Saturday, March 26, 2005

Can Syria Survive the Lebanon Debacle?

Can Syria survive the Lebanon Debacle?

Syria still hopes for a deal with the opposition in Lebanon, according to Muhammad Shuqayr, of al-Hayat. Under the title: “The Syrian Loyalists do not see a Solution without Syrian - American Negotiations,” Shuqayr explained that Syria’s loyalists in Lebanon are insisting on a government of national unity as a pretext for delaying the May elections.

The pro-Syrian camp in Lebanon is trying to consolidate its position and staunch the flow of parliamentary deputies out of its ranks. Syria does not believe that its position in Lebanon is untenable; rather, it sees its present control of the parliament as its first line of defense.

If the opposition refuses to enter into serious negotiations with the present pro-Syrian government, then elections will be delayed. The Syrians insist that the local struggle for control of the Lebanese government is but a mirror of the larger tug of war over Lebanon between Syria and the US. “The US is now of the opinion that Syria should just give up the ghost in Lebanon,” claimed one Syrian loyalist. “Washington assumes that Syria will act as a charitable foundation to organize the May elections without demanding anything in return or any price for its good deeds.”

Bashar has told the Americans on a number of occasions that Syria is not a charitable foundation; it expects something in return for its concessions. Damascus continues to insist on a dialogue with Washington as surely as its loyalists in Lebanon insist on a dialogue with the opposition. This is the meaning of the Nassrallah-Sfeir talks and the Jumblatt-Karami talks.

What the Syrians want is the formation of a national unity government that will ultimately agree on the selection of a president to replace Lahoud. If they don’t get it, they will delay the elections and deepen the present crises. At the very least, Damascus and its Lebanese loyalists calculate, they can paralyze government and freeze the political process, which will lead in turn to further chaos and costs. Who will the Lebanese people blame for this? Damascus believes it has the stronger hand and can paint the opposition as unreasonable, unwilling to compromise, and, ultimately, as too dependent on Washington and Paris if it continues to refuse a deal.

Damascus is counting on this pressure and its control over the interim government and election process to convince Washington to come to terms. If the government crisis persists, Lebanon’s economy may collapse. Only a week ago the head of the Central Bank said he would not be surprised to see the collapse of the pound as foreign currency reserves ran out.

Is Damascus’ hope for a deal with Washington realistic given the enmity between Bush and Bashar?

Not likely, although, much will depend on the position of France. President Chirac is really in charge of the Western position. Without a military solution to the Lebanese problem, Washington is confined to multilateral politics. The only real stick it possesses will come from future UN resolutions and the willingness of the European powers to place economic pressure on Syria. That is one reason why the Fitzgerald report recently delivered by the UN was so important to Washington. By including a section on the history of the crisis and the deterioration of relations between Hariri and Bashar that preceded the Prime Minister’s assassination, the authors of the report sought to establish the motive – one that points to Syria. So far, that is the most damning part of the opposition’s case against Syria.

The other day, I spoke with a member of the Baath Party and prominent analyst here in Damascus who told me that Syria and its supporters in the Lebanese parliament could still win a majority in the May elections.

Other analysts here, who have good contacts in Lebanon, no longer believe it is possible for Syria to maintain its authority in Beirut. They recognize that the Lebanese have undergone a true revolution of thought and that Syria’s position has been damaged beyond repair by the Hariri murder. Not even Hizbullah can save Syria in Lebanon now, they suggest. The Sunnis have really gone over to the Christian and Druze side. Damascus can still hope to pick off a handful of Christian and Sunni deputies, but not enough to assure success in the elections and preserve its command of parliament.

But if they cannot win the elections, they can delay them. Several well placed Syrian friends have explained that officials in Syria are convinced that Washington is out to get them one way or the other. “Ultimately, the US will go after the president,” they insist. Thus Syria has nothing to gain by a rapid withdrawal from Lebanon or by relinquishing what influence remains to it without a struggle. Better to delay and throw up as many obstacles in front of the enemy while Syria still has influence with the Lebanese Prime Minister and President, they argue, than to concede too much ground too rapidly. If Washington is going in for the kill, Syria must be serious about defense. It has nothing to lose.

Is this a reasonable assumption on Damascus’s part? Is George Bush intent on bringing down the house of Asad?

I think it is. Bashar has become the anti-Bush in the Middle East, despite his early intentions to be a reformer. He champions stability; Bush champions revolution. He champions authoritarianism, Bush democracy and elections. Bashar argues Levantine society is too tribal and religiously divided for radical experiments and large doses of freedom; Washington says anything is better than the status quo and the evil of Baathism. “Stuff happens,” but the end result will be a new Middle Eastern consensus, one that will end terrorism. The Greater Middle East is prepared for democracy and will prove liberal, Bush insists. Bashar insists that Bush’s polities will lead to the death of many Arabs, increased terrorism, increased instability, and the loss of more Arab land in Palestine. Bush increasingly sees Bashar as the problem, standing in the way of the fourth wave of democratization. Bashar says Bush is the problem.
There will be no compromise deals or true dialogue between Syria and the US so long as the neo-conservatives hold sway in the White House and Bashar refuses to insist on radical internal reform. Bashar’s miscalculations in Lebanon have done great harm to his position in the Arab world and perhaps, more importantly, at home.

Syria’s Baath leadership is correct to assume that sooner or later president Bush will embrace the notion of regime-change in Damascus. It is not Washington’s official position to date, but all signs suggest preparations are being made to adopt it down the road. New bills put to the house spearhead this change of policy by insisting on the “democratization” of Syria. They will work their way up the policy chain without significant opposition. Who in Washington will now defend Bashar?

Reformers here believe that Syria’s only winning strategy is to get out of Lebanon as quickly as possible, thereby reversing the increasing momentum of anti-Syrian sentiment in Lebanon and the international community.

Most importantly, they argue, Bashar must jump start internal reform by calling the Baath Party Congress as soon as possible and insisting on real changes to each element of the party slogan – “Unity, Socialism, Freedom.” He can still exploit the crisis to his end, they suggest, if he openly appeals to the nation in this moment of challenge with a clear vision of reform and forward movement. The people will rally around him and a reform vision, many believe, because Syrians are extremely worried about their country’s present isolation. They feel unjustly attacked by the West. They blame the West and not Bashar for Syria’s present predicament. They are ready to sacrifice if they believe the president has a plan to see them through this onslaught.

Only by changing course can the present regime save itself, reformers argue. If Bashar continues to present himself as the anti-Bush, he will be isolated and eventually squashed. Four years is a long time, they insist, and Bashar will not be able to retrench and delay until the end of the second Bush term. Anyway, they ask, “will the next US president really be different?”

What are the chances of Bashar changing course and throwing his weight behind reform?

They don’t look good. Pessimists argue that Bashar has taken no strong initiatives in the past to suggest he might do so in the future. They point out that he has a track record of making blunders and misjudgments and will continue to do so in the future. He is a product of his education, etc. Dictators don’t learn.

I don’t believe this – at least, not the part about dictators being incapable of change. Dictators can learn and strike out in new directions. We have seen it many times. Saddat, Gorbachev, and Pinochet did it. Admittedly such dramatic reversals are not easy. The minority status of the Alawites makes it even more difficult for Bashar to liberalize. Syria is not Chile, where the erstwhile dictator and generals can retire to secure senate seats. Syria more closely resembles Egypt, where the dictator ended up dead. Even if Syria’s leaders didn’t end up dead, the fear of revenge is real. One only needs look at the present predicament of the Baathists in Iraq. Of course, Syria’s Baath government is very different than Iraq’s was. Some say there will not be revenge.

Most discouraging, perhaps, is to witness how the old guard is being brought back into Bashar’s circle, now that he is embattled. Vice President Khaddam went with Bashar to the Arab League. Mustafa Tlass, the recently replaced defense minister, was nominated recently to head a committee to investigate General Ali, head of the People’s Army, who recently called for the dismissal of the national leadership of the Baath Party.

When President al-Asad moved to extend the presidency of Emile Lahoud five months ago, he effectively shoved aside the old guard (see earlier post), who counseled against the move. It was a way for Bashar to consolidate his authority around his family members and his new group of foreign policy advisors. As I argued at the time, this was a mistake.

The president is now resurrecting the old guard. On the one hand, this may signal the beginning of a new consensus and an important reevaluation of his policies over the last months; on the other hand, it may just be a sign of his present weakness and need to bring all the pillars of the regime – past and present – back into the tent.

It is too early to tell how Bashar will respond to Syria’s failure in Lebanon. The reformers here are still counting on him to move decisively on domestic issues. They believe it is Syria’s best option for long term stability. The pessimists keep repeating, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” Many believe that the chance of Bashar pushing for reform in the present atmosphere are very small indeed. Others say he never wanted reform in the first place. They believe that the chances of his surviving more than five years are slight.


At 3/26/2005 08:13:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No doubt the U.N. report damns the government .

1559 is a continuity of a " clean break" but unlike the destruction of Iraq , it was meant to weaken the system and destabilize the two countries without military intervention , ready for the scavengers that by no mean will bring freedom, Democracy ,nor the so called enlightment to the Arabs .

Syrians no doubt will like to have freedom of expression first, as well reform in the ruling party, and social order for the people . These are internal problems, national problems and not Bush's and Chirac's problem . The killing of Hariri shook the establishment, and they promissed change is on the way .

Mr. Landis, take a deep breath before you form your opinions, this is the Arab world, you are living with people that existed for 7000 years, 100 plus years mendling in our affairs by Europeans and now by Americans is equivalent to a sand storm that Damascus has experienced in its long history with invaders . This is our country, these are our people and you and your likes are visitors . And we welcome you and your people as visitors as long as you respect yourselves .

At 3/26/2005 08:51:00 AM, Anonymous Ghassan said...

When you read the article above, you can’t but come to a conclusion that dictator’s way of thinking is: ME IN POWER! That’s all. He doesn’t care about his population, war, chaos, nothing! He only wants to stay in power. Everything else is negotiable! Paralyzing the government and causing further chaos and cost are not in the thinking of a dictator! “Who will the Lebanese people blame for this?” Sure the Syrian and their cronies in Lebanon! Don’t believe that “Damascus believes it has the stronger hand”. The longer Syria stays in Lebanon, the more Syrians will be unhappy which will translate sooner or later of kicking the dictator out of Palace!

By the way, I remembered a story about the two women who each alleged that a child is here’s. The Judge said that he will kill the child unless one of them will say that the child is not her’s. The real mother said that the child is not her’s so the child will be given to the other women! Actually, the real mother wants to safe her child from being killed because the other woman has nothing to lose! Dictators have NOTHING to lose but POWER!

At 3/26/2005 09:11:00 AM, Anonymous Friends in America said...

