“What Does the Future Hold for Syria?” By George Saghir

What Does the Future Hold for Syria?
By George Saghir
For Syria Comment
February 6, 2011

The demographic challenge

Like most countries in the region, Syria has experienced rapid population increase since independence in 1946. According to the UN, total fertility or the number of children that the average Syrian woman gives birth to in Syria averaged 6.44 over the last 60 years.  As one would expect, this rate had declined, but still averages 5.85 children per woman since 1970. Syria’s fertility rate today stands at 3.02 (2010), while Turkey’s is 2.18 (2010), Egypt’s is 3.01 (2010), and Yemen’s is an astonishing 4.81 (2010). For the record, the U.S. and Western Europe averaged 1.95 and 1.64 respectively since 1970. Run away population growth in Syria explains why the percentage of the population under the age of 14 is nearly 40% and those over 65 are a mere 3% (it is 18% in Western Europe). Is it any wonder that Egyptians feel that Mr. Mubarak is too old? Only 0.4% of Egyptians are 82 years old. Needless to say, most Syrians can identify with their president who is in his 40s; some 60% of Syrians are between the ages of 15 and 59?

Unemployment trumps all

It is an accepted truth that the Arab world can do with less corruption and more democracy and freedom, but none of this is likely to matter much if rapid population growth is paired with slow economic growth. The 40% of the people who are under the age of 14 will be looking for work in a few short years. To make matters worse, Syria, like others countries of the region, has one of the lowest women labor participation rates in the world – only 21% (2008) of Syrian females between 15 and 29 years of age are currently in the labor force. This is also likely to increase. Both demographic groups are expected to exert significant and steady pressure on Syria’s future unemployment rate.

Real Economic Growth

While Syria’s population almost doubled between 1975 and 2000, real (inflation adjusted) income growth was largely stagnant. The economic reform process of the past decade has brought the country faster growth, but not nearly enough given the population growth. While analysts and experts alike may offer a laundry list of reasons for the events in Egypt, there is little doubt the protests are primarily linked to the country’s failure to boost economic growth. Per capita GDP (Gross Domestic Product divided by the population) is a useful indicator. In 20 years, Egypt’s nominal per capita income has remained stagnant at USD $2,155. It has not grown at all. Factor in inflation and it becomes clear that real standards of living have actually fallen. There can be no surprise why Egypt’s youth poured into Tahrir Square to protest. It was only a matter of time.

Compare Egypt to Turkey

Over the same 20 years, nominal per capita income in Turkey grew by nearly 275%; it grew from $2,160 to $8,300 today. Had Egyptians been earning close to four times more than they were in 1990, one wonders if they would have taken over Tahrir in protest. Syria must emulate Turkey and not Egypt:

The best way to achieve this is by developing an increased sense of urgency about the need to accelerate economic growth and cut population growth. Patience in this case is not a virtue. Neither is indecisiveness. Every member of Syria’s economic team must get behind the reform agenda. Too much is at stake for indecision and backbiting.

Growth without population control will not cut it. According to the UN, Syria’s current population growth rate is 3.26%. This means that the population will double to 45 million by 2032, a short 22 years from now. However, were the birth rate to drop by a full percentage point to 2.25%, the doubling of the population to 45 million will be delayed till 2042, giving it ten extra years to grow the economy.  Turkey’s current population growth rate of %1.24 is a full two percentage points lower than that of Syria’s. Were Syria’s population growing at Turkey’s rate, it would have until 2067, or 35 extra years, to raise incomes for the same amount of people.

When discussing economic growth, it is important to emphasize the difference between nominal (current dollars) and real (constant dollars) growth. The former does not factor in inflation. The latter does. The distinction between the two measures becomes more pronounced in high inflation environments. One may experience a growth rate in incomes of say 5% but if inflation is also at 5%, real (constant dollar) income growth is zero. This is why it is hard to achieve real economic growth rates of 7 and 8 percent when an economy is experiencing inflation of 5%. Nominal or actual incomes would have to grow by 13% to experience a real growth rate of 8%.

Turkey’s reform process kicked into high gear in the early 1980’s under the leadership of the late Turgot Ozal. For Syria to achieve Turkey’s per capita growth rate of the past 25 years, it must do two things: 1- It must grow its economy by a real inflation-adjusted 8.5% if  population growth continues at 3.26%. 2- It can grow by a real inflation-adjusted 6.5% if it succeeds in slowing its population growth down to Turkey’s current level of 1.25%. Either option presents a formidable challenge and highlights the feat that Turkey has pulled off since 1980. Growing an economy at an inflation-adjusted rate of 8.5% is of course what China has been able to do recently (if you trust the country’s statisticians). Chinese planners have also been able to drop the country’s population growth rate to low of 0.63%.

Syria must tackle its population growth challenge

The late Yasser Arafat once famously said that “the womb of the Arab woman is my strongest weapon”. The region had long held the belief that high total fertility rates are positively correlated with economic and strategic strength. Up to a few years ago, Syria used to hand out medals to women who conceived 12 children or more. As a result, family planning was never thought of as applicable public policy for the region. This must change. Syria’s resources cannot keep pace with the present galloping population growth. Water will run out and incomes will fall. We can all imagine a number of nightmare scenarios about how thing will begin to go wrong.

But the World has many examples of countries that have conquered run away population growth. Thailand is one such example. In 1974, the average Thai mother gave birth to 7 children. The politicians understood that they faced ruin unless they got control of the problem.  Along came Mechai Viravaidya. His solution? Walk around the country handing out condoms. Over the past 36 years, the Thai state took up the example and has brought down the number of children per mother from 7 to 1.5. Ask about “Mr. Condom” in Thailand today. He is a hero. China of course saw the need for even more draconian action back in 1979. Chinese economic planners understood that unless they slowed down the population growth rates and significantly increased economic growth, the country also faced ruin.

By all accounts, the current demographic trend in the Arab world is a train wreck.  Most Arab leaders will fail unless they can convince their societies that nothing else matters if they can’t control their exploding population growth. Until then, economic reforms will fail. More stomachs will go empty; and more kids will come of age with no prospect of finding an honest job. The old Arabic adage that a new born baby will carry his riz-keto (fortune) with him must be ridiculed. It is no longer funny.

The Urgent Need for Economic Growth

Even if Syria implements an aggressive family planning policy soon, significant population growth changes take time. This leaves most of the burden on faster economic growth to raise the country’s per capita GDP. Since 2003, real growth has averaged between 3.4% and 4.8%. At this rate, Syria’s per capita incomes will grow at half the speed that Turkey’s did over its past 30 years. This leaves Syria with little room for error. Losing one or two percentage points of growth exposes Syria to Egyptian sized problems – stagnant per capita income over the next two decades and a population of 40 million.

Syria’s economic planners understand this dynamic for they have targeted a real growth rate of 7 to 8 percent. However, doubling real incomes is not easy and requires that Syria’s economy fire on all cylinders. It must get its legislative, fiscal and monetary policy in sync. I think that even the government would admit that this is yet to happen. The area of legislation, in particular, needs urgent attention. Rather than embracing best-practices that already work in the rest of the world, legislators seem to get bogged down in a bureaucratic maze that ends in legislation that lacks clarity, simplicity or business friendliness.

A word on Subsidies:

Middle and low income families spend up to 50% of their incomes on food. Over the past 4 decades, the Syrian state subsidized a list of basic commodities and energy products as part of its socialist economic strategy. When this policy was adopted, the Syrian population was barely 6 million. The Soviet Union was a strategic partner. New oil was being brought on line until it peaked at just under 600,000 b/d in 1996. Today, production has fallen just under 400,000 b/d.

The Soviet Union is of course no longer. The population is now higher by almost four fold. As of last year, the Syrian government’s bill for total subsidies was close to USD$ 8 billion. This amounts to USD$ 355 for every man, woman and child. For an average family, this is close to USD$ 2000 a year. What started as a perfectly honorable and humane government program that may have cost less than USD$ 2 billion a year, when it was first initiated 40 years ago, will end up bankrupting the state. If subsidies are not cut the bill will rise to $30 billion in 40 years.

Subsidies distort the efficient allocation of resources. They work by robbing from Peter to pay Paul. The Peters in this case are government hospitals, universities, roads and municipalities. They are underfunded and in disrepair. The Syrian public is constantly griping about the decline in state services. The Syrian government is not a magician. It cannot be expected to subsidize the population to the tune of USD$ 8 billion at the same time as it provides quality health-care and education. It must either raise taxes, borrow, or print money. The political pressure on the Syrian government to continue subsidies is immense following the Egyptian uprising. It would be wise for the leadership to resist such pressure and stick to its guns on cutting subsidies. The short term pain will be great; it is imperative to begin impressing on the public that they will be better off in the long run for the added pain in the short run.

A culture of dependency on the state has developed in Syria over the past several decades that will be hard to reverse. While the subsidies help many needy Syrians, they also fatten the pockets of smugglers. When you sell heating oil at prices that are less than a third of what they are in neighboring countries, you invite illicit trade. Syrian taxis travel with a full tank of gas to Turkey, empty the gas right across the border and return for an encore. While there is no denying that the poor is being helped by the subsidies, the fact is that the rich and powerful are also benefiting. The government must communicate to the public that what it is doing is not an assault on the poor or that it is deaf to their predicament. The arithmetic of falling oil revenues and increased population has combined to make these subsidies unaffordable.

The High cost of housing and the need for more education reform:

Arabs have generated much of their wealth from asset price booms. Think of real estate or oil. In contrast to East Asian countries that have built industries and knowledge-based services, Arabs have counted on scarcity. Asset-based booms do not depend on human capital inputs. They do not indicate a real rise in competitiveness, education or social organization. This is best illustrated by the ratio of the price of a house to annual income. The average house price/income ration in the US is 3. It went up to 4 during the real estate boom but dropped back to 3 when the sector lost close to 25% following the 2006 collapse. Syria and the rest of the Arab world have ratios approaching 10. In other words, it takes close to ten years of wages for the average Syrian to buy his house. This is made worse by weak credit markets that leave many of the youth unable to access financing.

Youth also face the challenge of overcoming an outmoded education system, that values memorization over all else. Critical thinking, working in groups, sports, arts, and personal leadership qualities all have zero bearing on a young student’s prospect of success in high school or university. When they graduate, Syrian students often find that they lack the skills they need to find a meaningful job.


Syria, like the rest of the Arab world, can no longer afford to live without a serious family planning campaign. Also, it must deliver high growth rates. Only by pursuing both policies together can it hope to raise incomes and create the jobs that young Syrians count on to give dignity and meaning to their lives.

Comments (178)

Souri said:

Thanks for the article. One major problem of Syria is that we almost never see this kind of articles in Syrian media. This is really insane. I do not know how any reform can be done while the Syrian media keeps attacking the economic reform process and promoting old-fashioned economic ideas. There is obvious neglect of this area by the government. Like always, the government basically does not dare to declare its true intentions and tries istead to get its reforms done as quietly as possible. Instead of enlightening the public, the Syrian regime always tries to fool the public and get around them when doing anything that might be unpopular. This is a chronic problem in Syria that has always been a major drawback. The Syrian regime has a deeply entrenched sense of illegitimacy and weakness that it always tries to avoid confrontation with the public. Such a fragile regime can hardly reform anything unless its is absolutely forced to.

Probably for the same reason the reform process seems to be extremely slow. I don’t know why it should take 20 years to reform legislations. Why do not they just copy the Turkish legislations and print them in Arabic? They used to do that with Egyptian legislations anyway.

It is extremely painfull and frustrating to watch this regime do reform. I am not sure if they truly understand the risks explained in this article. Perhaps they think they can control the people with the same iron grip forever? The reform process in Syria seems to be too modest givin the risks ahead.

February 8th, 2011, 4:45 am


m hussain said:

It’s an impossible feat for Syria to accomplish a sustained 8.5% growth rate. With a population of 22 million and few natural resources what are they expected to do. The option of high tech high value products is out of the question as they just don’t have the technical skill or access to the required tools. Furthermore crony capitalism which is the prevalant system there is not known to produce the dynamism required for sustained growth. The growth during the previous years has been mainly in telecommunications and finance of automobiles sectors which don’t enrich a country’s and the profits are often repatriated to foreign lands

February 8th, 2011, 4:48 am


George said:

Thanks for sharing; The facts and clarity of your article are important reaccount of our demographic issues in the region. Keep it coming; articles such as yours are reliable diagnistic to solving demographic, econimic and political challenges facing Syria and Lebanon.

February 8th, 2011, 9:30 am


Ghat Albird said:

Omar Ssuleiman Israel’s choice for President of Egypt.by WikiLeaks,

Omar Suleiman, Egypt’s recently appointed vice-president, has long long seen by Israel as the favoured successor to Hosni Mubarak, the current president, according to a leaked diplomatic cable obtained by WikiLeaks, the whistleblower website, and published by the UK daily, The Telegraph.

The August 2008 cable said David Hacham, a senior adviser at the Israeli ministry of defence (MoD), told US officials the Israelis expected Suleiman, spelt Soliman in some cables, to take over.

“Hacham noted that the Israelis believe Soliman is likely to serve as at least an interim president if Mubarak dies or is incapacitated,” the cable sent from the US embassy in Tel Aviv said.

“We defer to Embassy Cairo for analysis of Egyptian succession scenarios, but there is no question that Israel is most comfortable with the prospect of Omar Soliman,” the memo cited US diplomats as saying.

The cable said Hacham was full of praise for Suleiman, even noting that “a ‘hot line’ set up between the MoD and Egyptian General Intelligence Service is now in daily use”.

Suleiman was Egypt’s intelligence chief since 1993 and had been a frequent visitor to Israel and a mediator in its conflict with the Palestinians.

He was appointed Egypt’s vice-president late last month following pressure by mass demonstrators in the country calling for an immediate end to Mubarak’s 30-year rule.

Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, backed Suleiman on Saturday as the best candidate to lead a “transition” government as Mubarak continues to cling to power.

Mubarak has said he only intends to leave office in September at the end of his current term. But on Tuesday Suleiman announced that Mubarak would set up a committee that would carry out constitutional and legislative amendments to enable a shift of power.

Questions raised

The Telegraph’s report followed an earlier one by Reuters news agency on Monday, which also received leaked diplomatic cables via WikiLeaks.

Reuters reported that Suleiman had previously harshly criticised Egypt’s opposition Muslim Brotherhood in his communications with US officials.

Significantly, Suleiman held a meeting with opposition leaders, including the Muslim Brotherhood, on Sunday in a bid to end a political crisis that has seen hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets in opposition to Mubarak’s rule.

The leaked cables raised questions over whether Suleiman could be seen as an honest broker in any negotiations regarding the next steps for Egypt.

In the cables obtained by Reuters, Suleiman is reported to have told US officials that the Muslim Brotherhood was creating armed groups, most notably “the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and the Gama’a Islamiya [Islamic Group]” it said.

He is also said to take “an especially hard line on Tehran”, and in one dated January 2, 2008, Suleiman is quoted as saying that Iran remained “a significant threat to Egypt”.

‘Technically illegal’

The cable obtained by Reuters went on to say: “The principal danger, in Soliman’s view, was the [Muslim Brotherhood] group’s exploitation of religion to influence and mobilise the public.”

It continues: “Soliman termed the MB’s recent success in the parliamentary elections as ‘unfortunate’, adding his view that although the group was technically illegal, existing Egyptian laws were insufficient to keep the MB in check.”

The elections referred to were those in November and December in 2005, in which the Muslim Brotherhood made substantial gains.

The inclusion of the Brotherhood in the opposition’s talks with Suleiman are considered significant as the group is formally banned in Egypt, although its activities are tolerated.

The document’s obtained by the Telegraph also disclosed that Suleiman explored the idea of allowing Israeli troops into the Egyptian border area of Philadelphi in a bid to stop arms being smuggled to Palestinian fighters in Gaza.

Mubarak has long attempted to paint his rule of Egypt as a counterbalance to an “Islamist threat”.

“In their moments of greatest frustration, (Egypt Defence Minister) Tantawi and Soliman each have claimed that the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) would be ‘welcome’ to re-invade Philadelphi, if the IDF thought that would stop the smuggling,” the cable said.

The memo later revealed that Suleiman wanted Gaza to “go hungry but not starve” and for Hamas, the Palestinian group which governs the besieged enclave, to be “isolated”.

February 8th, 2011, 10:04 am


Naji said:

The article doesn’t say anything new. Comments 1 and 2 are very good and get closer to the heart of the problem!

February 8th, 2011, 10:05 am


bashar said:

Well Turkish growth did not come only from the economic reform came from several factors including the status of the legal system in the country and good environment for investment and into the State account the law even if sharply minimum in addition to reform the educational system and which will provide expertise efficient in leading the process of economic reform in addition to the revolution that the Turkish economy has witnessed recently also came from the opening on neighboring countries of Turkish positive impact on and reduce tension and create a better environment for economic cooperation issue is not only a matter of population growth and inflation rate prosperity in a society is the outcome of the operations are taking place in various influential positions in its development even the social values has a role to play

February 8th, 2011, 10:47 am


Syrian Nationalist Party said:


February 8th, 2011, 11:00 am


Alex said:

Wonderful post George,

I tried so hard to find something to argue against but could not find any : )

I wrote here in the past about Egypt’s “Mrs. Condom” … Jihan Sadat, wife of late President Anwar Sadat. In the late 70’s she tried to lead the Egyptian government’s campaign for family planning. I was a little child then but I remember the harsh reactions to her initiative. I heard many Egyptians give her one of the “prostitute” variety of titles.

I hope Syrians today are going to be a bit more receptive to calls for less children. Maybe NGOs should be leading such a campaign.

February 8th, 2011, 11:29 am


s. farah said:

excellet post, clear, sharp, and gives all policy makers in syria a somber look at the chalange ahead

February 8th, 2011, 11:40 am


G.Saghir said:


Thailand’s “Mr. Condom” started from the villages. He viewed them as ground zero of his issue. He worked with the grass root organizations in small villages first. While your suggestion of NGO’S makes sense, I believe that in the case of Syria and the Arab world the religious establishment will need to join the cause. This is not easy. I believe that “Mrs. Condom” should have stayed out of this. Without making religious leaders part of your initiative, I think that progress will be slow just as Egypt’s “Mrs. Condom” found out. What would make the clergy join the cause? The math. They must be made aware that they are an integral part of this solution and that without their blessing this is going to be an even bigger challenge than it already is.

S. Farah,

Thank you. I had loved your earlier writings too!


You are correct. Of course it is not only economic growth. Indeed, growth is linked and positively correlated to the issues that you raised. This is why I referenced the fact that the country needs to fire on “all” cylinders.


I apologize for sending your whole party to sleep. I will try to write something more exciting the next time.

February 8th, 2011, 11:57 am


Sam said:

The regional situation is absolutely terrifying. Last year grain prices soared because of an unprecedented drought in Russia. This year grain prices will be just as high because of an unprecedented drought in China and floods in Australia. Even the Amazon basn is dry this year. Parts of Syria are having their own severe drought. Richer countries, like China, have the money to buy whatever grain they need: Syria doesn’t.

Syria desperately needs investment in high-efficiency irrigation techniques and reuse of wastewater.

February 8th, 2011, 12:58 pm


Alex said:

I agree George.

I think you provided an easy to understand summary of the challenges. They can simply translate this article and make our religious leaders read it. Comparison to Turkey, currently led by a popular Islamic government, can help make the arguments kosher. Maybe invite Turkish family planning experts for some event and make them advise Syria on the urgent need to reduce fertility rates …

February 8th, 2011, 1:15 pm


Atassi said:

Mr. Saghir,
as always an educational analyzes form and enlightening mind, Thank you sir…Whoever,I would think, This typeof birth rate growth can’t be sustained under the current econ omic and social conditions facing the Syrian population, young Syrians can barely able or has the means to start a family, we may see in future sociological studies a sharp decrease of birth rate with the help of more young farmers migrating to the urban areas and looking for work and possibly a higher education’s and abandoning the framing way of life for a more stable job…

February 8th, 2011, 1:33 pm


Atassi said:

Why we always engage the notion that the Turkish way of life is the correct life style for the Syrians? Is it !

February 8th, 2011, 1:39 pm


Alex said:


Valid points, although you reminded me of a doorman at Syrian Civil Aviation when my father used to work there in the 70’s, The man’s salary was about 500 Syrian Liras ($125 at the time). He had 26 children!

(from more than one marriage obviously)

February 8th, 2011, 2:07 pm


Naji said:

I particularly like this bit…
“Arabs have generated much of their wealth from asset price booms. Think of real estate or oil. In contrast to East Asian countries that have built industries and knowledge-based services, Arabs have counted on scarcity. Asset-based booms do not depend on human capital inputs. They do not indicate a real rise in competitiveness, education or social organization.”

February 8th, 2011, 2:33 pm


Atassi said:

http://www.Syria-news.com just reported
البيت الأبيض ينتقد تصريحات سليمان عن عدم استعداد مصر للديمقراطية

قال المتحدث باسم البيت الأبيض إن “تصريحات نائب الرئيس المصري عمر سليمان عن عدم استعداد مصر للديمقراطية غير مفيدة

Assad said the same thing about the Syrians for his Wall street journal interview last week…. will get pulled out when they realize it 🙂

February 8th, 2011, 2:41 pm


Shai said:

Mr. Saghir,

Thank you for teaching us about Syria’s main challenges ahead in such depth. For us Israelis it is crucial that we begin to understand our neighbors, and the problems that they face. Syria’s problems, as other nations’ in our region, are our problem too (just as our problems are Syria’s). And perhaps that is part of the solution as well – that economic solutions must be introduced also on the regional level, and soon.

