Saturday, October 29, 2005

What Washington is Thinking about Syria

NOTE: I will be on al-Jazeera tomorrow (Saturday) night at 10:00 pm Lebanon time and 9:00 Syria time on with Riyad Muhsin Agha and Michel Kilo. The moderator will be Riyad Ben Jiddou - Hiwar Maftuh. I will be speaking in Arabic!! A first for me. I am nervous.

Here is a letter from a friend who is a well plugged in Washington analyst. He asked that I not use his name if I posted this. This is a shame because he is smart. This is the best overview of dominant themes being discussed in Washington. The big question is will there be violent chaos in Syria should the regime collapse. I hope my readers will respond in the comment section so we can get a good cross-section of opinion. Let us know if you are actually a Syrian, who has lived in the country during the last few years. Lebanese perspective is always welcome as well, as they probably know more about the probability and dynamics of violence than others. All views always welcome.

1/ My conclusion is that Washington prefers a weak Syria at the moment

- No insult intended – I have an utmost respect for those in the opposition in Syria – but the alternatives are not yet credible, and opposition figures themselves acknowledge that they are not ready to govern yet. The Damascus Declaration is a good platform, but probably not enough to precipitate change anytime soon. The good news is that Syria is not seen anymore as only a hard security problem in Washington policy circles: thanks to Syrian opposition members inside and outside Syria, and to mediums like your blog, the debate has qualitatively moved forward.

- Washington cannot pull off a new military adventure
The maximum it can do is something along what the Turks did in 1998: use the threat of force to get the Syrians to comply. But it would have a hard time convincing the US military that this will not lead to a new military adventure and contrary to Turkey which had a very specific demand that Syria could meet (and smartly met), the US is embroiled in a major conflict and its list is much longer. Even the hot pursuit option will be carefully examined: its implications could be such (think Laos and Cambodia) that the US military will say no. Where do you draw a line?

The key questions that derive from this conclusion are the following:

- Will Washington consider a Libya-type deal? Maybe, but not anytime soon. The London Times report may or may not have been on target. It does not really matter: it contains the essence of what the US wants short of regime change. If Syria had accepted something along these lines before the Mehlis report (something highly improbable), it would have been called a deal. It did not, and now it will take a new form: UN-sanctioned demands that will be presented by the Syrian government as unacceptable diktats.

Syria lost many opportunities to shape the outcome in previous years: it could have left Lebanon on its own terms, it could have toned down its anti-US rhetoric, it could have better managed its relations with France and the EU, and it could have granted citizenship to the Kurds… The list is long, but Syria did not seize these opportunities and that’s mainly Syria’s own doing.

- Does this strengthen the position of the opposition in Syria? I don’t know. A weak regime vis-à-vis the international community does not necessarily mean that the Syrian opposition will benefit from the new dynamic. A tough sanctions regime would hurt the Syrian people more than the regime (something US officials are aware of), and could bring the people closer to the regime. If the regime were smart, it would try to initiate a rapprochement with opposition figures, but the Damascus Declaration clearly says that the regime is part of the problem, not the solution. And in any case, who honestly believes that this regime can be that smart? We have been hearing rumors about reconsidering the status of the Kurds for the past several years. Today, the news surfaced again. Same for the legal framework regarding political parties. Typical of this regime. But does it have any credibility left with its own people?

- Does this default policy meet Washington’s other needs (i.e. secure borders with Iraq)? Probably not entirely, but under the current conditions, a weak, contained Syria might not be as risk-taking as it currently is.

2/ Examining all the options does not mean that a policy of regime change has been adopted

- Meeting with Ghadry or drawing up lists of names of potential alternatives to Assad does not mean that the policy has been set. A good bureaucrat will always consider all the alternatives: that is the essence of working in a foreign policy or national security bureaucracy. Of course, this administration has clear preferences, but preferences do not always translate into policy, especially in the current conditions. It has moved a long way in recent months.

- People at State and especially the NSC are not the stubborn ideologues one might suspect. And they seem to acknowledge that they don’t know everything about Syria. So far, they have proven very smart, especially on the Lebanon file. And Bolton (not a big fan of his – see D. Ignatius today) does not set the policy! He is a negotiator, not a policymaker. He can say tough things, but those who call the shots are in Washington.

- They also realize that the US is not the only country with leverage over Syria: the role of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Arab states is key. Every time Bashar or Sharaa meets with an Arab head of state, he pretends that all went well even though he has been scolded once again (are Amr Moussa and Ahmadinejad helpful allies?). And France is moderating the US position. A US-French rift would probably jeopardize much of what has been achieved so far.

In short, US officials are playing their hand very astutely. So far, and despite reservations many might have, the Lebanon-Syria file is this Administration’s real success story in the Middle East (along with Libya, for more complex reasons that it acknowledges). The US government will make its best that it remains so.

3/ Damascus is finally coming around the fact that the Mehlis investigation and UNSCR 1559 have become the substance of US policy toward Syria (and also of French and UN policy toward Syria). Or has it?

Syrian officials have long operated under the assumption that both tools were only pretexts to pressure Syria. Once again, they were wrong. Why? Because there are no strategists or foreign policy thinkers in this regime.

Essentially, many agree with Young and Perthes regarding their assessments of Bashar (not always their conclusions): he is no reformer, he has proven immature when it comes to both foreign policy and domestic policy, he seems to be a real believer while his father was a shrewd realist, he has managed to convince some that he has introduced reforms when all he did was to dismantle the business interests of the regime’s older barons to the benefit of his inner circle, that the June Baath conference would jumpstart a new cycle of reform when it actually served as a venue for a non-violent purge to further consolidate power etc…

My (open and speculative, I admit) question for those of you living in Syria and who know Syrian society better than us is the following: what is the potential for violence in Syria?

Recently, there have been many instances of communal, ethnic and religious, violence. My questions are - no insult intended: how violent is Syrian society? Was it brutalized by the regime to a point that it has integrated violence and sees it as a normal tool, or did state violence (Hama, political prisoners etc.) and previous experiences (MB in the 70s and 80s) lead to an intense dislike of violence? Did the regime use coercion smartly? Where do people in the opposition stand? What does Iraq tell us about fractured societies? How fractured is Syrian society?


At 10/28/2005 02:55:00 PM, Blogger Ghassan said...

Here is my opinion. I want to mention that I am Lebanese and have a lot of friends in Syria and had a lot of Syrian school mates in the US. Some of them are MB sympathizers and some are secular.

The Syrian Sunni can't wait to take the power away from the Alawites but I did not sense that they want to revenge! They just want to control the country and rebuild it from scratch!

Now, I have a question. Did anyone get any information about Mubarak's sudden visit to Syria and meeting with Bashar one on one behind closed doors? I heard that Bashar does not know what to do (it shows that he is immature and his advisors are the "yes men" and are afraid to tell him the truth). Bashar is not willing to give up his brother and his brother in law YET! His wife Asma does not want to interfere so she left to London!

At 10/28/2005 03:38:00 PM, Blogger Secular Syrian said...

I am an American of Syrian origin who has visited the country a number of times and seen lots of change.

It seems to me that most ordinary Syrians do not have blood lust or desire for revenge against other ethnic/religious groups. There is a strong secular tradition.

But frankly that doesn't matter. There are enough hateful people that WILL create violence, and like Iraq I suspect that the majority will not intervene to stop it if instability develops.

Since DC analysts seem to be in a learning mode according to your comments, please advise them to consider regional effects. For example, the mountain villages tend to be more happy-go-lucky. Cities differ from each other - you may find for example Aleppo or Hama much more religiously divided than Homs or Damascus.

Also, take the opposition lightly. They will tell you how "oppressed" and "brutalized" people are. But the average Syrian - while facing poor economic prospects and little political freedom - has not been deprived by the regime of cell phones, movies, nice cafes, satellite tv, affordable transportation, and internet access.

We in America think that everyone in the Middle East is screaming for reform. Not true (look at the Egyptian election as an example.) Most Syrian people are reasonably satisfied with the way things are, or at least their apathy outweighs their disgust.

This is not Iraq where people were crushed and broken.

The best thing for the US to do is to keep applying pressure and pushing behind the scenes for a Libya-type scenario, which incorporates a face-saving Golan Heights deal.

Don't make the mistake of thinking that only the regime cares about the Golan Heights. This is tied to the Syrian collective sense of dignity.

We are not going to stop anti-US sentiment and fight the spread of terrorism by asking the Arabs to swallow more humiliation.

At 10/28/2005 03:50:00 PM, Blogger Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

There's nothing to debate here, this piece is 100% accurate. I initially thought that your friend was Michael Young, but it seems that it's not the case.

Concerning the last question of you anonymous correspondent, I would say that violence in Syria is above international standards, but below Iraq's level. All Syrian Christians that I know dislike this regime but are afraid of a regime change.

At 10/28/2005 03:56:00 PM, Blogger Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

Michel Kilo, like Riyad el Seif, is a good guy and I respect him. But as I said in another comment, socialism or rebranded Arab nationalism are not credible alternatives to the current regime.

At 10/28/2005 06:12:00 PM, Blogger no way said...

How violent is Syrian society? probably the least in the middle east. Certainly less violent than every single gulf country and saudi arabia, where violence exists in pretty much every family and where societies are literally tribes with money...less violent than egypt where violence is excessively used in the overwhelming majority of households, and is more deeply rooted in egyptian culture...certainly less violent than lebanon and palestine and iraq who have been involved in more violence than any other countries in the region...