The reformers have a good assessment. A rapid pullout, not a relucant one, defuses world pressure and world attention will go elsewhere. It leaves Syria alone to work on pressing internal economic, social and political problems. Under those circumstances, sufficient improvement (change) will occur over time without pressure from the west.
The statement that Syria is not a charitable foundation for the benefit of Lebanon and that Syria expects to get something for its involvement is most telling. It discloses Damascus' expectation that the control of Lebanon must work for Syria's economic and political benefit. Lebanon's best interests take a back seat. That's imperialism. There it is you guys.
It also exposes why some pro Syria backers beleive in the Damascus propaganda that America's motive is to take control of Lebanon's resources .... they think of others only as they think of themselves. Well, that proposition is preposterous. The stated policy of Washington is to encourage democracy. History shows democracies are the most peaceful and are the best antidote to terrorism. An effective democratic system also is the best way for distributing opportunity accross all peoples (this disribution is never perfect and needs constant attention).
Have Americans been a charitable institution for Lebanon? Yes. Consider the formation and financing of Lebanese American University. Consider the educational scholarships for study in the US that are available for Lebanonese. Consider the financial aid after the civil war. Economic exploitation and political dominanace has never occurred and will not occur. So when the pro Syria groups accuse America of trying to grab Lebanese resources, the reply should be "speak for yourself."
Can Bashar lead his country to a rapid pullout and embark on domestic reforms? I would like to think the best, but based on recent events there is little to base this on except hope.

At 3/26/2005 09:55:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Anon 8:13,

Did you intend to sound intimidating or is it only my over-sensitivity? You should respect Mr. Landis' freedom to express his views. You don't have to read them. It is a shame that rather than engaging in a constructive debate you prefer to virtually tell Mr. Landis to toe the regime's line. This certainly would only reinforce the concern with the despotic nature of the Syrian regime.

At 3/26/2005 01:30:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

With all due respect to Mr. Landis, the mention of Syria as a "charitable organization" made me laugh!.
As a Syrian having fled the bloodthirsty Syrian regime 38 years ago, I don't understand why anyone could grace the Assads of this world or the Syrias of this world with any civilized comment. DO NOT FORGET THAT 30,000 SUNNIS WERE MURDERED IN HAMA at the hands of the baathists and the Assad family! we are talking here about crimes against humanity!

At 3/26/2005 03:23:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anon 8:13 says:

"Syrians no doubt will like to have freedom of expression first, as well reform in the ruling party, and social order for the people"

I suspect Syrians want any reform of the ruling party. No more than a sick man wants to reform his cnacer. They want to GET RID OF IT FOREVER.

As for Mr Landis not being Syrian. I have to say that he has shown more love for our country than most poeple I know (including myself). He is risking his life on a daily basis in order to tell us and the world what is happening in our poor country. So I think thanks are in order.

At 3/26/2005 06:41:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for the absolutely superb analysis of the situation.

At 3/26/2005 07:06:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

article on Syria:

At 3/26/2005 07:53:00 PM, Anonymous Ghassan said...

Why Syria does not want to leave Lebanon? Read the article below!

4/4/05; Following the old money trail

At 3/26/2005 09:36:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"It is too early to tell how Bashar will respond to Syria’s failure in Lebanon."

perhaps the spate of car bombs in Christian areas of Beirut offer a clue.

At 3/26/2005 09:46:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Washington Post has published an article about US government officials recently meeting with Syrian opposition leaders based in the US, see

and the website of the Syrian Reform Party

At 3/26/2005 11:17:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

9:36 said
perhaps the spate of car bombs in Christian areas of Beirut offer a clue."

The clue could also be traced back to those who prepare an attack against Syria

At 3/27/2005 04:47:00 AM, Anonymous Ibrahim said...

The death of a few Indian expats is nothing compared to those 30,000 dead in Hama... let the Lebanese enjoy those petty bombs, they're used to them after all

At 3/27/2005 06:36:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"perhaps the spate of car bombs in Christian areas of Beirut offer a clue"...[as to how Bashar will handle Lebanon.]

This "apres moi, le deluge" approach promises no more success than his earlier gambits of extending Lahoud's term and bumping off Hariri. Freud would have a field day with his "I am my father's son" complex.

At 3/28/2005 09:11:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dumd and dumber,
The posturing by Dubya and Black Jack has done exactly this: more and more, the moderate Syrian opposition is suspicious about the American and French intents in regard to Syria. As to the other parts of the Syrian opposition, you can just watch getting blue in the face on neo-con TV.

At 3/28/2005 10:08:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can the US hegemony survive the iraqi debacle ? unlikely.

Is time on Syria's or the empire's side ? Defintely on Syria's side.

Syria has a long history of dealing with invaders. There is nothing exceptional about this one excpet perhaps its excessive Hubris.

is Syria prepared for worst case scenarios ? You bet.

What are the consequences of an american retreat from the Middle East for Israel ?


consequences for Iraq, Syria ?

Great , Iraq will be able to finance its reconstruction by chinese, russian, and european companies through selling Oil to the US in Euros for the equivalent of $100-$150 the barel.

Syria will enjoy a long period of close relations with iraq. It will also stengthen its ties with the muslim brothers who would be governing Egypt, Iran, the Lebanese and the Palestinians would force a Just and comprehensive settlement of the conflict on Israel.

The whole region will enjoy a very long period of developement and prosperity as a crossroad between Europe and Asia providing energy to both and working with them towards a better and more stable multi-polar world.

At 3/28/2005 08:03:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the preceding comment stacks up as the ULTIMATE BA'ATHIST WET DREAM!!

At 3/29/2005 12:43:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some American WET DREAMS from Abu Gharib

At 3/29/2005 07:10:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The elections in Lebanon must be free of interference by foreign countries, including America, France and Syria.

The new Lebanese government should establish relations with Syria on an equal footing. Damascus should have no more influence on Lebanese policy than Beirut would have on Syrian policy.

Security in Lebanon should be the responsibility of Lebanese, free from foreign interference and free from militias maintained by local warlords or sectarian fiefdoms. Policing Lebanese borders should be the responsibility of the Lebanese army.

At 3/29/2005 08:56:00 PM, Blogger Brian H said...

Charming! The Battle of the Anonymous(es)! Is it Multiple Personality Syndrome?

Anyway, I wouldn't give Bashar a year. His tools are crumbling in his hands. And his new "partner", Iran, will have its hands too full to do much -- if it ever could -- to help, very soon.

However much they rage against the dying of the light, it's sunset time for the dictators.

At 3/29/2005 11:53:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shall we notice the difference ?

when our new masters occupy us ?

From Florida Times

On Spying on citizens

Brevard law enforcement surveillance chills the precious right to speak out

The American tradition of free speech is under attack across the country, as law enforcement agencies -- under the guise of the war on terror -- intimidate ordinary citizens into silence.

The videotaping by Melbourne police of 36 demonstrators outside City Hall protesting President Bush's inauguration is just one more in a series of such intolerable incidents nationwide.

Similar surveillance has been reported in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York, San Francisco and in small and large cities across America -- and it must end.

"I can't believe this is happening in our country," said Rebecca Boettcher, one of the Melbourne protesters and the mother of a former Marine who served in Iraq.

Boettcher, 57, was near tears as she and five others named in a Brevard County Sheriff's Office report on the Jan. 20 demonstration went to the sheriff's Melbourne office Monday.

They were seeking the files deputies had secretly collected on them -- files the department must deliver, completely and promptly.

And they wanted to know why the sheriff's report tagged them as "persons of interest."

Of interest for what?

"Protesting in an anti-government assembly," says sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Andrew Walters.

In other words, the sheriff's department calls a peaceful expression of opinion about Bush's policy on Iraq, Social Security and the environment "an anti-government assembly."

And considering the group included moms with kids, a woman in a wheelchair and people up to age 85, Sheriff Jack Parker's claim that they might be "here to harm our community" is both absurd and a dangerous indication of police's abuse-of-power mindset.

In case Parker and Walters slept through civics class, let us remind them:

Such activities are the true essence of a pro-government demonstration -- as in government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

And if 36 citizens showing concern over Bush's policies is enough for law enforcement to videotape, follow home and create dossiers on them, then where does law enforcement draw the line?

Nearly half of all voters last November expressed opposition to the Bush administration at the polling booth.

Are they next?

The recent rise in government surveillance of constitutionally protected freedom of expression is reminiscent of one of the ugliest times in our history:

The 1950s McCarthy era, when random witch hunts by Sen. Joe McCarthy ruined decent people's lives on false or flimsy accusations that they had spoken favorably of communism, or knew people who had.

Whatever their politics, Americans today should be appalled that law enforcement agencies are -- at the Bush administration's urging -- creating files on people simply for expressing their views.

Such spying on citizens can only undermine our democracy, not strengthen it.

Patriotic voices everywhere should rise to stop this abomination, for the sake of all our freedoms.

At 3/30/2005 09:32:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brian H.
And who are you to not give a year to Bashar Assad?
I have yet to check the link to your site, but I know what to expect.
I can scientifically give no more than 45 months to Dubya.
Rene Descartes.

At 3/30/2005 12:44:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting stuff Joshua.

One note though: "Syria" in your title refers to the regime not the country I presume. If so, it goes to show, yet again, how great a snow job the Baathists (and their ilk) have done in bamboozling all us into thinking "they" are synonymous with the "country" or the 'people" or the "nation", you name it.

At 3/30/2005 03:01:00 PM, Anonymous George M. said...

Hi, I'm a Syrian who, like most others, is shocked by the Lebanese reaction during this latest crisis. I know that not all Lebanese hate Syrians and I also know that some Syrians made mistakes in Lebanon (as well as in Syria). Still, I am shocked and hurt by the reactions of both the elite and the average Lebanese. After all, I thought that the people-to-people relations should be immune from government mistakes. Apparently not! I am most wounded by the murderous attacks on the 35 (or more) poor Syrian workers who themselves are victims of the unbalanced relationship between the two governments. What is their fault? Why should they be punished for the mistakes of other Lebanese and Syrians with powerful interests?

I feel a strong sentiment in Syria and I believe most Syrians support me in calling for closing the border with Lebanon. Leave the Lebanese to their fate. Let them kill each other and destroy their country, if they do. We should pull our money and investments out, we should not spend a single lira in Lebanon and we should close our markets to Lebanese workers, commerce and products. Let's see how long these rats can go before they crawl back to Damascus. It is obvious to anyone with a secondary school education that the Lebanese economy cannot survive in isolation from Syria. Syria represents their major market, their major customer base and their conduit to the rest of the Arab world. We should close our border and detach ourselves from their political, economic and security affairs totally. Then, they can go back to the industry they excel at: prostituting themselves and their country to the Gulfies and anyone else with a dollar!

Our leaders should have known better...a people who can betray each other and kill their families, friends and neighbors for a decade and a half is not capable of being grateful to anyone - even their saviours. Khaled Azm said it best almost 50 years ago: Nazlouli hal-khashabeh ba'a!

At 3/30/2005 03:05:00 PM, Anonymous Kafka said...

I really like Syrians, and for a while I thought that President Bachar was going to move his country towards a more open society.
Yes, he is beginning to move but only after so much pressure has been brought onto the Syrian administration by the USA, Europe and the UN.
I still want to give him the benefit of the doubt even though it is beginning to thin out. I guess that I want to believe that he can still do it after the syrian military and intelligence apparatus pull out of Lebanon. Let us wait and see what he is going to do in the party meetings coming up.
Unfortunately this sort of personal patience does not characterise the position of governmenets in the USA and Europe.

