“Regime evolution can only serve Syria’s national interests,” by Cordesman

Regime evolution can only serve Syria's national interests
Anthony H. Cordesman
Beirut — First person by Anthony H. Cordesman

Editor's Note: The following is the second of a three-part First Person on Cordesman's recent
visit to Syria with colleagues at the Center for Strategic and International Studies [CSIS].

The US cannot take any practical steps toward regime change in Syria, and Syria will make no concessions in this area. There are, however, areas where Syria can send important signals to the US and show that regime evolution is taking place and the government is taking important steps to help its people.

Syria has every possible reason to keep pursuing economic reform and modernization. Economic security and growth aid the regime, as does sending signals about reducing corruption. As China and other Asian states have shown, it is far easier to wait for political evolution when the people benefit from economic reforms, and when the government shows it can make major progress in this area. There also is no better way of checking the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist extremist activity than raising living standards, employment, and offering opportunity rather than stasis.

Moreover, the more economically modern and secure Syria is, the more Israel will have reason to feel it may be able to deal with a stable state, the easier Syria will find it to deal with withdrawing from Lebanon, and the more incentive it will offer Iraq in terms of trade, pipelines, and joint ventures. The stronger and more liberal the Syrian economy becomes, the greater the future incentive for outside investment from the EU, US, and other states, and the better the tourist infrastructure and income.

As for alternative investment in arms and military forces, it does not take much time or calculation to see that Syria simply cannot compete in a new arms race. Syria does need to modernize some aspects of its forces, but Israel can outspend it by at least 4:1, has access to far more advanced military technology, and begins with far better forces and a more advanced technological base. Triggering an arms race you cannot win is a miserable substitute for economic progress where you cannot lose.

The US and Syria are not going to agree on the definition of a terrorist in the near term, particularly in regard to the actions of Hamas and Hizbullah. Several Syrians made it clear, however, that they saw Sunni Islamist extremists as a major threat to Syria, whether in Syria, Iraq or Lebanon. Several mentioned the Muslim Brotherhood, and elements within the Iraqi refugee population as serious problems.

Aggressive Syrian action against such extremists is in Syria's interest, and directly parallels the interests of the United States. Limited intelligence exchanges and cooperation may be possible, even if broader cooperation is not. Strong unilateral action by Syria in its own interests would lay the groundwork for easing US and Syrian relations.

Syrian efforts to fight terrorism do not need to be linked to broader security constraints and repression. One problem throughout the Arab world that goes directly against the interests of both regimes and their peoples is to enforce excessive and pointless security measures against figures and NGOs that speak out for reform, peaceful change, economic progress, and against nepotism and corruption. No nation in the region currently has struck the right balance between even the narrow interests of its rulers and over-enforcing security in ways that suppress the kind of evolutionary progress that is ultimately vital to maintaining support for the regime and stability.

Syria is no exception. It does face very real threats from Islamist extremists, from the Muslim Brotherhood, and possibly from elements in its growing population of Iraqi refugees. What it does not face is a meaningful threat from its more secular and moderate Muslim voices for change, from added concern for human rights and the rule of law, and for criticism of the government that calls for change without threatening the regime. Syria needs strong moderate voices, even when they are critical. It cannot afford to silence or arrest a single such voice when the main impact of these moderates is to move the country forward and act as a counterbalance to the Islamist extremists that are the only real-world internal threat to both the regime and the nation.

No one can credibly expect an instant shift to US and European practices and values, but the time for excessive internal security measures and constraints is over. Both Syria's regime and Syria's people will benefit from easing the current level of constraint and from a more liberal climate for all but extremist elements. The signal to the United States and the world will also be one that could greatly improve future relations.

There did seem to be a growing understanding in Syria that playing a spoiler role in Iraq, and encouraging or tolerating insurgent operations in Syria, and transit to Iraq, threatened Syria with added support for Islamist extremism in Syria, an unstable Iraq on its border, further floods of refugees and being a potential front line in a Sunni vs. Shiite struggle for control of Iraq. Officials like Syria's foreign minister stressed Syria's interest in Iraqi unity, a strong central government, and effective military and police forces, although they also emphasized formal identification of Iraq as an Arab and Islamic state.

It is unclear how much Syria is prepared to act on these words, but it again has a clear interest in doing so. Syria cannot afford to become tied to the Shiite cause and does not have the same interests as Iran. It does not need instability and civil conflict on another border.

Stronger Syrian initiatives to support Iraq in political conciliation, crack down on insurgent operations inside Syria and crossing its border, and securing the Syrian border with Iraq are all directly in Syria's interest. The creation of a stronger Iraq border security force and forts also gives Syria something far more tangible to cooperate with, and such Syrian action would lay the groundwork for an improvement in US and Syrian relations.

Syrians downplayed the risks of Iran's nuclear efforts, but did recognize that
Syrian and Iranian interests do differ
significantly and that Iranian dominance of much of Iraq, adventures in Lebanon, or adventures with Hizbullah would not be in Syria's interest.

Syrian restraint in dealing with Iran again serves Syrian interests, and exercising that restraint would again lay the groundwork for improved relations.

