“The Struggle for Power in Syria” by Van Dam reviewed by Josh Landis

Book Review 

NIKOLAOS VAN DAM, The Struggle for Power in Syria: Politics and Society under Asad and the Bacth Party London: I. B. Tauris, 1996). Pp. 240. $24.50 paper.

Downloadable for free in Arabic: http://www.democracy.org.nz/mideast/index.htm).

REVIEWED BY JOSHUA LANDIS, Department of Near East Studies, Princeton University
International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 30, No. 3 (Aug., 1998), pp. 447-449
Published by: Cambridge University Press

Only a handful of important books have been written on modern Syria; and Nikolaos Van Dam's The Struggle for Power in Syria is one of them. When it first appeared in 1979 with the subtitle, Sectarianism, Regionalism and Tribalism in Politics, 1961-1978, it rapidly set the terms for future debate on Syrian politics. With the recent publication of a revised edition, Van Dam, who has served as the Dutch ambassador to Syria, Egypt, and Turkey, has conscientiously updated his book. He has re-worked the original six chapters and the footnotes, and added three new chapters covering the last twenty years of Assad's rule. The bibliography is the best of its kind and should be the starting point for any student wishing to research Syrian politics. Although the book is twice the length of the original, it contains only a merciful 140 pages of text, making it ideal for serious undergraduate classes and indispensable to any Middle East collection.

The passage of eighteen years has only confirmed the intelligence of Van Dam's original thesis. He has demonstrated elegantly and simply that the coups and factionalism in Syrian politics of the 1960s must be understood in terms of identity politics rather than of class. At that time, Bacthist regimes were trumpeting their elimination of sectarianism and tribalism as meaningful social referents in Syria.

Arab nationalists, inclined to accept such claims, theorized about Arab unity and socialism as if an age of liberation were at hand. Ac-ademics, too, were swept up by the post-revolutionary optimism. Many deployed such Marxist categories as the "rural middle class," "Bonapartist state," and "bureaucratic authoritarianism" as if to suggest that the military dictatorships that had become so commonplace in the Middle Eastern landscape were not as bad as they seemed. Some even argued that they were a pre-requisite to economic development and offered a way out of the destructive embrace of inter-national capitalism. Van Dam took a more sober view.

For Van Dam, dictatorship in Syria was not as much a product of economic necessity as of social fragmentation. Culturally, Syria was too divided to support a pluralistic state. "A clear relationship existed," Van Dam writes, "between political stability and the degree of sectarian, regional and tribal factionalism in the political elite" (p. 139). When the power centers of the state, such as the upper ranks of the security forces and the military, have been divided among diverse sectarian and regional factions, as they were in the 1960s, Syria has been unstable. When "one all-powerful political faction" dominates, as has been the case since Hafez al-Assad took power in 1970, Syria has experienced stability (p. 137). Almost all of Assad's closest lieutenants are not only 'Alawis, they are also members of his family or tribe, or they come from his hometown of Qardahah. Relying on primordial ties for political loyalty has been a simple necessity of power politics in Syria-and the root of Assad's success. That is to say, it takes a village to rule Syria.

The original chapters in The Struggle for Power in Syria remain the most compelling, for they explain how a complete re-shuffling of Syria's social and political hierarchy followed the cAlawi-led Bathist coup of March 1963. 'Alawi officers, with the assistance of other minority officers from the Syrian countryside, broke the political monopoly held by the Sunnis in a series of purges that led up to the second Bathist coup of 1966. The minority factions could not preserve their alliance following the downfall of the Sunnis. Neither their shared Bathist ideology nor their common background of rural poverty was enough to stem the tide of sectarian distrust sweeping through Syrian politics.

In 1966, the `Alawis purged Druze officers following a dramatic standoff, which was re-solved only after Assad surrounded the Jabal Druze with artillery and threatened to level the region. Next, the Ismailis were swept from senior military positions. By 1970, most senior non-'Alawi officers had been dismissed or arrested for having supported abortive coup at-tempts. As Van Dam points out, "this did not mean that hardly any" non-`Alawi officers were left in the army; rather, "it meant the end of their role as significant power groups" that could threaten the 'Alawi domination of the state (p. 61). The last episode in this decade of upheaval was a battle between two cAlawi factions, one led by Assad and one by Salah Jadid. Assad's superior ability to cultivate regional and tribal loyalties within the military secured his victory. In these chapters, Van Dam demonstrates to the satisfaction of this reviewer that sectarian politics and primordial loyalties are the keys to understanding the major stages in the devel-opment of the contemporary Syrian state.