In the case of Syria, I don't think it's as embedded in Syrian culture and society as much as those of other arab countries, but the reason why the regime has been so brutal is that it's just too difficult to rule and control a country as diverse as syria, and thats why brutality had to be used. Rememeber, when Hafez Assad was alive, Syria was waaaaaaaaaaay more tighlty controlled...I remember we used to be afraid that the walls would hear us if we would talk politics...we couldn't even say that there were any problems in the country...we used to not be allowed to admit there is corruption in the country...I mean it was total forced adulation of the regime and the president...similar to saddam and north korea, not as brutal, but really close...probably in my opinion the 3rd or 4th most brutal in the world in Hafez' you can't blame Syrians for not developing a lively civil society...under Bashar there has certainly been an opening...we could probably talk politics openly in a cafe (though observing the red lines ofcourse)...

Syria in my opinion is more fractured than any other society in the middle east...i personally think more fractured than lebanon and more than iraq...
However i think it's the country with the most potential in the region...give it some freedom and it's inevitable that there will be a very lively civil society...

I think an immediate collapse of the regime would be CATASTROPHIC for the people (I say this despite my deep hatred of the regime and it's ruining of our country Syria)...

IF I was making policy at the white house...I would make sure to expose the Syrians involved in the murder of Hariri...if Mehlis can prove without doubt to your average Syrian that SO and SO were the actual people involved in the murder, through evidence strong enough that cannot be dismissed by the Syrian governemnt, then that will be extremely helpful in reducing the people's support for the regime...right now a huge sector of syrian society, in my opinion probably an overwhelming majority thinks that what's going on is a conspiracy to punish Syria for it's "patriotic" and "pan-arab" stands....and definite proof of SYrian involvement will swing the Syrian population against the regime, exactly as Lebanese suspision of Syrian involvement in Hariri's murder stongly turned many lebanese especially Lebanese sunni's vehemently against the Syrian regime...thus the actual exposure of which Syrians were actually involved through undisputed evidence would go miles in damaging the strong indoctrination that presides over syrian society (indoctrinated in beleiving it's a victim and it's the only remaining castle of resisitance etc. etc.).

What I hope the U.S and Europe do is rather than overthrow the regime, that it use this opportunity to make use of the regime's weakness to force it make changes internally. If Maher and Assef Shawkat are indeed indicted, the regime would have NO CHOICE but to open up internally, as it would have lost an incredible amount of internal prestige...and it would be inevitable that people's voices would rise....I rememeber this happening immediately after the death of hariri, people inside the country were talking openly about the lack of leadership in Syria, the void they were feeling in the country, to the extent that it forced the president to give that speech in parliament (an idiotic speech nonetheless), and it forced the regime to make promises of reform in the coming baath conference, because for a moment immediately after hariri died, the regime was worried about the rising voice of the people, where really every household was talking politics openly....what this proves is that an official indictment of the regime would force the regime to open internally...and that's all that the Syrian people want...with just some freedom, you will start to see university movements developing (similar to Iran), you will see Syrian actors and artists and intellectuals fill a huge void that is being currently enforced by the will see labor unions begin to develop, and social movements in general, and remeber these are things which eminiate ethnic and confessional lines and will be a tremendous boost to keeping a territorially united country, and will fill the vacuum that would otherwise be filled by violent groups if the government were to be overthrown immediately.

To conclude, the West should force the governemnt to open up internally, and the way to do that is through it's humiliation and through exposing it's actual involvement in hariri murder, and then just support the popular movements that will inevitably see light of day.


At 10/28/2005 08:07:00 PM, Blogger KINGKIBBEH said...

In response to SYRIAN IN CANADA, I must say your post was perfectly written. I have to admit, at first I didn’t mind seeing a quick collapse of Baby Assad's regime, but the more I think about it the more I realize what it may do not just to Syria but to the entire region. I have always wanted to believe Assad was a true reformer after all the man has had some schooling in the West and has been exposed to Western ways. Assad isn’t some village idiot like Saddam so I expected better from him. However, I have been greatly disappointed with Assad committing mistake after mistake and not realizing that the Cold War real politic way of doing things in his father's days are long gone. Assad may in the end be forced to hand over his brother & brother-in-law for Hariri's murder. By doing so it may be his first step to actually committing some type of reform for Syria. Although I am not Syrian, I would rather see Syria attempt a soft landing on its own rather than see it crash land due to outside influences.

At 10/29/2005 01:34:00 AM, Blogger John Wreford said...

I am British living in Damascuas and married to a Syrian.
A speculative and open question indeed and one I fear will bring a cross section of conflicting answers and no nearer to a sound conclusion, but since you asked.
By nature Syrians and Arabs in general are not violent, any casual visitor will tell you of the gentle humility, yet images of Iraq, Palestine and Hollywood have been spewing from TV sets for more than a generation.
The Arab world is a mans world, machismo is all important, sixty year old taxi drivers will face up too each other in the street, chests inflated and fists poised, rarely do you see a punch thrown, I am British, I know violent society, walking down a dark unlit alley with a group of young men hanging around the corner is not scary in Syria.
This Syrian generation has grown up fearing criticism of the regime; most Syrians will say they cannot change things themselves, there is a great deal of frustration but still most will tell you they do not want change brought about by US influence.
Last March thousands of Syrians took to the streets to demonstrate in support of the government, last Monday saw a similar display, Syrians feel hurt by the accusations and double standards, a sense of national pride rather than support of Asad, in the face of international pressure it seems Syrians will rally in support of the government, it seems the Bush philosophy of you are either with us or against us is one that holds true here also.
Other than the Sunni majority Syria is divided amongst diverse minority groups, on the face of it everyone gets along fine, but if the status quo is threatened then who knows what will happen, I don’t think Lebanon was a violent society before the early seventies.
I am not a violent man but I would fight for my family and livelihood-wouldn’t you?

At 10/29/2005 01:40:00 AM, Blogger shamee27 said...

I am a Sunni Syrian who loves his country dearly.
First of all, I want to know why Christians are so afraid of regime change. Christians have lived amongst Muslims long before the ALAWIS took control of Syria. Were they oppressed? Did the Sunnis abuse them? All this rhetoric that Muslims will oppress Christians once they have seized power is nonsense and propaganda.
I have to agree with ‘Secular Syrian’ that there is a lot of hatred amongst many Syrians toward the regime. However, not all Syrians want revenge. Educated Syrians specifically want to draw a line under the past and move forward .Our country needs every single Syrian (Sunni, Shia, Christian, Alawi....). The first step is to get rid of this brutal and barbaric regime.
One more comment, Syrians do not want a regime that is brought by the Americans since no sane Syrian believes that the US loves them. We all know that the US would ally with the devil himself (e.g. Saudi family) if the devil could serve its polices.


At 10/29/2005 02:45:00 AM, Blogger Joshua Landis said...

Just received this from M. Travis

Let me get this straight. You have confidence in someone that is in tune with Washington's position on Syria and pretends to know a lot about Syria, but wants to ask basic questions on Syria stability to further his position?

This paragraph shows just how ignorant he is of what Bashar is fighting.

"Syria lost many opportunities to shape the outcome in previous years: it could have left Lebanon on its own terms, it could have toned down its anti-US rhetoric, it could have better managed its relations with France and the EU, and it could have granted citizenship to the Kurds… The list is long, but Syria did not seize these opportunities and that’s mainly Syria’s own doing."

Bashar does not have, nor does he pretend to have, the power to shape the outcome of anything. He quit playing the international game years ago when he realized the neo-cons were in power, and were hell-bent on weakening the regime. Countering the neo-cons has become his sole focus. He does not know how much Israel is involved with the Kurds. They are. Is it one person, many? He doesn't know. He does know that there is an Israeli influence there. He knows the PNAC crowd wants regime change solely to weaken Syria. He saw the lies that started the Iraq war. He is watching as the Mehlis investigation as it is being used the same way. No solid evidence to prove Syria is involved, but the U.S. is pressing for a resolution that if Syria doesn't turn over those who killed Hariri, Syria will be hit with sanctions. Just like forcing Iraq to show their (non-existence) weapons, or we will bomb them, we are forcing Syria to turn over 'those responsible' and have no solid evidence they even exist. And this arrogant person says we are doing great on the Lebanese/Syrian front?

Bashar is not anti-US, he is anti-Bush/anti-neocon. There is a big difference. His (the media) rhetoric targets the neo-cons. That is why the average Syrian has no gripe with the average American. If American policy changed tomorrow, the Syrian people would be happy.

You well know that Bashar has reached out to the U.S. He has made it clear that he can help. but it must be done under his terms. Ahl al-bayt a`lamu bima fi'l-bayt..

But as long as arrogance leads U.S. policy, it will fail. Maybe if that person realized that he not only doesn't know basic security questions, but doesn't know what is going on in the streets of Syria and Lebanon, it would be wonderful.

I sum up with this quote from the Daily Star editorial:

"In fact, Nasrallah demonstrated that he is in touch with the pulse of Lebanon when he spelled out to the world an irrefutable fact about the country: There is no way that any Western agenda can replace the popular agenda of the Lebanese people."

Mick Travis

At 10/29/2005 04:12:00 AM, Blogger Innocent_Criminal said...

WOW, it’s a bit dorky but I had this warm feeling inside when I read the comment today. I think this the first time that we have so many serious posters. I can’t give my two-cents right now but will get back on this interesting analysis. Just wanted to give my compliments.

