Monday, June 06, 2005

The Party Conference - Opening Day: "We Stand United"

The Baath Conference has begun and the President gave the openning speach. The conference is not about change, it would seem, so much as about showing a united front to the Syrian people.

The President's address took no more than 10 minutes. It was followed by the leaders of the various parties of the Progressive National Front giving 20 minute speeches in praise of the president and the roll of the Baath Party.

Most foreign journalists did not attend the conference because they were not allowed to film or enter the main hall to interview politicians. A special room was set up for them some distance away. It included 4 computers and small TV screnes. There was no water, coffee or tea. Many Arab journalists did not attend as well. Syrian journalists felt compelled to attend, despite the bad conditions, in order not to be conspicuous in their abscence. Nicholas Blandford sat with an opposition member to watch on TV. Hassan Fatah and Katherine Zoepf came to my house to watch. Andrew Tabler watched from home. BBC TV was desperate to get a visual of something. They asked if there was anything that would show "nationalism," like a footfall tournament in town. "What can we film?" they asked. Brent Sadler of CNN, planned to come to town with his crew but decided to stay in Beirut to film the more exciting demonstration for Kassir.

This was not done for the foreign press or foreign consumption. It was done to show a united front. Most of the talking was done by the party leaders who didn't belong to the Baath; They praised the Baath and its leadership. Wasal Farha, speaking for the Communist Party, spoke about how they had stood by the Baath in its "thousands of battles" against foreign plots, such as the Baghdad Pact, Suez,......

The President spoke quickly. He openned by defending Arabism. He mentioned that some people called it chauvanistic or racist. "It is neither," he insisted. It is an expression of the broad sentiment of the masses and emerges from their feelings and hopes for the future. The Baath and Arabism is a vehical of popular sentiment.

He than said that foreign affairs would not be discussed at the conference, only internal affairs, and proceeded to talk only about the economy and how Syria needed to up its growth rate and realize the ambitions of the people for a better future. The message is that Syria will not be repositioning itself in the Arab World or getting rid of Arabism. Many people had hoped or discussed the posibility that the Baath would somehow burry itself or carry out its own funeral. The president made clear that was not going to happen.

He did not discuss, the much talked about new party law. The clear message is that democracy in Syria will be confined to the National Progressive Front, whose leaders spoke more than the President. They each attacked the West, foreign pressure and Israel. The President left that task to them.

Westerners will have to see this conference opener as a statement that Syria will maintain its rhetoric and is not making any big shifts in policy. It will not abandon Arabism or Baathism. It will not abandon its steadfast stand against foreign plots and Israel. It will not abandon the one Party state, despite having been forced out of Lebanon and dispite its being under intense pressure from Washignton and the West to redefine its role in the region. Syria is standing firm.

On the other hand, Asad only discussed economic reforms and did not talk about foreign policy. Western Powers can see this as a compormise position. Although Syria will not give up the rhetoric of confrontation, it is trying to give up the reality of confrontation. The government will focus on internal affairs and economic development. National energy is to be directed on internal matters, not on foreign adventures or Arab unity, as it has in the past.

The President hopes to convince his nation that the government is strong and united. It is not about to collapse and the regime is not in disarray, as foreign analysts have been repeating. He also was telling Syrians that he understands the need to fill peoples' pocket books.

It must be remembered that the President already has the Party position papers on his desk. They were written and amended some time ago. The working committees work authrized way back in 2000 at the Party's last epecial congress, convened to nominat Bashar as its leader. What is more, the Party conference lasts only three days. Day one was ceremonial. Day two will be business, and day three will be about wrapping things up and announcing a new leadership, I presume. No real business will actual be done at the conference.

In summation then, The 10the Regional Conference of the Baath Party was called for only in March, when the president addressed the Parliament in order to announce Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon. He needed to throw a bone to the nation to boost moral, so he added the one liner at the end of his address about how he was planning for a "great leep forward" at the soon-to-be-assembled, Baath congress. That is how the idea started.

Then he jammed through the Baath Party elections in one short month and set the meeting for June 6-9. It so happened that UN resolution 1559 was effectively over for Syria two weeks ago. This happened when Kofi Annan stated that the Syrian Army, and apparently, the intelligence agencies had withdrawn completely. Washington was quite upset by the UN's clean bill of health for Syria, and Secretary of State Rice promtly denied that Syria had withdrawn in an effort to preserve 1559 as an instrument of international torture for Syria.

In the mean time, Chirac and Bush had both been repeating that Bashar and his regime had been mortally wounded by the withdrawal and international pressure. They predicted Syrian collapse within a year. Wolfowitz stated that Bashar was not in control of Syria.

Bashar is now putting a strong face forward. He is showing the world that he is in control, that the the government is united and strong, and that the Baath regime will be standing tall next year and the year following.

