Saturday, April 22, 2006

Syrian Relations with Iraq - Better than Ever

I'm back. Sorry for the absence. Travels to Washington last week and bit of flue slowed me down. In D.C., I had the occasion to hobnob with Syrians of many stripes, opposition, pro-government and in between. This is what I learnt.

Syrian Relations with Iraq: Better than Ever

Joshua Landis
April 22, 2006

A little over a month ago, President Asad said that Syria's relations with Iraqi leaders from across the political spectrum were better than anyone could have imagined even three months previously. Syria is quite upbeat about future relations with Iraq. This is not hard to believe as Syrian-Iraqi relations have traditionally been burdened by mistrust and suspicion. Ever since King Faisal took the Iraqi throne in the early 1920s, Iraqi leaders have dreamed of unifying the two countries. Unity dreams only led to bad relations between Arab countries. (This seems to be a lesson of 20th century Arab politics.)

Even during the thaw in Iraqi-Syrian relations during the last years of Saddam, relations between the two countries were not good. Distrust between the rival Bathist regimes, built up over three decades, could not be dispelled in a few short years. With an entirely new leadership in Iraq, the situation is now promising. New possibilities are opening up.

Syria is developing good relations with almost every segment and political faction in Iraq. Syria never had relations with the Shiites, who by and large, hated Syria for being Baathist. This February, Muqtada al-Sadr visited and fell in love with Syria. "He didn't want to leave Damascus," one leading official said with a laugh. Most recently, Jaafari has reached out to Damascus. Few Syrians are deceived that these friendships are anything more than tactical for the moment. It is quite clear that America’s sudden shift toward the Sunnis and its anti-Jaafari policy has motivated Shiites to look to Syria.

If Syria’s good relations with Shiite groups are new, its good relations with Sunni, Kurdish, and Christian Iraqis are not. Barzani, the Kurdish leader, has always been nice with Syria, because Syria extended him protection and refuge for decades when Saddam was persecuting his Kurds and other regional countries were doing the same.

Sunni tribal leaders of Iraq have been making their way to Syria from the outset of the war in 2003. Many came in search of safety; others sent their kids to school in Syria or send their families to hospital there. Many bought houses just in case. There are over 500,000 Iraqis in Syria.

Christian Iraqis have been the most inclined to look to Syria as a friendly country, offering protection and holding out the welcome mat when others would not. As many Iraqi Christians may now be living in Syria as in Iraq. Syria is the one country in the region that is not hemorrhaging Christians, because it has been solicitous of its minorities. But Iraqi Christians will never have any weight in Iraq again. Those that have yet to leave are undoubtedly thinking about decamping. Recently, Syria has announced that it will take in the Palestinian Iraqis who have been trapped along the border areas for lack of passports. Iraq can no longer offer them refuge either.

So long as Washington thrashes around in Iraq, making enemies of one group after another and remains incapable of offering protection to the weak, Syria can count on better relations with Iraqis.

Syria is usually depicted as a spoiler by the US and West. Certainly it played this role during the first months of the War. The description of Syria’s evolving Iraq policy that Abdulla Ta’i elaborated some months ago for Syria Comment, has been confirmed for me by Syrian officials intimately involved in aspects of the country’s Iraq policy.

Furthermore, it has been admitted to me that Syria “miscalculated at every step of the way.” First, it didn't believe that Saddam would fall so quickly, hence Syria encouraged the Jihad that Baghdad sought. Second, Syria reversed its policy of actively assisting the Jihadists over the border once Saddam had fallen and US pressure on Syria became intense. This is because Syria never guessed that Iraqi resistance to US occupation would pick up so swiftly or effectively. Third, Khaddam in 2004 began organizing the Iraqi tribal elements and Sunni Bathists in an attempt to use them to improve bilateral relations with the US. Syria looked at Iraq as a card that could be played to improve relations with the US, not as an end in itself. This was another mistake. Bremer was uninterested in bringing in the Sunnis into Iraqi politics; he disbanded the Army and Baath Party. The US had cut Syria off and was convinced it could solve the terrible sectarian and resistance problems without Syrian help. Rumsfeld and Cheney were adamant about this. The extension of Lahoud’s presidency in September 2004 and the Hariri murder on February 14, 2005 ended whatever efforts Foreign Secretary Powell could still make in trying to bring Syria in from the cold.