At 10/29/2005 04:26:00 AM, Blogger DamasceneBlood said...

I Agree with Mr. Travis, Bashar has done a lot to extend a hand to the neocons, but of course, they pretty much refused anything he offered. Why? people talk about Bush and the Neocons as if they are really a neutral party bent on restoring democracy and freedom. That is very naive. The Neocon philosophy is the epitome of Right-Wing-Christian and Zionist convergence in goals; namely, the security and supremacy of Israel uber alles.

This can be gleaned very clearly from the criminal document entitled 'A Clean Break', written by the top Neocons in the Bush admin, only the plan was hatched in 1996.

We Arabs need to stop being naive, the 'fitan' are surrounding us from every direction. Unfortunately, most Shiekhdoms, the Bedouin state of Jordan, the drunken Egypt, and now Lebanon have left Syria, Iraq, and the Palestinians to fend for themselves against the vicious Neocon offensive.

Bashar is not the greatest leader we could have (just watch his CNN interview, it was horrible, and Bashar, please fix your lisp, it really hurts your credibility as an intelligent perthon). If we had elections tomorrow, I would vote for Mr. Dardari, who seems to be the only sane and realistic person in the Assad admin (sorry Shara'a, you had your days).

A Syrian living far away (and Mr. Bashar, while I love Syria so much, you and your cronies have made it impossible for educated people like me to work or even voice such opinions inside my country. Maybe you could start there.)

At 10/29/2005 05:05:00 AM, Blogger EngineeringChange said...

1st of all Best of Luck to Dr. Landis on Al-Jazeera! Wish I would be able to watch it.

To add my own imperfect perspective to the question posed, as a Syrian and based on my 5+ years of recent living experience in Syria:

How violent is Syrian society/What is the potential for violence?
- Right now, Syrian society is not particularily violent. But I believe the main reason for this is the heavy hand of the regime. If you took away the regime I worry very much what would happen. Apologizing for generalizing, but I there is a lack of respect with Syrians to fellow countrymen in so many of my personal experiences. Shouting matches escalate to shoving--to fists--sometimes to guns so fast. I feel there is a general lack of respect for human life compared to what I may feel in the West. Things from traffic fights to general disagreements to fights over money all point me in that direction.

-How fractured is Syrian Society?
I think ethnic tensions could be a problem. There is a definite lack of trust of Kurds on the part of Sunni Muslims and Christians. Everybody resents the Allawis. The Muslims don't mix so often with Christians and Christians fear Muslims. In business these things tend to get pushed aside and these things don't even come to the open often (it must be said that the opportunity for confrontation does not come along often either), but it can be frightening when they do.

This potentially combustible mix of ingredients is fairly inert now, but may explode--given a power vacuum and somebody who exploits this. Unfortunately, in large part many Syrians are sheep--they will follow and be herded very easily. (Due to a lack of education that NEEDS to be corrected--which is why I loved "Dardari's no-nonsense criticism of Syria's failing education system" described in "Landis Defends..." Sept 22 2005 post) I fear greatly of a Muqtada Al-Sadr character coming out of nowhere if the regime were to fall. This relates to why I imagine the Christian youth AND secular or so-called 'westernized' muslim youth are afraid of regime change--because of the fear some radical will take advantage of the vacuum and lead Sunni muslims to 'cleanse' the the secular nature of the streets now (that has allowed an alcohol/nightlife to become quite active in Syria) Its a fairly valid fear I think.

But most of the Syrians I know support the regime and have absolute trust in Bashar to reform. (Bashar's portrait rests above nearly every chalk board in state elementary schools, sometimes with "YES" written under the portrait--so what do you expect?) And Sunni Syrians are very patriotic people--of the Syrian nation and also their arab identity and their muslim identity. They realize there is widespread corruption in Syrian politics and business but will trust Marsians from space sooner than to trust Bush and his gang. But as always, there is always respect and love for the American people--just not the American government.

I don't want to put down everyone in Syria--There are so many Syrians who are open-minded and do not care about other people's religion or ethnicity and abhore violence. But the potential mobs scare me. (Witness a couple basketball or football games in Syria and you might see why)

Just my take--tried to keep it short.

At 10/29/2005 06:07:00 AM, Blogger ugarit said...

Dr Landis:

Please send us the link of the interview once it is posted.

Thank you.

At 10/29/2005 06:07:00 AM, Blogger Jasmine said...

Hi its great to see so many people care about Syria and what is happening there. I am a Syrian born in Australia. Though I have spent very little time in Syria i feel Syrian after such a long time under the Assad's have become depoliticzed. The young do not care and they are the future. Those that do care have vested interest, The allawies, the sunni's and other relgious groups. But in my not very educated opinion, because there is no strong well organised opposition where the interests are not representative of all and of what is best for Syria, hence violence in certain if the Assad government falls. the allawies will for sure be part of this violence, just as the Sunni's in Iraq becasue they lost power they are running the insurgencey.

But after my recent visit to Syria I must say that Syrian's are not violent by nature


At 10/29/2005 06:10:00 AM, Blogger Dr Victorino de la Vega said...

Hey I mean like Jeez: first we're told that the whole yellow cake uranium Saddam dossier was cooked in Italy by Berlusconi and his highly imaginative friends at the PR, Propaganda & Public Truth Department of the Israeli embassy in Rome...

And now it's a guy named SCOOTER who's indicted for being the mastermind of the whole Neocon cabalist column within the White House!!

It's high time we sue Vespa Motors Co. if you want my opinion!
Eternally Yours in Liberty,

Dr Victorino de la Vega
Chair of the Thomas More Center for Middle East Studies

At 10/29/2005 07:46:00 AM, Blogger Secular Syrian said...

Wow, these have been really good comments so I will post again.

Most here seem to agree that Syria is not currently violent, but it could become that way if controls are loosened. Spot on. In a way it's no different that the US - ask yourself why looting happens after a hurricane?

If you went around asking Syrians if they would resort to violence or revenge if the regime was removed, you'd get an overwhelming NO. But talk is cheap. Think of the Kitty Genovese case. The real threat is violence and retribution of a few being accepted by the many.

If the regime is removed, count on armed "religious police" charging through the Azizieh and Bab Touma, deciding what should and should not be sold. Do they represent the many? Of course not. But who is going to stop them?

Does the average middle-class halabi want to go to Miami club or Touring Club only to find out that the "religious police" have decided that no more love songs can be sung? No. But again, what's your recourse when there are armed guards standing by the stage.

I think the average Syrian has made that calculation and figured, "this regime sucks, but things could suck a hell of lot worse."

One more note re: elections and democracy, if our policy-making friend is still reading. A true democratic election in Syria, if it ever happened, would be like a Republican Primary - the candidate furthest to the right within the bounds of sanity and practicality will win. Imagine a debate between Bashar and any opponent (wow, imagine that!), on the question of the Golan Heights: "do you think, Mr. Candidate, that Hafez al-Assad was wrong to turn down the deal Clinton offered him in Geneva?"

Syria is not full of liberals. It's full of patriotic, nationalistic, conservative ARABS. If you really want to "change the Middle East", find a way to let them appease the US without selling out or salvaging their dignity. THAT will send shockwaves across the region...

At 10/29/2005 08:48:00 AM, Blogger Joseph ALi Mohammed said...

This all seems to me as pre-arranged comment today. All of a sudden you have so many "comentators" saying nearly the same thing, all in support of what ever nameless Washingtonian has said.

So, what Josh and his American friends are saying is basically that it is America that has maintained the existence of this Assad Regime, and that America is now comtemplating to change it, but is not sure. It is not sure because America cares about the starting of a sudden violence in Syria, and it is so humane that it does not like to see the erruption of hatred and killings in the Syrian streets. America needs to know the psychology of the Syrian people before it lifts its support from this regime it had created and has maintained for the last 35 years. "America is ignorant of the Syrian people tendency for violence or not", and for that it has sent Joshua Landis, and Michael Young, and so many "experets" like them to tell it what to do. All America is waiting for now is a confirmation from these Experts that a regime change will not spark violence, and if that is not the case, than it shall keep the baby Assad in power to help the Syrian people and spare them the killings.

All these new names that appeared all of a sudden today in a matter of minutes or even a couple of hours to testify of their knowledge of the Syrian people makes me wonder how this happened, and whether this is innocent!


At 10/29/2005 10:32:00 AM, Blogger Raja said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 10/29/2005 10:34:00 AM, Blogger Raja said...

M Travis proclaims that he, unlike the anonymous author of the e-mail Josh posted, has a special connection with Syrian and Lebanese ways. Yet, he is gullible enough to quote the following from a dailystar article:

"In fact, Nasrallah demonstrated that he is in touch with the pulse of Lebanon when he spelled out to the world an irrefutable fact about the country: There is no way that any Western agenda can replace the popular agenda of the Lebanese people."

So, Mr. Travis... Mr. Expert on the pulse of Lebanon, tell me exactly what the "agenda of the Lebanese people" is? I am a Lebanese and I am extremely curious! Enlighten me with your wisdom!

Is it liberating Jerusalem? Is it turning the Lebanese political system into a federation? Is it "rebuilding the Paris of the Middle East?" What exactly is this apparently mercurial agenda that I have spent the last ten years of my life trying to figure out, and which the Dailystar claims Mr. Nasrallah is "in tune with?"

