"Syria: The Opposition and its Troubled Relationship with Washington," by Joe Macaron - Syria Comment

“Syria: The Opposition and its Troubled Relationship with Washington,” by Joe Macaron

Syria: The Opposition and its Troubled Relationship with Washington
By  Joe Macaron
The Syrian opposition faces challenges on all fronts, including how to handle relations with the United States.
Carnegie’s Arab Reform Bulletin
February 2008, Vol. 6, Issue 1

The January 28 detention of Riad Seif is the latest development in a campaign of arrests against members of the National Council of the Damascus Declaration launched by Syrian authorities only a week after U.S. President George Bush met with Ma'moun al-Hamsi, Jenkiskhan Hasou, and Ammar Abdul Hamid at the White House in December 2007. The White House has condemned the arrests, but so far the U.S. Chargé d'Affairs in Syria reportedly has not broached the topic with the sole Syrian official with whom he meets, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Faisal al-Mikdad. Although Washington at one point wished for a united Syrian opposition, it has decided to treat the opposition more as a human rights concern than a potential force for political change. Washington's meetings with representatives of the National Salvation Front, the Syrian National Council, Kurdish parties, and the Reform Party, have been confined to general discussions regarding the State Department's Middle East Partnership Initiative and the $5 million allocated to Syria.

Sources within the U.S. administration admit that Washington's ability to influence events in Syria is limited due to the lack of strong economic ties. In addition, U.S. officials have misgivings about engaging with some parts of the opposition, for example former Vice President Abdel Halim Khaddam, given his history in power. The White House has not yet authorized meetings with the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, in order to avoid lending legitimacy to the organization's alternative project. For its part, the Brotherhood does not seem ready for such a dialogue, at least publicly.

The Syrian opposition, especially the National Salvation Front, has miscalculated in its dealings with Washington. It assumed incorrectly that the U.S. administration's contacts with the Syrian opposition marked the beginning of a path toward regime change in Damascus, and that calling for an international tribunal for the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri would pave the way toward this goal. Thus the opposition linked its political fortunes to those of Lebanon. In addition, it is open to question whether opposition figures showed good judgment in meeting with a troubled U.S. president nearing the end of his term.    

Relations with the United States are only a small part of the problems faced by the opposition. Unity remains a major challenge. The cohesiveness of the National Salvation Front, for example, lies in the Muslim Brotherhood's need for the support of Khaddam, who has Arab and international contacts—a need the Brotherhood may already be outgrowing.

Inside Syria, the opposition is undergoing a difficult phase not only because of the recent arrests, but also because of the problems posed by the forthcoming elections and the statement of the National Council of the Damascus Declaration. The elections offer an opportunity for independents, leftists, civil society activists, and opponents of dialogue with the regime to buttress their position at the expense of traditional parties—thus maintaining the Declaration's intellectual vigor at the expense of its organizational capacity. As a result, the Damascus Declaration remains an elite-dominated opposition movement that lacks the popular base necessary to push for serious political reforms. It operates within a small arena devoid of self-criticism, without financial or media support and isolated within the Arab world.

The Syrian opposition is also undergoing a transition, moving toward a new set of political concepts and tools championed by a younger generation that has gained momentum through its cultural interaction with Lebanon. This generation seeks to define its identity and its approach to democratic change, relations with the West, and liberalism.

Another set of problems for the opposition relate to Syrian state security. State security's tight restrictions on the opposition's activities make it difficult for observers to determine the effectiveness of its leadership and organizational capacities and its ability to present a national project that goes beyond traditional narratives of the chaotic civil space. Worst of all, members of the Syrian domestic opposition and their family members face continuous threats to their safety and freedom from the state security service, as seen in the recent arrests. Opposition members face severe punishments when they communicate with the Muslim Brotherhood or foreign entities, or when they engage in political activities, especially with Syrian youth. The opposition is also likely to pay the price of the international and the Arab diplomatic standoff with Damascus in the upcoming period. 

Despite these problems, the space for expression of dissent in Syria is gradually broadening due to the opposition's efforts, a fact the authorities find difficult to accept. The Syrian regime deals with every issue, be it regional or domestic, as an existential issue and seeks to monopolize all public spaces and even private ones. Thus, while the Syrian Embassy flirts with Democratic candidates for the U.S. presidency, it accuses the opposition of committing treason by merely showing the world that there exists an alternative Syrian voice, albeit a weak and troubled one.

Joe Macaron is a journalist residing in Washington D.C.  Dina Bishara translated this article from Arabic.

Also see:

Human rights in Syria: How is it to live paralysed by fear?
by Nicolien den Boer*
23-11-2007

Being afraid for your own safety is one thing, worrying about the safety of your family can paralyse you with fear. This is why some human rights activists in Syria decide to throw in the towel. However, most activists continue to fight for what they believe even if both they and their families face threats, imprisonment and torture.
 
Syria map One evening Husam left a Damascus bar after having had one too many drinks. He took a taxi home and started to chat with the driver, who began criticising Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Husam enthusiastically joined the driver in criticising the president. It was a lot of fun to secretly poke fun at the regime in the taxi, with the windows closed.

Suddenly the taxi took a wrong turn. Husam was taken to a police station, arrested and sentenced to several months in prison for insulting the president.