Syria also has a clear national interest in a phased US withdrawal from a more secure and stable Iraq. A US departure, or phasedown to obviously defensive levels, removes any lingering specter of US military intervention in Syria, while helping to create a more stable and unified Iraq.

Like Americans, and most of the world, Syrians expressed deep concern over the split within the Palestinians. One point several Syrians made was that some voices within Hamas had used the creation of a Palestinian state within the 1967 boundaries as a way of indirectly signaling that they could coexist with Israel.

Anthony H. Cordesman holds the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at CSIS.

Comments (21)


Kamal said:

Re: Paragraphs 7 and 8

I’d like Cordesman to spell out the people/parties he’s referring to by “figures and NGOs that speak out for reform, peaceful change, economic progress, and against nepotism and corruption.” It seems he is criticizing the regime for arresting them: “It cannot afford to silence or arrest a single such voice when the main impact of these moderates is to move the country forward and act as a counterbalance to the Islamist extremists…” Does that mean he is referring to Kilo, Labwani, al-Bunni etc? I consider these men to be anti-regime, in the sense that they would like to end the Bashar Family Tyranny and establish some semblance of liberal democracy. But Cordesman’s definition of “moderates” rules out “threatening the regime”. So, who are these “more secular and moderate Muslim voices for change, from added concern for human rights and the rule of law, and for criticism of the government that calls for change without threatening the regime”?

July 26th, 2007, 3:47 am


Kamal said:

I’d also like to know his stance on Bayanouni’s Muslim Brotherhood. Are they “moderate Islamists” or “Islamic extremists” who are “threatening the regime”? He seems to lump them in with “Islamic extremists”: “There also is no better way of checking the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist extremist activity than raising living standards, employment, and offering opportunity rather than stasis.” And if advises the regime to support “moderates” who “act as a counterbalance to Islamic extremists”, what does he make of the Marxist, Kurdish and liberal members (and ex-members like Ammar AbdulHamid) of the NSF?

July 26th, 2007, 4:00 am


Kamal said:


A survey by the Pew Research Centre found that two thirds of Lebanese have an unfavorable of Hizbullah and Hassan Nasrallah.

Nearly two thirds of all Lebanese (64%) have an unfavorable view, including a 55% majority who say their opinion of the organization is very unfavorable.

In fact, Hizbullah is more popular in the Palestinian territories (76% have a favorable view), Egypt (56%) and Jordan (54%). Only Lebanese Shias—86%– have a favorable view of Hizbullah. 66% of Christians, 33% of Sunnis and 7% of Shias cited Hizbullah as a “top threat”.

66% of Lebanese have a negative opinion of Hassan Nasrallah.

64% of Lebanese have an unfavorable view of Iran. In contrast, 82% have a favorable view of Saudi Arabia.

74 % in Lebanon named Israel as top threat, followed by Syria and Iran at 43% and 42% respectively. The US came in at 38%.

Two thirds of Lebanese Christians and 52% of Lebanese Sunnis said Syria was a threat to their country, but only 8% of Shia shared that view.

The majority of Shias in Lebanon named Iran as a close ally (62%), while 51% named Syria.

64% of Lebanese saw the US as a military threat, down from 81% in 2005.

Concern about terrorism is up in Lebanon from 40% to 76%.

87% view the military favorably, “praising its influence”.

88% in Lebanon said Sunni-Shia tensions represent a growing problem. The majority said suicide bombings are not justified (64%). However, Lebanese Shias were 3 times more likely than Sunnis to endorse suicide bombings (54% vs. 19%).

The results for Lebanon are based on face to face interviews with 1000 respondents, conducted between April 9 and May 7, 2007.


July 26th, 2007, 4:51 am


t_desco said:

Blast hits Syrian military complex
Jul 26, 2007

An explosion has ripped through a military complex in northern Syria and dozens of soldiers were taken to hospitals with injuries, witnesses said.

The blast took place early in the morning at an infantry school in the Muslemiah area north of the city of Aleppo, they said.

No information was immediately available whether the explosion was deliberate or an accident in the complex, which contains ammunition stockpiles.

“The blast was huge. One hospital I went to was filled with injured personnel,” said one witness.


11:19 Witnesses: At least 12 Syrian military personnel killed in blast (Reuters)

10:49 Source of explosion in north Syria that injured dozens of soldiers unknown (Reuters)

Blast at Syrian military complex kills 12: witnesses

DAMASCUS – A blast that ripped through a military school in northern Syria on Thursday killed at least 12 people, witnesses said.

“We saw them arrive to the hospital dead. They were military personnel,” one witness told Reuters.

Witnesses: Blast at northern Syrian military complex kills 15

By Yoav Stern, Haaretz Correspondent and News Agencies

A blast that ripped through a military school in northern Syria on Thursday killed at least 15 people, witnesses said.

“We saw them arrive to the hospital dead. They were military personnel,” one witness told Reuters.