At 3/30/2005 07:17:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To George,

I think I am like you against all violent acts against all syrians in Lebanon. It is not their fault that their government is so greedy and their leaders are all corrupt and while they have to work in Lebanon for 10 dollars a day their leaders own mansions on the French Riviera. So you think that Lebanon will starve when the syrians withdraw their monies from the lebanese banks? The foreign investment in Lebanon will quadruple once the Syrians leave. I think you should worry more about Syria's economy. It would have collapsed if not for the billions of dollars the regime was making from their occupation of lebanon every year. Buddy, do you think that the occupation of lebanon was a humanitarian gesture on the Syrian regime's part? It was part of the Baath party's master plan of occupying and controlling the country. They went into Lebanon in 1976 one year after the start of the civil war and it lasted fifteen years. They were suppose to withdraw in 1992 per the Taif accord but they didn't. Their plan all along was to keep the country divided to justify their existance. Let's wait and see how Syria will manage economically with its isolation from the rest of the world. How will they employ the million or so workers that the lebanese economy was absorbing? How will Syria replace the lost wages of these workers? The Syrian regime will be faced soon with a decision to reform or be eliminated from within.

At 3/30/2005 08:30:00 PM, Anonymous Friend in America said...

There is a remarkable range of opinion so far, but many are laced more with personal bias than reasoned analysis. Bias will not suffice when expert analysis is needed -
• Can Lebanon survive economically without Syria's largessse to Lebanon? Is there any Syrian largessse to Lebanon?
• Can Syria survive economically without the trade with Lebanon and tax revenues it collects in Lebanon (or, will the loss of such revenues be offset in large part by reductions in force in intellegence and the army)?

We can answer without the experts:
• can a person have love for Syria without having love for Bashar's regime?
• Should the Lebanonese accept the United Nations election officials as monitors of the upcoming election? Will Syria? The UN election monitors are the world's experts - they ran the election in Iraq, criticised the rigged elections in Krygystan and Ukraine, ran elections in Serbia and Bosnia, South Africa and other African states. It does nothing to assert the US, France or Europe will assert control over Lebanon's elections - that just won't happen. They all defer to the UN.
• When it is said there are good people to people relations between citizens of Syria and citizens of Lebanon regardless of opinions of the government in Damascus, but also refer to the Lebanonese people as rats, which attitude should we believe?

At 3/30/2005 09:57:00 PM, Anonymous Kafka said...

The economics between two neighbouring peoples and their societies will go on no matter. The common history of Syria and Lebanon will go on no matter.
The real question at present is the following: will the Syrian administration accept in a peaceful manner the necessary internal change and the fact that it cannot anymore punch above its weight externally, particularly in Lebanon, or will the USA - Europe – UN collective action push this administration over and out? The signs are that they are preparing for this possible outcome if necessary.

At 3/31/2005 12:09:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To anonymous 7:17

You make some interesting points of which none tend toward common economic understanding nor common mental sense.

Lebanon was rebuilt on the backs of syrians. Lowly blue collar jobs including but not limited to machinery operation, building and cleaning were all carried out by syrian "immigrants." Hence, essential services were undertaken solely by an imported workforce leaving a gap in the lebanese industry. who is available and more importantly WILLING to do these so-called "dirty" jobs? Find me a lebanese male willing to do this.

Secondly you mention a quadrupling of foreign investment in lebanon? Do you have any facts to support this or are you simply regurgitating garbage? I presume the latter. anyhow, lets assume you have a slight understanding of what you say, syrian investments in lebanon account for about 1/4 of total bank revenues in lebanon. Pulling those out create an immediate investment deficit? Simultaneously, foreign investment is dependent on the stability of lebanon. An unstable land with no government and no "guarantor" of security will not create a race amongst investors to rush in. More importantly, gulf investments in lebanon have dramatically decreased and there are questions of the long term profitability of such schemes...Recent reports mention many gulfies pulling out. Why were the saudis so eager to see lebanon settle down so quickly after the assassination? It needs to protect its investments.

As for foreign investment, lebanon has long lost its splendor as the middle east hub overtaken by dubai, manama etc... Beirut is no longer a desired long term investment.

Thirdly, you mention the "greed" of syrian officials. You forget cellis/libancell, the lebanese electricity company. Lebanese stealing from other lebanese...wheres they syrian hand in all of this?

Lastly, the syrians entered with your (i assume your lebanese) request and the rest of the worlds inc. the USA. The syrians prevented your mom from being shot dead and hence having an ungrateful son of a bitch like you. I think the syrians should have let the lebanese genocide continue but i guess some people are better than that eh?? Ungrateful cock sucking lebanese slut.

The taif accord was approved by the usa and it has been fine with the syrian presence for 20 years..why all of a sudden change course?

Well mr lebanon, hope i havent offended you. I love lebanon and I love syria too but one of them is the others bitch...and will always be so.

At 3/31/2005 02:12:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Friend of America
Can Syria survive without the famous 555 Cookies ….hmmm I don’t know let me think?
I don’t know about your questions are you serious or just pure sarcasm??!
“….tax revenues it collects in Lebanon (or, will the loss of such revenues be offset in large part by reductions in force in intellegence and the army)?
What TAX !??? ON the Military points of Entry/Exit (khat El Asskari)!!!
All of these Merchandises go to the Military Ranks not to the Syrian people or through legitimate taxing process.
Friend of America you need to come and see the reality my friend. Way before Harriri’s assassination Merchandises flow in multitude from Syria “TO” Lebanon come see the Lebanese on Sundays jostling around Syrian markets buying everything (for lower price). They’re all upper middle to lower class.
“We can answer without the experts:
• can a person have love for Syria without having love for Bashar's regime?”
What in the Hell you are talking about??? I think you need an expert in counseling man.
I don’t wanna go to you comment about Kyrgyzstan and Lebanese Rats… You drive me to drink.

At 3/31/2005 04:49:00 AM, Anonymous Ibrahim said...

I personally believe that all Lebanese rats should indeed end up in Syria, this is where most rodents of this world reside.

At 3/31/2005 05:03:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

tafsik, ibrahim aou avraham

At 3/31/2005 10:44:00 AM, Anonymous Firas said...

A few comments in response to the entries above:

To George M and Anonymous 12:09: You guys make some good points. But, let's please refrain from profanity and insults and maintain a decent and civilized discourse. Harsh language takes away from the good points you make. We don't want to turn this forum into a place for trading insults. We can disagree graciously.

Firstly, as a Syrian, I have been amazed at the shallow analysis in papers, on the Internet and television, regarding the economic interdependence between Syria and Lebanon. Yes, there are thousands of Syrian workers in Lebanon. By most accounts, they number 300,000 to 500,000 with the number fluctuating depending on season. I have not yet seen any study that asserts that workers reach 1 million, as "Opposition" papers and reporters like to claim, without a shred of evidence. In any case, accuracy aside, these numbers are not so unusual. 500,000 workers out of an 18 million Syrian population represent about 2.7%. There are at least 100,000 Lebanese working in Syria today. Out of Lebanon's total population of 4 million, they amount for 2.5%. Pretty close! Numbers aside, the issue of Syrian workers in Lebanon is one of supply and demand of labor, as it is with many adjacent economies at different stages of development. Lebanese businessmen want (indeed fight for) free access to undocumented Syrian workers. They are cheaper and come without taxes or insurance, which serves to lower their construction (and other project) costs. Solidere and many other projects were built almost entirely by Syrian workers. Imagine the cost if Lebanese (or others) did the work. If we agree that Syrian workers accept half the salary of their Lebanese brethren, the rebuilding of Beirut would probably have cost $30 Billion instead of $20 Billion (assuming that 50% of the cost is labor). It would be interesting to calculate the effect on Lebanon’s external $40 Billion debt as well. So, the point is that Syrian workers have brought benefit to both Syria AND Lebanon. I am not sure who benefits more, but my guess is that the benefits to the Lebanese economy outweigh the meager remittances by these poor workers to their families in Syria. In any case, the conclusion is that Syrian workers do not represent a one-sided Syrian benefit at the expense of the Lebanese economy, as portrayed so shallowly and maliciously by the so-called experts in the media.

Secondly, I am tired of the portrayal by the Lebanese that Syria's economic interests in Lebanon consist mainly of seasonal workers and laborers. Indeed, Syrians own many profitable business and investment ventures, in addition to large deposits in Lebanese banks. This is not even taking into account the innumerable benefits to Lebanese companies doing business in Syria, due to the closed nature of the Syrian economy itself and its restrictions on the operations of Syrian business.

With regard to Syrian money in Lebanon, taking the most conservative estimates available, Syria's deposits in Lebanese banks account for 20% of total deposits. A more aggressive estimate puts it at 35%, particularly that many Syrians in Syria have Lebanese ID cards and their deposits are not counted as part of those Syrian deposits. So, undoubtedly, moving those funds, or a portion of them, to other countries, will have a negative effect on the already-shaky Lebanese economy. This is even more critical now, as the Lebanese Central Bank is having to spend its hard currency reserves to maintain the price of the Lebanese pound. In fact, I have read some reports that the Lebanese currency will be at a crisis point soon, and will plunge as the Central Bank runs out of dollars to defend the Lira.

Thirdly, because of the failed, closed and backward command economic policies of the Syrian government since the early 60's, Syrian trade was conducted mostly through Lebanon. Almost all Syrian businessmen have their operations in Lebanon, which contributes significantly to the Lebanese economy. In addition, over the last few decades, many Syrians moved from Syria to Lebanon to start or re-start their businesses there. In fact, many of Lebanon's most successful businesses were started by Syrians: No'man Azhari, a Syrian (Lattakia), started Banque du Liban et Outre Meres; BLOM is the largest (I think) bank in Lebanon today. The same goes Edmond Safra (Aleppo) and so many others. Further, due to the limited and unfriendly investment climate in Syria, there are uncounted Syrian investments in Lebanon, particularly in real estate. Syrians investors have built many of the new buildings in Beirut and are, today, the second largest owners of real estate in Lebanon (after the Lebanese of course), ahead of the Saudis and Kuwaitis, by far.

So, the point here is that Syria does not just export workers and laborers to Lebanon. Syria is a prime investor in Lebanon and Syrian businessmen have a major contribution to the Lebanese economy through ventures in all sectors of the Lebanese economy.

To one of the anonymous bloggers: Yes, Syria should be most concerned with reforming the Syrian economy and working toward repatriating some of the Syrian human and financial capital that has fled Syria steadily over the last 30 years. This is absolutely a priority for Syria. I do believe, however, that it is definitely Lebanon that stands to lose from an acrimonious relationship with Syria. In such a tense climate, as Syria opens up and reforms its economy, the Lebanese stand to lose from Syrian tourism, shopping, healthcare, banking, transit, industry, trade, in addition to the Syrian market itself.