Human rights lawyer and activist Razan Zeitouneh tells the story in her Damascus home. Many Syrian human rights activists can tell similar anecdotes. Taxi drivers have a reputation for working for the Mukhabarat (the secret police), but your neighbour or fellow student can also turn out to be a secret agent. It is not easy to recognise them, which is why there is so much paranoia in Syria.
 
Like mushrooms

Syrian human rights activists are used to living in fear. During the regime of former president and dictator Hafez al-Assad many human rights activists were jailed for decades and often tortured. It seemed that things would change when his son Bashar succeeded him in 2000.

Bashar al-Assad 
President Bashar al-Assad started out in office by promising more freedom
The new president promised more freedom and democracy. Human rights activists started to collect petitions calling for more freedoms. They also held demonstrations, and new groups have sprouted like mushrooms. However, the Human Rights Watch organisation reports that in recent years activists have been rounded up in one wave of arrests after another. In 2006, seven young human rights activists were sentenced to up to seven years in jail.
 
Fear and concern
Razan Zeitouneh, who was arrested last year, says the human rights movement has been paralysed by fear. Her organisation, the Damascus Centre for Human Rights Studies conducts research into the situation in Syria. Ms Zeitouneh interviewed other human rights activists. She concluded that there were two dominant feelings: fear and concern about those close to you: "The fear returns every time you're arrested or someone close to you is arrested or tortured. But the fear also gradually fades away. However, concern about your family stays and can paralyse you completely."
 
It's a tried and tested method of keeping someone under one's thumb. Threatening a member of someone's family is like having the person in the hands of the police. 
"You've got to learn to live with the concern, because you never get rid of it. Your first step is to recognise it. You must let it become part of you. And you must understand that there are other emotions. This gives you the perseverance you will need to continue your work.
Practical protection
Human rights activist Ammar Qurabi, former member of an outlawed Syrian opposition party, says he has been arrested six times. On the telephone he proposes to meet in the busy lobby of a hotel in Damascus. Wouldn't he prefer a quieter place? "Why? I'm not afraid!"

In the lobby, Qurabi tells he is no longer allowed to leave the country. He knows no fear, he says with a smile, "Because the secret services are becoming bored with reading all of my e-mails and reports." His organisation reports on issues such as women's rights and the Kurdish minority in Syria. Incidentally, Qurabi enjoys a certain measure of protection because of his contacts with Amnesty International, among other organisations. He is known as a good international networker, creating a bit of security for himself. Yet another prison term for Qurabi would be guaranteed to make international headlines….. (continue)

Here is the latest from Human Rights Watch

Syria: Opposition Activists Tell of Beatings in Interrogation
Authorities Should Release All 12, and Investigate Allegations of Physical Abuse

Comments (52)


Qifa Nabki said:

Sure is quiet in here…

Joshua, is there a virtual taxi driver lurking in the shadows?

😉

February 6th, 2008, 4:04 am

 

Enlightened said:

It will be interesting to see the comments to this post!

I wonder how long the Syrian government will continue with this practice of arbitrarily arresting dissenting voices?

Clearly this practice is not acceptable, however i dont see personal freedom high on the agenda this year in Syria, and the ineptness of the opposition to get their act together is growing more and more frustrating with time.

Syrian citizens will have to start using the buses and personal transport to avoid the cabs! (Only in Syria where you could get a jail term for riding a cab!)

February 6th, 2008, 4:44 am

 

ausamaa said:

What Syrian OPPOSITION for God’s sake? Like it is going to materialise if we keep bringing it up again ang again?

As long as it is pocket-fed by DC and Paris and Jeddah it has as much chance of winning the “hearts and minds” of Syrians (remember this one!!!??) as that of an Israeli training excersise in northern Occupied Palestine.

But they got enough money to live on comfortably for a while, even if Bush leave them out in the cold as customary. So, they are likely to be OK.

February 6th, 2008, 5:22 am

 

annie said:

Although I love Syria and its people very dearly and at the ristk of having our sanayim” smile I have to say, Ausamma, that it is better to keep one’s mouth shut when in Syria and I admire the brave Syrians who do speak up. I suppose you could call them the oppositon.

It is also better to suspect everybody because you never know who is reporting on you.

I had the same adventure in a taxi where the driver lauded Israel no end and when I told him that he was crazy and look at what they just did in Lebanon, he broke into a smile and said he had wanted to know my real opinion.

I am surprised any Syrian would take that kind of bait.
OK, the Husam in question had too many drinks.

February 6th, 2008, 6:49 am

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

I don’t think this is important. We should focus on how great Syria is doing on the regional front. No?

February 6th, 2008, 7:10 am

 

offended said:

[comment removed: language]

February 6th, 2008, 8:00 am

 

ausamaa said:

ANNI,

Your are right maybe. I do not keep my mouth shut while in Syria or while with Syrian diplomates or officials. But that is something, and tinckering with a cornered country is something else.

You will not agree with me, but NOW is not the time to intemidate a “regime” that is no worse or no better than those targeting it. And in many respects, it is better. My attitude is: let Syria get away from the pressures its under, and then look for another Damasus Spring, or Winter or Fall for that matter.