Surely you’ve heard of the various water solutions raised since Madrid, which offer hope for Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, and Israel. One that I find very interesting, has been written and presented by Mr. Boaz Wachtel, who discusses two large Turkish rivers whose water normally empties into the Med, as a source for providing huge amounts of water to our region, using elevation and gravity alone! It could be a tremendous project, and it could save us one day.

When Peace finally comes, and borders finally open, I believe economic cooperation and the expected foreign investments that will follow throughout the region will boost up the economies in ways we cannot fathom right now. Peace in our region will completely transform our lives, and enable the Middle East to be reborn, and to slowly reestablish itself as an important contributor to civilization. The same talent and hard work that brought Algebra and Astronomy, Commerce and Trade, while Europeans were living in huts made of mud, still exist within us. It is in the DNA of the people in this region.

I’m still hoping to see this region become, in my life, a UME – a United Middle East. It will be the thing that will save us all.

February 8th, 2011, 2:42 pm


Jihad said:

This article is full of repetitive cliches.

Caught my eye among others things, this over-repeated cliches:

“Youth also face the challenge of overcoming an outmoded education system, that values memorization over all else. Critical thinking, working in groups, sports, arts, and personal leadership qualities all have zero bearing on a young student’s prospect of success in high school or university. When they graduate, Syrian students often find that they lack the skills they need to find a meaningful job”…

You can read what Galal Amin wrote in his books on Egypt concerning the cliches of “memorization”.

A US-university graduate have more critical thinking or personal leadership qualities. I met many French, Canadian, American, etc., students and they have none of such qualities. I might add say that many of them are even dumb.

How come undergraduate Syrian students (among other Arab students) outperform their Western counterparts when they go study on the Master and PhD levels in France, the UK and the US.

Educated and skilfull Syrian students (as their fellows in other Arab countries) cannot find jobs because there are none. I met in the Gulf many Syrians who work on different levels and they occupy high posts and well-paid jobs.

From what I saw of successful Syrian people I met, they don’t like to brag in a silly way like, let us say the Lebanese who like to immitate the White Man day and night.

February 8th, 2011, 3:03 pm


majedkhaldoon said:

The psychology of revolution,is the result of interaction of the ruler and the people
1-the ruler he goes through five stages
B- anger
C-Rope pulling
2_the people go through
C-Get rid of fear
E-rope pulling
F- winning

February 8th, 2011, 3:09 pm


Averroes said:


A very sobering report. Thank you for a great effort.

I think that one of the most important areas that must be done is to elevate the level of communication between the people and the government. This may seem like a no-brainer, but I strongly believe it is not.

Like you said, a culture has developed in Syria (and other Arab nations) that government is by definition a totally opaque, omnipotent entity with completely unidirectional influence. This causes people to assume a passive role and to feel and act irresponsibly.

People in Syria today perceive almost all happenings passively: ‘they’ cut the water, ‘they’ cut the power, ‘they’ increased the price of gasoline. I even heard a relative say that ‘they’ are clamping down on those corrupt figures only to allow others a share of the bounty (i.e to allow others to have at the public assets). This is an incredible level of detachement.

Even when one tries to explain that the price of oil is rising worldwide, and that we should not waste water, one is faced with a confused gaze that lasts for a moment, before people go back to their old ways, wasting resources, being unproductive, and complaining about ‘them’.

I have had several discussions with people, stating that the productivity of the average worker in Syria is very low, that we waste more water than people in North America, that all these Air Conditioners may not be necessary, but in almost all cases, I’m always faced with the same response, a self-serving, childish finger pointing towards the government, with no willingness to take any responsibility whatsoever.

This is a very dangerous kind of ignorance; one that could potentially lead to rioting, looting, and loss of order. This culture of irresponsibility and perpetual wining about the government all the time has to be broken because it is too dangerous to ignore.

The government, being the most resourceful and organized entity in the country should develop programs to change this deadly culture. One major step that is absolutely essential is the eradication of high-level corruption.

You cannot ask people to trust what the government is saying while people still see (or perceive) several figures as operating above the law. One businessman’s corruption can cause infinite damage by causing millions of people to lose faith in the system, and thus to abandon responsibility and assume the passive, unproductive consumer mode most people are in today. NO AMOUNT OF PLANNING WILL WORK IF HIGH-LEVEL CORRUPTION IS NOT ERADICATED. PERIOD.

The second thing that needs to be done, and I have said this many many times, is a type of social education and dialog. George’s report, for instance, could be made into a documentary, with supporting testimonies, expert opinion, and layman commentary to drive in the message. The process of government should be explained again and again and again, with a high level of transparency, so that people change the paradigm of ‘they, the untouchable’ into a more rational model of reality, where everyone shares responsibility. The information in the above report is extremely focused and distilled, and almost no one in Syria will know anything about it, even though it is a scientific outlook onto the consequences of the status quo. This needs marketing and effective communication so that everyone has at least some understanding of where the price increases are coming from, and why it is that “life used to be so much better”.

When people see the big picture and see their place in it, and when they see that law applies to everyone, they will feel responsible and they will start to act responsibly and we can start moving. Alternatively, when people are deaf and blind, they will act by instinct and by their most immediate and selfish urges, with no regard to anything else, thus voiding any plan of its core and pushing the train faster to disaster.

February 8th, 2011, 3:09 pm


G.Saghir said:


You picked on what I also consider to be one of the critical aspects in the article. Thank you. I wanted to stay on message in this note. What you highlight is extremely important and is for another essay altogether. What you picked on ties in nicely with my example on median house price to median income. At 10, for an average Arab citizen to be able to buy an average house like an average American can with his/her income, home prices in the region have to drop by 70%. The lack of alternative investments have pushed capital into real estate and simply priced the median income earner out. I do believe that government policy here is to partially take the blame. Tax policy is a tool that has simply never been used to offer incentives or slow investments in real estate.


I am sorry that you feel the way you do about the repeated clichés. The list that I made in the brief paragraph that I included on the subject clearly roots for US-Style university admissions process. Syrians who went to study abroad were mostly under “ishraf”. This was only open to medical and engineering students. This is why you find most Syrians who studied abroad to be disproportionately in the medical field. This particular discipline is highly technical and Syrian universities are well suited for that. The local banks, in contrast, have found it very hard to hire Syrian graduates who have studied economics. The language skills for one are rather weak. So is their basic knowledge of balance sheet analysis. I can recount to you multiple stories from banker friends of mine confirming that it is not easy to find qualified staffing from local universities.


Thank you. I cannot agree more.

February 8th, 2011, 3:29 pm


jad said:

Hi George,
I believe that the more urban Syria become the less fertility Syrian will be.
I agree with you on the need to balance the labor force, it’ll be great if we make it 50/50, that would be a win-win situation to all Syrians, women and men.

Couple small updates to the numbers in the post just to have to most recent ones:

“Syria’s fertility rate today stands at 3.02 (2010), while Turkey’s is 2.18 (2010), Egypt’s is 3.01 (2010), and Yemen’s is an astonishing 4.81 (2010)”


“Syria, like others countries of the region, has one of the lowest women labor participation rates in the world – only 21% (2008) (not 14%) of Syrian females between 15 and 29 years of age are currently in the labor force.


February 8th, 2011, 4:38 pm


robinson said:

Great piece.

Now on to the nitpicking…

“The government must communicate to the public that what it is doing is not an assault on the poor or that it is deaf to their predicament.”

I frankly can’t imagine how the regime would do this. I’m no economist, but how many years are we talking before any truly tangible results are felt by the poor? 5 minimum, right?

Communicating that kind of message to the public is incredibly difficult in the US, and to my mind it would probably be even more difficult in Syria

February 8th, 2011, 5:11 pm


G.Saghir said:


The most recent data issued by the statistics office on economic data for example is end of 2009. I would be very careful using 2010 data from CIA fact books and so on. Those are implied rates and use are not taken from the source. I used the UN and used the 2000-2005 bucket as that ensures that the data have (hopefully) been collected and tabulated at the source. For the record, the Prime Minster had referred to future populations in the past and his numbers are consistent with the 3.25% population growth rate that I assumed for today’s and which is the basis for the doubling of the population every roughly 22 years.

February 8th, 2011, 5:15 pm


Huda Midani said:

Thanks George, I cannot agree more on what you presented here, i would reinforce that we (as individuals and government officials) need to live and promote a culture of competence and professionalism in the way we lead our lives and work

February 8th, 2011, 5:16 pm


Roland said:

Syria should pursue a nationalist, Listian model of economic development.

Fact is, they’ve come much too late to the global liberalization party. There is no point now in closely imitating the earlier arrivals, except with regard to an emphasis on education.

Agriculture is important, because the era of ultra-cheap world trade in food is slowly drawing to a close. Emphasize distributed land ownership, combined with cooperative marketing boards and government-backed farm credit. Government experimental farms would lower the threshold for rural innovation.

Protect and diversify industry, with a long-run intention to build up a workforce skilled across many fields. Don’t look for maximum competetive advantage–scorn it. Instead, build industry broad and shallow.

Foreign analysts and globalist neoliberals will complain nonstop. Let them complain.

February 8th, 2011, 8:25 pm


Souri said:

The most urgent problem in Syria is not population growth, it is the educational system. I hate to talk about cutting down on population growth while I know that the educational system in Syria is still the WORST in the region and that the Syrian government still does not seem to understand how bad it is. I hate to talk about cutting down population growth while I know that corruption is still as bad as it has always been and that inefficient people still get hired by the government because of favoritism and corruption.

Before cutting down on population growth, the Syrian government should have seriously worked to reform education and the judiciary system. Syria is a hopeless country. Do not ever fool yoursleves by believing that things are getting better in Syria.

February 8th, 2011, 8:42 pm


Alex said:

Another thing George, Fertility rates are not the only cause of “the problem”. over the past decade, Syria’s infant mortality rates dropped dramatically. It is currently 16/1000 well below the world average of 49.

In comparison, the rate for Turkish babies are much higher, at 27/1000
(UN IMR data)

Also, Syria’s life expectancy is now at 74.1 years … considerably better than before and above world average of 67.2 years.

February 8th, 2011, 8:49 pm


Norman said:

Thanks Alex, you always make me feel better about Syria these statistics are great,

Roland , I like what you wrote,makes sense,

In the West , when people get old they have Medicare, good social security, they do not need their children to a major extend,
In Syria children need to take care of their parents,provide for health care, financial support, and with life expectancy increasing in Syria, Syrian parents need more children to take care of them,
Let me tell you about my experience, I am one of two brothers , We live in the US, my mother is the only one to take care of as my father died 25 years ago, I can afford to take care of my mother but if i were in Syria that would have been very difficult with only the two of us, more children would make it easier .and that is probably what Syrian families think about when they want more children, i do not think that they intend to overwhelm the services,and when the elderly are taken care for then they do not need to have more children and can spend on themselves instead on more children,

February 8th, 2011, 11:02 pm


NK said:


Will you please share the source of your statistics, last I checked when it comes to Syria most of the statistics are mostly estimates and speculations not based of actual data.


You’re comparing Syria’s smartest and brightest to the avg students in U.S and E.U … of course they’re going to be better, let’s compare them to the top students out of M.I.T, Harvard and Stanford and see how they fare against those.

Another important point is, when Syrian students leave Syria, they study additional books ( Often the curriculum of other top universities around the globe ) in order to become accepted and then successful. Let’s take a student fresh out of a Syrian university, one that used Syrian college books as the sole source of his studies, and compare him to one of those students who you’re calling dumb. I assure you, you’ll find the results to be shocking!

And finally, Where does the Syrian universities rank when you compare them to other universities around the globe ? please have a look for yourself


I’ll agree that the data might not be all that accurate, but the best Syrian university is ranked at 4599 while the top Israeli University is ranked at 192 ,and the top Turkish university is ranked at 321.

What was the last scientific paper that a Syrian university published ? Does Syrian universities even have any scientific research programs whatsoever ?

We need to stop fooling ourselves into believing that our students are way smarter because those who go outside do well for themselves, they do well because they’re the best Syria has to offer and the universities they get into spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on staff and equipment to help them achieve greatness, not because something they were taught back home from a book that was translated into Arabic some 30-40 years ago.

Finally, just to rub it in, how many of Syria’s students can read a book in English ? the answer is not many … so how can you expect them to keep up with all the scientific advancements, research, and studies ? I’ll answer this question as well, most of your university graduates never read another science book after they graduate. Still think Education in Syria is in good shape ?.

Mr. Saghir

Excellent article, it addresses two major challenges that Syria has to face in the near future, and sadly the time to act is running out pretty quickly.
Maybe the way to counter the population problem is to have a massive campaign to educate the public, have ads run on TV stations, banners in the streets and even instruct teachers to discuss the subject in their classrooms, getting to children at young age might be very productive even if they don’t get the full picture, just planting the idea that having a lot of children is a bad thing might go a long way. One last thing is maybe have a government program to provide some kind of financial incentive for employees with small families of 2 or less children, it’ll be an extra burden on the budget but in the long run it’s benefits will out weigh the costs.

February 8th, 2011, 11:35 pm


Averroes said:


Good news!!

The Syrian government lifts ban on social networking sites FB, twitter, YouTube.

واستطك ثقيلة و الله. كنت احكي من زمان
يعني لو عالبث المباشر مو هيك

February 8th, 2011, 11:40 pm


Alex said:

Ahlain Norman

And by the way, my guess about the Synagogues repairs was just a good guess. I would not come here to show off that I guessed it if it was because I am connected!


My source is my father! : )

He is a UN diplomat.

But also, those numbers are available on Wikipedia

Left (UN data) column:




February 8th, 2011, 11:46 pm


Souri said:

To make things in Syrian education just worse, the Syrian government still doggedly insists on keeping all education in Syria in Arabic only. In such a poor and corrupt country as Syria, this means only more burdens and more isolation of the Syrian educational system from the rest of the world. Keeping up with the rest of the world becomes very hard when you are forced to use Arabic only in teaching and researching. This is a huge mental and economic waste in an educational system that is already very backwarded even when comparing to neighboring Arab countries.

All of Syria’s problems stem from the mummified mentalities that still run this country. Unless we get rid of these petrified mentalities, Syria will never be able to catch up.

February 9th, 2011, 12:04 am


Off the Wall said:

Like many, I have been silent during the dialog about why Syria is different from Egypt and Tunisia. Having neither a mare, nor a camel stake in the issue, i have opted for silence and left it to those who know better. But as the picture started to emerge from Egypt showing some details of the true reasons for anger, and some of the mechanics of vulgar wealth acquisition by Gamal’s cronies, I became dismayed and anxious to see many advocating an accelerated economic reforms as a way for the many arab states (Yemen, Syria, Jordan, Algeria) to opt out of much more necessary, and rather urgent political reforms that should go far beyond holding “local elections” and should include a fundamental shift in the relationship between the state (aldawla) and its citizens. Granted, in Syria, for example, the level of theft and appropriation of public wealth to few influential people is in no way close to that seen in Egypt during Gamal’s economic miracle, but given the current state of affairs, it would be a matter of time before state owned factories are sold, and large swathes of state owned land are appropriated for development and tourism, hopefully in manners not similar to those of Russia, Egypt and Tunisia, which allowed for the emergence of a new class of Oligarchs, a key source of the festering agitation that sparked the two revolutions. This hope is unlikely to materialize anywhere if accountability is not universal, and such can not be assured without fundamental shift from a security-based political framework which by its nature demolishes any chance of universality of accountability.

Everyone talks about the poor and poverty. Yet a precious few try to capture what poverty is as seen by the toad not the eagle! World bank monetary thresholds $x/day (eagle’s view) are useless when one considers complex interactions such as self perception, internal-external migration, deskota principle, and local socio-economic and even eco-system conditions (toad’s view). To do so, one must consider broader definitions of poverty which add voicelessness as a characteristics of poverty. By these broader definitions, most Arabs feel poor, and we are told, through international media and other venues, that they will remain so for another generation.

What is the value of education and critical thinking if the two can not be used to critically examine ones own conditions and reach conclusion about ones political views? I wholeheartedly disagree with the notion that Syrian graduate students outperform their counterparts solely because they are Doctors and Engineers. They outperform because they can, for the first time in their lives, use their critical thinking, fearlessly, to examine and to comment on their surrounding. The mere discovery of the taste of freedom of expression sets them on a wild journey, intellectually and academically. You can not find good bankers and economists because when the deans of economy in flagship universities throughout the Arab world can pay heavy price for asking the wrong economic questions about state budgets. Economists need freedom of speech so that they can quantify not merely production indices but corruption and accountability indices, accountants and auditors need whistle blower shields to show how and where the red ink comes from, and officers of the law should not have to wait for political decision, generally made by state-security usurping political discourse, before they start pursuing fishy practices and their practitioners be it at city council, or at a minor supply depot or custom point.

In terms of economic growth, both Egypt and Tunisia were being touted as exemplary neoliberal success stories. And yet, both countries are being rocked by revolutions (it is not over in either country). Is this truly a bread revolution? Keen observers believe that it is ill advise to release security officers who proudly call themselves Baltajeea and act as goons. Anyone doing so should be mindful that Bou Ezizi did not literally set the first spark of the Tunisian revolution because he was poor, but because he was humiliated by the state security and that the Egyptian revolution started at the heels of yet another security-based murder of a young Egyptian man. These security officers in both cases contributed not to the security of their regimes, but to their demise. Lessons are out there for those who want to learn. But they require one to exercise critical thinking. Anyone willing to listen?

February 9th, 2011, 12:24 am


Barbara said:

I enjoyed this article very much. I don’t have much to add except my surprise at how traditional women’s lives are in Syria. Your article mentioned that Syria is having a population explosion. This reminded me of an article in the Washington Post that I read many many years ago about Iran, during the reign of Ayatollah Khomenei, when the Islamic Republic was young. Apparently, the Ayatollah was alarmed at how quickly the Iranian population was increasing. In reaction, the Ayatollah made it MANDATORY that all couples who were preparing to marry receive counseling regarding FAMILY PLANNING & CONTRACEPTIVES!

As an American, I don’t have many positive things to say about the old Ayatollah (may he still rest in peace), but I was AMAZED at how forward-thinking this particular requirement was. This could never have happened in the USA, where, the Catholic Church, among other religious organizations, would have some negative things to say about contraceptives, even if used by married couples.

I understand that Iran, like Syria, still has a huge population explosion.

Sorry for my meanderings, but I wanted to thank you for your article.

February 9th, 2011, 12:58 am


Ultraracism == Ultrazionism « KADAITCHA said:

[…] “What Does the Future Hold for Syria?” By George Saghir AP IMPACT: At CIA, grave mistakes, then promotions – As the empire exculpates its crooks at the top, so does it protect (and promote!) its flunkeys. Tunisian regime seeks emergency powers against mass protests Gillard delivers indigenous report card Egypt, Human Rights, Israel, Palestine, Politics, Zionism   apartheid, colonialism, Egypt, Human Rights, imperialism, Israel, justice, occupation, Palestine, Politics, wikileaks, Zionism      The Empire Dithers » […]

February 9th, 2011, 2:27 am


Majhool said:


If there is ever an election, and you run, i will vote for you.

February 9th, 2011, 3:17 am


Mr. President said:

George and others,

You cannot decide to replace a slice in any social system and expect a complete improvement. you need to change all factors impacting the system. you need to change the entire system. Population growth in Egypt did not work and it would not work in Syria. why? How do you expect a family to limit itself to two children knowing that one child could easily be killed in a war from Israeli or American invasion. Also,the children could one day disappear in a civil war between Shias and Sunnis,… They could disappear by a sudden visit from the secret police. They could disappear by immigrating looking for a better life,… what about Islamic law that says by not having a boy child you are forced to leave half of your entire inheritance to a unknown distant relative,…this means that your daughters will be left homeless. Sharia law does not allow you to write a will. It is a must that you have at least two male children. I can list at least 100 factors affecting this population growth issue.

February 9th, 2011, 9:22 am


Off the Wall said:

In my previous post, please correct Deskota priniciple to
Desakota Phenomenon from which I tried to convey the following pargraph

The desakota context forces changes in perceptions of who are considered ‘poor’. Economic measures such as the $1/day income standard do not capture the multiple factors that influence poverty, and are only weakly related to the factors that enable or constrain the ability of individuals and households to move out of poverty. Why people are viewed or view themselves as “poor” often can be tangibly related to specific causes that may range from household structure to education or access to common lands or common institutions. This broadening of perspective on poverty may assist in identifying more effective avenues for poverty alleviation that, while partially related to increases in income per se, needs to encompass a much broader set of definitions suited to local social and environmental context

I will try to find the reference for Voicelessness as a measure of poverty. I am sure urban planners among SC community can provide much more information on the Desakota (Fuzzy urban-rural) subject.

Also, please accept my apologies for several spelling and perhaps grammatical errors.

February 9th, 2011, 10:23 am


majedkhaldoon said:

All for Syria said that Bashar no longer demanding the return of all Golan to Syria,if this is true,it would be serious ,and dangerous mistake.
Egyptians are escalating their revolution,more crowd,more demands,begining confrontations.

February 9th, 2011, 10:29 am


norman said:

Print Back to story

US welcomes Syria access to Facebook, YouTube
32 mins ago

WASHINGTON (AFP) – An aide to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday welcomed Syria’s decision to give its people direct access to Facebook and You Tube, but voiced fears that users would run risks without freedom of expression.