The message for the West is, "We are not giving up or going away. We have the opposition under control. If you want to deal with us, you must bargain and negotiate. You must offer carrots. If you think we are on the verge of collapse, think again. You are deluding yourself. Hope is not a plan. Syria is not a charitable association."

"If you want full cooperation on the Iraq border, if you want Syria to stay out of Palestinian affaires or Lebanese affairs, you must find a new Syria policy. 1559 is over. America cannot crush us, or isoltate us, or cow us. Above all, it must not plan on our collapse."


At 6/06/2005 12:49:00 PM, Blogger Doha said...

Despite this disappointing conference with regards to prospects for change, Ghassan Tueni's editorial today in Al-Nahar mimicked that of Qassir's style turning up the heat and talking of a Damascus Spring and reminding readers that the era of the Berlin Wall is over.

At 6/06/2005 01:03:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What an idiotic speech he made...
How mediocre, how average, uninspiring...he just seems incapable of seeing the doom he and his party is leading us to...and he seems to sincerely beleive the shit he is telling us...and his spokeswoman bouthaina shaaban talks to us as a nation of idiots....she reminds me of sahhaf, the iraqi information minister who was so widely ridiculed throughout the world.
I am choking and seething with hatred at those commissars....................DAMN!
When will we get rid of our worst trait as Syrians, namely being the most obedient people in the world. How much do we love following the party line? When will we rise up? People seem to be incapable of understanding that change DOES NOT come from the top, but from popular struggle, which we syrians seem incapable of doing...
Syrian in CANADA

At 6/06/2005 01:24:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous,
It is such a great idea of yours to preach popular struggle from Canada. Why don't you elaborate further on how we should be doing that as Syrians living in Syria?
Please comment.

At 6/06/2005 01:24:00 PM, Blogger JAMO said...

Dear Anonymous,
It is such a great idea of yours to preach popular struggle from Canada. Why don't you elaborate further on how we should be doing that as Syrians living in Syria?
Please comment.

At 6/06/2005 02:19:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The european pressures are not serious,the boys of the regime visit the european countries to deposit the stolen billions in the European banks.. Rifaat is responsible for the death of at least 50 000 Syrians and he lives like an emperor in Paris and Marbella spain in total impunity.They are active in syrian antiquities traffic,so our history is sold to the imperialistic world.
I dont think that the europeans,ignore all these facts.

The speech of bashar is an insult to 18 millions Syrians... after having slaughtered and stolen the syrian people, they think that corruption exists because we lacks of morals and ethics.Mr. Assad, look at your relatives and father's cronies from where these billions of dollars? how can a syrian civil servant live with 100 dollars per month this is what your relatives earns in seconds....and you said imperialism ..enough false slogans!

At 6/06/2005 02:33:00 PM, Anonymous Ghassan said...

I did not read the whole transcript of Bashar's speech yet but I read a summary! By saying that Syria "will not abandon its steadfast stand against foreign plots and Israel." Every Arab, Muslim (you don't need to be Syrian) agrees with that statement but to fight I must be free, my country should be democratic, with no corruption in addition of having food on the table!

Several previous comments said exactly what I want to say. The mafia regime (Bashar and cronies) don't know what is going on in Syria! The same thing happened to them in Lebanon, after 29 years of occupying Lebanon, overnight the Lebanese kicked them out humiliated! The same thing will happen to them in Syria when the proud Syrian will unite and demand freedom and democracy!