At 10/29/2005 11:13:00 AM, Blogger Firas A. said...

I am a Syrian from Damascus. And, since it's relevant for this response, I'm a Sunni - due to family affiliation rather than belief - though I am staunchly secular.

I currently live in the US, but was living in Damascus a couple of years ago, working for a telecom company in Syria, after years of Europe and North America.

I agree with the two people who posted earlier about Syrian society not being an inherently violent one. I do agree that it's much less violent than most, if not all, others in the Middle East. That said, we have to distinguish between 'social' violence and 'political' violence. I was referring to social violence earlier. As for political violence, unfortunately, Syria is as prone to it as others in the region, due to the same political trends and currents affecting our society - the rise of extremism, concentration of power, the increasing polarization of society, etc.

I am 35 years old. I have grown up hearing from my parents and family that everyone (read religious communities) always lived in harmony before Baath came to power. Syrians love to say that. Of course, as I get older, I realize that this is not totally true. In my opinion, there was always some tension under the surface; Baath just brought it up to the surface. Syria is as afflicted by the sectarian disease as Lebanon or the others are. It's a function of history, and an incomplete maturation from the religious state to a modern nation state.

During my stint in Syria, I felt that Syrian society is tending more and more toward religion. There is more extremism than I always remembered there being. Many in the Sunni community sympathize with the message of the extremists, though more emotionally more than rationally. This is due to economic and political frustration and desperation, but also to ignorance and lack of education. Other ideologies have also proven bankrupt and there is a natural sense of "refuge in God". Unfortunately, the message of some of the harder-core elements of the Sunnis is starting to seep into the Sunni mainstream. So, you start to hear some Sunnis blaming Alawis, as an entire community for Syria's predicament. They don't take the time to see that most Alawis are as much victims of the Baath as others are. By "victims", I mean they have borne the cost of the Baath's failed economic and social policies over the past 40 years. Anyway, this sentiment is growing and increasing the schism between Alawis and Sunnis. So, the Alawis, whether pro or against the regime, feel an underlying sense of insecurity, should the regime fall. They fear reprisal by Sunnis, at least the extremists among them. But, if there is chaos, "group think" (or Herd mentality) takes over. The Christians, on the other hand, are in a more difficult position. They are afraid of this rising current among Sunnis. They don't like the current regime either, but it's preferrable to them than the rising religious Sunnis. So, what do they do?

In my opinion, ultimately, the issue is one of extremism vs. moderation. It's theocracy vs. secularism. Education vs. Ignorace. The fact is that the secular and moderate voices in Syria today are not compelling and are not attractive enough to the masses. In my conversations with people, I still believe there is a lot of that tolerance that has characterized Syrians in the past, even in people who carry a more exclusivist message. The fact is that Islamic groups and individuals with religious agendas are the ones most active in society today; they are the ones most heard. Seculars are either ideologues (SSNP & Communists) or ultra-liberals who are out of synch with most Syrians, so their message does not resonate.

Syria is RIPE today for a non-ideological, secular organization (if not party); one that counters the message of Islamists. I think a message of tolerance and inclusion, built on and referenced to our history, is one that can grab traction. The message should also be ethnically-agnostic - i.e. should not promote Arab nationalism, but include all Syrians, based on citizenship (muwataneh).

Unfortunately, such a message is largely absent in today's political landscape. Moderates have no way to go; the only message they are exposed to is Baath vs. Islam. With Baath clearly bankrupt, there is only the Islamic influence at play.

I do fear that in a climate of poor education of the masses, rising poverty and increasing polarization and tension among the communities, a collapse of the regime could lead to serious divisions and violence. This could be exacerbated by others from outside adding fuel to the fire. Unfortunately, we have examples in two of our neighbors in recent history: Lebanon and Iraq.

Firas A.

At 10/29/2005 11:30:00 AM, Blogger Syrian Republican Party said...

No there will be no violence in 2007. No way. Syrians are just gonna thanks the Baathists and supporters everywhere for the great 43 years rule and thanks them in kind.

At 10/29/2005 11:53:00 AM, Blogger qunfuz said...

I'm British of Syrian origin, lived 3 years in Syria in the last decade and have made many shorter visits. I've also lived in three other Arab countries. My wife is a 'proper' Syrian, and most of my family still lives there.
Is Syria dangerous? I laugh when Westerners ask me if they'll be safe visiting Syria. Britain is dangerous, especially at pub closing time. I would feel safe wandering about in any part of Damascus at any time of the day or night. Syria is the country where I've met the most hospitality, and the most courtesy, anywhere.
BUT sectarianism is rife in Syria. Sadly, the Syrians have developed extreme hypocrisy, and you can never be sure what they say behind your back. Once you get to know Syrians well you discover a fierce class consciousness (or snobbery) and a fierce dislike and suspicion of people of other sects. We all know what the question 'where are you from?' really means.
This is the weakness of the Arabs. Look at Iraq. There would be a unified national resistance by now if it weren't for sectarianism. I'm Sunni, but usually refuse to tell people my sect. I'm a Muslim, and I love Christians, anti-zionist Jews, Hindus, any human being who respects me. In many ways I think the Shia are more admirable then the Sunni (they never gave up ijtihad for a start). Anyway, it saddens me immensely when I hear Sunni Syrians say 'mneeh!' when they hear about wahhabis slaughtering Iraqi shia in mosques and market places. And I do hear people saying it.
Sectarianism has probably been made worse by the lack of free political discourse in Syria, but it existed long before the Baath. It is our curse.
It is certainly only a minority in Syria that would want to kill other Syrians, have 'revenge' or whatever, in the event of a regime collapse, but it only takes a minority to get the ball rolling. Once the Sunni/Alawi/Christians/etc have shot your cousin, a lot of good principles go out of the window. And most houses in Syria contain a weapon. So any sudden collapse of the regime would almost certainly lead to bloody chaos, and could destroy the beautiful if tortured remnant of Levantine culture that we have in Syria.
One more thing. The Americans/ Europeans really do need to understand that even people who despise the regime support its foreign policy. Syria has been hacked about enough by imperialism. Every Syrian I have met passionately believes that the Golan must be returned to Syria, that Syria has a duty to help its Palestinian brothers in any way it can, and that the US occupation of Iraq must be opposed, at least politically. Democracy in Syria would not lead to a pro-American government. This is impossible, at least until the US starts condemning Israel for its assassinations, demanding that it dismantle its nuclear arsenal, achieve justice for the refugees, obey international law. The Syrians may be 'mutakhalaf' and stupid enough to be obsessed with sect, but aren't stupid enough to think that corporate/ zionist America is their friend.

At 10/29/2005 12:51:00 PM, Blogger frans said...

I am a student of Arab language and culture at the University of Amsterdam. I also studied history and I have been interested in the Middle East (and Syria in particular) for a long time.

I don't believe Syrian society in general is a violent society. What is a fact however is that Syrian society is divided into several ethnic and religious groups. What we have seen in countries comparable to Syria such as Lebanon and Iraq, but also in countries outside the Middle East such as Yugoslavia, is that a society divided into several ethnic and religious groups can explode much quicker than a homogeneous society. What you need is a few radicals with their own agenda who preach hate and a few bombings and the relatively peaceful Syrian society as we know it now might be history. The regime is in my opinion the only guarentee - at this moment in time - which makes sure this will not happen.

At 10/29/2005 01:43:00 PM, Blogger LeHalabi said...

It is truly refreshing to see the serious commentator back on this blog. It has been a while that discussions since reached this level; keep it on everybody. Also it is nice to see Syrians from all over the planet involved in this discussion.

I’m another member of the Syrian diaspora, based in France; I lived in Syria for my 26 first years and then moved to France a little before the “khitab al kassam”. Since then I have travelled back and forth to my hometown of Aleppo, but not spending more than 2 weeks in a row. I am sunni as far as I was told, but I am a convinced secular; raised in a secular environment surrounded by people of every color and taste. I will try to share my thoughts regarding Josh’s question but again I apologise in advance for my writing style as I not too good at this and I tend to drift sometime  (I’m more into numbers)

Syrians are not violent, hot-headed yes but not violent; we are different from the Iraqis (who have an old reputation of being brutal); I also think we are different from the Lebanese in sense that we are not defenders or believers of ethnic or sectarian sects; I doubt a Syrian will get in a fight for a “taifeh” issue. For a “Ittihad” vs “Wahdah” story maybe; but not for a religious problem. Even people with religious tendencies learned a good lesson from the MB episode in our recent history. Now the fear that a Moqtada el Sadr like figure is to rise and try to stir sentiment could be a concern because we are hot-headed and follow religion unquestioned. But again here we have figures who command respect and who would play an important role in controlling the masses; I think for example of Sheik Ramadan Bouti (he used to have a TV show that even a lot of Christians I know used to follow). Someone like this person could play a vital role in calming the so called “sunni threat”.

This said, I believe that a strong army or domestic control force of some sort is still needed. People need to know that there is some kind of “force” watching over them to remain in control. Unfortunately this still needs to be some kind of undercover force as people have lost a lot of respect in the “police” (think of traffic police for example).