The Lebanese “opposition” and those rallying blindly behind it are doing a great disservice to Lebanon, first and foremost, over the longer term. They are sowing the seeds of hatred (or at least tension and distrust) between the PEOPLE of the two countries, which is unfortunate. As a Syrian, I don’t fault them for disliking the policies of the Syrian (and Lebanese) governments; indeed, most Syrians oppose those policies as well. This is particularly true given that the Lebanese know that Syria’s is not an elected government and hence, its policies do not represent the will of the Syrian majority. On the other hand, the odious display of anti-Syrian racism epitomized by the killings of dozens of Syrians civilians is being perpetrated by Lebanese PEOPLE against innocent Syrians who have nothing to do with the policies of their government, and of which they are, indeed, victims as well. In this respect, unfortunately, these crimes are one-sided, and are not a reaction to any abuse by Syrian people against the Lebanese.

Yes, there is a strong sentiment in Syria today - perhaps for the first time - that calls for closing the border with Lebanon. Based on the above, I absolutely believe that this will hurt the Lebanese economy. Unfortunately, though I am a believer in free trade and open markets, I find myself supporting such policy while contemporaneously instituting reforms in Syria. I do believe that this will cause Lebanese people and politicians alike to reflect on their sentiments and policies, and realize the facts of society, history and geography that ultimately govern the economic and political relationship between the two countries.

At 3/31/2005 11:37:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Firas:

You make some good points. I'll quibble with you on a few.

a- No one in the Lebanese opposition is stoking hatred toward Syria or Syrians. They all go out of their way to say that we are close people and we want good relations (no one wants to say that it will be a lot better once the Baath is gone. I believe that to be true BUT also believe it is suicide to say it out loud if you are a politician).

b- There were some unfortunate aggressions against Syrians, but the number (30 or 35 killed) bandied about by Hezbollah is not supported by the news I read (and I read a lot). I've heard of a couple of instances; and even in those cases, it was not clear whether they were related to politics/hatred. It is unrealistic to expect no incidents whatsoever after 30 years of humiliation and WORSE at the hands of the Syrian regime. And of course they should all be condemned and prosecuted.

c-Regarding the borders, closing them will not be good for either country. However, at this point, I am more concerned with Lebanese security and sovereignty than with economics (and I am not saying close the borders).

One thing many Lebanese do not understand and never have in the past: National security of people and property is the FIRST and FOREMOST duty of the state. Not understanding that has led to most if not all the catasrophes before during and after the civil war.


At 3/31/2005 12:47:00 PM, Anonymous jtpacta said...

Reading some of these comments one could be persuaded that Lebanon came to know economic development and prosperity only in those years that it has spent under Syrian occupation! This is ridiculous. Next we'll read that if Syria has not prospered during the past decades - indeed it went down - it was because the Syrians were too busy with altruistic plans to make Lebanon prosperous to care about their own development....

At 3/31/2005 01:05:00 PM, Anonymous JL said...

To Firas and Anonymous right after him,

Stoking hatred doesn't need to be something done overtly or publicly, and you can't deny that the Lebanese opposition has done very little to condemn the killings of Syrians which you say you haven't read about. But they've been covered in a lot of media, including the Daily Star recently. I find your assertion that Nasrallah could be openly lying about this very strange. There's been countless incidents of animosity and aggression (they don't all end in killing, at least) and breaking car windows and throwing grenades and setting tents and so-called dwellings on fire. You seem to think that's normal after 30 years? Many people will disagree with you about having the poorest people pay for others' mistakes.

Firas makes excellent points about the relationship between the two countries. I read similar arguments by Rime Allaf not just in her blog, but in her piece last week which was in Bitter Lemons and also in The Daily Star. Other Syrian (and some Lebanese) writers are saying it as well. There is more than meets the eye. And Firas is right: there are many many Lebanese working in Syria as well, not to mention shopping and buying cheaper goods, from raw materials to consumer goods. Most Lebanese could not even dream of shopping in Solidere or Verdun or Kaslik, let's remember that (and let's remember that the Syrians who go shopping in Lebanon go just there!).

Firas is also right about the rising frustration of many Syrians, and this is not to anyone's benefit, least of all to the Lebanese. But to imply that Syria should just look inwardly (which is LONG overdue) and forget about their immediate neighbor is a bit rich. When the civil war was raging, many Lebanese also found refuge in Syria, remember that. And any country would be concerned by hell breaking loose next door. Of course, that doesn't mean anyone is suggesting it could break out again, but there are reasons for the concerns - which means that I find little reason to believe that Syria really wants to "break Lebanon" - it knows how much it has to lose.

Again, like Firas said, so much anti-Syrian sentiment is only making Syrians recoil and want to close the border themselves, which is even more dangerous because they are being sidetracked from the battle inside for reform.

The question really is: can Lebanon (and not Syria only) survive the debacle? And for how long?

At 3/31/2005 02:23:00 PM, Anonymous Ibrahim said...

It's interesting to raise so many grand titles without reference to any backup source or information.

Without credible research, all of the above are only approximations and assumptions, so takers beware.

One point about the imbalance in numbers/regulations of workers:

It would be harsh to put the Lebanese workers at fault for demanding a higher wage than what their Syrian counterparts are asking for... Indeed, while Syrian workers earn as little as 300$ per month, this would hardly suffice an average Lebanese citizen with overwhelmingly expensive life conditions.

Two parties are at fault here:

First, the Lebanese government for not protecting its workers' right to earn a respectable living in standard with the highly expensive living conditions in the Lebanese Republic.

Two, the greedy Lebanese businessmen who put every national consideration aside and hire foreign workmanship (not singling out Syrians here) on much lower wages and denying their fellow Lebanese workers a shot for a decent living.

In retrospective, I wouldn't say that the Syrian workers have benefited the Lebanese economy, rather they have largely enriched those already wealthy contractors and associated project owners.

Money in the hands of a few individuals hardly does benefit the system as a whole.

I say this:

Both Lebanese and Syrian people are suffering. We need to identify our enemies and they are those feudal/corrupt statesmen/businessmen who are monopolizing both Syria's and Lebanon's economy.... I am thinking Maher Makhlouf, Maher Al Assad, Bashar Al Assad, Emile Lahoud, Michel El Murr, Nabih Berri, and Peace be on his Soul Rafik Al-Hariri, the late tycoon wasn't an angel by a far shot.

Let's get our thoughts clear.

At 3/31/2005 02:25:00 PM, Anonymous Ibrahim said...

Erratum: I meant Rami Makhlouf, not Maher... so easy to get lost between all these gangsters...

At 3/31/2005 02:38:00 PM, Anonymous Firas said...

Let me put it this way: We Syrians have a sense that the Lebanese take us for granted. They take our open borders for granted. They take our business for granted. They take access to our markets for granted. They take our deposits in their banks for granted. And, they take for granted that they will remain Syria's conduit to the outside. That may have been true before; not anymore. Today, as many of us are demanding political reform and economic liberalization, (for internal Syrian reasons first and foremost), we are also starting to demand a distance with Lebanon. Ironically, as we open up to the world, we are demanding closing off to the Lebanese.

Lebanon should not take Syrian openness and Syrian business for granted. Furthermore, if Lebanese leaders were remotely responsible (and I have every reason to believe based on past and present actions that they are not), they would understand not only the direct cost of their policies (as I outlined earlier), but also the opportunity cost of such policies. Economically, Syria is a virgin country that is in need of much development. Having been closed for so long to foreign investment, the market offers many excellent opportunities for business and investment. As Syria's economy liberalizes, there will be lucrative opportunities for outside firms within Syria. Given the current political climate, rather than have priority, I expect that Lebanese companies and business will be ruled out, and the vast majority of Syrians will support that. I, for one, would rather award a contract to a Greek or Turkish firm than a Lebanese one, hands down, based on recent events.

It doesn’t take much insight to figure it out; Lebanon borders only two countries: Syria and Israel. Lebanon is a small country with a debit-ridden service-based economy, a tiny market and no natural resources. If Syria closes the border (in a manner of speaking), it won’t be long before those very “Opposition” leaders come back on their hands and knees to Damascus, as they did in 1976...Back to Daddy!


At 3/31/2005 03:11:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Firas,

How about reading something other than the official Baath paper, once in a while.

Yea, poor Syria has been so abused by bad, bad Lebanon...

At 3/31/2005 03:43:00 PM, Anonymous Firas said...

Anonymous 3:11

First of all, I am not a Baathist. As a matter of fact, I could not be more opposed to Baathist (and other Arabist) principles - especially "Unity" and "Socialism"

Second, rather than fire off an accusation, branding me blindly just because I'm bringing up points that you can't refute, why not engage me with a response?

It's just this type of "dialogue" that brought about the 15-year civil war!

At 3/31/2005 04:46:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Firas

I never said you were a Baathist. I am saying, you are ill informed and/or have fallen for some of the Baathist lines.

I am not going to waste time refuting your points. I reject your very condescending attitude. You say "We Syrians have a sense that the Lebanese take us for granted".

Are you mad? Syria just changed our constitution with a couple of phone calls, picked an unpopular president for us, and then proceeded to threathen an ex-PM before (in all likelihood) blowing him to pieces, along with 15 other people. Like Hariri said, you guys take us for "flies". And that's just the last 3 months of their 30-year stay.

You may not be a baathist. But many Syrians, who also are not baathists, got it into them that Lebanon is for granted, NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND. If you cannot even get that straight, the rest is pointless.

At 3/31/2005 05:29:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Anonymous 12:09 from Anon 7:17

First of all your assumption is INCORRECT I am not lebanese therefore you have not offended me. But I assume a number of people on this board will find your comments offensive and vulgar. Are you able to discuss any ideas without the use of profanity? Or is this beyond your ability to express yourself? Please be considerate of others.

Shame on the Lebanese for allowing the Syrians to control them for the last three decades but they should be applauded for their willingness and courage to demand a change in the status quo.

Bottom line buddy, Assad committed the biggest blunder of his carrer by ordering the killing of Hariri. The US, EU and UN will continue to pressure your Syrian friends (don't give me the line of bull about you liking the Lebanese) even after they pull out of Lebanon for varied reasons like supporting the insurgency in Iraq, poor human rights record etc... The Syrian regime will be backpedaling as they did after Hariri's assassination and you dictator friend Bashar and his thugs won't be able to stall again. this pressure will not stop until the regime collapses or major reforms are in place. Dictatorships and tyrannies have no place left in the new world order.

Let the Lebanese dictate their own fate without any Syrian interference.

At 3/31/2005 06:14:00 PM, Anonymous Geroge M said...

I don't understand why any time a Syrian stands up in defence of Syria, s/he is considered a Bathist, Mukhabarat or government sympathizer. Most Syrians do not support Syria's heavy-handedness in Lebanon. Most of us do not support even our troops being there...not now, but even long before the events of Hariri's assassination. For our part, and for what it's worth, we acknowledge Syria's excesses in Lebanon. However, that does not make it open season against Syria, and unlike the Lebanese, when push comes to shove, I feel like it's "me and my brother against my cousin and me and my cousin against the outsider". Perhaps if the Lebanese had had that attitude just before the war, Syria would not have been in Lebanon and both Syrians and Lebanese would have been spared this mess! Rather, the Lebanese motto was: Me and the devil against my brother and my cousin!