“Syria no longer sees Iraq as a means of improving bilateral relations with the US,” I was told. Syria has given up on relations with the US until there is a change of administration. No longer does it see Iraq as a means to improve relations with the US or as a card it can use. Rather, Syria is trying to convert its new relations in Iraq from tactical relationships into something more permanent. It has been working out broader economic plans with its neighbors, which could appeal to Iraqis. Syria is not content to be merely a US spoiler. Instead it is developing a vision of a future Iraq tying Syria together with Iran. It wants stability in Iraq so that new oil and gas pipelines can be built linking the Kirkuk fields to Banyas. In February, Iran and Syria concluded wide-ranging economic and trade agreements, including one to establish energy and transportation links between the two countries via Iraq. Iran is hoping to link up to these lines so it can build both West and East, making it less dependent on the Persian Gulf egress for its production. Egypt is building its gas line into Jordan, which will eventually extend up to Turkey and Europe. If the Iraq line joins this North-South route, Iraq and Iran can play a bigger role in selling to both Egypt and Turkey. This would build a seamless Middle East network of energy lines, giving Iran a greater role as producer, and Syria a greater role as transit nexus.

Turkey has recently become Syria’s biggest trading partner. This week, the Turko-Syrian free-trade pact, initialed two years ago, has been signed and passed through parliament. The relationship will grow quickly. More Turkish investors announced commitments to build in Syria than those of any other country. Iran is also starting up a car assembly plant in Syrian and has announced other investments.

None of this is good for US efforts to isolate Syria and impose a pax-Americana on the region. Both a Christian Science Monitor editorial and quoted me this week suggesting that US interests will be in worse shape in the Middle East by the time it withdraws from Iraq, than when the War on Terror began after 9-11.

This is an anti-America alliance," says Joshua Landis, professor of history at the University of Oklahoma and author of, who spent 2005 living in Damascus. "My guess is that the US will end up in a weaker position than it started. The war on terror has alienated the Muslim countries who now believe that America is the big bad ogre and specter of imperialism.
Today, President Hu Jintao of China arrives in Saudi Arabia, where he is looking for wide ranging oil and gas deals, as well. China is the leading customer of Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil exporter. On the military front, the kingdom reportedly is interested buying modern Chinese-designed missiles, perhaps armed with Pakistani nuclear warheads, to counter-balance Iran. China, Russia, and India are throwing their weight behind the new anti-American alliances in the Middle East in the hope that they can wrest control over much of the region's oil from the US. They believe Iraq’s oil development rights, which are slipping from the grasp of the US, is up for grabs. Even, Saudi Arabia, Washington’s closest Arab ally, is seeking to diversify its friendships by looking East. None of this is good for Washington. It could prefigure a major shift in the balance of power in the Middle East.


At 4/22/2006 04:20:00 PM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...

Syria “is developing a vision of a future Iraq tying Syria together with Iran”

Dr. Landis,

During your short absence, Syria’s leadership has effectively outsourced its foreign policy to the Republic of Iran. I had expected you to post an article on Syria’s relations with “Iran” rather than “Iraq”. Your quote above was the only implicit reference to this fact. “Tying Syria together with Iran” is now the chosen fate of our leader. To be fair, one can argue that Bashar has had no choice. Having lost the traditional support pillars of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Syria’s leadership has made the strategic choice of tilting the ship in the direction of Iran. Rather than “Wahde” with the Arab world, Syria’s Baath has decided that a union with a nuclear Persia is a better alternative. With no apparent help from Egypt or Saudi Arabia to take the pressure off the Hariri investigation, Bashar has decided to throw the dice and use his last trump card. An attack on Syria now is an attack on nuclear Iran. The Middle East has become split just as the Jordanian King had predicted months ago when he suggested that a Shia crescent is being formed. As Bashar gets pushed against a wall, it is the bearded men of Ahmadinejad, Khaled Mashaal, Muqtada Al-Sadr and Mahmoud Zahar who have become the country’s buddies. Never mind that Mr. Mashaal used to be an active member of the Muslim Brotherhood while in Jordan before he was kicked out of that country. The bearded men are now Syria’s best friends and perhaps only allies. While this may make sense for the embattled Presidency of Bashar, is it really a smart strategy for the other 20 million Syrians? I am sure a lot of people reading the forum do enthusiastically support and endorse the country’s increasing love affair with the bearded men. Indeed, some of the posters here have opined that Syria is now stronger than ever. Its best friend has gone nuclear. Its enemy is bogged down in Iraq. Lebanon is still in a mess and Israel has to deal with bearded men in the Palestinian Government. While this consensus seems to be shared my many here, this writer begs to differ. In my opinion, Syria’s leadership has never acted so desperate.