As for Bashar Assad, I used to like him but his disappointing performance has made him lose the support and the benefit of the doubt many had placed in him (me included, and I referred to myself in previous posts as a former supporter of Bashar). This said, I think he is the only person for the time being whom all Syrian will accept as president and take him as an authority. This is our dilemma. During a transition period we would need a figure that would unite all Syrians and this figure does not exist, and the closest we have is Bashar. Every Syrian thinks he is an “Encyclopaedia Britannica” on two feet and that he is a real boss. We do not have leaders bcs everyone (in secret) thinks he is one. During my last visit home (this summer after the Lebanses episode) many people told me how they miss the good old days of Hafez Assad. They told me that at least we had a strong and respected leader (khafeef elzel jameel laken zo el hayba ajmal) but now we have become nobody.

I’m no journalist, my mind is filled with thoughts and I don”t know if I put everything or if I was clear in what I did put down. But this is just my little contribution to this debate: in short:
-No there will not any violence (they said the country will get into a civil war once Hafez Assad dies and nothing happened thank god)
-We need a respected (read feared) head of state;
-Some kind of responsible force watching over the people is needed (at least that’s what they must believe);

At 10/29/2005 01:47:00 PM, Blogger Ausamaa said...

Dear Josh,

As a qualifier to answer your question, I am a Syrian living outside Syria but reguralry visit Syria.

"would there be chose should the regime collaps in Syria?" A very simple question if one begins with the "assumption" that the "collaps" of the regime is a "Possibility". The answer in brief to you question is that I do not believe that the regime is on the verge of collapsing nor do I believe that the Syrian people inside Syria look forward to such a collaps. So no collapse Unless -and a big Unless- the US and Israel mount a sustained military land attack on Syria, then Syria will collapse not in the sense of falling apart but in the sense of having the country absorbing the hit and then organizing and errupting in an organized popular resistance far more leathal than anything you saw in Iraq or Afghanistan. With a definit spillover into Jordan and Lebanon.

But again back to your question, would the regime collaps? Short of the above, NO it will not for the following:
1- Political systems usually collaps when the government can no rule in the same manner, and when the people can no longer tolerate living under such a rule. Which is not the case in Syria.
The people of Syria want a better future than they have now. But they are not desperate. The majority enjoys acceptable living standards -by nieghbouring- standards. They yarn for more oppeness, but they see that Bashar is trying and things are slowly moving forward. Not fast enough for many, but the intent is seen to be there.
2-Many Syrians blame outside pressures for what is hapening and to the negative effects those pressures are having on both the reforms and the development process.
3-Many analysts fail to understand the depth of the ideological and the national componots in the building blocks of the personality of the average Syrian. The notions of anti-imperialism, anti-Israeli, pro-Palestinan, pan Arabism, and a strong sense national pride are paramount components of the Syrian psych.And it is nothing new, we were raised this way.And those are not Baathist concepts enforced by the Baath. They exsisted before the Ba'ath came to power and remained so during the Ba'ath.It is the national psych. Come to think about, Assad, that is president Hafiz, could have gotten the Golan back few years ago. He stuck to his guns and the deal collapsed. It was said to be a good deal by the standards of those who call themselves realists, but he refused. What have stopped him? The above mentioned componots of the Syrian Psych. Add to that, the highly politicized Syrian personality and there you have it.
4- Syrians look around them and take lessons from open "liberlised" Egypt and "democratized" Iraq, and draw their conclusions.
5- Should Syria come under "serious" pressure, popular Arab solidarity with Syria would be ten folds of that with Iraq. After all, admit or not, Assad is not Saddam. While such sympathy will not have material value, yet it will reinforce the will of the people and the regime to resist harder and those pressures will become a "unifying" rather than a "dismantling" one.
6- Even a collapse of the current "elite" of the regime and its replacement by another "elite" (ala-Mauritania) which will definitly be branded as a stooge of the US and will be forced to either take more stiff stands -to gain- legitmacy, or to really crack down on the population.
7- For good or for bad, the options are limited because there is no feasible alternatives in sight. Why?? Not the fault of the regime alone for sure.
8- Syria has shown over the last half a decade an admirable tendancy to survive. It has survived the debacle of 1948, 1967, the stolen victory of 1973, the Iraq-Iran war, the first invasion of Iraq. Yes, situation have arguably changed now, but they are far better than they were at the end of 1967 war and much better than how the nation felt on the eve of Beirut's fall in 1982.

Those are some of the reason why I can not forsee a possibility of a "collapse" of niether the Syrian regime nor Syria which is the real target (as is understood by us Syrian) and not only it's regime.

Well, of course, I belive that myself and any other Syrian may begin to "consider" sacrificing the regime if we belive for a second that the US -based on its long history of caring for and about the Arabs and the Syrians!- has the best interst of the Arabs and the Syrians at the heart of its designs and actions in the area. Untill then, I believe the Syrians will stick to what you call the regime and defend it stubbornely, and the US may very well end with Chairman Bashar Al Assad as the leader of a popular resistance movement, rather than the current President Bashar Al Assad.

Did anyone believe anyone when a lot of people said that the US invasion of Iraq will be big mistake? Apparently No. Does the US want to have another example of "stuff happens", or do supposedly "bright" leaders courageously learn from their mistakes.

In full honesty, and based on what we see from the current US administration each day, the worse is yet to come.For everyone.


At 10/29/2005 06:16:00 PM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...

Mr. Landis,

Thank you for this mature and critical area of the debate about Syria and its future.

The late Havez Assad comes to power through a military coup. Having learnt from the mistakes of others before him, he proceeds to establish one of the most tightly controlled security systems in the ME. Backed by draconian emergency laws, he builds one of the most enduring dynasties even by ME standards. Backed by a constitution that guarantees that only the Baath party can govern the country, he ensures the ultimate control over all walks of life. His control of the country becomes so absolute that Syrians could not imagine being led by a non-Assad. Even death could not change this.
A country of 18 million could not come up with one man over the age of 34 to lead them, so they turned to the next Assad. They changed the consitution to accomodate his tender years. They accepted the fact that he had zero political, military or business experience. His last name plus two years living in London were enough credentials to lead them. In order to ensure the so-called stability that Syrians have come to enjoy and expect, his tougher younger brother and Brother-in-law were asked to protect the P.Palace and internal security respectively. These two gentlemen were so good at what they did that Syrians were indeed able to enjoy their coveted "Amn & Istiqrar". The young leader, meanwhile, fell in love with his "christian Dior/Chanel" wife and proceeded to form a beautiful looking family which was able to deliver to Syria another Hafez Assad.

Over the next five years, the young leader proved to be shockingly inpet. Set below is his brief record:

1- Destroy in 5 years what took his father 25 years to build in Lebanon (this is one area where the Lebanese must be thankful)
2- Fail to even slightly halt the incredible levels of corruption in the economy
3- Effectively turn the country into Syria.Inc with his first cousine Rami Makhlouf as the Chairman/CEO.
4- In order to establsih his manhood, attack the jews of the world in front of the Pope but never on the battle field.
5- Place a disasterly wrong bet on the Iraq insurgency and their ability to beat the world's super power which is now on his doorstep.
6- Instead of carving a role for his country in the future of the new Iraq (his father hated the old one), allow his brilliant foreign minister and his embarassing Bouthiana Shaaban to publicly attack the U.S. on a daily basis.
7- Now that he has established his manhood by standing up to America, trump the Lebanese constitution and renew the term of his hand picked President even if only 3 people in the world thought that this was a smart or sane idea given his blunders above.
8- Decide to eliminate arguably one of the most powerful political figures in the ME.
9- Instead of cooperating to establish his country's alleged innocense, stonewall the investigation by a U.N. commision and refer to them as agents of the U.S. and the west as part of an international zionist/neo-con plot to destroy his beloved nation.
10- Wait till today and for Mubarak to come to Damascus before he appoints an internal panel to probe the Harriri killing. This panel will presumably sit face to face with Maher and Asef and force them to tell the truth (would love to find out the head of this panel).

Dear Mr. Landis,

You are asking your readers to comment on what they think life may look like were this regime to be replaced. Every change in life is, by definition, risky. But doing otherwise, is tanamount to giving the Assad family a Carte-Blanch to rule this country till eternity. Indeed, you can m pose this exact question next year and the one thereafter or in 2050. If it is risky today, it will as risky (if not riskier) in 2050. So are we to accept this regime as the sole alternative till then? With all due respect to the excellent commentaries above, I don't believe that it is useful to speculate on life after Bashar and whether there will be violence or not.

It is simply unnatural for one clan to rule a country of 18 million people for 35 years. Through the use of Emergency laws and incredibly effective internal security they have indeed guaranteed internal security and killed any chance of opposition (some may prefer to call it instability). To be sure, it is very hard to imagine anyone who could have done this particular job better than this regime. Yes, Syria may become less stable going forward. But it will also become more natural. Looking at the above record, Syria deserves better. Let us stop the blame game and examine our own record. Syria is not in this position because of Israel and the Neo-Cons. It is here because its ruling party has failed to deliver on all three of its objectives. It is here because its leadership has been inpet. It is time for change. To think that no one other man out of its 18 million population can credibly lead it forward is an insult to this great nation.

At 10/29/2005 06:50:00 PM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...

My apologies, but I forgot to mention that I am a Syrian who opposes and detests the Muslim Brotherhood and militant Islam.

At 10/29/2005 07:26:00 PM, Blogger EngineeringChange said...

In reply to EHSANI2's well-spoken and well-argued comments: I disagree with your conclusions.