To the Lebanese people, please understand that Syrians do not hate or even dislike Lebanese. We never did. If there were abuses of power by the military or the intelligence, we, the Syrian people, had nothing to do with it. In fact, we suffered from it like you did, so we understand you most. But, today, we are HURT by the reactions, insults, attacks, abuses and crimes that you are instigating against us as a people, as your neighbors, as your extended family!

We are not apologists for the Syrian army or intelligence (or even govt). We are simply reacting to attacks against us as a people and against our country.

Finally, just like many Syrians here (and elsewhere) acknowledge our mistakes in Lebanon, I think it is important for the Lebanese to go back and acknowledge their mistakes, and deal with their problems, which led them to the civil war, and from that, to Syrian and others' interference in their affairs.

At 3/31/2005 07:38:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To George M.

You say: "unlike the Lebanese, when push comes to shove, I feel like it's "me and my brother against my cousin and me and my cousin against the outsider"."

OK, so maybe the Leb finally figured out now what you and the Syrians have known forever. Is it too late for the Leb to adopt that smart Syrian attitude or is it for Syrians only?

Maybe you are a nice guy who is critical of the regime, but why is it that you do not believe your regime on internal matters, and yet buy the crap they tell you about external matters (Lebanon, Palestinians, Us, Israel etc...).

They (regime) only lie about the economy and freedom of the press, but never lie about Lebanon? No one of substance has criticized the Syrian people or nation in Lebanon. Open your eyes.


At 3/31/2005 09:29:00 PM, Anonymous George M. said...

Dear JoseyWales,

Again, please don't assume that I'm towing the Syrian government's line on Lebanon or other external matters, for that matter. Who says I buy what they feed me about foreign affairs? And, who in Syria reads government newspapers or watches government TV anyway? Certainly, I have my own views on these matters and they happen to be quite different than the government's story - and not just on Lebanon. To be honest, I don't buy any government's crap (Syria's, Lebanon's or America's government) about almost all issues. Again, please don't oversimplify; things are not so black-and-white. Either we're Bathists who buy our government's story or we are free thinkers and agree with you? Is that it? Well, for most of us Syrians, it's neiher.

As for your adoption of Syrian smarts (as you sarcastically put it), that is fine. I wish Lebanese would think like that; it would be healthy for Lebanon and for Lebanese unity. In fact, if Hariri's death did manage to unite Lebanese, it would have produced some good from the midst tragedy. But, unfortunately, I don't think it's true. The recent political stalemate and demonstrations clearly indicate that the Lebanese are as divided as ever. And, God forbid, should things deteriorate toward civil unrest, Syria, Israel and Iran (at least) will be pulled in again by each side against the other. That's what I think, and I hope I'm wrong - for your sake and ours.

At 3/31/2005 10:08:00 PM, Anonymous Friend in America said...

The comments by Firas and George M contain knowledgable analyses and open up the possibility of a light at the end of this tunnel of bickering.

By their figures the economic involvment of one country with the other is so large that both will suffer if interrupted. (I rather think, however, that the trade and investing will survive - a discussion of the wisdom of closing the border is deferred to another thread.) These figures also point up the need for internal reform in Syria. Investments in Lebanon of this magnatude and relocating of businesses out of Syria make a statement in itself. Syria would benefit from this investment money staying at home.

Recognizing the importance of economic, cultural and family relationships between the two countries is a great starting place for building the foundation of a political settlement. This is not the first time, that the political leaders are too slow in recognizing the needs of their respective countries.

And we can start the peace process right here by ending the vitriol and personal attacks on each other. The more we personalize, the less progress we will have. Everybody is entitled ot personal respect. Let it begin here.

At 4/01/2005 09:01:00 AM, Anonymous Ibrahim said...

The Lebanese and Syrian people do not hate each other, they may be rivals but they are not enemies.

What our Syrian brothers are feeling today is comprehensible, however they must understand that whatever happens, neither Lebanon nor Syria can prosper if there is not a fair and just relationship linking both countries.

The past and current leaders have caused us great harm. They made us believe that we are enemies, whereas we actually COMPLEMENT each others. Our Jordanian and Palestinian brothers also fall in the same circle.

Let us look at the GCC example. Those guys actually support each other and have a somewhat unified approach in a number of matters.

Us Levanters Arabs must understand that we constitute a force to be reckoned with in the Middle East. When linked, Lebanese, Syrians, Jordanians and Palestinians constitute a formidable force that will be able to benefit all the Arab world.

I am not a Baathist or anything like that, all I am saying that we Arab Levanters have ALOT in common.

As a Lebanese, I was a couple of weeks back in Damascus and people were really friendly (as usual). You can sense that they wanted to talk about the current political tension in a positive manner and keep dialogue open, and this is what I and many other Lebanese believe in...

The mistake that many other Lebanese are doing is that they cannot dissassociate between the Syrian regime and the Syrian people. This is a shame because the Syrians are as educated and crafty as the Lebanese, and even more when it comes to the Arab culture; and they don't have ill intentions towards us.

Let us keep our heads straight.

At 4/01/2005 11:10:00 AM, Anonymous Friend in America said...

The more common interests and interdependence on each other are publically acknowledged, the closer everyone will accept the need for a fair and just settlement of this dispute. The challenge will become how to tell the two governments the people want them to settle.

There is some disturbing information on another site known for getting early information, often very accurate. it reports a secret central command has been set up by the Syrian army and intellegence in the Hezbullah controlled south suburbs of Beirut and substantial amounts of arms are being gathered there. Syrian army officers are being discretly housed in private homes in North Lebanon, Mount Lebanon and Beruit. The report also claims the silent hand of Iran is behind all of this.

Is there anyone on this site with access to information that confirms or disputes this report? Is this a force being mobilized for a coup - or an anti-coup?
Is this what is happening during the recent quiet period? Is the report inacurate, in whole or in part?

At 4/01/2005 12:37:00 PM, Anonymous Kafka said...

The Syrian administration should not underestimate the USA - European - UN intelligence and determination. If the pro-Syrian group in the Lebanese parliament and Hezbollah do not play game, the USA - European - UN tandem will proceed to break up the Syrian administration if deemed strategically necessary.
They shall certainly wait until all syrian military and intelligence assets are out of Lebanon, will then wait to see how the Lebanese situation develops or not towards stability and the elections in the next week or so. Then they will act as a consequence.
The Syrian administration needs to be very careful because the Bush administration is in no mood for compromise, Europe is quite ready now to cooperate with the USA and specifically as regards the Lebanese issue, and betwen them they have a clear majority in the UN.
I wish for the sake of Syria that Bachar has good common sense to pull out from the Lebanese situation. In time the relationship shall be resumed between the two countries for the interest of each.

At 4/01/2005 12:50:00 PM, Anonymous Firas said...

I agree with Ibrahim whole-heartedly. But, I take issue with the statement about the Lebanese and Syrian people not hating each other. Unfortunately, I feel like SOME Lebanese (mostly from a certain political and, yes, confessional persuasion) do hate Syrians. We should be honest and acknowledge that. And, it didn't start with 1559; in fact, it has been festering for a very long time without being dealt with properly, and I fault both countries for it. So far, this 'hatred' was not reciprocated, but my fear is that this is starting to change in some Syrian circles. And that’s a shame.

Looking back, from the Ottoman days until today, Lebanon was a small sanjak (later country) inhabited mostly by religious minorities (Druze, Maronites, etc.) They fled to the mountains, as other minorities in Syria have (Alawites and Druze) to escape Ottoman/Sunni persecution. When Syria & Lebanon gained independence from the Ottomans, and since then, these fears (of the Sunni Arab minority) remained. The fact is that these Lebanese minorities (and others within Syria) remained small isolated communities within a sea of Sunni Arab culture, and their relationship with the majority was characterized by suspicion and distrust. In my opinion, it was incumbent upon this "majority" to assuage these minorities' fears and provide them with a sense of safety and security. But, though the Sunni majority in Bilad el-Sham (Levant), in my opinion, meant not malice, they were not developed enough civically to understand and provide minorities with the legal/constitutional safeguards to make them comfortable and secure.

Lebanon gained independence with a privileged Christian majority, who shared more with the West than with the rest of the Levant, religiously. Slowly, this character developed into a cultural and later political identity that defined itself by differentiating itself from the rest of Lebanon and Syria. With time, this new "Westernized' identity began to color the rest of Lebanese communities (Druze & Sunnis). This new and to a great degree, contrived Western identity raised suspense in the rest of Syria, and the crisis of confidence only increased over time. In its 'Arab' context, Syria saw the Lebanese Christians (and other minorities) as just another religious community within this greater Arab fabric and never recognized their cultural differentiation or their feelings of insecurity. On the other hand, fearing an eventual disintegration into that larger Arab Muslim community, the Lebanese Christians (and increasingly others), sought to distance themselves and weave alliances with the West to ensure their distinction (and protection) politically and culturally. This is magnified by the fact that since both countries' independence in 1946, Syria took on the role of defender of 'Arab' rights and the bastion of Arab Unity with a command economy and an authoritarian regime, while Lebanon adopted a market economy and a seemingly-democratic political system.

Things came to a head during the Lebanese civil war. With the entry and involvement of Syrian troops in the war, all these feelings came to a head. Given the changing demographic reality, and with Syria’s shifting alliances and its troops’ transgressions, some Lebanese came to regard Syria as an enemy and an existential threat to that distinct identity, and sought protection from her political enemies (Israel, Iraq, US, etc.) As polarization increased, Syria, not just Syrian troops, was portrayed as an enemy. This continued even after the end of the war, with some Lebanese feeling like the losers of the war. Their leaders portrayed Syrians are just uneducated soldiers, laborers and mukhabarat. Shoppers, businessmen and investors were absent from the picture they drew for their people. As some Lebanese in East Beirut and some areas of Mount Lebanon continued to be isolated from Syria, this portrayal was only magnified. Of course, the poor behavior, harsh tactics and self-defeating policies of the Syrian army and intelligence in Lebanon only compounded the problem. The result is hatred by many Lebanese toward Syria and Syrians. Though this was somewhat hidden before (though many Syrians felt it), it came out in the open over the past couple of months.

In the end, I fault the leadership on all sides for not building the trust and the right legal, political and constitutional framework to ensure that all citizens feel secure and safe in that region. In my opinion, this remains a problem today within Syria itself. Defining Syria as an ‘Arab’ country necessarily excludes Kurds, Circass, Turkmen, Armenian and others who make up an important part of our social and national fabric. The same goes for Alawites, Christians, Ismaelis and many others. In that sense, the Syrian constitution itself is in desperate need of reform.

I agree that in the long term, neither Syria nor Lebanon, can thrive in isolation from one another, though Syria's chances are better given its size, resources and borders. Quite to the contrary, both peoples can only thrive when they join hands together. Yes, the Syrians and Lebanese, as a people, have more in common than any other two people that I can think of. However, the relationship must be balanced, rather than one of master and slave. That is not acceptable. I also do not believe that in today’s world, you can cement a relationship between two countries/peoples based on emotional factors (shared history, inter-marriage, tabbouleh or baba-ghannoush). Today’s world necessitates a solid relationship built on shared and mutual interests, which ultimately translates into economic benefits to both. In that respect, the Syrian leadership and government failed miserably to leverage its influence and wasted its political capital in Lebanon to build long-term mutual interests and hence, to bring the two countries and peoples closer together. In my opinion, this is a result of the unsophisticated, provincial nature of the Baath leadership in Syria. They are ultimately soldiers and security men, not intellectuals, economists or businessmen.