“Welcome positive move on Facebook & YouTube in #Syria but concerned that freedom puts users at risk absent freedom of expression&association,” Alec Ross said on the microblogging website Twitter.

In Damascus, Internet users said that for the first time since 2007, Syrians could directly log onto Facebook and YouTube without going through proxy servers abroad.

The authorities issued no statements regarding the development, but Syria’s leading media and technology entrepeneur, Abdulsalam Haykal, told AFP that the request to lift the block “had reached Internet service providers.”

“The process of lifting the ban will take time and may extend for hours or days, according to the supplier,” he added.

Copyright © 2011 Yahoo! Inc. All rights reserved.Questions or CommentsPrivacy PolicyAbout Our AdsTerms of ServiceCopyright/IP Policy

February 9th, 2011, 11:00 am


Shami said:

Public education failure in Syria is the main cause of this unfavourable demography,the result is an high number of child labor ( that the official datas hide) ,on the other hand,very young girls are married at young age inspite of the law that forbid such mariages.
This disorder, also has a bad impact on the percentage decline of the christian population in Syria which fell below the 5%(the other reason is mass emigration to lebanon ,the west) ,in fact this decline is of the syrian middle class in general.In this regard,Syria is far worse than Tunisia,what we have seen in Tunisia succeded because it was mostly a middle class revolution.
As for the syrian new capitalism ,there is no more outrageous,uneconomic,corrupt,ignorant than it.

February 9th, 2011, 11:12 am


AIG said:

I think everybody agrees that without lifting the US sanctions, Syria will not be able to achieve significant growth. Also, I think we can all agree that in order to get significant foreign investments, Syria needs to look to prospective investors as a safe place to invest.

But, if these things are tied to Israel giving back the Golan, isn’t Syria just giving Israel control over Syria’s economy? Syria needs to figure out a way to grow and prosper irregardless of the issue of the Golan.

February 9th, 2011, 11:13 am


Ayman said:

Dear George..

it’s almost impossible for syrian government to abandon subsidiaries for idealogical reasons ,what you described as “painful” i believe is very conservative term..

I disagree with you regarding the family planning (birth rate control), population growth does increase (on the long run) aggregate hours which (along with labor productivity growth) promote Real GDP growth…

When labor productivity grows, real GDP per person grows and brings a rising standard of living.

but before growing labor productivity to promote GDP/Capita growth we need incentive system, the most important elements of efficient incentive system are:
1- Markets ..thankfully we have this
2- Property rights..(No comment)
3- Monetary exchange system…(one word inefficient for now)

Only then we can start increasing Labor productivity by means of 1- capital growth 2- human capital growth (education and job experience) 3- technological Advances (Adopting new technologies)

I agree with you completely regarding the education level of syrian universities .
overall i loved the article..

February 9th, 2011, 11:32 am


NK said:

Mr. President

Syria does not have Sharia law, according to Syrian constitution, Islamic jurisprudence is a main source of legislation, which is not the same as having pure Islamic law.

Citizens of Syria are allowed to write wills, in fact both my grandmothers ( God have mercy on their souls ) did leave wills.

Not sure where you got your info that Sharia law does not allow Muslims to write wills!. In fact there are many verses in Qur’an and many Hadith regarding this issue.

You see humans, more often than not, tend to misinterpret scripture to suit their own needs and visions of how things should be. This might be fine on a personal level, but turn disastrous when that twisted vision turn into laws. The prove is Saudi Arabia and Iran, with their “Sharia Law” which has nothing to do with Sharia or law, and are indeed a disgrace to Islam and the legacy of Islamic culture. That’s why one should admire Thomas Jefferson and the American model of separating church and state.

You said Egypt did not succeed in bringing it’s birth rates down effectively, but China did, and so did other countries around the world. In most of them economic overhaul and increased GDP went hand in hand with a decrease in population growth rate, something known as (demographic transition), I don’t want to write a wall of text about this, so please feel free to read about it yourself ^^


The point is, political reform is not an absolute necessity for economic and social reform, and if you can’t have it all, then at least try and work on some!

February 9th, 2011, 12:01 pm


Akbar Palace said:

Operation Cast Lead Amnesia

Mr. President said:

How do you expect a family to limit itself to two children knowing that one child could easily be killed in a war from Israeli or American invasion.

Wouldn’t a Syrian child more likely be killed by the Syrian military? I’m thinking the Syrian military has killed more Syrians than those by the IDF and Israel.

Amnesty International initially estimated the death toll was between 10,000 and 25,000, the vast majority innocent civilians.[14]




February 9th, 2011, 12:10 pm


jad said:

Dearest OTW,
You are referring to the World Development Report of 2000-2001 when they define poverty as:
-lack of opportunities (material deprivation)
-lack of capabilities (low achievement in education and health, malnutrition)
-Vulnerability (low level of security)
-VOICELESSNESS (and powerlessness)
While the first two were kind of measured, the third dimension was not measured appropriately however the fourth dimension was not measured AT ALL…….

This is the report:

Why every comment you leave is religious base and religious connected? I seriously don’t understand your logic at all. When are you going to understand to look to Syrians as HUMAN without thinking/linking/judging their religions and sects as a factor of anything you write about?
Honestly, it sadden me when I see young people thinking this way, that is the true disaster and not having too many people.

February 9th, 2011, 12:13 pm


Ghat Albird said:

America’s only democratic ally in the ME against democracy in Egypt.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s second-in-command has strictly rejected the establishment of democracy in Egypt, alleging it could have dire consequences.

Deputy Premier Silvan Shalom said attempts at promotion of democracy in Egypt could strengthen what he called radical elements in the country, said Israeli website The Marker, a subdivision of the Ha’aretz newspaper.

He asserted, “We know that, recently in the Middle East, democratic elections have caused the accession to power of radicals like Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Hezbollah in Lebanon.”

The resistance movements, who owe their presence in the defense and political arenas to popular consensus, have invariably defended the Palestinians and Lebanese against deadly Israeli invasions.

“Think of what would happen if the radicals become dominant over Egypt and decide to close the Suez Canal,” he said.

Its a wonder that Israeli politicians have not as yet listed the names of individuals in each of the Arab countries that they want as Presidents/leaders

February 9th, 2011, 12:32 pm


G.Saghir said:


Westerns societies including Japan have the opposite problem to the one in the Arab world. In places like Italy and Japan, fertility is so low that the population is actually declining as birth rate is below that of replacement. A number of economists think that this will present a challenge to the growth of their economies.

A high population rate in the region can actually be conducive to higher GDP as more people, means more spending on food, housing and the like. The challenge as you say is to have a productive labor force. Potential growth of GDP is the growth of the labor force plus the growth of productivity. The formula ought to mean that the region’s potential GDP can be high if productivity growth does what you describe.

Turning high labor force growth into an opportunity for high potential growth hinges on the productivity question.

February 9th, 2011, 1:21 pm


Mr.President said:

you can write a will but most judges will not execute it after your death. “La Wasieh Li Wareth”. ( No will for the one who inherit.). All syrian lawyers will tell you not waste your time.
Family matters in Syria are under the jurisdiction of Mahkameh El Sharieh”/ Sharia Court. this is to include marriage, divorce, inheritance, child custody,… for example, civil marriages are not recognized in Syria. This is because of Sharia. i have done my research and it seems that you have not. 🙂 I am not judging this Shria system but I am trying to explain its influence on the issue of population control.

February 9th, 2011, 1:43 pm


Shami said:

Jad,i mourn which was not long time ago a cosmopolitan city.
Despite our age ,we witnessed this historic metamorphosis ,it affects me because it’s seems an hardly reversible change,the issue can not be evaded for anyone who care about centuries old muslim-christian-jewish co-existence.
What we must criticize is this misuse of religion for foreign policy aims by inviting syrian christians to applauze general Michel Aoun ,this regime behavior is very pitful,it’s humiliating.

February 9th, 2011, 2:34 pm


Alex said:

Meanwhile in the west bank …

February 9th, 2011, 3:31 pm


gk said:

Response to #50:
Most European countries provide incentive for women to have more kids because they are facing a reduction in population. If it is not for the immigrants, mainly from “Muslim” countries, they will have real hard time maintaining their growth! That’s why they like to have young men (a productive labor force) immigrated to their countries! The immigrant are already above 18 (they did not spend any money on them going through school) and are willing to do the menial work that the European don’t want to do!

February 9th, 2011, 3:31 pm


Akbar Palace said:

Alex is Shock-ed


Although I didn’t see the full video, what offended you the most? And after you answer, let us know if there is anything in the ME, outside of Israel, that is comparable or even worse.

February 9th, 2011, 5:09 pm


Angelis Dania said:

That video was a buffet of offensiveness, mass brainwashing, double standards, and concrete proof that the human mind can rationalise almost anything.

What I took out of it is what I take out of most of Louis’ compilations. That is, he is hilarious! Especially those facial expressions he gives when he gets a stupid answer. 😀

February 9th, 2011, 5:30 pm


Alex said:


Did I write anything to indicate I was shocked?

But I can tell you one my favorite parts for which I recommend that you watch the whole thing!

It is the part where the Jewish Wine maker won’t allow the American Zionist Christians to step into his kosher wine factory … but they are allowed to help Israeli settlers for a whole month, as they volunteered to do so, by working in the field and carrying the grapes, loading the trucks … etc.

And when he was asked why is it fair that the American Christians would accept that kind of treatment? he said “I don’t know, whatever … maybe they need to repent their sins by serving us” … the chosen people.

You know Akbar, I think I am good at spotting dangerous, spoiled, immature individuals … or nations.

Israel and Saudi Arabia have been spoiled by the United States for so long. You are both dangerous to the Middle East and to the Entire planet in the long run.

Saudi Arabia finances most extremists, and Israel is extremism inc. … one of the main forces behind the Iraq war and the upcoming (if Netanyahu could get his way) Iran/Middle East-wide war.


February 9th, 2011, 5:36 pm


Shai said:


Well I did watch the entire thing, and I too am not shocked, I’m disgusted. People who share my religion, and speak my language, are blatantly, unapologetically, and ruthlessly robbing another people of their lands, their homes, their lives, and their most basic of human rights.

These people, the Settlers, are nothing short of fanatics.

There was nothing “funny” about this film. It was, from my point of view, a depiction of the worst that some of my people and my religion have to offer.

February 9th, 2011, 6:01 pm


Akbar Palace said:

You know Akbar, I think I am good at spotting dangerous, spoiled, immature individuals … or nations.


Thanks for the response. You have every right to point out anything you want. Racism and intolerance is very easy to find in the ME, on an individual basis, and on a government level.

The beginning portion I saw, showed a “typical” Israeli hard-liner whose is guilty of living among a majority of arabs. I a sense, I applaud his “chutzpah”. Meanwhile, there are Arabs who live among a majority of Jews, and no one thinks twice about it. Go figure (I have already).

Israel and Saudi Arabia have been spoiled by the United States for so long. You are both dangerous to the Middle East and to the Entire planet in the long run.

That’s your opinion. Naturally, I think most Americans, including New Yorkers, think Islamic Fundamentalism is “dangerous to the Middle East”. That is why the issue of the Muslim Bortherhood is front and center in the news.


And apparently, the numbers attest to this. Most murders of innocent people, civilians, and non-combatants have come from ME despots, insurgents, jihadists and other “terrorists”, not Israel, and not the US.

Saudi Arabia finances most extremists, and Israel is extremism inc. … one of the main forces behind the Iraq war and the upcoming (if Netanyahu could get his way) Iran/Middle East-wide war.

Financing extremists is bad. I’m glad we agree. But my set of morals tells me actually USING violence is THE most aggregious act. And providing sophisticated weapons to terrorists, like the Syrians do, is somewhere in between.

I don’t find Israel or the Israeli government to very “extreme”. Israel welcomes all points-of-view in public life. like-minded people are free to assemble together, demonstrate together, and voice their opinions, including the several arab ministers that sit in the Knesset.

So our views of what is “extreme” are noticeably different.

February 9th, 2011, 6:21 pm



Those Jewish extremists you admire and applaud their “chutzpah” are nothing but a bunch of cowards hiding behind the Israeli army surrounding themselves by safety “sterile” zones.
But those kids with nothing but stones battling the IDF have courage, honor, and determination. They will defeat your IDF and your extremist Jewish settlers will not have the last word.

February 9th, 2011, 6:58 pm


AIG said:

As always, when the criticism of the Syrian regime gets too hot, Alex post something about the West Bank.

The difference between Israel and Syria is simple. Israel allows such films to be made because that is what freedom of the press is all about. Yes, there are extremists in Israel.

But would the Syrian regime allow such a film to be made about antisemitism in Syria? Would the regime allow a BBC reporter to freely ask people about their views of Jews? Of course not. Why? Because there is no antisemitism in Syria and of course no extremists 🙂

So as usual Alex, you want to fault Israel but as usual you show how fundamentally Israel is better than Syria in its openness.

February 9th, 2011, 7:11 pm


Alex said:

First, I apologize for the apparent generalization when I said “nations”. I obviously do not mean to cast the net that wide.


There are many extremists in the Middle East but it is most dangerous when you have immaturity+power+racism

That would be the Israeli right wing group, and the Saudi wahabis. Saddam used to be there too (minus the racism probably).

When Syria supports other popular Arab parties, Syria makes sure it did not empower a dangerous group. That means, Syria will not empower racists, it will not let its smaller allies get too powerful, and it will not be anyone’s ally who does not have a mature personality.

Nasrallah, like him or not, is quite mature. Syria does not provide weapons to Hamas… and obviously not to Iran.

February 9th, 2011, 7:39 pm



When the discussion was about the social-economic analysis/essay article that Mr. Saghir wrote, you had to interject the Golan issue from an Israeli point of view. You had absolutely no added value to the discussion. In case you have not noticed, the issues being discussed are way deeper and broader than the Syrian regime itself and its policies.
Now that Alex posted a video that shows Israelis in a bad light you had to accuse him of distracting the discussion while in fact he posted several entries that enhanced the value of the discussion.
I am glad that Alex posted the video as you and the whole world should see who the settlers are.

February 9th, 2011, 8:04 pm


AIG said:


The Syrian regime is at the core of all these problems because it does not allow a free discussion of these issues and a democratic process to allow a majority to build behind a set of solutions.

As Wael Ghonim said to Mubarak, “you have wrecked the country for 30 years, it is time for you to go”:

Will the Syrians be brave enough to say this to Asad in Syria? I don’t think so. That is why 10 years from today the discussion will be the same only the situation in Syria will be worse. Only the Syrians can solve their own problems, but how can they do that if they can’t even discuss the issues freely and if they cannot vote the best people to do the job?

Israel has many faults, but we do make sure the government works for us, and if it doesn’t, it is short lived. Just as you rightly believe that it is important for people to know about the settlers, don’t you see that it is also important that the problems in Syria be transparent? And don’t you see who is opposing this transparency?

February 9th, 2011, 8:32 pm


Norman said:


Arent we discussing Syria’s problems on SC , SC is seen and discussed in Syria.probably at the government level, as it is in the US ,

February 9th, 2011, 8:54 pm


Norman said:

Mr Saghir,

Thank you for very interesting article ,

can you tell me how much of the American GDP is small business and how much is large companies, what is the percentage of employees in the US are by small business and big companies .

what are the businesses that compose the small business that employ most people and how can Syria increase the number of these businesses , as i do not see Syria making Aircraft any time soon .

February 9th, 2011, 9:18 pm


Jihad said:

If you mention the reccurent sewage problem in Jeddah, Zionist hoodlums will also manage to drag out their Western racist colonial entity into the discussion.

Returning to one other repetitive cliche in the text about Syria’s economy:

“A culture of dependency on the state has developed in Syria over the past several decades that will be hard to reverse.”

Is the author trying to tell us that there is no culture of OVER-dependence in many “liberal” economies in the West on state subsidies? Even the thieves on Wall Street are subsidized.

There will be no beginning of a real growth and a real development in the Arab world before the dissolution of the Zionist and Wahhabi entities.

February 9th, 2011, 9:27 pm


Ziadsoury said:

OTW, perfect analysis.

KSA has promised Mubarak up to $5 Billion/year in Aid in case the US stops its aid.

All these thugs are scared. They see what is coming their way :).
Israel should not worry anymore about losing US aid. I am sure KSA will step in to help.
Wonder if KSA is offering the same to Syria now?

The writing is on the wall. People power is coming to the ME. Two winners: the people and Turkey.

February 9th, 2011, 9:34 pm


Friend in America said:

Quantifying small businesses in the US is complicated. The majority of private sector employees work in companies having 50 or fewer employees. But there are many that have no employees. Below is the 2010 U.S. Census on small businesses that have no employees. They are growing in numbers. For more, and better, information if you have Google, try ‘US small business employees’; the census web site shows up.

Employers and Nonemployers
“About three quarters of all U.S. business firms have no payroll. Most are self-employed persons operating unincorporated businesses, and may or may not be the owner’s principal source of income. Because nonemployers account for only about 3.4 percent of business receipts, they are not included in most business statistics, for example, most reports from the Economic Census. Since 1997, however, nonemployers have grown faster than employer firms.”

Table 1. Employers and Nonemployers, 2002
Firms Establishments Sales or Receipts($1,000)
All firms 23,343,821 24,846,832 22,832,560
Nonemployers (firms with no payroll)
17,646,062 17,646,062 770,032,328
Employers (firms with payroll)
5,697,759 7,200,770 22,062,528

Nonemployer Statistics annually classify nonemployer firms by industry and geographic area (U.S., states, counties, and metropolitan areas.)

February 9th, 2011, 9:45 pm


Yossi said:

OTW, I also want to congratulate you on an analysis that is spot on and very honest. There is only one option: power to the people, be it in Israel/Palestine, Egypt or Syria. Or the USA for that matter. The sooner the better. It seems to me though that the support Assad receives in SC is not typical to the average Syrian and that average, non-expat, non-minority, Syrians are seething. You were asking whether “anybody is listening?”, well I’m pretty sure Assad is not capable of doing anything significant even if he wanted to, in the direction of liberalization, but the people are listening and they will be heard… my bet before the end of 2012 they will run Assad out. The data Mr. Saghir presents cannot mean anything different.

February 9th, 2011, 9:54 pm


Alex said:

AIG said

“As always, when the criticism of the Syrian regime gets too hot, Alex post something about the West Bank.”

I hope that a well educated man like you understands that when a “as always” claim is made, it needs to make sense.

I posted 10 or 20 such clips over the past couple of years … but there is almost daily criticism of “the Syrian regime” here …. so 20 out of 700 days does not sound highly correlated to me Mr. AIG… the other 680 times I did not.

I will suggest my own observation: Whenever there is something embarrassing about Israel or Israelis, you OFTEN (I did not say always), when you used to be here on a daily basis, you often responded in one of two ways:

1) Finding something personal to criticize about one of us here, and preferably the same one who posted the embarrassing material, or

2) Repeating the same mantra … that “at least this proves Israel has enough freedom to film or write about this” …etc

Yes, Israel has much more freedom of the press than Syria and this is something (the only thing?) that Syrians admire about Israel. But we can not forget Israel’s criminal nature forever and keep changing the topic to start admiring Israel’s freedom of press.

February 10th, 2011, 3:21 am


Alex said:


I beg to differ.

First of all, those who write comments here are those who are motivated enough to spend the time to read and then write and argue …

So they are obviously more likely to be somewhat different from “the average” Syrian (whatever that average means from one discussion issue to the other)

You are reading here people from the two ends of a bell curve or a normal distribution.

Having said that, I will still claim that President Assad himself is highly popular and that “the regime” is not.

I think the President has about 5 to 7 years before there is unrest. So, I am not denying that he needs to accelerate reforms.

But the Syrian people will try their best to not revolt against him … he got very high marks when it comes to national security and national pride, especially that the Syrian people are aware of the challenges he faced the past few years. Not to mention that he is very much liked as a person. Think of much more deserved credit that is similar to the one some American politicians can count on simply because “he seems like someone I can have a beer with”

He will be here long enough to sign that peace treaty with Israel … a comprehensive peace, whenever Israel is ready. And then, it will be easier for him to govern successfully and be even more popular.

Israel WILL be ready.

I have been writing here that the status quo is not sustainable… and now after Egypt it will be more and more clear that this is the case … a solution must be reached within a few years at most.

February 10th, 2011, 3:42 am


Souri said:

Anyone hoping to see what happened in Tunisia and Egypt happen in Syria is simply hoping to see the dissolution of the Syrian state. This is not a joke. Many average mid-class Syrians would love to see the current Syrian regime replaced by a more primitive Islamist regime, but they don’t try hard for it because they still remember what happened in the 1980’s and what is still happening now in Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine.

To a Zionist or pro-Zionist a civil war and chaos in Syria would be a very attractive outcome, but for most Syrians it is not. Even the average, humbly educated mid-class Syrian who is influnced by Islmist propaganda does not look to turn Syria into another Iraq or Lebanon to change the regime. Democracy has NO good example in our region yet. We have three failed examples of so-called democracy in Israel, Lebanon, and Iraq. None of these is true democracy. A better example might be in the making now in Turkey.

Democracy in the Fertile Crescent has always lead to violence and societies sharply divided by religion. Before applying the Western concepts of democracy we need first to improve education and establish a solid common ground for national institutions. Of course Western imperialism has made this task much harder for us by implanting in our region the very bad examples of Israel and Lebanon (recently also Iraq). By supporting such a racist and sectarian state as Israel and then calling for democracy in the region, the West does not really want democracy in our region but they simply want to divide the region even more and create more sectarian states à la Israel.