At 6/06/2005 04:02:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

this is for JAMO:
Look man, i don't exlude myself from what I pointed out to. The fact of the matter is that the reason why I am not an activist for change in Syria is that I am a pussy, scared, a goody-goody, obedient, subservient...yaani I am a TANT...innno i don't have the guts to speak out when I'm in Syria (now i'm studying in Canada). If you look all over the world, other populations were much braver than Syrians in overthrowing their dictatorships. Look at how the Indonesians overthrew Shuharto, the Romanians overthrew Ceaceascu, look at how Marcos and Duvalier and all the other dictatorial regimes were took extremely courageous action from the citizens of these countries to get involved in popular action in order to win their freedoms...on the other hand we syrians are either waiting for a saviour to change the country (which Bahsar isn't, and even if he was, he couldn't change anything). We don't have the braveness of the populations of other countries...we don't struggle, we don't organize, we're a very apathetic people...where are our labour unions, our students, our women, our syndicates? Look at the Iranians and how they're struggling to win their freedom from the theocracy in Iran, look at their braveness!!! Yes we have had lots of repression from the regime in the 80's and 90's, but other people have faced FAR GREATER repression than we have in Syria, and yet they're much more courageous than us Syrians. Another thing is that we tend to be a VERY STALINIST people...there are A LOT OF PEOPLE who justify all the crimes of our regime...just read the website, look at the comments posted by normal citizens, and u will notice how they justify the murder of SAMIR KASSIR on the grounds that he is anti-syrian, they justify the the imprisonment of syrian dissidents on the grounds that they don't follow the party line...they talk about how this country has a blessed president and how we should all support him 100%, and they expect not even 1% divergence from complete dedication to the official government stance....i'm not talking here about the opinions of people in power, i'm talking about the opinions of regular citizens...Another indication of how STALINIST we Syrian people are is the complete justifications given for mass murder....Here in CANADA, almost all of my Syrian friends justify the HAMA massacre, or all the Syrian Arabs Justify the repression of Syrian Kurds on the basis that they aren't really Syrians, and that they ought to be so grateful to Syrians for treating them so well and welcoming them in our country.
Remember, it's very easy to blame everything on the former president...but doing that avoids some really tough questions about ourselves...questions like how did we ever allow the baath to rule Syria for the last 40 years, and to rule the way it did? Wasn't the former president a Syrian? Aren't the soldiers and intelligence officers and torturers citizens of this country? How did it come that our society produced these kinds of people? Its always easy to look away, or to blame others for our problems, and its always harderst to look in the mirror. Could someone like the former president have ruled Canada the way he ruled Syria? My point is we have real sicknesses in our society (just look at how violence is used within houses, or how every child is expected to be fully obedient, look at our tribalism, sectarianism). Unless we look at those problems, we will continue to produce more ASSADS, more KHADDAMS, more RIFAATS, more TLASS, etc. In other words, the regime is to a certain extent a reflection of the people. I know it may be a harsh statement, but I think it's true.
The final thing i wanna say that really pisses me off is when all the party officials say that Bashar has a "vision" of so and so, or he has an "ambition" of achieving this and that, or that he "dreams" of accomplishing the idea that we should care about his "visions" and "dreams" and all that just shows how totalitarian a people we really are...this all reminds me of Bush's "vision" of a palestinian state...i don't understand why we CARE about what these leaders tells us...ofcourse they're gonna talk about their dedication to "peace", "freedom" etc..declarations carry literally ZERO we should stop paying attention to what they say....
Joshua i would like u to comment on what i said here if it's ok, cuz i think i'm pointing to something that's substantial. Also if u think it's substantial, any chance u can post it on the main blog page, to see people's reaction? Thanks

At 6/06/2005 04:49:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ghassan, with all due respect, the "Lebanese" did not kick the Syrian regime out of Lebanon...and the Syrian people won't be able to force it out of power in Damascus either. This is not an excuse to sit idle and do nothing; it's just a matter of fact. The Syrian regime is very entrenched and too brutal. Short of a massive uprising, which requires much organization, coordination and outside support (the first two of which are not possible without security services nipping them in the bud), chances are small.

Based on Bashar's speech today, it seems like this regime won't budge, and this dude lacks the strength, character and will to bring about any meaningful reform to the country. As a Syrian, I hurt and agonize as I say this for the first time, but unfortunately, it will take foreign pressure to kick Bashar Al-Arnab (Rabbit) and his friends and relatives out. Sadly, we, ordinary Syrians, will pay the most for it.

I don't know why I had high expectations of this conference. In my mind, I always knew better, but in my heart, I still hoped against hope. Well, now I'm extremely disappointed and find myself left with bitterness and resentment.

I had been a cautious supporter of Bashar until recently. But over the past year or so, I have been finding myself increasingly opposed to him and his policies. It started last fall with the forced extention of Lahoud's term and increased with all the blunders since. My position is sealed now: I'm firmly in staunch opposition to this confused puppy. He needs to be pushed out. At this point, short of civil war, anything is better than the status quo.

At 6/06/2005 07:57:00 PM, Anonymous David said...

I saw you interviewed on the BBC's Newsnight. Was that the BBC crew anxious to film 'nationalism'? :)

At 6/06/2005 10:41:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

when will the US treat israel with the same standards it treats arabic nations ?

or have the amercian zionists already taken over the US middle east policy entirely ?

Why does the US use its veto again and again to save israel from the security council ?

why do 2 % of americans ( jews )have such influence ? why is over 90 % of the maintream US media controlled by these zionist jews ?
Why do 14 % of americans (afro-americans) have nowhere near such influence to for instance help the african continent , or themselves ?

At 6/06/2005 11:45:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For Cananada: there was Hama and Hama has chilled the people to their bones. The common defense for Hama is that the massacre prevented an Algerian situation.

Control is total in the country; one does not even have room to think. Outside pressure, but not intervention, might have some effect.

Questioning the regime is equivalent to cooperating with the zionists.

If the west took a more balanced view towards Israel its advice might have more chances to be heeded.

At 6/07/2005 02:05:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Syrian in Canada and anonymous...listening to ppl like you gives me hope that there are syrians like yourself out there who realize and understand the gravity of our situation. Sometimes when i come across syrians who are supposedly educated it blows me away that these people can be sympathizers of the assad mafioso. I'm sick and tired of these freakin monkeys...i will support any attempt to overthrow and imprison these bastards from bashar to the bottom. I will personally ship them all back to the villages they came from.