Unfortunately, in this current climate and with existing tensions, I don’t see the Syrian-Lebanese relationship progressing toward that desired level. I am glad that we have withdrawn our forces from Lebanon, though I wish we had done it under our own volition, rather than under pressure. I also hope that, going forward, the Syrian government will take a totally different approach to dealing with Lebanon, and resist the temptation (by Lebanese allies, mostly and by narrow Syrian interests) to interfere in Lebanese affairs. On the other hand, I do believe that many of the Lebanese Opposition leaders (and their constituents) have a distorted, aggrandized, arrogant view of themselves and of Lebanon. And, I do believe, as I mentioned earlier, that Syria (with all its faults) is taken for granted. Today as before, Lebanese opposition leaders do not feel that their interests are at stake, no matter how far they go in their attacks. In that respect, they need to be brought down to reality. The Lebanese must be reminded of their economic interests and the opportunity costs of alienating Syria. In this respect, I support ‘closing the border’ to Lebanese business, banking and commerce. I do not mean literally closing the border; rather, I mean creating incentives for Syrians to repatriate their money, their business and their investments to Syria or elsewhere, where they will be more appreciated and respected. And, I couldn’t agree more with George, it will then be the Lebanese Opposition who will beat a path to Damascus then to improve relations.

Finally, let me pre-empt some accusations: I don’t buy into the theory that all of Syria’s problems are others’ responsibility (US, Israel, Lebanon, etc.) To the contrary, I believe most of our ills are our own doing. This is why I believe the solution must begin at home. In Syria, we are in desperate need of a serious and radical reform package that encompasses all aspects of life – constitutional, legal, educational, political economic, social and religious. If each of us (Syrians and Lebanese) looks inward, addresses our problems honestly and creatively, then we can be more secure in dealing with each other and build a positive and healthy relationship can be based on mutual interests as well as those historic ones.


At 4/01/2005 01:33:00 PM, Anonymous Ibrahim said...

I remember a few months ago (before the Hariri assassination), a couple of Syrian friends were visiting us in Beirut; and they did ask "why do the Lebanese hate us?"

At that time, I felt embarassed and tried to provide a decent answer by explaining that in fact the Lebanese only resent the presence of the Syrian army in Lebanon or the Syrian regime's many interferences in the Lebanese daily political system, but they just weren't convinced as they recounted a number of cases where they were treated coldly at shops and other common places just because they had the Syrian accent!

Indeed what a shame. I, as a Lebanese truly feel at despair with such and other incidents.

Other fellow Maronites tend to go the extreme (Lebanese Forces) and really remind me of the Nazi/Aryen thinking back in WWII.

Those few (or many hidden) of us who are blessed with tolerance and open mindness should always restrain ourselves and think twice before doing anything that might hurt the other, whoever that may be.

Our efforts should not stop there as we need to spread tolerance amongst those extremists, be it the Lebanese Forces, Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Wahhabis, the tribal Druzes and many others. We should never stop believing in the goodness and positiveness of mankind, because without it we would turn worse than animals.

No to discrimination or prejudice.

At 4/01/2005 03:19:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Funny how Kafka mentions "The Syrian administration should not underestimate the USA - European - UN intelligence and determination." We all are aware of US intelligence and its accuracy. Dont we?

At 4/01/2005 03:51:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

From JoseyWales To Firas and Ibrahim,

Read Firas's last post, yes Firas read your own post.

Most of what Firas wants we can all agree with. But what is his answer to improve relations with "arrogant" Lebanon: let's make the Lebanese' life more difficult at the Syrian border, so that we can watch them come crawling back to us". Is this how you want to start new healthy relations?

And then of course, should Syria close the border and someone in Lebanon say "we are being hurt, let us look at the other border", you know DAMN well what your answer would be. And you keep telling me you are my friend and my brother?

The part you are both missing is that the Baath does not recognize Lebanon and keeps aggressing it (starting with Arms to the Palis, way before the 75 "civil" war). That is how the mess started for ALL of us. And the Baath regime is beyond redemption. Do not delude yourselves with reform "talk". The Lebanese have many many faults, but the agression came from Damascus. What of the Syrian people? I don't know, but "peaceful" and "well intentioned" (NOT being sarcastic) Firas wants sanctions against Lebanon. What is the average Lebanese to think?

At 4/01/2005 04:23:00 PM, Blogger Yuber said...

There should be a travel advisory passed for syrians going to lebanon, the lebanese are killing syrian workers (not saying all lebanese are, but some).

At 4/01/2005 04:45:00 PM, Anonymous Firas said...


1. In calling for restricting relations, I am basically looking inward to Syria. Implicit in my demand is a challenge to my government to liberalize the economy and improve the investment climate so as to attract Syrian investment. In addition, though deep inside, I like the Lebanese and know they'll always be my closest 'kin' (so to speak), I am calling for a sanction of sorts, given the insults, attacks and humiliation that we feel from there. I am calling for the use of economic measures (peaceful at least) to make those who are insulting and attacking our PEOPLE notice what they're risking. Sanctions are used for far less aggregious reasons; at least this is a defensive measure, not an offensive one (e.g. USA vis-a-vis Iraq).

2. I deliberately outlined where I think our mistakes and our problems are in Syria. I want us Syrians to be candid and honest about identifying our problems. That's the surest way to begin to fix them. I wish some Lebanese (e.g. YOU) would demand the same and stop accusing Syria and the Palestinians for all of your problems. There is a fundamental problem of national identity in Lebanon. The people of Kaslik and Achrafiyeh have a radical, almost irreconcilable vision for Lebanon than those just a few kilometers away in Haret Hreik and the Suburbs. Without defending them, Syrian, Palestinian and other external elements in Lebanese affairs are a result - not the cause - of Lebanese divisions and distrust. Otherwise, Lebanon's society and politcs would be immune to such "istiba7a".

Finally, please re-read my post. I'm not saying you should like me because I'm a "brother" or a "friend". Frankly, I couldn't care any less if you do or not. To the contrary, I'm calling for building the proper foundation for lasting friendship, respect and good neighborly relations on the basis of mutual economic interests - first and foremost. These interests, rather than emotional and fraternal BS, will ensure a lasting and fruitful relationship, whether you like me or not.

And one last note: I couldn't be more against Baath's ideology for a multitude of reasons. But, this does not mean that all of a sudden, Baath is the epitome of evil. There is a concerted effort led by conservative US elements to demonize the Baath. This is unfair. So, before you jump on yet another bandwagon for another wild ride, invoke your own analysis and judgement. In its essence, as much as I disagree with it, Baath is simply a party that calls for "Arab" unity and Socialism. Disagree with it all you want (I do), but, don't all of a sudden blame all the problems of the region on it. With all of its dreams for a confused 'Arab Nation' from the Ocean to the Gulf, it is still far better than Muslim Brotherhood or any of those other religious wackos. So, please get some perspective and use your mind; don't just parrot back shallow soundbites.


At 4/01/2005 07:29:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Firas,

Dont get personal (parrot shallow etc..) and dont put words in my mouth. I blame the Lebanese first and foremost for all our problems.

The fact some Lebanese do not understand that Syria (regime) and the PLO have a different agendas than that of Lebanon is a problem we Lebanese need to deal with. But surely you will ackowledge that these non-Leb parties have more than exploited those openings to destroy the Leb state and its institutions.

Re you other points:

FACT: The Baath does not recognize Lebanon (nor Syria for that matter) as a (final) independent sovereign STATE.

FACT: The Baath has ruled Syria and Iraq, for decades now with devastating effects on everybody save the party hacks

FACT Similar bankrupt ideologies were applied in Egypt and Libya to name two with similar failure devastating effects

FACT: No opposition exists other the religious wackos because the totalitarians will not tolerate it. They then have the gall to say (like u) "see we are bad but the other guys are worse".

FACT: Communism failed because it failed (short version of the story). But there are still people who think it failed because the reformers failed, or they were not strong enough, or were not lucky enough, or were not smart enough... Get the picture. It is called rationalization and justification. It comforts for a while but is useless.

The Arab world is in a pickle because we have the bankrupt ideologies of the rulers, the religious wackos and the supposed moderates like you which are not a threat to anyone.

Furthermore, IMHO if those moderates were to come to power, they would repeat the same stuff under a different name. I bet you would say: not too much freedom, the wackos might take over. You just said as much in you post.

Please don't tell me Arab nationalism failed because of Israel. Cuz even if that were the case, it would mean that it is not strong enough an ideology to help us with that problem.

Lastly, good luck reforming Baathism and Arabism. Hint: not much time left.


PS Did I parrot anyone or were there enough facts and simple logic for you?

At 4/01/2005 07:32:00 PM, Anonymous sottovoce said...

O.K. so, there are Lebanese who do not like the Syrians, and there are Lebanese who feel ashamed that this should be so. And there are Syrians who ask why there are Lebanese who do not like them. So what? Sixty million people visit France every year and more than half of them will tell you that they do not like the French, and nearly as many people visit Greece every year and many will tell you they do not like the Greeks, not to mention the way many Americans and French people, who have never set foot in each other’s country, feel about each other at present. This belongs to the realm of “epidermic feelings” that are quite natural in the circumstances, on both sides of the border and this is really not what is at stake. The way Bush and Chirac are (mis)treated in press comments and satires does not require NATO drills and nobody jumps to the conclusion that fires of eternal enmity are smoldering between the two countries, or that anti-Bush Frenchmen are going to take to the streets to gun down pro-Bush Frenchmen even though some Americans went to such extremes as to spill French wine (quel dommage!) in the gutter. Also, if one would care to read a bit of history – beyond the empty and false assertions of the “one country, one people” type, they might learn a thing of two about the deep-seated reasons for the mistrust they resent so much. And saying – like Firas does – that the people of Kaslik or Ashrafieh have a different vision of Lebanon than the people of Haret Hreik and the “Suburbs” (I presume he is referring to specific “suburbs”) and that this vision is “radical” is tantamount to saying that the problem with pluralistic societies is that they are pluralistic. Almost all the Arab countries have not one but many minorities, but the difference with Lebanon is that these minorities cannot speak up or are not accounted for or have been gotten rid off one way or the other.

At 4/01/2005 08:56:00 PM, Anonymous Had friends in Hamma said...

I will never trust and support a regime that killed 40,000 of its own people (Hamma!)
How can I forget my friends who were killed in Hamma just because they wanted more freedom?
How can be sure that Riffat Assad (The Syrian Saddam) will not be put in a position to kill another 40,000 people!

At 4/01/2005 11:56:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How can USA remove for the sake of the syrian people the regime that they created(kissinger) and protected during 30 years ?
The anti american feeling among the syrian population is very high.
It's clear that a true democracy in Syria is not in the interest of the americans.
The only way to the freedom is that the Syrian people must move against this sectarian ...and not waiting a new alawi american deal.