February 10th, 2011, 3:57 am


why-discuss said:

Economics or Politics? An interesting analysis
Uprisings in the Region and Ignored Indicators:
By Ammar Maleki, Rooz Online

What are the underlying factors of the uprising in Tunisia and protests in other countries of the region? Economic problems or political dissents? Although most of the time in such a social predicament the combination of factors plays a role, however, one could ask that which one of economic or political parameter does have an upper hand? and which indicators could help us to have a plausibly objective analysis? ……


February 10th, 2011, 5:47 am


Akbar Palace said:


Those Jewish extremists you admire and applaud their “chutzpah” are nothing but a bunch of cowards hiding behind the Israeli army surrounding themselves by safety “sterile” zones.
But those kids with nothing but stones battling the IDF have courage, honor, and determination. They will defeat your IDF and your extremist Jewish settlers will not have the last word.


Just FYI, I believe there are 2 peoples in this region who deserve a state of their own, The Palestinian People and the Jewish People.

I hope you feel the same way.

YOU may feel the “settlers” are cowards; I don’t. The borders between Palestine and Israel, frankly, are unknown. And by your criteria, a Jew living anywhere in Israel could be termed “a coward” by those that don’t recognize a State of Israel. No?

To ME, a Jew should be able to live anywhere in the world, but because of intolerance, a Jew CANNOT live anywhere in the world. The State of Israel came into being just because of this very intolerance. Of course, the State of Israel is willing to REMOVE Jews (apparently that is necessary because these states will not agree to protect them) if a peace agreement can be signed with both Syria and Palestine. But until such time, the State of Israel will protect Jews anywhere on Israeli soil.

To me, the cowards are those that are intolerant of others, and that includes both arabs and jews. Personally, I don’t like seeing Jews demonstrating “Jewish power” in arab faces, nor do I like seeing stones thrown at jewish property by arabs. Still a jew who lives quietly among arabs is still a prime target of intolerant arabs. That’s just a fact of life.;)

There are large jewish communities on the West Bank where jews live among themselves. These communities are very quiet and peaceful. Still, I don’t understand why a few jews living among arabs gets so much attention. A few arabs living among jews does not.

To me, the kids throwing the stones IS cowardice. Their parents should be the ones throwing the stones. Aren’t arab parents concerned about the welfare of their children?


I wonder.

The PA police should be throwing the stones. And if the arab POV is that the kids are “brave”, then they will have to suffer the consequences if someone throws the stones back at them.

Politically, the arab strategy of committing acts of terrorism and then looking for sympathy does not work well outside of a small percentage of liberals observers.

February 10th, 2011, 7:21 am


Akbar Palace said:

… my bet before the end of 2012 they will run Assad out.


You wanna bet? How many shekels? What’s the exchange rate?;)

Syria will remain a back-water economically, politically, and in terms of human rights. Arabs will continue to ignore their human rights situation and focus on countries like Israel.

The arab media works wonders.

February 10th, 2011, 7:36 am


AIG said:


In 1948 the GDP per capita in Syria and in Israel was about the same.
The following graph shows the trend since 1960:

Syrians on average are just as smart, just as hard working, just as creative as Israelis. Israel and Syria fought exactly the same number of wars with each other. Where does the difference come from? Method of government, that is it. Freedom of speech is one aspect of this, but a very important one. Without freedom of speech, there is no transparency and accountability, and without transparency and accountability there is huge corruption. Even with them there is much corruption, I can only imagine how much corruption there is without them.

Every year Bashar stays in power is another lost year that will make catching up even harder. I understand your worry about the minorities in Syria, but the solution is not to dig a deeper hole.

February 10th, 2011, 10:18 am


Averroes said:

This was posted this morning on the Egyptian Al-Dostor newspaper site:

علم الدستور الأصلي من مصادر موثوقة أن الرئيس مبارك سيعلن مساء اليوم الخميس تنحيه عن السلطة، ونثقل صلاحياته إلى الجيش، عبر مجلس عسكري “انتقالي” أو مايشبه ذلك.

وكانت هناك عدة تصورات لنقل سلطاته، الأول يقضي بفويض نائبه عمر سليمان لكل صلاحيات الرئاسة وإعلان قرار جمهوري بتعديلات دستورية في مواد انتخاب رئيس الجمهورية تسمح بالانتخاب الحر المباشر بعيدا عن قيود المادة 76 وتعديل المادة 77 بتحديد مدة الرئاسة.

والتصور الثاني يقضي بنقل صلاحيات الرئيس إلى الجيش عبر القائد العام للقوات المسلحة المشير حسين طنطاوي،

وسيعتبر الرئيس في كل الأحوال أنه أوفى بوعوده للشعب ومن ثم يسلم السلطة لنائبه أو للجيش.

A quick translation:

Mubarak intends to declare Thursday evening (today) his surrendering of power to the head of the armed forces.

It is also on Al-Jazeerah.

February 10th, 2011, 11:06 am


Shai said:

AIG, you said: “Where does the difference come from? Method of government, that is it.”

Not intending to take away from our own real talent (of which I am proud) a few billion bucks a year, and a high-tech military with perhaps the largest budget in the world (proportionally), also doesn’t hurt…

There’s almost not a day that goes by, without more corrupt politicians, mayors, business leaders, you name it, that are exposed in the Israeli media. To suggest corruption in Israel is “normal” is absurd. We are, unfortunately, one of the more corrupt nations on earth. True, at least we have press that is free to report it. But we are far from solving the problem.

Right now, I’d spend less time pointing to corruption in Syria, and more time highlighting our own, and fixing it.

February 10th, 2011, 11:06 am


Ghat Albird said:

Now that US National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates met with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak at the White House on Wednesday.

“They stressed the United States’ unshakable commitment to Israel’s security, including through our continued support for Israel’s military, and the unprecedented security cooperation between our two governments,” the White House announced in a statement.

Is YOSSI on the verge of submitting a list to SC of individuals that he and his admirers want to put into power in the states surrounding Israel in 2012? It would be a must read.

February 10th, 2011, 11:14 am


SimoHurtta said:

The following graph shows the trend since 1960:

Indeed AIG. Add to your chart Austria, Denmark, Finland, Netherlands, Sweden and Netherlands.

What conclusions can we now make? Notice in 1960 the GDPs was rather even. The one race apartheid theocracy is not a successful economical strategy. Despite the constant flow of the billions in compensations and help, imported highly educated Jewish workforce, the contacts and wealth of world’s Jews, billions from (blood) diamonds, ecstasy and weapon trade, not a very successful “democracy”. Not even free (=stolen) land and properties and the ability to use very cheap gentile labour did not make of Israel that economical example its propaganda wants to portray it.

The conclusion AIG is that if the Arab countries need to learn something from other countries, that country is not Israel, the countries are the small West European countries.

February 10th, 2011, 11:18 am


Ziadsoury said:

Multiple opportunities in KSA and around the Arabic world.

We are developing a new and unique retirement housing concept in Saudi Arabia. Our target market is made up of fleeing dictators from around the Middle East. These thugs have plenty of stolen money and properties. They are hated by 99.97 of their people but loved by the west.

Currently we have one resident and his cronies from Tunisia and we are expecting the Egyptians and the Yemenis very soon. We are expecting a very busy spring. Current openings:

Movers – you need to be able to move heavy bags of money, gold and stolen artifacts
DRM Dictator Relationship Manager – These thugs are used to people kissing their asses on a continuous basis.
Torture Experts – No description is needed
Prison Managers and staff – They can not live without them
Construction Managers and staff – We need to build these prisons for them

Please forward your resume and salary requirements to

Jeddah Retirement Community Development
Jeddah, KSA

February 10th, 2011, 11:19 am


AIG said:


Your point is not clear to me. Of course there is corruption in Israel. Imagine how much worse it would be without a free press.

My post was about method of government, of which corruption is just one aspect.

February 10th, 2011, 11:33 am


AIG said:


I gave Israel as an example because its security situation is similar to that of Syria and both countries had to spend a large part of GDP on defense. But by all means, I agree, Syria should learn from the small Western European countries. And what is the main difference between them and Syria? Method of government.

February 10th, 2011, 11:42 am


Atassi said:

The Bottom line.. MUBARK IS GONE and the big question who is NEXT in line to flee !!!!!!!!!!!! Will the mass in the other ARAB states jump the fear line and revolt against the tyrants !!!!
we are witnessing the anxieties and angst building a all over the Arab world…
FYI I seen the Libyan’s Qaddafi compound from the outside walls “ maximum security prison” .. I wonder what it look like now 

February 10th, 2011, 12:31 pm


Atassi said:

since you brought this issue to light, can you enlighten us with your clearly visible wisdom how WE Syrians demonstrate on the street, since I never seen a real demonstration in my life…..Much appreciated in advance sir

February 10th, 2011, 1:47 pm


Alex said:


You are partially right of course. I saw a wonderful report from Cairo where poor people were volunteering to washing the streets in Cairo. The reporter asked one of them why is he doing that and if he ever did such a thing in the past. The young man answered “This is now my country, not Mubarak’s … I feel I own this beautiful country and now I want to work hard to keep it clean and beautiful”

Freedom of speech and accountability of elected officials is a must and Syria is definitely at an disadvantage there.

But believe it or not, President Assad is supported by many, many non minorities. I realize you like to see things as Sunnis and their enemies, the minorities, but this is not how the majority of Syrian see it.

With all the Wikileaks that we read so far, there is every reason to believe that Assad is the only Arab leader who is genuinely and effectively standing up to Israeli hegemony and extremism in the region. This important to me and to most Syrians. Assad understands he needs to reform faster, but he also knows that the vast majority of Syrian want the Golan back and want Syria to play its constructive role in managing the Levant’s affairs.

As for comparing Syrian and Israeli economies on the basis of similar history and circumstances. I will ask you to just imagine what output you will get if you simulate the two countries along with every input and every environmental factor that influenced their economies the past few decades. Reverse those that are exclusive to Israel and Syria … let Syria receive the 3 billions of US aid … apply US sanctions on Israel … send the annual direct and indirect aid coming Israel’s way from Jewish organizations, to Syria instead …

Then imagine the gap between the two countries … it would be much narrower I hope you agree.

February 10th, 2011, 1:52 pm


Shai said:


I remember “the experts” predicting Bashar wouldn’t survive more than a few years, that he’d be overrun by the old guard, that he’s too young and inexperienced, etc. And look where he is today.

Bashar is far more popular than his father was, not only in Syria, but also throughout the Arab World. And, recently, also in Iran and Turkey. If we were smart enough to understand this (especially the latter), we’d take advantage of it, and quickly go make peace with him.

So far, the Syrian regime is far more “stable” than any of our governments have been. Few Israeli governments have ever completed a full term…


Add to your scenario – the Golan is returned to Syria (even over 10-15 years), and the economies of Israel and Syria begin working together. Now what kind of growth will you have? Btw, the recent gas line explosion in Egypt highlighted Israel’s need to invest more in its own gas-drilling companies, and some experts suggested that it is not unlikely that one day gas will flow from Israel to Jordan and Syria!

February 10th, 2011, 1:54 pm


norman said:


We do not demonstrate in Syria, we like the president and the Baath Party,

February 10th, 2011, 2:02 pm


AIG said:


I just cannot understand why a person who claims to be so popular needs such a police state. You keep saying Bashar is popular but they way he acts shows that he thinks differently. If Bashar were so popular the reforms would have been much faster.

If you reverse the situation between Israel and Syria in economic factors, just the fact that Israel would have been able to trade with the Arab world freely would have made us one of the 5 richest economies in the world by now in my estimate. Also, the oil Syria produces is much more than the aid Israel receives from the US. Until the recent finds, Israel had no natural resources to speak of. Also, the combination of Israeli irrigation and agricultural technology with the vast areas in Syria in which wheat is grown would have made Syria a major exporter by now. So I think with your experiment the gap would have been larger, not narrower. Also the sanctions on Syria are a result of the regime also. A democratic regime would have already gotten rid of those.

Where is Ehsani? I think he would support my view about the minorities in Syria being the backbone of Asad’s support.

February 10th, 2011, 2:08 pm


Alex said:


I was looking at the past decades, but yes, for sure everyone can benefit dramatically after peace.


Not at all … you forgot that Egypt an Jordan are other Arabs (like Saddam) were in fact friends of Israel and enemies of Syria. It is too complicated for you to make this a one way influence.

But I am delighted that I finally, after years of trying, got you to admit that peace with Syria and the Arab world is worth it for Israel … in the past you kept telling us “Israel does not need peace with Syria. Why should we give you back the Golan?” and I would answer that among other things, Israel would be able to trade with the Arab world. And you always answered “We are doing just fine, trading with the Arab world will not make a difference for us, look at our GDP”

February 10th, 2011, 2:58 pm


Atassi said:

You may LOVE the Baath party, but We Syrians “most I know” DO NOT.
But all LOVE SYRIA including me and you .. We both share the honest intention for Syria, but we hold opposing views on the way we Express our love .. You may hold a LOVE to Individual and I hold my LOVE the country .. I feel the euphoria running in my blood watching the evolving events in Egypt .. GOD bless them all ….

February 10th, 2011, 3:35 pm


AIG said:


Nice try 🙂
Of course if from 1948 Israel would have been able to trade with the Arab world, things would have been different. Now, it really does not matter as Israel has developed a mostly high tech economy that looks to the West and the Arab world is not an important market for it.

The fact of the matter is that the form of government in Syria is the major factor in what is holding Syria and Syrians back. Syria has many advantages of Israel. It is a much bigger country with many more resources and if governed well it would surely have been much richer than Israel. But it was governed badly and is still being governed badly in that it does no allow the huge human potential of the Syrians to flourish. The politicians in Israel are not that smart either, but because they are accountable, they allow Israelis to freely pursue their dreams.

February 10th, 2011, 3:44 pm


Akbar Palace said:

I feel the euphoria running in my blood watching the evolving events in Egypt .. GOD bless them all ….


From my vantage point, I have to agree with you. They didn’t quit after the Egyptian government was throwing “bones” to presumably quell the demonstrations.

And many got hurt.

By working together, the people are showing who is really in control, and that the “King has no Clothes”. I hope a government by the people will prevail in Egypt. I wish them the best.

February 10th, 2011, 5:09 pm


Friend in America said:

The comments in #72 and #73 strike a note of refreshing hopefulness. For too long everyone has felt dispair. I hope Alex’s prediction of time is right. That means there is time for gradual adjustment. Maybe no place in the ME is ready for a full democracy. A disorderly transition would play into the hands of radical factions. If there is to be change, there is a need to head off radical disruption and ethnic violence. Here are a couple of ideas for starting gradual change. I admit they are off the top of my head and lack sufficient study – there will be time for that:
– greater tolerance of freedom of speech, especially when it comes to discussing new institutions.
– allow open elections for local offices without manipulation by Damascus.
– free the judiciary and lawyers from political coercion and influence.
– create a system of mediation for conflicts arising from ethnic and religious differences. Let Syria be the innovator; the rest of the ME will follow.
– education reform, as George has suggested.
– support business growth and private sector job creation while reducing government employment, also as George has suggested.
– economy and jobs, economy and jobs.

February 10th, 2011, 5:22 pm


Alex said:

Alright, here is another (hopefully also nice) try:

SimoHurta’s link shows that per capita GDP figure in Israel today is far, far from Switzerland’s … $26k compared to $63k


You claimed that Syria’s bad management is the reason the country did not rise to the wonderful $26k that the average Israeli enjoys today.

Then you say “Now, it really does not matter as Israel has developed a mostly high tech economy that looks to the West and the Arab world is not an important market for it”

But earlier you wrote: “just the fact that Israel would have been able to trade with the Arab world freely would have made us one of the 5 richest economies in the world by now”

Since you are today far from being one of the richest 5 economies in the world, … how is it that Israel should not see any value for trading with the Arab world anymore as a result of reaching a comprehensive peace agreement with Syria and the Palestinians?

I think you did admit that peace is highly valuable … it will take Israel to a whole new level in economic growth and progress in many other domains …

I hope you will not explain that because Israel already “specialized” in hi-tech it can not anymore do the kind of business that can help her trade profitably with the Arab world. If 1948 Israel could, today’s Israel certainly can.

February 10th, 2011, 5:25 pm


Nour said:


I have to agree with Atassi that most Syrians do not love the Baath Party. In fact I don’t think that I’ve come across a single Syrian who said they love the Baath party. However, I do believe that most Syrians today like President Assad, in that they are still placing hope in him to bring changes to Syria, in addition to liking his calm demeanor and humble personality (real or not). Moreover, I also think that one of the reasons they like Bashar is that they don’t see him as a true Baathist.

Norman, we cannot deny that Syrians suffered a lot under the Baathist regime, which imposed its rule using brute force and terror. There may have been specific social and political developments that led to the rise of the Baath to power, but nevertheless the way in which they ruled is not excusable.

Atassi, I cannot agree with you more that love of country supersedes love of individuals.

February 10th, 2011, 5:32 pm


Alex said:


Educational reforms already started but “the regime” does not like to publicize what they are doing because they feel it is safer to sneak the new text books instead of getting the small minority of more conservative Syrians to express publicly their opposition to those new books. Not very democratic, but it gives those reforms a better chance of success.

A new multi-party law is almost ready but it met a lot of resistance from, not surprisingly, the Baath party. I think after Egypt the President can tell those resisting change that we can not afford to take forever discussing the risks of each potential reform. I hope during this year we will see that law. It won’t allow religious or ethnic based parties to form and that is a wise limitation anywhere and especially in the Middle East.

Municipal elections should be the next logical step a year later perhaps.

But we have been in a similar stage of high expectations from Syria, and specifically from President Bashar Assad, to reform. That was in year 2000 when he became President. It is important for the United States and Europe to not repeat their own mistakes again this time

1) Demanding any “reform” that is bound to lead to a complete change in the leadership structure, will be counter productive.

ex: in 2001 some started to demand reversing the vote in the Syrian Parliament that allowed President Assad to become President at the age of 34, the previous minimum age was 40. By demanding such a (normally reasonable) change, you are asking the President to resign tomorrow.

Only reforms that ensure the process remains within a road-map will be productive. Demanding prompt, revolutionary type of change is a mistake.

2) The United States has to also learn to be more efficient. The peace process so far has been much slower than Syrian reforms. The United States needs to wake up and save the region from events that are otherwise bound to spiral out of anyone’s control.

The two processes should move forward faster … can’t have one without the other. Those who argue “why do you want to tie Syrian reforms to the peace process?” should not waste their time if they really care about helping the Middle East move forward.

February 10th, 2011, 6:11 pm


Angelis Dania said:


Bill Clinton was popular. Bill Clinton was removed. John & Bob Kennedy were popular, and they were removed. Emile Lahoud was popular….etc.

The tight grip of government in Syria is not tied to popularity. It is tied to the fact that there are many powerful interests that would insinuate, bribe, blackmail, extort, threaten, lie, torture, kill, frame, defame, incite sectarian hatred and violence, and use religion to promote extremism in order to achieve the end of the Assad regime and to cause instability, civil upheaval, war and division in the country if allowed to do so.

Democracy is not a magical word. It does not instantly mean ‘better’. So-called democracy, transparency, accountability, and freedom of speech and press in Israel has not served to keep levels of corruption, murder, and human rights violation down to anything approaching acceptable or minimal. So what use are they?

The fact is, the most important, vital, and overriding aspect of any system of organisation is ‘people’. Well intentioned people in a dictatorship will serve better than callous, corrupt and murderous self-servers in a democracy. This is because people will always find a way to wrought the system, regardless of which system it is.

Israel has consistently generated, nurtured, educated, elected and supported the wrong sort of people. What use are short terms in office or incompleted terms if the damage is already done before the next batch arrives to add to the oppression and injustice?

Many democracies these days are simply dictatorships in disguise, where often the head figure is not the dictator, but a mouthpiece. The dictator in these cases is the overriding agenda that has seized control of the system. With the situation surrounding Wikileaks, the so-called shining examples of democracy have shown that actual transparency was never the goal, but rather the illusion of it. With the support given to the illegal and inhumane actions of Israel, they have shown that accountability need only be applied to the enemies of their brand of democracy. Even freedom of speech is curtailed, with precedents of laws being passed in many democracies, telling people not only what they cannot say, but what opinions they are not allowed to hold.

At least a declared dictatorship doesn’t suffer the same blatant hypocrisy. So let’s focus less on what the system is called, and more on what the people working that system are trying to achieve.

With regards to Syria, if the unjustified and needless sanctions are removed, and if players in the region would move towards a real peace agreement, it would work wonders in untying the hands of Syrian policy makers. Overthrowing or removing this regime does not in any way guarantee an improvement for the citizens of the country, or for the region as a whole. It is far more likely that things will become far worse, at least at the beginning. And if the U.S-Israel-Saudi force gets to have its pick of the new leader, you can kiss the rights and resources of the population goodbye.

February 10th, 2011, 6:16 pm


AIG said:


Assuming there is a peace dividend for Israel, it will only be significant if the peace is “warm”, and it will only be “warm” if signed with democratic regimes that represent the people.

As for hoping the US can do anything, I think it is time to give it a rest. The Obama administration is as impotent as they come.
1) Asad outsmarted Obama in Lebanon without breaking a sweat
2) Netanyahu was able to resist pressure without any problem
3) Mubarak does not care what Obama says

So if you are hoping the US is going to deliver Israeli-Syrian peace you are gravely mistaken.

February 10th, 2011, 6:25 pm


Angelis Dania said:


Love of the individual equates to love of the country if you believe that indivividual is the best hope that the country has of remaining stable, peaceful, and of improving.