The blast occured at around 9 A.M. at the academy, outside the city of Aleppo. Syrian state television said that the explosion was not caused by an act of terrorist. (sic)

It was possibly caused by a gas leakage or an explosion of a gas cylinder, the Damascus correspondent of Al-Arabiya television said.

Syrian officials could not be immediately reached to confirm the blast or any casualties.

July 26th, 2007, 8:25 am


t_desco said:

Syria explosion kills 15 soldiers

DAMASCUS, Syria — An explosion at an ordnance depot in northern Syria killed at least 15 soldiers Thursday and wounded 50 others, the state news agency said.

The SANA news agency said the blast was caused when high summer temperatures set off high-explosive materials at the depot, adding that the explosion was “not the result of sabotage.”

The depot belonged to a military unit in Musalmiya, the agency said.
(Associated Press)

July 26th, 2007, 8:59 am


CWW said:

I wonder what people make of this explosion. The high today in Aleppo is supposed to be 44C, yet the explosion took place “early in the morning” according to Reuters. Could it really have been hot enough in Aleppo this morning to cause ordinance to explode?

July 26th, 2007, 10:55 am


t_desco said:

“A firefighting official said the blast took place at 4:30am (01:30 GMT) and that the blaze had been extinguished.

The ordnance was at a barracks of an infantry school about 10km outside Aleppo.

“An ammunition dump exploded in a barracks at 4:30am (01:30 GMT). There are deaths and casualties among soldiers,” the official said.”
(Many dead in Syria barracks blast, Al-Jazeera)

CWW is asking a good question. There is currently a heatwave not just in Syria, but shouldn’t 4:30am be the coldest time of the day?

July 26th, 2007, 11:38 am


MSK said:

CWW & T-Desco,

I had the same thought. On the other hand, explosives are weird. They could’ve suffered from the heat for a few days, but then only last night something happened, maybe a crate slipping, that triggered the explosion. For all we know it was a non-insulated electric wire …

Or maybe it was a careless soldier. These kinds of accidents happen all the time, in all armies of the world.


July 26th, 2007, 12:20 pm


Alex said:


I agree with you (finally!)

The only thing that worries me a bit is the symbolic significance of the location … the 3-year long violence campaign of the Muslim brotherhood (1979-1982) was officially launched in the same military school in Aleppo .. when they killed tens of young soldiers with machine guns.

I was minutes away from the place when it happened.

July 26th, 2007, 5:11 pm


Atassi said:

Cordesman laid down very interesting and realistic road map for the regime to correct it’s path “ let’s call it the correction movement II”. He also stress the fact that the regime continuity requires the economic reform and modernization. Most of the points he made were logical and should be a starting point in the future the reform process.
Note.. the first part was very interesting too..

July 26th, 2007, 5:18 pm


Atassi said:

The time was perfect time for a preemptive action against a specific element who maybe planning a military action against the regime !!!
Why only a few believing the official story!! Is it because it makes no senses!!!..

July 26th, 2007, 5:24 pm


Atassi said:

Blast at military complex kills 15 Syrian soldiers
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

DAMASCUS, July 26 (Reuters) – An explosion at a military complex in northern Syria killed 15 soldiers and wounded 50 on Thursday.
Authorities said the blast, which was heard 20-km (13 miles) away, was caused by an accident. Syrian television said the explosion was “not a terrorist act”.

“There is a heat wave and temperatures reached close to 50 degrees, which caused an ammunition dump to explode,” one official told Reuters.

Witnesses said the blast took place early in the morning at a military area housing a special forces unit and an infantry school in the Muslemiah area north of the city of Aleppo.

“Several soldiers arrived dead at one hospital. They had bad shrapnel wounds,” one witness, who declined to be named, said by telephone from Aleppo.

One diplomat in the Syrian capital said it was plausible for the explosion to have been triggered by the heat. “High temperatures have been the norm for a while and storage conditions could have been better to say the least,” the diplomat said.

Officials from Aleppo, one of the most religiously conservative cities in Syria, visited the wounded at the Kindi hospital in the city.

Northern security installations were a target for Muslim Brotherhood fighters during the early 1980s, when they waged a revolt against the secular government of late President Hafez al-Assad, father of the current president Bashar.

Stability has been Syria’s hallmark since government forces crushed the revolt, although security forces thwarted attacks on the U.S. embassy and state television last year.

The government has intensified a campaign against what it describes as religious extremists in the past few months, including raids in the north. Hundreds have been arrested and scores killed in confrontations with security forces.

Northern Syria also has a concentration of Syria’s Kurdish minority, who demand that tens of thousands of disenfranchised Kurds be granted citizenship. President Bashar al-Assad recently promised to address the issue.

Syria has been ruled by the secular Baath Party since 1963, when it took power in a coup. Assad began a second 7-year term this month, saying that maintaining stability and countering Washington’s attempts to undermine Syria’s government were his priority.

