"US Asks NSF to Elect New Leader for Credibility," by Bette Dam - Syria Comment

“US Asks NSF to Elect New Leader for Credibility,” by Bette Dam

Bette Dam, an enterprising German journalist sent the following article on the National Salvation Front meeting in Brussels. It took place on May 13. The NSF is the primary Syrian opposition organization outside of Syria. It was formed a year ago. She writes:

Hi Joshua, Although there might be a lot of news coming from Beirut right now, I send you one interesting (small) detail about the developments in the NSF of Khaddam. Last week they met in Brussels, and I was there too. The meeting was off the record and behind closed doors. Before and after the two meetings I met with members and talked with them about their plans.
All the best, Bette

US Asks the NSF to elect a new leader to obtain credibility
BY Bette Dam
May 19, 2007, Brussels

The American delegation of the National Salvation Front (NSF) proposed that the organization carry out elections of its own in order to choose a new leader. The suggestion caused considerable controversy at the NDF's internal meeting in Brussels (May 13, 2007). According to sources who attended the meeting, Hussam al-Dairi – the representative of the NSF in the US and member of the General Secretariat of the NSF–  explained that US-officials want the NSF to organize elections to try to obtain credibility. Al – Dairi joined the meeting via the telephone.

Abdul Halim Khaddam, the current leader, is too controversial, according to US policy makers, Dairi explained. He served for many years as Syria's vice-president under both Hafiz al-Assad and Bashar al-Assad. He also remains a Ba’athist. Because of Khaddam's background, the US administration is reluctant to work with the NSF, believes it lacks credibility. Around 50 NSF members gathered in a luxurious hotel in Brussels last week in order to plan for their organization's meeting in Berlin on the 4th and 5th of June, which will mark the one-year anniversary of the formation of the NSF.

The US suggestion that the NSF elect a new leader came as a big surprise to the members of the new party. The NSF was the brain-child of Abdel Halim Khaddam, who left Syria with his family in 2005 shortly after being relieved of the office of vice president. Khaddam combined forces with Ali Sadraddin Bayanouni, the exiled leader of the Muslim Brotherhood – Syria's oldest Islamic Party – in order to create a united opposition front that could combine Islamist and secular parties. Only last month, the NSF opened an office in Washington. Most members did not expect a proposal like this, said a number of participants in the meeting.

It seems that Khaddam had not contemplated giving up his position as chairman of the Front. He continues to see himself as the best chairman possible for the NSF. At the same time, Khaddam complained about the lack of international support for the NSF during the meeting, sources said.

He wants more interest from the both the US and the EU because the NSF is Syria's only credible opposition group, members explained. The increasing US and European dialogue with the current “Syrian mafia-regime’ is disappointing, Khaddam added.  

The Kurdish members of the NSF approved of the of idea of elections if it would win increased international credibility for the opposition.

A number of independents and communists who belong to the Front rejected the notion of replacing Khaddam. “On the contrary," one communist insisted, "we need three of four Khaddams to make a fist against the dictator in Syria.”  The participants in the leadership gathering spoke about ‘much more important topics’, added the communist, such as getting more media-attention for the NSF. “For me," he concluded, "the lack of media-attention is the problem, not Khaddam.”

The NSF will try to open a bank account in preparation for raising the one or two million dollars needed to start a satellite channel. “That will be a great revolution for the Syrians in Syria, because then we can reach them," explained one member.

Another way of getting attention is a demonstration by the NSF planned for next week. Although Khaddam did not speak about the demonstration himself, some members talked up the demonstration in the hope that the Syrian opposition will turn out in force on May 27 in front of the Syrian embassy in Brussels. The 27th is the date that the presidential referendum will be held in Syria.

Addendum: Tony, the leader of the NSF's Australian branch, added this perspective in the comment section. Tony asks why I didn't call up leaders of the NSF to get a fuller view of the Brussel's procedings before posting Bette Dam's article. The answer is because I received Bette Dam's interesting article at 2:00a.m. in the morning and posted it. I had to get up at 6:00 for work. Unfortunately I cannot be a full-time reporter. I do hope, at some point to carry out proper interviews with leaders of the NSF in the future. Here are Tony's remarks which give a fuller picture.

tony said:

 

Dear Josh
As a NSF member and its representative to Australasia and I work very closely with Mr Khaddam and the executives I would like to set the record straight about some of the issue in Bette Dam article
1- At that meeting the issue of Mr. Khaddam leadership has never been raised in any shape or form . It was a mere suggestion that after a year we should start applying a democratic methods for our offices as the NSF has rapidly expanded in the last 12 months . this has been agreed to and in our GM in SEPTEMBER all offices will be up for proper election that is includes all members in the executives (which includes Mr. Khaddm and Bayanoni of course)
2- The issue of a “president” type position in the NSF has been resolved in the principles that govern NSF and it is “ NSF is a coalition of all willing participants
Who agree on the three main points
A- change of the regime in Syria
B- free and democratic election
C- a new constitution for Syria the guarantee freedom to its citizens
so the notion of a dominant figure head never been the intended upon the creation
of this body
3- it is always required is in any political movement in exile to gather as much as
possible support and understanding from the international community (and that includes USA) so the insinuation that NSF is an American stooge sounds very funny especially when the administration has not given us till now no more than a token gestures (so far) and as the article writer correctly reported about the fund raising activities we embarking upon for the establishment of the satellite TV station(not a very good news for the regime is it?)
and as always I am happy to supply you with the contact details for MR. Al Dairi
to have his intake on this
and as always I am quite happy to accommodate and request for any meeting with the leader ship (why report this second hand)
and lastly I will have to ask to have this response publish in your site to have the fairness of the right to response adhered to
cheers

Comments (116)


t_desco said:

Potentially important:

Lebanon security forces foil an attempted bombing

Mansouriyieh – The Lebanese security forces were able to foil an attempted bombing of this summer resort village in the Metn region of Mount Lebanon which is about 15 KM from Beirut.

The police stopped the car in which there was one Palestinian and one Egyptian terrorist. In their possession they had a suite case with a bomb inside that was completely wired and ready to be exploded.
Ya Libnan

(my emphasis)

May 22nd, 2007, 7:06 am

 

t_desco said:

More confirmation that Fatah al-Islam was behind the recent bombings:

Fatah al-Islam claims Beirut bombs: statement

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Al Qaeda-inspired Fatah al-Islam militants claimed responsibility on Tuesday for two bombs that rocked Christian and Sunni Muslim districts of Beirut in the last two days and threatened to set Beirut “ablaze” again.

“A group of your heroic jihadist brothers undertook in the last two days … the planting and detonating of two explosive devices in the heart of Beirut,” said the statement which was faxed to Reuters and signed by the media arm of the Fatah al-Islam group.
Reuters

May 22nd, 2007, 7:55 am

 
 

Ziad said:

DJ dont forget to read the non mukhabarati comments !

May 22nd, 2007, 8:30 am

 

DJ said:

Sure Ziad. Thanks for the heads-up.

May 22nd, 2007, 8:52 am

 

idaf said:

Syrian lawyer files papers to run for president
By Duraid Al Baik, Foreign Editor

Dubai: President Bashar Al Assad, who is bracing for a second term in power, may not enjoy an unrivalled referendum if the application of a 46-year-old lawyer to contest the top post is accepted.

But Abdullah Khalil told Gulf News yesterday that he had very little hope of its acceptance because the committee to review his application is headed by the president himself.

He said he did not receive a note from the Regional Command of the Al Baath Party yet. The command is the sole authority that will decide the fate of his application as a presidential candidate.

Under the constitution, he said the regional command of the party, which is chaired by President Bashar, holds the power to nominate presidential candidates in Syria and he hopes that the leaders would throw open the stage for multi-candidate elections in the country. Syria has been ruled by the party since 1963.

Bashar Al Assad, 41, launched his first presidential term some seven years ago following the death of his father Hafez in June 2000, after the amendment of the Syrian constitution was necessitated in order to accomodate a young Bashar at the time.

The late Hafez Al Assad was the first to introduce referendum in 1971 following 14 years of rule by Al Baath revolutionary leaders.

Throughout his 29-year presidency, Bashar’s father was the sole candidate of 5 presidential referendums.

In a telephone interview, Khalil told Gulf News that there were slim chances for his application to be endorsed by the party for the top post, although he believed that such an endorsement would be in the interest of the country and the party.

Legitimacy
“Opening the stage for non-Baathist candidate to take part will help the nation to counter external political pressure and give legitimacy to the current regime. Unrivalled elections are not legitimate means of choosing leaders as they give no indications about the choice of people,” he said.

He said he was counting on the regime to act in a wise manner. “If Bashar wins as a president he will become a legitimate president and if I win, I will work in transforming the the present system into a multi-party system in which Baathists enjoy their full political rights. The party intelligentsia and the regime recognise the dangers in ruling the country the way it used to be ruled in the previous century, and should push for the changes before they are forced upon them,” he said.

Khalil, a father of four children, said although the constitution recognises Al Baath Party as the leader of the nation, it has secured the right of any citizen to run for the top post. “I was trying to utilise that right given to me by the constitution,” he stressed.

“I sent my application to the Regional Command of the party in Damascus with copies to President Bashar in his capacity as the secretary general of the party. Another copy was sent to the speaker of parliament. The application and the copies were sent by DHL on May 12 and handed over the next day to officials in charge at the three institutions. The courier company has supplied me with the names and the signatures of those who received my applications. I am waiting for a official response from the regional command to assess my next step,” he said.

Plans to appeal
Khalil, who is a board member of the country’s national human rights committee, said if the regional command decided to ignore his application he would consider filing a case in the Constitutional Court.

He said he was looking to practise his legitimate right on behalf of every Syrian citizen and rebuffed allegations of looking for publicity. Khalil, who runs a private legal firm in the northern city of Riqqa, 500 km north of Damascus, said his business was hit since he joined the national organisation of human rights. “Since my announcement about my intention to run for president, my old customers have been unwilling to appear with me in court. Some of my colleagues are not willing to talk to me in public.

“I will never regret the move in spite of the difficulties I expect to face. Syria deserves to shift to democracy peacefully and that is what I am trying to do,” he said.

Al Baath party has ruled Syria since 1963

Syria has been ruled by the Al Baath party since 1963 and is due for a change in political system in the country.

Bashar Al Assad, 41, launched his first presidential term some seven years ago following the death of his father Hafez in June 2000, after the amendment of the Syrian constitution was necessitated in order to accomodate a young Bashar at the time.

The late Hafez Al Assad, was the first to introduce a referendum in 1971 following 14 years of rule of Al Baath revolutionary leaders. Throughout his 29-year presidency, Bashar’s father was the sole candidate of five presidential referendums.

May 22nd, 2007, 9:21 am

 

SOURI said:

I also heard that they are preparing a demonstration infront of the syrian embassy in the us and australia soon, does anyone know anything about that?

May 22nd, 2007, 9:26 am

 

tony said:

yes we are having one in australia and new zealand

May 22nd, 2007, 10:21 am

 

tony said:

Dear Josh
As a NSF member and its representative to Australasia and I work very closely with Mr Khaddam and the executives I would like to set the record straight about some of the issue in Bette Dam article
1- At that meeting the issue of Mr. Khaddam leadership has never been raised in any shape or form . It was a mere suggestion that after a year we should start applying a democratic methods for our offices as the NSF has rapidly expanded in the last 12 months . this has been agreed to and in our GM in SEPTEMBER all offices will be up for proper election that is includes all members in the executives (which includes Mr. Khaddm and Bayanoni of course)
2- The issue of a “president” type position in the NSF has been resolved in the principles that govern NSF and it is “ NSF is a coalition of all willing participants
Who agree on the three main points
A- change of the regime in Syria
B- free and democratic election
C- a new constitution for Syria the guarantee freedom to its citizens
so the notion of a dominant figure head never been the intended upon the creation
of this body
3- it is always required is in any political movement in exile to gather as much as
possible support and understanding from the international community (and that includes USA) so the insinuation that NSF is an American stooge sounds very funny especially when the administration has not given us till now no more than a token gestures (so far) and as the article writer correctly reported about the fund raising activities we embarking upon for the establishment of the satellite TV station(not a very good news for the regime is it?)
and as always I am happy to supply you with the contact details for MR. Al Dairi
to have his intake on this
and as always I am quite happy to accommodate and request for any meeting with the leader ship (why report this second hand)
and lastly I will have to ask to have this response publish in your site to have the fairness of the right to response adhered to
cheers

May 22nd, 2007, 10:27 am

 

t_desco said:

Abu Salim Taha denies the earlier claim:

Fatah al-Islam spox denies claim to Beirut bombs

A Fatah al-Islam spokesman said on Tuesday his militant group had nothing to do with two Beirut bombings for which a statement in the group’s name had earlier claimed responsibility.

“We have no link to the attacks in Ashrafiyeh and (Verdun),” Abu Salim, Fatah al-Islam’s spokesman, told Reuters referring to the Christian and Sunni Muslim districts in Beirut where the attacks took place on Sunday and Monday, killing one.
Reuters

As’ad AbuKhalil quoting New TV and Ghassan Bin Jiddu on the nationalities of killed Fath-Al-Islam fighters: “Lebanese, Yemenis, Algerians, Tunisians, and Saudis” (New TV), “Lebanese, Saudis, Tunisians, Syrians, Afghans” (Al-Jazeera).

May 22nd, 2007, 10:39 am

 

t_desco said:

Some good analysis on the Counterterrorism Blog (!), of all places:

Fatah al-Islam: Al-Qaida or Not? An Inside Look
Evan Kohlmann

For a good laugh, see the articles by Walid Phares on the same site.

May 22nd, 2007, 12:59 pm

 

t_desco said:

More evidence that Fatah al-Islam is genuine:

Campaign Across Jihadist Forums to Support Fatah al-Islam and the Mujahideen in Lebanon as Fighting Escalates in Nahr al-Bared and Tripoli
SITE Institute

May 22nd, 2007, 2:38 pm

 

Atassi said:

Tony
If you are talking about gaining credibility, I can tell you one important factor. Having Mr. Al Dairi as the Head of the NSF office head in DC Is not very credible move. I am sure “100%” Syrians in DC or any other place in the USA upon reviewing Mr Al Dairi resume “ and his father history” No one will be very impressed. Please stop installing losers, none credible, opportunistic individuals as to represent of the oppositions. Please stop these Shameful acts. You are not better then the dictator in Damascus.

May 22nd, 2007, 2:45 pm

 

someone said:

First of all, I would like to note that anything with the name Khadam in it, will not give any hope of change. Even if he (that is Khadam) steps back, his membership in NSF, by itself, will blow any credibility to the Front.
Second, could any one explain the Ibrahim Suliman thing????????
This person couldn’t have gone to Israel and did what he have done with out some kind of a green light form Damascus!!!!!!!! And now they are prosecuting him!!!!!!! Is there an explanation????????

May 22nd, 2007, 2:58 pm

 

majedkhaldoun said:

upon reviewing Mr Al Dairi resume “ and his father history” No one will be very impressed. Please stop installing losers, none credible, opportunistic

Atassi:
please tell us detail about Aldairi,and his father

May 22nd, 2007, 3:24 pm

 

Atassi said:

Majed,
I don’t have anything handy written on the Al Dairi family roots and tie to Syria. But I will
Try to come up with something on this subject.
Please check the link below form Joe Pace

http://faculty-staff.ou.edu/L/Joshua.M.Landis-1/syriablog/2006/01/syrian-opposition-gather-in-us-by-joe.htm

May 22nd, 2007, 3:57 pm

 

Ziad said:

There is no 30 solutions to the problem.
The palestinian refugies of lebanon and syria should be granted the syrian nationality ,this is a muslim and arab duty and i’m sure it will happen sooner or later.