Shami living in Dubai

At 6/07/2005 02:05:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Syrian in Canada listening to ppl like you gives me hope that there are syrians like yourself out there who realize and understand the gravity of our situation. Sometimes when i come across syrians who are supposedly educated it blows me away that these people can be sympathizers of the assad mafioso. I'm sick and tired of these freakin monkeys...i will support any attempt to overthrow and imprison these bastards from bashar to the bottom. I will personally ship them all back to the villages they came from.

Shami living in Dubai

At 6/07/2005 04:42:00 AM, Anonymous Ghassan said...

Unfortunately, Syrians outside Syria are still afraid of the mafia regime. I asked one of my closest Syrian friends why don't you talk about the atrocities of the mafia regime. His response was I have a family there and I don't want them to suffer and also I visit Syria once in a while and I don't want to be put in Jail! The point, don't believe everything you hear from the Syrians, some are still under pressure! But, that will not get them freedom and democracy. If you want freedom, you must earn it! Freedom will not come to you on a golden plate! Wish you luck.

At 6/07/2005 07:18:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wish that we had some sort of an organization outside of syria free of american or european support where we can offer the syrian people a better choice. If anyone knows of any such organizations please let me know, and please bear in mind that I refuse to be a part of something like Farid Ghadry's CIA movement. I'm talking about a purely Syrian organization composed of intellectuals, students, businessmen etc... Thanks

Shami in Dubai

At 6/07/2005 07:35:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

looks like we have a Lebanese Ghassan blogging with himself on Syrian Comment. Man, go struggle for your own liberation in Lebanon and lets see your guts in throwing out your mafio ruling families!

At 6/07/2005 09:23:00 AM, Anonymous Tarek said...

I understand a lot of the sentiments going around this blog. And i appreciate the frustrations expressed over and over again. But what pisses me off is the degree of negativity. Yes the Syrian government is oppressive in many ways; from freedom of speech and journalism to corruption and sub-standard economic policies.

But why can’t you state the good and the bad? Why do you have to paint the image that we are living under the worst oppressive regime in the world? Name me one Arabic country that is more democratic than Syria? God forbid that i am trying to say that Syria is democratic, but i do not know any that are doing a better job than us. For me the most important thing is that our government is sectarian. And if any of you out there are supporting any ethnic/religious parties whether it’s Muslim, Christian, Kurdish or whatever; I hope you suffer some more you racist pigs.

Our government is corrupt but no more corrupt than our neighbors. I am not trying to give you excuses or justifications. All i am saying is look at the Pros and Cons. In the last few decades Our foreign policy has been excellent overall(even though the Lebanon affair had severe mistakes. Syria remained a regional power to be reckoned with, even though we don’t have Saudi Arabia’s oil or Egypt’s population/American support. So under the circumstances i find that a positive thing. Please have no doubt in your mind that the President is in control and will only gain more in the future.
(to back up my point please read this very lengthy but excellent article by Azmi Bshara for Al-Ahram newspaper )

Now what will President Assad decide to do with that control is up for debate and I respect ALL opinions. I think opposition members fail to hit a chord with the public for two main reasons. First, the government does all it can to suppress it. Second, is the lack of real alternative. NO ARABIC COUNTRY WILL BE ALLOWED TO PROSPER OR BECOME DEMOCRATIC so get over that wet dream of yours. The international powers to be will not allow it; so if you are going to have a dictatorship which one would you choose? You have 22 examples in the so-called Arab world….pick one!

At 6/07/2005 11:18:00 AM, Anonymous Hani said...


The issue is not about negativity; it's about being realistic in diagnosing the problem. Syria today lags even the backward Arab World in most measures of human development. A brief summary:

Our political system is more restrictive than ALL of them, now that Iraq is gone. Dissent is dealt with extremely harshly. Despite some improvements, human rights abuses are rampant with torture widely practiced in prisons. There is more political freedoms in Sudan and Mauritania than there is in Syria and their margins are wider than ours, which impacts the vibrancy (or not) of civil society. Our media is pathetic; only Libya's is worse. Our education system is pathetic: our universities don't produce people qualified to join a labor force that add value in a half-modern economy. Look at the text books for such things are Faculty of Commerce (Tijara), as an example. Concepts of finance and marketing, for example, are so backward, they're outdated for the 1950's. Our people are not qualified: they lack skills, training, foreign languages and opportunity. Our economy is pathetic, to put it mildly. The government has killed private initiative and with it what was a vibrant, energetic merchant/business middle class. Today, we have no private sector to speak of. In a country of almost 18 million, there are almost no priviate companies employing over 50 or 100 people and run with modern 20th century (not 21st) management and tools. Our infrastructure is 5th world, not 3rd world. Our GDP per capital is one of the lowest in the Arab World. Even Jordan, a pathetic country that lives on hand-outs has a higher per-capita income than Syria. Look at the services offered to the citizen from the telephones, to roads, electricity, water, not to mention the Internet. The legal system is basically an auction; you get what you pay for. Young people (doubling every 20 years) are hopeless, marginalized, disenfranchised, apathetic, cynical and rightfully so. They're dying for any chance to get the hell out, even if it's to hell-holes like Kuwait or Qatar. In this state of desperation, they're also mentally and emotionally primed to entertain alternative ideologies - e.g. religious extremism or whatever else.