July 26th, 2007, 7:04 pm


Bakri said:

أسئلة على «العلمانيين» العرب مع انتصار الإسلام المعتدل في تركيا

عزمي بشارة الحياة – 26/07/07//

انتصر «حزب العدالة والتنمية» في تركيا. ولم تعرف تركيا الجمهورية ازدهارا واستقرارا كما عرفت في حكمه. وهو يتعهد بعد النصر مباشرة الحفاظ على دستور البلد العلماني. وأذكر أن أحد رموز التيار الوسطي الإخواني شهد في محكمة قتلة الكاتب المصري فرج فودة لصالحهم مدعيا ما مفاده أن القتل مبرر بالنسبة لشباب متحمس لأن العلمانية هي ارتداد عن الدين. الفرق كبير بين حزب يعلن تمسكه بعلمانية النظام، وآخر لا يكتفي بالاختلاف مع العلمانية بل يعتبرها ارتدادا عن الدين. ولكن التيارات الإسلامية المركزية تحتفل بفوزه في سرها وعلنها، وهي تعرف ان موقفه كان سيعتبر ارتداداً عن الدين في مناطقها. ليس «حزب العدالة والتنمية» ديموقراطياً ليبرالياً ولا يسارياً، ولكنني لا أعرف اي حزب تركي ليبرالي او جمهوري أو يساري حكم تركيا أفضل من هذا الحزب. ومع ذلك تعرض الحزب الى الحل، واضطر الى تغيير اسمه، ثم تعرض أخيراً لحملة تحريض واسعة من اليمين واليسار التقيا ضده تحت شعار العلمانية.

هنالك عوامل عديدة دفعت بتيار إسلامي مركزي إلى الطريق نحو البرلمان. ولا شك أن العسكر وضعوا حداً لطموحاته، ولا شك أن الأمر متعلق أيضاً بالهوية الثقافية للناس والبلد والصراع على معنى الاندماج في العولمة والتقدم العمراني. ولكنه على كل حال لم يفقد توازنه وتكيف مع الحدود التي وضعت وقبل بقواعد اللعبة. ولدى أوروبا مشكلة حقيقية، إذ تثبت هذه الحركة مرة أخرى أن أوروبا هي العنصرية التي تماطل بعدم قبول دولة متطورة، وحكومتها منتخبة ديموقراطياً، لعضويتها.

ولا شك ان للمسألة علاقة بتاريخ الحالة الإسلامية في تركيا، فهي لم تنقسم كما في الحالة العربية إلى إسلام سياسي راديكالي مقابل صوفية دروشة ودين علماء حافظ. لدينا هنا قاعدة اجتماعية واسعة لإسلام صوفي عقلاني ومتسامح، وتوازن خفي بين «عسكر» و «طريقة»: بعدا السياسة التركية في الجمهورية هما «عسكر» و «طريقة» في حالة هجوم وانسحاب وتكيف. وكر فر.

في الوقت الذي يعبّر فيه حزب إسلامي فائز انتخابياً عن وسطية وبراغماتية وموقف اكثر توازنا وعقلانية وأقل شعبوية من الأحزاب العلمانية التي تواجهه كافة، نشهد في المنطقة العربية تراجعا غريباً عن الديموقراطية خطابا وشعارا. وهذا التراجع مشبوه لأنه يغص بالأجندات الخفية، وترافقه صحوة مفاجئة للحديث عن العلمانية وعن وحدة القوى العلمانية. ومن المعروف ان غالبية الانظمة الحاكمة علمانية وغير ديموقراطية، وغالبية الفساد علماني وغالبية النفعية الشخصية الرائجة في أجهزة الدول وزبائنها علمانية، ومعروف أيضا ان الديموقراطية قد تعني فوز القوى الإسلامية. وليس هنالك من يقول بجرأة انه ضد الديموقراطية وإنه لم يكن من مؤيديها في يوم من الايام، بل هو يكتفي بالتأكيد أنه علماني.

ولا شك ان هنالك علمانيين ليبراليين مثابرين عارضوا تعميم حق الاقتراع ولكنهم لم يتحولوا الى زبائن عند أنظمة وحركات فاسدة، وهذا موقف نختلف معه ونحترمه، فنحن اصلاً لا ندعي ان «الديموقراطية هي الحل» على وزن «الإسلام هو الحل».

والحقيقة ان العلمانية بالنسبة الى البعض هي نمط حياة وليست نظام حكم يفصل الدين عن الدولة، وغالباً ما يتبين ان هؤلاء ليسوا علمانيين فعلا، إذ يتبين أنهم يستبدلون الدين بالنرجسية حال توجيه أي نقد لهم، ويعتبرون أي نقد تطاولاً، ويقدسون قيما دنيوية اكثر مما يقدس غيرهم قيما سماوية، ويبدون أصولية وعنفاً كلامياً وجسدياً في السياسة… من القومية المتطرفة وحتى النفعية المتطرفة، ويبيعون الطبقات الوسطى والغنية التي تهيمن عليها الثقافة الاستهلاكية شعارات تصل حد الفوبيا من الدين والمتدينين، منشئين بذلك تديناً جديداً علمانياً معادياً للإسلام بشكل خاص. وأصولية جورج بوش الدينية وأصولية قوى واسعة خلفه لا تزعجهم كثيرا.