You make a very large assumption in saying that "If it is risky today, it will be as risky in 2050." I really don't like defending Bashar much because pressure on him does get things done but lets not forget:

1. The guy has been in power for 5 years now and it isn't as if he got nothing done. He opened private banks, private school up. All of the old leaders of the past are purged from the regime. Do you really believe that he will get nothing done if given another 5-10 years? A meritocracy seems to be slowly emerging with potential leaders as Dardari and Ayman Abdel-Nour making their voices heard.

2. Now is an especially risky time because of all the violence in Iraq and the Lebanon fiasco. If there was ever a time to have stability now is it.

3. Syria does deverve better and has potential for so much more,but I appreciate the President erring on the side of caution. I believe given 5-10 more years, the economy will open up more, more Syrians will be better educated, and the country will overall be more ready to deal with the responibilities that a free and democratic society brings.

And if a person has family and friends living in Syria I really tink it is extremely useful and relevent to speculate and discuss whether they may be in danger if the regime falls.

Syrian leadership is unnatural now and the leadership has its share of ineptitude, but I still do not want to risk regime-change that may or may not bring progess, but given the lack of alternatives, may more likely throw us in the 'natural' jungle that Iraq is now.

Thats just me though--I'm a big fan of stability.

At 10/29/2005 08:55:00 PM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...

Engineeringchange, You make three very well articulated points yourself.

There is no doubt that if he was given 5-10 more years, he can get "somethings" done. Indeed, most Syrians I know agree with you and think moving slowly and with caution is the prudent thing to do. I, respectfully, dissagree. Syria's demographics are such that close to 200,000 new people enter the labor force every single year looking for jobs. In other words, unless you can create this number of jobs every single year, the country's already alarmingly high unemployment rate will keeep climbing. This is analeagous to a a very sick patient in urgent need of antibiotics being prescribed 2 advils a day. Yes, the advils are better than nothing but they aren't enough for this sick economy. Frankly, I am not sure that most Syrians are aware of how dire their economic future is. We keep being told "give us time and we will get things done". The fact of the matter is we honestly don't have this luxury. Mr dardari, who you champion and who may well be a superb individual is no magician. He has promised a 7% growth rate in few years (currently it is close to 1%). But, he failed to articulate how he plans to do this. In order to elevate Syria to that level, a complete cleansing of the Baath party control of this economy has to take place, and this has to take place yesterday.

On the question of Syrian society and whether it is violant, I cannot accept that a society is genetically born a certain way. Syria is not geneically different than any other. Its characteristics are shaped by its environment. Stability is the bait that this regime and similar ones promise their citizens. They do that because they know people are big fans of stability as you phrased it and for providing with tha they expect you to ignore all their other catastrophic shortcomings. The conventional wisdom is that Iraq is in a mess after Saddam is gone. The implication being that it would have been more "stable" if he was still in power. This line of argument is circular logic and guarantees that these nations will have to accept zero accountability from their leaders as the price to pay for "possible instability"

At 10/29/2005 11:31:00 PM, Blogger said...

Bism Allah Al Rahman Al Rahim

Militant Islam is the last card soon to be the only card to get out of Baathist oppression. Help us free Syria and Lebanon and will help you get Jordan, Egypt, Libya and all the Arabian Peninsula sheikdom, will help you free the land of the Haramain. That is the deal. From then on, all the rest is yours Ummat Al Islam. Personally, I am offended by seeing all these Pyramid and Karnack and other Demonic, diabolic, Pharonic mommies. It is pure evil and nothing except the name of Allah should be enshrined and glorified in Egypt. Moslems should destroy and burn all these idolatrous images and not share the glory and name of Allah with the demonic and devilish images of the Pharos of Egypt and the demonic antiquities. We should turn Egypt into a pure Islamic state that will guide the Moslem world into the brilliant age. Only the name of Allah, the Merciful shall stand high in Egypt and Arabia.

Moslems will never see the glory again until they bring down this demonic and evil symbols in Karnack. For their failure to remove this horrible affliction, all Moslems will burn in hell, eternally, and be denied all those glorious beautiful young madden that are awaiting them. One hundred and sixty seven maiden awaits faithful Moslem who obey Allah commandments and glorify only the Name of Allah in Egypt, Jordan, Libya and the land of Haramain. Allah Wa Akbar.

I am learning Arabic really fast reading the crappy Bayanat and Takarir on the Moslem Brotherhood Website.

At 10/30/2005 12:15:00 AM, Blogger Syrian Republican Party said...

Would be interesting to know how many of these fuckers posting here in support of the Baathists have had any one of the following small list of criminal deeds the Baathists committed on Millions of Syrians for 43 years. More than 50,000 type of Human Right violations committed practically on every Syrian Citizen:

-A family member arrested and tortured.
-A family member arrested and imprisoned for life for logging on the wrong internet site.
-A wife arrested and imprisoned until another wanted family member surrender.
-Half of his family was shot and murdered in front of his eyes.
-A family member that was beaten in away that he is permanently disabled.
-His 12 years old Kid was arrested and imprisoned because he was member of an opposition group 20 years ago.
- He was denied travel
- He was denied Passport
- He was denied University entrance
- He was denied business permit
- His assets were ceased
- His land ceased without any compensation
- And I can go on and on listing all the 50,000 document violations against Syrians committed by this regime. It is easier if you fuckers that are supporting this Baathist regime were to admit to your crime, surrender and make a deal to hand over all the stolen cash and agree to compensate all the injured Syrians. Where you going to hide? Your days are numbered, will get your criminal ass and the ass of all those that supports you.

At 10/30/2005 01:08:00 AM, Blogger sam said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 10/30/2005 01:48:00 AM, Blogger madmax said...

Lebanese guy here. I don't think the Syrian people are violent at all. Read on for details.

I am not sure that one can classify a group of people as violent or non-violent.

But from what I understand about arab stereotypes learned from stories, the Iraqi people are supposedly the most violent in the arab world. Lucky American government to screw with them! Almost every coup that had happened in Iraq in the 20th century was pretty bloody.

When I think abouut the Syrian people on the other hand, I don't think violent. I think shrewd. Hafez Assad's way of thinking very much fit the stereotype of a Syrian: shrewd, sly, not necessarily violent (thu sometimes violent with a purpose i.e. Hama).

At 10/30/2005 04:37:00 AM, Blogger Ghassan said...

Honestly, as a Lebanese, I am very thankful for "selecting" Bashar out of the 18 million Syrians. I think he (and his mistakes) was the reason that we libereated Lebanon from Syria. I wish you luck with your great president!

At 10/30/2005 07:26:00 AM, Blogger lubnan Alkawi said...

i don't think the syrian regime can correct itself and therefore i think its a waste of time to even consider that the assad regime will come good. delaying tactics is this regime's art and the west should act fast. fancy syria setting up a hariri inquiry after 260 odd days! chances are they will find out hat Hariri committed suicide.

At 10/30/2005 07:28:00 AM, Blogger Pragmatist said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 10/30/2005 07:45:00 AM, Blogger Syrian Republican Party said...

Some jerk posted the second comment using our party name. It is not funny. You must be pro or
tech savvy not an amature.We have suspects.

At 10/30/2005 12:11:00 PM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...


When you say "we", you must mean more than the good many Lebanese men and women who took out to the streets. Why now? Why couldn't they do that over the past 25 years? Unfortunately, the only way things change in our region is when the Foreign powers take interest and change their own past strategic policies. It was the fact that W.Bush and Chirac were now watching and taking interest that gave the Lebanese the opening. Syria's leadership of course handed it all on a golden platter in the first place.

At 10/30/2005 12:50:00 PM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...

According to The New York Times, Rami Makhlouf has been residing in Dubai. The report claims that "many people with close connections to the ruling Baath party say his departure underscores the investigations's threat to the Assad family's grip on power". The number one business tycoon in Syria is reportedly worth over $3 Billion. If the report is inaccurate, it is most likely because the reporter UNDERESTIMATED this number. In a country of 18 million and a GDP of $20 Billion, Mr. Makhlouf's business acuman is truly outstanding. Were Bashar to make it through this crisis and end up staying in power for another 10-15 years as some have been advocating (country must give him more time), Bill gates's status as the world's richest man will come under real threat. May be Syria can then boast to the world that it has amongst its citizens one of the smartest and most succesful business brains in the world!

At 10/30/2005 04:48:00 PM, Blogger EngineeringChange said...

I agree EHSANI2, the whole issue with Rami Makhlouf is an absolute joke and shame to Syria. Does anyone know what his education/personal background is? Does he at least have a high school or hopefully--dare I say--a college degree?? Anything to even weakly justify giving him so much huge business in Syria? And the Americans thought their no-bid contract situation with Haliburton was bad...welcome to Syria!

But the silver lining is at least he is doing some good with his businesses--if you have been inside of a Syriatel or 094 service center you can see what I mean. The service centers are very sharp looking and well-run and are even better than places in the United States or Canada. From the outside--and I could be wrong, but these businesses as a whole look to be among the best ran in Syria following an Anerican/Euro model.

And to be completely accurate though, Syria's GDP is closer to $60 billion not $20 billion (which is where Lebanon is)

A good quote that has come to mind:

"I won’t rely on America but I am going to exploit American pressure to realize my goals. Don’t be part of the American project, but you should still position yourself to benefit from it. Allow America to put pressure on the regime and reap the benefits. Don’t participate in America’s project, but don’t fight it. They don’t understand this equation."
Anwar Al-Bunni Aug 7 2005

Bend but don't break is my main priority.

At 10/30/2005 05:11:00 PM, Blogger Fadi said...