That said, it should be noted that a number of fine academics remain unconvinced, most notably Raymond Hinnebusch. He insists that "class provides the crucial key that drives change" in Syria, and that sectarian politics are secondary, surfacing only "when class conflict recedes" (p. 141).

The three new chapters continue the story of Syria's sectarian struggles up to the present. Two of the chapters deal with the rise of Syria's Sunni Islamic opposition, and its demise following the fateful Hama massacre of 1982. The final chapter, titled "The Power Elite under Hafiz al-Asad," touches on a number of topics, not the least of which is the question of what will happen when Assad dies.

Little of this material will be new to those who have read Patrick Seale's biography of Assad. Many episodes of Syrian history under Assad are not discussed in any detail, in particular those relating to public and foreign policy such as the 1973 war and Syria's involvement in Lebanon. The reason for these omissions, Van Dam explains, is that "Syrian policies as such had nothing to do with the sectarian composition of the power elite" (p. 137). What is included is prescribed by Van Dam's original thesis.

In his analysis of the Hama massacre, for example, Van Dam explains that the troops who destroyed the Sunni city were largely cAlawi in composition and that their commanding of-ficers were CAlawi almost to the man. He notes that the choice of Hama for the regime's bloody showdown with its opponents was not coincidental, for Hamawis had been responsible for much of the past mistreatment of 'Alawis. Revenge provided the motive for some of the ex-cesses of Hama. If Hama is the yardstick by which scholars and statesmen continue to measure the brutality of Assad's regime, it seems that Van Dam is critical but understanding. He does not try to clear up the controversy over the number killed, but repeats that somewhere be-tween 5,000 and 25,000 perished. If the Muslim Brotherhood had toppled the regime, or if Syria had slipped into civil war as Lebanon did, Van Dam suggests, matters might have been much worse. He points out that the majority of Syrians may well have supported Assad, even if grudgingly, in light of these bleak alternatives. Assad succeeded in breaking the back of the opposition at Hama, we are told, even if he may have "sown the seeds of future strife and revenge." It is clear that like many Western and Israeli statesmen, Van Dam respects Assad for his ability to survive and for his mastery of Syrian politics.

All the same, Van Dam is not optimistic about the prospects for meaningful economic re-form in Syria, or about the possibility of a Velvet Revolution in the future. He points out that Assad's anti-corruption campaigns have been ineffectual because the president refuses to dis-cipline his security chiefs, many of whom are the worst offenders. He doubts that the country can make a peaceful transition to a post-Assad government, because Assad has allowed his re-gime to become ossified. No purges have been carried out, and few top personnel have been changed in the last twenty-five years. Consequently, no new generation has been groomed for power or schooled in the art of government.

Only the president's son, Bashar, seems to be in line to inherit authority from his father. Other members of Assad's inner circle have likewise been grooming their sons to succeed them. He notes that the Sunni majority has not given up its "negative attitude towards 'Alawi religion and 'Alawis in general," and adds that he finds it "very difficult to imagine a scenario in which the present narrowly based, totalitarian regime .. . can be peacefully transformed into a more widely based democracy." The key to Assad's success has been his ability to rule through his metaphorical village. Whether the dynastic principle that Assad and his men have been pushing will catch on in Syria is an open question. Van Dam gives us little reason to believe that Syria is developing the political institutions or broader national identity that may someday replace the parochial loyalties and narrow prejudices that now define politics in Syria.

Comments (43)

Majhool said:

I really liked Josh’s review. I wonder if he still holds the same views on the sectarian subject.

June 19th, 2008, 8:45 pm


Joshua said:

Dear majhool,

I have written to Ambassador Van Dam to ask him if he would contribute a paragraph on his impressions of the changes in Syria over the last 10 years. He visited Syria recently to participate in a conference in Aleppo, if I am not mistaken.

June 19th, 2008, 8:52 pm


AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

How does this candid review hold with the theory that Syria should be a “moral” ally of the US?

It just shows that Syria is an apartheid state ruled by the Alawis in general and by a specific tribe in particular and that no other group is allowed access to power.