Given the political climate in the region, I cannot see how any criticiser of the Syrian government can say that they are honestly wanting the best for the country. I’ve said before that criticism is meant to lead to improvements. But in the case of Syria, even valid criticism can open up the door to a real nightmare for the people, and make them hope for a ruler that they would call much harsher than Bashar, if only he could return a semblance of normality to everyday life.

Is this a strategy built on fear? In part it most certainly is. Is it justified? As long as you cannot rule out the obvious interests of the corrupting influences in the region, you’d be wise to fear the consequences of a revolt. What makes Bashar remain popular however, is the sincerity evident in his agenda of peace and development. Because a strategy built on fear alone would never suffice, and he would not be where he is today if that status quo suited his principles and his hopes for the future.

But Bashar cannot stay in power for ever, even if he is in power for the rest of a long life. I think however, that the chances of another individual like Hafez or Bashar Al-Assad taking the reigns of government in Syria is about as likely as another Gadfly with the credentials of Socrates. Another sad day in history.

February 10th, 2011, 6:44 pm


Nour said:


I agree with you. However, the ultimate love is to the country, meaning that if you love an individual because you think he/she is good for the country it doesn’t change the underlying principle, that your love for the country supersedes all else.

If you’ve read my previous posts, you would see that I don’t disagree with your basic premise, that specific regional and political circumstances have dictated the type of rule that Syria enjoys. Moreover, I think that President Assad has handled the situation in Syria brilliantly, given the extreme pressure and direct threats that Syria has had to confront in the last few years.

But this still doesn’t change my view of the Baath Party, its ideology, and its system of governance, even if the two president Assads have proven to be masterful players in a volatile region.

February 10th, 2011, 6:53 pm


AIG said:


Come on, I thought this empty rhetoric about how great authoritarian regimes are compared to democracy died with the Soviet Union. As for your allegations about Israel, just check the world rankings by the UN and other organizations. You are just wrong.

In any case, the many realists I know in Israel will be happy to hear that Syrians plan to stick with Asad as he is “stable” and does keep Syria weak by not reforming it. If the Syrian people like the regime, they should certainly keep it. No one but them can change it. In my opinion, if the regime does not change, Syria will go the way of Zimbabwe. It just takes one small shock or miscalculation to cause hyper inflation.

February 10th, 2011, 7:11 pm


Angelis Dania said:


Empty rhetoric should demonstrably be so. Deferring and relating to labels with unpopular stigma (i.e. Soviet Union, Hitler, Terrorist), whilst common, falls under the category of weak argument. Normally, specific arguments should have their substance refuted before they are labelled empty.

As for using the UN as a measure of Israeli conformance to human rights and justice, that would require some measure of ignorance regarding the internal stucture of that organisation. Seeing as through the UN, the U.S vetos much of the stronger resolutions against Israel, it would be fair to say that the U.S has a very strong pro-Israeli influence within the council. Despite this, there are as you know, many resolutions passed against Israel, and subsequently ignored by Israel.

If you take into account the level and amount of condemnation Israel receives for its’ actions, from the international community, and many world leaders, and if you look also to what is evident on the ground, and to the events of recent history, you will find no shortage of violations.

You continue to single out the leadership of President Bashar Al-Assad as the primary or even sole reason that the country is not doing as well as can be hoped. You do this without showing that outside factors within the region should be discounted as near inconsequential to the state of affairs within the country. Neither do you show that there is a lack of capability in the leadership, or that there is a definite desire to keep matters as they currently stand with regards to the development of the country.

I might call your opinion on this matter an empty one, but I think you might have more to say about it.

February 10th, 2011, 7:36 pm


AIG said:


Just as people do not waste time checking if someone has invented a perpetual motion machine, it is not worth while to examine arguments that authoritarian regimes are preferable to democracies. I would recommend that you adopt the strategy used by Alex which is to acknowledge that democracies are better but argue that a very long transition period is required. You can thus argue that democracy is the destination but only in 7 to 10 years.

When a country preforms dismally, the simple explanation is that this is the fault of the government of the country. You want to argue the opposite that Asad is a great economic reformer and Syria is behind despite his efforts? I do not think this will wash with people reading this blog.

February 10th, 2011, 8:03 pm


Angelis Dania said:


If I had made the argument that in general, authoritarian regimes are preferrable to democracies, then one could assess whether or not it needed examining.

What I actually was saying and giving examples of, is that the implementations of democracy in our world are not better political systems than dictatorships, as they themselves are just different forms of dictatorship. Moreover, it is people and not systems that are the strongest influence on the development of a country.

If I were to acknowledge that democracies are better, the purposes would first need to be established (i.e. better for what?). Secondly, these purposes would need to be proven necessary and key to better government and better development. Thirdly, there would need to be proofs that democracies have excelled over non-democracies for these purposes. Lastly, we would need to distinguish between the idea of a democracy, and how democratic countries actually operate on the ground.

When a country performs dismally, the factors need to be considered for the particular circumstances regarding the performance. You cannot generalise so simply without missing far too much of key issues, and every case is different. What then when there are external factors affecting the ability of that body to govern? And what is to be said if these external circumstances are beyond the reasonable control of the government?

I think it fair to say that it would serve both Bashar and his country if he were this great economic reformer. And as he stands to gain from it, I think it also fair to say that he desires to do so.

Here is where you would need to present evidence that it is either a concerted decision of the president that economic reforms should not go through, or that it is due to a personal incapability that he has not yet implemented sufficient reforms. Here is also where you would need to show why regional problems should be discounted when explaining this problem.

There are proven scientific principals that would discount the possibility of a perpetual motion machine. Opinions on political systems are not so clear cut, and hence would require some examination and explanation.

February 10th, 2011, 9:30 pm


NK said:

Angelis Dania

“The tight grip of government in Syria is not tied to popularity. It is tied to the fact that there are many powerful interests that would insinuate, bribe, blackmail, extort, threaten, lie, torture, kill, frame, defame, incite sectarian hatred and violence, and use religion to promote extremism in order to achieve the end of the Assad regime and to cause instability, civil upheaval, war and division in the country if allowed to do so.”

You keep talking about those shadowy figures, one can argue that the Syrian regime made those figures up as an excuse to keep a tight grip on power!. After all we found out a couple days ago that the Coptic church bombing was orchestrated by the Egyptian government to stir sectarian tension.

You also have the audacity to write

“And if the U.S-Israel-Saudi force gets to have its pick of the new leader, you can kiss the rights and resources of the population goodbye.”

Do you really think anyone here believes the rights and resources of Syrians have not been ill managed, and served only to line the pockets of the Assad family and those close to the regime ? really ?.

Anyways, Egypt is stable and the Mubarak regime is too strong, it’s only been two weeks since we heard that. Tick-tock!

February 10th, 2011, 10:18 pm


Angelis Dania said:


Regarding those shadowy figures, one could argue many things. The question here is what is reasonable when you consider all the factors. If the only intent was to hold on to power, then the rewards of having said power would have to be significant enough to warrant those kinds of tactics. Last I checked, there were no reports that the Assad family were worth the 70 or 80 billion dollars that Mubarak is. Not even close.

Aside from this, baseless accusations have no place in a reasonable discussion. So unless you can substantiate these suggestions, they will be disregarded, as will any other unfit comparisons made between Mubarak and Assad.

As for the rights of the Syrian people, the crux of my position is that their suffering is not the goal, intention or desire of the leadership, and that major obstacles originating from exterior agendas are the primary cause of difficulties in reforming Syrian policy. I note that you have not addressed anything to that effect.

Anyways, Syrian leadership and the regime are soon to fall. This has only been reported for the last 40 years. What time is ‘soon’ on your clock, and when will you recognise this long running trend and investigate the causes for the vast difference in results and opinion when it’s Assad Vs. The Rest?

February 10th, 2011, 11:14 pm


Norman said:

Nour, Atassi,

I think that you both keep the wrong company, The company i keep loves Syria, Assad and the Baath party,

Nour , you like President Assad as i think but you think of him as not of the Baath party, if you look at his deeds you will see that he is in compliance with Baath ideology of Unity, Freedom and social justice and for one united Arab nation, I understand that you prefer greater Syria, i do not see anything wrong with that as many in the US consider new England as separate region and consider the south as backward country, still all are part of the US ,
Nour, I am not familiar with the Baath party to a large extend as i was never a member of the Baath party or any other party, but from what i understand is that Baath party started as the party of the educated in Syria mostly teachers and it started way before 1963, i believe in the forties and came to power in 1963 as a nationalistic party and a response to the disillusion of the United Arab Republic,Yes many members in the Baath party made many mistakes and are corrupt but that should not undermine the good principles in my view of the Baath Party ,

Yes many Baathist are bad and single party System corrupt,but the baath party has good principles and in open election might lose in the beginning but eventually will wead out the bad members and rise to lead,

Nour, Atassi,

When i look at Syria, I look at where Syria is going not who is leading and from what i See, I like the movement on the economy and foreign policy , are there things i like to go faster, You bet you, as Sara Palin says, but Syria has to move at the pace they see can be done,atassi,i like what is happening in Egypt and i am hoping to bring Egypt to the Arab fold,

February 10th, 2011, 11:33 pm


Jad said:

Azizi Dektor Norman,
Harvard is looking for a professor/منظّر in politic history and reading your deep research of Baath especially the dates ‘i believe in the forties’ is impressive, I’ll recommend you for the position 😉
and that is my take!

February 11th, 2011, 12:24 am


NK said:

Angelis Dania

Two weeks ago we didn’t know how much the Mubarak family was worth. He also was a humble servant working for the best interest of the Egyptian people.

Given the estimate that Rami Makhluf ( your beloved Bashar’s cousin ) makes well over 2 billion dollars from SyriaTel and duty free markets alone, one would wonder how much of that is the president’s cut, or maybe the “Family” is the true owner of that empire and Makhluf is just the front man !.

But anyways I don’t want to waste anymore of my time writing about the corruption of the Syrian regime, thank god we have Google today, just type (Syria) and (Corruption) and enjoy 🙂

Here’s a few interesting links

and my favorite, over 21 articles about the Corruption of the Syrian regime

Or maybe we should talk about Riad Sief

I seriously don’t understand how people can defend this regime, I just don’t.

February 11th, 2011, 12:40 am


Majhool said:

The regime has majority support, to be exact the approval rating today is 78.94201%.

It used to be more as the president got 90+% in the last referendum.

In fact this massive support is the reason why multi candidate election is not warranted ( a huge cost savings)

Except for few bad apples <0.1312% ( e.g. Atassi) the majority of syrians think like Norman (and as intelligent as he is of course) .

If in doubt please refer to survey results in Yemen and other underdeveloped countries, It will clearly show that the Syrian regime is very very popular "there".


February 11th, 2011, 2:27 am


Yossi said:


I agree that the Syrian people has been trying and will continue to try to avoid a revolt, for the reasons you mention, and most of all, because they are afraid, but I think that if the regime will start cutting into essential subsidies then people would start acting out of despair.

I have an interest in the peace between Syria and Israel but certainly if Syrians are going to get hungry they are not going to wait for that elusive moment when Netanyahu and Assad decide to start negotiating. If the opportunity comes to reach a deal, Ahlan w-Sahlan, I won’t object to it because Assad is weak, since Israel will insist on a lengthy implementation period which will be proportional in its length to how weak he will be perceived to be. Nor will I support a suppression of a revolt so that a peace deal could be finalized. That would be both silly and immoral. Unfortunately all of that is not of great relevance right now.

Alex, you have been giving Assad credit for a long time now. You’ve been talking about 7 years for major reforms starting from 2007 if I’m not mistaken, perhaps earlier. At some point you need to admit to yourself that the regime is irreparable. It’s somewhat similar to the 40-year-long Israeli “occupation”—after 40+ years it’s safe to say that it’s de-facto annexation. Whenever I ask people if they are willing to set a date after which they will admit that something is not working, that a defect is permanent in a system, rather than a transitory phenomenon of it, I can gauge by their reaction whether they are capable of revising their perceptions or would use any excuse to explain entrenched opinions. What is your date, after which you’ll be convinced that no political reforms are to be expected from the current Syrian regime? Please don’t feel obligated to answer me, I don’t mean to be pushy, but I hope you have a date in mind.


I’ll bet you 1 share of SyriaTel that Assad is out before the end of 2012. Or Alex can put a new poll up so we can see what the collective wisdom is…


>>> I remember “the experts” predicting Bashar wouldn’t survive more than a few years, that he’d be overrun by the old guard, that he’s too young and inexperienced, etc. And look where he is today.

Did you hear the story about the donkey whose owner experimented with giving him a little less food every day? In the beginning it seemed to be working just fine. Aren’t the trends clear enough? At any rate, whether the Syrians revolt against him or not is their business, but I know my heart would be beating with joy if they decide to overthrow their dictatorship, wouldn’t you?

>>> Bashar is far more popular than his father was, not only in Syria, but also throughout the Arab World. And, recently, also in Iran and Turkey.

The people in other countries don’t suffer from the economic hardship that the regime’s rigidity induces. The economy will be his test.

>>> If we were smart enough to understand this (especially the latter), we’d take advantage of it, and quickly go make peace with him.

I agree. Israel should pursue peace with whomever is in power in Damascus, and I’m pretty sure that even if the regime is changed, there will be continuity in foreign policy, especially that Assad is not a sell-out. Like I said, he’s going to fall over economic policy, nothing else.

>>> So far, the Syrian regime is far more “stable” than any of our governments have been. Few Israeli governments have ever completed a full term…

Don’t worry, soon you’ll have Lieberman as President For Life and lots of “stability”…

February 11th, 2011, 3:44 am


Shami said:

Alex,Norman,Averroes,Angelis….The true popularity of Hafez and Bashar will only be known after asad regime downfall.
The important is that regime people wont escape outside the country with the billions they have stolen.

February 11th, 2011, 3:53 am


majedkhaldoon said:

The assension of Rajab Tayeb Erdogan was a major factor in the Egyptian revolution,He changed the Turkish policy,Supported the arabic cause,criticised Israel,thus came close to the minds and the hearts of the Egyptians and the whole Arab,all ,while Mubarak gave huge concessions to Israel,against his people desires and thinking,Egyptians were inspired by Erdogan,disappointed by Mubarak.
the other major factor is the role of Media,which exposed facts about the dictator and the corruption of his men and the atrocities commited by him and his people,the wealth he stole while his people are suffering,and the media did it fast,case in point is Aljazeera,which recently appear to be the voice of the Arabic people, it is trusted by them,applauded by them and respected by all news media worldwide.Aljazeere is the sunshine that brought with it the new dawn.
Other factor is the population increase ,it has reached a number that is hard to control considering the resources of Egypt,and exceeded the power of the regime,the power to control these masses of people.
One can only conclude the this revolution will spread to all Arabic countries,Including Syria,and soon ,Syria is not immune from what is happening in Egypt,Assad is a dictator worse than Mubarak,may be there was some freedom in Egypt,but in Syria there is no freedom at all,corruption is much worse than Egypt,and the wealth Assad family stole from his people equal if not exceed Mubarak family did.
those who defend the dicators will bite their nails,of sorrow when the facts are known.there is no way for a dictator to lead reform,and in time like we are living in, time is getting too short for those dictators.

February 11th, 2011, 8:52 am


Shai said:


It took Sharon 35 years to understand Israel can’t be a Jewish State and remain in Gaza and the West Bank. It’ll take Lieberman a while as well. For the Palestinians, I think a President-for-Life Lieberman is the best thing they could hope for. Then they’re guaranteed a one-state solution.

As for Arabs ridding themselves of a dictatorship, I’ve stopped getting overjoyed every time I see a “revolution” title appear on the news. Are the Palestinians, the Iraqis, the Egyptians, enjoying their “democracies”?

What Bashar Assad has said on many occasions in interviews with Western media, is that we do not understand the systems that exist in the region. To be honest, I’m not sure he, or any other Arab leader, “understands” them either. That is, not in the sense of how to change from a thousand years of authoritarian rule to true freedom and democracy.

To me at least it isn’t clear at all that an Arab Democracy can be created overnight. Even if there was complete freedom of speech, and regimes were ready to stand down, what could replace them? In Egypt, the Muslim Brothers? A military junta? If I’m to support the removal of one regime or another, I first need to know what can realistically come in its stead.

February 11th, 2011, 9:52 am


why-discuss said:


The billions Mobarak and his cronies have gathered in 30 years have been revealed by the Guardian and other media only after the upheaval has started in Egypt, I wonder why no one investigated and published them earlier!

So please share with us the information you have about “the wealth Assad family stole from his people” , it would be interesting to compare with Moubarak’s

February 11th, 2011, 9:56 am


why-discuss said:


I believe democracy comes after having tried other form of government and having been deluded by its achievements.
Most democracies in the “old world” came after periods, sometimes centuries, where dictatorship ruling, religion ruling, military ruling were the norm. For the Moslem world, Turkey is a good example of a democracy successfully emerging after centuries of dictatorship and military rule.
Russia is on it way, Iran too, others will follow. It is only a matter of time. Talking about time, what was taking centuries, now with the media, the information technology and the globalization of the information, could well be a matter of decades or less.
We can see Egypt and Tunisia moving out of their inertia and other countries will follow at their own pace, depending of the people awareness and the way the current government moves ahead. I could be a soft move or abrupt.
Now would democracy in the Arab world play against Israel? That would be Israel’s responsibility to get acceptance, not from a dictator or his cronies as it has been the case, but from the arab people and that is a much harder task. Today, Israel’s actions against fellow Arabs have made the people extremely antagonistic. Israel is perceived as arrogant, selfish, heartless and alien to the region as its only real allies are thousand of miles away. I believe a democracy in the Arab world would NOT be sympathetic to Israel.
Israel should change its attitude otherwise with more democracies emerging in the area, it may find itself even more isolated and antagonized.

February 11th, 2011, 10:22 am


majedkhaldoon said:

five years ago when Jamil Assad died, it was published that he left over 5 billion dollars.Basel Assad when he died over 10 years ago it was published that he had 10 billion dollar in swiss banks,the goverment recovered three of it,over three years ago, there was report that Bashar has moved 10 billion dollar from swiss banks to London, these are few reports,and reflect several years ago,there is no use of denying the wealth of Assad family

February 11th, 2011, 10:23 am


Ghat Albird said:

The Division of Egypt: Threats of US, Israeli, and NATO Military Intervention?
by Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya*

In this final article of our series on Egypt, Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya reviews the different scenarios that could emerge from the intensifying popular rebellion, which range from disastrous to optimistic. Beyond that, this expert on the Middle East warns of a much darker agenda which may be afoot. Unable to control the situation, the U.S. and Israel are now working on the destabilization and division of Egypt to thwart a possible strategic challenge and to accelerate their long-standing goal of dividing the whole Arab world, as already achieved in the Sudan.

The protests in Tunisia have had a domino effect in the Arab World. Egypt, the largest Arab country, is now electrified with popular uproar to remove the Mubarak regime in Cairo. It must be asked what effects would this event have? Will the U.S., Israel, and NATO simply watch the Egyptian people establish a free government?

The parable of the Arab dictators is like that of the spider’s web. Although the spider feels safe in its web, in reality the web is one of the frailest homes. All the Arab dictators and tyrants, from Morocco to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, are in fear now. Egypt is on the brink of what could amount to being one of the most important geo-political events in this century.

Pharaohs, ancient or modern, all have their end days. Mubarak’s days are numbered, but the powers behind him have not yet been defeated. Egypt is an important part of America’s global empire. The U.S. government, Tel Aviv, the E.U., and NATO all have significant interests in maintaining Egypt as a puppet regime.

The U.S. and Israel want to use the Egyptian Military to Police the Egyptian People

When protests started in Egypt, the heads of the Egyptian military all went to the U.S. and consulted with U.S. officials for orders. The Egyptians are well aware that the regime in Cairo is a pawn in the services of the U.S. and Israel. This is why Egyptian slogans are not only directed against the Mubarak regime but are also aimed against the U.S. and Israel, in similarity to some of the slogans of the Iranian Revolution. The U.S. has been involved in every aspect of the Egyptian government’s activities. Cairo has not made a single move without consulting both the White House and Tel Aviv. Israel has also permitted the Egyptian military to move into urban areas in the Sinai Peninsula.

The reality of the situation is that the U.S. government has worked against freedom in the Arab World and beyond. When President Obama says that there should be a period of “transition” in Egypt, it means that Mubarak and the Egyptian regime should stay intact. The U.S. does not want a people’s government in Cairo.

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Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (L) and former US Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk attend the National Security Studies ’Security Challenges of the 21st Century’ Conference in Tel Aviv, December 2007.

Martin Indyk, a former Clinton Administration official at the U.S. National Security Council with an area of responsibility for the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and an individual closely tied to the Obama Administration, told The New York Times that the U.S. must work towards bringing the Egyptian military into control of Egypt until a “moderate and legitimate political leadership [can] emerge.” [1] Not only did Indyk call for a military takeover in Egypt, he also used U.S. State Department double-speak. What U.S. officials mean by “moderate” are dictatorships and regimes like Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E., Jordan, Morocco, and Ben Ali’s Tunisia. As for legitimacy, in the eyes of U.S. officials, it means individuals who will serve U.S. interests.

Tel Aviv is far less coy than the U.S. about the situation in Egypt. Out of fear of losing Cairo, Tel Aviv has been encouraging the Mubarak regime to unleash the full force of the Egyptian military on the civilian protesters. It has also been defending Mubarak internationally. In this regard, the Egyptian military’s primary role has always been to police the Egyptian people and to keep the Mubarak regime in power. U.S. military aid to Egypt is solely intended for this purpose.

