fire those after giving warning to which the boats don’t answer. If there were people actually hurt, that would have been on the video. But nobody was hurt. Why is that if the Israelis were trying to harm the fishermen?

As for bravery, the mice of the Golan should be the last to talk. Not ONE shot fired at Israel since 1973 in the Golan. The Syrians are “brave” when others suffer the consequences. That is the definition of cowardice.

November 16th, 2008, 5:59 pm


offended said:

Shots across the bow. Shots across the stern. Shots across the gantry. Sticking your head in the head. This is not the issue. Why should they shoot at them from the first place? Are they enemy combatant? When you’ve got a boat which is strictly civilian, do you just shoot at it?

Is this the way things are handled all over the world?
It’s not enough that you’re strangling Gaza into famine, drought and endemics, you don’t even allow people to fish?

For God’s sake, even immigrant boats are not treated like this!

As for the Golan, I’ve heard your boasting about your illegal occupation of it before. Old news. Don’t thrill me much. Your Mirkavas got raped and your conscripts ran like spring chicks in sought Lebanon 2006. Were you there btw? 😉

November 16th, 2008, 7:21 pm


AIG said:

The Gazan fishermen are restricted to Gaza waters and they know it. That is because they have been used to smuggle weapons to Gaza.

I am happy you are worried about the rights of fishermen in Gaza but care nothing about your country in which people have less rights than the people in Gaza. Just shows that all you are interested in is bashing Israel and not really improving lives.

The Arabs won in 48 and again in 56. They won in 67 and 73. They also won in 82 on and 2006. I admit it, according to your history books you always win. I wish you many additional such victories. But, if many Arabs like you cannot confront reality, you will never improve. And the Arab world is in the state it is today, exactly because your attitude is the predominant one. Keep up the good work.

November 16th, 2008, 7:52 pm


brad said:

“No longer the pariah President,” by Peter Beaumont
As usual, the author of this blog, a purported ‘academic’, picks up on any piece of literature in order to package a dictator shunned by most of the world. The arrogance of this shame on academia goes as far as claiming that the world is coming to Syria instead of saying the obvious truth: Syria has been begging for the last 5 years to be rehabilitated and accepted by the civilized world. What happened to objectivity and the search for truth entrusted to the community of academics? This is a shamble of academic abuse.
On the other hand it is doubtful that Syria will succeed under the present dictator in coming out of its pariah status.

November 16th, 2008, 8:07 pm


Off the Wall said:

Arabs call it Nakba (1948), Naksa (1967), if you are translating that as self image of winning, I think you need to change whatever you are drinking. Not even the official narrative talks about winning in either case. 1973, was a win, only in the sense that the Arabs were able to demonstrate that, at that time, Israel, without US aid, was vulnerable, and that the early successes of the war proved that the Arabs are capable of strategic win. However, it backfired, because that precived vulnerability was used so well to Israel’s advantage in the US and other western countries.

As for 2006, your sarcasm indicates that you believe Israel to be the winner of that conflict. Are you serious, what has the whole thing accomplished? It only weakened your only ally in Lebanon and strengthened your adversaries. Who is the self delusional here.

Have you read the article before jumping in. Clearly you have not, the article is rather critical of Assad and is way more realsitic than others. As a member of the academia, i consider what you said about Joshua to be slanderuous. Just know something, Daniel Pipes talking points and his anti academic-freedeom crusade have no traction here.

November 16th, 2008, 8:21 pm


norman said:

Shai,Rumyal, OTW ,

This is what Israel needs, a strong action by the US and the other western country to do the right thing and end this conflict in the Mideast for the benefit of all,


Miliband challenges Israel on settlements

2008-11-16 20:19:01 –

JERUSALEM (AP) – British Foreign Secretary David Miliband is expressing strong opposition to Jewish settlement in the West Bank, and officials are speaking of an economic offensive to try to force them to be taken down.
Miliband will also urge Syria to tie up peace talks with its historical enemy during talks over the next two days in Jerusalem and Damascus, Israeli and British officials said Sunday as he began his visit. He also has meetings scheduled in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, his office said.
Miliband is pressing European partners for tighter control of imports to the European Union from the Jewish settlements, some of which are admitted at European ports as the produce of Israel and therefore enjoy tariff benefits under an Israel-EU treaty, the officials said.
«We know of the British concern referring to this matter,» Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said. «We have been involved for some time now in dialogue with our British counterparts in order to find a way to solve this issue.
British Embassy spokeswoman Karen Kaufman said that in a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday the two had a «clear exchange of views,» on the subject but she said Miliband told Olmert that Israel was not seeking to rewrite existing agreements.
«The foreign secretary made it clear that Britain is not trying to shift the goal posts on this issue but is following up on representations made to us about the workings of the system,» she said.
Miliband later met Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and pledged to pay a solidarity visit to Sderot, the battered Israeli border town where a rocket from Gaza earlier hit a house under construction, slightly wounding one person.
European diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity as a fresh economic offensive on the West Bank settlements has not been officially approved, said Miliband has been trying to muster support in Brussels for tougher implementation of existing customs regulations in the hope that settlements, a core issue in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, could be placed under a siege that could help hasten their dismantlement.
In a Nov. 4 speech in London, Miliband spoke with passion about the despair of Palestinians who, shortly after a U.S.-sponsored peace conference a year ago in Annapolis saw Israeli construction in the West Bank soar by 80 percent on land the Palestinians seek for a state.
«For Palestinians, feeling cheated and abused, there…are fears…that talks are a screen to cover continued settlement expansion, home demolition, land confiscation and the daily indignities of occupation,» he said. «Settlement activity is illegal; it also makes a Palestinian state more difficult to achieve by the week.
Israel has traditionally defended its settlements by maintaining that the West Bank’s ownership is disputed and can be resolved only through negotiations.
Miliband has also spoken of Israel’s security concerns, among them the rockets aimed at northern Israel by the violent Syrian-backed Hezbollah militia just across the border in Lebanon.
«We’ve been engaging with the Syrian government for some time impressing upon them the responsibilities they have to curb the flow of rockets to Hezbollah to curb the flow of fighters into Iraq; to contribute positively to stability in the Middle East ultimately through normalization of their relations with Israel,» he said in remarks broadcast Sunday by Israel Radio.
Miliband was scheduled to meet other Israeli officials on Monday and visit Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank, then travel on to Syria and Lebanon.

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November 16th, 2008, 8:24 pm


Off the Wall said:

Another embarrasement for Mubarak. Let us see how can he justify his active participation in enforcing the criminal siege. My understanding is that the streets in Egyupt are boiling, and Friday prayer sermons are very vocal about the issue across the country.

November 16th, 2008, 8:29 pm


Shai said:

Norman, OTW,

If I was a little younger, I’d consider going to an academic institution, and offering to put together a program called “The Psychology of Nations”, which would be researched and taught by Psychologists, Historians, Political Scientists, perhaps even Psychiatrists. I’m sure there is something to be learned about how entire nations behave in certain situations. I have no doubt whatsoever that my own people are suffering from a variety of complexes (some of which are deeply embedded, others more recent), which act as inhibitors to the much needed self-confidence, courage, and open-mindedness that are prerequisite to the support of peace (not to mention painful concessions).

When finally, after 60 years, our Arab “enemies” are ready to end the long Arab-Israeli conflict, we find ourselves unable, more than unwilling, to do so. And that, to me, seems to be a psychological issue, more than a physical one. Our leaders will have to become our national “therapists”, if they’re to succeed in changing our views and our perceptions. I can’t imagine this to be a simple task at all. We already see that self-therapy doesn’t work here, despite endless interaction, and attempts at reason (e.g. AIG)… It’ll have to come from above.

November 16th, 2008, 8:46 pm


Off the Wall said:


The tides are turning. Europe is asserting its long held view.
I would love for the European initiative to include in it a major signal to the Palestinian and the Syrian leadership that while the rights of every country must be respected as priniciples for peace, further economic partnerships and subsequent political support will also hinge on measureable progress both countries make towards political democratic reforms. In Syria’s case, the first step should be freedom of press gurantees and the openning of the Internet, to be followed by the issuance of the long awaited political parties law, which should be brought out into the open for discussion by all Syrians. There are metrics that can be accomplished within a timeline and such timeline should not be very long, nore should it be elastic. European political support and economic investments can and should be tied to these metrics. Not for the sake of Israel, but for the sake of Palestinians and Syrians. With Rice and her boss out of the picture, Europe can do that without being condescending to Syrians or Palestinians.

What I love about the choice of Hillary as the SOS is her core committment to women rights as a human right issue at global scale. I think that her presense will be felt in KSA and in other countries who have legetimized opression of women. I am hoping that Obama’s foreign policy will be Human Rights focussed and I hope to hear his first policy speach. I will be greately disappointed otherwise.

November 16th, 2008, 8:51 pm


AIG said:


Though Israel made many mistaked in the 2006 war, in retrospective it won beause since 2006 the Lebanese border has never been so quiet. Most importantly, Israel was able to change the rules of the game and to make it clear that Hizballah action against Israel means the devastation of Lebanon. Lebanon can no longer hide behind its inability to control Hizballah. This means that Hizballah’s ability to act has been almost completely curtailed. They have not even retaliated for the dispatch of Mugniyeh to meet the virgins.

As for 1973, you completely misread what happened. The Arabs understood that even if they started in the most advantageous position possible to them, they cannot beat Israel. That is why after the war Syria and Egypt gave up getting strategic parity with Israel. If the Arabs couldn’t win in 73, they can never win.

Yes, for you most Israelis are stupid and need someone strong to lead them to see the light. I strongly sense you distrust in the intelligence and capability of your countrymen. Typical leftist progressive arrogance that explains why the so called “peace” camp in Israel is in dire straights.

November 16th, 2008, 9:19 pm


Alex said:

This is interesting … but it simply says that the American people only pay attention to current trouble spots (Iraq)… not yesterday’s trouble spots (Palestine, Lebanon).

Poll: Only 19% of Americans say Israeli-Palestinian peace should top Obama’s priorities
By Natasha Mozgovaya, Haaretz Correspondent

Only 19 percent of Americans think “making peace between Israel and the Palestinians” should be among President-elect Barack Obama’s top priorities foreign policy priorities, according to a recent poll of voters conducted by Public Opinion Strategies and Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and commissioned by The Israel Project.

Of those polled, only 6 percent think the United States should stand behind the Palestinians in the Middle East peace talks.

Comparatively, 66 percent of those polled said the U.S. should support Israel in the peace process. Some 80 percent of GOP voters and 59 percent of Democratic were among those backing U.S. support for Israel.
Despite “all the problems America now faces at home,” 58 percent of those polled agreed more with the statement that “America needs to stand with Israel” than with “Israel needs to take care of itself.”

Almost two-thirds of Americans said they were more concerned about the nuclear standoff with Iran; some 72 percent of those polled agreed with the statement that “even with all the problems that America faces at home now, we must still work hard to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons.”

When asked what the next president should make as his top priority in foreign policy, 56 percent mentioned “ending the war in Iraq” and 41 percent said “restoring global economic growth.”

Another 35 percent said Obama must focus on “defeating Al-Qaida and the Taliban,” while 33 percent listed “preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons” as one of the most important tasks facing the U.S.

Meanwhile, 15 percent believe the U.S. must work on “dealing with the instability in Pakistan,” while 8 percent are worried about ?meeting the threat of Putin’s Russia.”

November 16th, 2008, 9:22 pm


offended said:

AIG said: “Israel gives the people of gaza more rights than the Syrians are given in Syria”.

Well I guess it’s self explanatory. People will go for great lengths to justify their dented morals (if any).

AIG, I am seriously not a fan of bashing anybody. It’s simple, stop abusing my people and I will stop bashing you. Maybe I’ll start praising you too.

Here’s another piece which shows what kind of rights the AIGs are delivering to the Palestinians of Gaza:

“Israeli border police prevented 15 trucks loaded with medication from entering the Gaza Strip on Sunday, according to a de facto Health Ministry representative. ”


November 16th, 2008, 9:35 pm


jad said:

Is AIG care about Israel at all????

He wants the Syrian to open the Golan for resistance!
He also wants HA to retaliate for Mughanie and send some of his own Israeli soldier/civilians to meet the virgins!
He doesn’t want peace as Al-Qaida wants!

WOW, you are asking for what will destroy your country! Keep the good work…

I’m sorry for you Shai that you have such Israeli over there who are asking for their country devastation……

November 16th, 2008, 9:38 pm


Shai said:


As I’ve written recently, most Israelis are much more like AP than AIG. No Israeli demands to see democracy in Syria first, before we make peace. No Israeli thinks we should wait 20-30 years, to let the “Islamic Tsunami” pass over us, before we make peace. No Israeli believes the nonsense about “Israel gives the people of gaza more rights than the Syrians are given in Syria”.

And by the way, AIG is “over here” (Israel) about as much as I’m “over there” (New Jersey). In fact, AIG, next time you’re in Ramat Hasharon, let me know, and let’s have coffee together, shall we? I’m available this week, are you? 🙂

November 16th, 2008, 9:54 pm


norman said:


With peace between Israel on one side and Syria , the Palestinians and the Lebanese on the other side and I am for a full peace ,will restore the rights of the Palestinians and the dignity for Syria,

With peace come non aggression and non interference in Syria’s affair and that will make easier for Syria to proceed with politecal reform , My idea is two party System like the US where people are flexible in supporting legislations and elections are done on the local level except for the presidency.

With peace the area will become safe for investments and the money will flow and new projects will start and more Syrians will be employed ,with more Syrians employed more services are needed and more jobs are created , more infrastructures will be needed and more jobs will be there .

About the Golan , in my view the Israelis who are there should be allowed to stay if they want under Syrian laws and be part of the investment class that Syria is trying to lure , and yes they should have some kind of quata so they are forced to employ Syrians , until things are steady and employment can be done on merit.

With peace , The economic and the technology sanctions will be lifted and Syrians can be as successful as they are in the US.

November 16th, 2008, 10:54 pm


AIG said:

Here is a simple challenge for all the BS blowers.

What percentage of the population in Syria lives at under $2 per day and what percentage in Gaza lives with under $2 per day?
What is the literacy rate in Syria and what is it in Gaza?
Where is there more freedom of speech, Gaza or Syria?
Where are there more computers and internet connections per person, Gaza or Syria?
Where do people live longer, Syria or Gaza?
How many physicians are there per 1000 people in Gaza and in Syria?
How many clinics?
What is the graduation rate in Gaza and in Syria?
How much phones and cell phones are there per person in Gaza and Syria?
How many students are there per class in Gaza and in Syria?
Where is there a better education system?

Let’s seriously evaluate and see in fact where things are worse, Syria or Gaza? Gaza has received and is receiving so much aid that you will be surprised. Hey, but maybe I am wrong, I have not researched many of the questions above. Why not do a real comparison, we are not afraid of the truth are we? Who is up to the challenge?

November 16th, 2008, 11:13 pm


AIG said:

Once your people stop trying to kill me, I will have no reason to fight them back, which you call “abuse”.

And if you would really be in the business of bashing people that “abuse” your people you would be mainly bashing the autocratic regime in Syria which has abused the Syrians for decades. But you are not really seeking to make lives better. All you are seeking is to bash Israel. Your hypocritcal behavior exposes you.

For example, what did you do or where did you complain about how the Syrian government is stopping rice shipments to Iraqi refugees? Is it the case that an Arab cannot “abuse” another? Only Israel can “abuse” Arabs? How low can you go?

You are back to your blatant lies. You are within your rights to continue lying about me but I will continue pointing out that you are a blatant liar. That is what people usually do when they run out of arguments. They resort to ad-hominem attacks.

How do you interpret the fact that I simply describe the situation in the Golan and with Hizballah and conclude that I want it to change? You want me to sign a peace agreement with a autocratic, ruthless murderer so that then you can go about the business of replacing him. So you want me to trust someone you do not trust. Very convincing.

November 16th, 2008, 11:21 pm


jad said:

Day after day you prove that you are so dump that you forget what you write
Let’s see:
(They have not even retaliated for the dispatch of Mugniyeh to meet the virgins.) Translation: I, AIG want HA to retaliate.
(As for bravery, the mice of the Golan should be the last to talk. Not ONE shot fired at Israel since 1973 in the Golan.) Translation: I, AIG want Syrian to have resistance in the Golan.
(You want me to sign a peace agreement with a autocratic,) Translation: I don’t want peace.
Listen: I don’t want you to sign anything I don’t even care about you; you can go to hell, I don’t give a damn.
I also don’t want to answer any of your so stupid comparing thing between Syria and Gaza….Get real, you already know the answers of every question you asked, find it yourself and party.

Your comments are so loud and over reacting they are disturbing everybody, you actually sound like a prostitute that didn’t get paid for her services.
Stick to your comments limit only 6 in 24hrs, there are lots of people here want to have some interesting discussion better than reading your ‘not paid’ whining.

November 16th, 2008, 11:52 pm


Alex said:

At Champress they are busy with King Abdullah’s fruit juice that looked like a glass of wine


Really pathetic journalism… and even more pathetic comments.


بصحتك يا خادم الحرمين الشريفين
بصحتك يا خادم الحرمين الشريفين

الصورة اصدق التعبيرات على عمق اسلام خادم الحرمين الشريفين …جورج بوش وبيده كأس الخمر يقرع كأس العاهل السعودي الملك عبد الله بن عبد العزيز ..طبعا كتبة المملكة الديمقراطية الشعبية السعودية المستأجرين والمجهزين لمناسبة كهذه سيقولون ان الملك السعيد عبد الله كان يشرب في كأسه ماء زمزم وسنصدق..والله سنصدق .. ولكن ماذا يشرب جورج بوش ..؟ وبصحتك ياخادم الحرمين الشريفين مع الانتباه المسبق الى ان اصحاب الفتاوى من اهل الدجل المبرمج سيشطبون بدءا من اليوم الحديث الشريف لعن الله الخمر، وشاربها، وساقيها، وعاصرها، ومعتصرها، وحاملها، والمحمولة إليه، وبائعها، ومبتاعها، وآكل ثمنها … والان ما حكم ضارب الكأس بالكأس ايها السادة العلماء …؟؟وبالنسبة لهواة التوثيق فان الصورة سجلت امس الاول خلال (العشاء الاخير!! ) للاخ المجاهد الحاج الورع جورج دبليو بوش مع زعماء الدول العشرين ..والصورة بالطبع لن تنشرها صحيفة الشرق الاوسط ولن تبثها قناة العربية ولكن من المتوقع ان تصدر جماعة الرابع عشر من اذار عدة بيانات لشرح ان الصورة من تركيب اجهزة المخابرات السورية

November 17th, 2008, 1:28 am


Alia said:

Dear OTW,

I doubt that Hillary would be of much help to women in KSA….Help to those women has to come from inside.
I personally would prefer Hillary in the post of Health and Human Services where she could, under Obama, try to implement the health care reforms that both she and Obama had committed to and also work on issues pertaining to women, youth and families.

I have seen too much of Hillary in Israel during her huband’s presidency and somehow she has never struck me as someone with a great ability or training in conflict mediation.

November 17th, 2008, 1:51 am


Alia said:


[ Miliband is pressing European partners for tighter control of imports to the European Union from the Jewish settlements, some of which are admitted at European ports as the produce of Israel and therefore enjoy tariff benefits under an Israel-EU treaty, the officials said.]

This is a good idea; Israel is deflecting it of course by labeling all products as made in Israel-so they cannot be tracked at the moment.