I really liked this part:
“In 1966, the `Alawis purged Druze officers following a dramatic standoff, which was re-solved only after Assad surrounded the Jabal Druze with artillery and threatened to level the region.”

If Asad has a right to level regions and he is Alex’s hero, why does Alex criticze Israel when it attacks in self defense and causes civillian casaulties? Is this right only allowed to Assad? Why, is he special?

June 19th, 2008, 9:26 pm


Majhool said:

Dear Josh,

That’s an excellent idea. I have always liked his book better than Patrick’s.

June 19th, 2008, 10:26 pm


Majhool said:

Syria could be many things (positive and negative) but the word apartheid does not apply.

You need to look for a word that describes a Regime that is sectarian when it comes to its power base. Fascist when it comes to its Arab rhetoric, Authoritarian when it comes to the way it uses it’s powers



June 19th, 2008, 10:49 pm


Qifa Nabki said:


Why not just call it home?

: )

June 19th, 2008, 10:56 pm


Majhool said:


I like to believe that “home” is permanent and Authorifacisecterian is transient.


June 19th, 2008, 10:58 pm


Alex said:


Hama was absolutely terrible .. but it took place after three years of Al-Qaeda-like Brothrhood terror activities (blowing up civilian busses, public shopping centers, assassinating university profs, doctors … ) that reached a declaration of an armed uprising in Hama.

But … how often did Assad actually imitate Israel’s murderous style of revenge?

Show me that Assad had a long established habit of bombarding civilians, other than Hama.

Take the last 10 years from his life … compare Assad and Israel from 1990 to 2000 … see if the number of innocent civilians killed are in anyway comparable.

If you come back with AIPAC and CAMERA propaganda for an answer, I have many beautiful You Tube videos waiting for you…

June 19th, 2008, 10:59 pm


Qifa Nabki said:



If Syria is transiently Authorifascisectarian, then what would Lebanon be?


Kullunaaaa lil watan…

June 19th, 2008, 11:04 pm


Majhool said:


Does Chaotibourgouisectariamnesiac = Expensive?

The prices are soaring 🙂

June 19th, 2008, 11:10 pm


Majhool said:


FYI, the majority of Syrians accept no excuse(s) for what happened in Hama.

If the terrorists killed, bombed, etc. then that’s what terrorists do. When the government does the same (or worst) then it’s no better than those terrorists.

The MBers were executed or exiled, they paid their dues. When will the regime pay it’s dues ( Apologies maybe)?

June 19th, 2008, 11:19 pm


Nour said:


You shouldn’t even dignify AIG’s comparison with a response. The bottom line is that internal struggles for power in a given nation when it is going through periods of upheaval are quite natural and completely different from the creation of an exclusivist entity on a foreign land by people settling there from an alien territory and proceeding to ethnically cleanse the land which they are settling.

Internal struggles have taken place all over the world. Take a look at the Union’s treatment of southerners in the US for daring to secede. Abraham Lincoln is viewed as an American hero even though he was responsible for massacring hundreds of thousands of Americans in the south. Let us not forget the road from Atlanta to Savanna, where not a single living creature was left unharmed. But AIG uses the Hama massacre, as bad and wrong as it was, for his own propagandistic purposes.

June 19th, 2008, 11:43 pm


Qifa Nabki said:


I was following along relatively unproblematically there for a moment, until you brought in the U.S. example.

What is the U.S. if not an “exclusivist entity on a foreign land by people settling there from an alien territory and proceeding to ethnically cleanse the land which they are settling”?

If you use the United States as a justification for Syrian internal struggles, it seems to me that AIG would be just as able to use that example for Israeli “internal struggles”.

I think you need to re-think it.

June 19th, 2008, 11:48 pm


Majhool said:

Nour Said:The bottom line is that internal struggles for power in a given nation when it is going through periods of upheaval are quite natural and completely different from the creation of an exclusivist entity on a foreign land by people settling there from an alien territory and proceeding to ethnically cleanse the land which they are settling.

I completely agree.

June 19th, 2008, 11:48 pm


Qifa Nabki said:


Chaotibourgouisectariamnesiac is massively expensive. Syllables don’t come cheap habibi.

: )

June 19th, 2008, 11:51 pm


Qifa Nabki said:

Have I recently said how much I like Sami Moubayed?