المؤسف ان موضة الديموقراطية حلت على بعض المثقفين غير الديموقراطيين ليروجوا لها عندما جاءت بالبوارج الأميركية وقد روجوا معها أيضا لنظرية أن تغيير الأنطمة غير ممكن إلا من الخارج، وبعضهم كان صديقاً لهذه الانظمة وتنقل بينها عندما دعت الحاجة. لأن نمط الحياة المترف يحتاج إلى من يدعمه أحياناً، والثقافة في بلادنا لا تعيل وحدها مثل هذا النمط «العلماني» في الحياة. والأكثر مدعاة للأسف أن هؤلاء اسقطوا شعار وخطاب الديموقراطية حالما أسقطته اميركا. فمنذ ان قررت أميركا أن المحافظين الجدد العرب والأميركيين قد ورطوها بنصائحهم ضد الاستقرار تخلت عن شعار الديموقراطية ما عدا في خطابات بوش، وعادت الى واقعيتها في قبول حلفائها كما من هم دون ابتزازهم بالدعوة لإصلاح وديموقراطية إذا نجمت عنهما فائدة لأعدائها. وهذا كله مفهوم ومتوقع. أما غير المفهوم فهو سرعة تخلي ليبراليينا الجدد عن مطلب الديموقراطية في العام الأخير والانتقال الى الحديث عن العلمانية. والأخيرة تبرر حتى الوقوف مع بوش واولمرت والأنظمة العربية العلمانية ضد ما قامت به «حماس» المنتخبة، وإلى جانب الأجهزة الأمنية الفاسدة، «العلمانية» على الأقل في «التشبيح» ونمط الحياة الاستهلاكي في مقابل «ظلامية» من انقلبوا عليها.

المصيبة أن العلمانية المقصودة ليست نظام حكم ولا هي نظرية في فصل الدين عن الدولة، ولا حتى خصخصة القرار بالشأن الديني وفصله عن الحيز العام كما تطور تعريفها أخيراً، بل هي بنظرهم موقف من الإسلام الحركي لا أكثر. وتجليات هذا الموقف في الواقع العربي ليست علمانية فعلا، بل أنظمة متحالفة مع قوى غربية وأحيانا مع إسرائيل. وهي لا تعتبر العلمانية شرطا للديموقراطية ولا عقلنة للسياسة بل تدين استهلاكي يشمل استهلاك البضاعة الثقافية الرائجة لطبقات معينة.

لا تستطيع القوى العلمانية لا بالمعنى الأصيل ولا بالمعنى المستحدث ضد الحركات الإسلامية ان تشكل غالبية تقيم نظاما ديموقراطيا. وهي معتمدة حاليا على ديكتاتوريات لا غير. وفي الحالات الجيدة تعتمد على نقد الديكتاتوريات من دون ان تقدم بديلا ديموقراطياً.

يجب أن تخاطب القوى العلمانية الديموقراطية وتتناقش وتتحدث مع قوى الإسلام السياسي الواسعة، وان تميز بينها وبين القوى التكفيرية التي لا تؤمن اصلا بالعملية الانتخابية الديموقراطية. فرمي الجميع في سلة واحدة بسبب الخطاب الديني المشترك وحكم الشريعة هو تعبير عن سياسات جامدة، وحتى لو عكست واقعا قائما فإنها تعبير عن عدمية غير عقلانية. وفي الواقع لم يحصل شرخ بين شقي التدين الحركي فحسب، بل ان التيار المركزي الواسع يتطور كلما مارس في بلده ومجتمعه سياسات وطنية بموجب أجندات وطنية. ويتطرف كلما اقصي عن الممارسة.

ولا يجوز أن يقتصر تفاعل القوى العلمانية مع التيارات الدينية الواسعة على تملقها أو التنازل عن مواقفها العلمانية في شؤون عدة، ولا أن يتحول الى غرور الوصاية عليها الذي غالباً ما يصاب به القوميون بغير وجه حق. فالحركات الدينية الواسعة عميقة الخبرة كثيفة التجربة ولا تحتاج الى أوصياء بل الى متحاورين متواضعين تثق بهم في حالة النضال المشترك. قد يكون التيار القومي تيار الغالبية في الشارع العربي، وقد تكون الناصرية ما زالت غالبية في الشرع المصري، ولكنها ليست حركة سياسية منظمة موحدة تترجم قوتها سياسيا، وليس لها أن تلوم إلا ذاتها على ذلك، فهذا ليس ذنب القوى الإسلامية المنظمة، كي يتم تحميلها مهمات كان على تلك القوى أن تقوم بها.

إن من يقصي هذه القوى حاليا تحت شعار أو مبرر مثل «العلمانية» لا يستطيع ان يبدأ بممارسة الديموقراطية، فالديموقراطية غير ممكنة مع اقصاء هذا الكم من الناس المتحدرين من هذه القطاعات الاجتماعية الواسعة والفقيرة ومع هدر هذه الطاقات الوطنية.