May 22nd, 2007, 4:30 pm

 

Observer said:

I am sorry but any group that includes Mr. Khaddam in it has zero credibility in the eyes of the vast majority of people in both Syria and Lebanon. He is and was a prime mafiosi.

May 22nd, 2007, 4:31 pm

 

norman said:

ziad , how about the lebanese or the saudi nationality.?.

May 22nd, 2007, 4:39 pm

 

Innocent_Criminal said:

Seymore Hersh is on CNN saying that the Lebanese and American governments helped Fateh Al Islam via Saudi covertly. That the Bush administration is creating “Fitna” between Sunnis and Shiaá by supporting the Sunni groups in the region and in the case of Fateh Al Islam they are supported them because they are against Hizbullah. That Hizbullah DEFEATED Israel last summer and that it doesnt make sense for Syria to support a Salafi anti HA group such as Fateh Al Islam.

May 22nd, 2007, 4:41 pm

 

Ziad said:

Norman,as u know Syria has become a hub for all these people.

May 22nd, 2007, 4:47 pm

 

Ziad said:

Fateh Islam Vs Hezballah is not credible from Hersh

May 22nd, 2007, 4:52 pm

 

G said:

Riiiiiight, so let me get this straight, because apparently your level of brilliance well surpasses human capacity, so now Hariri is killing, with US and Saudi blessing, the same people that he’s funding with US and Saudi blessing in order to fight Hezbollah!? A fitna between sunnis and shias!? Fateh al-Islam is Sunni, and it’s being fought by Sunnis!

Do you realize how stupid you and that fool hersh sound? But then again, what could one expect…

May 22nd, 2007, 4:56 pm

 

t_desco said:

“Fatah al-Islam” officially came into being on November 29, 2006, but could it be that its members had operated inside Lebanon under a different name well before that date:

“It seems that they tried to be implanted in Chatila camp in its periphery one year ago (they were all weird persons with long beards and various nationalities: Bangladesh, Afghan, Saudis, Yemenis and many others), however the inhabitants kicked them out.”
As’ad AbuKhalil quoting a “person in Lebanon who knows the refugee camps in Lebanon more than anybody else”

Alleged Al-Qaeda statement warns Sabra, Shatila

Friday, January 13, 2006

BEIRUT: “We have been trying hard to enter the Sabra and Shatila camp, which is considered the symbol of Palestinian camps in Lebanon … Since this camp needs reform, you have to take these warnings seriously, because today we warn but tomorrow we will liquidate dozens of people,” a statement issued by an Al-Qaeda military faction in Lebanon said Thursday.

The statement was distributed in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camp and was signed by the “Black Leopards: Al-Qaeda Military Faction in Lebanon.”

“We warn Lebanese government officials against interfering in the refugee camp; do not make orphans of your children and widows of your wives,” the statement said.

“We warn the women who leave the camp for places of prostitution in Hamra or who work for Lebanese and foreign security bodies; those will be liquidated by gunshots,” it said.

The statement also said alcohol shops and pharmacies which sell anesthetic medicine will be detonated and their owners murdered.

“Our suicide bombings will target all the United Nations buildings inside and outside the camp, as well as agents such as [Palestinian officials] Abbas Zaki and Khaled Aref and several foreign embassies,” the statement added.

“We warn [Saudi Prince] Walid bin Talal against entering the camps,” it said.

“Our attacks will also target immoral religious men who stole our money, as well as Lebanese security officers who took advantage of our brothers,” the statement added.

But camp residents such as Palestinian Nabil Shreh reject the statement. “The residents of Sabra and Shatila rise above such statements,” he said. “I believe those who wrote the statement are strangers; they do not belong to the camp.”
The Daily Star

May 22nd, 2007, 5:55 pm

 

tony said:

Attasi
Enlighting us about Mr. Dairi father what about the rest of our fathers do have any thing about mine too?
You simply making me sick mate

May 22nd, 2007, 6:12 pm

 

t_desco said:

You see that the statement by the “Black Leopards: Al-Qaeda Military Faction in Lebanon” contained a threat against Walid bin Talal.

Several months later there was a series of attacks in Beirut, including one against an office belonging to the headquarters of the charity foundation of the Saudi billionaire. The attacks were reportedly carried out by a “Syrian-Palestinian-Lebanese terrorist organization” hiding “in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in Beirut and Ain al-Hilweh in Sidon”:

Fatfat says tighter security will last until end of year

Saturday, October 28, 2006

The security clampdown comes after four separate attacks in the capital that targeted two ISF barracks in Verdun and Corniche el-Mazraa, a commercial building downtown and an affluent neighborhood in Ramlet el-Baida that houses the residences of the Saudi and UAE ambassadors to Lebanon.

The same security source said the “extensive ongoing-investigation” into the attacks have led to the arrest of three members of a Syrian-Palestinian-Lebanese terrorist group.

The detainees “have given valuable information and named other members of the criminal web who might have taken refuge in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in Beirut and Ain al-Hilweh in Sidon,” the source said.
The Daily Star

May 22nd, 2007, 6:21 pm

 

Atassi said:

The truth sometimes makes other people sick for sure. Please don’t shoot the messenger and do your homework diligently. This is a matter of a national interest.
Again, don’t be fooled, they are the remnant of the older version of the regime. No credibility, they have NO integrity, and honesty is not something they deal with….

May 22nd, 2007, 7:57 pm

 

DJ said:

G said:
what could one expect…

Expect you out of here maybe?

May 22nd, 2007, 8:23 pm

 

t_desco said:

Seymour Hersh on CNN (as mentioned by Tarek):

Hersh: Bush administration arranged support for militants attacking Lebanon
The Raw Story

Another interesting question: will this incident be used to “reform” the Lebanese army (the White House would certainly like to see it being transformed into an instrument that can be used against Hizbullah, in accordance with the thinking described by Seymour Hersh in the interview above) and to strengthen the Internal Security Forces? –

U.S. mulls military funding plea from Lebanon

The United States said on Tuesday it was considering an urgent request from Lebanon for more U.S. military aid to battle Islamist militants and warned Syria against meddling in its neighbor’s affairs.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Lebanon’s government had asked for the additional funds as fighting intensified in recent days but he declined to name an amount or predict when a decision would be made on the request.
Reuters

May 22nd, 2007, 8:30 pm

 

zenobia said:

Hersh was writing about this phenomenon months ago, and he certainly is no ‘fool’. The man has been in places and talked to more people who would know than any and all of us here combined. This type of american behavior is old old old. and the USA is so far backed into a corner with Iraq that anything to combat iranian influence , including fomenting the emergence of violent entities that ultimately come back and bite…. is within the classic MO of fine intelligence actors of the USA. why is this hypocricy so hard to believe? just because it is ultimately so ridiculously foolish?…
america is playing a blind hand of poker… a manipulation game of risk…. one that might blow up ..literally…. in everyone’s face. And i am sure if the Saudis go along with it…they do so only in the hope that that it won’t go on for long and they dont’ have to show their own hand…but i am sure they are very nervous….

May 22nd, 2007, 9:39 pm

 

t_desco said:

Pakistan:

“Dawoud, who left the camp with his wife and six children during a temporary truce Tuesday, said the militants came in small groups and eventually included Palestinians as well as fighters from Lebanon, Pakistan, Jordan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.”
AP

Somalia:

“A senior Lebanese military official said the group was well-trained and included fighters from Somalia, Yemen, Algeria and Syria, some of whom may have fought in Iraq or Afghanistan.”
Financial Times

Bangladesh:

“Khoder Taleb, 36, the regional manager for Lebanon’s civil defense forces, said Fatah al-Islam had “hundreds” of fighters and that many were foreign. Two bodies, which reporters were not allowed to see, were burned virtually beyond recognition, but their identity papers said they were Bangladeshis, said Taleb.”

Sudan:

“He said he could tell from their accents that one was from Saudi Arabia, one was from Yemen and one was Sudanese.”
San Francisco Chronicle

What? No Morroccans, Chechens or Uzbeks…?

May 22nd, 2007, 10:33 pm

 

EHSANI2 said:

Over the past two posts, many commentators have argued the case for and against a Syrian connection to Fatah-Al-Islam.

Those who argue that Syria had helped arm and dispatch this group to the camps refer to the fact that one of their leaders was released from Syrian prison not long ago. Moreover, Mr. Al-Absi was released when Jordan had already sentenced him to death for killing Mr. Foley. If this story is correct, it represents a strange and rare slip by the Syrian security system. Stranger still of course is the hiring policy of Lebanon’s Sunni leadership.

DJ,

I had already seen the article that you linked on Mr. Dardari.
As I had argued before, it would be so much more efficient if Mr. Dardari were to release the source data that he is using to make his claims. Incidentally, the IMF had just published a fine document on the recent performance of the region’s economies. To be sure, they are all experiencing a boom even outside the oil sector. Unfortunately, The IMF’s estimate of Syria’s growth do not happen to match those of Mr. Dardari’s

May 22nd, 2007, 11:03 pm

 

norman said:

MSNBC.com
Ehsani, This will put a smile on your face , I hope.

——————————————————————————–
In America’s Image
Even Washington no longer pushes the Washington consensus, yet belatedly, it’s catching on in the Middle East.
By Stephen Glain
Newsweek International
May 14-21, 2007 issue – You wouldn’t think of it as a bastion of economic liberalism. But in the last few years, Syria, Washington’s archnemesis and the final, symbolic frontier of Baath Party socialism, has swung open its once shuttered economy with a neoliberal flourish. Where once there were only risk-averse, state-run banks, private lenders are now doing a brisk trade. New investment laws are stimulating foreign direct investment and a simplified tax code is boosting state revenues. Interest rates are low, and a stock market is slated to open in August. The result: 5.6 percent GDP growth this year, up from 5.1 percent in 2006. “For the first time in decades, the Syrian economy is open,” says Jihad Yazigi, editor of the economic bulletin the Syria Report.

Damascus may have strained ties with Washington, but it has no qualms with the Washington consensus—the formerly fashionable free-market formula for developing-country growth celebrated during the Clinton era. The consensus, which basically touts free trade, low taxes and privatization as the way to economic success, has fallen on hard times recently—not only have Russia, Latin America and Southeast Asia turned away from it, but even the United States is upping public spending and eschewing free trade as a protectionist mentality takes hold globally.

Yet, oddly, the brand of economic neoliberalism that once defined the consensus has found a home in the Middle East. Syria’s success echoes similar makeovers from Morocco, which is trying to diversify away from its large agricultural sector, to Iran, which is engaged in a low-key, but broad, privatization drive.

It is the region’s latest big idea; during the cold war, it embraced the kind of populist socialism now in vogue among such developing nations as Venezuela, Russia and Thailand and got nothing but economic stagnation and massive deficits in return. Now, a younger generation of Western-educated leaders are betting on their own interpretation of the Washington consensus to turn the economic tide.

That’s good news for consensus supporters like the World Bank and, in particular, the IMF, which is struggling to find new lending opportunities now that so many of its clients have paid off their emergency borrowings. While the fund isn’t preparing any loans in the Middle East and has no permanent office there, it is circulating advisory teams throughout the region with growing regularity. Meanwhile, Joseph Saba, the World Bank’s director of Middle East and North African affairs, has found his dance card suddenly full. “The number of senior officials who are keen to modernize and reform the economy is growing,” he says. “They are seeking the best international advice they can get, including from the World Bank, and then applying it to the Syrian situation.”

Consider the Arab world’s two most powerful economies, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, both of which averaged 5.5 percent growth over the last three years. In Cairo, the government has floated the Egyptian pound, liberalized the tax code and reduced customs tariffs. Foreign direct investment is expected to reach $7.8 billion this year, up from $5.4 billion just two years ago, owing to relaxed investment laws. Companies nationalized under socialist strongman Gamal Abdel Nasser are being restructured for divestment. Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, has invested some of its petroleum profits to reduce its domestic debt to 28 percent of GDP, down from its peak of 120 percent. A mortgage law is currently working its way through the legislature, and last October the central bank granted the kingdom’s first licenses for private insurance companies. Last year, the country ranked 38th on the World Bank’s list of 175 best countries for business, up from 67th just two years ago.

So what drove these countries—until only a few years ago, backwaters of the global economy—to adopt the agenda the rest of the world now rejects? Perilous demographics. The number of adults entering the work force in most Arab countries is growing at 3 to 4 percent a year, well above the global average. Arab governments realized they could never find enough jobs for such a young work force without opening their economies to foreign investment and modern banking practices.

The region’s fraternity of new leaders is also far more accommodating of change than its predecessors. Saudi King Abdullah, who assumed the throne in 2005, has surrounded himself with U.S. -trained reformers. In Egypt, the economics ministries are headed by young, Western-trained officials who are said to have the backing of Gamal Mubarak, the son and likely heir apparent of President Hosni Mubarak and a former executive at the Bank of America. In Syria, a similar coterie of reform-minded technocrats work with the blessing of the country’s 43-year-old president, Bashar al-Assad.

The next step for these new leaders will be to take on the third rail of Arab economics—the subsidies on staple goods and services like cooking oil and transportation that can account for up to a third of public spending. Cairo and Damascus have already begun to phase out some price supports, albeit gradually. The challenge is to maintain support of the Arab street. “These reforms are not popular,” says Samir Siefan, a managing partner at Damascus-based consulting firm BDO. “If people were allowed to protest, they would.” Still, success in even one country could have a viral effect across North Africa and the Middle East. That would be a reform effort worthy of its own appellation. Call it the Arab consensus.

© 2007 Newsweek, Inc.
URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/18471910/site/newsweek/page/2/

——————————————————————————–

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© 2007 MSNBC.com

May 23rd, 2007, 1:52 am

 

EHSANI2 said:

Norman,

You are right. Privatization, free markets, phasing out subsidies, lower taxes , less red tape and ditching out socialism is enough to put a smile on my face. Thankfully, the region’s policy makers now seem to agree.

May 23rd, 2007, 2:17 am

 

Ziad said:

see hersh’s interview with hala al gorani on cnn and u will see how this man is ignorant about the middle east.He is only repeating what he was told by nasrallah and the syrian officials in washington,but it’s clear that he didnt learnt these lessons very well.

http://rawstory.com/news/2007/Hersh_Bush_arranged_support_for_militants_0522.html

here is a supreme overwhelming fear of Hezbollah and we do not want Hezbollah to play an active role in the government in Lebanon and that’s been our policy, basically, which is support the Senora government, despite its weakness against the coalition. Not only Senora but Mr. Ahun, former military leader of Lebanon. There in a coalition that we absolutely abhor.

May 23rd, 2007, 2:38 am

 

majedkhaldoun said:

Ehsani said
phasing out subsidies, lower taxes

how low?

May 23rd, 2007, 4:00 am

 

Enlightened said:

The US asks the NSF to elect a new leader! because Khaddam has no credibility? I wonder why this reasoning was not used against Chalabi and his cohorts?