November 17th, 2008, 1:59 am


Alia said:

Dear Jad,

Your questions are the necessary questions that need to be asked. Frankly, when I hear that there are al-Qaeda fighters in Syria for whatever strategic reason there may be, I lose any illusion I may have had about the future of our country. Those terrorists are going to need a whole apparatus to handle them, and you do not make pacts with the devil without a big price to pay. I understand strategy but I also believe in certain limits for our own protection.

November 17th, 2008, 2:07 am


Alex said:

I agree with Alia. I can\’t see her as the conflict resolution type.

Basically we have these names:

1) Hillary Clinton
2) Denis Ross
3) Daniel Kurtzer
4) Robert Malley
5) Colin Powell
6) Bill Richardson
7) John Kerry
8 ) Chuck Hagel
9) Richard Holbrooke

And these available positions

1) Secretary of State
2) Under secretary of state for Middle Eastern affairs
3) US ambassador to the United Nations
4) US envoy to the Middle East (or to Syrian/Israeli/Palestinian peace talks)

November 17th, 2008, 2:11 am


norman said:

This might help chose,


Analysis: Some Israelis want tough love from Obama

2008-11-17 02:25:04 –

JERUSALEM (AP) – Each time a new U.S. president is elected, the question that leaps to Israeli minds is, «is he good for the Jews
With Barack Obama’s victory, however, what’s good for the 5.5 million Jews of Israel has become a matter of debate.
Eight years of unflinching support from U.S. President George W. Bush has yielded no peace. So while most Israelis appreciated Bush’s backing, others wonder if a tougher approach _ maybe even some arm twisting here and there _ might not have been better.
Their fear stems from the demographic threat posed by Israel’s occupation of Arab lands, as the size of the Arab population approaches the Jewish one and endangers Israel’s existence as a Jewish and democratic state. A true friend of Israel is an American leader who will work not only to protect Israel from external enemies, but to disentangle itself from the 41-year-occupation _ or so the argument goes.
For Obama, that could mean abandoning what many see as a policy of blanket support in favor of some muscular diplomacy, such as pressuring Israel to stop expanding settlements on land Palestinians claim for a future state.
«We should hope Obama will help Israel help itself, because that is how true friendship is measured. That he will criticize its policy when he must, because that, too, is a test of true friendship,» Israeli journalist Gideon Levy wrote in the Haaretz daily.
And in a commentary titled «Don’t be afraid of the Jews,» Haaretz’s Akiva Eldar argued that Obama need not worry about losing U.S. Jewish support if he takes Israel to task.
«The concept ‘friend of Israel,’ which had become a synonym for supporters of perpetuating the occupation, has begun to take on new meaning,» he wrote.
Israeli peace activist Dror Etkes thinks Israel needs tough love from Obama, but only if it’s done wholeheartedly and evenhandedly.
«If you’re not serious about pressuring the two sides, don’t do it, don’t start,» he said in an interview. «Because you end up bringing more and more people to the conclusion that this conflict is unsolvable.
The Bush administration largely turned a blind eye to Israeli practices that conflict with U.S. positions, such as demolishing Palestinians’ homes and expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Obama, say the doves, could begin by pressuring Israel to stop building up its existing settlements, and dismantle new ones built by nationalist hard-liners without its approval.
To others, the idea of pressuring Israel at all is anathema.
Nationalist lawmaker Arieh Eldad said that if the West Bank became a Palestinian state, Hamas militants would end up taking it over as they did Gaza after Israel withdrew from there three years ago.
It’s not Obama would who would pay for creating a Palestinian state, he said. «We will pay. Our children will pay.
Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, said Israelis don’t need «outside actors to impose a solution on them.
«My instinct is to trust the democratic judgment of the people of Israel,» he said.
That judgment will be delivered Feb. 10, in Israel’s general election.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been sounding alarm bells about the threat Israel faces unless it gives up the West Bank and signs peace with the Palestinians. But he is stepping down in a few weeks. Tzipi Livni, the candidate to succeed him, says she won’t be bound by Olmert’s prescriptions. Her main opponent, the hawkish Benjamin Netanyahu, indicates he’s in no hurry to discuss yielding any land.
Obama already has a starring role in the campaign. Netanyahu claims a personal chemistry with the president-elect, apparently hoping it will win centrist votes. The more dovish Livni is warning Obama not to talk to Iran, a stance which may raise her stock with conservatives.
Israelis were initially apprehensive about Obama’s Muslim-sounding middle name, his stated willingness to talk to Iran and the presence of what they saw as pro-Palestinian political advisers in his camp.
Many were soothed by the choice of the staunchly pro-Israel Joe Biden as Obama’s running mate, and Obama’s emotional visit to Israel, though up to election day, Israel was one of the few countries where polls showed a sizable preference for Republican candidate Sen. John McCain.
Obama’s choice of Rahm Emanuel for chief of staff was a «very strong comforting factor,» said Danny Ayalon, a former Israeli ambassador to Washington.
Emanuel is a deeply committed Jew whose Israeli father was a member of Irgun, Israel’s pre-state right-wing underground. During the first Gulf war, Emanuel came here as a volunteer worker in the maintenance of Israeli military vehicles.
At the same time, the Hebrew-speaking Emanuel could give Washington an insider’s view of Israel. If Obama chooses to put pressure on Israel, Emanuel’s presence at the top could help fireproof the new president against allegations he is acting against Israel’s interests.
U.S. presidents have a stake in nurturing deep-rooted ties with Israel, said Aaron David Miller, a former adviser to both Republican and Democratic secretaries of state.
But neither country should want a relationship «where we defer to the Israelis in terms of our own tactics and strategies, where we don’t have honest conversations with them about things they do that we don’t like,» he said.
The Americans who achieved the most in the region, Miller said, were Henry Kissinger, Jimmy Carter and James Baker, and they were all willing «to be tough with both Arabs and Israelis.
Editor’s Note: Steven Gutkin is AP’s bureau chief for Israel and the Palestinian territories. AP writer Ian Deitch contributed to this report.

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November 17th, 2008, 2:23 am


Alia said:


Let’s hope for a good surprise- Has Hagel been interviewed by Obama in the last few days ?

November 17th, 2008, 2:33 am


norman said:

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From Times OnlineNovember 17, 2008

Full text: Times interview with Shimon Peres
Excerpts of interview by Richard Beeston, Foreign Editor, with President Shimon Peres of Israel ahead of his visit to London on Monday November 17, 2008

What has happened to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia’s 2002 peace plan, which called for full peace between the Arabs and Israel in return for withdrawal of Israel from all lands captured in 1967?

There is a different interpretation of the 2002 plan. It was a take it or leave it (plan). Many of the principles that are included in it are acceptable to us. That does not mean that we do not have a right to make here and there a proposal or a counter-proposal. Most of the points are agreeable and some others are bridgeable. It is a walking proposition not a jumping proposition.

Last year President Bush predicted a Middle East peace agreement by the end of 2008 – that seems unlikely?

Yes (it is unlikely). You see, many things happened in the meantime. Time was short. All of us changed. The obstacles are clearer than ever before.

So the international community is in a more difficult place now than a year ago?

No, identifying a danger is the beginning of solving it. There is a world crisis, but there is also an opportunity. There is a feeling that we have to look afresh.

How might Barack Obama’s election change the situation?

This is the beginning of the end of racism. A black man reaching the top position is the strongest answer to Hitler. It is the political equivalent of the black runner (Jesse Owens) who won the gold medal in 1936. No one looked at the colour of his leg or the colour of the sportsman, they measured his speed. The capacity of America to renew itself is a welcome surprise. Obama was elected by the American people, but he was chosen by the world.

What about his position on Iran, he has said he would like to talk to them, is that a real possibility?

If there will be a united policy on Iran and there is a new (lower) price for oil, then Iran will have to come to terms to a proportionate reality of our times. They have been behaving out of proportion. Dialogue should not just be just by words but by deeds. If you hang only on the tongue then I am not sure dialogue will produce more than speeches. If Iranians feel there is a body politic behind it (the push for talks) and they cannot just escape by sending Ahmadinejad to spread quick wisdom then there is a chance. They have to stop three things: they have to stop trying to control the Middle East, through supporting Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas; the second to stop terror, to be the centre of terror, the financing of terror and so on; and third stop the combination of nuclear warheads missiles and threats. As a way of example, if Switzerland were to build a nuclear bomb, we would not be necessarily alarmed. But I would not say Ahmadinejad has a Swiss temperament.

What about Syria?

Syria has a chance and has a dilemma. I think Israel is ready to make peace with Syria and pay the cost. The dilemma is that they can’t be at the same time in the peace camp and in the Iranian camp. Peace is a choice, not a cocktail.

So a land for peace deal on the Golan Heights is a possibility?

If you talk about the land you also have to talk about the peace. In order to give land you must be sure that you got peace. The problem with Syria is not so much the land but the peace. Several Israeli prime ministers indicated that they are ready to give back the land. But the Syrians do not indicate they are ready to provide peace. We shall continue to negotiate. We are not short tempered but neither are we blind.

You are coming to Britain this week, are you upset by the anti-Israel sentiment in the country?

I don’t understand them, what do they want? What the hell are they looking for? We did not go to conquer land — never. We were attacked. Thanks heaven we won the wars without the help of any foreigners. We did not have foreign soldiers on our land. When we tried to make peace we gave back all the land to Egypt and Jordan. I don’t understand the criticism. Why are they criticising us? That war is an ugly story, we know it. I can assure them we did not invite it and we are not happy with it and as we have shown we are ready to pay the cost. I do not take their superior position. They do not go into the realities of the situation. They just want to be politically correct?

The one most controversial area is the expansion of Jewish settlements, what is being done about that?

Good I am glad you raised it. We left Gaza. We dismantled, not by pressure but our own initiative, 30 settlements by force and look what happened. The minute we left Gaza, we left the settlements, some of them becoming bases for shooting rockets against Israel. The Israelis ask: ‘Do you want us to do it again? To be targeted by missiles?’ Why are they so surprised that we want to make sure it will not happen again?

Has Britain damaged its image in the region because of its role in the Iraq war?

I don’t think so. The biggest failure in Iraq was not Britain but Saddam Hussein. If he had not been stopped in Kuwait he would have gone to Saudi Arabia. He was the greatest killer in the Middle East. He initiated the war against Iran and killed one million people, he killed hundreds of thousands of Kurds and fired missiles at Israel. If he would have remained he would have been a brutal dictator with unlimited ambitions. You don’t have to apologise for trying to bring an end to it. Churchill does not have to apologise for bringing down another brutal dictator. Thanks heaven.

You are 85, you have lived through the whole of Israel’s history, do you expect to see real peace in your life time?

Yes. I don’t say that I will live for ever. From my experiences, behind the door, from time to time, you are not only a tiger but a dove too. I know people who are pessimistic are considered more serious than optimists, but they both pass the same way.

Do you think you will ever visit Damascus or Riyadh?

Yes, oh yes. I never imagined that we would have achieved what we did already. A year ago I would never dream, for example, that the secretary general of the United Nations would invite a person like myself to come to a forum with the King of Saudi Arabia. It is not the full performance, neither is it the old convention.

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November 17th, 2008, 2:53 am


Shai said:


Again I’m making “blatant lies”? Let’s have coffee together and discuss it. I go by Ramat Hasharon quite often. Got some time this week?

November 17th, 2008, 5:07 am


offended said:

So what you’re saying is that since some Syrians are poor you’re allowed to impose a medicine embargo on Gaza?

November 17th, 2008, 5:19 am


offended said:

Dear Shai, I envy you. It’d be very interesting to meet AIG face to face.

And I am serious btw. 🙂

November 17th, 2008, 5:25 am


Shai said:


Let’s first see if AIG lives in Israel… 🙂 And then, if he does, if he’ll accept my invitation.

November 17th, 2008, 6:39 am


jad said:

Dear Alia,
I have the same concerns about radical and terrorists group being in Syria and what should be done about that, it will be nasty if the smart government of ours doesn’t act fast.

Dear Norman,
No, I don’t live in Syria, I visit a lot though.

When I read this kind of news


I get certain that the problem is not just because of one person on the top of this enormous pile of mistakes; it is the problem of a whole crazy society who lost any kind of responsibility and who is not going forward but backward and super fast.
They are quick to jail innocent Syrians for years and years just because they talk, but when there is a crime made by an ignorant worthless MP they all defend him like dogs…SHAME ON SUCH PALIMENT, SUCH MEMBERS AND SUCH CORRUPTED GOVERNMENT.
I just want to know, how are they going to make a better society when there is no punishment? Does those MP represent anybody except themselves?
It’s freaking hopeless on all and every level in my country.

November 17th, 2008, 6:49 am


Shai said:


The questions you asked are very brave. I’m looking forward to hearing some of our commentators’ response.

November 17th, 2008, 6:52 am


jad said:

Dear Shai,
I know that the questions I asked are simple but there are 100 of these questions need to be answered so we can say that we understand the peace between our countries
The problem with us as Syrian (this is my own personal view and I apologize in advance from anybody who will get offended of my words) had been living in a cave we build it ourselves, we all helped building this cave not only the regime, we all as a society failed to improve our lives and surrounding and we always blame someone else for our failure.
I’m sure that whenever peace comes we won’t know how to deal with it, and we will fail if we are not at least prepare of what is hitting us, again and as usual the average Syrian is the one who is going to pay the price, good or bad…
I, (with all my education, experience and open minded), am going to be seriously stunt when peace comes. This is why I asked those question knowing that my respected government won’t give me any answer so I’m asking my friends on here to tell me what is their visions.

November 17th, 2008, 7:20 am


offended said:

No, Jad. I am afraid some of the MPs DO represent some people behind them.

Tribalism is the next biggest problem in Syria (after extremism). Most of the ignorant and the illiterate DO NOT know and do not care what Syria stands for and what makes it a cohesive state, they belong to their respective tribes. They’ve got their MPs and the government has to appease them otherwise they’ll do lots of trouble. I don’t know about other cities. But this is fairly obvious in Aleppo.

With such culture dominating the poor suburbs, I don’t expect any progress. If there’s no real development (social and economical) for these people; I wouldn’t place high hopes in the future.

The Parliament may well not lift immunity off this guy who had nearly caused a man to go blind. As long as we have such scum in the Parliament (and masses of folks who are ready to elect them), we will still hear of those stories again and again….

November 17th, 2008, 7:25 am


offended said:

If AIG was living in Israel as he claims, then he must be awake by now no?

What time is it there? 9:33 am? You’d expect an online activist to be more active irl!

And he writes comments well through the night. That doesn’t tally with his claim unless he works some sort of nightshifts, while the rest of us are sound asleep.

You know how the famous saying goes: “We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.”

November 17th, 2008, 7:33 am


Shai said:


Doesn’t sound to me like JAD and Offended have their heads buried in the sand. They know their country FAR better than you and I do, and the last thing they need, are annoying omniscient Israelis shoving “the truth” in their face. Certainly not as counter-arguments to why Israel shouldn’t be held to different standards, as if it’s some beauty-pageant, or as if we understand their reality better than they do.

Now when did you say we’re having coffee?

November 17th, 2008, 7:35 am


Innocent_Criminal said:

it would be great if Hagel gets the the Sec of state position. But it would be much better if he gets the Sec of Defense. Sec of states can be marginalized (i.e. Colin Powell) but Sec of Defense is a much more powerful role. so i would rather see Hagel get that one.

November 17th, 2008, 7:37 am


Shai said:


In my case, it’s this version: “We (don’t) sleep soundly in our beds because rough (young daughters) stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who (raise them)…” 🙂

November 17th, 2008, 7:38 am


jad said:

Dear Offended,
I agree with you, let us say this guy is some tribe big shot, the article said that the whole parliament refuse to drop the immunity on him? THW WHOLE PARLAIMENT….that is worse, it shows that every MP in the parliament is covering for him, don’t you think that is a terrible thing to hear from a ‘parliament’
The fact that the incident doesn’t have any political issue related to make you more confused..3oja
I better go to sleep..Have a good day/night.

November 17th, 2008, 7:52 am


SimoHurtta said:

[ Miliband is pressing European partners for tighter control of imports to the European Union from the Jewhttps://joshualandis.com/blog/?p=1571&cp=all#comment-221440ish settlements, some of which are admitted at European ports as the produce of Israel and therefore enjoy tariff benefits under an Israel-EU treaty, the officials said.]

This is a good idea; Israel is deflecting it of course by labeling all products as made in Israel-so they cannot be tracked at the moment.

The faith of AssaAbloy (Nordic lock and security system company) is the characteristic of the new era. AssaAbloy bought an Israeli company Mul-T-Lock in the year 2000. Mul-T-Lock has a factory in Barkan industrial area on occupied area build on stolen land.

Last month Swedish Church, Swedwatch and Diakonia published a report of AssaAloy’s factory on the “slave area”. It caused a scandal and now AssaAbloy is now forced to evacuate the factory.


Also Heineken has moved gradually its production (Barkan Wineries) form Barkan.

The reality is that multinational companies can’t any more “tolerate” the negative image Israel businesses create. Also Britain’s new policy with indicates that EU has finally got fed up with Israeli feed dragging with peace efforts and the attitude is now hardening. One reason is that France has so far avoided regression and so performed somewhat better as other EU countries. That can be explained much with France’s successful commercial activity in Arab countries. Despite the lately lower oil prices the fact is that when economy begins eventually to return to business as usual the prices will jump back and the oil producers cash mountains and markets will be essential for western economies.

EU could perfectly well manage economically without Israel (which Israel can’t “afford”), but without Middle East’s oil, cash and lucrative markets it would be difficult. In Europe’s interest is to get fast peace. Israel’s present policy only creates unnecessary chaos and instability (from our viewpoint) on Europe’s southern borders, hurts business contacts and radicalises a big minority in Europe. In the end also USA has to begin to calculate economical benefits of peace. If it doesn’t EU, Russia and China will take care of the future nuclear power station projects, wast weapon trades, industrial infrastructure investments etc. USA doesn’t any more have the financial and technical supremacy it had during the previous oil crises. But surely a couple of million industrial jobs count especially in these hard times.

Israeli politicians understand this (AIG probably not) and that is why they are now so nervous. The party time of Israel is nearly over.

November 17th, 2008, 10:02 am


norman said:


Members of parliment should be under the same law as anybody else , no need to lift the parlimantery protection to be prosecuted like in the US and should be elected directly by their district every 2 years which can throw them out.

November 17th, 2008, 12:47 pm


norman said:

where is Alex,

November 17th, 2008, 1:25 pm


norman said:

ElBaradei says Syria uranium traces not conclusive

Monday, November 17, 2008
By John Irish

Traces of uranium found at a Syrian site bombed by Israel last year were not sufficient evidence of nuclear activity there, the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog said Monday.

“We won’t be able to reach a quick conclusion unless we have credible information,” Mohamed ElBaradei, told a news conference in Dubai. “There was uranium but it does not mean there was a reactor.”

Diplomats in Vienna told Reuters earlier this month that particles of processed uranium were found in samples taken by International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors from the site in eastern Syria, and said the findings warranted further investigation before any conclusions were drawn.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem has dismissed as politically motivated the disclosures about the uranium traces and said the uranium could have come from munitions used by Israel to bomb the site in September last year.

ElBaradei said a report on Syria’s alleged covert atomic activity which the IAEA will release later this week will also not be conclusive.

“The report will say that there is still a lot of work to do. (There will be) no conclusion on whether there was a reactor or not,” he said.

Both Syria and Israel should cooperate with the IAEA’s investigation of Syria’s alleged covert program, he said.

“We need cooperation from Syria; we need cooperation from Israel,” he said. “I would still like more transparency from the Syrians,” he added.

Washington, Israel’s chief ally, says the site was a secret nuclear reactor that was almost complete when it was bombed by Israel, which embarked on indirect peace talks with Syria months later.