Alex, next time you tell me about popularity contests, I will refer you to this : )

Wanted: Inspiring Syrian Heroes

I have always been interested in ‘role models.’ Whenever I conduct a personal interview with famous Syrians, I always wrap up with one question, “Who are your inspirational figures; who are your role models in life?” A role model by definition can be a friend or a family member, a living celebrity, or a long-gone iconic figure. I have gotten a colorful variety of answers over the years.

I once administered a survey to my students, three different classes in two consecutive semesters. These were well-to-do Syrians, students at the Faculty of International Relations, born in the mid- to late 1980s. I then administered expanded the same survey to include Syrians of a different age group and different social strata. One question was, “Who is your inspirational figure in life?” This was shortly after last summer’s war in Lebanon and I expected them to say, “Hasan Nasrallah.” So it was a surprise to me when over 60% came out with “None! We don’t have any inspirational figures in our life.” Their parents’ generation would have probably replied, “Gamal Abdul-Nasser.” These young people, however, did not have motivating figures to look up to—nobody to view as a role model. That was a sad reality.

I then asked them to name their favorite former non-Syrian, Arab leader. Sheikh Zayed of the UAE came in first, with 24%. The favorite non-Arab leader was Mahatir Mohammad, who is to Malaysia what Zayed is to the UAE. He got 36%. Lagging way behind were revolutionary leaders like Gamal Abdul-Nasser and Yasser Arafat. These young Syrians were more impressed by a leader who could attract investment, create jobs, and build a success story for his country from scratch, like Malaysia and the UAE, than one who preached revolutionary socialism and promised to defeat the State of Israel. When asked to name their ‘worst’ former non-Syrian Arab leader, Saddam Hussein came in first, with 35%, seconded by Gamal Abdul-Nasser, with 21%. Anwar al-Sadat came in third, with 18%, beating even Bashir Gemayel, who got 8%.

Respondents were then asked to name their ‘best political memory.’ 40% said it was the liberation of South Lebanon in 2000. 30% said it was the downfall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. As for ‘worst political memory,’ a high 22% said it was the assassination of Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Harriri. They dreaded it because it led to a series of negative events that were bad for Syria. One would have imagined their worst political memory to be the Arab-Israeli War of 1967, which led to the occupation of the Golan Heights, the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank, and Jerusalem. That war, however, received 90 votes (18%) and was seconded by the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, which received 70 votes (14%). In a landslide victory, George W. Bush came in as worst foreign leader, with 84%. Coming in second—again with little surprise—was then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair, with 10%. Third was Jacques Chirac of France, with 6% and fourth was German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with 2%.

Respondents were then asked to think hard and come up with a list of people they thought would qualify as inspirational figures, people who they respected and looked up to. The Prophet Mohammad ranked #1. Other names ranged from Hafez al-Assad, Hasan Nasrallah, Antune Saadah, Che Guevara, and Fidel Castro, to Amr Khaled, Saladin, and Omar Ibn al-Khattab. Somewhere in between came people like Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, and Karl Marx. The list did not contain a single artist, writer, or poet, nor a single woman. It also, not surprisingly, did not have a single American icon, not even an entertainment or sports celebrity (although David Beckham did make the cut.) Strangely enough, however, and in testimony to how un-secular society was becoming, not a single person wrote, “Kamal Ataturk.”

These results, measured by what I am getting from different interviews with famous Syrians, were surprising and alarming. They bring to mind an old story when Galileo was told by one of his students: “Unhappy are those who don’t have heroes!”

Galileo replied, “No, unhappy are those who still need heroes!”

June 20th, 2008, 12:00 am


Majhool said:


Thanks for sharing this excellent article by Sami

June 20th, 2008, 12:13 am


trustquest said:

A poll like that from Sami, is bad news for him and for the regime. Where is Bashar name in the results, such result is unacceptable. It is clear to me that the regime despise Sami and I do not think he will live long in that university even he play it safe.

Thanks Joshua for Mr. Van Dam reference. What shocked me is his conclusion regarding change in Syria, he confirm that political change in Syria is impossible even with economic change. I agree, and that is why opposition should keep pressure on regime.

The one thing I found it not well covered and no record provided is the corruption figures in the upper tights circle of Alawite officers and family ranks.

June 20th, 2008, 2:50 am


Majhool said:


I am sure that the results of Sami’s poll did not come as a surprise to you, it didn’t for me.