For the good of the Opposition and its supporters, they must come to the realisation that Khaddam is as tainted as the regime he served so loyally and diligently.

Can the Opposition (many commenatators here would not call them that)
not find anyone as their spokes person or Leader who is not tainted by blood, or theft or violence. Any one?

Tony: When is the demonstration infront of the Syrian embassy in Australia, any dates? and how come we havent heard about it being advertised here in Australia? (unless it was broadcast on the Arabic news on SBS?)

May 23rd, 2007, 4:00 am

 

Enlightened said:

Tony got the date apologies

May 23rd, 2007, 4:58 am

 
 

t_desco said:

The Jerusalem Post made the same argument as Ehsani:

“Suspicions regarding Fatah al-Islam center on the fact that Shakir al-Abssi was sentenced in 2003 to three years in prison in Syria after being convicted of plotting attacks inside the country. This was an unusually lenient sentence. By comparison, for example, Syrians suspected of involvement in the Muslim Brotherhood are routinely given 12-year terms.”
JP

Al-Absi himself claims that he was jailed for a different reason (and it’s kind of ironic that he has to contradict the Syrian interior minister…):

“”Fatah al-Islam is one of the groups linked to Al-Qaeda that was unmasked in August 2002 while planning to launch acts of terrorism in Syria,” Interior Minister Baasam Abdel Majid said in March.

Abssi denied Majid’s allegations in an interview with a Lebanese newspaper in the same month.

“I was jailed in Syria, but not over links with Al-Qaeda as he has claimed,” Abssi said. “I was jailed because I was accused of having planned to carry out an operation in the Golan (Syrian territory occupied by Israel), as well as of having carried and smuggled arms into Palestine,” he said.”
AFP

This is the interview in question:
Middle East Times, March 16, 2007

May 23rd, 2007, 7:12 am

 

MSK said:

How much & long is it going to take until people stop citing Sy Hersh as if he’s an authority on MidEast affairs?

He’s brilliant when it comes to U.S. domestic politics, but really out of his depth abroad.

And since he is spinning the data he gets from his sources, he is also becoming suspect to ideologize his stories, a la Michael Moore. His intentions may be good, but it’s a dangerous game that he’s playing.

T_Desco-

why do you find it strange that there are foreign fighters among Fatah al-Islam?

–MSK*

May 23rd, 2007, 7:17 am

 

Mo said:

Any analogy between the events in Nahr el-Bared camp & Hama?

Islamic extremists, innocent civilians caught in the middle, a military siege, etc. etc…
The only difference: publicity. The US was praising the Lebanese military for the “tough battle” yesterday..

Just a quick reflection on the notion of good vs evil. Sounds like history repeats itself, with different names… Don’t forget the battle of Falluja to destroy the insurgency, and the number of civilian casualties.

May 23rd, 2007, 8:13 am

 

idaf said:

Ya MSK, 🙂

Why should people stop citing Hersh? Why wouldn’t you just take Hersh’s words (an undisputedly renowned investigative reporter) at face value at least?

This guy clearly does not have an agenda. Unlike all Arab “reporters” in the ME, he does not work for a newspaper that’s funded by any of the parties involved in this mess. He has nothing to gain from investigating and writing about this mess (maybe other than receiving another Pulitzer Prize for discovering more facts). In addition, he knows that whatever he writes in The New Yorker gets scrutinized and fact-checked, so –unlike say Michael Young- he has to be relentless in his fact-finding and not go behind his wishful thinking. He has an almost perfect track-record of getting it right in his reports in contradiction with the mainstream thinking and media at the time (Few examples: the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, Mordechai Vanunu and Israel’s nuclear arsenal, the make-up of Iraq’s WMDs lies, the Abu Ghraib prison horrors, the pre-planned war on Lebanon last summer, etc. etc.) I have a strong hunch that the Hariri affair will be added to this list eventually.

So please don’t undermine your credibility by continuously trying to discrediting him just because he is trying to find the truth and not blindly following stereotypes fed by the mass (and mostly biased) Arab media sources.

May 23rd, 2007, 8:57 am

 

t_desco said:

MSK,

you completely missed the point I was trying to make, notably that the truly international character of the Fatah al-Islam membership is a good argument against it being a creation of (or receiving orders from) Syrian intelligence. Frankly, it looks more like al-Qa’ida proper: so far we have seen reports of its members being

– Algerians
– Tunisians
– Egyptians
– Sudanese
– Somalis
– Lebanese
– Syrians
– Palestinians
– Jordanians
– Saudis
– Yemenis
– Afghans
– Pakistanis
– Bangladeshis

Many interesting articles today, e.g.:

A Newsweek interview with Bernard Rougier (note that he is much more cautious in his assessments than the reporter) –

Lebanon’s New War(s)
Newsweek

A good summary by Robert Fisk who poses interesting questions about the relationship between Fatah al-Islam and Jund al-Sham –

Robert Fisk: The road to Jerusalem (via Lebanon)
Independent

May 23rd, 2007, 9:35 am

 

MSK said:

Ya T_Desco,

mea culpa. I misunderstood you. As I said in a comment on a different post, my own #1 guess is that Fatah al-Islam is a self-organized Islamist group. And we all know that it originated as an “unhappy” Fatah Intifada faction. However, FI being Al-Qaeda-esque doesn’t automatically mean that the Syrian intelligence has NOT infiltrated it.

Ya IDAF,

Sy Hersh’s article on the MidEast was full of holes & had been pulled apart by the area specialists. My Lai etc. were DOMESTIC issues & (as I keep saying) he is brilliant at those. The thing with the “pre-planned war” last summer is also wrong – and we all know that. You can read the Winograd Report yourself …

AGAIN – Hersh is great about AMERICAN issues/topics (& that includes Abu Ghraib) but he simply doesn’t know enough to write about the Middle East. And lest he educates himself, as a responsible journalist he better stick to what he’s good at.

I can’t “discredit” him re: MidEast issues. In this realm, he has no credit to begin with. He would have to build up credibility – and so far he’s not doing a good job.

–MSK*

May 23rd, 2007, 10:35 am

 

ausamaa said:

“US Asks the NSF to elect a new leader to obtain credibility ”

Who says the Bush Admin is not trying to learn from its mistakes in Iraq? Obviously they do not want to repeat the Chalabi fiasco somewhere else. But they are still not trying hard enough. A coherent and serious opposition movement is non-existant in Syria today. So, finding a more credible NSF leader would serve no purpose whatsoever.

Anyway, you have to give the Bush Team A for EFFORT. They are still not giving up on an NSF that does not have credibility even by their own standards. I suppose this the only “Opposition” they can find! Again, they deserve another A+ for OPTIMISM.

May 23rd, 2007, 10:45 am

 

idaf said:

MSK,

And who are those “area specialists” you are referring to exactly? Raghida Dirgham? Michael Young? Please.

So basically, you disagree with what her writes on Lebanon (not the ME). In your words, he’s brilliant when he writes on US foreign policy and adventures (Vietnam). He’s brilliant when he investigates on Israel (Vanunu) and Iraq (the WMDs and Abu Ghreib). But not when it comes to Lebanon? Everything that’s happening in Lebanon is very much interrelated to Israel, Iraq and of course the US foreign policy. So I find it really weird that you think that he has “no credibility” on the ME. It is one thing that you disagree with him, but please stop claiming possession of the ultimate truth about Syro-Lebanese affairs. They are very much intertwined with what’s happening in the rest of the region and beyond. You can only see part of the picture, people like Hersh (with their sources) have a much wider lens to view this mess through.

May 23rd, 2007, 11:02 am

 

MSK said:

IDAF,

since you don’t know me or anything about me, it is rather preposterous for you to make any judgements about me. You don’t know my background, you don’t know where I work, you don’t know who I talk to or what my “lens” is. I don’t make any claims about you, either.

And please also stop trying to put words (or claims on who I think area specialists are) in my mouth. It just makes you look silly.

And at the risk of repeating myself, let me (again) explain to you my take on Sy Hersh:

His work on My Lai, Iraq’s WMD, and Abu Ghreib are DOMESTIC, American issues, not ME issues. The Vanunu piece was about an internal Israeli affair, not a MidEast one.

He didn’t write about Iraq or Jordan or KSA – he wrote about internal US affairs. And he’s very good at it. His piece on ME issues got torn to pieces by experts in the field – from academics to other journalists. And no, I don’t mean Michael Young or Raghida Dirgham.

Now, you can keep not understanding what I write. That’s your prerogative. The only thing I expect from you is to stop putting words into my posts that aren’t there.

–MSK*

May 23rd, 2007, 11:29 am

 

Mo said:

MSK,

I think you should elaborate more on the weaknesses in Sy Hersh’s analysis on the situation in Lebanon instead of repeating he is not a specialist in the field.
Can you please refute his thesis in a more academic fashion?

May 23rd, 2007, 11:49 am

 

idaf said:

MSK,

Here’s where you missed my point:

I think that Lebanon became an internal US affair well before 1559 and even more so after the Hariri crime (thanks to the many Lebanese Zaiims who were persistent in making it so). I trust that you agree that many in this US administration (especially the neo-con wing) are clinging to Lebanon as a last example to show that their doctrine is successful (whatever that means). For many, it’s clear that it’s not about Lebanon, but rather about Israel (Hizballah), Iran and Syria. Lebanon today is almost as much an internal Lebanese issue as Israel is. This is why I see Hersh’s sources (who -you’re right- are mostly internal US sources) are of great relevance and credibility when it comes to Syro-Lebanese affairs.

I’m sorry that you found me “prerogative”, however, I would still appreciate if you would let me know who you consider “area specialist” on the Syro-Lebanese affairs.

May 23rd, 2007, 12:10 pm

 

ausamaa said:

When Sy Hersh published his article about Siniora and little Hariri and their bigger supporters, a lot of people thought the he was exagerating the Takfiri Islamic Myth. Months later, this Myth has become a living nightmare for Lebanon.

So, the man desreves lots of credit for this and for his other superior works. I think some people’s problem with him is that he is not like the cheap Fair Weather Journalists of Feb 14; He can not be bought even by the Bush Admin, neither can he be intimidated, nor is he in search for Gulf rulers’ approval.

May 23rd, 2007, 12:13 pm

 

MSK said:

Mo,

please go back to Josh’s post on the article – you’ll find all the analysis you’re looking for.

IDAF,

sorry – I don’t have the time right now to give an exhaustive list, so I’ll also have to refer you to that post of a few months ago. Sy certainly has access to & understanding of American sources, but not local MidEast ones (ya’nii IF he can access them he is not regional expert enough to really contextualize & understand them).

AUSAMAA,

I never said that Sy Hersh can be bought. I never would, because I know he can’t. My (& other people’s) issue with his spring article was that it had many holes & it wasn’t clear just who his sources were.

Now, in general: Do I think that the current US admin would be so stupid & think that it could instigate Sunni Islamists in Lebanon against Hizbollah? Of course I do.

As for the timing of this incident – I personally think that it might very well have been coincidence. Some FI guys rob a bank to get $$$ … the ISF is in pursuit … then the shoot-out at the house in Tripoli … leading to the Nahr al-Bared fight. No relation to the Hariri Tribunal or the Syrian regime.

That’s my educated guess.

–MSK*

May 23rd, 2007, 12:52 pm

 

idaf said:

Ehsani said:

“Incidentally, the IMF had just published a fine document on the recent performance of the region’s economies. To be sure, they are all experiencing a boom even outside the oil sector. Unfortunately, The IMF’s estimate of Syria’s growth do not happen to match those of Mr. Dardari’s”

I think that you would agree Ehsani that IMF’s figures are not holy. You can dispute Dardari’s figures, but the IMF’s “estimates” on countries that are not indebted to it and do not follow its guidelines and recommendations are to say the least, biased. The IMF and the World Bank have vested interest in portraying countries that follow their guidelines and recommendations as successful as possible. The same way, they have vested interest in drawing a picture as dark as possible for countries that do not follow their guidelines. Let’s take the famous Asian Tigers’ example. Malaysia snubbed the IMF and the World Bank at the time of the economic crisis last century, while the rest of the “Tigers” followed those guidelines to get out of the crisis back then. Eventually, Malaysia was the best performer and recovered remarkably and now witnessing a healthy boom, where the many of the rest of the ex-Tigers are still recovering till this day.

I’m assuming that with “fine document” you are referring to is the “World Economic Outlook” report that was published a month ago . The report had very conservative estimates for Syria’s real GDP (only 3.0% increase in 2006). In contrast it gave raving estimates for the “moderate” Arab states, such as Jordan and Egypt who follow the IMF’s guidelines and debt handling guidelines religiously. Even “moderate Lebanon” got an estimate of 1% despite all its problems last year.

I have recently worked closely with the authors of one of those “fine” documents (not the IMF but an equally renowned NGO). The authors (who are renowned academics) were frank with me on how they saw the credibility of such reports (when it comes to certain countries), how the indicators were designed and who conducts the assessments and forecasting. In the words of one of those authors: “the information in the report is helpful but not true”. Many indicators are dubiously designed and when it comes to countries that the organizations such the IMF don’t have as much access to, the authors prefer to “create” their own numbers (estimates) rather than research more. The IMF’s (and similar NGOs’) estimates are vastly subjective. Moreover, the authors admitted that the actual work on the data is done by fresh graduates and interns (not specialists in political economy and econometrics). The big names write the analysis and papers based on this data provided by the junior researchers.

In conclusion, when it comes to countries such as Syria, I would say that Dardari’s figures are closer to the realities on the ground and more factual in comparison to the IMF or the World Bank’s “estimates”.

May 23rd, 2007, 2:01 pm

 

Atassi said:

A friend just returned form Syria and he told me a story about Mr Rami Makhlouf is soliciting contributions form the Syrian businessmen community with minim of 250K Syrian pound to build the largest Flag “ syrian flag” in the World with a cost of 750M Syrian pound. It will feature Dr. Bashar picture in it.
Can someone please STOP this nonsense madness and wasted resources? I am sure this kind of money could be used for a much much noble cause…

May 23rd, 2007, 2:30 pm

 

majedkhaldoun said:

MSK said:
leading to the Nahr al-Bared fight. No relation to the Hariri Tribunal or the Syrian regime.

That’s my educated guess.

Educated NO
guess yes
too early to say that yes
would you be kind enough to tell us about who you are, and your background?

May 23rd, 2007, 2:42 pm

 

MSK said:

MK,

sorry, can’t do. But Josh & Alex & Rime can vouch for me. 😉

–MSK*

May 23rd, 2007, 2:45 pm

 

idaf said:

According to The Syria Report, Syria’s foreign trade tops the USD 20 billion mark
“Syria’s total foreign trade volume rose to USD 20 billion in 2006, an annual increase of 12 percent, according to preliminary estimates from the Central Bureau of Statistics.
..
..
More significantly, Syrian exports are less dependent on crude oil, which now represents only 40 percent of total exports from 65 percent on average in the last decade.

The rest of the article here.

And Ehsani,
These economic experts seem to agree with Dardari’s figures.

May 23rd, 2007, 3:17 pm

 

Ziad said:

Smug in Damascus

BY NIBRAS KAZIMI
May 21, 2007
URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/54884

Why are dictatorships so keen on going through the motions of a democratic process? This is an especially pressing question to ponder in a country like Syria that held a parliamentary election on April 23 and is due to hold a presidential referendum — not an actual election but rather a show of support for President al Asad — on May 27.