Revolutionary Egypt: A Second Iran in the Middle East?

If the Egyptian people manage to establish a new and truly sovereign government, it would equate to a second Iran in the Middle East. This would cause a major regional and global geo-political shift. It would also deeply upset and cripple the interests of the U.S., Britain, Israel, France, the E.U., and NATO in what would amount to a colossal loss, like that of Iran in 1979.

If a new revolutionary government were to emerge in Cairo the bogus Israeli-Palestinian peace talks would be over, the starvation of the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip would end, the cornerstone of Israeli military security would be gone, and the Iranian-Syrian Awliyaa (Alliance) could possibly gain a significant new member.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed Tel Aviv’s fears about Egypt allying with Iran and a new gateway of Iranian influence being opened in a speech by saying: “Tehran is waiting for the day in which darkness descends [in Egypt].” [2] Netanyahu is correct about one thing, the Iranian Foreign Ministry has been monitoring the events in Egypt very eagerly and the Iranians are awaiting the establishment of a new revolutionary government that could join Iran and the Resistance Bloc. Tehran has been overjoyed and Iran is abuzz with speeches by its officials about what they believe to be an “Islamic Awakening”.

While the Arab members of the Resistance Bloc have made low-key statements about the protests in Egypt, non-Arab Iran has been vocal in its support of the protesters in the Arab World. Syria has made low-key remarks, because of its own fears of revolt at home. Hezbollah and Hamas have also been relatively low-key on their stances about the protests in the Arab World, because they wish to avoid being targeted by the Arab regimes through accusations of meddling.

At every opportunity the so-called “moderate” Arab regimes seek to demonize these Arab players. On the other hand the Turkish government, which maintains close ties to the Arab regimes, has also been virtually silent about the protests in the Arab World.

Israel is preparing itself for the possible reality that an unfriendly government will be taking office in Cairo, which is what will happen if the Egyptian people are successful. Tel Aviv has secret military-security contingency plans for Egypt. In the words of Netanyahu to the Israeli Knesset: “A peace agreement does not guarantee the existence of peace [between Israel and Egypt], so in order to protect it and ourselves, in cases in which the agreement disappears or is violated due to regime change on the other side, we protect it with security arrangements on the ground.” [3]

Threats of U.S., Israeli, and NATO Military Intervention in Egypt: Recall the 1956 Invasion of Egypt?

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1956 Suez war – Israeli conquest of Sinai.

There is also the chance of renewed war with Israel and even American and NATO military intervention in Egypt. The threat of military intervention in Egypt must be considered. In 1956, the British, the French, and the Israelis jointly attacked Egypt when President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal. Recalling 1956, the U.S. and NATO could do the same. General James Mattis, the commander of U.S. Central Command said that the U.S. will deal with Egypt “diplomatically, economically, [and] militarily” should access to the Suez Canal be shut by Egypt to the U.S. and its allies. [4]

In 2008, Norman Podhoretz proposed a unthinkable nightmare scenario. In this nightmare scenario the Israelis would militarily occupy the oil refineries and naval ports of the Persian Gulf to insure “energy security” and they would also launch a so-called pre-emptive nuclear attack against Iran, Syria, and Egypt. [5]

In 2008, the main questions that arose were: “energy security” for whom and why attack Egypt, where the Mubarak government has been a staunch Israeli ally?

Would the Israelis attack Egypt if a revolutionary government emerged in Cairo? This is what essentially happened a few years after Gamal Abdel Nasser took power from Mohammed Naguib in Egypt. Also, is such a military attack on Egypt tied to Israel’s secret military-security contingency plans that Netanyahu assured the Israeli Knesset about.

Is such a nightmare scenario, which includes the use of nuclear weapons, a distinct possiblity? Podhoretz has close ties to both Israeli and U.S. officials. It should also be mentioned that Podhoretz is a recipient of the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom for his intellectual influence in the U.S. and is one of the original 1997 signatories of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) along with Elliot Abrams, Richard Cheney, John (Jeb) Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Steen Forbes Jr., and Paul Wolfowitz. The PNAC has essentially outlined plans for transforming America into a global empire through militarism overseas and domestic militarization.

“Managed Chaos” and the Threats of Balkanization in Egypt: The Yinon Plan at Work?

Egypt cannot be managed by the Mubarak regime, the U.S., Israel, and their allies anymore. Thus, the U.S., Israel, and their allies are now working to divide and destabilize Egypt, as the most powerful Arab state, so that no strategic challenge can emerge from Cairo. The attacks on the peaceful protestors in Cairo’s central Tahrir Square by Mubarak’s club-wielding thugs riding camels and horses was a stage-managed event to build public support outside of the Arab World for having a dictatorial strongman in Cairo. It epitomized every stereotype and incorrect Orientalist attitude about Arabs and the peoples of the Middle East. It would come as no surprise if the U.S., Israel, and Britain played direct or advisory roles in the event.

In a major departure from reality, the Mubarak regime’s state-controlled media is reporting popular support for Mubarak by millions of Egyptians and wide-spread approval of his speech and his “transitional government” plans. In a show of desperation, the same state-controlled media is also trying to blame Iran and its Arab allies for the Egyptian protests. Egyptian state-controlled media has reported that Iranian commandos and special forces, along with the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas, have been on destabilization and sabotage missions against Egypt.

These types of accusations by the regime in Cairo are not new. Yemen, Bahrain, Jordan, and Mahmoud Abbas also all do the same. The Mubarak regime has blamed Iran, Hezbollah, the Free Patriotic Movement, Syria, and Hamas for meddling and inciting revolt several times in the past. When the Free Patriotic Movement criticized the Mubarak regime about the treatment of Egyptian Christians, the Mubarak regime accused Michel Aoun of sectarian sedition. On the other hand, Hezbollah was accused of attempting to create chaos in Egypt when Hassan Nasrallah asked the Egyptian people to show solidarity with the Palestinians and demand that their government allow humanitarian aid to go to the people of the Gaza Strip.

Managed Chaos at Work

Although Mubarak’s thugs are also creating chaos in Egypt to try to keep his regime in power, the doctrine of “managed chaos” is being used by external actors with the Israeli Yinon Plan in mind. Making Egyptians fight against one another and turning Egypt into a divided and insecure state, just like Anglo-American Iraq, appears to be the objective of the U.S., Israel, and their allies. The building tensions between Egyptian Muslims and Egyptian Christians, which includes the attacks on Coptic churches, is tied to this project. In this context, on the thirteenth day of the protests in Egypt, the Mar Girgis Church in the Egyptian town of Rafah, next to Gaza and Israel, was attacked by armed men on motorcycles. [6]

The White House and Tel Aviv do not want a second Iran in the Middle East. They will do whatever they can to prevent the emergence of a strong and independent Egypt.

A free Egypt could prove to be a much bigger threat than non-Arab Iran within the Arab World to the objectives of the U.S., Israel, and NATO.

The Return of the Egyptian Eagle as the Champion of Arab Independence?

Egypt was once a major strategic challenge to the U.S., Israel, France, and Britain in the Arab World and Africa. Nasserite Egypt aided the Algerian Resistance against the French occupation of Algeria, openly supported the Palestinians against the Israeli occupation of their homes, supported the Yemenite Resistance against the British occupation in South Yemen, challenged the legitimacy of the British-installed Hashemites and the American-supported House of Saud, and offered support to national liberation and anti-imperialist movements. Cairo under a revolutionary government, whether deeply tied to Islam or not, could give the Arab World a new leader that would revive pan-Arabism, make Tel Aviv further nervous about trying to launch wars, and rally the Arabs and other peoples worldwide in revolt against the global confederacy formed by the U.S. and its allies.

Egypt is not free from bondage yet. The Egyptian people must also address the role of global capitalism in supporting the Mubarak regime. At the same time they must remain united. If they are successful, they will make a huge impact on the history of the current century.


February 11th, 2011, 10:26 am


AIG said:


You are right that it would be nice to know what regime will emerge after Mubarak. However, this is a moot point now. It is in the hands of the protesters and one can only admire their courage and dedication.

The lesson for Syria is that if you want to control transition, you have to credibly own it and manage it. Only the regime can lead an orderly transition. If it does not do so, the results will be dire.
Assad needs to announce a credible 10 year plan that slowly transfers power to the people in Syria. That is the only way to get a soft landing.

And the lesson for Israel is that dictators are not that stable also and that long term alliances need to be made with democratic regimes.

February 11th, 2011, 10:27 am


Atassi said:

It’s an honor to be classified as one of bad apples :-0 Thank you sir….
“Yes many Bathes are bad and single party System corrupt, but the baath party has good principles and in open election might lose in the beginning but eventually will weed out the bad members and rise to lead, “

I would say the BAATH movement HAD good intentions and clear objectives in the beginning, it lost the intended plan and eventually was overtaken by individuals with personal agendas and they used it as a tool to legitimize the group theft and grip to absolute power ..
the Baath party is a deadbeat and a dinosaur and it will lose and will never lead in a free society .. they deserve a SORMAI in their faces nothing more.. “Sormai= shoes”

February 11th, 2011, 10:56 am


norman said:

Mubarak resigned.and left the army in charge.

February 11th, 2011, 11:08 am


majedkhaldoon said:

Where is Mubarak, the deposed ruler of egypt?can he stay in Egypt?,no way
Congratulation to egyptians

February 11th, 2011, 11:28 am


atassi said:

One more tyrant gone ….dumped in the dumpster ..EGYPT IS FREE

February 11th, 2011, 11:30 am


Syrian Nationalist Party said:

No, not free yet, more like under CIA control for now. Unless the army split and side with Egyptians.

February 11th, 2011, 11:53 am


Alex said:

Dear Yossi,

You will now force me to start my “I told you so” session, which is fun to do anyway, so I will:

1) It is not true that in 2007 I said “in 7 years”

Here is what I have been saying since 2007


In 7-14 years… and I suggested the way Syria can gradually (not wait until 2014 to start) start now the steps towards “democracy” … multi-party law … municipal elections, bicameral assembly (add a senate) to protect the rights of the minorities, … a democratically elected prime minister 5 years form now in empowered to handle the economy and internal affairs (minus security) … A strong president remains in power for 5 more years after until the country adapts to all those changes in an orderly manner.

Basically, I was always calling for what AIG just suggested above .. a 10 year road map.

And you know what? … at the time everyone else here was either saying that Assad is so unpopular and that the Hariri investigation will destroy him … his days are numbered (it was Bush time), or they were saying that he is so corrupt he is preparing his son (Hafez) to replace him after he rules for a few more decades himself.

In 2007 I said 7-14 years, and today I am saying that I think in 5 years’ time everything in the Middle East will change, despite any resistance from anyone … from “old guard” Syrians, from right wingers in Israel or the utterly stupid neocons and brainwashed politicians in Washington …

I have been insisting, despite the amused reactions I have been getting, that the Arab Israeli conflict will be resolved (agreements signed) in less than five years from now. I explained to anyone who found me too optimistic that the world is changing too fast and the rate of change of the past can NOT be used to extrapolate and predict the rate of change for the future.

If the events in Egypt did not convince you that my position has been the closest to reality than anyone else’s, then I don’t now what is.

I have been attacking the Mubarak regime (and the Saudis, and M14 in Lebanon) for 6 years, and they are disappearing fast.

I said that Bashar is personally very popular and that (Sorry Norman) the Baath party is not popular at all. “The regime” is respected for its skills in managing national security but is otherwise not popular at all because of corruption.

I have been also warning an a regular basis that the ultra rich in Syria (and the Arab world) better start learning from Bill Gates about how much you must give to charity if you want to not see the poor revolting against you:

in 2007

in 2008

in 2010

So, I don’t think I am getting anything wrong. I got my priorities right and I got my time line right.

We need to accelerate reforms .. that’s what I have been saying for years… and we need to fight corruption in Syria. But no thanks … revolutions are not by any stretch of the imagination, optimal.

I am very happy for what happened in Egypt, but I there are no tears in my eyes … I am expecting seious difficulties and I know that the Egyptian economy is set back five to ten years at least… I would rather we reach the same objective through orderly change.

Nothing wrong with what AIG suggested.

February 11th, 2011, 12:20 pm


AIG said:


In order for the Syrian people to buy into the change, the 10 year plan must look like a credible plan for change and not as an excuse to stay in power. We have not seen anything credible from Asad.

As for the old guard, you are too optimistic about your view that Asad can get them on board. When Landis’ in-laws demand an orderly transition to democracy, let me know. That would mean something significant has happened.

February 11th, 2011, 1:00 pm


norman said:

We Agree on this one ,

(( One more tyrant gone ….dumped in the dumpster ..EGYPT IS FREE))

February 11th, 2011, 1:01 pm


Majhool said:

I also expect that in 39.5-67.7 years we all be dead.

This is based on some fancy software i bought at Ebay

February 11th, 2011, 1:04 pm


Akbar Palace said:


Excuse me, but I don’t recall any real criticisms you leveled against Bashar Assad. At most, a few “softball” comments, like he needs to improve.

You and Professor Josh have been his best apologists.

Now that the Egyptians have “voted”, I see you have the audacity to say “I told you so”?


February 11th, 2011, 1:09 pm


Shami said:

Alex , despite the imperfections in the lebanese political life,the lebanese politicians are elected by the people and a political defeat can be reversed in Lebanon.
Unlike the lebanese case,the totalitarian dictator Bashar wont be able to survive Baath regime end.

It will be more likely like this :


February 11th, 2011, 1:15 pm


Alex said:


I doubt there will be a public road map with a time line, but I hope there will be a virtual one. You will not see panic in Damascus … the leadership will not rush to react all over the place. But if over the next year the Syrian people do not see concrete steps (the multi-party law to start, followed by plans for free municipal elections) then I agree that many Syrians will start to get restless. But I also assure you that Syria’s role in the regional conflict and what happens in Palestine, Lebann, and Iraq will also affect how Syrians react. As long as Assad’s effective leadership in “resistance” to Israel is essential (as it is today), he has a segment of the population solidly behind him.

Majhool, sorry if you have nothing meaningful to say after all your friends disappeared one after the other … remember in 2006 when you were admiring Mubarak and Fouad Seniora and Saad Hariri and comparing them to the “peasants” ruling Syria who were embarrassing you because they are not as refined and not as civilized as your hero Fouad Seniora?

February 11th, 2011, 1:18 pm


majedkhaldoon said:

It is not too late to follow what Alex did,it is time to say the same thing

February 11th, 2011, 1:45 pm


Alex said:


You want me to give you more links it seems. Here is proof from last year on my onemideast.org site that I (and the Syrian team) got it exactly right. Read one of our counter arguments to those who said “Israel is too strong, no need to give back the Golan”


Egypt: Popular resentment of the Mubarak regime could lead to massive turmoil in Egypt. An anticipated Muslim Brotherhood takeover of power will lead to Egypt’s pulling out of its peace agreement with Israel.

And excuse me but I will not criticize President Assad beyond what I WANT to criticize… If the criminal Bush admin and if the Netanyahu PR machine tried to portray him as some kind of Hitler, I will laugh… I will not join them.

Here is what I have been criticizing for years:

– pace of reforms too slow …
– Anti corruption campaign not effective
– Communicating with the Syrian people can certainly be improved.
– The rich set around “the regime” should be pressured to give back much more … through taxes or charity. I even named his cousin Rami, which very few people dare to do.

But what you are not able to understand is that the man (while not a saint) is way better than all the others who are interested in politics. Some are ideologues (liberal or communist writers) others are business executives, some are religiously motivated … just like the United States where GWB was not by any stretch of the imagination the best man to lead this country, despite the wonderful democratic elections. The truly most talented Americans (and Syrians) are usually not interested in politics. Assad (compared to those interested) is very much to my liking. Am I free to have this opinion Akbar or do I have to follow the AIPAC PR machine’s BS that never attacked Mubarak until recently and focused on attacking Assad?

This is an example of how the other leaders are messing up all the time and how dangerous they can be:


I will take Assad any time.


I beg to differ … I respect the freedom in Lebanon to express your opinion and to criticize the prime minister and the president. I definitely admire that. But their elections are a joke that I will never respect.

You read the Wikileaks cabe about Israeli intelligence recognizing that Hariri;s money decided the elections. Also, read this from Alain Gresh, former redacteur en chef of Le Monde diplomatique, quoting Mr. Feltman:


” Les Etats-Unis fournissent une assistance et un appui à tous ceux qui, au Liban, travaillent pour créer des alternatives à l’extrémisme et réduire l’influence du Hezbollah dans la jeunesse. (…) A travers l’USAID et la Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), nous avons contribué depuis 2006 à hauteur de plus de 500 millions de dollars à cet effort.”

February 11th, 2011, 1:53 pm


Avi Salam said:

Yossi, Shai, and the rest of our Israeli colleagues,
Now that the Egyptian regime has fallen, and the future of the Egyptian government is but uncertain, the level of threat to Israel has never been higher. This is especially so if a religious group such as the Muslim Brotherhood participates in, or possibly takes over, future Egyptian governments. Although I am not from Israel, I am actually of Syrian descent; I sincerely care for Israel as a true democratic country in the Middle East. I believe that Israel, with a fair and true peace with its neighbors, will be an essential and instrumental guarantor of secularism and democracy in its neighboring countries.
The focus point should be that, as we cannot afford to keep the status co of the political regimes in the Middle East, we also cannot afford, and should not allow, chaos and luck to dictate the ultimate situation nor the roadmap in the Middle East. You might have heard of the proverb: “The best way to predict the future is to invent it”. Why can’t we start tactical and strategic efforts to “predict” the future situation of the Middle East? What can we learn from the Israel-Egypt lesson? And how can we use that knowledge to ensure a more robust future for an upcoming peace treaty between Syria and Israel?

February 11th, 2011, 2:13 pm


Majhool said:


Cheap shot ,reminds me with Baathist tactics of fostering socioeconomics divisions and hatred in the society, not very effective though, not any more. You are becoming like Norman.

I was, and still am a pro-democracy, and nothing you say will change that.

By the way, if you think the new Egypt will be pro Iran then you are dreaming. If anything, it will fill the vacuum Egypt had left for years.

Further, I simply don’t give a crap what any arab foreign policy is as long as its the product of representative governments.

You stick to polishing resumes for the regime, which killed 30 000 syrians in few days, which you said was necessary..

February 11th, 2011, 2:45 pm


norman said:

can you tell me which party you like and which party can fulfill the aspiration of the Syrians who feel that they belong to one Arab nation and broad enough to include everybody .

The Baath Party is the one and only one .not Islamic parties or the Syrian social democratic party ,

February 11th, 2011, 2:46 pm


Shai said:

Avi Salam,

I think it’s too early to tell how Israeli-Egyptian relations will be effected by the ousting of the Mubarak regime. Even if the MB controlled the government after elections, they would be in charge of Egypt, of the Army, and would have to act differently. I doubt they’d cut off relations with the U.S., and I’m not sure they’d give up on the billions Egypt gets annually from Washington, for keeping the peace agreement with Israel.

If the MB are democratically elected into power, we’ll get a sense of what a Hamas government would have been like after 2006, if the U.S. and Israel recognized the results of the Palestinian elections. I have no doubt channels of communication would have to open between the MB and Israel in such a case.


Look at it from the other side, and see why Arab states might not want to sign an agreement with an Israel that changes every few years, and often acts and reacts in extreme fashion (Lebanon 2006, Gaza 2008/9, continued settlement building, etc.) One cannot claim the Israel-Egypt peace treaty would have been as stable, or more, if Mubarak had not been in power these past 30 years.

But as you say, it’s a moot point because we don’t elect our enemies’ leaders (well, we shouldn’t, and we shouldn’t interfere either, as we are in the PA’s case). We once also didn’t pick-and-choose with whom to make peace. We jumped at every opportunity we got (peace, diplomatic relations, economic relations, anything). It seems today, things are a little different. Our growing Arrogance and Overconfidence aren’t really helping.

February 11th, 2011, 2:54 pm


Alex said:


You described what I wrote as a cheap shot that reminded you of Baathists (I just wrote that the Baathists are not popular in Syria) who foster divisions … THEN … you portray me as an apologist for Hama and you add the funny “if you think the new Egypt will be pro Iran then you are dreaming”

Because in your sectarian head you only see me as a “minority” Christian who loves Alawites and now .. Shia Iran!

For your info, I wrote here in the past that most of the trouble in the Middle East come from the three religion based states … the Jewish castle (Israel), the Sunni kingdom (Saudi Arabia) and the Shia fortress (Iran)

And I added to them the lunatics who think they are Christians .. the Zionist Christians and some other evangelical Christians in the US.

GWB was a product of this dangerous group.

And let me add to the above … all those who are dying to take revenge from others in the Middle East. There are many of those in every country over there unfortunately.

February 11th, 2011, 2:57 pm


AIG said:


The chances of Egypt abolishing the peace treaty with Israel is very small. Egypt needs the EU and the US to rebuild and they know that such a move will only isolate Egypt. Egypt counts also very much on tourism and therefore any hint of instability, which abolishing the peace treaty will of course create, will hurt them badly. In addition, the Egyptian military relies on American aid and equipment and will lose all of it if they tear up the treaty. I think democracy in Egypt and in fact in all the Arab countries is very good for Israel. The last thing the Egyptians want or need as a people is to fight a war.

The reason that you see no good alternatives to Assad is that all political parties have been violently suppressed. If Assad would let go a little, many good alternatives to him will emerge. That is why he does not let go. It is also the case in Egypt that there are no clear alternatives for President. Mubarak would not let them evolve, just like Assad does not. So the lack of alternatives is a bad circular argument.