وطبعا يفترض ان تلتزم الحركات الإسلامية الواسعة بمبادئ الديموقراطية وليس فقط بوسائلها وأدواتها. وهذا لا يعني فقط اجراء انتخابات بعد انتهاء مدتها في الحكم، وأن تسلم السلطة سلمياً إذا لزم كما تسلمتها، بل ان تحترم أيضا حقوق المواطنة والحريات المدنية أثناء حكمها، التي لا تحترمها حاليا الأنظمة العلمانية. ومن نافل القول إن دول أوروبا الشرقية لم تحترمها ايضا في مرحلتها الاشتراكية التي ايدها بعض المثقفين العلمانيين الذين يعارضون ديموقراطية تشمل قوى الإسلام السياسي حاليا. كما يفترض ان تقبل الحركة الإسلامية بالأجندة الوطنية في عملها وأن تحترم مفاهيم السيادة الوطنية. ويجب أن تفعل كل هذا ليس فقط في الحوار مع القوى الأخرى وانما ان تثقف كوادرها على ذلك ايضاً. ويجوز لنا ان نبدي ملاحظات حول التناقض بين التثقيف الداخلي وبين الخطاب المستخدم لتهدئة القوى الأخرى. مع العلم ان مجرد الحاجة لتهدئة القوى الأخرى في خطاب سياسي جديد هو بحد ذاته تطور حتى قبل ان يرتقي الى خطاب تربوي داخلي. فالحركات التكفيرية لا تأبه بما يفكر عنها من تعتبرهم «كفاراً»، ولا يهمها ارضاؤهم. وطبعاً اليسار الراديكالي لم يهتم تاريخيا بمثل هذه التمييزات فقد كان الرياء والنفاق برأيه أسوأ من الفاشية، ولم ير فرقا بين الاشتراكية الديموقراطية والنازية فكلاهما في نمط تفكيره الجوهري من اشكال حكم البورجوازية، حتى شعر بالفرق على جلده وجلد الشعوب. ونحن نقول إن النازية والفاشية أسوأ من النفاق، وكذلك التكفيرية أسوأ من النفاق. ونحن لا نعتبر التغير الذي تمر به الحركات الإسلامية الجماهيرية نفاقا بل ضرورة تاريخية للإصلاح اللازم للعملية الديموقراطية. ولا مفر من رؤية ذلك والتعامل معه.

إن من لا يرى ان حركة «الإخوان المسلمين» مرت بتغييرات فعلية منذ سيد قطب، وان حركة «حماس» اليوم هي غيرها قبل اعوام، وان «حزب الله» اليوم ليس «حزب الله» نفسه أيام اغتيال اليساريين الشيعة في الثمانينات، هو بذاته اصولي يتمسك بثوابت ولا يخضعها لأي فحص تجريبي، أو ليست لديه مصلحة ان يفهم. وربما السبب انه هو أيضا مثلهم قد مر بتغيير. فنحن لا نفهم يساراً يجد نفسه في جبهة المتعاونين مع أميركا وإسرائيل ضد الإسلاميين، ولا نفهم يساراً يعيش هذا الاغتراب عن الفقراء وثقافتهم وهذا البعد عن العدالة الاجتماعية، وهذا القرب من الطبقات الميسورة المغتربة عن هذا المجتمع.

* كاتب ومفكر عربي

July 26th, 2007, 7:07 pm


عادل نعسان said:


حريق هائل وانفجارات تهز الرقة السورية

July 26th, 2007, 7:17 pm


Alex said:

Bakri, you might want to read this one (near the end)

July 26th, 2007, 8:04 pm


Sasa said:


I’m interested to hear your thoughts on Cordesman’s line about the potential threat from the growing number of Iraqi refugees.

My feeling is two-fold: first, that they have fled violence at home, so they are not going to become involved in trouble in another country. Secondly, their position towards the Syrian government is probably not overly hostile: Syria is the only place which has offered them sanctuary.



July 26th, 2007, 11:49 pm


Joshua said:

Sasa, You ask about the potential threat to Syria from the growing number of Iraqi refugees.

We do not really have a good sense of the Iraqi impact. Western diplomats usually mention two things.

1. Iraqi money has helped the economic boom here, bringing much money into the economy and driving up prices, which benefits the rich, who have seen their portfolios take a monster jump in value. Of course, it has had the reverse impact on the poor and those on fixed incomes, who have seen their economic status fall due to inflation.

2. The other thing foreign diplomats say is that the Iraqis have put terrible pressure on the system and thus argue that Syria must cooperate with the Americans on the Iraq file even if they cannot find common ground on the Lebanon file. The US, in particular, wants greater Syrian support for the Malki government. It saw the cancellation of the Iraqi opposition meeting in Damascus on Monday as a good sign that Syria is working with the Iraqi gov. They don’t say it was done for the US.

The other thing that all Western diplomats stress is the Islamist fear. They want a renewal of intelligence sharing on al-Qaida types in Iraq and around the region. This was cut off in 2004. The US says Syria cut it off. Syria blames it on the US and the isolation policy pursued as a result of Syria opposition to the Iraqi invasion. Foreign diplomats complain that Syrians are not properly fearful of the challenge Iraqi refugees will present to Syrian stability. They argue the Syrian government should me more afraid than it is. They want the Syrian Government to cooperation on the Iraq and terrorism files more than it is.