Maybe I do not entirely like how things are in Syria now in many respects, and I do not, and niether does Bashar Al Assad I beleive, but I have to keep in mind two things: Syria is not yet Denmark, and 2) I am not gonna do anything that plays into the hands of those who are anti-Syrians dtarting from the neo-cons to the “moderate” Arab states, to Abdel Halim’s Khaddam’s outfit, ending with Jumblat, Jaja and the Saudies and the Chiracs or Sarkoozies.

As it was in Marxist theory; The extreme left is always in the service of the extreme right. By what they doing right now they are seving the interests of the anti-Syria, not only the anti-Baath, interests right now. Those so called brave voices, and they may be very brave, are lacking in the “right moment” departrmentand they are continuously picking up the wrong time to do their peice, apart from the fact, that change comes through a grass roots movement which even they do no claim to have.

And you know where roads that is paved with good intentions only can lead to.

February 6th, 2008, 10:03 am

 

kamali said:

AIG,

I like your joke.
———————
Alas, it is true in the country which is the castle for the long shouted slagon: Unity, Freedom and Sociality (Ishtirakia). it is still in use there and the people still repeat it everyday. where is unity? Iraq is divided, most arabs are against syria. syria is supporting iran, meddling in lebanon and Pals.
where is freedom? well, there is no need to answer that. everybody knows? read above
where is Ishtirakia? died with the capitals and businessmen lead by Mr makhloof.
—————————-

the biggest joke is that this slaogn is repeated everyday by:1. students at schools everyehere.2. in all official meeting in government or in Baath party.3. in all celebrations apart from private birthdays and weddings!(yet it can be there in some cases)

what “a hallow sham”!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

February 6th, 2008, 12:16 pm

 

majedkhaldoun said:

speak free,Joshua will never betray you.

February 6th, 2008, 12:17 pm

 

Akbar Palace said:

[comment removed, useless and confrontational]

February 6th, 2008, 12:38 pm

 

annie said:

It is not Aussama a matter of intimidating the regime; leave Syrian business to Syrians is my basic credo.
But Riad Seif sick and in jail is hard to swallow.
And this has nothing to do with cornering the country.
It is not possible to free him and the others without having a revolution and without giving in to outside pressures ? Don’t you think Syrians wish these people were free ?
As for the “anti-Syrians starting from the neo-cons to the “moderate” Arab states, to Abdel Halim’s Khaddam’s outfit, ending with Jumblat, Jaja and the Saudies and the Chiracs or Sarkoozies” they are outsiders and their working with the US and Israel doesn’t leave them any chance of success.
Concerning a grass roots movement, I cannot see it happen.
To Enlightened: “(Only in Syria where you could get a jail term for riding a cab!)” That is a stupid thing to say. The rules are known just as the price for breaking the rules.

And don’t anyone believe that they are not spied upon in Israel. There is a very efficient network of intelligence there too.

February 6th, 2008, 12:53 pm

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Imagine a Syrian in the US riding a cab and telling the cabby that Bush is an idiot and then getting put in jail. What noise the Syrians would make! But when it happens in Syria, oh, these are just the rules of the game. No problem, we can live with that.

February 6th, 2008, 2:42 pm

 

Alex said:

AIG, AP, Offended:

I have removed or edited parts of your comments. Annie and Ausamaa are discussing the article above, you were simply starting another useless discussion.

AIG, try to remember how many comments per day. You will finish soon at this rate.

February 6th, 2008, 3:43 pm

 

annie said:

AIG
With people like you there is not a sliver of hope there will ever be peace.
Instead of constantly mocking Syrians take care of your own backyard.
Your 10 000 Palestinian prisonners could use your attention.
Do the plans to kick out all Israeli Arabs get you indignant ?

February 6th, 2008, 3:45 pm

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Annie,
The problem is not me. The problem is people like you that are kow towing to dictators. Your posts show you know Asad is bad but you are not willing to do anything about it. You yourself said that there is zero percent chance for a grass roots movement. Maybe mocking will get the Syrians of their ass and they will do something productive for a change and be able to gain respect? Or is fatalism the answer? I guess it is.

February 6th, 2008, 3:59 pm

 

Nour said:

This is interesting because I was in a cab in Halab once, when the driver began to attack and criticize the government. I didn’t engage with him because I suspected that he may be doing it deliberately. Having said that, I also noticed that many people actually did voice their frustrations and criticisms more openly than ever before. We’re still a long way from being where we need to be, but little changes are definitely noticeable in Syria.

In addition, Syrian TV itself has recently been offering a platform for criticisms, frustrations, complaints, and general discussions about topics relating to the country’s condition and state of affairs. TV shows such as “Maraya” which regularly criticize the government and its methods are broadcasted and endorsed. Talk shows have sprung up in which citizens, intellectuals, and professionals are given a platform to offer criticisms, complaints, recommendations, etc. for various issues relating to the social, political, economic, etc. state of the country.

This of course is far from sufficient in terms of real individual liberties, but there is no doubt that a noticeable difference from the time of Hafez’s rule is present. As for the Syrian opposition, they come in various shapes and forms, and they are not confined to the individuals mentioned in western human rights reports or in statements made by western officials. Many groups, parties, organizations, etc. are trying to promote and bring about change in the country. However, most those movements are ignored by the US and the west largely due to their refusal to endanger the well-being of their country by allying themselves or collaborating with foreign states.