Over a two-week period, and while traveling throughout Syria, I could not find a single person who had voted for the parliament. Granted, my sample of the population was rather limited and could not have exceeded 40 persons. But they were much varied: a bookshop owner, a hip musician, a peasant hauling a bag of wild thyme that he’d just picked off the mountainside and was taking back to his village. These persons belonged to various religions and sects and locales, and yet none had voted or knew of someone who did.

One professor, a member of the ruling Baath Party that expectedly swept the majority of seats, admitted that a colleague of his did vote but only because he had a pending application for a promotion and did not want any act of civic irresponsibility to blotch his record of toeing the line that may put his career in jeopardy.

Based on my casual observation, I’d snidely say that more paper was used in printing up candidate paraphernalia such as posters and fliers than in actual ballots cast. But does nitpicking over voter turnout really matter in a country like Syria? Doesn’t the debate itself about voter turnout give some measure of credibility to the purpose of a sham electoral process, which in a dictatorship such as the one in Syria is to give the regime the result it planned for?

So why go to all this trouble for a exercise that no one, whether inside the country or observing it from afar, would believe as genuine?

Dictatorships do this because they can. It is done to rub everyone’s face in the fact that they — the ruling clique — are in charge and nothing can be done to change that. And the Syrian leadership is flexing this fait accompli these days with a certain amount of relish and smugness. The Asad regime believes that it has weathered the worst of the democratic storm unleashed by the Bush administration on the Middle East and that it is now time to draw in a deep breath and celebrate.

It’s been seven years since Bashar al-Asad took over the helm in place of his deceased father, Hafez al-Asad, who had ruled for three decades after leading a coup d’etat in 1970. The referendum later this month is to pave the way for another seven-year term. One his first referendum in 2000, the younger Asad received 97.2% of the “yes” vote.

However, Mr. al-Asad faced a considerable challenge to his absolute rule ever since America’s Congress took the lead and passed the Syrian Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act in December 2003 that imposed the three year stretch sanctions seeking to punish Syrian bad behavior at home and in Lebanon. These sanctions are due for a one year extension this month.

This American challenge was further emboldened when President Bush made the policy of bringing democracy to the Middle East — the projected hallmark of his second term and a move that many thought would specifically put Syria in the hot seat.

But the flames of insurgency in Iraq, and political paralysis and hints of an impending civil war in Lebanon, coupled with a change in congressional leadership that brought in one that seems more friendly to the Syrian dictator. Speaker Nancy Pelosi chit-chatted with Mr. al Asad in Damascus in early April and has all but stymied any such talk of a fundamental political change in Syria.

The Syrian regime has done much to bring about this result. In the very least, it turned a blind eye to the jihadists using Syria as their main conduit to Iraq, and it operated all the levers at its disposal — mostly in a gauchely sectarian manner — to bring Lebanon to the brink of constitutional failure. It then pointed to these two regional hot spots to scare the Syrian populace into equating American-inspired democracy with suicide bombers and sectarian strife: “You wouldn’t want this to happen to your kids as they head to school on the streets of Damascus, would you?” the regime’s cynical and intimidating refrain says.

To drive home the point that the American cavalry ain’t coming to rescue anyone from oppression, the Syrian regime went on a spree of dolling out severe sentences to democratic and human rights activists in recent weeks, at times purposely timing court orders with the visits of isolation-breaking international dignitaries. These draconian measures are replete with oddly-phrased crimes like “weakening the national sentiment” — something that will put you away for three years, minimum. When hearing this on TV, one quick-witted fellow leaned over and remarked, “aren’t the potholes in our streets delightful? Why do these intellectuals fuss over things so much and weaken our sentiments?”

There is a very decent man who I had met over several visits to Syria, yet I cannot reveal anything about him: not his profession, not his location, and certainly not his name. Syria is still a country where one looks over one’s shoulder with every pronouncement, even though freedoms may have improved slightly during the last seven years. But it is also clear that there is a rapid regression of a “democratic process” as the Asad regime believes that the American pressure is off.

This person, who must remain anonymous, found this out the hard way: he was recently hauled back to the same prison in which he spent many weeks in the 1980s for political activism of a Communist variety. Time and wisdom had turned him into a liberal democrat who had openly embraced Mr. Bush’s plan as the only remedy for Syria and the region.

Now, he found himself repeatedly being handcuffed, questioned, and harassed. He asked me to deliver this message: “We are on our own here and we look forward to help.” He is one of the last pockets of hope in an otherwise bleak landscape.

As the parliamentary posters peel off, Damascus is again being spruced up with a new advertising blitz: a Syrian flag is superimposed on a thumb print, with a Syrian accented Arabic word printed underneath, “minhibek,” meaning “we love you.” This will ostensibly be the message the Syrian people will send to their leader, Mr. Bashar, on referendum day when they vote “yes” for extending another seven year term. Yet, a cynic may recognize the wavy Syrian flag with its two stars as the uncanny depiction of an unhappy face, and may misread the word in an Iraqi accent to mean the opposite: “manhibek” — we don’t love you. But the country is rife with cynicism as it is, so what use is there to add to it? Would it change the dread that I have that the next time I call upon my friend I’ll find out that he’s been thrown in jail for “weakening the national sentiment?”

The referendum will be covered by news agencies with the usual deliberations over voter turnout and other trivial statistics. The regime’s all-important message of “we can do whatever we want and you can’t do anything about it” will be implicit and understood by all, yet again. Sadly, it won’t be challenged, neither in Syria nor abroad — the regime knows this now with certainty and can afford to be smug about its prospects.

May 23rd, 2007, 3:24 pm

 

EHSANI2 said:

IDAF,

“when it comes to countries such as Syria, I would say that Dardari’s figures are closer to the realities on the ground and more factual in comparison to the IMF or the World Bank’s “estimates”.”

So, we are are not supposed to believe the the IMF because they are biased but instead believe Mr. Dardari because he is “closer to the realities on the ground”?

What you wrote is typical of the ill informed IMF/World bank bashers.

http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/reo/2007/mcd/eng/mreo0507.pdf

As the above makes it clear on page 2, the views expressed in these documents are those of the contributors from the Middle East and Central Asia departments. In addition to the six contributors, country desk economists, research assistants, and mission chiefs worked on this paper.

To believe what you said is to believe that all these individuals are involved in a conspiracy against Syria in particular. In the meantime, and while you make your claim against these individuals, you want us to believe that Mr. Dardari is more believable because he is “closer to the realities on the ground”?

From a person that worked at one of these “biased” organizations once, let me put put it as best (and civil) as I can:

IDAF,

You don’t know what you are talking about.

When Mr. Dardari posts his raw data and shows me how he calculated that the country’s unemployment rate is at 8.5%, I will come here and offer you and him a public apology

May 23rd, 2007, 3:35 pm

 
 

Atassi said:

Ehsani,
I agree with your assessments. Please keep in mind. Syria is “more then any other time” working closely with the IMF. Whoever, I do respect Mr. Dardari for the good economical PR campaigning work tasked to him.

May 23rd, 2007, 3:53 pm

 

idaf said:

Ehsani,

First, don’t take it personal. I noticed this “blind loyalty issue” with most World Bankers I’ve met. They like to bash the UN and swear by the figures in the IMF, WEF and WB reports. Criticizing the IMF is not a personal criticism towards you Ehsani. 🙂

From a personal experience, this self-righteousness and positivist mindset is prevalent among World Bankers and IMFers I’ve met. They tend to ignore the subjectivity of their data (how, who and in what context it was gathered under for example)?

Ehsani,
It’s no conspiracy against Syria! I never implied that it was! Moreover, I’m not “bashing” the IMF; I’m just noting the subjectivity of the authors estimates when it comes to countries that the IMF has no realistic knowledge of.. countries that do not function under capitalist norms or market economy (such as Syria). Most indicators and benchmarking methods used by the IMF and the WB bear results closer to reality when it comes to countries with open markets and transparent governments. When it comes to a country such as Syria (and several others), the story is different. For example, you are clearly asking Dardari to release the raw data, indicating that the IMF did not have access to this raw data as well and estimated it mostly based on its earlier reports.

I’m not saying that Dardari’s figures are to be taken as they are! All I’m saying that the credibility of the figures in such reports are equally (if not more) disputable as official ones in such countries. Personally, I believe that –in Syria’s case- the real figures are somewhere in between those of the WB/IMF/WEF and that of Syria’s government (and probably closer to the Syrian official ones). I understand if from your IMF point view, you would find this hard to agree with.

May 23rd, 2007, 4:23 pm

 

norman said:

Optimistic numbers are good for the Syrian spirit and gives them more push to work harder.

May 23rd, 2007, 5:02 pm

 

Atassi said:

المحترم
تحية طيبة وبعد
لقد سبق ان تقدمت بأوراق ترشيحي الى القيادة القطرية في سورية وذلك للمنافسة على منصب رئاسة الجمهورية في سورية , كما أرسلت لسيادتكم صورة عن الطلب , وكذلك صورة اخرى الى رئيس مجلس الشعب السوري , جميعها أرسلت بواسطة البريد السريع وتم استلامها وفق الاصول بتاريخ 13 و14 من الشهر الحالي 2007 , ولم أتلق أي رد من الجهات المرسل اليها الطلب , الا ان واقع الحال يفيد بالسير قدما ً بإتجاه إتمام عملية الاستفتاء وفق الموعد المحدد في 27 /5/2007 مما يفوت علي فرصة الدخول في الانتخابات , هذا الحال دفعني لإرسال هذا الخطاب المفتوح لسيادتكم لما تتمتعون به من صلاحيات دستورية وخاصة خارج انعقاد دورة المجلس واثنائها طالبا التدخل وايقاف عملية الاستفتاء واتاحة الفرصة للتنافس من خلال تنظيم انتخابات رئاسية شفافه وفقا ً للقانون والدستور وتكون مثالا ً يحتذى به في المنطقة ويتجاوز ما وصلت اليه الدول الاخرى وخاصة “موريتانيا ” ويكون مدخلا ً لتقدم البلاد وتطورها من خلال رسم سياسة خارجية تعتمد على انتخابات ديمقراطية ومبنية عليها وتجعل البلاد اكثر صلابة ً في مواجهة اية تحديات وفقا ً للنموذج الفنزويلي, كما تكون مخرجا فعليا ً لأية أزمة , وتكون بداية لنهوض داخلي يجتث الفساد والإفساد من جذوره , واعلان الحرب على الفقر والإفقار , يتم ذلك من خلال مصالحة شاملة مع الذات والأخرين ترتكز على عفو عام أساسه سجناء الحرية والرأي ولايحتوي بطياته نهابي المال العام .
السيد رئيس الجمهورية :
تلك نقاط ارتكاز كانت حافزي الأساسي لتقديم الطلب والدخول الى المنافسة , كل واحدة منها جانب مهم في حياة المواطن العامة والخاصة , مؤكدا ً على طلبي لجهة الترشح وفقا ً للضمانة الدستورية التي تجعل المواطنين السوريين متساوون بالحقوق والواجبات , طالبا ً الاعلان عن قبول طلبي وتحديد موعد جديد للإنتخابات يضمن لي فترة زمنية ممكنة للتعريف ببرنامجي الانتخابي واعطائي الفرصة الكاملة من خلال اجهزة الاعلام السورية , شاكرا ً تعاونكم.
الرقة 22/5/2007
المحامي عبدالله الخليل
ملاحظـــات :
ارسل الخطاب بواسطة البريد المضمون ,رقم التسجيل 357/RR520020667SY تاريخ 23/5/2007 , كماارسل طلب الترشيح بواسطة البريد السريع DHL وتم استلامه بتاريخ 13/5/207 من قبل السيد سليمان مسؤول البريد في القصر الجمهوري , و سلم الطلب الاصلي الى القيادة القطرية مع الوثائق بتاريخ 13/5/2007 للسيد محمد الابراهيم , وسلمت صورة من الطلب الى رئيس مجلس الشعب بتاريخ 14/5/2007 بتوقيع مسؤول البريد السيد جهاد , هذه المعلومات موثقة لدى الشركة الناقلة باعتبار ان الرسائل مؤمن عليها , لم اتلق أي رد رسمي حتى تاريخه

Syrian lawyer files papers to run for president
Gulf news : 22/5/2007
Dubai: President Bashar Al Assad, who is bracing for a second term in power, may not enjoy an unrivalled referendum if the application of a 46-year-old lawyer to contest the top post is accepted.
But Abdullah Khalil told Gulf News yesterday that he had very little hope of its acceptance because the committee to review his application is headed by the president himself.
He said he did not receive a note from the Regional Command of the Al Baath Party yet. The command is the sole authority that will decide the fate of his application as a presidential candidate.
Under the constitution, he said the regional command of the party, which is chaired by President Bashar, holds the power to nominate presidential candidates in Syria and he hopes that the leaders would throw open the stage for multi-candidate elections in the country. Syria has been ruled by the party since 1963.
Bashar Al Assad, 41, launched his first presidential term some seven years ago following the death of his father Hafez in June 2000, after the amendment of the Syrian constitution was necessitated in order to accomodate a young Bashar at the time.
The late Hafez Al Assad was the first to introduce referendum in 1971 following 14 years of rule by Al Baath revolutionary leaders.
Throughout his 29-year presidency, Bashar’s father was the sole candidate of 5 presidential referendums.
In a telephone interview, Khalil told Gulf News that there were slim chances for his application to be endorsed by the party for the top post, although he believed that such an endorsement would be in the interest of the country and the party.
Legitimacy
“Opening the stage for non-Baathist candidate to take part will help the nation to counter external political pressure and give legitimacy to the current regime. Unrivalled elections are not legitimate means of choosing leaders as they give no indications about the choice of people,” he said.
He said he was counting on the regime to act in a wise manner. “If Bashar wins as a president he will become a legitimate president and if I win, I will work in transforming the the present system into a multi-party system in which Baathists enjoy their full political rights. The party intelligentsia and the regime recognise the dangers in ruling the country the way it used to be ruled in the previous century, and should push for the changes before they are forced upon them,” he said.
Khalil, a father of four children, said although the constitution recognises Al Baath Party as the leader of the nation, it has secured the right of any citizen to run for the top post. “I was trying to utilise that right given to me by the constitution,” he stressed.
“I sent my application to the Regional Command of the party in Damascus with copies to President Bashar in his capacity as the secretary general of the party. Another copy was sent to the speaker of parliament. The application and the copies were sent by DHL on May 12 and handed over the next day to officials in charge at the three institutions. The courier company has supplied me with the names and the signatures of those who received my applications. I am waiting for a official response from the regional command to assess my next step,” he said.
Plans to appeal
Khalil, who is a board member of the country’s national human rights committee, said if the regional command decided to ignore his application he would consider filing a case in the Constitutional Court.
He said he was looking to practise his legitimate right on behalf of every Syrian citizen and rebuffed allegations of looking for publicity. Khalil, who runs a private legal firm in the northern city of Riqqa, 500 km north of Damascus, said his business was hit since he joined the national organisation of human rights. “Since my announcement about my intention to run for president, my old customers have been unwilling to appear with me in court. Some of my colleagues are not willing to talk to me in public.
“I will never regret the move in spite of the difficulties I expect to face. Syria deserves to shift to democracy peacefully and that is what I am trying to do,” he said.
Al Baath party has ruled Syria since 1963
Syria has been ruled by the Al Baath party since 1963 and is due for a change in political system in the country.
Bashar Al Assad, 41, launched his first presidential term some seven years ago following the death of his father Hafez in June 2000, after the amendment of the Syrian constitution was necessitated in order to accomodate a young Bashar at the time.
The late Hafez Al Assad, was the first to introduce a referendum in 1971 following 14 years of rule of Al Baath revolutionary leaders. Throughout his 29-year presidency, Bashar’s father was the sole candidate of five presidential referendums.