I have no illusions when it comes to how difficult it’s in Syria to peruse reforms (political and economical) under this current power structure. Maybe that’s why I have a hard time digesting some of the “positive spin” that we grew accustomed to here in SC!

Do you have any thoughts on how Syrians can articulate their opposition such that it becomes a true reform driven opposition instead an existential conflict? Or do you think it’s impossible given that no-compromise stance of the regime?

June 20th, 2008, 3:12 am


AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

What can I say, authorifacisecterian, is the right word. Brilliant!

June 20th, 2008, 3:35 am


Alex said:


I’m happy that this survey was exclusively for those born in the early 80’s .. because at the time, Sami asked me to take part in it ! : )

I was one of those who picked Mahatma Gandhi (or Hafez Assad?) for inspirational figures.

One last thing … Sami wrote this same piece last year … this is a re-run (I hope David Ignatius is not reading this).

One way to find out is from this part: “This was shortly after last summer’s war in Lebanon”

You have to understand that most of those who participated are young students in a private university with very rich parents … this is not a scientific sample.

June 20th, 2008, 4:46 am


SimoHurtta said:

What can I say, authorifacisecterian, is the right word. Brilliant!

AIG is Israel demofacisecterian or apartheidfacisecreterian? I prefer apartheidfacisectreterian. Isn’t a brilliant right word to describe the situation. 🙂

Wikipedia says:

Fascism is a term used to describe authoritarian nationalist political ideologies or mass movements that are concerned with notions of cultural decline or decadence and seek to achieve a millenarian national rebirth by exalting the nation or race, and promoting cults of unity, strength and purity.

Fascists promote a type of national unity that is usually based on (but not limited to) ethnic, cultural, national, racial, and/or religious attributes.

Isn’t that true in the Israeli society, meaning the promoting of unhealthy level nationalism, own military, economical and “intellectual” superiority and promoting hate against non-Jews (= people with an other religion). In this aspect what is the difference between 30’s Italy and Germany and the 00’s Israel? If Mussolini and Hitler had been Jews, they would surely have felt being at home in Israel despite that you have there still some irritating human right activists and worthless leftists.

June 20th, 2008, 8:12 am


offended said:

It was not the tribe that brought Hafez Assad to power. It was an admixture of political prowess and the support of fellow officers from the same sect. But this in itself is not enough to RETAIN power in Syria. Tribalism would not have helped much since he didn’t have that huge a tribe from the first place. Yes, I agree that he later handed over his security details to people who are close to him in terms of blood lines, or maybe even turn a blind eye to some of them who smuggled packs of cigarette from Turkey. But nothing much beyond that. You can’t really compare what was it like in Syria to Iraq for instance; where everything that had to do with power revolved around Tikrit. Saddam’s brothers, half-brothers, cousins and distant relatives; almost all of them were enrolled in the army and the security apparatuses. Agreed, Salah Jedeed is also an Alawi but do you really believe that he’d have been able to remain in power for 30 years? : )

Sinister tribalism is what’s happening in the south-eastern outskirts of Aleppo where rogue elements, drug dealers and contraband thugs are nominating themselves to the parliament and some of them have actually made it there by the sole support of the tribe. If there is something I contempt about today’s Syria it’d be this sick tribalism.

June 20th, 2008, 8:37 am


Nour said:


I used the US to provide an example of internal struggle, not to discuss European occupation of a foreign land and the annihilaion of its indigenous people. The Unionist Americans were fighting the secessionist Americans in a purely internal struggle over diverging views of the country. The point is that internal struggles within a given nation are wholly different from a particularistic group of people occupying another people’s land and proceeding to ethnically cleanse them. And another reason I used the internal struggle within the US is to show how other countries may view their own leaders who have perpetrated crimes against their people as heroes.

The other issues you raised over the very creation of the US are valid, except that the US is not really an exclusivist country, as it was not identified with a particular religious or ethnic character. However, those issues are outside the scope of the intended purpose of my post.

June 20th, 2008, 10:44 am


Qifa Nabki said:


Ok but I think that this idea of “internal struggle”, which you’ve raised before, is a problematic one. You make it sound like a natural process in the life of a nation, “growing pains” is a term you’ve used in the past.