Syria says the target of the Israeli attack was a disused military building, denies it was a plutonium-making reactor under construction and says the U.S. intelligence was fabricated.

(Writing by Inal Ersan, editing by Tim Pearce)



Copyright © 2008 The International Herald Tribune | http://www.iht.com

November 17th, 2008, 3:51 pm


Off the Wall said:

Dear Jad and Offended,

I have been thinking of the questions jad posted. The more I thought about them, the more I was forced to think of Shai’s “Psychology of Nations” notion. Here is an installment of my “loud thinking”, i though of sharing it with this forum, so far it seems to go no where, but I am hoping that we can as a group here, produce something. In the next few days, i will focus my comments on continuing this rambling, and as such, I will not spend a millisecond trying to repond to AIG and his Ilks. The task is much more important, and we are making some progress here towards establishing an image of our Syria. I will not let him sabotage our attempts. I am attempting to focus on us as a society. (at least as I remember it, and see it here in the diaspora). The ideas are rather incoherent as each can either be expanded on or sumarily dismissed as “balther”. 🙂

What went wrong: Part 1

On creative Syria, there are clips of some old Syrian newspapers. These clips point to lively political and parliamentarian discourse in during a short lived liberal democratic period. I was not born yet, but having talked to older relatives, friends of my parents, and some of my own friends, it became clear to me that while tribalism played a major role in who gets elected from which party or block, most representatives came to the parliament with a clear vision of a political agenda, be it to support land owners, or to initiate agrarian reforms. Taxes, building Syria’s civil service infrastructure, recruitment of technocrats, lower and higher education, civil laws, and government accountability, and Syria’s external trade and alliances were all issues that were discussed across the board in the parliament irrespective of the members’ ideological or class underpinning. With the emergence of the “Leader” cult first in Egypt, followed by Tunisia, and later in Syria, the wheel turned, and loyalty to constituents or to political blocks was replaced by loyalty to the leader and with that, the parliament became nothing more than a failed attempt at providing an image of legitimacy. Quota system, which stipulates a certain number of seats for workers and peasants and other professions was not intended to benefit workers or peasants, but to prevent the emergence of a true political and labor union leadership that can address issues relevant to these groups and to convert the parliament into an association of professional associations and unions so that no real parliamentary discourse takes place and each member knows that her/his place in the privileged ruling class is conditioned upon their tacit support of the government, which they demonstrate by speeches that have nothing to do with real governance.

Add to that the emergency laws status, which is now 45 years old. Such may have been justified for a few months now and then, but there is no excuse for it to continue into the second decade of the twenty first century, with or without peace agreement.

Both Syrians and Lebanese are perhaps the fiercest individualists I have encountered. Yes, a Syrian may become a member of a doctrinal party, but individualism will be the main driver of competition with other party members in demonstrating loyalty to the leader. This blind loyalty is not out of submissive behavior, it is a competitive loyalty in search of an ever expanding domain of influence of the self aware individualist, who does not think that he/she owes her or his society anything, but believes the other way around. In such psychological condition, and absent inspiring ideas and leadership, a true social contract is unlikely to emerge and in fact its emergence is continuously suppressed by personal alliances that supersede even the strong family and tribal alliances. The tragedy is that this competitive spirit, which cause us to become amongst the most successful minorities in diasporas economically, works lock and step inside Syria and Lebanon to derail our societal progress and works against us developing influence in our diasporas despite of our economic and professional successes. Every party ends up splitting into splinters, most business partnerships fail, and no group can ever agree to the rule of majority, it is either unanimous or as the saying goes, I will take my pebbles and play alone. Under these circumstances, no strong social movement can emerge, with the exception of fundamentalist movements, who can address this individualism by presenting the rule of the omnipotent God.

This search of unanimity is a desperate attempt to hide personal and societal insecurities. At the personal level, if it is unanimous, then I am right. Unanimity is thus viewed not as an agreement between equals, but as affirmation of the superiority and righteousness of each individual’s ideas. Out of this strive for unanimity, rises suppression of those who seem to break this unanimity, and the stupid short and long meaningless speeches in parliaments and other meetings. There are no graceful losers in our self image and as such, we either play with the current winner, or not play at all.

–to be continued —

November 17th, 2008, 4:43 pm


Nour said:

Once again AIG spews out a series of attacks against Syria without any regard for the facts only to defend his state’s oppression of Palestinians. The fact of the matter is that Syria’s per capita GDP is more than 4 times greater than that of Gaza, the unemployment rate is 9% while in Gaza it is 34.9% and in Syria 11.9% of people live below the poverty rate compared with 80% in Gaza. As for literacy rate, the people in Syria between 15 and 24 years of age have a 95% literacy rate, higher than that in Gaza. But of course AIG didn’t bother to check his facts before trying to shift the discussion to the situation in Syria rather than address the the criminal aggression of his own state. Let’s not forget that Syrians do not have to worry about losing their lives while walking the streets in Syria, are not being strangulated from all sides, have all basic needs and luxuries available to them, and do not have to pass checkpoints to go anywhere. So I would say that most people would much rather live in Syria than they would under “Israeli” siege in Gaza.

November 17th, 2008, 6:05 pm


jad said:

Dear OTW,
EXCELENT START, I think we need to have a metrics to put in all the ideas we can get from commentators on here (we need the help of everybody on the SC to do that) so we can have some kind of a whitepaper about our vision of Syria.
I’m getting too excited now but I’m at work and it’s going to be a long day for me.
I also agree to ignore any kind of disturbance we might get and focus on this task; you never know we might end up with something good out of it.
Thank you again OTW.

Dear Alex,
Is it possible to set some kind of link on your own website that we can upload what we can write/draft even graphics till we figure out a way to connect our pieces together?
Thank you

November 17th, 2008, 6:29 pm


Shai said:


I’ve seen firsthand the poverty in Gaza, and this was already 15-20 years ago (following the First Intifada). But now, living in a strangulated open-air prison that is the most densely populated strip of land in the world, it is far worse. As I’ve said before, I don’t understand why images are not coming out of Gaza a thousand times a day, through every possible media. The world is slowly waking up, but as usual, much too late.

Aside from his inability to lead (even his own party), Ehud Barak has lost all my support especially because of his collective-punishment of the Palestinians in Gaza. How he could do this, I couldn’t and still can’t understand. I fear, that it is driven by political and personal interests, rather than “national security” ones. When he can’t figure out how to end 8 years worth of $10 missile launches upon mostly empty fields (here and there hitting Sderot, but rarely), he’s decided to punish everyone – all 1.5 million of them. Using AIG’s own standards, if this is “war”, then I can’t think of a more fitting description to Barak’s behavior than that of a “war crime”.

November 17th, 2008, 6:31 pm


Shai said:


Unbelievable. Your analysis of Syrian society is fascinating to me, and undoubtedly demonstrates your courage and intellectual abilities. Please find the energy to keep writing, at least for my personal benefit, as well as other Israelis who know so little about your society (I understand it may not be “updated”, but I’m sure others here will fill in the gaps, if there are any). Thank you OTW.

November 17th, 2008, 6:45 pm


Off the Wall said:

Dear Jad
I am excited about this too, I am also at work now and the day looks like it is going to be a long one.

Dear Nour
Thank you very much for your comment on Gaza.
I too, would love to live in Syria instead of Gaza or the west bank for all the reasons you have very forcefully articulated. Finally, I love numbers 🙂

Dear Shai
You know you are more than welcome to contribute as an external reviewer of this infant project. I know your commitment to not interfering in our internal affairs, but constructive criticism is always appreciated. Particularly as we start discussing sociology and philosophical concepts. After all, the Psychology of Nations is a field you have expressed interest in. Please be brutal !.

November 17th, 2008, 7:02 pm


Shai said:


In a speech before Congress, Rabin once remarked that “this is one battle,” (battle for peace), he was “happy to wage”. So in discussing the psychology of our peoples, yours and mine, and in attempting to break its codes apart, and then rebuild to form something better, I’ll be happy to exert “brutality”. Somehow, however, I imagine AIG will contribute more of that, than I will…

Still, it is a truly courageous and blessed undertaking, and one which will not only teach me a lot, but hopefully serve as example to what we in Israel can, and should, do.

November 17th, 2008, 7:16 pm


Alex said:

Hi Norman,

I’m here : )


Please write me an email to explain in more detail what you have in mind.

Here is another case of Haaretz editors picking the most provocative headline they can find to attach to a story:


November 17th, 2008, 7:30 pm


Zenobia said:

Basically, OTW is saying that Syrians/Lebanese are very unaccustomed (not incapable but ignorant) of how to work collectively for the common good. They are continuously in competition with each other.

I do think this is not inherent or essential to their beings or culture, but rather a longstanding result of living first in a patriarchal world, then under occupation, then after a short breather – authoritarianism.
Where there is the authoritarian leader, all will compete with each other for the scarce spoils, and there is no comprehension of the benefits of reward from the bottom through collective efforts and social contract with one’s equals.

November 17th, 2008, 7:34 pm


Shai said:


Either Ha’aretz is trying to be deemed more “objective”, or it is considering a purchase offer by some of Bibi’s rich friends… 🙂 (probably the first, not the latter).

Btw, today Israel’s head of military intelligence (who is in charge of the national estimate), stated that Syria is “ready for peace”. I guess he’s well on his way to becoming a blatant lying liberal, eh? 🙂

November 17th, 2008, 7:39 pm


AIG said:


I will not be posting in the next few days as to not hamper the Jad/OTW project. But please, a little proportion. There is no free press at all in Syria but you complain about how Ha’aretz titles its articles? An Israeli has zero chance of freely publishing his ideas in Syria. Ha’aretz faithfully reports Syrian regime and supporters ideas as do most papers in Israel because Israelis are interested in hearing them. Yet you do not complain about the Syrian papers at all or try to change them, but instead complain about Ha’aretz editors because of how they compose their titles.

This mentality of “Syria cannot or will not change but Israel must” will not get you anywhere.

November 17th, 2008, 7:48 pm


Shai said:

AIG, there you are. We were beginning to worry…

So how about coffee sometime? I’m in the Ramat Hasharon/Tel-Aviv area quite often. This week good?

November 17th, 2008, 7:53 pm


Off the Wall said:

Dear Shai
Thank you for the kind words. I would however caution everyone readers regarding the validity of my posts. They are merely interpretation of my own observations and they do not stand on sociological studies. Our dear observant and well versed Alia could probably demolish some of the hypotheses I posted above with a couple of her well informed comments, So can Zenobia. But, that is exactly why Jad and I are excited about the possibility as we start the conversation.

Needless to say, we should not stop talking about peace and fighting the good fight for it.

November 17th, 2008, 8:14 pm


AIG said:

Meeting with you would be a total waste of my time and would also compromise my anonymity. Guilt ridden cosmopolitan leftists are a dime a dozen in the Merkaz. Why would I want to meet another one? I have enough of your kind in the high tech companies I invest in.

November 17th, 2008, 8:49 pm


Shai said:


Well, you finally responded… I thought it would take a while. I don’t understand, are you not open-minded anymore? After all, we’ve been communicating for nearly a year now, and if you’re so close by, aren’t you even slightly curious about meeting face-to-face? You don’t need to “compromise your anonymity” (unless in reality you’re Yvette Liebermann, and I would recognize your face…) We can even set rules for the meeting, if you like. Or, just be normal human beings, interested in hearing each other in person. Who knows, perhaps we could better understand each other in person than we do online.

You know, I’ll ignore your last statement of “I have enough of your kind in the high tech companies I invest in.”, because it really does sound awful. And I don’t know which part not to believe. Let’s pretend you didn’t say it.

So how ’bout it, AIG. Coffee in Ramat Hasharon? There’s a Cafeneto up on the hill, on Sokolov Street. Or Cafe Cafe in the circle, at the end of Ussishkin Street. Both are nice cafes. What do you say – sometime this week?

November 17th, 2008, 9:07 pm


Shai said:


If you think about it, it is actually better that Ha’aretz depicts Syria as much more menacing and dangerous. As long as Syria is perceived as not being a serious threat to Israel, indeed many here see no reason to make peace with her. I guess the saying, in the case of Israel, should be changed from “you make peace with enemies” to “you make peace with dangerous enemies”.

The more fearful Israelis are of Syria, the more likely they’ll be to support Netanyahu’s call, when it comes. There’s no doubt this was the state of mind vis-a-vis Egypt, back in 1977. Egypt was perceived as our worst enemy, and peace therefore seemed that much more necessary.

November 17th, 2008, 9:22 pm


AIG said:

I prefer the cafe at the intersection of Zerubavel and Soklov. I am there quite often. But what I said still stands. Your type is ubiquitous in the merkaz and of not much interest. The “trust the Arabs and all will be well, bleeding heart cosmopolitan” camp philosophy is as old as Zionism itself. If you knew a little more Jewish history, you would realize that unknowingly your way of thinking has brought numerous disasters on the Jewish people. Each generation has its own Jews that believe that “only if we try being a little more nice and try to assimilate more into our surroundings, then the Arabs (or Europeans or whatever) will start to like us and let us live in peace”. And the funny thing is that each generation thinks they are inventing something new.

November 17th, 2008, 9:31 pm


Shai said:


You see, you ARE “wasting” your time on me. You’ve been doing it for nearly a year now, often hours at a time. So why not sit face-to-face, and finally have a civilized exchange, where we both try to listen, and not just be heard.

I’ll meet you in any cafe you like. Name the time and place and I’ll be there. What do you say, this week sometime?

November 17th, 2008, 9:36 pm


AIG said:

All Alex has to do to make me stop writing here, is to show me that you are the only one reading my posts. 🙂
Where are Jad/OTW and other posters reacting to their comments? I will not post for a few days so as not be an obstacle or an excuse against such a discussion.

November 17th, 2008, 9:51 pm


Shai said:


From the time of your first comment this evening (comment #64) until your last one (comment #72), two hours and three minutes have passed. We could have met twice in a cafe already, and had a nice, open and honest conversation. What’s holding you back so much? What are you afraid of? Us “liberals” don’t bite, you know (well, at least I don’t). Come now, don’t be such an elitist, I’m sure you can stand sitting across a fellow SC’er, even like me, no? I’m sure most here would find it rather odd that you’re insisting on NOT meeting.

November 17th, 2008, 9:59 pm


Alia said:

Dear OTW,

I am very interested in what you are writing…I read it a couple of times today. I have nothing to add right now, as I would like to keep reading your perspective and thinking about it.

November 17th, 2008, 10:39 pm


trustquest said:

First: It is boring to read over and over about the PRESIDENT, of no one like him. Young Smart, his brother killed, got power from his father etc …..
Is there any new in Syria other than that?
Rime Allaf who has been quoted by Peter has written on her blog that the journalist been misquoting her: http://www.rimeallaf.com/mosaics/index.php
Third: Thanks To AIG for telling us that he is not going to write in advance, because if he is not criticizing the news and bringing other views, this blog would be a boring place. The opposition in Syria are not invited here and the blog is like one sided.
Please people, who defend the System in Syria, bring the pro and cons of each subject, not only the pros.

November 17th, 2008, 11:04 pm


ASG: Another Syrian Guy said:

The article posted on Champress about Saudi King has been removed from the website. I heard that it caused a lot of trouble on the hightest levels as Champress is a speaker of the syrian state.

the link above is still working simply because the Champress owners did not remove it from properly. Could anyone explain to them how to delete it.

AIG, have a good holiday. if i were you i would go to Elat and enjoy the sea.

November 17th, 2008, 11:38 pm


offended said:

Dear OTW, very promising start. Thank you very much.

I have few point that I will sum up and post here later today.

November 18th, 2008, 12:09 am


norman said:

Dear OTW,Alia,Trusquest,Jad,

the Parliamentary system does not work in Lebanon, Israel , Iraq , did not work in the 40th and 50th in Syria and will will not work in future Syria , and yes as i understand from what you wrote , It is our ability as Arabs and probably Jews to work better as individuals than in a collective manor so i am for an American style republic where everybody could be his own man responsible only to the people he represent ,

To implement politecal reform Syria should start with few steps that are essentials,

1_ new senses for the whole country ,

2_ register Syrians where they live and work not where they come from,
3_ assign in each county two senators and a number of representatives according to a number of people the represent , let us say 100,000 people,in certain geographical area ,

4_ for above to work , Syria should have anti discrimination laws in housing and employment ,

5_ we are registered in Hama , my father kept our registration there because he was proud and probably because he went to school with some of the people in higher places there ,

We lived in Homs , never voted because it was not worth it to go to Hama to vote , we should have been registered in Homs because that was the place that we lived in,

registration of people where they live will make tribalism and family relation less effective.

November 18th, 2008, 1:55 am


norman said:

Israel out to Bring Gaza to its Knees
Israel’s desire to seal off Gaza and terrorise its civilian population predates even Hamas’s election victory, notes Jonathan Cook.

The latest tightening of Israel’s chokehold on Gaza – ending all supplies into the Strip for more than a week – has produced immediate and shocking consequences for Gaza’s 1.5 million inhabitants.

The refusal to allow in fuel has forced the shutting down of Gaza’s only power station, creating a blackout that pushed Palestinians bearing candles on to the streets in protest last week. A water and sanitation crisis are expected to follow.

And on Thursday, the United Nations announced it had run out of the food essentials it supplies to 750,000 desperately needy Gazans. “This has become a blockade against the United Nations itself,” a spokesman said.

In a further blow, Israel’s large Bank Hapoalim said it would refuse all transactions with Gaza by the end of the month, effectively imposing a financial blockade on an economy dependent on the Israeli shekel. Other banks are planning to follow suit, forced into a corner by Israel’s declaration in Sept 2007 of Gaza as an “enemy entity”.

There are likely to be few witnesses to Gaza’s descent into a dark and hungry winter. In the past week, all journalists were refused access to Gaza, as were a group of senior European diplomats. Days earlier, dozens of academics and doctors due to attend a conference to assess the damage done to Gazans’ mental health were also turned back.

Israel has blamed the latest restrictions of aid and fuel to Gaza on Hamas’s violation of a five-month ceasefire by launching rockets out of the Strip. But Israel had a hand in shattering the agreement: as the world was distracted by the US presidential elections, the army invaded Gaza, killing six Palestinians and provoking the rocket fire.

The humanitarian catastrophe gripping Gaza is largely unrelated to the latest tit-for-tat strikes between Hamas and Israel. Nearly a year ago, Karen Koning AbuZayd, commissioner-general of the UN’s refugee agency, warned: “Gaza is on the threshold of becoming the first territory to be intentionally reduced to a state of abject destitution”.

She blamed Gaza’s strangulation directly on Israel, but also cited the international community as accomplice. Together they began blocking aid in early 2006, following the election of Hamas to head the Palestinian Authority (PA).

The US and Europe agreed to the measure on the principle that it would force the people of Gaza to rethink their support for Hamas. The logic was supposedly similar to the one that drove the sanctions applied to Iraq under Saddam Hussein through the 1990s: if Gaza’s civilians suffered enough, they would rise up against Hamas and install new leaders acceptable to Israel and the West.

As Ms AbuZayd said, that moment marked the beginning of the international community’s complicity in a policy of collective punishment of Gaza, despite the fact that the Fourth Geneva Convention classifies such treatment of civilians as a war crime.

The blockade has been pursued relentlessly since, even if the desired outcome has been no more achieved in Gaza than it was in Iraq. Instead, Hamas entrenched its control and cemented the Strip’s physical separation from the Fatah-dominated West Bank.

Far from reconsidering its policy, Israel’s leadership has responded by turning the screw ever tighter – to the point where Gazan society is now on the verge of collapse.

In truth, however, the growing catastrophe being unleashed on Gaza is only indirectly related to Hamas’s rise to power and the rocket attacks.