May 23rd, 2007, 7:43 pm

 

EHSANI2 said:

By Jay Solomon
Of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

A U.N. Security Council vote on establishing an international tribunal to try
suspects in the 2005 murder of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri is expected
as early as May 29.
The U.S., France and U.K. are initiating discussions inside the Security
Council on the resolution Thursday, according to U.S. diplomats, and the actual
vote is expected next Tuesday. Permanent Security Council members China and
Russia, and non-permanent members South Africa and Qatar, are among the
countries that might oppose the Hariri court, according to U.S. and Lebanese
officials.
(This story and related background material will be available on The Wall
Street Journal Web site, WSJ.com.)
The international tribunal stands at the center of a rising political and
security crisis in Lebanon. Pro-Syrian political parties inside Lebanon,
including the Shiite militia and social movement, Hezbollah, have been seeking
to topple Prime Minister Fuad Siniora’s government, in part because of its
opposition to the Hariri court. Initial U.N. investigations into Hariri’s
murder have implicated senior Syrian intelligence officials.
The inability of Lebanon’s parliament to ratify the U.N.’s court has forced
the U.S. and its allies to seek a new Security Council resolution that wouldn’t
require Lebanese consent. Members of Siniora’s government hope the tribunal
could be established as early as this year.
Still, many Lebanese fear even more violence could engulf Lebanon should the
tribunal move forward.
Lebanese officials also charge Damascus with fomenting recent violence inside
Lebanon as a means to derail the tribunal process, a charge Syria has denied.
Over the past week, bombs have struck Sunni and Christian enclaves around
Beirut, and dozens have died in fighting between the Lebanese army and a Sunni
militia, Fatah al Islam.

May 23rd, 2007, 9:07 pm

 

habib said:

Syrian Workers beat in Aley

I guess this violence is democratic

Tante Jumblatt and Hariri

May 24th, 2007, 2:13 am

 

Akbar Palace said:

MSK said:

His [Sy Hersh] piece on ME issues got torn to pieces by experts in the field – from academics to other journalists.

Not only that, but Sy Hersh is about as objective as the Palestinian media. Sy Hersh is a staunch leftist “reporter” and has an axe to grind against conservatives. He suffers from BDS. He does well with NPR.

May 24th, 2007, 3:19 am

 

Jasmine said:

Sorry Tony but i have not been able to find out the date and time for the demonstration infront of the Syrian embassy in Australia

May 24th, 2007, 4:36 am

 

t_desco said:

As suspected, Fatah al-Islam has a direct organizational link to al-Qa’ida via Mohammad Ali Omar (Abu Hattab/Abu Azzam) and Abu Rushd al-Miqati, according to Hazim al-Amin:

Lebanon’s Fatah al-Islam leadership & organization

Beirut- According to alarabiya.net the group’s leader is not Shaker al-Absi. Absi belongs in the second tier of the leadership… His role is to execute the orders of the top leadership.

The top Leadership of the organization or what is known as first tier is a group of 3 who are the following:

1-Mohammad Ali Omar known as Abu Hattab who heads the leadership group.

Abu Hattab was born in Syria but travels with a Lebanese passport . He lives in Tripoli and is well known in this city and some call him Abu Azzam . He is 30 + years old. He has reportedly lived in Afghanistan and Chechnya.

2- Marwan , who is a a Palestinian is the Financial chief of the group. He lives in the Ein Helwe Palestinian refugee camp and travels regularly to Baghdad , Iraq . Unconfirmed reports say he is also known as Abd Alkarim Alsaadi or Abu Muhjin and has known Abu Hattab for a long time .

According to reports , the US FBI had sent an investigating team to Lebanon in 2002 to investigate the relations between Abu Hattab , Abu Muhjin and Mohammad Atta , the leader of the September 11 bombing .

3- Mohammad H. who is a Syrian citizen is the coordinator . His role is to inform the 2nd tier leadership of the decisions made by the first tier leadership.

According to Alarabiya, Alqaida is no longer an organization, but it is an ideology . Hence Fatah al-Islam is not a member of al Qaida , but it is an alQaida type organization and its leadership is organized in the same way as al Qaida.

Al Qaida Cell in Lebanon has a leader whose name is Abu Rushd el Mikati ( no relationship with the Mikati family of Lebnaon ). Mikati travels regularly to Peshawar in Pakistan . He is Abu Hattab’s boss.

Most of the Fatah al-Islam militants have returned from Iraq via Syria.

All those that were killed or wounded by the Lebanese army are from the second tier of leadership of the organization.

Alarabiya.net information came from an expert on Islamic extremists including al Qaida, Arab Journalist Hazim al Amin. Amin told Alarabiya, Fatah al-Islam is finished as a coherent organization, but he is concerned that once shattered this organization could become very dangerous in Lebanon and individual terrorists could do could do much harm to the country.

Ya Libnan, Al-Arabiya

May 24th, 2007, 5:40 am

 
 

EHSANI2 said:

IDAF,

How come you chose not to link this article and the comments below?

http://www.syria-news.com/readnews.php?sy_seq=54999

May 24th, 2007, 1:29 pm

 

norman said:

YOU ARE HERE: Homepage > Newsdesk > Article Report:Israel’s Olmert seeks talks with Syria
24 May 2007 11:50:56 GMT
Source: Reuters
Alert Me | Printable view | Email this article | RSS [-] Text [+]

JERUSALEM, May 24 (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been considering reviving long-stalled peace talks with Syria, an Israeli newspaper said on Thursday.

Olmert’s staff declined official comment. One Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the prime minister believed Syria was not ready to make peace.

Maariv daily said Olmert had “completed preparatory examinations regarding the opening of negotiations between Israel and Syria and is leaning toward moving on the Syrian track”.

He is now “convinced that negotiations with Syria and a possible peace treaty between the countries would substantially improve the strategic situation in the region,” the paper’s chief diplomatic correspondent, Ben Caspit, wrote.

Several foreign intermediaries have relayed questions from Olmert to the Syrians as part of a “discreet and in-depth examination of the issue”, the newspaper added.

Discreet mediation efforts have taken place in the last three years, though with little movement on the part of either government so far, figures involved in such talks have said.

Peace talks between Israel and Syria, brokered by the United States, broke off in 2000 in a dispute over how far Israel would withdraw from the Golan Heights, captured in 1967, and whether Syria would fully normalise ties with Israel in return.

The Israeli official told Reuters on Thursday that progress toward new negotiations with Syria had been limited at best, saying Olmert “still sees the present Syrian government as not yet ready for the hard choices needed to make peace”.

Olmert has demanded Damascus cease supporting Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon and Palestinian militant groups as a condition of resuming peace talks, dismissing Syrian overtures as a bid to improve ties with the West.

But a bloody power struggle between Fatah and Hamas and Iran’s development of nuclear technology have persuaded Olmert that negotiations with Syria may be Israel’s best option for diplomatic improvements in its security, Caspit wrote.

He said Israel also hopes talks with Syria, which has good relations with Iran, would help it hamper Tehran’s nuclear efforts, which the West suspects are aimed at producing weapons. Tehran insists it is interested in nuclear energy alone.

AlertNet news is provided by

May 24th, 2007, 1:36 pm

 

K said:

Michael Young vs Seymour Hersh

There are few pleasures these days as Lebanon descends into the kind of violence that Syria seems to manufacture so effortlessly. However, one of them is discovering how easy it was for a gaggle of pro-Syrian Lebanese operators to manipulate investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, before he wrote a much-discussed article recently implying that the Lebanese government was financing Islamist groups, including Fatah al-Islam.

In his article for The New Yorker, Hersh faithfully channeled what sources in Lebanon told him, lending legitimacy to statements he otherwise failed to prove. Most prominently, for being so specific, he wrote that “representatives of the Lebanese government” had supplied weapons and money to Fatah al-Islam. But Hersh’s only evidence for this claim was a quote attributed to one Alistair Crooke, a former MI6 agent who is co-director of Conflicts Forum, an institution advocating dialogue with Islamist movements. Nor did Crooke have direct knowledge of what he was saying. In fact, he “was told” the weapons were offered to the group, “presumably to take on Hizbullah.” The argument is now being picked up by media belonging to senior members of the Syrian regime to affirm that the Lebanese Army is fighting an Islamist group in the Nahr al-Bared camp that is effectively on the payroll of Saad Hariri.

Lately, we’ve had more ricochets from that story. Writing in The Independent on May 22, journalist Robert Fisk, who we might forget lives in Beirut, picked up on Hersh, citing him uncritically to again make the case that Hariri was financing Islamists. So we have Fisk quoting Hersh quoting Crooke quoting someone nameless in a throwaway comment making a serious charge. Yet not one of these somnolent luminaries has bothered to actually verify if the story is true, even as everything about the fighting in Nahr al-Bared virtually confirms it is not true.

http://www.dailystar.com.lb/article.asp?edition_id=1&categ_id=5&article_id=82465

May 24th, 2007, 2:31 pm

 

idaf said:

Faisal Mikdad, the Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister just announced that the political decision to militarily help stop the Israeli attacks on Lebanon in the war last summer was made after the war erupted. According to this report, the Syrian leadership took the decision to fight aside Hizballah and “put the timing of full involvement in the hands of Hassan Nassrallah”. According to Mikdad, it was Russia who pressured Syria not to get involved after the Russians knew about the Syrian decision.

This is interesting. If it is true then Hizballah’s success in the war had actually stopped a possible World War III. If Lebanon was to show symptoms of defeat in the war, Syria would have entered the war. This would have most likely sparked an American military response on Syria. Iraq would have reached the boiling stage. Iran would most likely have been dragged into this war and hell would have broken loose (think nuclear or chemical war scenarios from both Iran and Israel).

Ehsani,
To answer your question..
Actually, I did link to this information. The Syria Report article I linked above had this same information (although not from the minister’s mouth).

May 24th, 2007, 2:52 pm

 

Atassi said:

ANALYSIS-Syria’s Assad stronger on eve of new term
By Alistair Lyon, Special Correspondent

24 May 2007

Reuters News
English
(c) 2007 Reuters Limited

DAMASCUS, May 24 (Reuters) – The streets of Damascus are festooned with flags, banners and huge portraits of Bashar al-Assad ahead of an uncontested referendum to confirm him as president for another seven years.

Assad has weathered storms over Iraq and Lebanon, riding out U.S.- and French-led attempts to isolate his country. At home he has promoted limited economic reform and consolidated his own power, while dashing early hopes for political freedom.

The ruling Baath party chose him as its sole candidate, parliament endorsed him and the authorities are sparing no expense to portray the plebiscite as a gush of national loyalty.

They are clearly looking for a bigger voter turnout than the sparse showing in last month’s parliamentary polls — officials put it at 56 percent, diplomats at 10 to 15 percent.

“We love you Bashar” is the most widespread of the myriad slogans on giant billboards praising the 41-year-old leader.

Another reminds Syria’s 19 million people of the relative stability they enjoy despite U.S. pressures and the instability racking their Iraqi, Lebanese and Palestinian neighbours, saying that without him “we wouldn’t have overcome the crises”.

Syria hailed a meeting last month between its foreign minister and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as a signal that Washington had recognised the futility of treating it as a pariah state until it submitted to U.S. dictates.

But the nascent dialogue has yet to bear fruit. The United States still accuses Syria of meddling in Iraq and Lebanon, maintaining the economic sanctions it imposed in 2004.

Several European foreign ministers have visited Damascus in recent months, although a trade and reform deal with the European Union has remained on ice since 2004.

“We do not want to isolate this country, which has an important strategic role to play in this region,” Vassilis Bontosoglou, EU ambassador to Damascus, told Reuters.

“We believe in dialogue,” he said. “It’s good to talk, but you arrive at a point where some of the things you discuss have to be translated into concrete action.”

TRIBUNAL LOOMS

Any rapprochement with the West could hit trouble as the U.N. Security Council considers whether to impose an international tribunal to try suspects in the assassination of Lebanese former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri in 2005.

U.N. investigators have in the past implicated Syrian and Lebanese security officials. Damascus denies any involvement and says it will have nothing to do with the tribunal.

Syria’s opponents in Lebanon accuse it of stirring instability there to sabotage the international court.

Two years ago, Assad had his back to the wall after being forced to withdraw troops from Lebanon and loosen the political grip Damascus had held on its tiny neighbour for decades.

Assad’s loyalists and critics agree that he has strengthened his grip on power since he took office in 2000 after the death of his father Hafez al-Assad, who had ruled Syria for 30 years.

“Bashar is more secure now,” said former political prisoner Raed Nakshbandi. “Then there were many rivals to challenge him.”

He said Assad had won vital support from the ruling elite and his own family in 2005 when he vowed not to hand over Syrian citizens to any U.N.-backed Hariri tribunal. The president said anyone found to be involved would be dealt with as traitors.

“Bashar was able to survive the setbacks to relations with the U.S. over Iraq and the position in Lebanon,” said Georges Jabbour, a loyalist former member of parliament. “These things looked for a while as if they threatened the regime.”

He said the mess in Iraq had vindicated Assad’s opposition to the U.S.-led invasion of 2003, but had landed Syria with the economic burden of around 1.5 million Iraqi refugees.

The refugees, still flooding across the border at a rate of 40,000 a month, strain public services and help push up rents, creating resentment among ordinary Syrians. They also represent a potential security threat in a country already worried about domestic and foreign Islamist militants.

The Iraqis, who join half a million longtime Palestinian refugees in Syria, add to Assad’s many economic headaches.

Syrian economists and businessmen credit him with driving modest reforms seen as vital to stimulate growth to make up for sagging oil reserves and to absorb 200,000 new job seekers a year.

Progress on political reform has largely floundered.

Assad has been able to dismiss his opponents at home and abroad as tools of the United States — even those who criticise U.S. policy and insist political reform must be homegrown.

Four dissidents — Kamal Labwani, Michel Kilo, Mahmoud Issa and Anwar al-Bunni — recently received stiff jail sentences. Human rights lawyer Haitham Maleh, 75, said about 3,000 people, mostly Islamists, were in jail without trial. “We have had seven years of Bashar and nothing really changed,” he said.

May 24th, 2007, 3:13 pm

 

norman said:

Blowback in Lebanon

The Islamists at the centre of the fighting were built up by pro-government forces for sectarian reasons

Charles Harb in Beirut
Thursday May 24, 2007
The Guardian

The violence that has engulfed the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared in northern Lebanon over the past few days, started after a night raid by internal security forces to arrest alleged bank robbers in Lebanon’s second largest city, Tripoli. That turned into armed clashes between police and a small radical Islamist group, Fatah al-Islam. Within hours, the Lebanese army was pulled into the conflict when more than a dozen soldiers were ambushed and killed. The army surrounded and began shelling the camp where Fatah al-Islam militants are based – home to more than 30,000 refugees – with mounting casualties on all sides, including civilians.