The problem with this approach is that it is ethically neutral. It fits the Syrian model, but it also fits other models like the Lebanese civil wars. If we understand those as mere “internal struggles” or “growing pains”, then we have no way to distinguish between competing claims or “diverging views” of nationhood. Under this reading, for example, Maronite chauvinism (or maybe racisim?) is almost legitimized by the fact of “internal struggle”? Do you see what I mean?

I guess what I’m saying is that not all competing claims are created equal.

June 20th, 2008, 12:15 pm


JustOneAmerican said:

To give QN some other counterexamples, how about Cambodia and Rwanda?

June 20th, 2008, 1:02 pm


trustquest said:

Sami Moubayed denies what the Chicago Tribune has quoted him to satisfy the officials in Syria. On Syria news he said that the newspaper misquoted him and the Syrian Aim from negotiation is only to recover the Golan Height (nothing else). The newspaper was only quoting him when he said that the economic factor is another reason for negotiation.
Freedom of analysis is not acceptable in Syria, so I do not know what the official reaction would be for the recent survey above.
Mojhoul, you should work on the copyright of the new term. :))

June 20th, 2008, 2:46 pm


AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

So let’s see. If the Jews accept the one state solution and then the Palestinians become citizens of Israel and then the Jews kill the Palestinians that will be ok because it is an internal struggle in an emerging nation.

There is a simple question that needs to be answered. Would any of the Assad supporters in the west accept that a leader stay in power after killing 20,000 of his own citizens, mostly civillians and threatning to level whole areas of people who do not support the regime? Of course not. Yet people like Alex do not see this as a reason why Asad should go. It is “too much” criticism of the regime. Yes, it is “absolutely terrible” but a reason to change the regime? Of course not. Go figure.

June 20th, 2008, 2:54 pm


Alex said:


As I said in my comments above, the survey results were made public last year already.

In the Washington Post blog article linked here, Sami wrote “This was shortly after last summer’s war in Lebanon” .. the war was in 2006 .. this article is old, from 2007 and Sami submitted it again with minor editing.

Don’t worry about him … he knows how to navigate the difficult waters. If you go back to 2005, he gave some daring interviews at the time.

June 20th, 2008, 2:55 pm


Alex said:


Let’s see .. so if you support killing innocent Palestinian children and beating up old Palestinian women, and Israeli soldiers posing with dead Palestinian civilians they just killed, and Israeli prime ministers who used to be terrorists, should I ask this question about AIG who lives in the peaceful and civilized New Jersey but supports Israel’s murderers?

Should I ask this innocent question every couple of days like you continue to do while ignoring all the answers I gave you over tha past year? .. do I have to tolerate your insinuations or waste half my day repeating the same answers I gave you a thousand times already but you pretend you did not read them?

Tell me what is a reasonable way I should deal with your endless insinuations.

June 20th, 2008, 3:00 pm


AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Ok maybe I was wrong. So you do believe Asad should have been replaced after Hama?

I don’t remember discussing this over the last year.

June 20th, 2008, 3:13 pm


AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

The point is the following. Is there anything an Asad would do that you would say, enough is enough? Or would you always say that Saudi and Israel are worse and therefore it is ok?

If Asad decides to execute Kilo, would you still support the regime?

June 20th, 2008, 3:20 pm


Majhool said:


I am working on it 🙂

You still did not answer my question!! here it is again

Do you have any thoughts on how Syrians can articulate their opposition such that it becomes a true reform driven opposition instead an existential conflict? Or do you think it’s impossible given that no-compromise stance of the regime?

June 20th, 2008, 3:58 pm


Karim said:

Alex have you never heard the names of Dr Omar Shishakli head of Ophthalmology Association in Syria who had his eyes extracted and his mutilated body left on the road of Mhardeh?or the Surgeons Dr Abdulkader Kantakji of Hama and Dr Michel Chamoun of Aleppo?
1000’s of doctors,engineers,lawyers and uni students and professors were killed by hafez asad.
Add to Jisr ,Aleppo,Hama,Tadmor massacres the 1000’s of disapeared syrians.
Alex ,be honest who is the sectarian in Syria ?Not the asads?for which reason have i to be sectarian as sunni?So Alex ,if you are anti sectarianism you must be anti asad if not this is hypocrisy and there is no need for you to be prisoner of a minority complex .Be my brother in nationality and in culture because only the people are eternal and regimes are impermanent.