Of more concern to Israel is what each of these developments represents: a refusal on the part of Gazans to abandon their resistance to Israel’s continuing occupation. Both provide Israel with a pretext for casting aside the protections offered to Gaza’s civilians under international law to make them submit.

With embarrassing timing, the Israeli media revealed at the weekend that one of the first acts of Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas prime minister elected in 2006, was to send a message to the Bush White House offering a long-term truce in return for an end to Israeli occupation. His offer was not even acknowledged.

Instead, according to the daily Jerusalem Post, Israeli policymakers have sought to reinforce the impression that “it would be pointless for Israel to topple Hamas because the population [of Gaza] is Hamas”. On this thinking, collective punishment is warranted because there are no true civilians in Gaza. Israel is at war with every single man, woman and child.

In an indication of how widely this view is shared, the cabinet discussed last week a new strategy to obliterate Gazan villages in an attempt to stop the rocket launches, in an echo of discredited Israeli tactics used in south Lebanon in its war of 2006. The inhabitants would be given warning before indiscriminate shelling began.

In fact, Israel’s desire to seal off Gaza and terrorise its civilian population predates even Hamas’s election victory. It can be dated to Ariel Sharon’s disengagement of summer 2005, when Fatah’s rule of the PA was unchallenged.

An indication of the kind of isolation Mr Sharon preferred for Gaza was revealed shortly after the pull-out, in Dec 2005, when his officials first proposed cutting off electricity to the Strip.

The policy was not implemented, the local media pointed out at the time, both because officials suspected the violation of international law would be rejected by other nations and because it was feared that such a move would damage Fatah’s chances of winning the elections the following month.

With the vote over, however, Israel had the excuse it needed to begin severing its responsibility for the civilian population. It recast its relationship with Gaza from one of occupation to one of hostile parties at war. A policy of collective punishment that was considered transparently illegal in late 2005 has today become Israel’s standard operating procedure.

Increasingly strident talk from officials, culminating in February in the deputy defence minister Matan Vilnai’s infamous remark about creating a “shoah”, or Holocaust, in Gaza, has been matched by Israeli measures. The military bombed Gaza’s electricity plant in June 2006, and has been incrementally cutting fuel supplies ever since. In January, Mr Vilnai argued that Israel should cut off “all responsibility” for Gaza and two months later Israel signed a deal with Egypt for it to build a power station for Gaza in Sinai.

All of these moves are designed with the same purpose in mind: persuading the world that Israel’s occupation of Gaza is over and that Israel can therefore ignore the laws of occupation and use unremitting force against Gaza.

Cabinet ministers have been queuing up to express such sentiments. Ehud Olmert, for example, has declared that Gazans should not be allowed to “live normal lives”; Avi Dichter believes punishment should be inflicted “irrespective of the cost to the Palestinians”; Meir Sheetrit has urged that Israel should “decide on a neighbourhood in Gaza and level it” – the policy discussed by ministers last week.

In concert, Israel has turned a relative blind eye to the growing smuggling trade through Gaza’s tunnels to Egypt. Gazans’ material welfare is falling more heavily on Egyptian shoulders by the day.

The question remains: what does Israel expect the response of Gazans to be to their immiseration and ever greater insecurity in the face of Israeli military reprisals?

Eyal Sarraj, the head of Gaza’s Community Mental Health Programme, said this year that Israel’s long-term goal was to force Egypt to end the controls along its short border with the Strip. Once the border was open, he warned, “Wait for the exodus.”

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is http://www.jkcook.net. A version of this article originally appeared in The National (www.thenational.ae), published in Abu Dhabi.

November 18th, 2008, 4:08 am


Shai said:


We’ve all read hundreds such articles, and yet, the world remains asleep. The campaign to end the blockade of Gaza must begin to take image form. If certain people within Gaza are capable of smuggling arms (and even a goat) through tunnels in/out of Egypt, they can certainly smuggle photo images. There’s actually no need for that, because people can send them via email, satellite, etc. You don’t need journalists on the ground, you need regular people with a camera, at home and on the street. Let the world see up close what is taking place there. I live about 1.5 hours drive from Gaza, and I can only imagine and read about the situation. I cannot even see it for myself. Images. We must have images.

November 18th, 2008, 4:53 am


Rumyal said:

Can somebody please explain to me why *nobody* takes Egypt to task for keeping their side of the border sealed? Not the Israeli left, not the Israeli right, not the PA, not Hamas, not the Syrians, not the Americans, not the liberal West, not the UN, not the Ikhwan—nobody, nada.

Why isn’t the UN allowed to provide humanitarian aid through the Egyptian border? Why isn’t the UN asking to provide aid through there? Why aren’t we hearing on pressure from within Egypt to do something about this, when it seems that they are in position to act? I know about the formalistic reasons: that Israel is still the occupier according to international law and the Egyptians don’t want to create a precedent where they have to shoulder some of the responsibility for Gaza (god forbid). But how come all the people in the West who supposedly care about the Ghazans don’t even think to suggest that this should be pursued for the sake of the people in Gaza while Israel and Hamas duke it out?

To paraphrase, it’s one thing when separated parents (Israel and Egypt) are adamant about who’s going to pick the tab for their mutual teenaged daughter’s (Gaza) plastic surgery. It’s another thing when one parent locks up the daughter in a dungeon and the other parent won’t come to her rescue because it’s not their turn to take care of her… (Sorry for the cheesy metaphor)

What am I missing?

November 18th, 2008, 5:44 am


jad said:

I’m going to be a bit crazy tonight with my idea but I’m heading somewhere, you might laugh but don’t stop thinking about what I’m suggesting:

Dear OTW,
I read what you wrote many times and the most important keywords I got from you are “Vision” and “Direction” we need to go to the end and come back, we need to see where we are going first, analyze it and characterise all its elements then go back to the present and do the changes needed to create the vision we have for tomorrow.
What you are looking for is a pure ‘technocrat professional leaders’ or let us say an excellent ‘people directors’ for every union, organization, municipality, company, school, factory and farm exist in Syria, since we don’t have the money neither the army of professional personal we need to do this developing and improving process, we can appoint some international experts on every level you can imagine to write down a national ‘manual’ and ‘bylaw’ of’ how to do your work’, and strictly put that manual to work.
This manual should cover every possible issue that any director and employee might deal with in his job, it tend to help even the most stupid person in Syria to finish his work properly, it might sound that I’m taking out any creativity or treating our people as machine but it is not, it should be the first step toward making people understand the rules of things and the proper professional way things are done with a very high standard and better result, it is just the first step.
It may not work immediately but it will have a big impact on how work should be done, it will open the people eyes and mind of how a good job is done and what is the right way to do it and what ‘HIGH STANDERDS’ means, knowing how smart the average Syrian is in general I have no doubt that they will learn things faster than we imagine
To be continue….(smile)

Dear Norman,
I do like your idea about an alternative of the parliament system and I think that would be ideal IF Syria was a collection of different states but it is not, YET, you can have similar idea using the already existing “worthless” organizations that the Baath party done, you can turn all those “revolution” “renascence” useless organization and bodies into more useful and profitable organization and for better use by changing the rules of the ONE PARTY dilemma and as OTW said get rid of the emergency law we have, treat them as democratic bodies and the voice of the real people, change their name into more acceptable brands like ‘Urban’ and ‘Civil’ make their member more productive on personal and national levels, we have 6alaee albaath? Shabibet Althawra? Ithad 6alabe? Ithad nisaee? Itihad 3mal? All this crap old bodies should work better if you let them be more free, creative and civil than a useless one party political propaganda organization, they could become the voice of their members and they elect their representative that will reflect them in a better parliament system, you can have them is a kind of ‘house of common’ ‘lower house’ under the parliament..
You have all these loosing bodies that need to be treated as company and civil society cores.

Dear Alex,
Just give me couple days to send you a draft of what I’m thinking about.

Sorry for being way too crazy tonight, I’m just mumbling here but I promise to be more focus next time….

November 18th, 2008, 5:52 am


Rumyal said:

Jad, OTW,

In Israel in the early 90’s there was a great push to comply with ISO9000 and other international standards, mostly driven by the government requiring vendors to comply and from the desire to be able to compete internationally. This I believe was somewhat transformational to Israeli industry not only in terms of the quality of production, but in terms of overall ovethauling common business practices such as accounting, inventory management etc. and in the process this has rooted a lot corruption and hidden unemployment that was lying under the surface.

I remember the case of a friend of mine who was 20 at that time and was tasked by his family to prepare the family’s business (medical equipment) for ISO’9000 certification. Usually these things are done by consultants that charge an arm and a leg but they felt that he could do the job… and he did… by the way OTW he’s now also in Earth sciences (a professor in the US), maybe you know him… Anyway shortly after that they were able to start marketing their equipment to Jordan, Cyprus and other countries, something that would have been impossible before certification. So, just picking up standards that are internationally recognized and making them a requirement in order to do business with the government is an excellent way to drive quality into all sorts of processes.

November 18th, 2008, 6:41 am


Alex said:


Good question.

let’s see

1) Syria is careful not to criticize Egypt because Syria, in general, does not criticize Arab countries … the Saudis had to mobilize their press, their financial tools, and their international allies against Damascus before Syria started to indirectly (and non officially) attack the Saudis back.

2) The Americans and Israelis and Saudis do not criticize Egypt because Mubarak has been a good boy who does not oppose the overall plan … they rarely criticize him for anything.

3) The Bush administration does not give a damn about poor people in Gaza.

4) The Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt probably did criticize the Egyptian regime … but they can’t be too vocal in their criticism, because they know their limits in Egypt.

5) Syrian Brotherhood rarely criticizes fellow Sunni Arab leaders.

6) Mahmoud Abbas needs Egypt (a fellow “moderate Arab”) …

November 18th, 2008, 6:50 am


offended said:

The situation is Gaza is horrible. The BBC correspondent this morning said they were not allowed to get in. So basically the strip now is in state of blackout and seclusion from the rest of the world.

One has to wonder: if Israel was merely responding to rockets’ attacks, then why are they imposing medicine embargo? Why electricity is cut off?

It doesn’t make sense, and it only shows Israel (sorry to my Israeli friends here) as a coward and spiteful state.

November 18th, 2008, 7:03 am


Rumyal said:


Who’s left without an excuse for not exposing the Egyptians? The UN and journalists such as Jonathan Cook.

Who else? Hamas. I am inclined to think that if I were starving I would have suggested to my brethren that they could help, even if that would have been construed as “criticism”.

This entire thing is a charade of crooks with everybody playing the role they were given, all on the backs of the people in Ghaza and South Israel.

November 18th, 2008, 7:16 am


jad said:

Dear Offended,
Irony enough, Israel administration and the majority of its citizens today are similar in many ways to Nazi Germany in the thirties, they become too arrogant and too powerful that they are losing any rational to their acts and the history is not a straight line it’s bunch of circles and ovals.
The Middle East now a days is facing what Europe had between the two wars, this situation can’t and won’t continue, it’s getting unbearable on everybody and unfortunately it won’t get better before it get worst.
and you are right: Israel(sorry to my Israeli friends here) as a coward and spiteful state.

November 18th, 2008, 7:18 am


offended said:

Dear OTW,

Thanks for the historical background. And before I start making suggestion. Let me just make basic assumptions or premises for the discussion for without them it’ll be harder to navigate:

1- Syria is currently NOT a democratic state.

2- The Middle East is generally not a democratic region. (I refuse to call Israel or Lebanon democracies)

3- Conflicts in the ME are great hurdles toward advancement (amongst which is democracy itself).

4- The safety and security of Syria, as far as I am concerned, precede democracy on the list of priorities. And we’ve got to admit that we are in a position in the ME where these two things collide with each other. In the sense that establishing democratic governance without ground work is futile and will lead to chaos and instability. (Quite honestly, I refuse to be governed by those moron tribal leaders if there were to be democracies and people got to choose them. I will revolt!).

Please, if anybody disagrees with any of the above, let me know.

I will come up soon with a list of suggestions. Based on simple question: if you were in Bashar’s shoes what would you do?

It’s very humble and rudimentary work really. But one day somebody might compile all these things and make use of them.

November 18th, 2008, 7:33 am


Off the Wall said:

Dear Jad

Thank you very much. You recognized my drift which focusses on the societal transformation from te buttom up as opposed to repetetive calls for democracy and demands for power. Your idea is not laughable at all, it is huge task. Keep at it and expand on it. What we need are thinkers who are willing to go out of the box. And every idea will count.

I love the example provided by Rumyal. It may be a very good openning for us expats to contribute without causing anxiety and without being forced to adopt the political agenda of one or more faction of the opposition, which has proven to be ineffective, and as usual, represents little more than demand for power under the guise of democracy. I can think immdeately of a call on Syrian Universities to push for ABET accredition of their engineering departmentrs, which is something I can personally help with.

Here are some information about ISO 9000 family of standrads from


The ISO 9000 family of standards represents an international consensus on good quality management practices. It consists of standards and guidelines relating to quality management systems and related supporting standards.

ISO 9001:2008 is the standard that provides a set of standardized requirements for a quality management system, regardless of what the user organization does, its size, or whether it is in the private, or public sector. It is the only standard in the family against which organizations can be certified – although certification is not a compulsory requirement of the standard.

Dear Rumyal
I have been thinking the same about Egypt. I have only two explanation for that.

1. Egypt is forced by its agreemet with Israel, or by fear of Israeli retaliation, not to help the Paletsinians in Gaza, which if true represents a major challange to Egyptioan Soverignty over its own boarders.

2. Egypt is following the stupid line of thinking that focusses on embarrasing Israel, which is the line of thinking reponsinble for the added missery of Palestinians who continue to have refugee status even after 60 years.

Either way, what Egypt is doing is as immoral as what Israel is doing. And no one can convince me otherwise.

November 18th, 2008, 7:40 am


offended said:

Dear Jad,

I agree with you, although I think the practice is different from Nazi germany but the mindset is probably similar. Power makes people/states think they’ve become invincible. Israel has indeed worked hard to reach the level of military might and deterrence that they have right now. And I congratulate them for that (although it was an unfair play all the way). But one should think in the mind frame of what Shai has suggested a while ago, with regards to Psychology of the Nation (I think Shai should copyright the term!). as long as Israel think in terms of antagonism and belligerence to its neighbors, it’ll still rely on its power of deterrence, and by result it will attract more and more hostility from Palestinians and Arab in general.

It’s a vicious circles, you see….

November 18th, 2008, 7:48 am


Off the Wall said:

Dear Offended

Very good points

1- Syria is currently NOT a democratic state.

2- The Middle East is generally not a democratic region. (I refuse to call Israel or Lebanon democracies)

Agree, with one note and that is for Jewish Israelis, Israel functions within democractic norms.

3- Conflicts in the ME are great hurdles toward advancement (amongst which is democracy itself).

Fully agree, but our chances of surviving the conflict will greately improve if we manage to build modern states

4- The safety and security of Syria, as far as I am concerned, precede democracy on the list of priorities.

In modern conflicts, and given what we have just seen in Iraq, i think a whooping majority of Syrians, including this one, agree with this issue. This is why I dislike the neocons.

And we’ve got to admit that we are in a position in the ME where these two things collide with each other. In the sense that establishing democratic governance without ground work is futile and will lead to chaos and instability.

True, but we need to start somewhere. I for one, will not participate in any project that Geopordize the safty of Syrian poeple. But I do not think that modernity and safety need to be in coflict. Let us decouple them and compartmentalize, if we can. At least it is worth the try

(Quite honestly, I refuse to be governed by those moron tribal leaders if there were to be democracies and people got to choose them. I will revolt!).

Count me in, in any non-violent way of revolting. But of we do the ground work, they will receive less votes.

November 18th, 2008, 8:04 am


Shai said:

Rumyal, OTW,

I can’t believe Egypt is bound by any agreement towards Israel not to supply humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza. We’ve had cases in history, where even “agreements” were ignored, when the controlling party acted inhumanely towards citizens under its rule. Best example I can think of, is the Soviet blockade of Berlin in June 1948-May 1949, and the corresponding Berlin Airlift by the allies to help save the poor people in Berlin. When you care enough, you find the ways to do miracles. Egypt can, in an instant, end the Gaza Blockade. It can threaten to end diplomatic relations with Israel. Nations do these things (threaten), every now and then, when things are bad enough. Maybe, from Egypt’s point of view, things aren’t “that bad”…

JAD, Offended,

In one way, there is indeed an inescapable comparison with Germany of the 1930’s and early 40’s, and that is the apathy, or turning of a blind-eye, by the citizens of the ruling power. The average Israeli does not decide on this policy of strangulation, but by not demanding an end to it, he/she are de facto complicit in the crime. Rumyal is right, when will the world stop giving excuses for not intervening? If this isn’t a time to make diplomatic threats (not necessarily carry them out), I don’t know when is.

November 18th, 2008, 8:55 am


Off the Wall said:

Dear Shai
This is the more reason to be baffelled by Egypt’s behaviour, and by the failure of “Sunni” arabs to be as angry with Egypt as with Israel. I guess hypocricy knows to relegion or sect

November 18th, 2008, 9:38 am


SimoHurtta said:

Demanding some responsibility of Egypt for Gaza on political level is some what unfounded. Gaza is still under Israeli occupation, despite the Israeli propaganda “we left Gaza”. Israel left Gaza in equal way Germany left Warsaw Ghetto. Gaza is not an independent state. The Israeli propaganda “we left Gaza and see how they are rewarding us” is hilarious. Himmler could have said the same with Warsaw Ghetto.

Egypt can’t open the border to Gaza without an agreement with Israel (and Palestinians). The peace agreement limits Egypt’s possibilities to secure to crossing. With the traditional Israeli/USA style Egypt would be blamed for all difficulties which would then occur (like Syria with Iraq). Only a lunatic leader would put his nation in that mess. Egypt’s policy with Gaza is in a way understandable – Let Israel sink more in troubles with Gaza, it will eventually destroy the last remaining goodwill Israel has.

Surely Egypt should show more political and humanitarian courage with Gaza as all Arab nations and other nations should. Egypt could pacify Gaza, but would Israel like to see 50.000 Egyptian soldiers in Gaza and Egyptian warships guarding the coast? And let all the “business” with Gaza aid be transported to Egypt. Not to mention that the divide and rule policy with Palestinians would collapse when Hamas would be a suddenly an “Egyptian party”.

Sadly it seems that the fastest way to peace is that Israel makes a terrible massacre in Gaza, in a scale that even not USA can accept. It is very difficult to understand the rational political reasons for Israel to destroy the truce in Gaza on US election day. Surely even the most extreme Israeli politicians know the price of a major military attack to Gaza will cost for Israel politically.

November 18th, 2008, 10:14 am


Ambika said:

Responding to Beaumont’s article, it seems clear that President Bashar needs to make firm his stance on certain issues and then put in play motions to follow through on his stance. As Sarkozy said, no peace in the region can be acheived without Syri’as involvement, and it is about time that Syria took some concrete measures. While the majority of the people in the country might agree with his views on several issues, it does’nt change the fact that his neighbours and the international community is still on convinced. It could bode well for the future if Assad takes a few measures towards building bridges with the west (as Sarkopzy has attempted to do) and move beyond his effusive diplomacy.

November 18th, 2008, 11:00 am


Alia said:

Dear Offended,

In response to your outline:

[1- Syria is currently NOT a democratic state.]

This is a gross understatement-Syria is a dictatorship ruled by a clique with a virulent security apparatus, opaque in its functioning and without accountability, and on and on and on…
The fact that we continue saying that it is not a democracy is in itself a problem-we are not seeing clearly how things are and how among the nations since antiquity, regimes such as ours have been deemed appalling and unacceptable.