The story of Lebanon’s US-backed Siniora government and army battling an isolated al-Qaida-type terrorist group allegedly backed by Syria obscures a complex picture that has been years in the making, and which involves a peculiar social environment, Lebanese political manoeuvring, and the wider dynamics of an increasingly volatile region.

North Lebanon, especially Tripoli and Akkar, contains some of the country’s most deprived areas, neglected by successive governments. Tripoli, a traditionally conservative Sunni city, and Akkar, a strikingly poor province, became fertile territory for the proselytising of Salafist and radical Sunni groups. But impoverished conditions do not explain the rapid empowerment of radical Sunni movements in recent years; political cover was needed – and was provided by pro-government forces. In the 2005 national parliamentary elections, Saad al-Hariri, the son of slain prime minister Rafik Hariri, appealed to Sunni sentiment to woo northern voters. Significant efforts were made to bring the Sunnis of Tripoli and Akkar under his wing and away from the area’s traditional leaders. Fulfilling an electoral pledge, the new parliament pardoned jailed Sunni militants involved in violence in December 2000. Those clashes in Dinnieh between Islamist radicals and the Lebanese army left dozens dead in a precursor of the violence of recent days.

Courting radical Sunni sentiment is a dangerous game. A major sign of trouble ahead had already emerged in February last year, when a protest against the cartoons belittling the prophet Muhammad turned violent and the Danish embassy was set ablaze in the fashionable Beirut district of Ashrafieh. Most of those protesting came from the impoverished areas of the north.

This picture becomes more complicated when the regional dimension is factored in. The invasion of Iraq has inflamed the Sunni-Shia divide and is changing the dynamics of the Middle East. Fear of Shia influence in Arab affairs has prompted many Sunni leaders to warn of a “Shia crescent” stretching from Iran, through Iraq, to south Lebanon. Several reports have highlighted efforts by Saudi officials to strengthen Sunni groups, including radical ones, to face the Shia renaissance across the region.

But building up radical Sunni groups to face the Shia challenge can easily backfire. While militant Islamist groups are sensitive to appeals to Sunni sentiment, they remain locked in their own agenda. Courted by regional players – Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia – and infiltrated by intelligence services, Islamist radical groups serve the needs of some without necessarily becoming servants to any.

Some perceive the fighting of recent days as a confrontation between regional forces – the US, Syria, Saudi Arabia – vying for control of the Lebanese political space. Others see it as a plan that went wrong, with Islamist groups escaping the control of the pro-government forces that nurtured them. And others perceive it as an attempt to draw the Lebanese army – regarded as the only genuinely national force in the country – into the fray of Lebanese politics.

The Siniora government is enfeebled. Claims that Syria is behind the current conflict have not so far been endorsed by the White House or other Arab leaders. The army, which has tried to remain neutral, is now muddied and its weaknesses made apparent to all.

The plight of thousands of Palestinian refugees trapped in the Nahr al-Bared camp echoes the Israeli bombing of Palestinian camps in occupied Palestine. Radical Islamist activists are moved by the atrocities in the north and attacks on their fellow militants. Palestinian factions are fractious, weakened, and infiltrated by foreign agents, further destabilising security within the refugee camps. The relations between Palestinian groups and Lebanese authorities are strained, and tensions can easily spill outside the refugee camps. The dangers of a conflagration that could spread across the country are serious. The US once nurtured the mujahideen in Afghanistan, only to pay the price much later. In the dangerous game of sectarian conflict, everyone stands to lose.

· Professor Charles Harb teaches at the American University of Beirut

charles.harb@aub.edu.lb

May 24th, 2007, 3:28 pm

 

t_desco said:

New interview:

Seymour Hersh: U.S. Indirectly Backed Islamist Militants Fighting Lebanese Army
Democracy Now!

Followed by an interview with Rania Masri and Alastair Crooke:

The View From Lebanon: Scholar, Ex-Diplomat Speak Out on Current Crisis
Democracy Now!

BTW, I don’t think that Hersh got the information about the meeting between Prince Bandar and Vice President Cheney from “sources in Lebanon” as Michael Young seems to suggest…

May 24th, 2007, 4:21 pm

 

majedkhaldoun said:

President Bush is angry, frustrated, horrified by possibility of major defeat.He is dragging the republican party with him,down to the abyss.
He realized that he is fighting ideology,by occupying Iraq he made american Image much worse, people in ME are more supportive of this ideology, this ideology is Islam, this is what Bush is fighting, a lot of americans do not want to fight Islam,Islam is coming to the USA,and spreading, Moslems in USA is expected to represent 50 million, in 2060,it will be 15% of the population in USA.
“the Idea that we are better off without Saddam”, this more and more people are finding it is not true, things are much worse now, the price was just too high, people are more dead now than during Saddam era,we are not safer.
“we are invited there by the Iraqi goverment,who is elected by the people” the question is ,if they represent the majority of Iraqi, how come they, after more than 4 years, are unable to control Iraq,and provide security to their people?, why do they need USA?,everyone knows that if USA leaves those puppet will run away,and Iraqi will quickly get rid of them, most do not agree they have legitimacy, the arab goverments,have no respect for Maliki and his clan.
some talk about september, as a deadline, and august will be bloody,Bush seems to agree.

May 24th, 2007, 4:23 pm

 

ausamaa said:

BTW, Sy Hersh always referred to sources in DC and in “Germany”. Sources in Lebanon never meant much to him!

Bush’s current hesitation is deepening the mess further by the day. The Pentagon is holding him back apparently, but the confused signals originating from DC is compounding the confusion and turning the situation into total chaos. Explosive Lebanon is just a small example of the above.

May 24th, 2007, 5:55 pm

 

Ford Prefect said:

And here is another angle from the Conservative Voice – further underscoring Bush’s failures all over the place.

http://www.theconservativevoice.com/article/25310.html

May 24th, 2007, 6:14 pm

 

MSK said:

Norman,

Charles Harb makes one cardinal mistake: he puts the Lebanese Islamists in Tripoli/Akkar in the same pot as Fatah al-Islam. Alas, there is little connection between those two groups. Thus, while Hariri et al certainly courted the former (in order to gain votes) that does NOT translate into “tacit support” or even “building up” of the latter.

–MSK

May 24th, 2007, 6:22 pm

 

Ford Prefect said:

MSK,
They are in the same pot and they drink from the same divine fountain. In fact, that was the cardinal mistake that the Hariri clan made thinking that the Tripoli/Akkar Islamists are separate and unrelated to other Islamist groups. They are all related and a common thread runs through them from Morocco to the Philippines.

May 24th, 2007, 6:47 pm

 

Honest Patriot said:

Mr. Landis, with all due respect, don’t you actually see the hands of Syrian intelligence in fomenting trouble in Lebanon ? Why did they release the Fatah-el-islam leader ? Who is responsible for all the assassinations ? Yes there are many very decent and wonderful people in Syria, but do you really have any doubt about the murderous savage ways of their secret service ? To be sure, many Lebanese are to blame for the lack of discipline and enlightenment that leads to a good societey, but is this a reason to victimize them so much ?? Happy to read your response in your blog. —

May 24th, 2007, 7:42 pm

 

G said:

Riiiiight… so explain to me Ford Prefect, o brilliant mind you and your fellow Einsteins here, where does Fathi Yakan, who is feted with the red carpet in Damascus, fit in that neat scheme of yours…

Take a while to think it through. It’s obvious you need it.

May 24th, 2007, 7:58 pm

 

someone said:

To EHSANI2
First of all, let me greet you on your economic analysis of the Syrian economy, and let me say, in my personal opinion, that you areaccurate by 90% and I agree with your view that open market economy is the solution, but unfortunately this solution is not viable in Syria’s case, for the following reasons.
The Syrian people have been raised for the last forty years on the idea that the state is obligated to provide every thing for the people and every body relies on the state in some way or form; telling the people that, from now on, every man for himself, will be catastrophic on the regime which prides itself as the corner stone of life in Syria, if they say “ ok guys, we are no more able to subsidize every thing” the people will answer back” why are you ruling then?”
To have a sufficient, vibrant, growing market economy you must have two basic ingredients: one, the rule of law. Second, a proper infrastructure and Syria has neither.
If we apply suddenly the methods of free market economy in Syria with out the proper planning (which they are doing right now) the end result would be total chaos (which is where Syria is heading towards).
Change started in Syria after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and change was occurring until 1995 when the father of the regime got sick and every thing in the country stopped.
What is happening now is that the window of opportunity for reforming the economy is narrowing dawn by the day. Reforming the economy means one thing and one thing only: the end of the ruling regime and that is why every one in the decision making apparatus is dragging his feet on reform, sadly enough, this leads to only one conclusion, the Syrian economy will collapse, this might not happen today or tomorrow, or even in the coming five years, but by the way in which every thing is going, the prognosis is not good.

May 24th, 2007, 8:48 pm

 

MSK said:

Dear FP,

drinking from the same divine fountain doesn’t mean they’re politically connected. And THAT is what CH alleged but what didn’t/doesn’t happen.

May 24th, 2007, 9:31 pm

 

Akbar Palace said:

Just for fun, let’s do a survey. Who here supports:

1.) Fatah al-Islam.

2.) The Lebanese-elected government.

For those of you who aren’t used to voting, rest assured, no one will be murdered for the wrong answer.

Enjoy!

May 24th, 2007, 11:33 pm

 

EHSANI2 said:

Dear Someone,

First, thank you for the kind words. Second, I did not detect any signs of divergences between our views.

There is no doubt that Syria is not ready politically or economically to abolish subsidies and privatize the large public sector overnight. Lots of work is needed to facilitate this endeavor.

When I criticize this government, I do so because of my strong conviction that they lack a clear vision of where they are heading when it comes to economic policy.

Rather than address the problems head on and explain that the subsidies system or the sizable public sector is too large to be sustained forever, we seem to be caught in no man’s land when it comes to facing our economic destiny.

What I find particularly concerning is the lack of urgency.

The country has been programmed to think that patience is necessary when it comes to making any key decisions. Regrettably, patience can also lead to decision paralysis. Indeed, given the power of compounding arithmetic, the longer we wait, the more the ultimate pain.

The problem is that no one is thinking about the end game. “Ultimate” to a lot of people in power is day by day. The mantra of this country has been “if it ain’t visibly and totally broke, don’t fix it”.

History has shown that this does not work in the long run. The problem is that no one in this beloved country thinks about the long run.

May 24th, 2007, 11:47 pm

 

ugarit said:

Who’s Behind the Fighting in North Lebanon?

Over a year ago Hariri’s Future Movement started setting up Sunni Islamist terrorist cells (the PSP and LF already had their own militia since the civil war and despite the Taif Accords requiring militia to disarm they are now rearmed and itching for action and trying hard to provoke Hezbollah).

The FM created Sunni Islamist ‘terrorist’ cells were to serve as a cover for (anti-Hezbollah) Welch Club projects. The plan was that actions of these cells, of which Fatah el-Islam is one, could be blamed on al Qaeda or Syria or anyone but the Club.

http://www.counterpunch.org/lamb05242007.html

May 25th, 2007, 1:52 am

 

trustquest said:

Ehansi,
Your call for change to monarch system in Syria starts to get attention. It seems that someone from the opposition in Syria suggesting that making Bashar a King would save the country these costs regarding referendums, balloons, pictures, changing school exams dates, shortening school years, public sectors paid days, demonstration not to mentions all those organizations and parties involvements. He suggested being a monarch system will stabilize the administrative system and make it more effective and stable.

May 25th, 2007, 2:29 am

 

EHSANI2 said:

Dear TRUSTQUEST,

Interesting. It certainly would be much more efficient than the present system. A baathist King though? In all honesty, It will be hard To pull this one off I would think. I think that we will have to live through this folklore every 7 years instead.

On another note, and speaking of subsidies, politics and economic mismanagement.

By Sebastian Abbot
Of THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
CAIRO (AP)–Iran’s decision to hike gasoline prices has thrown new light on
what could be its most-entrenched problem – a vulnerable, highly subsidized
economy, and the political dangers that poses for its populist and hardline
president as he faces international pressure over the country’s nuclear
program.
Experts warn of the popular backlash that other countries have faced when
dealing with the same need to raise long-subsidized staple prices. At the same
time, they doubt the 25% price hike imposed this week on Iran’s gasoline will
do very much, on its own, to solve the country’s underlying economic problems.
Even after Tuesday’s decision to raise gasoline prices from 800 rials per
liter to 1,000 rials per liter (30 U.S. cents/gallon to 38 U.S. cents/gallon),
Iran has some of the lowest gas prices in the world. Those rock-bottom prices
have led to unnaturally high demand and have saddled the government with fuel
subsidies that cost billions of dollars a year.
The demand also forces Iran to import more than 50% of the gasoline it
consumes because it lacks the refinery capacity to keep up – a glaring
vulnerability as the U.S. and its allies look for ways to pressure Tehran to
give up its nuclear program.
“The gasoline import issue is the Achilles heel for Iran,” said Amy Jaffe, an
energy expert at Rice University’s U.S.-based James A. Baker III Institute for
Public Policy. “It shows the vulnerability of their economy.”
The threat of additional international actions against Iran increased
Wednesday when the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog agency said Iran was expanding its
uranium enrichment program in defiance of international calls for a suspension.

Conservatives in Iran’s parliament, especially those aligned with the
country’s national oil company, have long pushed for higher gasoline prices
with the hope of curtailing demand and freeing up government spending to invest
in more oil and gas production.
Consistently high oil prices over the past few years have left Iran awash in
petroleum money. But the country lacks the investment it needs to reverse its
falling oil production because billions of dollars are spent instead on the gas
subsidies. Outside experts estimate that total Iranian energy subsidies,
including gasoline and natural gas, amount to $30 billion, or 15% of the
country’s entire economy.
Iran faces a double whammy because investment from outside its borders is
also hard to get, as the U.S. increasingly pressures foreign oil companies not
to do business in Iran.
Despite these dynamics, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has opposed past
attempts to increase gasoline prices and cut demand because of his promises to
share Iran’s oil wealth with the nation’s poor. Iran has a law that says
gasoline prices must increase 10% every year, but the president has resisted
efforts by parliament to reverse a 2005 decision to suspend the annual
increases.
“He doesn’t want to be the man who has to drink this poison,” said prominent
Iranian analyst Saeed Laylaz.
Ahmadinejad made it clear this time that parliament had forced him to agree
to the latest price hike, Laylaz noted. The president has also faced increasing
domestic political pressure over his defiant stand on the country’s nuclear
program.
But Frank Verrastro, an oil analyst with the Center for Strategic and
International Studies in Washington, said the international pressure could also
give Ahmadinejad cover to enact unpopular measures that could strengthen his
ability to defend the nuclear program.
“If as a result of increasing prices, you reduce demand and import reliance,
then it makes you less vulnerable,” he said. “It’s unpopular, but if you can
sell it as being under siege by foreign threats, you can mask the pain a bit.”
Yet popular backlash from increasing gasoline prices can be fierce, as in
Indonesia, which was hit with a wave of protests when it hiked prices in 2005.
So far, response in Iran has been fairly muted, possibly because gasoline is
still cheaper than drinking water. Prices weren’t raised enough to reduce
demand, Jaffe said.
“The increase is politically significant, but 25% is not enough,” she said.
“They need to raise it a whole hell of a lot more.”
Narsi Ghorban, an independent energy consultant based in Tehran, said that if
planned rationing goes into effect, that could have much more impact. The plan
would allow consumers to use “smart cards” to purchase a set amount of gasoline
at the current subsidized price, and any additional quantity at a much higher
price.
But Laylaz said the ration plan was simply creating a black market in “smart
cards,” further enabling those close to the government to enrich themselves at
the expense of the poor, in an economy considered full of corruption and
cronyism.
“The mismanagement of the economy hurts Iran more than any international
sanctions,” he said.