At 4/22/2006 04:25:00 PM, Blogger Alex said...

A NEW ADMINISTRATION, Joshua, can be the solution to all of America's problems in the Middle East.

And to be honest, the work that this administration has done (intentionally or not) might turn out to be usefull eventually. If you get another Clinton type (not another "Clinton") for president, then this time, the Arabs will find his/her Mideast policies to be oh sooooo balanced, compared to the currnet US hardline policies...

Same with the hardline positions and statements coming out of Iran/Syria/Hamas/Hizbollah ... the Israelis might rediscover the need to have peace and peace of mind on the eastern and northern borders.

So let's hope that all those hardliners who did their best to show the other side how much they can hurt or threaten them, are setting the stage for beautifying the more moderate policies that are to come in a year or two ...

At 4/22/2006 04:38:00 PM, Blogger Alex said...


1) there is risk in everything you do in life. Bashar said in his speech few months ago that he decided to stand up to the international pressure, and he hinted that this decision carries with it things that they normally wound not have liked to have or do. You can think of the stepping up of freindship with Iran and the other fundamentalists as one necessary evil, if you like.

I would prefer to remind myself that the region has been through many dramatic alliances and power shifts, Syria being usually in the center of the action. Almost everything is reversible when you can balance it with other alliances. If you don't believe that, ask the magician, Waleed Beik.

I put the blame heavily on the shoulders of all those who gave Syria (or its regime) the set of bad options. They should have expected that Syria would find its current alliance with the Islamists to be more comfortable in comparison. I can't believe their naive assumption, on which they based their Syria policy, which was: Bahsar is weak, he will give up and go.

Last year was pathetic ... I kept wondering if ANYONE knows how to manage international politics anymore.

At 4/22/2006 05:04:00 PM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...

It is interesting to note how the Syrian regime has been able to portray itself as a victim and a target by the international community. We are here asked to put the blame heavily on the shoulders of all those who gave Syria the set of bad options. I urge everyone to separate in his or her minds what is good for Syria versus what is good for its leader. The word Syrians or Syria assumes that its citizens have a collective influence or say when it comes to deciding on their country’s present or future direction. The fact of the matter is that this is a one-man/family show. The decisions that have been taken or likely to be taken are those that are likely to help keep power in the hands of its present leadership. The idea that Syria is an innocent victim attacked by a crazed US administration may sound attractive and comforting. Regrettably, it is an idea that is short on credibility.

At 4/22/2006 05:31:00 PM, Blogger Alex said...

You are partly right Ehsani, I might have sounded too pro-regime.

"The regime" also made mistakes, no doubts. I surely did not imply that eveyone made mistakes except the Syrian leadership.

But we have to be fair to everyone, including the Syrian regime. please remember:

1) They received the lion's share of criticism for their human rights record. More objective analysis would reveal that they are indeed worthy of blame, but probably less than other regimes in the area ... Israel had the worst human rights records (how many innocent civilians did they kill?), Egypt rounds up MB members and supporters in the hundreds and it barely gets noticed. Saudi Arabia? Jordan? ... I am happy there is outside pressure on teh "Syrian regime" but before they want to single them out for pressure and punishment, their efforts need to be more balanced to have a better perception in the area... and to be more effective eventually.

2) They were punished for Hariri's murder from day1 ... whatever happened to Western fairness in not pre-judging? ... where is that stupid pen that all the "respectable" Lebanese, Arab, and even Western newspapers wrote about? it had the proof recorded that Bashar threatened Hariri, no?

When Syrian press publishe stupid pro-regime defense, everyone shake their heads and pitty the backward Syrian press. When Annahar, CNN, or Asharq alawsat publish non-validated anti-Syrian stories, no one complains. WOuld you like to review the list of silly anti-Syrian made-up stories that were circulated the past year?

When Farouk Sharaa gives an interview, every Lebanese newspaper the second day picks on every sentence where he covered up for the Syrian administration's policies .. as if the other western foreign ministers are allowed to give interviews during which they criticize their own governments when they should! ... why is it only the SYrian foreign minister who is expected to speak like an independent outsider, and not like an official?