[2- The Middle East is generally not a democratic region. (I refuse to call Israel or Lebanon democracies)]

We are not bound in our internal functioning by anything that is going on around us-The standard we need to look at is above not below.

[3- Conflicts in the ME are great hurdles toward advancement (amongst which is democracy itself)]

This- as I have stated elsewhere – is the line of the regime- We can fight our enemies and participate in a process that will GRADUALLY bring about a better state of things for all of us. The 13 american colonies which fought England were not “a democracy” but did come up with a list of “articles of confederation” which served them for at least 5-8 years throughout the war- until they came back to a Continental Congress, more representative of the various colonies, and from then on to discussing and implementing a form of government suitable for the country. We do not have to move from one abject state to the perfect other- we can progress, but we cannot afford to stand still and continue adopting justifications that do not withstand reasonable scrutiny.

[4- The safety and security of Syria, as far as I am concerned, precede democracy on the list of priorities. And we’ve got to admit that we are in a position in the ME where these two things collide with each other. In the sense that establishing democratic governance without ground work is futile and will lead to chaos and instability. (Quite honestly, I refuse to be governed by those moron tribal leaders if there were to be democracies and people got to choose them. I will revolt!).]

Our country consists of many people and has always done so-we can only have a form of governemnt that is suitable for it. Clearly, we have to come up with a creative solution to adopt republican/democratic values. Again it is not an all or none situation.

[ Based on simple question: if you were in Bashar’s shoes what would you do?]

We will all have fantasies on the matter, since none of us knows what he really WANTS. Does he want to continue ruling unopposed, unquestioned, without accountability, and allow his relatives to plunder the country unhindered, supported by an apathetic middle-class that lives in compromise and self-betrayal, since it is allowed to have a few ameneties…or does he want to move the country forward?

Until we know that…we cannot speculate on the direction the country is taking. I am personally more revolted by the middle-class than I am by the tribal leaders; they at least are behaving true to themselves, the educated classes are not,and that is reprehensible. We do not JUST need SUVs, restaurants, an Opera and a tourist industry. We need a just constitution and a form of participatory governance, we need a overhaul of our Justice system, transparency in our dealings..that is what makes a country become “no longer a Pariah” among the nations.

November 18th, 2008, 11:56 am


Alia said:

Dear Offended,

In response to your outline:

[1- Syria is currently NOT a democratic state.]

This is a gross understatement-Syria is a dictatorship ruled by a clique with a virulent security apparatus, opaque in its functioning and without accountability, and on and on and on…
The fact that we continue saying that it is not a democracy is in itself a problem-we are not seeing clearly how things are and how among the nations since antiquity, regimes such as ours have been deemed appalling and unacceptable.

[2- The Middle East is generally not a democratic region. (I refuse to call Israel or Lebanon democracies)]

We are not bound in our internal functioning by anything that is going on around us-The standard we need to look at is above not below.

[3- Conflicts in the ME are great hurdles toward advancement (amongst which is democracy itself)]

This- as I have stated elsewhere – is the line of the regime- We can fight our enemies and participate in a process that will GRADUALLY bring about a better state of things for all of us. The 13 american colonies which fought England were not “a democracy” but did come up with a list of “articles of confederation” which served them for at least 5-8 years throughout the war- until they came back to a Continental Congress, more representative of the various colonies, and from then on to discussing and implementing a form of government suitable for the country. We do not have to move from one abject state to the perfect other- we can progress, but we cannot afford to stand still and continue adopting justifications that do not withstand reasonable scrutiny.

[4- The safety and security of Syria, as far as I am concerned, precede democracy on the list of priorities. And we’ve got to admit that we are in a position in the ME where these two things collide with each other. In the sense that establishing democratic governance without ground work is futile and will lead to chaos and instability. (Quite honestly, I refuse to be governed by those moron tribal leaders if there were to be democracies and people got to choose them. I will revolt!).]

Our country consists of many people and has always done so-we can only have a form of governemnt that is suitable for it. Clearly, we have to come up with a creative solution to adopt republican/democratic values. Again it is not an all or none situation.

[ Based on simple question: if you were in Bashar’s shoes what would you do?]

We will all have fantasies on the matter, since none of us knows what he really WANTS. Does he want to continue ruling unopposed, unquestioned, without accountability, and allow his relatives to plunder the country unhindered, supported by an apathetic middle-class that lives in compromise and self-betrayal, since it is allowed to have a few ameneties…or does he want to move the country forward?

Until we know that…we cannot speculate on the direction the country is taking. I am personally more revolted by the middle-class than I am by the tribal leaders; they at least are behaving true to themselves, the educated classes are not,and that is reprehensible. We do not JUST need SUVs, restaurants, an Opera and a tourist industry. We need a just constitution and a form of participatory governance, we need an overhaul of our Justice system, transparency in our dealings..that is what makes a country become “no longer a Pariah” among the nations.

November 18th, 2008, 11:58 am


Akbar Palace said:

And the funny thing is that each generation thinks they are inventing something new.

Alex –

cc: AIG, Shai

I’ve been thinking hard about this unfortunate impasse regarding the relationship between Syria and Israel. Also, it seems the “advertisements” (aka info-mercials, news stories, articles, threads, etc) about Dr. Bashar Assad’s desire for peace with the Zionist Entity are not getting into the mainstream Western media very well.

Therefore, I am proposing that Dr. Bashar employ my services (as a once “enemy” Jewish-American) to help get his message out to the West, and more importantly, to American and Israeli Jews.


Could you run this idea by some of your political friends in the Syrian government? All I would ask is for a few body guards (if you think I’d need one), a rental car, hotel room (4 or 5 stars) and free Arabic lessons. I would do the rest. We can talk salary once we arrange the interview(s).


Akbar Palace

November 18th, 2008, 12:09 pm


norman said:

w w w . h a a r e t z . c o m


Last update – 14:40 18/11/2008
Peres in U.K.: For peace, Israel will give Syria its land back
By Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz Correspondent, Haaretz Service and News Agencies

President Shimon Peres said on Tuesday that Israel would return all the territory Syria demanded in a peace deal, as it had done in previous agreements with Egypt and Jordan.

“Egypt made peace with Israel, and so did Jordan and they got back all the territory. Syria knows that if it will make peace it will get the same,” said Peres, speaking at start of a state visit to Britain.

Earlier in the day, Peres said that making peace with Syria depends on whether Damascus is prepared to rein in the Iranian-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Speaking in a BBC radio interview aired Tuesday, Peres said that Syria cannot expect Israel to withdraw from the Golan Heights while Iran furthers its influence in Lebanon with the help of Syria.

“Israel is not prepared to tolerate an Iranian presence on its border,” Peres said.

Peres was apparently referring to Hezbollah, the Iranian- and Syrian-backed Shi’ite militant group against which Israel forces in the 2006 Second Lebanon War.

“If Syria will understand that they can’t have the Golan Heights and keep Lebanon as a base for the Iranians, then the decision will be clear,” Peres added.

“But if she wants the Golan Heights back and keeps her bases in Lebanon – which are really controlled and financed by the Iranians – no Israeli will agree to have Iranians on our borders.”

Syria has held indirect talks with Israel through Turkish mediation in recent months. Syrian officials have in the past rejected Israeli demands that Damascus drop its support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and give up its alliance with Iran as part of a peace deal.

Peres’ visit was aimed at marking 60 years of Anglo-Israeli relations. During his time in Britain, the president is set to meet with Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

He will also deliver an address to both Houses of Parliament in London.

Peres is expected hold discussions with British leaders on economic cooperation, Israel-Palestinian peace negotiations and Iran’s nuclear program.

On Thursday, Peres will visit Buckingham Palace and meet with the Queen, who will knight him.

The president will also speak at Oxford university to kick off a series of lectures named after him.

Although Peres was warmly received in the U.K., his visit came at a time of relative tension between the two countries, following Britain’s bid to require Israel to label all products made in the West Bank.

Britain urges Syria to help Middle East stability

Also Thursday, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said he would use talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday to highlight the potentially major part Damascus could play in stabilizing the Middle East.

Miliband, whose talks in Damascus are the first by British foreign secretary since 2000, said Syria had a choice about which path to take.

“It is very important to understand that Syria has a big potential role to play in stability in the Middle East,” he told BBC radio. “It can be a force for stability or it can be a force for instability.

Relations between the West and Damascus have been strained by U.S. accusations that Syria turned a blind eye to Islamist fighters infiltrating Iraq, but diplomatic efforts between Europe – particularly France and Britain – and Damascus have increased in recent months.

“Over the last 18 months, I have been talking with the Syrian Foreign Minister about… Syria’s responsibilities in the region in respect of counter-terrorism, in respect of Iraq, in respect of the Middle East peace process,” Miliband said.

The outgoing U.S. administration of President George W. Bush imposed sanctions on Syria in 2004 for its support of Palestinian Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant organization. The European Union has also been urging Damascus to end its support for Hezbollah.

“Syria certainly has, and has had, some big questions to answer about the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq, about the situation in the Lebanon, about its contribution to the stability of the region,” said Miliband, whose Middle East trip has included talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

“We have been taking up those issues, and…there have been some important signs of Syria understanding a degree of concern and seeking to change some of its actions.”

Miliband also said he expected to discuss the issue of human rights with Damascus. “This is a dialogue that covers a range of issues that are of a British national interest, of a regional interest and of global interest,” he said.

Related articles:

Livni to Miliband: U.K. plan to label West Bank goods is ‘exaggerated’

JNF deal ends dispute in Israel, U.S., U.K.

Dichter cancels U.K. trip over fears of ‘war crimes’ arrest



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November 18th, 2008, 12:50 pm


Shai said:


You seem to understand AIG better than I do – can you explain why he won’t meet me? I mean, if you were living here, I know you would. After all, isn’t one of the main reasons we’re all here to hear one another, to try to understand? If I’m willing to give him a chance (in person), why won’t he do the same for me?

November 18th, 2008, 1:53 pm


Shai said:


“Sadly it seems that the fastest way to peace is that Israel makes a terrible massacre in Gaza, in a scale that even not USA can accept.”

It is unfortunately true that sometimes for two sides to finally accept that peace is far more rewarding than non-peace, they must clash terribly. Perhaps indeed Israel and Hamas haven’t clashed enough. The only sad part about this, is that as always, it is the innocent people that’ll pay the price, not the leaders that brought them into this in the first place.

November 18th, 2008, 2:00 pm


The forgotten East said:

The forgotten east of Syria:

on one of the most challenging trips i ever had, I travelled to The East of Syria to discover what that part of the country look like. Before I go i did my homework. My interest was to look at what is a bad season for syrian farmers there? is it the weather or/and something else?

In fact, I have discovered a startling truth that the econonmic backbone of the syrian wealth lies in the hands of those poor farmers there. the government rarely mention what is really happening there; and with the absence of true mass media, the reality of the sitaution there is can be easily uncovered. I wonder where are all the syrian intellecual from that.

from what i have seen there, it is not an optimistic outlook at all. of course, climate change is a issue but should not a cover to the sense of injustice among the farmers i met, the poor support of the state with regard to equipments and resources. I predict in a few years time, if radical changes based on studies, not implemented, syria will be a regular importer of grain.

P.S. what is written above is based on personal observation and informal contacts only. it is not based on any real studies which i feel i should do if only i had the resources.

see the following excellent link for a study done on the East of syria state farms. (it is interesting to read):


November 18th, 2008, 2:45 pm


Akbar Palace said:

You seem to understand AIG better than I do – can you explain why he won’t meet me?


I have come to the conclusion AIG either does not want peace, doesn’t like you, or both. Screw AIG!

I am now ready to intercede on behalf of the “Jewish People” and meet with Dr. Bashar Assad and spread the word of peace in order to save the Middle East and the World from WW3.

I am planning a trip to Israel in March Shai, I would be happy to meet with you for some “cafe shakhor v’biskvitim”;)

November 18th, 2008, 2:46 pm


trustquest said:

Thanks ALIA, for the elegant response, you have put the sail into its right track. It is appalling to read on this blog, that some elites declare in big letter that he can not accept others to be in power, it is beyond any chauvinist statement I’ve ever read on this blog. I have no association with any party and I do prefer to see all in power are secular, but to exclude someone, sect or group from his citizenry right to be in power and responsibility is beyond me. I’m not worry about me; but I do not like this to happen to what is left of my families in Syria. It seems to me like a slavery plantation alive and well in Syria, but I’m glad to tell you, that things can not stay the same what ever dictators or oppressors tried to do. I can also tell you on my side, I have not met yet in the Diaspora anyone come close to defending the regime and I have build a sense that what you just uttered is a wide spread and represent majority thinking. People aware of these facts but unfortunately they are still looking for real leaders.

November 18th, 2008, 2:47 pm


norman said:


Britain sees ‘constructive role’ for Syria

2008-11-18 15:58:01 –

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) – Britain’s foreign secretary said Tuesday Syria could play «a constructive role» in the stalled Middle East peacemaking process.
David Miliband also warned that rocket attacks by the militant Palestinian Hamas group on Israel would harm Syria’s position in the region and diminish chances of achieving a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East.
Miliband spoke to reporters in Damascus after holding talks with Syrian President Bashar Assad and Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem.
He is the first senior British official to visit Syria since former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s visit in 2001. He said the Mideast peace process was at the heart of his discussions with Assad.
«Syria is a very important country with important responsibilities,» Miliband said, predicting that the next year would be key for the vision of a comprehensive peace.
«Syria has the opportunity to play a constructive role for peace in the region,» he said, «There have been many important constructive steps over the past 18 months, notably with Lebanon.
Syria in October formalized its diplomatic ties with neighboring Lebanon after dominating it for nearly three decades until 2005. It also held indirect peace talks with Israel through Turkish mediation.
Those decisions have apparently encouraged Western leaders to visit Syria after years of isolation.
Syria also is a major player in the Palestinian conflict as it hosts the exiled leaders of radical Palestinian groups, like Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Miliband criticized Hamas’ rocket attacks on Israel and implicitly urged Syria to exert its influence on the militant group to stop such attacks.
«I argue that Hamas’ violence hurts Syria, which says it believes in a comprehensive peace,» Miliband said. «The rockets are a threat to the successful process. As the same time, we don’t support (Jewish) settlements.
Israel and Hamas have been trading fire for two weeks after nearly five months of relative quiet.
Miliband said he believes that the election of a new administration in the United States «does represent a new opportunity for engagement by the U.S. in the Middle East region.
Al-Moallem, the Syrian foreign minister, said his country has worked for more than 18 months to «build a partnership relation between Syria and the U.K.
«The title of this partnership is a just and comprehensive peace as well as security and stability in the region,» he said.
Al-Moallem disputed that the U.N. nuclear agency’s discovery of uranium traces at a bombed site was an indication that Syria was building a nuclear reactor.
He reiterated that the site was «under construction and it’s not operational … It’s a military establishment and not for nuclear purposes.

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November 18th, 2008, 4:22 pm


Off the Wall said:

Dear Alia
Again, this is what I was hoping for. A frank and open discussion. Some of us, including myself, are reluctant warriors when it comes to democracy and democratic reforms mainly because what we have witnessed in the past 8 years. As such, when the notion of democracy in Syria comes up, we want to emphasize that we are not adopting the neocons mantra of creative destruction, hence our emphasis on the safety and security of Syria. On my side, I am committed to non-violence, and I refuse to participate in any program that results in violence.

The nature of the opposition itself is also a question many of us ask ourselves. On the one hand, some of us who lived in Syria during the late seventies and early eighties and witnessed first hand the political program and methods of the main opposition group, the MB, are left with a bad taste and a lingering suspicion of sectarian parties and of their ability to address the core issues facing Syrian society. Speaking for myself, I am very concerned about their attitude towards women and minorities and their recent alliance with Khaddam did little to help. To me, he has been part of the problem, and without answering to his own role in enforcing the status quo for 40 years, he can not and will not be viewed as a reformer. Khaddam is not a minor or mid-level party functionary, and he does not need to reconcile with the MB leadership, he needs to reconcile with the Syrian people as well as with the Lebanese. So far, all what I saw from him is complete avoidance of his own guilt and laughable attempts to pass the buck. Add to the mix shady characters like Ghadri, (i.e. Syria’s Chalabi) and his AEI office, I hope you can empathize with my own reluctance to give any of these groups ammunition for the destruction of Syria and for the mayhem they plan to inflict on their way to power. The neocons did not die, they never do, and I am sure they will resurface one way or another in the next few years. If anyone succeeded in making the regime’s line (security and safety vs democracy) a valid one, it is them and their creative destruction theory.

Arguably, most of us on this forum are technocrats. We are not well versed in revolutionary theories but the engineers amongst us, who by nature are builders not destroyers, tend to address politics as a system with input, output, and system structure. Garbage in garbage out is a fundamental premise in system theory, another fundamental premise is that complex systems are nearly impossible to identify, which means that the set of parameters and equations governing a system, including physical systems, are seldom known and that we must calibrate our models against observations. While you an I have argued that Syria is beginning to collect data, we both know that such data is very incomplete, and one of our major hurdles is the lack of quantifiable observations in the form of surveys, polls, social, and socio economic studies. If anyone wants to call me an elitist, so be it, but I am not willing to risk continuing experimentation with an unknown system. I can try, however, to do my best to understand the system using inferences from the scant observations. My observation so far, indicate that in most developing countries, democracy was a very gradual process that could only take hold when economic and social development reaches a level where democratic institutions and governance became the only meaningful way to maintain and improve the strong economy. Granted, it is much better if everyone starts with democracy, for it levels the playing field. But that has only been the situation in a few advanced countries such as the Netherlands and in more recent history, the Jewish part of Israel.

No regime, whatsoever is willing to relinquish power. And sharing power is merely a prologue to relinquishing it. Chances are that power sharing and the eventual relinquishing of power can go much smoother when those holding to power are assured that the process will not result in vengeful actions and will not merely exchange them with their arch enemies, who are hell-bent on their physical destruction. This is precisely the point where the language of discourse and creative solutions you have advocated come into play. Autocratic regimes, when they face the inevitable need for reform, try to rig the game by establishing power sharing mechanisms that are gutted from any meaningful way of true participatory governance, at least at the national level. This is the case in Egypt, where the political parties law is laughable and it is rigged in manners that will maintain the power hold of the ruling party. But there are antidotes to that, and amongst these antidotes is the recognition, as our own Norman would argue, that all politics are local. At the local level, participatory governance is less threatening and it can go long way in establishing, if you will, meaningful training program for enshrining democratic values. I think, and as usual, I can be totally wrong, that for any reform to succeed it must start by building civil society institutions and practices at the local level with local focus. This is what opposition parties continuously fail to understand as they always have their eyes on the presidential palace instead of the town halls and the city councils.

to be continued

November 18th, 2008, 5:28 pm


AkbarPalace said:

As such, when the notion of democracy in Syria comes up, we want to emphasize that we are not adopting the neocons mantra of creative destruction, hence our emphasis on the safety and security of Syria.


I could not find the neocon “mantra of creative destruction” anywhere on the World Wide Web. If Saddam Hussein’s regime change (you remember the Scuds and Kuwait, right?) could have been accomplished without one drop of blood, the neocons would have been more than happy. They would have been elated.

But if you think democracy in Syria will fall into your lap without violence and without an Islamist power-grab (like the one in Iraq), you may have to think twice about your proposed march to democracy (and you’ll have a difficult time convincing Professor Josh and Alex).

November 18th, 2008, 6:15 pm


Shai said:


You are welcome here anytime, and it will be my pleasure to meet you. Cafe shakhor is fine, but maybe something other than biskvitim (biscuits)… 🙂

November 18th, 2008, 6:24 pm


Off the Wall said:

Dear Forgotten East

Please accept my immense gratitude for the link to the study you have provided and for raising a very important issue. I have looked at the study very fast, and will dedicate a block of time tomorrow night to reading it thoroughly.