June 20th, 2008, 4:50 pm


trustquest said:

Thanks Majholl,

I think Van Dam book is really a treasure; it shows the real factors at work making the regime hold on power. The current reforms and steps taken by the regime toward reform are forced by the new political landscape in the region, by survivor, by demographic and buy new economic factors. There are a lot of dynamics and contradictions will bring new era and I doubt to be same old business as usual. I think oppositions are essential to survival and the regime but the regime is not paying attention to this point. At one point of time, the regime will create fake oppositions to act according to his rule as he has done always.

What ever the regime will do it is all going to depends on the neighbors folding events and especially the east. They are fooling themselves by saying that they are affection events in the area; they are reacting to events in the area. Observer is correct on this.

The regime base for holding power might phase out by time since his strategic symbols are breaking down. Just consider the threes symbols contributed to holding power for 40 years, (unification, socialist justice and the funny freedom which never born, Wehda Hurria and Ishterakia), they are gone very easy. The new moneyed will have a new confrontation between old and new prosperous moneyed, and the administrations are not adjusting to the new facts to play new rules. Still Mokhabart is running the show.

I see all these groups, the advisors, the critics and the oppositions are forces working jointly to make the change. It is a new age, people can communicate, can reach each other, government and regime is loosing ground and they show daily their lack of ability to deal with this new age.

I see immigrants and their numbers is a force which is not organized and not assembled.
The staggering number of 17 millions inside and 17 millions outside is a worse case than Iraq, but it is brushed by saying Syrian people are adventurers.

This week for example they issue a new law for ownership. It is ridiculous, they want foreigners to come and invest, but the can not make the change necessary grounds to make them come. They are wasting opportunity after opportunity to use like the current high oil prices and the mass of money looking for investment. The law says that investors can own property in Syria, if they obtained residency and they should sell to a Syrian if they want to sell. They are struggling with their own idiocy.

June 20th, 2008, 5:17 pm


Majhool said:


So you are saying it is an existential conflict and even if the opposition attempt to change this reality it will not succeed because the regime does not subscribe to internal pressure no matter how forceful it is.

But if that’s the case, do you think massive unorganized negativity towards the regime (what we have today) helps in accelerating the regime’s demise under some future realities in the world and the region?

June 20th, 2008, 5:32 pm


trustquest said:

I don’t think anyone has a definite knowledge of how things will fold. What I’m saying that all these forces are working to the demise of the regime and to the advantage of reform. Some parts of the opposition who are putting time on change are not smart enough to understand the geopolitical change is taking place.

The regime has worked its way to be ready for the new age of big capitalism as a way to guarantee their position by accumulating humongous amount of money (a lot of them worth tens of billions of dollars, something no one heard of in the history of theft in the country), but they remained short of placing the order for peaceful competitions in all fields. This is like the natural process of each species dug its own grave for the next phase. This is the big mistake which going to harvest them away violently which is on the other hand something no one would love to see.

June 20th, 2008, 5:57 pm


Majhool said:

You siad:
“Some parts of the opposition who are putting time on change are not smart enough to understand the geopolitical change is taking place.”

What do you suggest they do instead?

June 20th, 2008, 6:30 pm


trustquest said:

I think they should gain ground in educational, economical and social movements. The field is open and empty for gathering people around social organization like health, environment and citizenry organization. These organizations can get financial and logistic help from the opposition’s parties to help build these organizations. They can start by gathering information and then give them the right tools to record and recognize defect, fraud and misrepresentation.
I will try to cover this subject more extensively.

June 21st, 2008, 1:19 am


swerv21 said:

im not sure that AIG doesn’t have a point.

but im also not sure that it is helpful to confuse the israeli problem with the syrian problem.

to me the difference is that israeli society has taken on a totally non-indigenous character from that of the palestinians who where living there in before israel’s founding. so even if there was formal recognition of a single state in isreal and the west bank, the difference between most jews in israel and virtually all of the palestinians would be more than sectarian.

but in syria, you have a problem of tensions between people that both indigenous, and more or less ethnically indistinct. it seems to me that the sectarian character of society poses a very different problem from that of the deeper differences in israel/palestine.

so maybe the issue is how do these sectarian problems get worked out in the context of a nominally modern state? seems like van dam, and im geussing landis, doesn’t think that they can.