Here's my point of view..

Let me start by saying that I totally agree with most of what I read in previous comments by Syrians.. Lebanese people need to look beyond the packaged views they have about Syrian issues based on Lebanese media outlets hypes.

I think the main factor that formed my acceptance of Bashar was the fact that he was not eager for power all his life (unlike his father, uncle, late brother and many other Syrian politicians and opposition figures). This is one main reason that made me believe that he would not rule with an iron fist and the brutality of the regime would be reduced until an acceptable democratic system is in place. This proved to be true the first 18 months or so of his rule (read Damascus spring). I argue that Bashar's "popularity" among many Syrians is due to this same factor (among others).

To be put simply, I read the historical events of the previous 5 years as follows (as I lived them):
1- Hafez died.. Bashar came to power.
2- He had a real will to implement an ambitious (dreamy?) reform plan.
3- The reform plan was on track for the first 18 months or so (Wider freedom of expression, more active and outspoken parliament, closing down political prisons, real campaign on corruption and economic reforms to name a few points).
4- The "old guards" (or more accurately put: "the old thieves" that benefited from the status quo) were crawling into their holes trying to run away with what they got so far. No one of the old corrupt system was willing to stand up to Bashar to defend the Mafia-like system.. why? The legacy of holding the last name ASSAD was holding them back.
4- The future looked bright, Syrians were feeling the changes and the sky was the limit (I remember the political talk shows in Lebanon at the time criticizing their system using Syria as a benchmark! I used to hear the remarks.. "look at Syria" on daily basis on LBC political talk shows). aaaah anyone else feeling nostalgic?!
5- Booom#1... Intifada sparks. Old guards/thieves seize the moment with the good old "no-voice-should-rise-over-the-voice-of-the-battle" rhetoric.
6- Crack downs on outspoken parliament members starts, followed by the "fall of the Damascus spring", halt of the anti-corruption campaign and slow down on political and economic reforms.
7- The struggle goes within the system with alternate waves of easing and tightening of freedoms.
8- Booom#2.. 9/11.. 'nough said!
9- More empowerment of the "old guard" gangs. Less and less movement in the reform track.
10- US war drum rolls for Iraq go louder and louder and the Syrian reform track slower and slower.
11- Booom#3.. Baghdad invaded.. the Americans on the Syrian boarders.. Rumsfeld in the neo-cons start the daily anti-Syrian campaign against Syria, even before the three-weeks war ends.... spectacular SLAM DUNK for the "old guard" camp in Syria.
12- Bashar now looks weak from the old guards/thieves point of view.. they are in the steering wheel... more crack downs on freedoms.
13- The struggle goes on in the inner circles in the top.. grave mistakes start to accumulate... the US neo-cons having a "dream-comes-true" moment.
14- Hariri assassinated.. EITHER one more grave sin by the people in control in Damascus OR some capable secret security system read the tense situation correctly in Lebanon, seized the moment and killed Hariri (where Hizballah and Syria are the real targets) in one of the points of time where Hariri's relation with Damascus is at a low point. Personally, I think the latter possibility makes more sense. After all, in the middle east we have a very well-experienced intelligence system successfully practicing highly accurate political assassinations as a political method in the Lebanese arena since 1982, it has all the reasons in the world to create the current scenario and is the real beneficiary because of this now and in the near future on the Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian fronts).

Now to answer your question Josh:
Violence in Syria if the regime falls has less probability if Syria's geographic location was not next to Israel and Iraq (read US). My point is, I don't think that there is a real possibility of a sectarian violence taking place in Syria if no external players meddles internally in Syria. Arguably, the same would have been true about the Lebanese civil war and the current Iraqi semi-civil war. To conclude of course external players will definitely create tensions and support some parties, sects or ethnic groups with arms and money (US, Israel, Iraqi Kurds, Saudis, Iranians and of course different Lebanese facilitators), so civil war has a highly probable.

Three more less relevant comments:
-To JAM please accept the fact that most Syrians don't share your views of their country and spare us the accusation of "arranged commentary" and other conspiracy theories you keep posting about commentators and about Josh himself!

-To SRP: What kind of suspects do you have? If you need help in your investigations about whose posting in your name.. Mehlis is around ;-)

-By the way these were some of the best comments I've read so far on the Syrian issues (and I read lots of those daily). Keep it up everyone. I've saved an offline copy of this page to my HDD! Thanks Josh.

At 10/30/2005 05:18:00 PM, Blogger DamasceneBlood said...

I also want to add that I really wanted to go back and live in Syria after spending a few years abroad. I didn't just dismiss the idea, I actually went down to Damascus and lived there for about a year. However, poor economic conditions and outlook, EXTREMELY corrupt officials at every level, government-mafia sponsored monopolies, Rami Makhloof and cronies creating, as someone has already stated, Syria Inc., basically an economy within the economy, of course with all the laws being tailored to their needs, have sent me packing. Also, even though leaves sweet memories in my mind, it's just not the same as before: people are moving to the extremes, be it secularism or religion.

Mr. Bashar, if you want your people to respect your so-called-reforms (or not to have contempt for you) maybe you should put your money where your mouth is. Everyone knows that Syria, an Oil PRODUCING country who should be on par with Kuwait and the UAE, is instead being robbed of these billions of dollars. You are directly responsible for these thefts. It's a wonder that you didn't make it to the Forbes top 400 Billionaires (top 20?)

Frankly, this regime and its Baathist clowns and cheerleaders have very little sympathy left for them because they just stepped on everyone on their way to power. Nothing short of core changes, and mass layoffs and punishments for all those bastards will restore our faith in Bashar. But I'm pretty sure he's not capable or willing to conduct any true reform, because frankly, he's part of the problem. It's like having faith that the mafia boss will reform and punish his familia to appease the public. Never happened, never will.

/feels slightly better

At 10/30/2005 05:30:00 PM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...

For the record, the GDP measuremnt that you cited uses purchasing power parity calculations. The official exchange rate used is Syp 11.22
$60 billion means that per capita GDP is close to $3400 which is close to Syp 16,000 per month (way too high). The correct methodology is to use current GDP. please refer to As you can see there, current GDP is at $22 Billion . This means that per capita Gdp is $1,155 (syp 5300 per month) which makes much more sense.

At 10/30/2005 06:46:00 PM, Blogger EngineeringChange said...

aha economics--always interesting stuff. Thanks to EHSANI2 for clearing that GDP figure up.

And it looks like Lebanon has a GDP of $18.83 billion using the same Dept of State website. So Lebanese have almost around 4.3 times ($5000 vs $1155) the per-capita-GDP of Syria! I guess I didn't realize the difference was so big.

At 10/30/2005 08:15:00 PM, Blogger norman said...

I am Syrian Christian from Hama,can you beleive this combination,i was in Syria in 1973 when the MB went on a rampage to make ISLAM the religion of the state theu would have been suxcesfull if it was not not for Hafez Asad ,in the late sevsnties the MB killed many univercity teachers because of the religios affiliation(christian and Alawats)the sunny muslems of syria other than in the goverment did not voice any condemnation of the MB for their deeds,so Syria has a potential for a civel war and the christian will be the first to suffer like they did in Iraq so president BUSH their blood on you .everybody wants political reform as it is the solution to all the ills of Syria, i do not know how accurate that is i live in the US in a state ,i never voted for the president in power that did not prevent me from becoming suxcessfull what makes the US great is not the political system but the economic and the legal systems ,so let summerise to the interested american syria can do the folowing 1-help in Iraq .2 - with peace in the middle east between the palestenians and the israelies depending on the UN resolutions and the compensation of the palestenians there will be no need for resistance so the islamic jihad and Hamas will transfere to political parties 2- the GOLAN HIGHTS have to be returned to Syria in any solution if the US wants stabelity and democracy in the ME they should help syria transfere peacfully to free market democracy with rule of laws without violent transfere of power , i wonder somtimes do all these people who want power know that they have to serve the people andtake care of the to a better future and if they know what prevents the from donig that without being in most advances and charity work is done by private secter in the US no by goverment actualy in the we wish that the goverment will get off our back,i hope the people in syria will recognise that peacfull reform is their only way better future ,do not put high expectetion on US help the US is stuck in Iraq to all syrians remember that th US neocon were planing to attack Syria after Iraq with what was known as go left plan,and if ASad did anything right it was fending that attack then leaving Lebanon before a maJer attack against the Syrian army like what happned in kuwait.

At 10/30/2005 09:12:00 PM, Blogger sam said...

this is a dangerous time for Syria, both the goverment and the people know this, I hope things will not turn to be like Iraq any one who call himself syrian , shoud denounce pressure on Syria, Sanction will hurt Lebanon, since it is surrounded totaly by Syria , Jordan is getting water from Yarmook river,so I doubt both countries will comply by the sanction, you can never trust the kurd to comply either, so sanction will not work, nor it should be threatened, it implies the use of power at a future date, I was born in Syria, I love Syria.
The Syrian people will never like bush more than Bashar, nor will they work against the palastinian,for Isreal, which they hate, and they are looking for the USA troops to leave Iraq, and the Iraqee people govern themself.
Syrians are not a violent society, but when foreign country invades Syria, they will rise to defend it with pride and honor, however I doubt there will be invasion, there is a saying says( me and my brother against my cousin, me and my cousin against the stranger).
Mehlis report weakend Syria, as I read it there is no concrete evidence against the syrian president, but rather an impression, giving concession is a sign of weakness, and it will lead to further concessions.
the president must be strong ,so he will be obeyed,privileged with power so he puts the goverment employee,and citizen aountable to the rule of law, yet he must be electable, trustworthy,responsible and accountable, he also must be thoughtful, wise, and respected by other leaders, he shouldnot put himself in trouble.
murdering Rafiq Hariri was a crime, whoever done it must be punished severly, it is not the result of action of one person, and he died as a martyr, for the betterment of Lebanon, and Syria.
when Bashar came to power, we had great hope, I am sure he has good intention, but he is slow, it appear that he is a spokman for a committee, he needs to be in comand, powerful and decisive, he has time to procede step by step, yet accomplish a lot in six weeks

At 10/30/2005 11:26:00 PM, Blogger China Hand said...