And I agree with you that "the Syrian Regime" is not "Syria", but it is not this total evil selfish family that rules purely for its own benefit. They surely value their staying in power, just like Mubarak does. Many would argue that the Bush family's current president would do his country, and the whole world a favor if he leaves his seat. He would not. And by the way, Bahsar's popularity is probably higher than that of President Bush right now.

So I agree wih you on most of your points, but the way "the Syrian regime" is singled out for not being a group of saints, is not very appealing to my quest for fairness.

At 4/22/2006 06:45:00 PM, Blogger SimoHurtta said...

Ehsani2 regrets how Syria is seen as a victim. Truth as a matter is that many people in also the west see Iraq, Syria and Iran as victims with rather good grounds. If US foreign policy in Middle East would be honestly promoting democracy, it would be would be understandable to for USA to criticize Syria and Iran for lack of democracy. But USA has been perfectly comfortable to co-operate with Middle East countries, which have been / are in reality less “democratic” as Iran, Syria and Saddam’s Iraq. Obedience to US / Israeli interests has been always the key factor of good relations, not the level of democracy. The aftermath of Palestine elections showed perfectly well that in the end it is not democracy that matters. If the more or less democratic government doesn’t sing the songs USA wants, it becomes a “victim”. USA and EU were able in days to put sanctions on the new Palestine regime, which they have not been able to put on Israel, even Israel has been always in this “sad show” the aggressor and Palestinians the victims.

Are Syria and Iran in the end less democratic than Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan etc? Can people elect the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Jordan? In Iran they at least can vote in elections for their president. Do people in Syria live in better conditions and more free than those millions under Israeli military occupation in the “democratic” Palestine with out borders? Yes they do. Everything is relative and depends from the viewpoint.

Should USA liberate Syria in the same style as Iraq? Bomb the infrastructure in peaces, destroy and fire the security and administrative system, raise ethnic groups against each other etc. I suppose the people of Syria, not even those who do not agree with the present regime, do not want that miserable option. The processes in Philippines, Indonesia, South Korea and now in Nepal show that people can take their democracy back by rather peaceful means. But will USA like the emerging new democratic regime more than those defeated dictators, shahs and kings? In many cases not.

At 4/22/2006 08:28:00 PM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...

We seem to be led to believe that it is unfair to single Syria out as undemocratic since its neighbors do not fare any better. We are also led to believe that since democratic Israel subjects the Palestinians under its occupation to these horrendous conditions, why should undemocratic Syria be expected to treat its own citizens any better? Since the USA botched its Iraq liberation, we ought to reject its help and choose instead of go it alone and take our “democracy by rather peaceful means”. I would love to learn more specifics and a possible timetable before achieving this noble goal.

The US blatant policy bias towards Israel has made it impossible for Arabs to trust it. The Iraqi experiment has not exactly helped its case either. As a result, no matter what the US says or does, the Arab mind has been genetically programmed to mistrust its intentions. The clear winners of this have been the region’s dictators, kings and Mullahs. The losers of course have been their own subjects.

At 4/22/2006 08:53:00 PM, Blogger norman said...

Ehsani,The arab mind mistrusts what the US says because of what the US does and untill the US acts in a fair way with inforcment of international law nobody Arab or non Arab will trust the US buy our products or respect the US like the time of Eisehour,what we need in the US is to change our way of acheieving our objectives from fear of our might to respect of our values and equalities that we have to our minorities most countries admire the US but the policy that the US is following make people fear and hate us and that should change if we want others to follow our example.

At 4/22/2006 09:26:00 PM, Blogger Alex said...


It is sad that this failure in Iraq has given Democracy a bad name in the Middle East. That's partly were I am upset at the Americans. They mixed democracy with Oil and Israeli Interests, and came up with a failure. At the beggining I was a full supporter of President Bush ... I was hoping with his focus he can really revolutionize the middle east a good way.

I notice your primary interest is in punishing or removing Arab dictators. I feel, there are more pressing issues to be dealt with first.

You are right, You won't like my timetable for the democracy project ... 5 to 10 years from now.

Democracy in the Area can be a good thing if it is built on the right foundations and under favorable conditions.