I agree in large part with Ausamma regarding the methods of many opposition groups and individuals. It is well-known that when foreign powers are continually threatening the regime with removal, this regime is bound to tighten its grip and to treat all opposition activities, especially those that involve contacts with foreign countries, with great suspicion. However, not all Syrians opposing the regime and trying to bring about change are being arrested and jailed. There are still many groups working avidly for change in Syria and much of their work has been bearing fruit. Unfortunately, foreign media do not care for those groups nor do they give them any attention, as the intention is merely to demonize Syria and present it as a terror state with all its citizens terrified of uttering a single word and constantly watching their backs for mukhabarat officers continuously roaming the streets. This of course, is far from painting an accurate picture of the real situation in Syria.

February 6th, 2008, 4:01 pm

 

Welcome | Project on Middle East Democracy said:

[…] Joe Macaron from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace blames the U.S. for not showing real support for Syria’s opposition group. By treating the arrest of Riad Seif as a “human rights concern” rather than a “potential force for political change” the U.S. has revealed their almost indifferent attitude. The new generation within the Syrian opposition is seeking “to define its identity and its approach to democratic change, relations with the West, and liberalism” while Washington fails to engage it due to political reasons. Macaron writes, “while the Syrian Embassy flirts with Democratic candidates for the U.S. presidency, it accuses the opposition of committing treason by merely showing the world that there exists an alternative Syrian voice.” […]

February 6th, 2008, 4:23 pm

 

annie said:

Nour : “It is well-known that when foreign powers are continually threatening the regime with removal, this regime is bound to tighten its grip and to treat all opposition activities, especially those that involve contacts with foreign countries, with great suspicion”.

Of course.

February 6th, 2008, 4:36 pm

 

Atassi said:

It’s as bad as being portrayed, I have spoken against the regime policies in many occasions while I was in Syria and in public places too!!,
many others do the same too.
Please remember, most can speak their minds, chat with others about current political and economical issues freely as long as not officially belonging to an opposition group, or insulting the head of the regime

February 6th, 2008, 5:20 pm

 

Alex said:

My opinion on “Syrian opposition” is known. It is a mistake to treat this issue as another good guys / bad guys case.

We had enough damage the past 7 years from this administration’s simplification of all the issues and from their good guys bad guys approach … good guys are those who are compatible with neocon policies, bad guys are all the others.

I think both sides (regime/opposition) can be criticized or commended … no one is helping the opposition or “democracy” if they continue criticizing “the regime” and praising “the opposition” all the time, without looking at both sides objectively … like many well intentioned journalists often do when they write articles in support of “the opposition”

I’ll explain with an example: in 2005 when the Syrian regime was portrayed as nothing more than a group of confused, weak and about to fall, criminal thugs, most foreign reporters who went to Damascus interviewed ONLY dissidents. The regime was frustrated that no one wants to listen to their side of any story. The dissidents interviewed often used the occasion (knowing they had totally sympathetic press coverage) to make maximalist charges against the regime … often exaggerating dramatically.

Michel Kilo was one of those “regime critics” who were smarter and more experienced. In his interviews with journalists he mixed his criticism of the regime with quite a few positive remarks about the things which are getting better.

BUT … those wonderful journalists who in 2005 thought they are reporting on another thuggish Baathist regime about to fall (Domino effect) did not bother even quoting Kilo’s carefully balanced criticism of the regime … they only quoted him on the most critical parts of his interviews.

Therefore … The regime could only read Michel’s harshest quotes, and they formed the impression that he is escalating his attacks on them.

That … coupled with Michel’s writing in Annahar and “cooperating” with anti-Syria M14 Lebanese made him look more and more like a foolish trouble maker and … they decide to stop him.

I am not “defending the regime” here. But I am explaining that the more constructive approach to seek political reforms in Syria is NOT the one that the current “coalition” is working on.

First, the coalition (collection of those who are enthusiastically calling for desired change in Syria) included the following ten harmful partners:

1) Neocons … Eliot Abrams and other wonderful characters.

2) Presidents Bush and Chirac, who only wanted what’s good for Syria supposedly.

3) Jumblatt, fatfat and other M14 warlords and corrupt politicians

4) the most Pro-Israel journalists from WSJ, Fox, and others … like an AIG on Syria Comment who champions Syrian opposition supposedly.

5) Neutral journalists who understand nothing about Syria but still wrote about Bashar as if he was simply another Saddam.

6) Journalist in other wonderful democracies in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Egypt.

7) Kurdish parties who seek autonomy of northern Syria (not all Kurdish opposition is this type)

8) Washington based neocon financed and organized “Syrian opposition” .. Ghadry etc.

9) Ex-corrupt politicians (Khaddam)

10) Some Syrian and other Arab religious fundamentalists who hate the Syrian regime more for what happened in Hama 35 years ago than for lack of democracy.

While the regime is authoritarian, it is popular in Syria (I estimate 60 to 65% popularity) … It is popular enough to feel justified when it treats the few opponents as trouble makers and put them in jail if they don’t listen to repeated hints then repeated warnings to cool it.

So … while we can not control what a stable and powerful authoritarian regime tolerates or does not tolerate (level of criticism) …we can try to retire the harmful 10 partners in the coalition of freedom fighters… then try again …. more slowly, to reform… without “support” from Neocons or other Arab moderate democracies … without exaggerating and dramatizing and ALWAYS criticizing EVERYTHING the regime does.