I don't think much of the rest of the Arab World - as societies or political systems. Besides, as with successful companies, governments and societies should "benchmark" against the best, not the worst. But, the sad thing is that this regime (since the early 60's) took a growing and advancing, educated, liberal Arab society and dispossed it, subjugated it and drove it down to the ground. Syria went from one of the most liberal, educated, advanced societies with an industrious population and a rapidly-growing economy to the leading lagard even in the pitiful Arab World.

So, you tell me: am I wrong? Am I pessimistic or realistic in my diagnosis? Please, stop the spit-and-polish of this regime.

Enough is enough. This puppy has to go!

At 6/07/2005 02:07:00 PM, Anonymous kingcrane said...


I have to agree with Tarek. My father is Lebanese, and my mother is Syrian; I have lived over 20 years in Lebanon and, more importantly, over 20 years in Syria. So, I know the "golden" age of both countries, immediately after the Independence.

Then, Syria declined economically (blame it on the union with Egypt, on the huge birth rate, and on the limitations of the state-run economy) while Lebanon declined due to episodic and out of control sectarian tensions. Lebanon has somehow recovered a part of its old luster, but the economy is still light-years behind what it was during the golden age. Syria should reform its economy, but the demographics are a serious handicap. Syrians should make it clear that this is their major preoccupation. The people need bread, not the return of the Syrian National Bloc (the party that gave Syria some of its greatest men) or, more realistically, a spoof thereof.

As to corruption, what you see in Syria also happens in Lebanon, but we Lebanese are more hypocritical about it. When Soleiman Frangieh Senior appointed Saeb Salam as Prime Minister in the early seventies, several "reformers" were made Ministers, and quickly dismissed or pushed aside because they stood against the usual "juicy" deals... Today, there are many many corrupts deals all over Lebanon, implicating many many of our "democratically elected" MPs.

So, you as Syrians should start with economic reform, and this will probably include curbing down corruption at all levels. As to political reform, it will come very slowly, but chi va piano va sano. I am so ashamed of the Lebanese elections this year, I will not give my usual spiel about Syria following the example of Lebanon, where we have freedoms, but feudal lords have ultimate power.

My final point is about how proud you must feel because Syria is probably the last country in the area to overtly defy the US of A, and to show the fallacy of the neo-con agenda. And, please refrain from saying that Syria is the least democratic Arab country, because my answer would be: have you tried living in any of the other Arab countries? I have worked in many, and I hated it.

At 6/07/2005 03:22:00 PM, Anonymous Hani said...


First of all, I appreciate your comments and your insight, based on your experience.

Secondly, I agree with you about the need to make economic reform the top priority. But, economic reform cannot happen without judicial/legal reform, which in turn, is related to some measure of political reform. I'm not asking for Swiss-style democracy, nor do I expect it for Syria; not in the foreseeable future, anyway. As for Lebanon being an example, with all due respect, the Lebanese experiment with democracy isn't one I would salivate over. Lebanon is a country with a lot of freedoms but little democracy. Still...our focus here is Syria.

In my post, I was responding to Tarek, who was complaining about the negativity of us Syrians, as if our experiment since Socialism (1963) has yeilded any positives to cite. I was trying to say that today, what matters is human development, not empty, bellicose rhetoric about independence or defiance. With a sophisticated, literate, skilled population that is adept at the modern tools (media, telecommunication, etc.), you can produce a resilient population and can fight a more effective battle to defend your rights and promote your cause. The reverse is not true; Syria is proof of that. In other words, with a poor, unequipped, unskilled, broken, backward population with a low standard of living, you cannot defend your cause, however strong your belief in it is. You're right, Syrians have stood up most to Western meddling and have remained somewhat defiant, but so what? What have we gained? In reality, we are a poor country and a poor society with a weak army, a backward economy, a dispossessed (and fragmented) population and a low standard of living. The result: we were not able to liberate our lands, the relative balance of power with Israel is growing and our population continues to fall behind in every measure of development that matters!

So, what's the solution? I am sick and tired of insisting about having our own experiement and discounting all that has been accomplished throughout the East and the West of this world. Our government and leaders continue to fart around about our own democratic experiement, our own economic formula, etc. Where are the results? At some point, one has to demand results. Otherwise, if we still don't have any results after 40 years of experimenting, we should shove these clowns aside and follow the true-and-proven formulae that other developing societies have used in Asia and elsewhere. For the love of God, the Baath Congress is still arguing and debating about the use of the term "Market economy"! What modern, functional society do you know of that just allowed modern banking in 2003/4??