Again, thank you very much. If you have any other links, please do not hesitate to provide them.

Dear Jad and Alex
I hope that you would consider as a part of your plans, the establishment of a “Digital Library” or portal where studies like the one provided by The Forgotten East can be permanently acquired, with due attention to copyrights or at least linked to. As you can see, there seems to be a great deal of interest in real studies around here. If such is not doable under the flag of SC, can we discuss what mechanism would work to develop such library.

I am willing to go through the entire SC archive and identify whatever studies were linked to including some posted by Ehsani. But I can only do that after a couple of months from now unless our IT experts can come up with a mechanism to read html tags and compile them into a single html where we can follow each link and identify those with study-type documents. Unfortunately, most of these studies end up on shelves and do not get used, or at least, there seems no indication of them being used.

November 18th, 2008, 6:57 pm


Shai said:


You said: “… which means that the set of parameters and equations governing a system, including physical systems, are seldom known and that we must calibrate our models against observations.”

The problem, I think, with societies like ours, is that they don’t behave like ordinary systems might. Careful observations, and ongoing “calibrations”, may end up leading us nowhere far. And the reason may be, that the systems themselves are chaotic, and behave in unpredictable ways that are almost always highly susceptible to external variables (events). Take, for instance, the threat of war. When any of our regional regimes feel threatened (existential, political, etc.), something on the inside normally pays a heavy price (budgets, reforms, freedom, etc.) On the other hand, if there is optimism in the air, peace talks, world economies doing well, etc., then this can reflect significantly on components internally. This effects not only physical realms, but also (and perhaps no less importantly) emotional ones. The latter often determines what can or cannot be done within, what kind of support society will give its leaders, what people are ready to do (perhaps sacrifice) for progress to take place.

I’ve got a developing suspicion, that as you said, nations that have never experienced anything even remotely close to a democracy, will take much longer to achieve it. Not years, but decades perhaps. And although there are certainly internal prerequisites to such reform, I claim that perhaps external ones are no less substantial and conditional. For instance, I find it almost unthinkable that an isolated nation can become a democracy on its own. North Korea, Iran and, yes, Syria, cannot become democracies while the world shuns them away. The transformation is so difficult, so strenuous on society, that without external help this task is practically impossible to achieve.

Chances are, that a nation like Syria will first have to brought back into the “circle of nations” (and I don’t mean the U.N….), to feel and be treated as an equal, before it can even begin to think about major reformations. The courage and self-confidence required by the many Syrian technocrats who will have to carry out this seemingly insurmountable task, will develop slowly, and will form as a consequence of constant interaction and participation amongst the international community. I have no doubt about that. When Syrian officials will sit in enough European and world economic forums, amongst top panels, they will begin to change, and they will acquire the tools necessary to do so. When Syria will interact enough with The West, and be treated fairly and respectfully, it will opt to start wearing “the same suit” (democracy), and it will begin to invest in it. Democracy is not only a concept, it is also a language. And very few of us can learn a language on our own, through cassette tapes. We need, at the end of the day, to interact with the native-speakers, to exist and function amongst them long enough, to acquire the tools, and eventually achieve, the level of fluency we seek.

November 18th, 2008, 6:59 pm


zenobia said:

When Syria will interact enough with The West, and be treated fairly and respectfully, it will opt to start wearing “the same suit” (democracy), and it will begin to invest in it. Democracy is not only a concept, it is also a language. And very few of us can learn a language on our own, through cassette tapes. We need, at the end of the day, to interact with the native-speakers, to exist and function amongst them long enough, to acquire the tools, and eventually achieve, the level of fluency we seek.

Amen to all this…

November 18th, 2008, 7:19 pm


AIG said:

There are enough Syrians that have lived in democracies and can “teach” the others. The Syrians do not need anybody else to teach them. Heck, how many years did Bashar live in London? I am quite sure he knows all there is to know about democracy. He just doesn’t want to implement it.

The Iraqis, Saudis, Egyptians sat for decades with europeans, but have learned very little about democracy. I suggest you try another theory.

November 18th, 2008, 7:31 pm


Shai said:

AIG, what was the deal about you not making comments for a few days? Please, take a breather… it’ll do us all some good. I guess your word is worth one thing one day, and quite another the next… Oh well, we should have known.

Less than 24 hours ago, you said: “I will not post for a few days so as not be an obstacle or an excuse against such a discussion.”

So what happened since then?

November 18th, 2008, 7:37 pm


AIG said:

“For instance, I find it almost unthinkable that an isolated nation can become a democracy on its own.”

Not true, the US was the only democracy in the world when it declared independence. France as a democracy initially was isolated from the rest of Europe. The Jews in Israel were completely isolated from the Arabs around them and became a democracy. Athens developed its democracy in isolation from the rest of Greece and especially Sparta that were not democratic.

Democracy is not about the world treats a few government representatives, it is about how a country treats its own people and about the kind of respect people inside the country have for each other.

November 18th, 2008, 7:41 pm


AIG said:

What has happened is that you are muddying the waters. How about you take a breather for a few days also?

November 18th, 2008, 7:42 pm


Shai said:


Please, I think some intervention is long overdue… The guy can’t stand our open-minded discussions, and has consistently and persistently attempted to obstruct, undermine, and destroy. There is a pattern here, which I’ve already noticed over the past 10-11 months that I’m here, and it seems to repeat itself. AIG presents some interesting/challenging comments – some of us respond, often with our own arguments – AIG doesn’t accept other views – AIG reverts to labeling and other forms of negative rhetoric – AIG loses control and begins to obsessively target certain commentators (myself, Norman, OTW, FP, etc.) – AIG crosses certain rules – AIG is suspended for a certain period of time – AIG Returns – … and all over again.

Alex, I’m the last person to suggest permanently abolishing a particular participants from SC. There are a few commentators here, with whom I’ve had terrible exchanges, that have bordered on mutual claims of racism, antisemitism, etc. Yet I’ve never contemplated “silencing” anyone. All voices must be heard. That’s called freedom of speech, and this forum certainly upholds this basic value. But there is a limit, one cannot allow subversive behavior to be carried out consistently, without end. I’m not making the decisions here (thank god), but I do ask that you give serious consideration to a more effective treatment of the problem. What that would be, is clearly not up to me to decide.

I apologize Alex, to you and to the rest of the forum, for wasting an entire comment on this issue. I wish I didn’t have to.

November 18th, 2008, 7:56 pm


Off the Wall said:

Relevant to our Discussion of Democracy and the neocon fantasy

How Did We Ever Let This Guy Get Away with Being a War President?
By Gary Brecher, eXiled Online
Posted on November 17, 2008, Printed on November 18, 2008

What George W. Bush loved best about his job was being a war president. Playing war, that is, as opposed to making war like a grown-up. Remember him strutting onto that carrier in his little flight jacket? You never saw Eisenhower, a real general, playing out his martial fantasies this way. You can take the drink out of the drunk, but you can’t take the swagger out of a fool.

Compare Bush’s eight years to Clinton’s, and you see how much he loved to play the soldier. No one expected that from a Republican: Reagan and Bush senior were cautious about betting America’s chips. Liberals used to make fun of Reagan for picking on tiny helpless nations that couldn’t fight back. Now they are remembering with pure nostalgia Reagan’s invasion of Grenada, air raids on Libya, and even our 1984 withdrawal from Beirut.

We’ll never know how far W. would have gone to find himself a war because he had all he needed delivered by air on Sept. 11, 2001. Remember how people felt in those days? A friend of mine said, “It was like the aliens had invaded.”

We needed our president to be a hero and made him into one, even though it was obvious he wasn’t up to the job. He didn’t take the first plane to Manhattan, stand there and say, “We’re coming for you bastards!” Instead he sat in a roomful of children, reading My Pet Goat, then dropped off the radar for hours before his handlers got him ready.

Maybe there’s a lesson here: if the president doesn’t cut it in a crisis, we’re better off admitting that to ourselves and telling him so instead of pretending he’s a great leader. When you make a weakling into a hero, you give him a lot of power. If we’d kept our eyes open and faced the fact that Bush reacted badly to 9/11, we might have been able to ask for a little more detail about his big plans.

Those came courtesy of Cheney and his neocon punks. What a crew these guys were! Like their boss, they were also woofers, boasters — but of a different variety. Dubya was your standard frat boy loudmouth, but Cheney, with his talk about “working the dark side,” was more like the ultimate Dungeons and Dragons nerd. And you couldn’t ask Hollywood to serve up a goofier selection of dorks than his neocon staffers, who drifted from the universities to D.C. the way has-been pop singers switch to country and western to leech off a new bunch of suckers.

On the one hand, they were scared to death of Arabs and hated all Muslims. On the other, they were convinced that every Muslim on the planet really wanted, deep in his heart, to be magically turned into an Ohio Republican. That was their theory: take an anti-American Arab country, add an invading army, and voila! a nice fluffy democracy souffle.

So we poured American blood and treasure into the Iraqi dust to prove the half-baked theories of a bunch of tenth-rate professors. The most expensive experiment in the history of the world, all to learn something any 10-year-old could have told them: people don’t take to foreign troops on their streets, and not everybody wants to be like us. You know those Ig-Nobel awards they hand out to the dumbest science projects of the year? The Iraq invasion is the all-time winner. Retire the trophy with the names of the winning team: Bush, Cheney, Kristol, Wolfowitz, Feith.

But first came Afghanistan — “the graveyard of empires.” Every military-history wannabe was conjuring the ghosts of that Victorian British army slaughtered by the Afghans, along with all the propaganda we’d been pushing about the invincible mujahedeen who’d driven out the Soviets. Looking back, what they had routed was a dying Soviet state, and they didn’t even manage to do that until we took the risk of giving them Stinger anti-aircraft missiles. But all the pundits’ knees were shaking about going into the Afghan haunted house.

We started slow, the way American armies tend to do, taking a while to limber up. There were weeks of bombing the Shomali Plain to no visible effect and a Special Forces raid on Mullah Omar’s compound that was more “Naked Gun” than “Top Gun.” Then Mazar-i-Sharif in the north fell suddenly, and it turned into the kind of war that Northern Alliance fighters and fighter-bomber pilots both love: hunting down a fleeing enemy.

The campaign went so well, so fast, that it taught Bush and Cheney the wrong lessons. They started exporting democracy to Afghanistan, even hiring a local Pashtun girl to read the Kabul evening news. When you tell a big, backwards tribe like the Pashtun that you’re going to turn their whole world upside down for them, you shouldn’t expect them to be grateful. But we did, setting ourselves up for a whole lot of trouble later on.

Worse yet, Bush’s people figured that since Afghanistan, the tough nut, cracked so easily, their pet project, a second Iraq invasion, would be a cakewalk. This time they would do it right, occupying the Iraqi cities instead of just crushing Saddam’s army and withdrawing like Bush senior did.

Nobody wants to recall what Americans believed back then. That’s OK: I’ll remember it. People thought that Saddam was “connected to” 9/11, and his agents were going to poison our water, nuke our cities, and gas our subways. At least they claimed to believe all that unlikely James Bond stuff. I don’t think they really did. There was just so much revenge momentum after 9/11 that it had to burst out somewhere. Everybody wanted payback. It’s natural. But most of the time, in your average democracy, cooler heads are in charge. Not this time. Bush and his team were foaming at the mouth far more than the average citizen. It was like a crazed sheriff trying to talk a lukewarm mob into a lynching frenzy. With the help of people who should have known better — I’m looking at you, Colin Powell — he got his way.

That, in the short version, is why George W. Bush is about to leave office the most unpopular American president in history. You can spin Iraq a hundred different ways, but it still comes up bad news because once the dust settles, the Iranians are in control of the whole region, and they didn’t have to fire a shot. We destroyed their old rival for them.

It’s a simple story: we crushed Saddam’s army, occupied the cities, and then acted like the whole country would turn itself into a neocon fantasyland. Paul Bremer’s cult kids were talking tax reform while the Iraqi army they had sent home unemployed was busy digging up the weapons they had buried in their yards. Bush’s counterinsurgency policy was pretending there was no insurgency then pretending it was just Saddam’s “deadenders.” When Saddam’s capture at the end of 2003 didn’t slow the insurgency, Bush’s defenders stopped acting like they knew what was going on and just settled for blaming the Iranians — as if it was a nasty surprise that Iran, the country that openly hates America most in the whole world, might get involved in anti-American operations when we occupied Iraq right next door.

People ask what our counterinsurgency strategy was before the surge. Easy: we had none. We were doing nothing but offering the insurgents moving targets. A standard operation for the occupation force in those dark days was patrolling through an alien Sunni neighborhood, waiting for an IED to go off under the lead vehicle or for an RPG or small-arms ambush. When that happens, conventional forces have a grim choice: do nothing, withdrawing while the locals snicker at your dead and wounded, or open fire on everyone in sight. Either way, the insurgents win. If you withdraw, they’ve hit you with impunity and gained respect in the neighborhood. If you open fire on the slums, you kill civilians and make enemies.

Effective counterinsurgency means not relying on massive firepower the way conventional forces are trained to do. The idea is not to fire until you know exactly who you’re up against. It’s the opposite of shock and awe. It’s discipline and patience. Gen. David Petraeus implemented a set of reforms usually called the surge, though they were about tactics more than reinforcements. All he really did was initiate overdue standard counterinsurgency doctrine. He integrated U.S. units with Iraqi forces then sent them out into the neighborhoods. You can’t run any kind of counterinsurgency plan without good street-level intelligence, but Bush’s people wouldn’t admit that there was an insurgency, so they wouldn’t commit to learning about it. Their style was to ignore it and hope it would go away.

That’s why Afghanistan went well in the early stages: we didn’t go in trying to turn the Afghans into democrats, but trying to crush the Taliban and al-Qaeda. In Iraq, Bush was dreaming from the start, so the whole effort was doomed.

The surge worked about as well as any good counterinsurgency effort could. We know a little about the enemy now, and there’s less violence because all the neighborhoods had already been ethnically cleansed. Baghdad is now a Shi’ite city. There are a few Sunni enclaves, but the Shia rule the city and the country, with the Kurds fortifying themselves up north and wishing they could saw their territory off and relocate it somewhere in mid-ocean.

That’s what Bush’s trillion-dollar investment in Iraq has bought. Meanwhile, if you look at the rest of the world map, you get a real shock. Regions like Latin America and Central Asia that eight years ago were American protectorates in all but name have turned against us while we were distracted with Iraq. Many times, the real winners are countries that manage to stay out of a war, the way England benefited by not getting sucked into the Thirty Years’ War. Iran is much stronger now, and so is Russia. The Russians, who seemed to be in their “throes” when Clinton left office, just slapped down Georgia, one of our few remaining allies among the old Soviet states, and there wasn’t a thing we could do but grumble.

It’s no puzzle: we pretended a goon was a hero, let him play out his foolish fantasies about remaking the Middle East, and wasted our strength on a losing effort while the rest of the world drifted out of our power. Our leader was a laughingstock around globe, and he made America the butt of the world’s contempt. But Bush got his wish — he was a war president and then some. The rest of us were the casualties.

Gary Brecher is the author of “The War Nerd”(Soft Skull, 2008). Read more of his work at eXiledOnline.com.

© 2008 eXiled Online All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/107321/

November 18th, 2008, 8:05 pm


AIG said:

The patterns are the following. You put forward some theories. I show that they are not true. You get angry and ask for me to be shut up.

Or, I post an opinion you do not like and then you say that I do not live in Israel or that I do not represent any Israeli.

I am against you having an open-minded discussion? At least some posters recognize that without me a few other brave souls, the discussion here would be completely close minded. I was seeing an open discussion between Syrian posters and though I disagreed with many points I did not post anything, because the discussion was for a change open minded and constructive. Until you stepped in and started muddying the waters with theories that are not only wrong but also are derailing the fruitful discussion.

So let’s make a deal. I will not post for a week and you will not post for a week and we let the Jad/OTW project proceed. Ok?

November 18th, 2008, 8:09 pm


Seeking the Truth said:


How about the notion that there is something in the Arab/Muslim culture, that is not conducive to the practice of democracy as it is understood and realized in the West?

November 18th, 2008, 8:21 pm


AIG said:

Highly unlikely, the Arabs/Muslims in Israel have had no problem adopting democracy as well as the Jews that came from Arab countries. Together they are about half the Israeli population.

In addition, Arab ex-pats have had no problem at all fitting in as immigrants in the US while retaining their culture.

And how about the Turks, certainly not a perfect democracy but quite advanced? (I know they are Muslims and not Arabs but still)

November 18th, 2008, 8:29 pm


Alex said:


I will ask you to please take few days off as you suggested you will do earlier (yesterday) so the OTW and ALIA and JAD and Offended and Zenobia will try to advance their discussion more peacefully.

You can still take notes and come back and present your feedback on what they will end up with.

And when you come back, try to not escalate arguments until it becomes confrontational. If you disagree with the rest, just conclude by saying that you still disagree.

No name calling from you, or others.

November 18th, 2008, 9:19 pm


Akbar Palace said:


Regarding your article the “neocon fantasy”:

It’s no puzzle: we pretended a goon was a hero, let him play out his foolish fantasies about remaking the Middle East, and wasted our strength on a losing effort while the rest of the world drifted out of our power. Our leader was a laughingstock around globe, and he made America the butt of the world’s contempt. But Bush got his wish — he was a war president and then some. The rest of us were the casualties.

Not everyone agrees that George Bush is a “goon” or played out “foolish fantasies” or “wasted our strength” or fought a “losing effort”, or was “laughingstock around the globe” or made “America the butt of world’s contempt”.

But if you and the author or the rest of the particpants here want to believe that, it is certainly your prerogative.

Now, let’s hope Barack Obama will not be tested like every other recent president has. And as far as “laughingstocks” go, Iran’s influence on the Carter Administration wasn’t very funny for Jimmy Carter and our hostages.

At least Bush was a 2 termer.

Alex –

Did you find out about that job idea I was talking about earlier today??

November 18th, 2008, 9:24 pm


Alex said:


I’m working on it … you know, time difference. He is sleeping now in Damascus : )

November 18th, 2008, 9:56 pm


Off the Wall said:

Dear AP
As you notice, posting an article does not mean that one agrees 100% with the article’s language.

As for Carter and Iran, I thought that there was negotiation between Reagan and the Mullahs to delay their release. I came to the US in 1985, which was way past Carter, and in the midst of beginning of the Iran-Contra scandal, which was not funny at all. In fact, watching the Iran-Contra hearing was one of the biggest cultural shocks to me as a foreign student then.

One thing though, I think one of the most telling of the strength of our own democracy here in the US is our ability to poke fun at our leaders. Although i can easily see that this was not the intention of the writer.

Having said all that, I for one agree with the major premise of the article I posted. I sure did not intend to hurt anyone or to be provocative. I only posted it having talked earlier about the anxiety neocons have caused among Syrian intelletucals who are not willing to sell out their people like Chalabi did, and are torn, like I am, trying to navigate our own contradictions, taboos, hopes, and fears (not fear from the regime). I know, some may consider Chalabi and his gang heroes. In my books they are crooks.

November 18th, 2008, 10:12 pm


Alia said:

Dear OTW,

Nothing to do with outside influences (neo-cons), firmly against any sectarian agenda (M.B. who disgraced themselves forever in my eyes by instrumentalizing religion in order to kill innocents), not aligned with any opposition movement (I fully share your distate of Khaddam’s position)…and above all, against violence.