February 6th, 2008, 5:23 pm

 

Karim said:

Many taxi drivers are moukhabarat ,be careful.

February 6th, 2008, 5:34 pm

 

Karim said:

Alex stop lying to yourself and forget the people,because in the opinion of the regime,there is no people ,there is only jamaheer or flocks but you likely know that more than 60% of the baathi dominated parliement if not 80% hate the regime even if they are part of the system,the syrian personality has become dualist ,they are smiling in front of bashar and shooting “Bil Rouh, Bil Dam …. but in the same time insulting him inwardly and are waiting the right time to show the genuine part of their personality.when this regime will fall you will see how the syrian people loved the regime.bashar and close people are aware of this reaity that’s why they hold dual citizenships.
Salam

February 6th, 2008, 6:13 pm

 

Alex said:

Karim,

The type and the behavior you described exists for sure. But let us agree to disagree on the numbers you provided.

February 6th, 2008, 6:16 pm

 

Karim said:

Alex,this regime will fall sooner or later ,what do u think would be the reaction of the syrian people towards hafez asad statues for example ?

February 6th, 2008, 6:40 pm

 

Alex said:

Karim,

Let us agree to disagree on the date of the “sooner or later” and on the definition of the word “fall” in this context.

Cheers.

February 6th, 2008, 6:42 pm

 

Karim said:

Alex habibi but this date can’t be avoided.And i ask you again ,how do you expect the reaction of the people on hafez statues ?(plz, no need of american tanks here)

February 6th, 2008, 7:02 pm

 

offended said:

The way the opposition operates in Syria had always puzzled me. Don’t get me wrong, I feel bad when any one of those seemingly ‘clean’ dissidents is put in jail. But what I find astonishing is something else: restrictions on liberties and freedom of speech were in place in Syria for the last 40 years, why the surge in opposition activities and hence the arrests in the recent years?

It’s obvious, those who know that they couldn’t have a chance to operate during the strict times of Hafez Al Asad, thought that they can count on the ‘inexperience’ of the current regime, they also counted on the turbulences following Al Hariri assassinations, they counted on the international pressure, they counted on almost everything except the Syrian people.

Why didn’t they, for the sake of argument, play cool for a while, at least till the impending parties’ law is issued, they’d then have a better chance for maneuvering. By rushing things prematurely as they did, they failed and then they hindered the progression of reform.

February 6th, 2008, 7:20 pm

 

Shai said:

Though this may not really be my place (as an Israeli) to make any comments in this particular forum, I would like to ask the following questions:

1. Do you, as Syrians, believe that Israel should have any reason to await “democracy” in Syria, before signing a peace treaty and returning the Golan? If so, why?

2. If Israel and the current Syrian leadership sign a peace treaty, is there any reason to believe this treaty would not be supported by the majority of the people in Syria? Would this depend on whether the treaty was part of a comprehensive peace with, say, the Palestinians? If Israel “felt” the majority of Syrians would not support this type of peace, should this matter to Israel, or it is still better to have the “Egyptian model” than nothing at all?

3. Given the current situation within the Palestinians (Fatah vs. Hamas), do you believe the current Syrian leadership will still demand to make peace with Israel only as part of a comprehensive peace in the region? (are those two events interdependent?)

February 6th, 2008, 7:32 pm

 

offended said:

Alex, I am sorry about the row. It wont happen again (I’ll try!).
The last thing I’d like to do in this blog is to keep you busy moderating my comments!

February 6th, 2008, 7:38 pm

 

Alex said:

Is OK Offended … first time you needed moderation in two years.

Shai,

Answers to your questions (according to me)

You don’t need to wait for “democracy” in Syria … but I do think that both Syria and Israel need to pay attention to the way Syrians and Israelis (not only their governments) are going to react to peace.

So .. you need to study the popular mood in Syria, yes.

I think there are Syrians who do not want peace with Israel .. democracy or not… but i think they are a relatively small minority. If a majority did not want peace with Israel, then I guess you will have another Egypt model … But this is to a large extent under your control:

1) You can decide how to proceed with the Palestinians … if you continue to be stuck in a cycle of violence (where your side causes much more damage) then you will continue to have Syrians (And Egyptian) who can[t stand you.

2) If your negotiators try hard to get Syria to sign on terms that are not in Syria’s advantage, then there will definitely be a reason for Syrians to hate the peace treaty .. anything that does not treat Syria as an equal to Israel will make the treaty less popular.

3) The Fatah / Hamas issue is manageable once Syria and the next American administration start talking … Fatah is quite obedient to a unified position (pressure) from America and Egypt and Saudi Arabia an Jordan.

I assume there is a Syrian / Hamas agreement regarding what happens if and when Syria is close to ready to sign a peace treaty with Israel. Hamas will not increase their demands if Syria is bringing them a decent offer from Israel + The moderate Arabs + the United States.

February 6th, 2008, 11:09 pm

 

Enlightened said:

Annie “You seriously fail to understand humour”

I can recall my wife traveling in Damascus after the Hariri asasination and they were asked by a taxi driver on their thoughts as to who killed him, my mother in law been more familiar with the situation in Syria told the driver God only knows, pushing her further for her own opinion he maintained her line, maybe she knew that he was mukhabarat, and maybe she knew the fear that all the Syrian public live under , and not to voice their opinion!