Syrians are split on this. The foreign ministry in Syria seems to be making real efforts to cooperate and sees the Iraq file as the one thing the US and Syria can agree on, perhaps 90%. Many here are clearly worried about the “Iraqi issue” and whether it will sew the seeds of endemic future problems and instability, bringing terrorist cells to Syria.

All the same, Syrian intelligence seems to believe that they have a good handle on suppressing Islamist groups within Syria. (The blast in the military school north of Aleppo, casts a shadow on this, which makes the question of how it happened so important to all.) They are not eager to be pressured into cooperation with the US. Cooperation would mean putting a dent into Syrian relations with Sunni opposition elements, whether ex-Baathists, military, or Sunni fundamentalists. It could also mean helping the US and Iraq government go after Muqtada al-Sadr’s people here.

Intelligence is reluctant to do this because they may believe that the Maliki government will be swept away as soon as US troops begin to withdraw, in which case, Syria will need good relations with alternative leaders to be found among today’s opposition elements.

Syrians are very divided in their assessment of whether the US is going to withdraw from Iraq when Bush goes. The conspiracy minded believe that America will stay for the oil and hegemony no matter which US party is in power. Others think the the US position in Iraq is untenable and will collapse sooner than later. Therefore, Syria must be ready and maintain good relations with as many Iraqi groups as possible.

For those who think it will collapse, there are two schools of thought.

One believes that Syria must retain good relations with as many Iraqi opposition elements as possible, despite US pressure to give them up. This would be done in order to have cards to play when Maliki falls. Think Hamas and Palestinian radicals. Syria cleaned up when the PLO collapsed and Hamas won. Syria stuck by Hamas and Mashaal, despite very serious US pressure to cough him up over the years. I think many Syrians are thinking they must resist US pressure to cough up Iraqis for the same reason. They are hoping that among the many Iraqis they are protecting and developing good relations with, one will be a future Iraqi Mashaal and will have a large role to play in the post-American Iraq.

A second school believes that Syria cannot afford to wait for a Maliki collapse because it may bring much worse civil war. In such a case, holding opposition cards may backfire. Syria will be flooded with refugees, trouble, and instability emanating from Iraq. Syria will not be able to manage a post US withdrawal collapse. For this school, it is better to have the Americans in Iraq and to support the Maliki government at the expense of Iraqi opposition elements resident in Syria in the hope of forestalling such a collapse.

Wise Americans seems to be aware of this debate and are asking for cooperation on intelligence concerning al-Qaida people most specifically. They want to distinguish between what Syrians consider “legitimate” or “authentic” Iraqi opposition and foreign jihadists and super extremists, which threaten both countries – the US and Syria. The problem is that Syria expects pay-back for such cooperation. They will not give it for free, which the US expects. The two governments still do not see eye to eye on this.

The trouble is that no one knows what is going to happen in Iraq. Second, the US and Syria are at such odds over Israel and Lebanon, that any cooperation on Iraq is made very difficult. The Syrians are paranoid of America and the possibility of an Israeli strike. This fear causes paralysis rather than action on the question of cooperation on the Iraq file. Syrians have a hard time reading the factional splits in Washington – i.e between realists and neo-cons. Many believe the splits are not real and only a skulduggerous set up to deceive Syria and force it to give up cards in order to get nothing.

Many Syrians suspect that the “good guys” the American foreign policy establishment – such as Anthony Cordesman – are pressing Syria to make a real demonstration of good will to break the anti-Syrian mood in Washington. They say Syria must have a serious forward action plan to propose to the Americans rather than being reactive and waiting for others to come to them. The problem with this is that many Syrians believe that the “neo-cons,” i.e. the Cheney crowd, is still really calling the shots and that Syria is being succored by Rice and state department figures, who try to cajole it into making concessions. The Syrians believe that US should make a gesture first to show their good intentions. Distrust runs deep on both sides.

The Lebanon issue has really soured the atmosphere here. So has six years of the Bush administration and listening to extremists in the States talk of regime-change in Damascus. Damascus is constantly being told that Washington has changed. People here don’t believe it. They are waiting to get succor punched.

One smart Syrian who keeps his finger on the pulse here said to me yesterday that he felt certain Israel was preparing for an attack by the end of the summer. He explained that it would probably be ignited by Israeli pressure on Hamas. Hamas would strike back and Israel would use this as a pretext to go after Khalid Mashaal and Hamas leadership in Damascus. Israel would turn the lights out in Syria. When I asked him what Israel had to gain from this, he replied in generalities. “Israel would not try to take down the regime, only weaken it severely,” he said. “The West is on the defensive now and pressure is building up in the entire region. Something has to give,” he argued. “Israel will be used as an instrument to try to reverse the balance of power in the region. The West is not strong enough to go after Iran, so it will go after the easier target – Syria.” This was his argument.