I am not a revolutionary nor a technocrat. I understand systems from studying human systems and I understand that in those systems, there are highly unquantifiable/unpredictable effects that allow them to be successful against all odds.

India is an excellent example of a huge pluralistic democracy which became economically successful in a later phase. There, you see a great variety of ethnic backgrounds, languages, castes and cultures that came together to form a cohesive megaculture- what we see there, rarely considering the huge population, of excesses gets corrected along the way.

This brief article highlighted this issue vis a vis Iraq at the time:

What we need is a leader with a vision and a mission to give rather than to take- technocrats are welcome to help implement the vision : )

Yes- you are completely on target as far as the dynamics of relinquishing power…I enjoyed reading your astute analysis of the matter.

November 18th, 2008, 10:23 pm


Alia said:

Dear The Forgotten East,

I enjoyed so very much reading the study that you linked and I will be sure to pass it along to people who are very familiar with the events that were described .
Thank you.

November 18th, 2008, 10:31 pm


Off the Wall said:

Dear Alia
I am sorry if my comment sounded like I am making statement about anyone. I was trying to define what I am by defining what I am not.

I tend to digress in my writings, and to go on tangent directions. I guess you can call that “Intellectual ADD as one of my professors once did. 🙂

I am sorry I can not respond at length now.

November 18th, 2008, 11:06 pm


Ford Prefect said:

Akbar Palace said:

“Not everyone agrees that George Bush is a “goon” or played out “foolish fantasies” or “wasted our strength” or fought a “losing effort”, or was “laughingstock around the globe” or made “America the butt of world’s contempt”.

True. Not everyone agrees, but MOST do, Akbar.

November 19th, 2008, 1:24 am


Alia said:


I really did not feel anything was personal-don’t worry.

November 19th, 2008, 1:55 am


J Ron said:

Hey Josh, The Obama transition team is distancing itself from Robert Malley.

“The Obama transition team is working to distance itself from a controversial negotiator who has been negotiating with Israel’s enemies.

Robert Malley, Middle East director of the International Crisis Group, a think tank that has traditionally been critical of Israel, has been holding discussions with the leaders of Syria, Egypt and Hamas.

Recent reports from the Israeli media, reflected in a recent Bulletin report, had indicated President-elect Barack Obama had sent Mr. Malley to the Middle East on his behalf. This was despite his having quit as an “informal adviser” to the campaign in May after his ties with Hamas became public and a political liability for the Obama campaign.

Mr. Malley had, according to the reports, presented himself as a liaison for President-elect Obama.

The Obama transition team told The Bulletin, in an official letter, that Mr. Malley does not work for the president-elect. And it said if Mr. Malley presented himself as a liaison for Mr. Obama, it was done without authorization from Mr. Obama or by anyone else in the Obama transition team”.

November 19th, 2008, 2:44 am


Shai said:


Can you see a realistic possibility of open-borders between Syria and Israel, before Syria becomes a democracy? I ask this because the Syrians have brought up the idea of a “peace park” on 1/3 of the Golan, which will essentially be an open area to Israelis/Syrians, without the requirement of a visa. They could work there, but not live. It’s not clear to me where the borders would run, therefore, but it seems they would not be “normal” borders. But if Syria still requires her citizens to go through a process, before receiving permission to leave, could this peace-park idea be realistic, or does it seem more geared towards the Israelis in the equation, rather than the Syrians?

November 19th, 2008, 4:55 am


offended said:

Alia, thank you very much for the candid and thoughtful response.

You said:
This is a gross understatement-Syria is a dictatorship ruled by a clique with a virulent security apparatus, opaque in its functioning and without accountability, and on and on and on…
The fact that we continue saying that it is not a democracy is in itself a problem-we are not seeing clearly how things are and how among the nations since antiquity, regimes such as ours have been deemed appalling and unacceptable.

okay, we obviously differ on our assessment of the status quo. I’d like to think it’s not as bad as you’ve portrayed. (or it could have been worse…)

We are not bound in our internal functioning by anything that is going on around us-The standard we need to look at is above not below.

I partly agree with you; on one hand the environment WILL have an impact on us, either people or the regime. We’re not living in seclusion. Everything that happens in our vicinity will have some sort of effect, whether it’s iraq, Lebanon, paelstine, the turks, the kurds…etc..etc..so what I am saying is you have to look at the context, we’d like to think that syria is special and that it’s endowed, well it is, but to an extent. We have many illnesses that the surrounding countries are suffering from. On the other hand, this doesn’t mean that our movements are in tandem with our brothers/neighbours and we cant move without them. This is only one factor, and it’s represented in many common issues of concerns the least of which is the Iraqi refugees and what pan Arabism entails.

We are part of the family you know.

This- as I have stated elsewhere – is the line of the regime- We can fight our enemies and participate in a process that will GRADUALLY bring about a better state of things for all of us. The 13 american colonies which fought England were not “a democracy” but did come up with a list of “articles of confederation” which served them for at least 5-8 years throughout the war- until they came back to a Continental Congress, more representative of the various colonies, and from then on to discussing and implementing a form of government suitable for the country. We do not have to move from one abject state to the perfect other- we can progress, but we cannot afford to stand still and continue adopting justifications that do not withstand reasonable scrutiny.

Yes I agree; this line has been used by the regime. But is it not true? I believe it is. I will try not to get stuck in details at this early stage of our exchange, but do you not agree that there were conspiracies and plots to undermine Syria in the past few years? The situation is not compatible with the case of the American colonies. At least those had one cause and one common enemy. When it comes to Syria; there are several struggles and more than few fronts to be watchful of. I am not saying that we’ve to wait until everything is resolved. This could take forever. There are many things you can do while threatening conflicts are taking place around you. Ground works. People have to be mentally prepared for democracy. You can argue that they may never get the chance to get prepared as long as there is autocratic governance in place. I’d say you might be right. So eventually I think I agree with your GRADUAL approach. How steep is that gradient us yet to be known or explored.

Our country consists of many people and has always done so-we can only have a form of government that is suitable for it. Clearly, we have to come up with a creative solution to adopt republican/democratic values. Again it is not an all or none situation.

It seems to me that you’re somehow influenced by the American political system. There’s nothing wrong in that of course, but things just don’t work that way in Syria. You’ve got multiple political undercurrents, the Islamic current is the one with the most velocity. Followed by the Pan-Arabs and then the liberals and so on and so forth. And of course, tribalism permeates all those. How do you plan on dealing with political movement with pure Islamic agendas? Doesn’t democracy dictates that these people be given voice as well? And given the fact that our people are more inclined now toward a religious choice than ever (although my feeling now is that this trend is easing off), how do you fancy having a religious demagogue in power?

I am afraid we have to address these scenarios as we go along.

We will all have fantasies on the matter, since none of us knows what he really WANTS. Does he want to continue ruling unopposed, unquestioned, without accountability, and allow his relatives to plunder the country unhindered, supported by an apathetic middle-class that lives in compromise and self-betrayal, since it is allowed to have a few ameneties…or does he want to move the country forward?

Actually I meant that if YOU were in Bashar shoes and you were given the freedom of choice and action, what would you do? Of course, loads of people, if they were true to themselves, would like to retain power. But let’s assume that a person who have the greater good of syria as his best interest and he really wants to move toward democracy, what should he do? In terms of 1,2,3,4…etc.. plausible steps?

November 19th, 2008, 7:33 am


offended said:


I am not sure if you were talking about me or not, but I’ll assume you were:

1-I am not elite. Nor am I elitist in my thinking.

2-The people I am talking about aren’t normal tribal leaders like the royalties of the Gulf or Hussain Al Yaor the former Iraqi president who was appointed by the Americans. Nothing like that at all, those are drug dealers and outright mobsters. You many not mind being lead by those people, but I do mind. I mind big time. I’d rather have a government of techoncrats or idolouges rather than those.

November 19th, 2008, 7:40 am


offended said:

AIG’s refusal to meet with Shai strikes me as coward and indecent. It’s quite contradictory from a guy who speaks human rights and spew bravado all day here on the blog to chicken out for such minor issue.

November 19th, 2008, 8:07 am


Akbar Palace said:

OTW states:

One thing though, I think one of the most telling of the strength of our own democracy here in the US is our ability to poke fun at our leaders.

Yes, just tune into late night television, SNL, or any of the MSM news outlets like Keith Olbermann.

Having said all that, I for one agree with the major premise of the article I posted. I sure did not intend to hurt anyone or to be provocative.


I only posted it having talked earlier about the anxiety neocons have caused among Syrian intelletucals who are not willing to sell out their people like Chalabi did, and are torn, like I am, trying to navigate our own contradictions, taboos, hopes, and fears (not fear from the regime). I know, some may consider Chalabi and his gang heroes. In my books they are crooks.

Yes, the neocons were all about creating “anxiety”. So much anxiety that Libya’s Kaddafi opened up his WMD program (try finding that in the news), Iraq has a democracy and an agreement with the US, no Scuds are landing in Israel or Saudi Arabia, no ME terrorist network has felled another skyscraper or hijacked a US airliner, Lebanon felt it was the right time to kick brother Syria out of Lebanon, and the northern borders of Israel are as quiet as a mouse. All at virtually no diplomatic frequent flyer expense to the US government.

I met Chalabi once when I was friends with David Wurmser and his wife. He was very friendly and quite knowledgable. Apparently he was just what the neocons needed: a powerful voice against Saddam Hussein and against the despots who own the Middle East. He seemed to be someone with a good organization (the INC) and the means to effect regime change.

Hindsight is 20/20, but it looks like the neocons have themselves to blame for trusting this fellow as much as they did. Frankly, I don’t know the details, but it seems to me he just didn’t have the support in Iraq to make the difference they were hoping for. Maybe you know more.

True. Not everyone agrees, but MOST do, Akbar.

Ford Prefect,

As bad as the economy is, as unpopular the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are, Bush still had 30% of the population behind him and McCain had 47% of the voting public. 30% of voting Americans (like me) STILL believe President Bush did the best anyone can do under these circumstances: a global terrorist threat and a very recent, global economic crisis.

OK Obama won. As far as I’m concerned, everyone starts with an “A+”. Let’s see if Mr. “Audacity of Hope” can really effect positive “change”. Let’s see how Obama deals with this difficult economy and the difficult threats a handful of nations pose to the rest of the world. Judging from the last 40 years, all presidents have to face these challenges, and none of them were able to escape getting their hands dirty.

Alex –

Thanks for checking. Just let your government POC know that I would prefer to fly US Airways (I have my frequent flyer plan with them).


November 19th, 2008, 12:30 pm


trustquest said:

Sir, you have stated the following: (Quite honestly, I refuse to be governed by those moron tribal leaders if there were to be democracies and people got to choose them. I will revolt!),
Sir, I do not know who you mean by moron tribal leader, but all I know that in case that a stupid person was elected by the people; he is way superior to most intelligent one who is not elected. By the way aren’t you all along defending Hamas for the reason that it has been elected by the people? And I do agree on this.

I would like to know what principal you are advocating; it looks to me that the principal you are defending is status-quo. I have not seen any criticism from you to the corrupt and unqualified system currently struggling to keep time frozen, all dandy and it is all the fault of the Americans, if they just placed an ambassador in Damascus, all Syrian problems will be solved.

You accept to have Syria governs by unelected morons on the elected morons; that does not set well with me. Excuse me for not considering those in power are elected, Syrian president have to give away some power all it is all a comedy place.
Sir, you are an elite and I respect that. I enjoy your responses and views even if do not share it. I as an audience reading on this wonderful blog, I can not take an insult like this. Last time I kept silence was in 1982, in lecture at Damascus UN, when someone from the audience criticized the government, and right away was taken by the Mokhabarat, I wonder if you approve this act or not? Do you want to say that those in power are given power by God, this is an anomaly in the Syrian history will not stand even if stayed longer than expected.

Sir, I’m not afraid to dream of change, the sky did not fall after Schawsysco or Franco disappeared. If the current smart leader of your does not want to move into the direction of change, the change is coming anyway, but still I think pressure on him by all sides from opposition to supporter will cause him to do the very needed change.
Look what JAD, Norman, Alex and others have written on this thread, they criticized the current system and said what most opposition have been saying all along. You left alone avid defender of freezing the time.

November 19th, 2008, 2:56 pm


norman said:


Do you think that there should be a minimum education requirement to run for office in Syria?.

November 19th, 2008, 3:47 pm


Off the Wall said:

Dear All,
A major deadline is approaching, my posts will be a little more sparce in the next few days. I am excited about our project but since I am not a member if the investor class, I have to earn my leving by the hour. 🙂

For now,
Spreading democracy is a worthy cause. When this current project is over, which will probably take a bit longer than we initially ancticipated, it would be a very worthy discussion to look into what went wrong with the neo-cons project, objectively without name calling. I myself will have very hard time restraining myslef, but I can count on you to keep me in check.

No one can argue that the incident you witnessed in 1982 is anything but repulsive and it should not happen. But is it possible that you are reading too much into OFFENDED arguments. Can we for once assume that all of us, have a deep desire to see democratic and prosperous Syria, and allow excercises such as (what if I was Bashar) to continue. After all, it is a likely scenario, so, should we ignore it completely just because we reject it. I think not, whether I agree or not with OFFENDED. He has the right to discuss this possible scenario, and if in that he merely sends a message (I talk to you my doughter in law, but please hear my out my dear neighbour).

Yes I do. But it would be very controlled initially. But It can be a model of cooperation. Those who will probably work in the park must be very motivated and resilient bunch for they may be reviled in both countries initially.

November 19th, 2008, 4:12 pm


Akbar Palace said:

Spreading democracy is a worthy cause. When this current project is over, which will probably take a bit longer than we initially ancticipated, it would be a very worthy discussion to look into what went wrong with the neo-cons project, objectively without name calling. I myself will have very hard time restraining myslef, but I can count on you to keep me in check.


I agree totally. It was NOT a lost cause like Vietnam, although the democrats wanted it to be. We severely isolated certain regimes, “defanged” other regimes, and brought democracy to 2 countries.

Mistakes? Definately.

Successful? Yes.

Let’s see what eggs the Democrats are willing to break when those cornered regimes and terrorist organizations decide to lash out again at the West.

November 19th, 2008, 4:39 pm


offended said:


I’ll ignore the stealth sarcasm and get right to the point. You seem disconcerted by the fact that I am not criticizing the current system. But you did miss the point here: why would I bother to be participant in this discussion form the beginning if I was happy with the current system? Yes, there are things that I like about the policies of the current regime; does that make me corrupted or less eligible of having my say in the current discussion?

I hate corruption. I hate arbitrary arrests and detention centers and lawless prisons. I hate poverty and helplessness. And I hate the mechanism by which those very corrupt tribal leaders have become MPs. Is that not enough for you? all I am saying is that our people now ARE NOT ready for a sudden spell of democracy. With all due respect to the selection capabilities of my country men, they’ll end up electing their head of the tribe or their sheikh; because as of now that’s safest way for them to channel their political will and congregate around somebody they know they could simply rely on. If we’re going to end up in a scenario where these people, the silent helpless majority who’d opt for the safe choice over an informed and learned choice, these people will select somebody with sectarian inclination or a religious agenda or a dope business to look after: what would you do then?

Half-assed lectures on democracy and freedom of choice isn’t going to cut it man. Give me a real hard practical answer. And again I am not an elitist, I was born middle class and will probably die as one unless I born the lottery.

November 19th, 2008, 5:51 pm


Alia said:

Dear Offended,

Thank you for your feedback.

Yes, we obviously disagree on “how bad things are”. In the sense, that, speaking for myself,the highest good is to live in a just, equitable and respectable environment where each is able to live his potential while the weaker members of society are protected and supported. Everything else follows, and every country has its special circumstances…I decline emphatically sectarian-based rule, for we are a pluralistic society. Pragmatically, I do not believe that historically any country has had a successful religiously based government ever- look at the disastrous KSA, Israel and Iran etc..

You think that I am ” influenced by the American political system”-what I am influenced by is the American Constitution…I have always observed that, we Arabs, are always eager to take from the “West” all types of scientific achievements, but we are somehow reluctant to take the achievements in the human disciplines..We think somehow, that we do not have a common human civilization; I do not agree with this view. Briefly stated, to me the American Constitution is a Universal achievement that can be looked at as belonging to human intellectual advancement and we all can benefit from looking at it and learning from it. That is of course different form saying that I am an admirer of the current political system in the U.S.

Please read the following:

” Freedom is a sacred right and popular democracy is the ideal formulation which insures for the citizen the exercise of his freedom which makes him a dignified human being capable of giving and building, defending the homeland in which he lives, and making sacrifices for the sake of the nation to which he belongs. The homeland’s freedom can only be preserved by its free citizens. The citizen’s freedom can be completed only by his economic and social liberation. ”

Where do you think this is coming from? This is from the Preamble to the Syrian Constitution…adopted on March 13 1973.

Are we applying this?

And on another but related point, did you read the link that was provided by The Forgotten East? please take a look at it. Of major interest to me, is the fact that the Party decides on legistlature that affects agriculture, economy, population etc…How can this be?

So if I were Mr. Assad I would do 2 things:

1. I would have a constitutional convention involving the most capable constitutional law experts of the land- and not a single political figure- and ask them to come up with a plan to revise and update the constitution along reasonable “democratic” standards, since this is what it is supposed to represent.

2. I would call together teams of experts- again no political figures- to investigate the various branches of government and report to me on their various statuses.

I would give both committees a deadline at the end of which those results will be studied and move to the next steps which I will highlight with time : )).

This is a link to our constitution:


November 19th, 2008, 5:54 pm


trustquest said:

I don’t think you mean if we have minimum education requirement in Parliament we solve most of the problems, did I miss any thing here?

We have to agree first that poverty, illiteracy, backwardness and sects, neighboring turmoil, enemies are not argument against democracy or some type of it but it is a motivation for it.

Dear Norman,
before asking this question you need to ask for having real people in power not facades with no power. Look at any minister or at that mild progressive architect of the Market economy, he tried his best, but actually he has no power, to make some changes it took long time that dispossessed its intended effects and embolden the existing system. We need first to ask for real people in authority with power and accountability, the evidence of failed experience for the last 8 years is in most of the issued decrees, these decrees not only short of making change, but it is hollow. I would hope for assigning independents, autocrats, highly educated ministers with balls to stand to power centers on all levels especially the judicial ministry to clean it up and put house in order to allow for confidence in the System. Bashar needs to work with a team in this phase, not keeping one center riding the country and its people like a horse. He needs to trust his people not put them in prison, this is the real leadership.

I admire you tenacity for searching to find solutions in a system close to be bankrupt, but the first step I would do if I were Bashar is to allow for oppositions and put them accountable he needs to know the system mistakes to tackle change and involve people. He needs to reduce the dictatorial office gradually. He needs to create energy in the street, at home and in the market place. He needs to give confidence to market, investments and entrepreneurs, not only Makhloof, Nasif families they can not build the country on their own, he needs to balance interests not defending some. He needs oppositions in the country or he will be waiting for Saddam like destiny, history is not merciful, the ground is boiling and I do not know why he did not recognize that.

He needs real supporters not people who say YES for everything he does. The country was on hold and looted for the past 40 years, no one can dare or allowed to say NO, he should open new page. His father’s period of the first 8 years of his presidency was more active than his in my opinion; he proved till now that he is a failure, but still I wish for him to do the correction needed.

Off course all the above do not make a dent in the anticipated and long waited and postponed new party law or the continuous big hurdles of emergency law and 49 law in moving the country forward, we should not fool ourselves, if he is incapable of making these changes he and the country will stay a failure.

November 19th, 2008, 6:59 pm


norman said:


I agree with you on the US constitution Which i like and I think that Syria should imitate and copy and disagree with you on the American politecal system which I like and i think that with the multi ethnic multi cultural and multi religious groups that make up up the US and the Arab nation , The American politecal system is the best system to implement and i believe it is the only hope for that part of the world .