I guess I'm the only one who found the original post kinda creepy. A plugged-in Washington analyst seems to be accummulating data on whether Syria could tear itself apart through sectarian violence. The obvious context for the inquiry would be "If the US pursued an aggressive regime change and destabilization regime against Syria, what are the chances of another Iraq-style debacle?" When it looks like somebody might have an active foreign policy agenda frames a question, push-polls it through a blog to a select audience, and uses the results who-knows-how, it feels a little manipulative to me.

At 10/31/2005 12:24:00 AM, Blogger shamee27 said...

To Firas,
What is the message you were trying to say?
Syrians need democracy but if the Syrian people choose Islam as a way of life (socially and politically) then we should not allow them to have that.
What do we call this? Hypocracy or what?!
If the majority of Syrians want to implement Islam then that what should happen. Someone who is living in the US doesn’t have the right to dictate what should happen and what should not happen in Syria.
One more correction Mr. A people turn back to Islam not because they lack education, not because they are hungry and not because they are disappointed. They turned back to Islam because Islam is the only way forward for all humanity

At 10/31/2005 03:14:00 AM, Blogger Postman said...

I am UK.Have Syrian/Iraqi/Kurd friends.

Extraordinary - no mention of the role of Israel in the future of Syria. It may be unwelcome but it s a fact.

Go back to Perle's of wisdom "Reclaiming the realm" for Netanyahu - they have erased Saddam and reduced Iraq to a seething maelstrom that poses no threat, Iran is till too big a fish to fry so they have re-directed their efforts to the North.

No way will they ever release the Golan Heights .. look at their maps, -non negotiable. The want access to the Jordan.

Hariri's assasination and Mehlis' "report" will now allow the US/Israeli axis to obtain UN cover to browbeat, operate sanctions, even invade (which may be happening a la Cambodia now) - the US military will not take on Iran but happy to cook the pot with Syria.

Meanwhile Israel breathes better that Syrian forces have left, so the score seems to be 1 all at half time.

At 10/31/2005 05:21:00 AM, Blogger PROMISEDLANDSNAKEDAPE said...

Violence surges exactly at the same moment that patience ends.
Justice is evaporating at a fast speed with the new world disorderers.

It is very interesting to see how there is an international "massive" appeal to judge the criminals of Hariri (many more died before him for political reasons but nobody cared), a trial that could even bring a regime to and end, even at the risk of bringing a civil war to the worse enemy of the jewish state, causing hundreds of thousands of civil casualties. But it seems that here the question is MAKING JUSTICE (that of those in power) at any price.

Most surprising is noticing how "Sistematical tortures at Abu Gureib", or "Niger's scandal about testimonies of iraqui arms of mass destruction" both of which have caused some of the biggest tragedies of the last decades in terms of human lives and human dignity are going to be forgotten soon. Even we could ask about "Liberty warship" affair, or "La Belle's bombing" affair in Berlin (Mehlis was the protector of the CIA agents in that trial, what a curious coincidence...).

But the biggest question here is why there is not an "international investigation" on the 11-S "Pearl Harbour" under cover operation ? Even not a single serious investigation has been made independently in the US.

At 10/31/2005 05:28:00 AM, Blogger lubnan Alkawi said...

i have written a comments yesterday and it is still not showing any reason why? do you filter commetns before hand not that my comment was anything not proper....

At 10/31/2005 05:35:00 AM, Blogger lubnan Alkawi said...

by the way Josh. I'm really really impressed withyour site! and i look forward to seeing you speaking arabic tonite! i will have my say tomorrow on your performance

At 10/31/2005 08:50:00 AM, Blogger Nafdik said...

Ehsani2, this is the best analysis I read about Syria for a very long time.

Totally agree with you:
1) Every change is risky
2) Getting rid of this regime will hurt, but the longer we keep it the more it is going to hurt when we take it out.

To put in simple formulae:

PR is the pain Syria suffers from the regime on a yearly basis.

PC is the pain of change.

So far we have suffered PR x 35.

If we change the regime today we will suffer:

PR x 35 + PC

If we change it in 50 years we will suffer:

PR x 85 + PC

Note that PC will not get smaller as proven from experience.

is it less now than it would have been 20 years ago? Have the time improved our love for each other and reduced religious fanatisism?

Of course what you will all argue is that PR < is PA the pain of the alternative.

I beleive this is wrong, but that is nother post :)

At 10/31/2005 09:33:00 AM, Blogger O.D.M said...

Nice post and comments.

I want to reiterate that the syrian regime is weak, the opposition is not credible, and the Syrian population are now facing regime instability in addition to low standards of living. That is a bad combination.

Violence in Syria:

Syrians have been brought up to the notion that if you say something, you will end up like your relative, (I am sure like me, everybody has a relative who is either in some jail, or killed for opposing).

Violence has been rooted out, but I can say one thing. It is up to a point, if you take an average Syrian, you can push him around in various ways, but you can never come near pride, honour, and family. When any of the above is threatened, you press the button up the butttom, and that is very ugly.

The question is, when is family, honour and pride threatened? When you find out that your president have failed you despite all propoganda? or when you think that the reason you borrow money from the grocery shop isn't really that God's will made you made you somebody's driver, it is the screwed up System.

You can always add the small groups of fanatics and idiots who can make life hell if they decide..but lets hope our intelligence is still good enough to curb them.

I think the time is ticking, and more and more Syrians are becoming angry, including myself. With internet and satellites everywhere, and Syrians actually seeing demonstrations that topple governments 70KM south of Damascus, people are asking how, when, why and what the #$%@#$%@# is going on.

My take: Civil Disobedience is the only option, no Syrian approves any western made political party, and we don't want Muslims Brothers in the Hood, we want to practice sound democracy in a sound parliament, and get people to know what debating is. Bashar can stay, if he obeys. If he doesn't he would have to face a nationwide Civil Disobedience, until he answers our ultimatum.

Syria Forever

At 10/31/2005 09:46:00 AM, Blogger Syrian Republican Party said...

We got blabber mouth's, Staticians, Mathematicians and all kind of experts including extraordinary deception campaign experts giving opinion here about change or not change the Baathist regime in Syria. Unfortunatly, it takes only amo and cash to do that.
This is like an excercise in futility for you. There is nothning more we and other like to see than this regime spend the next 5 years doing the same shit been doing for the past 6+37 years. It only going to compound the problems and trouble for everyone, including the Syrian people, and since you are speacking in scientific formulas, you should understand that for every action there is a reaction of equal force.

Good luck to Connie and Bolton today. It is kind of strange that the Israeli Zionist are the most proponent of taking it easy, protecting and keeping the Baathist regime in Syria. It shows you how smart Jews are. That is why for the past 5600+ years, they were able to maintain hold on that dirt hole on the earth crust that is called HAAERTS for less than 140 years in total. Yep, they really know the Middle East and they are the strategists that everyone needs to listen to.

At 10/31/2005 10:32:00 AM, Blogger Joseph ALi Mohammed said...


The U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution Monday demanding Syria's full cooperation with a U.N. investigation into the assassination of Lebanon's former prime minister and warning of possible "further action" if it doesn't.

The United States, France and Britain pressed for the resolution following last week's tough report by a U.N. investigating commission, which implicated top Syrian and Lebanese security officials in the Feb. 14 bombing that killed Rafik Hariri and 20 others. The report also accused Syria of not cooperating fully with the inquiry.

The three co-sponsors agreed to drop a direct threat of sanctions against Syria in order to get support from Russia and China, which opposed sanctions while the investigation is still under way. Nonetheless, the resolution was adopted under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, which is militarily enforceable.


At 10/31/2005 10:34:00 AM, Blogger Joseph ALi Mohammed said...


At 10/31/2005 10:58:00 AM, Blogger Lebanon Divided said...

UN Resolution 1636 passes with a vote of 15 to 0.

The resolution was adopted under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter which is militarily enforceable.

At 10/31/2005 11:41:00 AM, Blogger O.D.M said...

What goes around, btetla3 el bint la imma.

Dr. Landis, is there an electronic version of your Al-Jazeera discussions?

At 10/31/2005 11:49:00 AM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...

The U.N. resolution was a minor and not a major victory to the U.S. Language relating to "Automatic sanctions" if Syria does not comply. That is now essentially subtituted with "Threat of sanctions". The Automatic provision is now replaced with future discussions and resolutions by the security council itself. Given the cirmumestances, this is the best that Syria could have gotten. The firewroks have just begun though. Mehlis will now ask to interview both Maher and Asef at a location of his choosing. He may even ask Bashar himself to testify. Any stonewalling will result in an angry Mehlis on December 15th and then on to the next round


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