Favorable conditions: taking out the feeelings of injustice that are widespread among most Arabs and Muslims today. Improving economic conditions ... this will reduce the automatic tendency to vote for the most extreme religious party.

Right Foundation: teaching our people some basics ... like respecting other people's different opinions. Not calling them traitors or Kuffar if we do not like their opinions. Promoting the idea that not mixing religion with politics is a good and necessary thing. Otherwise you are almost guaranteed that people will vote along religious and sectarian lines... like you have seen in Iraq for example.

Another needed foundation work: People need to know that revenge is a bad thing. The Syrian Muslim brotherhood wants to be included in the political process, yet they would not remove the Hama banner from their website's front page. If they are waiting for the day to take their revenge, the regime will tell them: "over my dead body"

So, I am for a well designed, focused educational effort for a few years. At the same time, municipal multi-party elections in 2007 ... then 2010 hopefully full elections.

To sum up:

1) the "regime" should be accountable for coming up with a well planned re-education strategy followed by gradual but concrete steps towards democracy (like municipal elections and freedom of the press)

2) the Americans and others are responsible for regaining the trust of the Arab and muslim worlds. Then they can be the help that supporters of democracy would love to rely on.

So I fall half way between president Assad's "my old car can not go any faster", and your expectations that the old car can move ahead at the speed of light.

At 4/22/2006 10:39:00 PM, Blogger qunfuz said...

There are bearded men and there are bearded men. Given the perceived failures of nationalism and socialism in the Muslim world, those willing to take on the pro-American status quo as well as the defenders of tradition tend to be bearded.
The greatest danger of freedom and progress-loving Muslims is sectarianism. It is no accident that the two leaders who have been most publicly raising fears over a disloyal Shia crescent are the two most cravenly pro-American, the two with Israeli embassies. Who are these defenders of Arabism and Sunni Islam? Dear me.
Hamas are Sunni, but they are alied with Shia Iran and Hizbullah as well as Baathists in Syria because of the common anti-zionist goal. Hamas and Hizbullah and the Iranian regime have all to some extent, more than the Baathists, the Jordanians and Egyptians, the Saudis and Gulf monarchies, taken democracy on board. They are also popular because of their service-providing, pro-working class policies.
If there were leaders without beards who had non-sectarian pro-worker anti-imperialist anti-zionist policies they would win popular support too.

At 4/23/2006 12:57:00 AM, Blogger Salim Abraham said...

Dear all,
I think Ehsani knows and understands what he is talking about more than anyone else. And I think I understand what he is trying to get at better than anyone else. Simply, that's because we are both Syrians. None of you guys has lived or experienced 1% of what Syrians did in more than 40 years. Tha Baath regime has not only repressed Syrians politically. But it has also dragged more than 30% of Syrians into poverty. None of you has stood in queues to get bread, vegetables or even napkins in the eighties. I remember the days when Syrians crowded government-run retail stores to get a pack of SYRIAN cigarettes, such as al-Hamra. Syrians deep inside are crying, "enough is enough." That doesn't mean that the US should do it for us. It just means that Syrians must move to change their lives on their own way.
Josh... I am sorry to say that the relation with Muqtada al-Saddr foretells nothing but more backwardness and a last attempt for the regime to survive. Is that what Syrains want? I really doubt.

At 4/23/2006 03:34:00 AM, Blogger Alex said...

Salim it is easy to find tons of faults in the way the Baathists led Syria. You are basically agreeing with President Assad's statement that the Economy is a top priority for the Syrian people. You are also adding, probably, that you don't believe the current leadership is capable of improving the situation, since they are only interested in their own hold on power.

There are opinions, and htere are facts. You are entitled to your opinions, the facts however, are that Syria is not only Damascus or Aleppo .. Syria is also Hassakai, Misyaf,Qurdaha, Qamishli, and Deir Ezzore ... We learned from the Iraqi and Lebanese examples that the area from Lebanon to Iraq (including Syria) requires more than "a new leadership" .. more than "democratic elections" ... As desirable as it may seem, shaking the Syrian system is not something you should experiment with. Even if the regime benefits from this fact, that does not mean it is not a fact ... Change in Syria is no simple task .. I wonder if you realized that there is no single alternative that is acceptable to ALL Syrians

Muslim Brotherhood?
Farid Ghadri?
Rifaat Assad?
Coalition of the above?
Free Elections this year???