At 4/01/2005 11:59:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How can USA remove for the sake of the syrian people the regime that they created(kissinger) and protected during 30 years ?
The anti american feeling among the syrian population is very high.
It's clear that a true democracy in Syria is not in the interest of the american neo cons.
The only way to the freedom is that the Syrian people must move against this sectarian regime ...and not waiting a new alawi american deal.

At 4/02/2005 06:47:00 AM, Anonymous Ibrahim said...


I believe that you are tainting your comments by generalizing and flushing your anger out.

I'll tell you what, let us think twice about each word we're posting here, it will make our comments much more coherent and less aggressive.

If our Syrian neighbours are feeling humiliated by the words of some of the Lebanese, then why shouldn't the Americans feel humiliated when they see their flag being burned in front of their embassy in Awkar?

Wouldn't it make sense if they close their borders to Lebanese and make us "crawl" to them? Again, it is the American regime that we are at odds with, not the American people, otherwise what are you doing on this page created by an American and written in English?

You choice of words is inacceptable. Even when wrong, those Lebanese are my brothers and I will not stand idle when you address them like that.

Two wrongs do not make one right.

At 4/02/2005 08:21:00 AM, Anonymous Firas said...

It seems like some can't (or don't want to) imagine Syrians who are not Baathists. Some keep twisting my words to force me into being a supporter or defender of the Baath; reminds me of what George posted earlier. It's typical of this binary mentality that is so prevalent in our region. Either a believer or a heretic. Either Opposition or Loyalist. Here again, either Baathist (evil) or...good.

To clarify yet again. I am not a Baathist, nor even a Baath sympathizer. I don't believe in the Baath's very premise nor its basic principles. Furthermore, I don't even accept the basis of 'Arabism' to begin with. I don't believe in an 'Arab' nation; I don't believe that Syria has anything in common with Sudan or Yemen. And, as someone who believes in open markets, free trade and personal initiative, I totally reject socialism, as an economic system. In short, I don't buy into any pre-packaged, "off-the-shelf" political ideology.

I agree with many here that the Baath regime in Syria and in Iraq did much disservice to both countries. In Syria, it did a great job of retarding my country's economic, social and political development, not to mention its abuses to our people.

Much of the same happened in Egypt, in Morocco, in Chile and in Argentina. Is the Baath to blame for those too?

All I'm saying is that we need to infuse some independent judgement and not all of a sudden get swept up by the US media's attacks on the Baath in Iraq. Read it first and criticize it all you want. We happen to agree that it's bankrupt ideology; but let's get used to moderation, rather than get whipped into a frenzy by someone else and yes, parroting things without understanding....sorry, JoseyWales, no insult intended.

Ibrahim, there is a difference between civilized peaceful protests and violent attacks against anything that is Syrian. I would not have a problem nor would be hurt by Lebanese protesting for Syrian military withdrawal; indeed, I have always supported that same objective. What I (and most other Syrians) are hurt by is the personal attacks against civilians, the outward animosity that is rampant (and that has been for a long time), and the portrayal that Syria is nothing but a destructive element of mukhabarat, army and laborers with no positive role.

We've come a full circle - back to that same uni-dimensional view of things...that binary on/off mode that I started with about the Baath. Here it is again: Syria is bad; it's role in Lebanon was all some, even the cause of the war. Is there another side to Syria? What about Syria's saving a certain group from being wiped out? What about helping to unify the Lebanese Army? What about its role in the 2000 liberation?

Now, before you pounce back. I'm not saying Syria's political role was all good, but it sure wasn't all bad. And, politics aside, us civilian Syrians who have, like Joshua mentioned earlier, hosted so many Lebanese during the war, and who have goodwill toward the Lebanese and spend our money in Lebanon...we should not be treated the way we have. Again, this mistreatment has been going on for a very long time; the last month and a half took it to a new low.

Ibrahim, you go back and read French and US papers. Even at the height of the tension between France and the US, most of the civic and even political leadership in both countries presented a balanced view of the other to their people. They articulated their common interests and moderated the mood of the hardliners. Things never degenerated to attacking Frenchmen in the US or vice versa. There was never a safety concern for Americans in France. The people might have strong feelings about issues, and they can express them; that's perfectly fine. This, in two democracies, where the governments policies represented the peoples' will.

In Syria, our government's policies and tactics in Lebanon (or on any other issue) does not represent the will of the Syrian people. On the flip side, the Lebanese (particularly the 'opposition') pride themselves on being democratic(?). Yet, we're seeing a degree of incitement or at the very best, ambivalence, toward this hatred, racism and animosity toward Syrians, as a people. I have read articles in Arabic papers where the "author" admittedly says that he's come to 'hate' anyTHING that is Syrian and anyone who says "mou" (vs. mesh), even though no Syrian has ever done anything to him!!

This is what leads someone like me to say Haje Ba2a...Enough. Until the dust settles and reason returns, let's put some distance and take our business elsewhere. In fact, the later might hasten the former!

Ya3teekon el-3afyeh.


At 4/02/2005 09:31:00 AM, Anonymous Ibrahim said...

"Ibrahim, there is a difference between civilized peaceful protests and violent attacks against anything that is Syrian. I would not have a problem nor would be hurt by Lebanese protesting for Syrian military withdrawal; indeed, I have always supported that same objective. What I (and most other Syrians) are hurt by is the personal attacks against civilians, the outward animosity that is rampant (and that has been for a long time), and the portrayal that Syria is nothing but a destructive element of mukhabarat, army and laborers with no positive role."

I'm with you 100%. One of my best friends is half-Syrian, his mother is Syrian, one of my business colleagues is Syrian, another friend in Dubai is Syrian, another one in Kuwait is Syrian.... I cannot accept personal attacks on Syrians per se.


"Let's see how long these rats can go before they crawl back to Damascus."



"it won’t be long before those very “Opposition” leaders come back on their hands and knees to Damascus, as they did in 1976...Back to Daddy!"



"What about Syria's saving a certain group from being wiped out?"

This must be the biggest misconception of the entire Lebanese war. The Syrian regime did not intervene to protect Christians, it used it as an alibi to get directly involved in Lebanon. One irrefutable argument I will use here is the unconditional support provided by the Syrian regime to the Palestinian Fedaeyeen and PLO operating in Syria and Lebanon. While the Fedaeyeen & PLO were contained in Syria, they were given full liberty to move, acquire weapons and train to the extent that they outgrew the Lebanese Army. 75% of the support, both military and logistically came from the Syrian regime. If the Syrian regime was so worried about the safety of the Christians or any other Lebanese for that matter, it would have refrained from arming the Palestinian factions.


"There was never a safety concern for Americans in France. The people might have strong feelings about issues, and they can express them; that's perfectly fine. This, in two democracies, where the governments policies represented the peoples' will"

I speak for myself, I was back in Damascus two weeks ago and never felt one bit of insecurity. I know that my friend's mom which is Syrian does not feel insecure in her second country neither... this applies to many, while the contrary also applies in a number of other cases... Let us not generalize.


"I have read articles in Arabic papers where the "author" admittedly says that he's come to 'hate' anyTHING that is Syrian and anyone who says "mou" (vs. mesh), even though no Syrian has ever done anything to him!!"

This is true but this is not the majority. People like you and I are the majority.

If you want to take your investments elsewhere, then fine. We will survive, believe me; and all this BS about us falling apart if you close your frontiers and withdraw your money is just false. We will lose some but we will be able to recover. Do not underestimate the Lebanese will to adapt, adjust and move forward.

At 4/02/2005 10:07:00 AM, Anonymous Firas said...


1. There is a lot that can be said about the civil war, including the Arab League's decision to support the PLO in Lebanon, the reasons for the PLO's "bloating" within Lebanon, the weakness of Lebanon's insitutions vis-a-vis the militias, etc. I don't want to get into a long discussion about the civil war; it's much too complex for this forum. I also don't totally disagree with you re: the saving of the Christians being a pretext of sorts, though it's not that simple...

2. I would love to be proven wrong, and would be heartened if the majority of the Lebanese are like you. But, my personal experience and those of many friends do not lead me there. During 2003 and early 2004, I was in Beirut for business about once a week or so. I had extensive dealings with Lebanese of all backgrounds, ethnically and professionally. I've had several incidents that I can recount when I was met with blatant animosity. This, and I am a well-educated professional who represented business that many sought a piece of. I can just imagine how others are treated. Having said that, and in the interest of fairness and objectivity, I am not implying that this represents ALL Lebanese. It goes without saying that there are lots of wonderful Lebanese who are kind, gracious and who felt and displayed true fraternity with us. However, the voice of these civilized moderates, unfortunately, has long been drowned out by the noise of the fanatics. Sadly, the louder voices tend to be heard and their calls tend to be heeded. This is even more true since February 14th.


At 4/02/2005 11:42:00 PM, Anonymous Ibrahim said...

So should we dwell in negativity or think positively? It's about you and me, let's think positive... It's contagious.

At 4/03/2005 04:16:00 AM, Blogger Joshua Landis said...

Here is the Arabic translation of this post done by all4syria

هل تستطيع سوريا اجتياز الأزمة اللبنانية
هل بوش مصمم على إسقاط بيت الأسد؟ .. أعتقد أنه كذلك !؟
الإصلاحيون : أن الشيء الوحيد الذي يمكن أن ينقذ النظام الحالي هو تغيير مساره
عن سيريا-كومنت - جوشوا لانديز
ترجمة ناديا عطار بتصرف : سيريا نيوز 31/3/2005

إذا تعذر على سوريا الفوز في الانتخابات فلن تعجز عن تأخيرها. لقد أوضح لي عدد من الأصدقاء السوريين المطلعين أن المسؤولين في دمشق يعتقدون بأن واشنطن مصممة على النيل منهم بطريقة أو بأخرى، وهم يأكدون أن "الولايات المتحدة سوف تسعى في النهاية للنيل من الرئيس",
وعليه فإن سوريا لن تكسب شيئاً من انسحابها السريع من لبنان أو التخلي عن أي نفوذ لها هناك بهذه السهولة. من الأفضل تأخير العدو ورمي أكبر عدد من العقبات في وجهه طالما أن سوريا ما تزال تملك نفوذاً على الرئيس اللبناني ورئيس الوزراء، بدلاً من أن تتخلى عن مراكزها بسرعة بالغة. على سوريا أن تكون جادة تماماً في الدفاع عن نفسها لأن ليس لديها ما تخسره.