Which gets me to your point about people knowing that their actions could get them into trouble! Why should some one get thrown into jail while riding a cab? and mouthing off because he had one too many drinks? Is this acceptable? Is freedom of speech not everyone ones fundamental right? You are being naive by calling my statement stupid, lets be realistic its far from stupid, Syria is one of the few last places in the world you can get jailed for mouthing off in a cab ride! Its Sad but a very true fact, no amount of skirting around the issue can deny this sad reality.

February 6th, 2008, 11:39 pm

 

alle said:

Offended…what I find astonishing is something else: restrictions on liberties and freedom of speech were in place in Syria for the last 40 years, why the surge in opposition activities and hence the arrests in the recent years?

Because it has been possible, of course. Many of the leading activists today spent time in prison in the 1980s and 1990s for saying the same things as they are saying now, or even milder criticism. They protested the dictatorship then, so how come they are suddenly supposed to stop doing it now?

The regime doesn’t need any excuses to jail people when it wants to, and, by and large, the opposition has given it none. Not a single one of the recent prisoners were arrested for something other than peaceful disagreement with state policy and calls for democratization. They aren’t trying to topple the regime, incite sectarianism, form secret cells or any of the moronic charges brought by the government — the case is simply that of a system that doesn’t understand dissent and can’t deal with it except through repression.

It’s ridiculous (no offense) to say that it is the opposition that has “hindered the progress of reform” by being too loud and up front. How? By organizing some tiny demonstrations and signing a couple of declarations in favor of democracy? 90% of Syrians aren hardly aware they exist, so how are they being too aggressive? How weak and scared is this regime if it can’t handle a few hundred middle-aged intellectuals disagreeing with it?

— — —

As for the cab drivers’ stories here, I’ve had similar experiences. But put yourselves in the place of the driver. Isn’t there another possible reason that the cabbie thinks it may be best to change the subject when the passengers disagree with his anti-regime rant…?

February 7th, 2008, 12:15 am

 

Qifa Nabki said:

It’s funny, because the taxi drivers in Beirut are actually very astute, when it comes to politics, and universally critical of the powers-that-be.

In fact, if I had to characterize the signature personality trait of the typical Beiruti cabbie, it would be cynicism.

More than once, I’ve been in a service taxi in Beirut that was cut off by a big Mercedes with tinted windows and parliamentary plates, only to have the cab driver start cursing out the window, and waving menacingly.

🙂

February 7th, 2008, 12:24 am

 

Alex said:

Qifa Nabki,

How typical Lebanese of you! … You are showing off that your taxi drivers are smarter than our Syrian taxi drivers?!

: )

February 7th, 2008, 1:13 am

 

Qifa Nabki said:

That’s right 🙂

I’m very proud of our taxi drivers.

Our politicians, not so much.

February 7th, 2008, 1:17 am

 

Alex said:

In that case, baseeta.

Zbigniew Brzezinski is coming to Damascus next week!

And by the way , he is an Obama supporter

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=caeP33025UY

وفــــود وشخـــصيـــات أمــيركيـــة بارزة في دمشــــق الأسبـــوع المقبـــل
دمشق..
يقوم المستشار الاسبق للامن القومي الاميركي زبينغو بريجنسكي على رأس وفد من الخبراء والباحثين الاميركيين بزيارة سوريا في غضون الاسبوع القادم في اشارة هامة الى ان توقف الحوار الرسمي بين واشنطن ودمشق لم يحل دون استمرار هذا الحوار على صعيد الجامعات والمثقفين والسياسيين الاميركيين البارزين. بحسب صحيفة الوطن القطرية كما يزور سوريا في الايام القادمة روبير مالي مدير برنامج الشرق الاوسط في «مجموعة الازمات الدولية» والمستشار السابق للرئيس الاميركي بيل كلينتون لشؤون الشرق الاوسط للقاء الرئيس بشار الاسد واجراء محادثات مع نائبه فاروق الشرع ووزير الخارجية السوري وليد المعلم حول تطورات الاوضاع في المنطقة عامة وعملية السلام خاصة اضافة الى واقع ومستقبل العلاقات السورية ـ الأميركية وقد انتقد مالي موقف ادارة بوش المعرقل لاستئناف مفاوضات السلام على المسار السوري ـ الإسرائيلي، موضحا انه من الصعب تصور تحسن الاجواء الاقليمية المحيطة بعملية السلام دون التزام حقيقي من قبل واشنطن ازاء دمشق مشددا على ضرورة ان يشمل السلام سوريا ولبنان.
وقال مالي انها المرة الاولى التي تضع فيها الولايات المتحدة العراقيل امام محادثات مباشرة بين اسرائيل وبلد عربي متهما ادارة بوش بأنها تعوق استئناف المفاوضات السورية ـ الإسرائيلية وشدد على ان هناك ثلاثة اسباب تفترض ان يكون السلام شاملا في الشرق الاوسط اولا لان اسرائيل تبحث عن اعتراف وقبول العالم العربي عامة بها وهو ما تنص عليه المبادرة العربية مشيرا الى انه من دون سوريا لا يمكن حصول تطبيع ومن دون تطبيع يفقد السلام اهميته بالنسبة لاسرائيل وثانيا يجب ان يكون السلام شاملا لان سوريا تستطيع المساهمة بعملية السلام الفلسطينية ـ الاسرائيلية مؤكدا انه في حال تحقق تقدم بين سوريا واسرائيل فإن منظمات مثل حماس والجهاد الاسلامي ستأخذان ذلك بالحسبان.
واشار الى انه اذا ساندت سوريا التسويات بين الفلسطينيين واسرائيل فيمكن لهذه التسويات ان تكون مقبولة لدى الرأي العام وثالثا في الحالة المعاكسة اي اذا ما تم استبعاد دمشق ولم يتم وضع الجولان على طاولة المفاوضات فإن سوريا ستقوم بكل ما يمكنها لتقويض عملية السلام الاسرائيلية ـ الفلسطينية ورأى مالي الذي لعب دورا مهما في مفاوضات كامب ديفيد عام 2000 وحضر آخر اجتماع للرئيس كلينتون مع الرئيس الراحل حافظ الاسد في جنيف ان ادارة بوش غير مستعدة لقبول ضرورة السلام الشامل لافتا الى ان واشنطن دعت دمشق الى مؤتمر انابوليس ووافقت على طرح مسألة الجولان على جدول الاعمال وان بطريقة غير مباشرة واعترفت بجهود سوريا للحد من دخول المسلحين الى العراق عبر اراضيها وكان يمكن ان يؤسس ذلك لمرحلة جديدة في التعاون السوري ـ الاميركي ولكن الانفراج كان مؤقتا بعد انابوليس حيث اشعلت ازمة الانتخابات الرئاسية في لبنان المواجهة بين دمشق وواشنطن ملاحظا ان المفارقة ان الاصوات ترتفع اكثر فأكثر وحتى وسط الرسميين من الصف الاول في اسرائيل مطالبة بمعاودة المفاوضات مع سوريا في حين ان ادارة بوش تعارض ذلك الامر الذي يدعو الى الاستغراب وطرح الاسئلة!