None of the above will work. Syria is not ready today. No matter how many grievances you have against the corruption among the Baathists.

I am simply saying that those who want the best for Syria should redirect their efforts towards a reasonable timetable for Democracy, while working tirelessly on building the right foundation I mentioned in my earlier message.

At 4/23/2006 08:30:00 AM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 4/23/2006 08:42:00 AM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...

President Assad regards the economy as the top priority for the Syrian people? Well, that is good to know. One can only imagine what would have happened to the Syrian people had this subject not been his top priority. For the record, by his own admission, his priorities are stability (ie: hold on to power), the economy and then “everything else”. Syria is not only Damascus and Aleppo? Unfortunately, you are right. Have you lately been to your Hassaki, Qamishli and Deir Ezzore? When you do, you will notice that the clock had stopped there for some 30 years. I suggest you don’t make the trip and feel the embarrassment of what this country has been reduced to.

Change in Syria is not a simple task? No kidding. First you wonder that there is no single alternative that is acceptable to all Syrians? Have you bothered to ask yourself the question why? So only Bashar is acceptable to ALL Syrians? Are we led to believe that a country of 20 million has no other man left to lead it? Syria is not ready today? Really? You don’t see viable candidates because the regime has destroyed every possible institution or forum that would be capable of producing such candidates in the first place. The brainwashing of the Syrian brain is so complete that 20 million people are reduced to thinking that there is not a single person amongst them that can lead this country in a better direction. Which institutions can be used to promote a viable candidate? Form a new party? Publish a free newspaper? Own your TV station? Come on state TV and buy airtime to challenge the sitting President? Organize meetings in your living room? Can’t you see that you don’t have so-called other alternatives because the regime has feverishly and masterfully eliminated and destroyed any viable means by which such a candidate would see the light of day in the first place? Stop being so naïve.

At 4/23/2006 09:46:00 AM, Blogger Atassi said...

I totally Agree with your comments. Your are speaking wisdom, and the unmasked truth, Bashar and his team has an impressive track record of so many miss calculations, grave mistakes and the worst in goal in political history.
We can feel the desperations by The "TEAM", betting on the volatile and an unstable Iran, Hezbollah and the Hammas movement to survive the pressure and save the Assad family thorn.
I am afraid Damascus streets will soon be full of posters of Khomeini and other Mullah's.. NO .. This my answer to Alex and the Bashar in the 2007 referendum.. NO THANKS, "WE NEED CHANGE".

At 4/23/2006 11:17:00 AM, Blogger Alex said...

Dear Ehsani and Atassi

You keep trying to prove that the regime needs to be blamed for everything and that the regime has to be somehow wrecked now.

I hope you can tolerate my naivety for a little bit more:

1) When I do not comment on your specifics regarding regime responsibilities and mistakes, it is not because I am blind to what happened and to who who is “to blame” for what happened. I was merely trying to concentrate on the future, not on the past. Last time some inexperienced envoy of some super power decided to play the blame and punish game, he guaranteed the failure of the Iraqi change efforts in the process. When the “baathists” and “the Army” were punished in Iraq, they were forced to become anti-change agents, even if they did not all want to be in the first place. I hope that was a good lesson to all who hate “the current regime”. The current regime is made up of a large number of people, right? They are now in power. They control the Army and they control all peripheral security apparatus. They have millions of Syrians who support their continued stay in power. Their removal “by people revolution” or through other means, will not be supported by the other “dictators” in the area. It could prove contagious to their own people. There is much more than that. The regime has been in power since the 1960s, and even if we “want change now”, its removal is not going to happen by force.

2) So if you want to “convince” the regime to go, then you will have to believe at least that enough elements in the regime are decent people who could be convinced to lose power for the sake of what is best for the country. But you seem to oppose that idea every time I proposed it… they are all certified crooks you believe.