I don’t believe this, but he explained it with great conviction and said many were speculating like this in Damascus. He felt the pressure was being raised for a reason and there would be an explosion sooner than later.

I don’t believe Israelis would be so foolish as to think they could control the results of such an assault on Syria. The results would surely be worse than what they have now, etc. This kind of logic is impressing many fewer people here these days. They think Israel may want to ruin Syria’s economy so that Syria would be forced to make deep concessions and “change behavior.” Israel’s stirring of the pot is finally impressing the Syrian intelligentsia. The broader public is still impervious to these speculations, but it would not take much to get them excited and worried as well. All of this could have an impact on investment here, even without an actual war, if the anxiety is raised high enough.

In conclusion, it is hard to assess the real impact of the growing number of Iraqis here. Everyone has a different analysis. Much depends on what happens in Iraq, which no one seems able to control.

July 27th, 2007, 9:36 am


Kamal said:

Prof Landis,

Any clue about whom Cordesman considers to be an Islamic extremist, and whom he considers a moderate Islamist? Who are the people/groups he asking the regime to stop arresting? I’d like to hear him give his opinion on specific individuals/groups in Syrian political and civil society rather than stick to vagueness and generalization.

July 27th, 2007, 12:23 pm


LobeLog.com » Blog Archive » Follow-up on Syria said:

[…] Still, the context in which this sudden spate of hawkishness directed against Syria by Gerson et. al. — The ‘Wall Street Journal’s’ Bret Stephens also wrote a very strange commentary on Damascus’ alleged occupation of four percent of Lebanon’s territory this week – is intriguing, coming as it does, amid reports of ongoing mediation efforts between Israel and Syria by Turkey and Qatar, as well as a lengthy news piece, which was posted in full on Joshua Landis’ blog, SyriaComment, by the Journal’s Jay Solomon on the outreach by administration hard-liners, led by Elliott Abrams, to Syria’s opposition parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood, even at the risk of alienating AEI’s favorite Syrian exile, Farid Ghadry. To what precise end, other than as yet another source of leverage and pressure on Bashar Assad remains unclear, especially given the conclusion by Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Middle East specialist Anthony Cordesman that “[T]he US cannot take any practical steps toward regime change in Syria…” […]

July 27th, 2007, 4:34 pm


Richard Steven Hack said:

Colonel Pat Lang suggests that Israel will attack Syria, going for Damascus, then cut a left and come in on the flank of Hizballah in the Bekaa Valley.

This of course is the kind of stupid thinking you get from conventional military people (I refer here to Israel’s IDF, not Colonel Lang.)

The result will be an attack blunted by Hizballah’s proficient guerrilla force in Israel’s front, and the remains of the Syrian military will engage in harassment actions to Israel’s rear (or “second front” if you prefer.)

The result will be that Israel, as usual, damages both Lebanon and Syria, increases hatred of it throughout the Middle East, and manages to achieve higher casualties and an equally devastating defeat in the end than it did last summer.

The problem for the US population is that this attack is likely to be coordinated with a US attack on Iran. The US will attempt to “limit” this attack to Iranian nuclear-related facilities. The point will be for Bush to satisfy his fanatical Christian Zionist base – as well as his associates like Dick Cheney – and allow him to argue that he has taken “forceful” steps to bring a “rogue state” to heel.

Of course, the US media will reflect these talking points.

The immediate problem will be that Iran will not be so easily cowed. They will retaliate with missiles from Hizballah and Iran AND Syria on Israel, and on US facilities in the Gulf and Iraq.

Iranian agents, already present in Iraq in some thousands or even scores of thousands, will coordinate with Iraqi Shia militias to damage US supply routes from Kuwait.

These incursions will force US forces in Iraq to confront Iranians in Iraq as well as (alleged) Iranian military incursions into Iraq.

That will open the war to an all-out ground war – one in which the Iranians will use the exact same methods used by Hizballah to defeat Israel.

The US in turn will attempt – just as an afterthought, you understand – to seize the Iranian oil fields in Khuzestan, right across the border from Iraq – ostensibly to “defund” the Iranian regime. In reality, of course, this will have been the purpose all along – that and insuring that more scores of billions of taxpayer dollars are diverted to the “right” people in the defense and oil industry complex.

The result will be a decade-long bloodletting which will bleed the US to death military, economically, and geopolitically and make both Vietnam and Iraq look like Sunday School outings.

Besides the likely effect that China, cut off by the war from Iranian oil and gas it needs for its development, will dump the US dollar, inflicting even more pain on a US economy already devastated by the $100-200/barrel oil prices produced by the war, the US will see its first terrorist car bombings in New York’s Times Square (the US is MADE for car bombing attacks!), as well as terrorist suicide squads blowing themselves up on the New York subways during rush hour.

A few months of this, and what’s left of the US Constitution will be quietly retired.

All of this is clearly in the cards, Had Bush and Cheney been impeached a year or so ago, we might have had a chance to avoid this. But it is too late now to begin impeachment proceedings which will take months and months to complete and can never be done before Bush and Israel can launch their Middle East “WWIII”.

July 29th, 2007, 1:11 am


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