February 11th, 2011, 3:00 pm


Alex said:


I agree to some extent with both points you made.

1) We did get the overthrow of Mubarak right, and I still think the Brotherhood and conservative elements in Egypt will be tempted to promote some changes which are destabilizing, but I do not think the Peace treaty is at risk. It is a small possibility though as people do not always go for the most logical behavior.

2) ONE OF the reasons we don’t see good alternatives to President Assad is that the current constitution says only the Baath party can provide candidates, and no one within the Baath is going to dare to oppose the current leader.

But where I disagree (and I have the right to my own opinion, for those who don’t like it) is in my belief that for the kind of challenges that Syria faces for now, choice or not, I do not expect to like any other candidate. I like Assad just fine… and I know many outstanding other Syrian individuals like George Saghir or “Ford Prefect” and “Off the Wall” and “norman” … and “Idaf” …and “Ehsani” … and “Jad” … and many more

But none of them is interested in politics, and none of them can handle what it takes to run Syria at this time.

February 11th, 2011, 3:16 pm


AIG said:


The reason many good people in Syria are not interested in politics is the huge risks to their personal safety involved. I know you recognize this. Is it plausible that in country of 18 million no other person is as qualified as Assad? There cannot be real reforms that will stop unrest and give hope unless new political faces are allowed to emerge. You cannot make the transition without taking some risk. The less risk you take, the less it will be a credible transition.

Assad and his regime are riding a tiger. If they fall off suddenly they will get eaten. They need to convince the tiger to take them to a constrained area where they can get off peacefully without being eaten. But that involves listening to and negotiating with the tiger and that means taking risks of falling off faster. The tiger watches Al-Jazeera and it just got bolder and angrier in the last 18 days.

February 11th, 2011, 3:39 pm


Alex said:


We are repetitive now … I already addressed your point and partially agreed with you adding that in general most good people do not like to become politicians… free elections or not. Most politicians are mediocre and corrupt, freedom or not.


I would not take US aid that seriously … 1.5 billions per year for 80 million Egyptians is a joke. it is like $200 millions per year for Israel (population ratio)

Plus: that aid was for buying military gear they could not use (except the tear gas against the demonstrators)

Plus …. Emir of Qatar is eager to help much more generously. You will see.

February 11th, 2011, 3:51 pm


majedkhaldoon said:

Dear Norman
The original Baath party founder,like Salah Bitar,who I attended three of his lectures,I have full respect for him,but you have not been in Syria for over 20 years,the current Baath leaders are opportunistic, they abandoned the principle of Baath party of freedom and union,they supported dictatorship,and cruel one, and abolished all other parties,that differ from them,they can not tolerate freedom,they got rich from corruption,and if you have any dealing with them you can see how corrupt they are,how evil they are, you can not discuss things with them.
The party I like and belong to,in this country is the libertarian party.

Alex how could you like a dictator,he who put honest people like Mr. Maleh and Bunnie ,and muhannad Hasani and Fidaa AlHorani in jail,look how he treated Suhair Atassi,if you are not for freedom you have no respect for human dignity.

We are not to replace a great revolution like the one in Egypt, who revolted against dictatorship,with another dictatorship.this revolution says ALL DICTATORS MUST GO and the money they stole from their people,while they were in power,must return to the people.
I am not for revenge, I am for justice.

February 11th, 2011, 3:56 pm


Avi Salam said:

Hi Shai, Good to hear from you again.
I was watching the CNN interview of Ms. Mona Eltahawy and Mr. Alan Dershowitz a couple of days ago. I noticed that both of them were under the influence of emotions, Mona was over excited about the Egypt revolution, and Alan was very anxious and edgy about the potential threat to Israel due to the Muslim Brotherhood participating in, or taking over, the government in Egypt. The discussion between the two interviewees was all but a quarrel!! Although I understood the sentimental bolster of Mona’s excitement, I actually agreed with Mr. Dershowitz about his, in my opinion, most important point, which was overshadowed by the fueled quarrel between the two. Mr. Dershowitz’s point is that there are two elements to a democracy: The structural one, which about free and transparent elections, transparent government with independent executive, legislative, and legal branches, etc. And the functional one, which is concerned about true equality and the protection of rights for the minorities, most importantly: women. Let’s not sugar-coat it, Islam as interpreted and practiced today is anti-democratic. Islam as interpreted and practiced today, calls for the dismantling of Israel, and the expulsion of Jews out of the land. Islam as interpreted and practiced today, will not treat women equal to men, and decrees for, and promotes the spilling of the blood of some minorities such as the Alawites, Druz, and Ismailis. Make no mistake about it; the two major “flavors” of currently practiced and contemporary interpretations of Islam are alike in that regard, although the Sunni Salafies and Wahabis are the most dangerous, anti-democratic, and anti-humanitarian ones . After all, the Iranian president, who is Shiite, never saves an opportunity to call for the termination of Israel. This shall never change until someone comes up with a more civilized, and humanitarian interpretation of Islam.
Having the MB in any government will shatter the functional facet of democracy. I agree 100% with Mr. Dershowitz, and I was saddened that his very important point was lost amidst the quarrel during the CNN interview.
I am yearning for a true peace between the Syrian and Israeli people, not just governments. I tweet daily about such a dream – a beautiful dream, in which Syrians and Israelis visit each other, and what the relationship between the Syrian and Israeli people could and should be. It is a dream, a beautiful dream (follow my tweets @AviSalam).

February 11th, 2011, 3:57 pm


Averroes said:

Avi Salam,

It’s a beautiful dream indeed. But it can’t be realized with today’s Israel and today’s Israelis, I’m afraid. Only a One State solution will bring real peace. The Holy Land cannot be for Jews alone or Arabs alone, it is for both people, living together. Without that acknowledgement, peace treaties will be little more than surrender treaties, and I think we can agree that the Arab side is not going to surrender its rights, including the Right of Return.

To make peace with Israelis that continue to have Jews-Only roads and discrimination against the indigenous Arabs will be immoral and won’t last.

As for Egypt, it was Mubarak’s regime that actually sprung up the MB card every time he felt pressured. The MB size in reality is not large, and the majority of people on the streets of Egypt are regular people that you and I can easily be friends with.

February 11th, 2011, 4:22 pm


Shami said:

Averroes ,Inshallah ,the next wave will take all the hypocrit rejectionists into the dustbin of history.
Israel will have to face ,the elected representatives of the syrian -egyptian people.

February 11th, 2011, 6:01 pm


Averroes said:


I hope your choice of words does not mean الرافضة
(rejectionists, a raw and outdated sectarian label used by fundamentalist Sunni Muslims to label Shia and other Muslim minorities). I really hope that’s not behind your choice of words. Please tell me it isn’t.

I have no hate in my heart towards Jews, and I think we can make peace with them and co-exist under justice and equality. But I honestly sense a sizzling hatred radiating from a number of “mainstream” Syrians toward their fellow Syrians, Shami. This is worrisome, and I hope it is not the case in your case.

I do not believe that Assad is a hypocrite. I invite you to have peace in your heart and to try and reconsider. I know you will probably not listen, but I invite you nevertheless.

It is only fair that we Syrians learn to coexist peacefully and in mutual respect before we ask Israelis to do the same. We should set the example of civilized and peaceful coexistence, like the wonderful and civilized Egyptian youth have been doing the last 20 days.

February 11th, 2011, 6:38 pm


Norman said:

Majid , You said ,

((( Dear Norman
The original Baath party founder,like Salah Bitar,who I attended three of his lectures,I have full respect for him,but you have not been in Syria for over 20 years,the current Baath leaders are opportunistic, they abandoned the principle of Baath party of freedom and union,they supported dictatorship,and cruel one, and abolished all other parties,that differ from them,they can not tolerate freedom,they got rich from corruption,and if you have any dealing with them you can see how corrupt they are,how evil they are, you can not discuss things with them.))).

That is exactly what i think there is a difference between the party and the party members, The party is valued for it’s ideology and principles while the members should evaluated for their deeds and as there are bad and good Christians and Muslims , Christianity and Islam are good religions but their members are sometime not , their religions should not be prosecuted for these member’s deeds ,

As you know that in the US there are bad republicans like Abramov and good republican like Ron Paul , That does not change my views of the republican party , the same thing for the Democratic party ,
Yes there are corrupt members of the Baath party who should be prosecuted and punished , they are corrupt because of the single party system that we have in Syria , not because they belong to the Baath party , that would happen no matter what party is in power , it is just simple , power corrupt and the only way to prevent that is to instill fear in the officials that they will be punished if they do anything wrong or be thrown out of office ,

Alex ,
I hate to disagree with you , yes president Assad is the president of Syria and for that get most the credit for navigating Syria safely in the dangerous waters of the Mideast , but you all have to remember that he is the secretary General of the Baath party and that he governs with the Baath party and the other parties around him who deserve credit too,

The movement of the economy and the reform we see would have never happened without the participation and the approval of the Baath party , so let us the give the Baath party credit for the willing to change and evolve.

And yes i like to have free elections but my preference is to start with local elections that will test the metal of the candidates and see their work before putting them in the spot light ,

I believe decentralization and self rule in the counties is essential for the people to have and feel control over their lives ,

Lastly i agree with you about the libertarian party , i like that too , but that is not in Syria , which party in Syria , not members of party can fulfill your aspiration of a united Arab nation prosperous and strong?,

February 11th, 2011, 7:26 pm


Ziadsoury said:


A marriage of inconvenience
What an Arab democratic spring will mean for America’s relations with the Jewish state
Lexington Feb 10th 2011 | from PRINT EDITION

BRITAIN’S is based on history and showing its age. Geography dictates that Canada’s and Mexico’s will stay strong. Saudi Arabia’s will endure as long as America needs to buy its oil. The one with Hosni Mubarak (though not the one with Egypt itself) was dropped like a hot potato once the protests began.

America, in short, is both promiscuous and flighty when it comes to “special” relationships. One of the most fascinating is its long-standing fling with Israel. What, exactly, does America see in the Jewish state? And is the relationship in danger from the wind of change rattling Egypt and the wider Arab world?

These questions are best tackled in reverse order. It is easy to see why an Arab democratic spring might chill relations between America and Israel. The peace between Israel and Egypt was made between leaders, not peoples. That hardly mattered when the people of Egypt, like other Arabs, had no voice. But it will matter once they find one. Right now, the demonstrators in Tahrir Square are demanding their own freedom, not Palestine’s. But the statelessness of the Palestinians remains the great unifying cause of the Arab world. So even Israelis acknowledge that if Arab leaders have in future to respond to the wishes of their people they will become more hostile to Israel—and, by extension, to Israel’s American paramour. In that case, if America’s relationship with Israel was a marriage of convenience, like the one it has just annulled with Mr Mubarak, America might begin to see the case for a divorce, or at least some separation.

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But, of course, America’s attachment to Israel is not a marriage of convenience. It looks a lot more like true love. Listen to all the sweet talk, for a start. Even Barack Obama, who in his desire to mend America’s relations with Islam has been tougher on Israel than many presidents, goes misty-eyed when he harps on the “special relationship”. It is founded, he says, on “shared values, deep and interwoven connections, and mutual interests”. And the billing and cooing is the least of the evidence. The strongest proof of America’s feelings for Israel is all the inconvenience America puts up with for the relationship’s sake.

Some American friends of Israel argue gamely that Israel is a strategic asset to the superpower, a doughty democracy that provides intelligence, high technology, storage for American weapons and so forth. But that was an easier argument to make during the cold war. More recently, the benefits have been eclipsed by the costs. These range from the billions American taxpayers give Israel and Egypt to underwrite the 1979 peace, to all the resentment America’s Muslim allies harbour towards the superpower for being soft on the oppressor of the Palestinians. Its help to Israel may not be al-Qaeda’s main grievance against America, but in the war on terror this past decade Israel has surely been more of a liability than an asset in the contest for hearts and minds.

Far from being a marriage of convenience, in other words, it is a marriage of inconvenience. So is it a case of true love? Some Americans, refusing to accept this explanation, argue that although Israel is not linked to America by history, like Britain, or by geography, like Canada and Mexico, its relations with the Jewish state are entangled to an unusual degree in domestic politics. Harry Truman decided to support Israel’s founding after relentless lobbying. “I have to answer to hundreds of thousands who are anxious for the success of Zionism,” he grumbled. “I do not have hundreds of thousands of Arabs among my constituents.”

Since then, the power of the pro-Israel lobby in Washington has grown stronger, assuming epic proportions in some imaginations. Two American academics, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, made the claim in a book in 2007 that without the Israel lobby George Bush would not have invaded Iraq. That is an exaggeration, to say the least. But the powerful congressional resistance Mr Obama bumped into last year when he tried to enforce a settlement freeze in Jerusalem and the West Bank almost certainly played some part in the failure of America’s latest peacemaking initiative in Palestine.

Still, to explain America’s intimacy with Israel through the political power of America’s Jews is to miss half the story. In recent decades a far broader range of Americans, including evangelical Christians but not only them, have joined the love affair.

Trust in old faithful

No matter how desperate the lot of the Palestinians, polls show that Americans feel greater sympathy for Israel, a country they can identify with. And if some Democrats have lately become somewhat readier to criticise Israel, the Republicans have more than compensated in the other direction. Most conservatives, especially since the 2001 attacks, see Israel as a beleaguered democracy that shares America’s Judeo-Christian values. For some this article of faith has become a subtle line of attack against Mr Obama, whom they deem too hard on Israel and (nudge, nudge) insufficiently Judeo-Christian himself. Republicans want to slash foreign aid, but not the aid to Israel. And while demonstrators thronged Cairo last week, Mike Huckabee, who may seek the Republican presidential nomination again, was declaring from Israel that it was “racist” to stop Jews settling in the West Bank.

Against this backdrop, with a Republican House and a presidential election less than two years away, Israeli fears of abandonment look unwarranted. America will be faithful. But it will have to pay a higher price for its fidelity in an Arab world whose leaders no longer dare to ignore the preferences of their people. The best way to escape this trap would be for America to win the Palestinians their state. In that event, Arabs in general might be willing to make a people’s peace with Israel. But it was hard enough to negotiate a compromise when the autocrats were in charge. Finding one the masses accept will be harder still.

February 11th, 2011, 7:33 pm


Shami said:

Averroes ,i really did not mean it in the pejorative way in the comment above.
Also,you remind me that i labeled the extremist shias as rafida in the past on this forum ,but i renounced to use it since then,after remarks from my friend Jad.
As for your fear ,i believe that once the people enjoy freedom,they become more open minded to other cultures and religions and get bored of bigotery and extremism,as it was the case in Egypt and Syria before totalitarian regimes take over .

February 11th, 2011, 7:54 pm


Averroes said:


I am happy to hear that. I did not know that you renounced it. I really salute you for that.

My view is that the revolution in Egypt will have fallout that will benefit the people in the entire region, maybe even the entire world. And in this this statement, I am not excluding Syria, even though I support the regime overall and the president in particular. (I do not support the Baath party, sorry again, Jad 🙂

A good shake and a reality check every now and then is a good thing. People should never ever be taken for granted. I hope and pray that Syria will start to see meaningful and sincere reforms soon.

February 11th, 2011, 9:13 pm


Souri said:

This is an example from the Syrian media:


الفقراء المدسوسون في عقل اقتصاد السوق هم عبءٌ قليل المنفعة وفائضٌ حسابيٌّ بلا طائل خاصةً في الاقتصاديات المتخلّفة ما دون الصناعية حال تُدرج ذاتها في خيارات السوق ولا تحتكم سوى لقانون العرض والطلب. تلك نتيجة يمكن تذوّقها على نحوٍ جليٍّ في خيار السوق للاقتصاد السوري منذ أن حسم هذا التحوّل وناصر هذه العقيدة الاقتصادية. وفعلياً اتسم الأداء الحكومي السوري بالسلبية تجاه الفقراء غير المتفق على عددهم بعد سوى أن 420 ألف أسرة باتت مشمولة بفضائل المعونات الاجتماعية، التي تأخرت مفاعيلها وكأنها تنتظر أفول هذا الشتاء الغريب، وذلك بالتوازي مع تهتّك القوة الشرائية لذوي الدخل المحدود منذ موجة التضخم والغلاء الحادة التي بدأت منذ العام 2006 ولم تنحسر بعد، وشاء قطاع الصحة أيضاً عندما قرر بيع خدماته على ثلث طاقته الاستيعابية أن يزجّ بنفسه ويضيف على بؤسهم مرثيةً جديدة علّها تجهز عليهم بلا رجعة، أليسوا الفائض الحسابي غير المرغوب والمناكد لنتائج التحول الاقتصادي الأثير والبعيدين عن الحظوة بأيٍّ من ثماره.

I read frequently in Syrian websites, and this site “syriasteps.com” seems to be popular (or perhaps مدعوم) since it has many ads, and I can say that the people who write in this website are, frankly, unqualified to write in a website on economics. I don’t know any website in Arabic that deals with Syrian economy and which I can call a good website. All Syrian websites seem as if they are run by amateurs with below-average knowledge and experience.

February 11th, 2011, 9:58 pm


jad said:

Dear friend Shami,
I’m touched by your nice comment, however, it has nothing to do with me or my remarks, it’s you who decided to do the change, which is great.

Dear Rafiq Averroes,
I’m very disappointed of you, I’ll report your comments in the next Ijtma3 7zbi!

If may I joke with you: your use of “Sormai” read in a very cute Homsi accent 🙂

Did anybody notice that in the picture of this post a minor is ‘SMOKING’? I just noticed the cigarette, that is bad!

February 11th, 2011, 10:00 pm


Akbar Palace said:

Dangerous Groups: A SC Primer

America will be faithful. But it will have to pay a higher price for its fidelity in an Arab world whose leaders no longer dare to ignore the preferences of their people. The best way to escape this trap would be for America to win the Palestinians their state. In that event, Arabs in general might be willing to make a people’s peace with Israel.

I disagree. And frankly, I don’t even understand the mindset of the author.

America can’t “win the Palestinians their state”.

All America can do is facilitate.

American can’t “win” the leadership of any country, bring democracy, force a peace agreement, or “win the Palestinians their state”. As with Egypt, it is up to the people themselves to create their societies and their leaders.

And I added to them the lunatics who think they are Christians .. the Zionist Christians and some other evangelical Christians in the US.

GWB was a product of this dangerous group.

Sure Alex,

This “dangerous group” is “dangerous” because they accept Israel and they aren’t intolerant. They’re “dangerous” because they believe Israel has a right to defend herself.

They’re “dangerous” because they don’t defend anti-semitic (as written in their charters) terrorist groups like Hamas, Hezbollah, and despotic regimes like Syria and the Iranian theocracy, and they’re “dangerous” because they don’t fly commercial airliners into skyscrapers or bury their own people in mass graves.

Anyway, this brillant woman, Wafa Sultan seems to disagree with you…


February 11th, 2011, 10:29 pm


NK said:


Despite a wave of protests spreading across the Middle East, so far the revolutionary spirit has failed to reach Syria.

Authoritarian rule, corruption and economic hardship are characteristics Syria share with both Egypt and Tunisia. However, analysts say that in addition to the repressive state apparatus, factors such as a relatively popular president and religious diversity make an uprising in the country unlikely.

Online activists have been urging Syrians to take to the streets but the calls for a “Syrian revolution” last weekend only resulted in some unconfirmed reports of small demonstrations in the mainly Kurdish northeast.

“First of all, I’d argue that people in Syria are a lot more afraid of the government and the security forces than they were in Egypt,” Nadim Houry, a Human Rights Watch researcher based in Lebanon, says.

“The groups who have mobilised in the past in Syria for any kind of popular protest have paid a very heavy price – Kurds back in 2004 when they had their uprising in Qamishli and Islamists in the early 1980s, notably in Hama.”

The so-called Hama massacre, in which the Syrian army bombarded the town of Hama in 1982 in order to quell a revolt by the Muslim Brotherhood, is believed to have killed about 20,000 people.

“I think that in the Syrian psyche, the repression of the regime is taken as a given, that if something [protests] would happen the military and the security forces would both line up together. I think that creates a higher threshold of fear.”

Demonstrations are unlawful under the country’s emergency law, and political activists are regularly detained. There are an estimated 4,500 “prisoners of opinion” in Syrian jails, according to the Haitham Maleh Foundation, a Brussels-based Syrian rights organisation.

‘Kingdom of silence’

As pages on Facebook called for demonstrations to be held in cities across Syria in early February, more than 10 activists told Human Rights Watch they were contacted by security services who warned them not to try and mobilise.

“Syria has for many years been a ‘kingdom of silence’,” Suhair Atassi, an activist in Damascus, says, when asked why no anti-government protests were held.

“Fear is dominating peoples’ lives, despite poverty, starvation and humiliation … When I was on my way to attend a sit-in against [the monopoly of] Syria’s only mobile phone operators, I explained to the taxi driver where I was going and why.

“He told me: ‘Please organise a demonstration against the high cost of diesel prices. The cold is killing us’. I asked him: ‘Are you ready to demonstrate with us against the high diesel price?” He replied ‘I’m afraid of being arrested because I’m the only breadwinner for my family!”

Fawas Gerges, a professor of Middle Eastern politics at the London School of Economics, says Syria is one of the Middle Eastern countries least likely to be hit by popular protests, because of its power structure.

He says the allegiance of the army in Syria is different than in both Tunisia, where the military quickly became one of the main backers of the president’s ouster, and in Egypt, where the army still has not taken sides.