What I'm trying to say is that we're behind the curve - BIGTIME! We need to drop all the slogans and stop trying to save face because we don't want to admit that our entire path since 1963 was wrong. It's time for clarity, for accurate diagnosis, for honest discourse and for boldness in charting a new course. We can't do that if we continue to insist that we have had great accomplishments and that the ideology of the Baath is relevant. How can we enable the Parliament to play its role in enacting laws governing the challenging issues of modern life and tackling the mammoth challenges facing us today with the types of human stains that occupy it today? How can a parliamentarian imposed through the Baath party because he's from the 50% 3emmal & falla7een (workers and farmers) deal with issues such as e-government, modern banking systems, positions on cloning, strategic industries, information technology, telecommunications laws, etc, etc.??

We need to lose the ideology - that of the Baath and all the others. We need a very slow, deliberate and evolutionary trajectory toward democracy that is coupled with very quick, serious, radical reform in education. For that, we need a totally new outlook; a vision which our leadership completely lacks today - starting with the "Western-educated" President on down! (Is 1 year in London considered Western education?)

We need a strong will to implement judicial reform that along with economic and education reform can safeguard individual Syrians' rights and those of individual and corporate investors. If the courts can't protect an investor from Rami Makhlouf or some other shark, forget about economic reform; it won't yield results.

Without a radical departure from the policies and rhetoric of the past, we will remain where we are. What I heard yesterday from the President is not encouraging. What I am hearing on a regular basis is depressing. He lacks the courage and fortitude and most importantly, the vision to lead Syria (and Syrians) toward a new destiny. This guy is proving to be a symbol of continuity with some minor changes. What we need is a break from the past and a new course with vision and strength based on the proven experiences of others.

As for your "chi va piano va sano"...noi abbiamo andati troppo piano e non siamo sani! We need to move VELOCEMENTE e SUBITO!

At 6/08/2005 01:02:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hani says : "What modern, functional society do you know of that just allowed modern banking in 2003/4?? "

OK, but we do have modern banking now, don't we ?

May I remind you all that in Syria most things work, like electricity, telephone, public transportation (reliable, safe and cheap and frequent), water, that the vast majority of people is litterate, that we do have freedom of information thanks to the satellite dishes (ok, you still have to be able to afford such a dish), that there is safety (a luxury lost in most of the world), that there are very few drugs and cases of AIDS.

Granted, because of corruption, most people live in poverty, but salaries have been increased, the education system is being overhauled and change is taking place.

The main american beef against Syria is that Israel hates its guts.

Cure the festering wound of Israeli shameless conduct (what, it is going to demolish 1000 homes in Jerusalem and this does not even make the news ?), impose a half decent behaviour on this totally lawless state and you will see Arab attitudes change.

At 6/08/2005 01:44:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't believe that last comment by anonymous...are you kidding me?

"We have brivate panking in syria"

Give me a do 5 or 6 private banks in all of syria make us a functional viable economy?? These banks don't even give small loans for people who want to start a business!? The only function of these banks is for the rich people who had their money in Lebanon to move them to Syria....and for Walid bin Talal to have the neccessary infrastructre to invest billions of dollars...yeah um....35 years too late.

Stop screaming Israel everytime we have a problem!! Is Israel the reason which leads to those backwards henchmen to imprison and torture people because they have different views? Is Israel the reason why every sector of our government from the president down is filthy corrupt?? Is Israel the reason why we have one of the most backwards infrastructres in the world?

Please I can go on forever.

I say:

"Hani for president"

Shami in Dubai

At 6/08/2005 08:48:00 AM, Anonymous Tarek said...


Yes the education system is a pile of horseshit, our economy is in shambles and our government is incompetent and corrupt. But what do you expect? Democracy? If the majority of our population is illiterate and/or idiotic then chances are they would pick one of their “fellaheen” to rule us. It was our government’s job to educate us and I agree they failed us, but that is the reality we face. Syria needs dictatorship, at least for the mid-term, or we would probably plunge into civil war. Maybe it should get worse before it gets better but war sounds to extreme of an option to me.

I hate to use that old dirty word as an excuse but we have to remember that Israel and their friends in Washington have not made it easy for us. I would love to hear your opinion on how you would expect them to allow us to prosper or better yet how to get the Golan back??? Should we forget about it completely and focus on our people and the rest of Syria? Should we ignore that fact that we are in a state of war, invisible, but nevertheless it is war. Our people have suffered too long (from external & internal forces) and given up too much for this cause, and goddamn it whether it was right or wrong we should not turn around and stop now. As for Syria having the worst of everything I would tell you this, I would rather live in Syria (even though I live in Europe at the moment) than to live in Jordan, Mauritania, Sudan, Qatar, Libya, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Bahrain to name a few. And I am sure you would agree with most of this so please spare me the lecture.