February 7th, 2008, 1:26 am

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Alex,

It’s more than just support. There are rumors that Obama may bring Brzezinski on board as NSA, if he is elected.

This would be very good for the Middle East.

February 7th, 2008, 1:51 am

 

Alex said:

BUt he is … 80 years old!

I think he is one of the most brilliant American political strategists.

February 7th, 2008, 1:55 am

 

Enlightened said:

LOL Nabki

They say that Taxi drivers are the bell weather when it comes to public opinion, been in constant contact with the public, here in Sydney they have an opinion on everything. And un surprising politicians are their favourite targets!

On a side note we received some DVD’s from Syria yesterday “Bab el Hara” my wife made me sit through and watch the first episode with her last night! ( hate soaps) I am dreading to night, they were sent by her cousin who lives in Damascus, I have a question for anyone familiar with Damascus if they know whether it was filmed in a actual suburb, I was most astonished with the architecture of the Barbers house and fell in love with it!

February 7th, 2008, 2:03 am

 

Qifa Nabki said:

BUt he is … 80 years old!

Ma3lesh. The Poles are sturdy types.

By the way, Obama also has Samantha Power on board as one of his top advisors.

Finally, an administration with brains behind the brawn.

February 7th, 2008, 2:22 am

 

norman said:

Brezensky has sons who are advisers to Obama.

If Obama is the Democratic candidate , he will be the first Democrat i will vote for .

February 7th, 2008, 2:41 am

 

Akbar Palace said:

Do the plans to kick out all Israeli Arabs get you indignant?

Annie –

Hasn’t that been the plan of the Palestinians since Day 1? Not only is there no Jews in the Palestinian parliment, there are no Jews in Palestine at all!

Like AIG said:

Imagine a Syrian in the US riding a cab and telling the cabby that Bush is an idiot and then getting put in jail. What noise the Syrians would make!

What hypocrisy!

February 7th, 2008, 2:51 am

 

Not me said:

Enlightened said:

I have a question for anyone familiar with Damascus if they know whether it was filmed in a actual suburb, I was most astonished with the architecture of the Barbers house and fell in love with it!

The homes are real. But they also used someone’s farm, I think his last name is Shallah (it’s is mentioned in the credits at the end)

February 7th, 2008, 2:56 am

 

Not me said:

Shai said:

Though this may not really be my place (as an Israeli) to make any comments in this particular forum, I would like to ask the following questions:

1. Do you, as Syrians, believe that Israel should have any reason to await “democracy” in Syria, before signing a peace treaty and returning the Golan? If so, why?

NO,, NO, NO. Because:
1. you take away their excuse for being dictatorial.
2. Dictatorship will supress any opposition to peace.
3. Most Syrians are ready for peace as long as it is just. If there is one thing the Syrians agree with their dictators on is the peace issue with Israel.

By the way, there is a highway outside Damascus that people call the Peace Highway (Autosrad Al Salam) where land costs about $400,000 an acre. The Highway goes from somewhere west of Damascus (Yaafour) towards Kunaitra (Northern Israel)

February 7th, 2008, 3:09 am

 

Enlightened said:

NOT ME: Thanks although I can understand Levantine Arabic, I do not read arabic, hence the question.

February 7th, 2008, 3:33 am

 

Alex said:

Norman, You are not the first republican American physician I know who will vote for the democrats if Obama wins.

I wonder who James Baker will really vote for this year!

Enlightened … I think Bab El-hara was shot in old Aleppo! … Can anyone confirm? .. I hope you realize that this is one of the most successful Arab TV productions in history!