“The army in Syria is the power structure,” he says. “The armed forces would fight to an end. It would be a bloodbath, literally, because the army would fight to protect not only the institution of the army but the regime itself, because the army and the regime is one and the same.”

Popular president

But even if people dared to challenge the army and the dreaded mukhabarat intelligence service, analysts say the appetite for change of the country’s leadership is not that big.

Many Syrians tend to support Bashar al-Assad, the president who came to power in 2000 after the death of his father Hafez, who had ruled the country for 30 years.

“An important factor is that he’s popular among young people,” Joshua Landis, the director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma and author of Syria Comment, says.

“Unlike Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, who’s 83, Bashar al-Assad is young. Young people are quite proud of him. They may not like the regime, they don’t like corruption and a lot of things, but they tend to blame this on the people around him, the ‘old guard’.”

A Syrian student echoes these comments. “The president knows that reform is needed and he is working on it”, she says.

“As for me, I don’t have anything against our president. The main issues which need to be addressed are freedom of speech and expression as well as human rights. I believe that the president and his wife are working on that. New NGOs have started to emerge.

“Also, many things have changed since Bashar came to power, whether it has to do with road construction, salary raises, etc. Even when it comes to corruption, he is trying hard to stop that and limit the use of ‘connections’ by the powerful figures in Syria. However, he won’t be able to dramatically change the country with the blink of an eye.”

Al-Assad’s tough stance towards Israel, with which Syria is technically at war, has also contributed to his popularity, both domestically and in the region.

Multi-religious society

Analysts stress that Syria’s mix of religious communities and ethnic groups differentiates Syria from Egypt and Tunisia, countries which both have largely homogeneous populations. Fearing religious tensions, many Syrians believe that the ruling Baath party’s emphasis on secularism is the best option.

“The regime in Syria presents itself as a buffer for various communities, essentially saying ‘if we go, you will be left to the wolves’,” Houry says. “That gives it ability to mobilise large segments of the population.”

Sunni Muslims make up about 70 per cent of the 22 million population, but the Alawites, the Shia sect which President al-Assad belongs to, play a powerful role despite being a minority of 10 per cent. Christians and Kurds are other sizable minorities.

Landis says Alawites and Christians tend to be al-Assad’s main supporters.

“If his regime were to fall, many of the Alawites would lose their jobs. And they look back at the times when the Muslim Brotherhood targeted them as nonbelievers and even non-Arabs.

“Then of course the Christians, who are about 10 per cent of the population, are the biggest supporters of al-Assad and the Baath party because it’s secular. They hear horror stories of what has happened in Iraq, about Christians being killed and kidnapped.”

The proximity to Iraq, another ethnically and religiously diverse country, is believed to play a major role in Syria’s scepticism towards democracy and limited hunger for political change. About a million Iraqi refugees have come to Syria since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

“The Iraqi refugees are a cautionary tale for Syrians,” Landis says. “They have seen what happens when regime change goes wrong. This has made Syrians very conservative. They don’t trust democracy.”

Parties banned

Syria is essentially a one-party state, ruled by the Baath Party since 1963. Many political groups are banned. But Landis says the lack of political freedom does not appear to be a major concern among the people.

“I’m always astounded how the average guy in the street, the taxi driver, the person you talk to in a restaurant or wherever, they don’t talk about democracy. They complain about corruption, they want justice and equality, but they’ll look at elections in Lebanon and laugh, saying ‘who needs that kind of democracy’?”

“The younger generation has been depoliticised. They don’t belong to parties. They see politics as a danger and they have been taught by their parents to see it as a danger. They look at the violence out there, in places like Iraq.”

Tunisia and Egypt both have a longer tradition of civil society and political parties than Syria and Landis describes the Syrian opposition as “notoriously mute”.

“In some ways, being pro-American has forced Egypt to allow for greater civil society, while Syria has been quite shut off from the West,” he says. “The opposition in Syria is very fragmented. The Kurds can usually get together in the biggest numbers but there are 14 Kurdish parties … And the human rights leaders – half of them are in jail and others have been in jail for a long time.”

Facebook sites calling for protests to be held in Syria on February 4 and 5 got about 15,000 fans but failed to mobilise demonstrators for a “day of anger”. In fact, countercampaigns set up online in favour of the government garnered as much support.

Ribal al-Assad, an exiled cousin of President al-Assad and the director of the London-based Organisation for Democracy and Freedom in Syria, said the people calling for protests were all based abroad and he is not surprised that nothing happened inside Syria.

“The campaign was a bit outrageous. First, they’ve chosen a date that reminds people of the uprising of the Muslim Brotherhood [the 29th anniversary of the Hama massacre],” he says.

“People don’t want to be reminded of the past. They want change, they want freedom, but they want it peacefully. And the picture they used on Facebook, a clenched fist and red colour like blood behind, it was like people calling for civil war and who in his right mind wants that?

“But of course people want change, because there is poverty, corruption, people get arrested without warrants, the government refuses to disclose their whereabouts for months. They are sentenced following unfair trials, a lot of times with stupid sentences such as ‘weakening the nation’s morale’ for saying ‘we want freedom and democracy’. But the only one weakening the nations moral is the government itself.”

‘Not holding hands with Israel’

One Syrian who became a “fan” of a Facebook page opposed to protesting says he cannot imagine, and does not want, Egyptian-style anti-government rallies to spread to Syria.

“I love my country and I don’t want to see people fighting. I can’t imagine the events occurring in Egypt to happen in Syria because we really like our president, not because they teach us to like him,” he says.

“In the formation of ministries, he’s made use of 100 per cent talent with the multiplicity of religions. There are not Alawites only. There are also Sunnis and Kurds and Christians. The president is married to Asma and she is Sunni. He shows the people we are brothers.

“And he is the only president in the Arab region that did not accept any offers from Israel, like other presidents. I, and most Syrians, if not all, can’t accept a president who will hold hands with Israel.”

As in Egypt and Tunisia, unemployment in Syria is high. The official jobless rate is about 10 per cent, but analysts say the double is a more realistic estimate. According to a Silatech report based on a Gallup survey last year, 32 per cent of young Syrians said they were neither in the workforce nor students.

Since the current president took office, the Syrian economic system has slowly moved away from socialism towards capitalism. Markets have opened up to foreign companies and the GDP growth rate is expected to reach 5.5 per cent by 2011.

Last year, the average Syrian monthly salary was 13,500SP ($290), an increase of six per cent over the previous year, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics.

But like in some other countries in the region, state subsidies have been slashed on various staples, including heating oil, and analysts say the poor are feeling the pinch.

“The bottom half of Syrians spend half of their income on food. Now, wheat and sugar prices have gone up in the last two years by almost 50 per cent,” Landis says.

“Syria is moving towards capitalism. This has resulted in a greater growth rate but it’s expanding income gaps. It’s attracting foreign investment and the top 10 per cent are beginning to earn real salaries on an international scale because they’re working for these new banks and in new industries. But the bottom 50 per cent are falling because they’re on fixed incomes and they get hit by inflation, reduced subsidies on goods, coupled with the fact that Syria’s water scarcity is going through the roof.”

However, Forward Magazine recently quoted Shafek Arbach, director of the Syrian Bureau of Statistics, as saying there is nothing in new data to suggest a growing gap between the rich and the poor in Syria.

‘Reforms needed’

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal late January, President al-Assad acknowledged the need for Syria to reform and but also said his country is “immune” from the kind of unrest seen in Tunisia and Egypt.

“We have more difficult circumstances than most of the Arab countries but in spite of that Syria is stable. Why? Because you have to be very closely linked to the beliefs of the people. This is the core issue. When there is divergence between your policy and the people’s beliefs and interests, you will have this vacuum that creates disturbance,” he said.

But Ribal al-Assad says it is obvious that the government is worried in the light of the discontent and anger spreading in the Middle East.

“Right after the Tunisian uprising they reduced the price for ‘mazot’ for the heating. They were supposed to bring up the price of medicines but then they didn’t. They distributed some aid to over 450,000 families. And, today we’re hearing that Facebook has been unblocked. They should have started this process a long time ago but better late than never.”

Houry says the lesson from Tunisia, which has been hailed as an economic role model in North Africa, is that economic reform on its own does not work.

“It will be interesting to watch how things are going to unfold over the coming few months,” he says. “The Syrians, like any other Arab household today, have their TVs turned on to Al Jazeera. They’re seeing what’s happening in Tunisia and Egypt. Freedom is an infectious feeling and I think people will want more freedom.”

February 11th, 2011, 10:38 pm


Yossi said:

Shai at comment #117,

Wow what a paternalistic and oriental view of the Arabs and a fatalistic view of human struggle for freedom. Nice. Remember that most democracies in the world are less than a 100 year old, including many European countries. A millennia of authoritarian rule is predictive of nothing.

You’ll note I didn’t say anything about democracy, though, although I don’t think it’s an unattainable goal for Syria. Some constitutional monarchies have been fairly enlightened, for example. It’s very simple: if somebody oppresses you, revolt. Start from there, and repeat until satisfied. It may not make the situation better the first time around, but you must start somewhere. Oppressive elites very rarely voluntarily give up power.

Alex ya Habibi,

Well, I guess we’ll just have to see whether the pace of promised reforms catches up with the rate of dispossession and disaffection of the people. I agree with what Why-Discuss said, the rate of change is now much faster with satellite media and social networks, I really don’t think that the regime stands a chance at reacting fast enough, even if it wanted to be exceedingly accommodating (in its own perception) especially that it would be endangering itself by doing so. 4 out of your 7-to-14 years have passed with not a lot to show for Assad in the economic or political arena. I think that for the same reasons you were right about Egypt and KSA, you may be wrong about Syria (but I do admit it’s scary playing date-chicken with you, with your phenomenal memory and your attention to the details of arcane ME politics…) Nobody likes bloody revolutions, but blind submission like cattle isn’t fun either, you know. Young people are loath to living like sheep, without hope or a clear path to a brighter future (since even if a ten year plan exists—which I doubt—it’s completely opaque), and even without the means to live a minimally respectful life. And Syria has a lot of those young man. Anyway, your people will decide what works best for them. I really wish them all the best, Assad too, I do believe he’s well intentioned, but too weak. He’s somewhat of a tragi-comic character, with his unintended inheritance of the faltering “family business”. I guess at some point he’d come to regret not pursuing a career as an Ophthalmologist.

Dear Avi,

Thanks for sharing your fears of the ascent of the MB in Egypt. However it’s not our (Jews) business what regime they choose. So just try to relax because there’s nothing you can or should do about it, so it’s a waste of energy to stress over it.

February 11th, 2011, 10:44 pm


majedkhaldoon said:

Dear Norman
Comment 151
I agree with you,and I do not belong to any party in Syria,I dislike extremism,and believe Baath,MB,SNP Communist,,they all say something,but when it comes to power they will not allow freedom of people who do not belong to their party

As for the other comments, I still believe Syria is not immune to revolution, I think such revolution may start outside Damascus,and will spread all over quickly, I doubt very much that the regime will resort to violent crack down, like what they did in Hama,that time is gone with the new technology and AlJazeera news,and american troops are just next door.
With other dictators are gone,what left will feel isolated,and will be weaker,No regime will stay forever,change is nature law

February 12th, 2011, 8:32 am


Ghat Albird said:

. Dr. Landis. Your comments on the CBS evening news ( Feb. 11, 2011) were much appreciated. Thanks.

February 12th, 2011, 9:06 am


Norman said:

Ghat, Good pick up , i saw that,

Single party system , no matter how good the platform attract opportunists who seek their membership for material self interest,
as i said , Syria should ease into multi party system starting with local responsibilities.that is the only way for any party to clean it’s act ,

February 12th, 2011, 9:34 am


majedkhaldoon said:

Is it a trick,every indication tell me it is a trick,Mubarak is in Sharam AlSheikh,not out of Egypt,the head of military forces are the same people Mubarak trusted and depended on for three decades,third the election will not be held till september,fourth the military appoint the same previous PM,Ahmad Shafiq.
What is going on the only difference is Mubarak officially he is not president,how do know he is not running the goverment from Sharam AlSheikh, I do not know if the Egyptians will accept this,who are they fooling?this is American trick.

February 12th, 2011, 2:16 pm


G.Saghir said:

It is interesting to note that Syria’s health minister has made the following remarks today which are consistent with the theme of the post:

واعتبر الوزير تسارع النمو السكاني مشكلة كبيرة، وسيتم التعامل معها بجدية في هذه المرحلة، من خلال التعاون مع هيئة تنظيم الأسرة للعمل على تخفيض نسبة الولادات، مشيراً إلى أن هذه المشكلة لا تؤثر على القطاع الصحي فحسب بل على كافة القطاعات، ولذا فإن معالجتها لا تنحصر بوزارة الصحة بل هي قائمة على تعاون جميع الوزارات مع بعضها البعض، ولا يكفي تحديد النسل بل يجب نشر الثقافة والتوعية من خلال السلطات الدينية

February 12th, 2011, 2:55 pm


Syrian Nationalist Party said:

Family Planning schemes and population control genocidal programs were introduced in the Seventies by the New World Order genociders. The ultimate goal is reduce the population of the earth to mere 500 million slaves that will serve an elite ruling family of super rich and global dictatorial in nature.

Over the past 40 years, hundreds of reports have been prepared by the Defense Department, the Department of State, the CIA and others about population control and U.S. national security. Many of them remain partially or entirely classified. To give just one example, a February 1984 CIA report called “Middle East-South Asia: Population Problems and Political Stability” warns that “one-fourth to one-third of the populations of all Middle Eastern and South Asian countries is in the politically-volatile 15 to 24 age group…..too long, but lets get to the bottom for your research:
Will introduce you to 3 source of direct evidence of this plot that as packaged, as usual, as a progressive and liberating for the benefit of mankind, and that is were this benign goal is so deceptive.
1- Search Utube for an interview between Jay Rockefeller and Aaron Russo. In that you will hear how Rockefeller said to Russo, “ You idiot, who do you think introduced the woman liberation and Planned Parenthood in America, and do you know why, to which Russo responded that it was to free women. You idiot, responded the Rockefeller, we did it, not to free women, but to send women to work and hence we can tax the whole population not just half of it, and the family planning, it is so we can control population and value of jobs, so kids to no longer be taught and raised by mothers but by us and the media institutions”. End quote.
2- Search Google for Population Control Agenda, although many has been removed and suppressed by now. Try to find the famous quote by Henry Kissinger who at one CFR meeting delivered a speech in which he stated that wars, famine, food resource control, revolutions and genocides by wars, plagues or biological warfare were all legitimate tools that can be used for population control in third world Countries. He declared that is was essential to carry on these programs because otherwise, third world populations will compete with the west for earth minerals, water and food and other resources that big corporation makes it earning from.
3- Google for Georgia Guidestones
What Syria needs is to increase its population to 80 millions and insure that they are free politically and economically so little peddling tribes in Israel don’t look so massively powerful.

February 12th, 2011, 3:44 pm


Akbar Palace said:

“American Trick” NewZ

majedkhaldoon said:

this is American trick.


How so? The four points you mentioned in your post…

– “Mubarak is in Sharam AlSheikh”
– “the head of military forces are the same people Mubarak trusted and depended on for three decades”
– “third the election will not be held till september”
– “fourth the military appoint the same previous PM,Ahmad Shafiq”

…are all due to the actions of EGYPTIANS, not Americans.

It is time the arabs start blaming their leaders for their own actions, and not the madrassa inspired boogeymen of yore. The Egyptian people have finally figured this out.

February 12th, 2011, 4:59 pm


Sami said:

Guess what sir. This ‘modernization’ model for economic recovery is outmoded and has always been prescribed by the North that wants to keep the deprived tame and nice . I have a better ‘liberation from dependency’ model for you. I am Syrian. Please accept my profuse apologies but we won’t adopt ‘your’ family planning plan for economic recovery. The structures that the North supports in my country with the aim of maintaining ‘your’ version of stability in the region has siphoned billions and billions of our money over 40 years. Our Golan that is under Israeli occupation ATTRACTS THREE MILLION TOURISTS A YEAR. Once this corrupt elite has been removed and replaced with a participatory model of democracy, Syria will be able to provide for her sons and daughters for eternity. More educated and productive people operating within an healthy framework will be a strategic asset to be reckoned with

February 12th, 2011, 5:16 pm


Ziad said:

There is more to the Tahrir revolution than meets the eye. It seems to me as if scripted by a first rate PR firm. The revolution was well organized and coordinated all over the country. The protesters were very disciplined and cooperative, no one tried to highjack the revolution, and there was no internal fighting among different factions. The Islamists kept a law key. There was one message (Mubarak Out) and every one stayed on message. The message did not even change when it seemed that Umar Suleyman might take over. Signs against the US and Israel were suspiciously absent. The protesters refused to disperse until their demands are met, and now they are cleaning the square from the rubbish.
My hunch is that the Qatari Amir is behind it. I have no proof except that there is a personal enmity between him and Mubarak, and the AlJazeera’s incessant agitative coverage of the events.
Any one has a crystal ball I could borrow?

February 12th, 2011, 8:44 pm


Norman said:


I think that you are giving the Amir of Qatar more credit than he deserves, The Revolution is made in Egypt, through and through.

February 12th, 2011, 10:37 pm


Joshua said:

Sami, Samir Aita agrees with you and is writing a rejoinder to the Saghir article. It should be posted in a day or so.

best, Joshua

February 13th, 2011, 1:01 pm


G.Saghir said:

Dear Sami,

In comment 50, I said the following:

“Westerns societies including Japan have the opposite problem to the one in the Arab world. In places like Italy and Japan, fertility is so low that the population is actually declining as birth rate is below that of replacement. A number of economists think that this will present a challenge to the growth of their economies.

A high population rate in the region can actually be conducive to higher GDP as more people, means more spending on food, housing and the like. The challenge as you say is to have a productive labor force. Potential growth of GDP is the growth of the labor force plus the growth of productivity. The formula ought to mean that the region’s potential GDP can be high if productivity growth does what you describe.

Turning high labor force growth into an opportunity for high potential growth hinges on the productivity question.”

Let me add this:

Achieving high economic growth is by far the most important goal. By definition, the higher the population the more GDP is. In no way, do I argue that lowering the population growth will lead to prosperity. Japan’ slow population growth has been at the center of that country’s economic challenges as budget deficits explode with the dwindling youth having to pay for the old.

February 13th, 2011, 1:40 pm


Amer Husseini said:





February 13th, 2011, 5:51 pm


Angelis Dania said:

If President Bashar Al-Assad were a fool, he would think as such:

“Hmmm, I see many agendas working both inside and outside of the country to cause instability, and destroy the security and safety of the country for the benefit of non-Syrian interests. This would be a fantastic environment in which to open up democratic elections both local and federal, and now would be a great time to do it.

It would give these non-Syrian agendas the perfect opportunity they need to gain support within the country and accomplish their task. I’m sure though that no-one’s vote can be bought with money, or through the use of religion and sectarianism, or with mass media propaganda in the region, or with any of the other underhanded methods normally used to divide and conquer.

This will certainly be a change for the better, because democracy always equals true freedom and better living standards for all. Israel and the U.S will love us and help us to become better people, and will stop trying to take our lands. The next group of people in power will be guaranteed to hold Syrian and Arab rights in general as priority, and not sell-out their country like Mubarak.

Well, that settles it. Here is my resignation.”

The situation in Syria is not perfect. There is no government in the world that does not contain corruption, democratic or otherwise. The progress is not as speedy as it needs to be, but plans and actions are being taken that are for the country and for the people. Mubarak cared not for his country or people. Syria is not Egypt. Bashar is not Mubarak. A new government now would be in the best interests of people who are not Syrian.

Sanctions have been placed against Syrians because they stood up for their rights. Thus support and trade from many countries has been off the table, and Syria has had to fend for itself. In light of the circumstances, you would be extremely hard-pressed to find anyone or any group of people that would have done for their country as President Bashar did and continues to do.

I watched a large group of Syrians yesterday fight over themselves (and security) just to get near the President or get a glimpse of him in the flesh, with adoration and love in their eyes and in their chanting, as though he were an international pop idol. It’s not for nothing that he is admired so.

The revolutions in the arab world will be turned to Syrian advantage. The position of the Syrian government will rise, and the President will continue to do what many people predict he won’t be able to do, and avoid what many people predict will befall him. Such is the Assad legacy.

February 15th, 2011, 8:30 pm


Norman said:


Well said, thank you .

February 15th, 2011, 8:51 pm


Syria Comment » Archives » George Saghir Responds to Samir Aita said:

[…] I would have loved to read in Mr. Aita’s critique of my article – What Does the Future Hold for Syria – is a road map for how Syria can achieve its objective of 7-8 percent economic growth. I was […]

February 16th, 2011, 7:20 pm


Marwan said:

Mr Jihad,

Yes you are right.I did study in Canada and i know how more capable of understanding i was compared to my Canadians friends in university,not bacause we Arabs are smarter than them,but only because we are not that bad as this report puts us.

February 27th, 2011, 2:52 am


الاقتصاد السوري… هل سينمو بقوة؟ وإلى متى؟ « مدونة هاني ديك said:

[…] مقال السيد جورج صغير يلفت النظر مجددا إلى مشكلة سورية القديمة المتجددة، والتي تتشارك فيها سورية مع كثير من البلدان العربية والنامية، ألا وهي التسارع في النمو السكاني وقوة العمل الذي يفوق معدل خلق الوظائف، وبالتالي تزايد معدل البطالة وما يستتبعه ذلك من ثورات شعبية كما حدث في تونس ومصر مؤخرا. […]

March 1st, 2011, 5:51 am


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