This “Puppy” is all you’re gonna have for a while so stop complaining, be realistic and try to think constructively of what we can do together to help our country. The opposition must be heard and corruption must be fought, our internal politics need refurbishing immediately. We need to stop the abuse of these ideals for personal gain, ignorance and backward thinking is our worst enemy so everyone needs to dialogue with an open mind to ALL opinions. But I am sick and tired of hearing about the glory days of the democratic 50’s and how the Baath crushed it. If it wasn’t the Baath then someone else would have done it. Arabs will never enjoy democracy and freedom as long as the west has strategic interest in the region period. And we should never stop struggling these forces. A cowered dies a thousand deaths, a brave man dies but once.

At 6/08/2005 11:47:00 AM, Anonymous Hani said...


With all due respect, your post makes no sense and you're all over the place firing a salvo of themes without correlating them.

1. Sure, the West in general, and Israel and the US in particular, have strategic interests in the Middle East. That's a given. And, I don't fault them for going after their strategic interests. It's up to us to fight for ours. To defend our interests and fight for our cause (independence, liberation, etc.), we have to understand the 'instruments of power'. Today, a war is won and lost before the first bullet is fired. We need information, we need media, we need PR, we need marketing, we need communication. And, for all of that, we need infrastructure and education.

2. Let's not blame everything on Israel and the US. It was our pathetic leadership that tampered with the school books to include "Tarbyeh Qawmiyeh" and other such crap like Hafez Assad's speeches and discussions about socialism in our school curricula. How does that help us defend against Israel or liberate our land from occupation? It was our government who nationalized growing industries and pushed the cream of our businessmen and intellectuals to Lebanon and elsewhere, taking with them their money and expertise. How does that help us guard against Western influence? It was our government which placed criminals like Rifaat Assad and his thugs in positions of power and enabled him to siphon off billions of dollars from our bastardized economy, while killing thousands of civilians. How does that contribute to our just struggle?

Stop the bullshit, for the love of God! There is NO excuse for the failures and the blunders that have gotten us here. Our government, in the final analysis, was more interested in maintaining power and tilting the social "balance" in Syria than it was in fighting Israel or maintaining the "struggle". Set aside education; we agree they destroyed what little there was. For a country so concerned with fighting to liberate its lands, what industries have they built that would generate income to fund the military? What industries does Syria have today - cotton and wheat ?? Is that a strategic industry in the information age?

I disagree fundamentally with all religion-based parties. But, Syria was a moderate, tolerant society before the "secular" (suppossedly) Baath came to power. Their policies have, inadvertently or not, allowed Islamic sentiment to grow in a society and an environment that is not historically been friendly to such ideologies.

Though I understand at a high level the Syrian intervention in Lebanon in 1976, I don't understand the conduct and the policies of Syrian army and intelligence there since. If you take a bunch of educated, capable, Macchiavellan Syrian strategists and put them in a board room, they could not possibly have designed a set of policies to squander Lebanese sympathy and affection among ordinary Lebanese, better than what was accomplished by the Syrian regime. How did that contribute to Arab Unity and the Arab cause?

You say "our people have suffered too long.....and whether it was right or wrong, we should not turn around and stop now". This exemplifies the hard-headed attitude that refuses to acknowledge problems and mistakes and fix them. We are headed toward disaster, and if your definition of disaster is remotely reasonable, we're already there now! This IS the time (arguably too late) to review and change course. Continuing on this path will only produce more ills and problems and delayed solutions will require more dramatic measures that will have far-reaching social effects.

No, my formula is not just to utter that fashionable, magic word: democracy. Like I said in my previous post, we need to move very slowly toward more democracy. We need to move in a cautious, measured way, but sure-footed way and according to a long-term plan, not ad-hoc. This has to go hand-in-hand with a radical, deep overhaul of the education system, so that a new generation of students are trained, taught and initiated into "democratic" ways in classrooms and universities. This means emphasis on analysis not regurgitation. It means emphasis on the process and methodology, not the final answer. It means respect for individual choices and encouraging creativity. It means overhauling the curricula to make it inclusive. For example, stop favoritism in religious teaching. Either teach a general course about all religions or preferably don't teach any. Stop party (Baath) indoctrination in schools. Stop Arab indoctrination and propoganda in media, schools and elsewhere in society. In general, we must accept that Syria is not only Arab and it's not only Muslim. This is not even touching on the technical overhaul of curricula to make it modern and relevant.

From a priority perspective, education reform must take absolute paramount priority, which means that most of the country's resources should be devoted to that effort. An educated, enlightened population can quickly embrace democracy and learn its tools. An uneducated population (though literate, as you say) can be further fragmented and hurt by premature democracy. This is why I am saying that what we need is a quick, radical education reform, a steady economic/legal reform and a slow march toward democracy.