the other question this begs, and the one that perhaps aig can help answer, is what is the alternative to minority rule in these societies? this is the common thread that runs through both the israeli and syrian dilemma? in both cases we see that power is held by a historically traumatized ethnic minority and in both cases we see that these regimes have had serious problems asserting legitimacy in the broader context of the state and region.

but the isn’t the alternative much worse when the form of the nation-stae itself is at a loss to accomodate these factional and sectarian divides that are an inherent part of the societal context.

is the answer, which is the neocon argument, that we need to restructure these societies, to violently till the soil so that democracy can finally take root?

or is it that we need to redefine the state itself (and perhaps democracy) to make it more able to take root in the context?

in any case, what always been confusing to me about the first argument is how democracy is defined? is it athenian democracy, where the will of the state is deteremined by an elite class of true citizens? or is it something more like switzerland?

ive always suspected that neoconservatives would be very happy defining democracy in the more athenian sense and would be very uncomfortabl with having to explain that implication to the average american. if real democracy is truly about rule by a kind of land-owning elite, then what does that say about how business is conducted in israel, lebanon and even syria today?

if democracy is about one man, one vote then how do you safeguard the rights of the minority in the face of thousands of years of sectarian history?

June 21st, 2008, 3:52 pm


AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

The point is that Asad’s violence is not justifiable just because it is “internal” in some artificial sense. Syria is not an emerging nation. As Van Dam and Landis demonstrate it is just an Alawite fiefdom acquired by force. Since then, forging a nation based on the Baath ideology has failed. Neither has the SSNP ideology found itself attractive to people.

You ask, “if democracy is about one man, one vote then how do you safeguard the rights of the minority in the face of thousands of years of sectarian history”. Well, the Arabs with Israeli citizenship are quite well off relative to the Arabs in Syria and have representation and freedom of speech as well as economic opportunities. They have legitimate grievances but as a start why can’t this be the model for minorities in Syria?

June 21st, 2008, 4:54 pm


swerv21 said:


ah. yes. the arabs with israeli citizenship are indeed quite well off. but they can’t exert any meaningful political power.

let us now consider the arabs without israeli citizenship but who live under de-facto israeli rule.

i would flip the script on your response somewhat.

the question for me is: are the west bank and gaza strip under israeli control despite the veneer of palestinian quasi statehood?
i would submit that they are.

if so, does this population deserve the rights afforded to the arab citizens of israel?

the problem with your question is that the jews of israel do not yet constitute rule by minority unless you accept the fact they do in fact effectively rule the west bank and gaza strip, and by doing so are ruling in a way at least formally similar to the alawite domination of the syrian state.

the minority in question, at least for me, are the israeli jews in the context of the wider political and military power that they excerise over the arabs who threaten to outnumber them.

if israel granted political rights to the palestinians it effectively ruled then wouldn’t would lose its character as a jewish, democratic state?

but isn’t this argument just a fig leaf really? isn’t the truth that the jewish minority is the real power in this corner of the Mediterranean, an area that extends well past borders of israel into lebanese, syrian, jordanian territory?

June 21st, 2008, 10:16 pm


Friend in America said:

We could chat endlessly on what is democracy. Serv 21’s questions and comments should encourage us to do so.
The American experiment is noteworthy because it was the first in the modern era. It is not perfect; things happen that are politically unjust. My measure is not whether discriminating ocurrences happen but how society reacts and how long does it take to correct the wrong.
A group of leading political theorists wrote an article “What is Democracy during the Clinton era. You may find it at:


I have no complaint of Nour’s use of the American civil war as an example of an internal struggle. It was. For sure, there are others – some being waged now. But he mischaracterized the Atlanta to the sea campaign in 1864. That campaign took crops and animals from the slave plantations in a 60 mile wide swath (the Union soldiers did not touch the small farmers or their farms). In the process it freed every slave on every plantation. This campaign destroyed the slave based economy in that part of Georgia. To say not a living creature was left unharmed is inaccurate. President Lincoln is revered not for the deaths in the civil war but for his political rhetoric that formed a new nation out of the divided old. Those statements Americans find inspiring today.
What distinguishes democratic political rule from authoritarian rule is the various political structures that limit the power of the majority, and require accountability from the majority. That is why Israel is in a better position than any country in the ME to make a one state solution successful.

June 27th, 2008, 3:23 am


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