But I understand why you might be bored … a lot of the fun comes from the old accent and old Damascene expressions. You will not get those.

February 7th, 2008, 4:51 am

 

Karim said:

Alex,it was obvious that the courtyard houses in bab el harra were typically damascene,i think that one of them was the house of Khaled al Azm in saroujah but i’m not sure, in outdoor they filmed in a film studio, syrian tv serials are becoming boring,bab el harra is better than the others because it’s close to the syrian culture but i prefered Khan el Harir.

February 7th, 2008, 9:34 am

 

Shai said:

Alex, Not Me,

Thank you for your response. I completely agree that a peace treaty is no good if it clearly favors one side over the other. If Syrians feel they’re getting a bad deal, or a good deal but have to succumb to too much in order to get it, then that is not in anyone’s best interest, certainly not Israel’s in the long run. After all, we are not interested in another “tepid” peace like the one we have with Egypt or Jordan. Personally, I very much believe that once the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be over, then all the peace treaties we have in the region will get a serious upgrade, and finally Jews and Arabs will start to really live in peace with one another. Unfortunately, I have a feeling that this will be the last conflict to be resolved, because of the internal complexities within the Palestinian society (Fatah vs. Hamas, issues of control, corruption, etc.)

So if we can and should indeed not stop any efforts via an Israeli-Syrian track (formally or informally), allow me to ask the following:

1. In order to feel an “equal” partner to this peace, Syria must have full sovereignty over the Golan, must be allowed to maintain whatever alliances it wishes to have, and must be involved in any regional discussions as an equal. Israel can probably accept the first and the third, and will likely have issues with the second. How can you allay our fears of a military alliance with Iran, continued support of Hezbollah, or Hamas (with the assumption that these still maintain a belligerent stance towards Israel)?

2. I understand the idea of a park worries many because of the issues of sovereignty and no-visa arrangements leading to a potential border-within-borders situation. Are there circumstances you can imagine, whereby a park idea would still work?

February 7th, 2008, 9:37 am

 

annie said:

About freedom in Israel for AP and AIG; Vanunu speaks:

“My Christian conversion was also considered as treason and led to me receiving more time in jail than any murderer has ever served. The Israelis have this very beautiful article about freedom and liberty but they want to destroy anyone who criticizes them for revealing the truth to the world. The world must look and see what kind of democracy Israel is when one speaks out the truth.

“This administration tells me I am not allowed to speak to foreigners, the Media, and the world. But I do because that is how I prove my true humanity to the world. My freedom of speech trial began January 25, 2006 for speaking to the media, the same day as the Palestinian elections.”

February 7th, 2008, 6:26 pm

 

Alex said:

Shai

1) I am sure Syria will reciprocate any positive move from Israel/America with an equally positive gesture (from Syria AND its allies) … it is not difficult…. but there should be some trust first … there is zero trust between Syria and this American administration. It is too difficult to go anywhere this year… you really need some trust between the different parties, even if they are enemies.

Next year … many of your worries can be almost meaningless by then.

2) Park idea can work if Israel displays a genuine will to be friendly and good neighbor .. Syrians love to open their borders to the neighbors … they saved over 100,000 Armenians in 1915, they saved Kurds from the 60’s till 2000 (from Turkey) .. they welcomed Lebanese Christians, Shia and Druze and Sunnies in their homes from civil war times till last Israeli invasion in 2006, they still host half a million Palestinian refugees … and 1.8 million Iraqi refugees from all religions and ethnic backgrounds.

Do you know of any other people in the Middle East that displayed such genuine and consistent openness to other religions and ethic backgrounds?

All of Syria can be a peace park if Israel does the right thing.

February 7th, 2008, 7:01 pm

 

AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Annie,
In any Arab country Vanunu would be dead by now. The guy worked in a classified location and signed agreements not to divulge secrets. Do you know any government that does not try to stop people giving out its state secrets?
So, what are you trying to prove? The only Israel cannot have secrets? Or is this a failed attempt at the two wrongs make a right argument?

February 7th, 2008, 7:32 pm

 

Shai said:

Alex,

I hope you’re right about next year. I hope we have the time to wait. There are still some “trigger happy” rulers running around you know… One thing I’m sure about, which is that CBM’s must still be sought and created continuously either formally or informally, between Israel and Syria. God-forbid we should find ourselves in a regional war which starts out of a “localized” operation (Gaza), with Hezbollah joining, etc. and thing gets out of control. In such a case, I would want Damascus and Jerusalem to be communicating through ANY channel, ensuring one another of their peaceful intentions (towards each other at least). Otherwise, we really can find ourselves at a very nasty and costly war. I’m trying not to be pessimistic, only realistic enough to remember that the TNT-barrel that is called the Middle East is still very much there, almost waiting to explode…

Annie,

Sorry, but there are better arguments for why Israel is not a “true” democracy (multi-party system, no regional representation, no direct voting for PM, etc.) Vanunu would be considered a traitor in any nation on this planet, and in fact would likely never see the light of day. Remember Pollard in the U.S., do you think Vanunu would prefer to change places with that “other” democracy, and the way it treats Pollard? Personally, I’m rather surprised that Vanunu was even allowed out. He can still cause a lot of damage, I imagine.

February 7th, 2008, 8:04 pm

 

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