As for Israel, the best way to defend ourselves is by: 1. strengthening and safeguarding national unity (which is not there today). 2. Provide education and opportunity to the people and giving them something worth defending. 3. Understanding the effective levers of power today. This means learning about and using effectively media, PR, information technology, real diplomacy, research centers, think tanks and lobbying, etc. etc. 4. Institutionalizing policy as opposed to this whimsical, ad-hoc chaos that we currently have that makes no sense. Until we get there, the issue with Israel can be placed on the back-burner. Today, we have a de-facto non-belligerence agreement with Israel. In fact, the Golan is the least active 'Jabha" (front) among all since 1974. So, let's continue with that, with an implicit understanding of non-belligerence and focus on internal Syrian reforms. After all, it was Hafez Assad himself who said that if we can't reach a fair deal, we can wait for future generations to resolve the problem. My point is that today, our main and top priority is not the Golan. It's education, it's the economy, it's standard of living, it's reconciliation, it's basic rights and social justice. Once we make good headway on these and others, we would automatically be better equiped to take on the external Israel issue.

As for relations with the United States, Syrians are too simplistic in their understanding of the US, its politics and its system. Sure, the Israeli lobby is strong there, but we (Syrians) bear most of the burden for the lopsided US policy toward Syria. We have a small, but professional, educated and wealthy community in the US. They are mostly cynical and opposed to Syrian policies. If Syria knew how to make use of these US citizens and provide them with the support, they can be turned into an effective lobby for an enlightened Syria. Americans are not inherently anti-Syrian. The American people, for the most part, are a decent, simple people with good values who have their own concerns like everyone else - about their families, schools, healthcare, retirement, etc. They don't know anything about the Middle East and can be influenced either way. Moreover, they are predisposed to sympathize with the underdog, and are, for the most part, fair-minded. Today, the battlefield for the hearts, minds, opinions adn votes of Americans has only one player: Israel. Syria is totally absent. We have no marketing and public relations strategy or even understanding. We have no lobbying, nor do we understand the value of it or how to go about it. We make it impossible to establish or develop people-to-people contacts, to allow research. And, we provide little usable data to anyone crazy enough to try to conduct research on their own.

This puppy represents continuity and the status quo with some cosmetic changes. What Syria needs is a leader with strategic vision and strength to carry it out with determination and integrity. When the outside world sees this, they will respect it. And if it's marketed effectively, we can guard against the traps along the way.

At 6/09/2005 10:16:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The conditions that made it possible for the current leadership to take over need to be changed. Otherwise we can end up with similar problems.

People need to examine and possibly change their beliefs and values before they are ready to remove current leaderships.

Otherwise more of the same. Dynamic instability is probably preferable than Iraq style turmoil.

I don't expect you Josh to be speaking your mind on your own blog as long as you are still in Syria. I do appreciate your efforts to generate ideas.

At 6/10/2005 08:57:00 AM, Anonymous Tarek said...

I think we have strayed from my main point. And that is we agree on what needs to be done and disagree on how it should be done. As the saying goes "It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory" so yes i agree with you revolutionizing our society is what needs to be done. And like many homes in Damascus, Syria's old furniture needs upholstering but I say one couch at a time.

As for that strange language you speak of: Institutionalizing policy, media, PR, information technology, real diplomacy, research centers, think tanks and lobbying. I would say this…are you barking mad? Take it easy man this is SYRIA we are talking about. For every pro-Syrian PR/think-tank online there are thousands that are pro-Israeli. Your making a great point but you are suggesting these things can happen within a couple of years. So please forgive me when I say your living in a dream world. And if you feel an abrupt regime change would bring stability then I would kindly ask you to go see a psychologist because we don’t need to look far to see what can that do to an Arab country.

So the solution must be to keep the pressure on the current government until it adheres to the needs of the masses. I am only being realistic so you can call me a cowered, capitulator or whatever. But this is what I see as the best solution to my country and society without giving up our idealistic values (however distant they may seem). I can’t stress more my agreement with you on what our society needs so I will keep this post short(er). All I am trying to say is that there is no way to get most of it done in the near future and dodge a disaster. So what we (yes you too) must do is continuously push & help the people in power to understand the better alternatives.

You said it yourself “If Syria knew how to make use of these (Syrian) US citizens and provide them with the support, they can be turned into an effective lobby for an enlightened Syria.” Well why don’t you set the standard on that front?

At 6/13/2005 01:21:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We've been pushing for the syrian community in the US and the embassy in washington for decades now to invest in PR firms!! Nobody listened to us as they thought that we had no clue what we were talking about.....well's the year 2005 and Syria is as popular as the Back Street Boys.

Even though Lebanon isn't really the best example out there in terms of a democracy, I still do hope that people in syria are witenessing how beautiful it is to be able to go and make your voice heard and CHOOSE the leaders they want.

Sick and tired of the mafia in syria.

Shami in Dubai


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