هل هذا الافتراض معقول من وجهة نظر سوريا؟ هل بوش مصمم على إسقاط بيت الأسد؟

أعتقد أنه كذلك. لقد أصبح بشار الاسد هو عدو بوش في الشرق الأوسط على الرغم من نواياه السابقة في أن يكون مصلحاً. وفي الوقت الذي يفخر فيه الاسد بالاستقرار فإن بوش يحيي الثورة. الاسد يدافع عن الحكم المطلق وبوش ينادي بالديمقراطية والانتخابات. الاسد يرى أن مجتمع المشرق منقسم طائفياً ودينياً لدرجة أنه غير جاهز لتلقي جرعات كبيرة من الحرية، لكن واشنطن ترى أن أي شيء مهما كان أفضل من الوضع الراهن ومن الاستبداد. قد تقع بعض " الأشياء" لكن النتيجة النهائية ستكون شرقاً أوسط جديد خال من الإرهاب. يصر بوش أن الشرق الأوسط الكبير مستعد للديمقراطية وسوف يثبت أنه متحرر، في حين يصر الاسد أن سياسات بوش سوف تقود إلى مقتل الكثير من العرب وتزيد من حدة الإرهاب وتؤدي إلى خسارة المزيد من الأراضي في فلسطين. بوش يرى باستمرار أن الاسد هو المشكلة لأنه يقف في طريق الموجة الرابعة من الديمقراطية، بينما الاسد يقول أن بوش هو المشكلة.

وعليه فلن يكون هناك حل وسط أو حوار حقيقي بين سوريا والولايات المتحدة طالما أن المحافظين الجدد يسيطرون على البيت الأبيض والاسد يرفض الإصرار على تحقيق إصلاحات داخلية جوهرية. حسابات الاسد في لبنان أساءت كثيراً إلى موقفه في العالم العربي، والأهم من ذلك أنها أساءت إليه داخل بلاده.

قيادة البعث في سوريا على حق في افتراضها أن الرئيس بوش سوف يعتنق عاجلاً أم آجلاً فكرة تغيير النظام في سوريا. قد لا يكون هذا هو الموقف الرسمي لواشنطن حالياً لكن جميع الدلائل تشير إلى وجود استعدادات لتبنيه قريباً. فهناك قوانين جديدة تعرض على الكونغرس وتروج لهذا الموقف عن طريق الإصرار على "دمقرطة" سوريا، وهذه القوانين سوف تشق طريقها عبر التسلسل الهرمي لتصل إلى الرئيس الأمريكي دون أي معارضة تذكر، فمن في واشنطن الآن يدافع عن الاسد؟

الإصلاحيون هنا في سوريا يعتقدون أن الاستراتيجية الوحيدة التي يمكن أن تربح سوريا من خلالها هي الخروج من لبنان بالسرعة الممكنة وبهذا الشكل يتم إيقاف المد المتصاعد من مشاعر العداء لسوريا، سواء داخل لبنان أو في المجتمع الدولي.

علاوة على ذلك يرى هؤلاء الإصلاحيون أن على الاسد أن يطلق الإصلاح الداخلي عن طريق عقد مؤتمر حزب البعث بالسرعة الممكنة والإصرار على تغييرات حقيقية في شعارات الحزب "الوحدة والحرية والاشتراكية". كما يستطيع الاسد أن يستغل الأزمة الحالية لصالحه في حال قدم لأمته رؤية واضحة للإصلاح والتقدم. في هذه الحالة فإن الشعب سوف يحتشد حوله لأن السوريين يشعرون بقلق بالغ إزاء عزلتهم الحالية. فهم يرون أنهم يتعرضون لهجوم ظالم من قبل الغرب، وهم يلقون باللوم على الغرب، وليس على الاسد، في الأزمة التي تمر بها سوريا حالياً. إنهم مستعدون للتضحية لو أنهم شعروا بأن الرئيس يملك خطة لإخراجهم من هذا المأزق.

ويضيف الإصلاحيون أن الشيء الوحيد الذي يمكن أن ينقذ النظام الحالي هو تغيير مساره. ففي حال استمر الاسد في تقديم نفسه على أنه عدو لبوش فسوف يستمر في عزلته ، و كما يقولون أن أربع سنوات وقت طويل ولن يكون باستطاعة الاسد الصمود حتى نهاية رئاسة بوش الثانية، وعلى أية حال "هل سيكون الرئيس التالي مختلفاً فعلاً؟".
لكن ما هي فرص قيام الاسد بتغيير المسار ورمي كل ثقله في عربة الإصلاح؟
الفرص لا تبدو جيدة. المتشائمون يقولون أن الرئيس لم يقم بأي مبادرات قوية من قبل ولن يفعل في المستقبل، ويضيف هؤلاء أن الاسد لن يخرج عن إطار دوره الحالي.

أنا شخصياً لا أعتقد ذلك، ولا أعتقد أن من هم في الحكم المطلق لا يملكون القدرة على التغيير. بالعكس، أعتقد أن باستطاعتهم التعلم والتحول إلى صنف جديد ، وقد رأينا ذلك في عدة حالات مثل غورباتشوف، بينوشيه على سبيل المثال. ومع ذلك فإن مثل هذه التحولات الجذرية ليست سهلة، كما أن وضع العلويين كأقلية يجعل الأمور أصعب بالنسبة للاسد ليقوم بالإصلاح. سوريا ليست تشيلي حيث يمكن للدكتاتور أو جنرالات الجيش التقاعد وشغل مقاعد في مجلس الشيوخ. إنها أشبه بمصر حيث تنتهي حياة الدكتاتور عادة بالموت. الخوف من الانتقام حقيقي في سوريا، ويكفي المرء أن ينظر إلى المصير الذي لقيه البعث في العراق. طبعاً الحكومة البعثية في سوريا مختلفة تماماً عنها في العراق، حتى أن البعض يقولون أنه لن يكون هناك أي انتقام.

ربما كان أكثر الامور إحباطاً هو رؤية الحرس القديم وهو يعود إلى الدوائر المقربة من الاسد في الهجوم الذي يتعرض له.

عندما تحرك الأسد لتمديد رئاسة إميل لحود تجاهل نصائح الحرس القديم الذين كانوا ضد هذا التحرك، وكانت هذه طريقة الاسد في تقوية سلطته بين أفراد أسرته والمجموعة الجديدة من مستشاريه للسياسة الخارجية، وقد قلت في ذلك الوقت أن هذا التحرك كان خطأ. أما الآن فإن الاسد عاد للاعتماد على الحرس القديم.

قد يدل هذا من جهة على بداية إجماع جديد ولجوء الاسد إلى إعادة تقييم لسياسته خلال الأشهر الماضية، لكن من جهة أخرى قد يكون مجرد إشارة على وضعه الحالي الضعيف والحاجة إلى إعادة جميع أعمدة النظام، سواء القديمة أو الجديدة، إلى خيمته.

من المبكر جداً أن نتنبأ كيف سيكون رد الأسد تجاه فشل سوريا في لبنان. الإصلاحيون هنا في سوريا ما زالوا يعتقدون أنه سيتحرك بشكل حاسم فيما يتعلق بالقضايا الداخلية، وهم يعتقدون أن هذا هو الخيار الأمثل لسوريا لضمان استقرارها على المدى البعيد. أما المتشائمون فيكررون أنه "كلما تغيرت الأمور كلما بقيت على حالها"، ويرى العديد منهم أن احتمال دفع الاسد للإصلاحات في ظل الظروف الحالية احتمال ضعيف جداً.

At 4/03/2005 04:54:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am sorry..Really this has nothing to do with politics but I am so confused!! Josh Landis You can't possibly be a Syrian...So what is this talk about your son Shaaban and his gran-mother offering a sheep for him and all that, just like arabs do....What is that all about???

At 4/13/2005 01:26:00 PM, Blogger Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

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At 4/13/2005 01:33:00 PM, Blogger Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 4/13/2005 02:10:00 PM, Blogger Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

quoting 12.09
"Lebanon was rebuilt on the backs of syrians. [...] Hence, essential services were undertaken solely by an imported workforce leaving a gap in the lebanese industry. who is available and more importantly WILLING to do these so-called dirty jobs? Find me a lebanese male willing to do this"
--So what? These workers were paid for their job and money rules, not workforce. Lebanon needs worker they can be Syrian or else. Moreover a syrian worker transfers more money to Syria than the an egyptian cause the egyptian must buy his food and clothes in Lebanon. Syria don't need an extra half a million jobless people. Lebanon can always take indians, egyptians to fulfill this task etc... At least there's no mukhabarat there.

"Secondly you mention a quadrupling of foreign investment in lebanon? Do you have any facts to support this or are you simply regurgitating garbage?"
--Key of investment is stability. Syrian occupation is not stability it is immobilism and it is

"anyhow, lets assume you have a slight understanding of what you say, syrian investments in lebanon account for about 1/4 of total bank revenues in lebanon. Pulling those out create an immediate investment deficit"
Those invesments won't pullout because :
--Nobody wants syrian money. The risk of syrian assets being frozen in the US and the EU is high. And the Gulf doesn't need it.
-This money is in Lebanon precisely beacause its owner don't want to have it in Syria. There's no serious banking system in Syria and investments can be robbed by a moukhabarat general anytime he wishes it.

"An unstable land with no government and no guarantor of security will not create a race amongst investors to rush in. "
---What a joke. Syrian regime worsenned if not created the war through arming palestinians. Enough of this hafiz-saved-lebanon urban legend.

"The taif accord was approved by the usa and it has been fine with the syrian presence for 20 years..why all of a sudden change course? "
--I don't care. Syrian regime must go out and freedom go back in. And if you want an answer it's because the USA don't like ur government because USA and Syria have different agenda on Palestine and Iraki. But I don't care. I only want to be free.

"Thirdly, you mention the greed of syrian officials. You forget cellis/libancell, the lebanese electricity company. Lebanese stealing from other lebanese...wheres they syrian hand in all of this? "
--In Lebanon as in Syria, wherever there's security

I don't think that Syria will close the border because it cannot affort to hurt what is left of its economy. Syria is ruled by violent but relatively rational people. Anyway I don't blame the syrian people for anything.

I have seen a lot of posts like the 12.09 one. Some people actually believe that the Baath regime have saved Lebanon and they seem to think in the following way 'the-hurt-my-feeling-and-I-am-going-to-do-the-same'. This is infantile behaviour.

Syria is a very important partner to Lebanon but not its unique partner. Most of the diaspora is in the Gulf or in the West. Our relation with the Gulf are more important because this is where the real potential is. As long as Syria's economy is devastated by its soviet-style management Syria's importance to Lebanon won't match the one of Dubai or of Qatar.

Lebanese know what the Syrian regime is capable of so nobody's really blaming the Syrian people. If something ever united us it is the hatred against Baath regime. Joumblatt, Kassir and Bahia have firmly condemned the attacks who are done by idle persons.

A free and prosperous Lebanon is the best thing that could happen to Syria. A rich Lebanon will help the syrian economy and a free lebanon will give Syria a window to the world (this window is half-closed for now). Syrian people should support the cedar revolution because it's also theirs. With time, you will acknowledge that syria's liberation begun the day Hariri died.

At 8/03/2005 07:04:00 AM, Anonymous 150% Lebanese said...

I am grateful for what Syria has done to Lebanon, and would like to thank it. Assad himself stated that there were a few problems which lead to corruption in Lebanon. Yet this would not have been possible if Lebanese officials themselves did not take part in it. On their head is Hariri and the majority of what is today called the “opposition”. Although I am personally against the regime in Syria, yet Syria was the only country to ever keep carrying the Arab burden on its shoulders. We today seek for the special brotherly relations between both independent countries, with regard to the fact that whatever happens between the borders will have an impact on both countries.


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