May 25th, 2007, 2:51 am

 

t_desco said:

MSK,

So the incident started in Tripoli with raids on appartments of militants living in Tripoli. The organization has leaders who grew up and went to school in Tripoli, yet you claim that “there is little connection” (!) between Islamists in Tripoli/Akkar and Fatah al-Islam…

BTW, the military commander of the group, Abu Hurayrah (who, like Saddam al-Haj Dib, grew up in Tripoli) again claims responsibility for the recent bombings in this interview with Al-Hayat.

Ehsani,

Professor Sachs expresses some doubts about the approach to reform and economic development that you seem to favor:

“The Bank’s failures began in the early 1980s, when, under the ideological sway of President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, it tried to get Africa and other poor regions to cut back or close down government investments and services. For 25 years, the Bank tried to get governments out of agriculture, leaving impoverished peasants to fend for themselves. The result has been a disaster in Africa, with farm productivity stagnant for decades. The Bank also pushed for privatisation of national health systems, water utilities, and road and power networks, and grossly under-financed these critical sectors.

This extreme free-market ideology, also called “structural adjustment”, went against the practical lessons of development successes in China and the rest of Asia. Practical development strategy recognises that public investments – in agriculture, health, education, and infrastructure – are necessary complements to private investments. The World Bank has instead wrongly seen such vital public investments as an enemy of private-sector development.”
Jeffrey Sachs

May 25th, 2007, 5:59 am

 

SimoHurtta said:

Interesting. It certainly would be much more efficient than the present system. A baathist King though? In all honesty, It will be hard To pull this one off I would think.

By the way the father of the late Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi holding the imperial titles of Shahanshah (King of Kings), and Aryamehr (Light of the Aryans), started his rise to the Peacock throne as a humble soldier in the army. Mohammed Reza was put to the throne by the Brits and Soviets. Hmmmm why not a baathist could not be a king of Syria?

USA loved Mohammed Reza who bought, without bothering to negotiating the price, all weapons US “non subsided” weapon industry could deliver. USA even wanted to sell him ten nuclear power stations. The sad thing was that the citizens did not love Mohammed Reza Pahlavi as much the folks in Washington.

How much efficient the monarch systems of Saudi Arabia and Iran (in the past) really are is a matter of taste. Saudi Arabia’s national debt was some years ago 120 percent of the GDP (probably because the oil money flowed to the treasure houses of the numerous princes and not in the state’s).

On another note, and speaking of subsidies, politics and economic mismanagement.

Ehsani2 what about US’s and EU’s agricultural subsides? Those subsides have serious effects to third worlds economies. Iran’s gasoline prices have only local effects. In Europe we pay much, much higher gasoline prices than people in US. Europe uses high energy taxes to keep the cars smaller and naturally to finance the “system”, USA doesn’t.

It is naive to claim or believe that western economies do not use substitutes, standardization, customs, legal rules etc to control their import and export, manufacturing and trade. Completely free trade and markets simply do not exist.

May 25th, 2007, 6:39 am

 

ausamaa said:

Some Syrian commentators here; a Bread Apart!

It is truly amazing how getting out of one’s country and getting exposed to a wider mix of cultures, norms and environments still fails to widen ones horizons and outlook. Look at Syria comment for example, a site that has succeeded in becoming one of the most renowned sites dealing with Syria and Syrian related affairs. It has managed to voice concerns relating to Syria at a time when the overall picture was either absent or grossly distorted first by the unrelenting tentacles of the Zionist octopus, and more recently by the Clean Break and Greater Middle East promoters assisted to a great deal by the supporters of the imaginary Syrian Opposition and the self-centered moderate Arab-backward regimes. A self-appointed, rootless, and insignificant opposition that can not see a justification for its own existence except by fervently attacking and bad-mouthing not only the Syrian regime’s each and single move and action, but also by going with the Clean Break/ Greater Middle East mentality and targeting everything which personify the greater Arab feelings and hopes be it Syrian defiance and opposition to a stupid and destructive plan to reshape the middle-east, to the selfless sacrifices of the Palestinian resistance, to the unparelled victories of the Lebanese Resistance and its Lebanese Muslim and Christian Supporters.

This defeatist and surrendurist attitude could be a testimonial to the success of the efforts of the so-called moderate streamline. The anti-Arab nationalist pro-submission promoting Arab Mainstream Media. And if one can fault the American MSM for its usual misleading stands regarding US-Arab issues and blame that on ignorance, one can not be so kind to its sister Arab Mainstream Media which is not ignorant, but is rather mischievously directed and lavishly funded by non-democratic, oppressive, medieval backward regimes that if one compares their ruling mentality, social sense of justice, and human right practices with that of Syria, Syria would come out the winner by pounds and leaps.

This attitude can also be a testimonial to a certain shallowness of mentality, particularly exhibited by naturalized citizens and expats living in the west, who out of a lack of a maturely developed understanding of themselves, their original societies, and of their new found societies, opt to adopt the basic cores of values of Western Societies in a very selective, immature and handclapping-seeking manner, in order to somehow convince themselves and their surroundings that they have become Westernized and that they should not be “tainted” as regular Arabs.

So, we end up with a politically semi-illiterate, confused and lacking in depth group, whose major current solace is that they can now see and read their underdeveloped English-written paragraphs displayed on a website, and that they can vent some of the anger and confusion they experience in a manner that is beneficial to neither their country, countrymen, or any national cause or aspiration. We have to distinguish here between 1)such an immature group, 2) the western supported anti-regime front, and the third group which has at first convinced itself that it is fulfilling a higher calling by its defending home-grown anti-regime political opponents and furiously criticizing the regime, but had found that it has done so in such a provocative manner that it has burned its chances of returning home and hence is locked into its own self imposed exile; unable to achieve anything, and forced by its own action to escape forward by continuing to attack the Syrian political system with which it thinks it has burnt its bridges of safe return, so to hell with all.

Of course, we do not have to discuss characters like Akbar Palace, G, and Gibran and so on. Those are elements who out of pure and deep instilled hatered for Syria, regime and people alike, can have a field day any day by attacking Arabs and Syria at the first chance they get. But some still try to either “suck up” to such mental misfits or to “convert” them. In the conscious or subconscious hope of feeling and being perceived as “tolerent” and liberal open-minded types.

To the above types of readers and commentators, to those who are so worried and so interested in a better Syria, take a deep breath, identify not only what good you want for Syria, but delve deeper in Why you want this and Why want that. Is what you want possible and realistic, does the Syrian people really care about what you think is good for them, is the Syrian political elite paying attention to what you are saying and taking it into their consideration, are you practically contributing to the change that Syria, as so many other nations, need? Are you really helping your Country by what you are doing? Or are you just doing something for the sake of appearing to be doing something?

If you dream of a Syria with a fully-developed democratic western-styled political system, if you dream of an instantaneous economically vibrant, transparent, investment energized economy, if you dream of a peaceful Syria, no Wars with Israel and with no
Interference in neighboring countries, an imaginary Syria insolated from the realpolitic harsh and cold-hearted approach to surviving in our turbulent times, a Syria that is a hundred percent free of political and social and economic wrongs and shortcomings, then go home, sleep it off and forget about Syria. More economically developed countries such as Saudi, Kuwait, Emirates, Jordan and Egypt could not achieve half what you want despite their being fully “adopted” and overwhelmingly flooded with generous Bush-style economic, military and moral assistance, and despite not having to spend Syria-style sleepless nights worrying about an Israeli or a Bush instigated military attack. Sleep off such visions for God’s sake, for Syria’s sake, and for you own sake. Because “disappointed dreamers” can be very dangerous to themselves and to their societies when their far-fetched dreams have nil chance of being realized all at once. In a sense such visions are in a way very similar to those of the Islamic Takifiries, of Bush’s neo-cons, and of Zionist ideologues. They seek to shape the world according to their own distorted vision of realities and without paying attention to available means and capabilities. You want Democracy, free speech, liberalism. Fine, but had your society developed to such a stage where the above is readily attainable? You want economic prosperity, transparency, free enterprise. Good, but are the tools of achieving this readily available to this Society? You want Peace and Love and Security. But are your foes willing to allow you such luxuries? You want instantaneous regime and political system change, is your society ready and conducive to such dreams? First, is this what the Syrian people want now, or is it what you think they want, or worse, is it what you think is good for them? Second, Change the regime with whom? And change it through Whom?

Isn’t a serious measure of Modesty in expectations needed here? And, let us grow up and not blame it all on the regime and forfeit any individual or collective responsibility for our state of affairs. Let us not forget that any ruling elite is a true product, and is a somewhat mirror-image, of their own people and societies. They did not land here from Mars.

Why am I saying all this? Because it pains me to see how much gibberish some immature commentators have been coming up with. And how much ugliness can be spread by self-proclaimed know-it-all experts and some immature freedome-seeking voices. Some have been waiting for the liberating American tanks to roll into the streets of Damascus since way back in 2001. Others have been betting on Israel taking care of what Bush had the guts for but did not have the means to. Others have been hanging their hopes on a medieval Muslim Brotherhood movement to deliver Syria. More stupid others see Syrian redemption coming at the hands of Khaddam and imbeciles like that. And they fucking voice it out loud too. Others still seek new-found hope in an international tribunal and on a Bush-selected jokers going by the names of Mehhils and Bramertz to deal Syria the final blow. Others joined hands with massahin el jouukh of the stinking opportunistic so-called Cedar Revolution who will sell their sole, dignity and even daughters to the highest financial bidder. Others go a leap further by awaiting, praying for, and cheering a Bush attack on Iran so that some of their dreams come true. What a shame? The neo-cons are being forced into a redirection, but some commentators here have not yet grasped the changing realities and they still live with Alice in Wonderland. Out of hate, ignorance or misplaced hope.

Please, the next time you make a comment about Syria, events in the area, Democracy, Liberalism, Syrian Economy, or whatever, give it a thought. Is your comment a valid one? Or is seeing your name appear here next to a few words the ultimate objective? Free thought and free expression are important, but it does not mean taking advantage of them in a haphazard manner which wastes the times of others and insults their intelligence and make them regret the fact they visited such a blog. And be sure, your valuable nuggets of wisdom are definitely not why others come here.

Again, please have mercy on our intelligence.

Thank you for your kind attention, and I am sure you have really liked the above, and have a nice western-zone weekeand.

May 25th, 2007, 8:58 am

 
 

Fares said:

Aussama you are full of it.

May 25th, 2007, 9:47 am

 

Fares said:

Bil Rouh Bil Dam Nafdik Ya Aussama, Ya3ish Al Rais Ausamma, Minhibak Ya Aussama,
Aussama Assad (3ala Wazn Hafez Assad) Ramz Al Thawra Al Arabiye

May 25th, 2007, 9:49 am

 

t_desco said:

Confirmation that the group tried to establish itself in Shatila before it became “Fatah al-Islam”, but it is still unclear if it is the same group that issued the “Black Leopards” statement in January 2006. Al-Absi and the bulk of fighters seem to have arrived in Shatila only in June 2006:

“The last place he (al-Absi) lived before he established his base at Nahr al-Bared is testament to that: a grungy three-room building furnished only with bunk beds, uncomfortable chairs and a messy desk in Shatila, a Palestinian refugee camp near Beirut.

He said that when Mr. al-Abssi arrived last June to take over command, he brought with him 200 battle-hardened veterans of the Iraq war hailing from countries around the region. There were some Palestinians and Lebanese among them, but locals – judging primarily by the men’s appearance and accents – say others were from Jordan, Syria, North Africa and the Persian Gulf states.

The new men trained separately from the rest of Fatah Intifada, an arrangement that none could question because of Mr. al-Abssi’s status as a senior commander. Then late last year, Mr. al-Abssi and his men made their move, heading north to take over Fatah Intifada’s headquarters in Nahr al-Bared and seizing the guns and ammunition stored there.

The seizure of the weapons and infrastructure was a grand, carefully planned heist. “Because he was the leader of Fatah Intifada in Beirut and the north, he was able to move his people from Beirut to [Nahr al-Bared] without people suspecting anything,” said Abu Ayed al-Shalan, the Palestinian Liberation Organization co-ordinator in Shatila.”

Modest and forgiving – unless you insult God
The Globe and Mail

May 25th, 2007, 10:05 am

 

ausamaa said:

Fares,

Cut the crap and call things by their proper name. You seem to belong to the second group. You think that by your earlier actions, and perhaps based on ill advised and unrealistic scenarios dealing with the near collaps of the regime, you have irrevocably burned your bridges with the regime, so you have one option: escape forward by continuously attaking the regime.That may be the rdt for your whole activity and existance. Even if the regime turns into Snow White, you will have to be against it. It has become a Full Time job and Justification.

May 25th, 2007, 10:31 am

 

Akbar Palace said:

Democracy rears its ugly head in France:

France ‘s new foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, said on Friday that Paris would continue to snub Syria because it did not believe Damascus respected Lebanon’s autonomy.

“We are ready to talk with all personalities and representatives of groups who are in favour of Lebanon’s unity, its autonomy and its territorial integrity,” Kouchner said during a visit to Lebanon. “This clearly means we don’t have to talk to Syrian leaders,” he said, adding that France might be ready to resume contact as soon as the Syrian position on Lebanon changed. (Reuters)

May 25th, 2007, 10:48 am

 

EHSANI2 said:

Ausamma,

You have clearly put a lot of time writing your comment. I hope that you vented out your frustrations. Since you clearly seemed to have been referring to me personally during your tirade, please allow me to reciprocate with this brief response:

Sir,

First, stop this nonsense that people do this to enjoy seeing their names appear on the screen. Just because you may do so, it does not mean that it is the case for others too.

Second, stop attacking your country fellow men that happen to earn their living in a so-called western country. This is a milder version of “takhween”. You keep insinuating that Syrians living in Paris, London or New York are somehow less patriotic or certainly have less right to criticize than those Syrians living in Dubai, Riyadh or Damascus. For your guide, there are close to 14 million Syrians living abroad. This is equivalent to 72% of the Syrian population living inside the country. Your comment seems to imply that of the 14 million people, those that are based in the west and who happen to criticize the country have less or no right to do that.

Third, stop repeating this explicit “takhween”. Just because one criticizes his country, it does not mean that he is therefore supporting the necons, march 14th, the Saudi King or Chirac. I could not care less about anyone of them. I cannot be prohibited from criticizing just because they happen to be doing the same.

Fourth, while I acknowledge that it is hard for a human being not to feel nationalistic about his country when he sees it under attack, one has to refrain from entering into the zone of blind nationalism. A lot of Syrians have come to the support of the leadership in Damascus partly because feeling a sense of nationalism and pride about their own country. This is understandable. However, just because Saad Hariri is attacking the leadership for his own reasons, it does not mean that the latter gets an automatic free pass. It also does not mean that those who end up criticizing are somehow unpatriotic and “khawana”

Fifth, stop saying that our societies are different and therefore world standards do not apply. Any Syrian born from the mid 1960’s has only known one party rule. Those born in the 1970’s have only known one family rule. The societies that you seem to refer to are part and parcel of the type of leadership that has shaped them over the past 43 years. You somehow want us to criticize the backward societies but absolve the country’s leaders from any role that they have played in shaping the way these societies look today.