If it is up to me i just will copy the American laws and implement them as they seem to be the engine that make this country great and give the opportunity to many Syrians and Arabs to succeed , I want to add something more which is that if ask Arabs between the ages of 20 to 30 which are the majority about a place they want to live in , they all want to come to the US , not the EU , not Pakistan, Turkey ,KSA , or any other part of the world they all prefer the US ,Muslims, Christians , and any other group.

The problem i see in Syria is that they like to have a home made laws and they are not mature enough to make their own laws ,

They should not reinvent the wheels they should take it then try to improve it.

November 20th, 2008, 2:27 am


jad said:

Sorry for not being in the discussion for couple days but, I, as most of you have to work so I can pay my bills unlike rich OTW…smile
I think that we are having some great exchange on here and it would be great if we continue doing that and even save the important comments somewhere so we can get them when we need as OTW suggest.

I’m going through some of the important issues that been raised on here and reflect my interpretation to them so we can have more understanding of each other’s
‘Builders not destroyers’
I totally agree with you on this statement, in many of my comments I always wanted to push this idea; I believe that we in Syria already have a base to build on instead of looking to invent something totally untested,
similar to what you wrote ‘I am not willing to risk continuing experimentation with an unknown system.’

I also believe that if we have the will to improve, we can achieve that with what we’ve got. My concern is that this ‘will’ is not fully understood and explained by many Syrians and it’s been 8 years of an extremely slow and not a truly real reform process. I’m afraid that if they don’t move the process a little bit faster addressing the real internal issues, we are going back to the stage we were before but this time it will be longer with a disastrous results on the whole society and on all levels, in this point I’m answering your point
‘Democracy was a very gradual process that could only take hold when economic and social development reaches a level where democratic institutions and governance became the only meaningful way to maintain and improve the strong economy.’

Lots of work must be done to reach the point where the average Syrian is developed enough on social and financial levels to maintain any democracy he might get and this is why I’m saying that we need to speed up the reform process, otherwise we will loos the “average Syrian” interests and he is going to be doomed financially and socially.

There is law in Syria that SHALL be implanted on everybody, and I think this is the most essential step for us to work on and improve; everybody is equal and everybody under the law without any exception. A true corruption cleansing of the whole Syrian justice body is the 3rd most essential work I will add to the perfect list ALIA suggested in a respond to offended task [if you were in Bashar’s shoes what would you do?] :
‘So if I were Mr. Assad I would do 2 things:
1. I would have a constitutional convention involving the most capable constitutional law experts of the land- and not a single political figure- and ask them to come up with a plan to revise and update the constitution along reasonable “democratic” standards, since this is what it is supposed to represent.
2. I would call together teams of experts- again no political figures- to investigate the various branches of government and report to me on their various statuses.
I would give both committees a deadline at the end of which those results will be studied and move to the next steps which I will highlight with time : )).’
Dear Alia, you are absolutely right about Syria;
‘we are a pluralistic society.’
In my opinion being a pluralistic society makes the political process more complicated since you have many differences that should be addressed and looked at, I think a secular system is the best to adopt and implement in such environment but we need more educated people to believe in that and support it. We can try to take yours and Norman idea of trying to implement a system similar to the American one with some changes to fit our own social system which make the Indian example you mentioned more suitable
‘but we are somehow reluctant to take the achievements in the human disciplines..We think somehow, that we do not have a common human civilization; I do not agree with this view.’
I totally and fully agree with you about us being immature and picky in what we should take and not take from the west, so we end up losing the advantages of human achievement to improve our own wellbeing…..what a waste…..

November 20th, 2008, 4:58 am


Off the Wall said:

Dear Norman and Alia
Like both of you, I cherish the US Constitution and our Bill of Rights. Yet, when it comes to copying the entire suite of US laws, other than these two documents, I would be reluctant for various reasons. Our unique conditions is not one of them for reasons to be discussed later.

The interesting thing about US laws is that they are made courts from the lowest court of the land, all the way to the supreme court. Any court precedent can be relied on, particularly at federal district court levels, and will continue to be so until a higher court rules otherwise. With only a limited number of cases making it to the supreme court, many precedents, become enshrined despite of the fact that they may contradict other ruling by a parallel court. In the US, navigating this maze of legislative, administrative, and court established laws is the key reason why lawyers make the bog buck. Brilliant lawyers, argue their case using one precedent, while their adversaries argue the opposite using a different precedent. The key is to convince the judges, justices, and/or Jury, of the applicability of one precedent to the adjudicated case instead of another.

Lawerys here do pay attention to the history of these precedents, off course, we do not see this in TV dramas, but good lawyers do work very hard to study such history and it is simply astonishing and wonderful experience to listen to some arguments in the supreme court as these arguments, prompted by “quiz” type questions from the Justices, illuminate the depth of knowledge, and the intellect of both sides of the bar. It is also very interesting to read through the majority and dissenting minority opinions as it shows how two intellectuals can interpret the same precedent so differently, and both standing on a solid logical grounds. These references attest to the evolving jurist prudence and the living body of laws of this country has established in such a short time. Criminal cases are a little different, as Jury findings do not establish a binding precedent.

What this does is to leave many of laws that have not yet been challenged for one reason or another on the books. Included amongst these laws are those absurd rulings such as prohibiting the defamation of beef in Texas, to some real bad laws that can still be used to opress minority or to cause severe, uncalled for punishment for minor infraction simply because the specific defendant did not have the financial resources to appeal to a higher court. Copying them whole, or even in significant parts, means that Syria will inherit a legal legacy that is not necessarily consistent with what we aspire for.

That said, I subscribe to Justice Breyer’s position instead of Justice Scalia’s on the issue of international precedents. Why am i bringing this seemingly irrelevant issue here. Justice Scalia (the literalist) first believes rights which are not enumerated in the Bill of Rights are not constitutionally guaranteed. He also believes that US courts can only use precedents established in the US as these cases represent the mechanism by which our own laws evolved from the English Common Law. Justice Breyer, on the other hand, believes that US supreme court and lower federal courts as well as state supreme courts should be able to use precedents from other democratic countries, with similar respect for human rights, as guidelines in deciding their own positions. This is where I see an opening for Syrian courts, or for that matter, courts in any country to rely on each others’ rulings as guidelines as long as these rulings do not violate the fundamental principles.

Norman argues
The problem i see in Syria is that they like to have a home made laws and they are not mature enough to make their own laws

On this one I would agree, but I do believe that the matter is more than simply syrians liking to create their own laws. There are two forces at work here. The first, is exactly what I described regarding the evolution of written laws from common law (urf), which represents a continum even in undemocratic societies. The Syrian law, like the Israeli law, at its root is based on the Ottoman law (unless there has been a major change in Israel). The British mandate did not try to impose British common law on Palestine and preferred to use Ottoman common laws as they allowed each “Mulla: Sect” to govern its own civil affairs. In Syria, The French meddled more, and with that they introduced several French laws into the system. Upon independence, Syria was torn between two forces, the nationalists, dominated at later part by the Baathists, and the Islamists. Despite of their differences, the two had a common dominant theme, which asserts that we should only take from the west its scientific and technological advances, and leave aside other things such as economic theories for the Socialists, and social theories for the Islamists. The marriage of these two arguments gave birth to the catastrophe we live in nowadays not only in Syria, but in many other Arab countries.

Alia is absolutely right in arguing that the US constitution and Bill or Rights is as universal in its declaration of human rights as the French’s Liberté, égalité, fraternité, shout. Both have ushered a new era, and any society that argues for unique conditions that wave some or all of these principles is a society of fools. More importantly, any society that does not recognize the full potential and implications of these calls dooms itself to failure. In the US, we continue to identify new applications of of the preamble. There is no place in both calls for oppression of women, there is no place in both for corruption for as it robs the citizens of their dignity, their liberty, and their equality under the law. The US took nearly a century to recognize the potential of our own constitution and bill of rights, but

As I grow older, and as I become more familiar with the American experience, I am becoming more impatient with notions that prostitute laws and constitutions to religious and other social sensitivities, to established as well as planned norms of oppression and inequality, and by that delay and sabotage progress, social, economic, and cultural.

To be continued, by others hopefully

November 20th, 2008, 5:13 am


jad said:

Dear OTW,
Thank you for introducing the American justice system from a technical and historical point of view. It’s very interesting to learn about that.
I didn’t understand your last paragraph, what do you mean? Could you please, at your convenient, explain that?
Thank you

November 20th, 2008, 5:58 am


Off the Wall said:

Dear Jad
Who are you calling rich 🙂

The last paragraph was an attempt to argue that no matter how unique a social situation, by emphasizing uniqueness as a reason to cater to entrenched interests be it religious or social, we risk righting unfair laws. Take for example the US constitution which guarantees freedom of religion not only by enumerating it in the bills of right, but also by ensuring that the state can not establish an official religion or favor one religion to another. Does this prevent localities from establishing so called “society standards” which may be religiously motivated, not a bit, as long as these standards do not violate th constitution. Take for example the arguments about what word can be used in broadcasting during daytime, society accepts that children must be protected from exposure to pornography and bad language, even though both are protected by the law. Society standards can impose limitations on these rights to protect vulnerable groups, but it can not eliminate these rights (in the case herein it is basically freedom of expression).

For Syria, I take issue with the notion of “Muslim president” and “Islam” as the official religion of Syria and the first source of laws and legislation. It negates the potential adoption of more human rights oriented laws. I find both notions to be risky, the first as it robs all others from full citizenship, and the latter as it allows a blanket acceptance of arguable and oppressive religious laws, which by nature are patriarchic and place significant constraints on human rights and on equality. These include for example inheritance laws and the ban on adoption, not to mention other dysfunctional family and divorce laws including the woman needing her husband’s permission to travel outside the country. These are Islamic laws, and I am against them and against enshrining them in the constitution in order to appease the sensibilities of the population. The founding fathers wrote the bill of rights at a time America was more religiously homogeneous than ever, but still, they refuse to cater to religious sentiments and they were wiser for that.

I do not want to use the argument of “unique” situation as an argument to continue burying our heads in the sand. We have been doing that for a century now. We are probably only unique in being so far behind with no hint of real progress. And herein I am talking about almost all Arab countries. I agree one size does not fit all, but no matter what is your size, you still need a fabric to make cloth.

At its heart, democracy is not the laws themselves, it is the process by which laws are made and enforced.

November 20th, 2008, 7:06 am


Off the Wall said:

Dear Jad

In continuation, the argument of uniqueness has been played even worst with respect to economic and administrative reforms. What is so unique about us that requires us to tolerate corruption (and I would like to come back to the role of the middle class in propagating corruption as mentioned by Alia), being under seig is the more reason to fight corruption seriously. What is so unique about us that allows us to suspend all economic and social development theories and move from one failed experiment to another. Our failure to implement theories and practices that have proven their success including liberal democracy has only one excuse, we do not want the accountability that comes with these theories, and thus we keep searching for our unique path.

November 20th, 2008, 7:21 am


Shai said:


I believe Democracy is also, beyond the technical definition, a state-of-mind and a language. The Bush administration concentrated too much on the “process” definition, and thought that certainly processes can be implemented in any society, given enough resolve (especially on part of the implementor). But before this process can be installed in any system, first you must have the right state of mind, and the readiness to accept it. It is this, and the language, that first have to be learned, before the “user’s manual” can be handed out.

November 20th, 2008, 7:31 am


jad said:

Dear OTW, my rich friend 😉
Small comment about your example of religion and the president in Syria;
long time ago, I had a Syrian friend who loved to mention to our western friends that Syria had a Christian prime minister, for him it meant a lot since he wasn’t Christian, for him it was his prove that we in Syria don’t care about religion and we are equal but the funny thing happened when a French girl asked him if we had any Christian president in Syria and his answer was ‘ no no, it’s unconstitutional’ For me it was kind of laughable and interesting to hear that conversation knowing that he doesn’t see any contradiction of what he was talking about but the opposite he always thought that it’s ok for the PM to be any religion he wants but the president should be a Muslim otherwise he will be unfair to others??
I can understand where he is coming from but It’s always make you think what is the significant different in president religion can do to me as a Syrian citizen? NOTHING, in my humble point of view
I’m writing you this story to prove your point that religion is another barrier we need to pass if we want to develop.
A small observation about the ‘unique’ issue you wrote, I’ll call it the ‘unique factor’ , the mystery of that factor is that we use this word ‘unique’ so much that we strongly believe it now and it’s in our media as a ‘fact’ not a ‘myth’

‘At its heart, democracy is not the laws themselves, it is the process by which laws are made and enforced.’
Kudos OTW


The middle class task is huge (or what left of the middle class), that need lots of work…maybe during the coming weekend we can try to discuss about that…
Good night

November 20th, 2008, 8:09 am


jad said:

Dear Shai,
What are you talking about? WE ARE UNIQUE, we don’t use the west democracy WE CREAT OUR OWN..

November 20th, 2008, 8:18 am


Shai said:


That’s ok, I have yet to see two identical systems of democracy. But my strong belief is, that it is much more than a process, or a system. It is, as I’ve said, a language and a state-of-mind. And for a people that have never had, for thousands of years, even the most remote conditions for beginning to create and adopt these, it is not going to be a matter of a few years. The only reason Jews were able to “speak that language”, is because many of them came from nations that already knew and spoke them. Nearly twenty years after the fall of communism, most Russians today still barely understand the concepts of democracy, so we expect people in our region to?

November 20th, 2008, 8:35 am


Off the Wall said:

Dear Shai

I Could not agree more. Perhaps an example of the state of mind would be a citizen refusing to go the easy way by not bribing an official. As for language, the development of democratic language requires first and foremost, freedom of the press. That does not mean that the language of discourse will be polite, far from it, but the practice of reading and allowing others’ points of view is the key. The task for Syrian reformers is very hard. How can one expect even to develop the language of democracy if one is isolated from even harmless websites simply because they may contain a semblance of criticism. Or they may paint a picture of the enemy as less than a horrific monster.

Yet, if the process is built in fair manner, and if guards and checks and balances are established and enshrined, developing the state of mind and language can become easier. The process, state of mind, and language are inextricably linked. Some Syrians, who are now in their 70s and 80s lived during a time when the state of mind, language, and process of democracy were operative. They have been talking about these to their children and grand children, who even cynical and ambivalent, would retain the notion. This is how I learned about these time from the oral “un-official” history. The father of a friend of mine was a leader in an old elitist regional political party, and he was elected several times as MP. I did not agree with his political view, nor with the tactics of his party, but until his death, when we were in 11’th grade, sitting in his presence for hours as he told stories described the lively democracy, with its backstabbers, ideologues, and parliamentary maneuvers represented some of the most memorable moments. I now feel so dumb for not having archived his stories, even on a tape. That would have been an interesting document to hand to Joshua. Syrians had experience with democracy, the problem I fear is that the generation who lived that experience may soon die out. Granted, there were election tampering, especially in rural and tribal areas, but overall, the system functioned well enough.

Dear Jad
Thank you for the story. I liked it a lot, especially the “it is unconstitutional” part. I could hear your friend saying that so naturally, without even recognizing the irony.

November 20th, 2008, 9:24 am


norman said:

i agree with you , sometime i think that part of the training that our children get in the US is what they learn about government and , about the chance to run for best dressed or most likely to succeed , they all teach to accept defeat and live with it and try again and that is something hard to find in Syria and other Arab countries , even in Lebanon , they could not cooperate and accept the results of the election and try to do good for the people,
For the above reasons i believe that economic freedom and prosperity should be the priority .

November 21st, 2008, 4:01 am


Shai said:


I hate to tell you this, but Bibi Netanyahu’s newest thing (agenda) is going to be exactly that… “economic prosperity first…” In reference to peace, that is. He doesn’t want to talk to the Palestinian leadership, because it can’t deliver whatever agreement could be reached with it, so instead he wants to re-ignite both economies for the betterment of both people. Kind of hard to argue with that, no? Personally, I think progress on the Palestinian front is now on hold, until two things happen – first, Israel MUST end the blockade of Gaza and its collective punishment of 1.5 million people, and the Hamas MUST come to recognize that he has to speak to those land-grabbing Zionist leaders. As long as neither side is ready to recognize the other, nothing will happen, except for more misery, for the Palestinians of course. The innocent civilians are paying the price, as always.

But I am hoping that Bibi will make progress along the more reasonable track, namely the Syrian one. Here, there is no reason in the world why we shouldn’t move forward. The 4 meetings we had in the past 6 months have turned out far better than anyone could have expected, and this is the impression given by both sides. I’ve heard, that if all the principles that were agreed upon in those meetings were fully exposed to the Israeli public tomorrow morning, we’d all be shocked, for the better. So now the question is whether the next PM (probably Bibi) will pick up where Olmert left off. My guess, is that from the outside, it’ll seem like he won’t (his rhetoric in the upcoming elections campaign, etc.), but quietly behind the scenes, he’ll do exactly that. Just as he did in August of 1998.

November 21st, 2008, 6:17 am


jad said:

Dear OTW
How is your vacation so far?
I hope your yacht sailing to your Caribbean estate went safe and smooth.
Looking forward to read your comments when you get back 😉

November 21st, 2008, 6:40 pm


norman said:


you do not have to hate to tell me as i always said and i want to repeat that Israel will be better off if it can show the Palestinians that it cares , so if Netanyahu will lift the sanction and the blockade on Gaza the Palestinians will feel that and will respond positivly , the only i see there for peace is to make it worthwhile for the Palestinians to have peace , only then personal ownership will be more important than collective ownership and at that time the fence between people houses will be more important than the border of their countries.

And that is my take,

November 21st, 2008, 10:12 pm


jad said:

Dear Alia, OTW, Offended, Trustquest, Norman, all….

As we discussed before, I think we need to have some exchange about the middle class Syrians.
What we want for the future, what are our fears, our hopes, our duties, how can we help as the remaining middle class and how can we stop it from disappearing.

Any questions, ideas, suggestions or stories that we can share and discuss would be a great start.

November 22nd, 2008, 7:12 pm


Shai said:


I agree with you. But, like JAD, I am also curious about the new ending “And that is my take…” – it’s a great one, but it sounds like you’re a famous radio broadcaster… Is there something we should know, Norman? 🙂 (I do like it…)

November 22nd, 2008, 7:19 pm


norman said:

Jad, Shai,

I am an Oncologist ,Cancer DR ,
I am just trying to get your attention,

And that is my take,

November 22nd, 2008, 7:30 pm


Shai said:


You ALWAYS have our attention, you know that! But be honest, do you also end all patient diagnoses with that sentence? 🙂 (Btw, it’s a nice ending, because it does project humility. You’re not claiming you KNOW the truth, you’re simply saying this is how you see it… That’s why I like it.)

November 22nd, 2008, 7:33 pm


norman said:


I say something similar , Like , this the way i would do it and the way i would do for my mother,

Shai, do you thing i should patten it.I mean the sentence,

November 22nd, 2008, 8:02 pm


Shai said:


Back in 2005, I thought I had the best sentence… It was: “Once you go Mac, you never go back.” Friends told me to quickly patent it so, foolishly, I researched it. Only to find out… that of course it had been used by many before me… 🙂

November 22nd, 2008, 8:21 pm


jad said:

TELL US THE REAL STORY, what is behind the sentence, Shai is being polite by not pushing you, I’m not letting it go that easily.
There must be a conspiracy or something that made you use that sentence…

November 22nd, 2008, 8:41 pm


norman said:


You got me , It is a way to let my sect know who i am.

And that is my take.

November 22nd, 2008, 11:31 pm


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