Sixth, you seem to lump people who criticize the government and those in the so-called opposition. I, for one, could not care less if Bashar was a Sunni, Alawi, Christian or a Kurd. I judge the man by his performance. As for the opposition, I pity them. I do so because they have undertaken one of the most challenging projects ever. It is so easy to criticize them. I keep reading that they are weak, rootless, inexperienced, unpatriotic, leaderless, disorganized and ineffective. Has anyone stopped to think of asking himself the question of why? How can you have an effective opposition if you have draconian emergency laws that even prohibit people from assembling in large groups? How do you expect to have an opposition when you get sentenced to prison for writing an article? How can you have an opposition when you are branded a traitor if you seek foreign help? Somehow, the implication is that you can do it on your own. It is not the opposition that you need to criticize; it is the leadership’s methods of thwarting them that you need to congratulate.

Seventh, stop being shocked that some people choose to criticize the country’s leadership. You should instead be shocked to see that so many millions of your country fellow men and women would accept to have one party and one family rule them for this long without any so-called criticism or dissent.

May 25th, 2007, 12:11 pm

 

AL-SYASY said:

وزعت رئاسة مجلس الوزراء اللبناني نص الرسالة التي بعث بها الرئيس الفرنسي نيكولا ساركوزي الى رئيس الحكومة فؤاد السنيورة وجاء فيها: «باسم الصداقة التي تربط لبنان وفرنسا، ستدافع فرنسا دائماً عن سيادة لبنان واستقلاله ووحدة أراضيه وأرجو أن تطمئنوا الى أنني سأكون مدافعاً قوياً عن هذه الثوابت في السياسة الفرنسية».

وأضاف ساركوزي: «أعرف أن بلدكم يواجه تحديات مهمة. إن الانشاء السريع للمحكمة ذات الطابع الدولي والاستقرار في جنوب لبنان واحترام الالتزامات المعقودة خلال مؤتمر «باريس – 3»، كلها تشكل أولويات بالنسبة الى بلدكم». وأضاف: «ان الانتخابات الرئاسية المقبلة تشكل استحقاقاً يجب أن يؤشر الى عودة كامل السيادة اللبنانية ينبغي أن تفتح الطريق أمام اعادة استقامة العمل الطبيعي للمؤسسات، وتأكدوا أن فرنسا ستبقى الى جانب لبنان لمساعدته على مواجهة هذه التحديات من خلال الدفاع تحديداً عن هذه القيم المشتركة في المحافل الدولية».
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As i said before that the US wont allow the tribunal to take place at any cost, and that the americans will defend their ally Syria against the french attacks. The lebanon army supported by France is fighting a party supported by Syria and the US, in order to postpone the tribunal for Hariri.

May 25th, 2007, 1:55 pm

 

majedkhaldoun said:

Ausamma:
very regretable, you crossed the red line too far
1) you do not believe the syrians deserve freedom and democracy, they have not reach that stage yet, it is an insult to syrians,you have no right of saying that.

2)you insulted the syrian intelligence, saying we have no right of expressing ourself, you accuse us of talking just for the sake of talking.

3) you defended the regime with all the mistakes, to a level of blindly defend him, what a shame? you claim that the regime can deprive people of even the right to speak peacefully, it is O.K. for you that the regime put lawyers, doctors, and all other smart people in jail if they say the truth.
it is O.K. for you to steal the money of the syrians, smuggle it outside to europe and USA , taking it away from the people, and no one should complain.
it is ok for you to kill Mr. Hariri, and the Asad should get away unpunished.
you are against justice, freedom , dignity,you are against education, you are against progress and society improvement.
YOU LOST THE RESPECT OF EVERY DESCENT MAN AND WOMEN IN SYRIA.

May 25th, 2007, 2:01 pm

 

K said:

Ehsani2,

While I do not always share your political or economic viewpoints, I must note there is absolutely no comparison between yourself and Ausamaa, in intelligence, thoughtfulness, fairness, and eloquence.

There are many regime-apologists on this blog, but even among them, Ausamaa stands out as a minority voice. And that’s heartening. It means there is hope for Syria and Lebanon.

Thanks again for your ongoing contributions.

May 25th, 2007, 2:15 pm

 

Atassi said:

Some deeply ignorant personality can’t comprehend the fact that they have no choice but to hear the other views and ideas they don’t preach or support.
Ehasani,
OUR views absolutely not as being described “much gibberish some immature commentators have been coming up with” as someone indicated. This is an example of an ideology strived during the in the Baath self imposed leadership on the civil society , It’s a cancer being removed from our civil society by the courage’s of minds like yours.

May 25th, 2007, 2:18 pm

 

souri said:

Aussama,

The difference between you and Fares is huge.
He is a man with HONOR, RESPECT etc… But you are not.
My advice to you is that you should learn how to become a GOOD MAN.

May 25th, 2007, 2:35 pm

 

ausamaa said:

Yes, and thank you. I knew how much you will like my comment.

Ehsani2, sorry to disappoint you, but you did not even cross my mind when I was writing that one. And I was not taking a shot at “Takhween”, I was actually getting a shot at what I considered “ignorance” and “half-educated” know-it-all(s). But I can agree with you in a way: ignorance can be as dangerous.

Majedkhaldoun, Attasi, Souri and similar others, you are up in arms against an opinion I expressed, which is predictable and understandable, not only that, but my comments managed to unite you in a one self-complementing front. Sort of: Birds of the same feather, flock together. Enjoy your joint fantasy flight but do touch base with reality every once in a while.

May 25th, 2007, 3:17 pm

 

ausamaa said:

Fares,

My deepest appologies. In the follow-up to your comment above I wrote that you fall in “the second group” (the wetern-supporeted anti-regime front) which I do not think you even support. I actually meant “the Third Group”, the good ones who slipped irrevocably into their current position and think that they can not pull back and stop criticizing the regime even if the regime becomes Snow White. Sorry again and please accept this correction. If IC can correct it at his end it will be much appreciated.

May 25th, 2007, 3:43 pm

 

Fares said:

Ausamaa, when the regime changes policies I am always ready to reevaluate my positions, but when they decide to play tough, I am ready for that as well. I have no connection with any opposition or other governments so you are right in that regard (last comment)

May 25th, 2007, 6:13 pm

 

ausamaa said:

Yes Faris, appologies again for that slip.

May 25th, 2007, 7:39 pm

 

Enlightened said:

Thanks for Pontificating Ausamma!

May 25th, 2007, 11:41 pm

 

trustquest said:

Thank you Ehsani for your reply to Ausamaa,
Thank you too Majed for showing Ausamaa his deep disrespect for Syrians in and outside the country, but always shows his respect and defense to the one family regime.
Thank you K for your kind observation, otherwise we would be called cowards if we have not responded to him.
Thank you Atassi for weighting on the main difference between the Bathis and civil society,
Thanks to all who defended freedom of speech here and in the THIRD WORLD,
Thank you Dr. Landis for keeping this blog opens for Syrian to exercise freedom of speech which they are deprived of.
Ausamaa, with such comments, I think a lot of reader might skip your comments in the future since you stand against freedom of speech exactly like your friends in our beloved country.

May 26th, 2007, 1:18 am

 

ausamaa said:

I am not against freedom of speach, I just had it with perfunctory dump speach. That is all.

May 26th, 2007, 5:58 am

 

trustquest said:

Mr. Ausamaa,
Why don’t you find your own blog and call it, No Dump Free Speech blog. May be your readers will be your Syrian Elite friends in powers. However, from my close experience with those elites in power, they are the most illiterate and the dumped I have ever met. You can go the Homsis’ jokes reference and all Alawites, Bathiss jokes reference, it could help in indexing their level isolation and stupidity 🙂
This way you could more efficient since you are the one who advised Fares how to be efficient.

May 26th, 2007, 2:47 pm

 

Alex said:

hmm… let me try to change the above discussion topic then,

There is a very interesting new tone from Abdelrahman Alrached, head of Saudi-owned AlArabiya. For comparison, remember his previous tone with Syria when he described Assad as a leader that can achieve nothing more than mistakes and blunders. The article ended with a warning.

This time there is a warning as well, but there is an admission that Syria is the one that must be credited with defeating ther United States in Iraq, and Syria is also successful in influencing Israeli policies as well.

SYRIA AND SLEEPING WITH THE FUNDAMENTALISTS

سورية والنوم مع الأصوليين

لا أحد يجهل أن تسمين وتربية الحركات الأصولية في منطقتنا، شيعية كانت أم سنية، نتيجته فوضى مدمرة. معاركها محتومة بحكم طبيعتها الدينية، والشواهد أمامنا عديدة من المغرب الى السعودية. وما زاد في حيرة الكثيرين، قدرة دمشق على استخدام هذه الحركات الأكثر تطرفا في العالم، من أجل مواجهة الأميركيين في العراق، أو التحكم في لبنان، أو إدارة الصراع في الأراضي الفلسطينية المحتلة.

هذه الجماعات، مهما ظنت سورية أنها معصومة منها، أو تحت سيطرتها، تبقى في واقع الأمر كالعقارب، لا صداقة معها. فالجماعات الاصولية السنية المسلحة تعتبر النظام السوري كافرا أيضا، وقد تلتفت عليه ذاتيا غدا، أو ربما ستدار باتجاهه. وبعد أن صارت سورية الطريق السريع لهم بين العراق ولبنان، وبعد أن تكاثرت عداوات دمشق واعداؤها، لا أدري كيف تنام بينهم، بين حلفائها الأصوليين وخصومها من الانظمة. وليس مستبعدا أن هناك من يهيئ لإطلاق هذه القوى المتوحشة غدا في الساحة السورية، التي تراهن بدورها دائما على الحل الأمني، ونحن نعلم أن هذه الجماعات الإرهابية في ظروف إقليمية داعمة تصبح أكثر قدرة على المقاومة والتخريب العنيف جدا، وهز كيان أي نظام تستهدفه.

وربما سورية نفسها لا تدري حجم ما حققته باستخدام هذه الجماعات في ثلاثة اتجاهات جغرافية. سورية عمليا هي من هزم الولايات المتحدة في العراق أكثر من أي بلد آخر في العالم. من خلال فتح الباب للجماعات المتطرفة، بشكل منظم ومستمر، ألحقت خسائر هائلة بالوجود العسكري الأميركي في العراق بشكل لم يتنبأ به أي سياسي في البيت الأبيض. وقد برهنت دمشق بنفس الوسيلة، ولكن بدرجة أقل، على انها قادرة على التأثير على الوضع ضد اسرائيل، لولا أن الأخيرة ترسم خطوطا حمراء في تحمل الخسائر، ولا تبالي بأي قوانين في الرد على ما تعتبره مصدر الخطر على أمنها. أما لبنان فهو منطقة رخوة يسهل تخريبها، وان كان يصعب السيطرة عليها، وبتحالفاتها فإن سورية قادرة على تعطيل الوضع الرسمي، وإن لم تستطع السيطرة على كل الخريطة اللبنانية. دمشق باتت تحترف التعاطى مع كل الأصوليين الجهاديين بدون تمييز، شيعة وسنة، إلا ان النوم مع هذه العقارب له مخاطره. فلا يوجد فارق في الهدف، إلا في الأدبيات الدينية، بين حركة أصولية سنية مسلحة في مخيم فلسطيني في لبنان وأخرى شيعية مسلحة في الضاحية. والسماح لحزب الله بالسلاح، حملا وتخزينا، تحت أي ذريعة كانت، سيبرر لغيره التسلح بدعوى محاربة الإسرائيليين التي تحدث مرة واحدة في السنة، في حين يستخدم كل يوم ضمن التوازنات الداخلية.

والسؤال كيف سيكون وضع سورية بعد أن صار البلدان المجاوران، العراق ولبنان، في حالة حرب أصولية؟ لا نرى إلا نتيجة واحدة، هلالا مدمرا.

May 26th, 2007, 3:55 pm

 

ausamaa said:

The word around here from Lebanese friends about the start of the Naher Al Barid story is like this:

1- The whole story started when the Hariri Jr.gang failed to pay the monthly salary of a group of Fateh Al Islam this month
2- Upset with this, one of their leaders Abu Jandal, started bad mouthing al Hariri Jr. whome he accused of going back on his word and leaving the Fath Al Islam high and dry, and started threatening that he was gonna blow the whistle sky high
3- This happened at a refereshments and juice stand in Tripoli, the guy was overheared and quickly a “team” was dispatched and liquidated him
4- Consequently, a group of Fath Al Islam, thier salaries not paid by Al Harriri Jr., went ahead and “hit” Bank Midterranean which is a Harriri owned establishment
5- Then, the Information Branch (of the Ministry of Interior, the newly created pro-Harriri intelligence arm to counter Army Intelligence which reports directly to the Army Chief M. Suliman) took a decision to attack the hideaway Flats and to finish off the Fath Al Islam group which attacked the bank
6- When the intelligence branch attacked the Flats of Fath Al Islam in Tripoli, they were aiming to spark a confrontation between the Army and the Fath Al Islam gang that could lead to a higher degree of instability in Lebanon


The word now is that Al Harriri Jr. bunch have grossly miscalculated the reactions of all involved including the Army which they intended to decieve and including thier gross underestimaste of the small degree of control they “suddenly” discovered to have over the bunch of Takfiri groups they helped creat .

The speach of Hassan Nassrallah on Friday evening, in which he called for cooling things off and rejected any attack on the camps while still supportive of the Army, drove the Feb 14 gang crazy. Now, all Feb 14 are up in arms against Hizbullah, with their main effort concentrating on Pushing the Army into a military confrontation which may end in a higher degree of chaos which will then justify further requests by the Feb 14 for international interference in Lebanon under the cover of maintaining “security and stability” and which could have a suitable by-product being the finishing off of Fateh Al Islam and burying its connections to the Hariri.

From the above, and based on what is going on so far, Al Harriri gang has been accused of being trigger-happy for acting without giving considerations to the consequences of its actions, it has failed to inform the Army of what it was planning and hence (intentionally or unintentionally, with many voices highlighting the “intentionally” bit) endangered the safety of the army and forced the Army to slip into this unawares, and that it had allowed a monster to be created and which they could not control.

In my thinking, the Harriri/Siniora gang has lost on all counts. It had shown itself to be willing to take very high risks, could not control its own creations, was sly and mischevious in tricking the Lebanese Army in such a slippery situation and then hiding behind it, immature and uncaring about the safety of the Lebanon and willing to Risk it for its own narrow minded goals. It has further committed a SIN which it will soon discover to be historically fatal: By insisting on pushing the Army to enter the camps, and by opening fire on Nasrallah’s call which considered entering the Camps by the Army to be a red line that should not be crossed, then Al Hariri Jr gang has angered and lost the support of the 500,000 Palestinian refugees (overwhelmingly Sunnies) in Lebanon and have pushed them into the other political Lebanese camp. A slip which may alter the whole socio-religous balance of power in Lebanon for decades to come.

May 26th, 2007, 7:02 pm

 

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