Therefore, you believe this regime is totally and utterly corrupt, and I hope you agree that it is also very powerful in Syria. So since they will not voluntarily leave, and since you will not be able to convince them to leave, and since they will cling to power with all their might if you challenge them today, what is it that you are proposing when you ask for “change now”? …

I learned from David Ignatius and other fine western journalists who visited Syria this year that Bashar is very popular in Syria. For example, when Khaddam produced his new year surprise, people celebrating New year’s eve in one luxury Aleppo club called each other to bring posters of Bashar to post it in the hall … very spontaneous (all Christian teenagers by the way). They were saying “haram Bahsar what this dirty khaddam is trying to do to him”. Even if you know that the regime is not popular at all, even if you believe that Bashar’s popularity is not well deserved, you can not deny the fact that there is a unique situation where the president is popular, and the regime is not. And if you believe that Syrians pretend they like Bachar because they are afraid to say otherwise, then does that tell you anything about their readiness to go into the streets in mass demonstrations demanding the removal of Bashar for example? I think that most young Syrians are complaining about many things, but they are not yet going to part with their argeeleh they smoke and the cell phone on their ear discussing the pretty girl passing by. And I hate to repeat it again, but most Syrians are not ready to risk another Iraq or another Lebanon. Not today.

So what are you proposing more specifically? I totally agree that Syria has many talented individuals who theoretically can lead the country. I know a few myself. However, I can’t forget how many talented individuals ran for elections in the United States, yet none of them ever got more than 20% of the vote. Billionaire Ross Perrot in 1992 had the most positive ratings as an individual, but when it came time to make a decision, the American people decided to stick to an old boring established big party again.

In Syria, I will first agree with you that “the regime” does protect itself systematically by trying to not allow serious opposition institutions to grow. But, moving on from that point, I would like to again hear your ideas for what can be done now, instead of continuing the blame game.

I know that those calling for reforms only got minimal results to show for. This is partly because the forces resisting reform are stronger than the reform forces. Maybe if all of you would move from opposition to refom camp, reform will gain the upper hand. As long as many talents are in the :let's get rid of the regime NOW" camp, the reformists are bound to remain few in numbers, and consequently, ineffective.

At 4/23/2006 03:05:00 PM, Blogger Salim Abraham said...

Alex, I absolutely agree that today is not the right time for regime change in Syria, given the horrors of Iraq. And to tell you the truth, no Syrian political movement could - till this moment -produce a clear vision for change in Syria. The whole movement is all cries in the wilderness. And I assume that you understand why since you really showed a considerable knowledge of the nature of the regime and society there. But, to be more specific, what I am saying is that if Bashar Assad needs to stay in power, he shouldn't seek the protection of the Mullahs in Iran, and ultimately the Mullahs in Iraq. This is a very short-sighted move, which might bring Syria into the core of a global conflict over Iran's nukes. Rather, he should seek the protection of his own people. And believe me I don't hate Bashar or the regime on its own right. The regime can stay as long as it wishes on condition that it either improves Syrians' lives or lets Syrians themselves improve their own lives. It should stop arresting its opponents if it is honest about creating a healthy, democratic national debate about Syria's future. It should stop repressing and banning forums or acting against peaceful sit-ins, which often draw few people. Few really want to change the regime. What most Syrians want is simple some more economic and political freedom. Is that too much for Syrians, Alex?

At 4/23/2006 03:36:00 PM, Blogger Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

Welcome back Joshua.

" An attack on Syria now is an attack on nuclear Iran. "

Iran is not nuclear yet, it has to built its weapons, and deploy them in a manner that can resist a US first strike. It is doubtful that it can achieve this ojbective during this decade.

At 4/23/2006 05:10:00 PM, Blogger George Ajjan said...

If Joshua is correct and Syrian/Iraqi ties will grow stronger and attract popular support, this could hopefully catalize the SSNP to mobilize, as Saadeh's ideology considers Iraq and Syria, even Cyprus, part of the same nation.

I would love to see that happen, because in my opinion, the ONLY hope for democratic change in Syria in the short term is not for more naive, politically immature opposition parties to form, but rather for the SSNP to put together strong slates of candidates in 2007, especially comprised of prominent families in major urban centers. The SSNP has historical legitimacy and seems to have been given a free pass by Bashar, not suprising since some suspect he is more a Saadeh-ite than a Baathist, and (by the way) Anisa Makhlouf was a registered member of the SSNP.

At 4/23/2006 06:23:00 PM, Blogger Alex said...


I totally agree ... most Syrians will be happy for now to see accelerated reforms. I was merely argueing that the best way to convince the regime to push on the gas pedal is to reduce the calls for its overthrow and for punishing its members.

Why is it that Armenians are allowed much more freedom to express their culture compared to Syrian Kurds? Why is Ayman Abdel Noor and Michel Kilo allowed to continue being critical to the regime, but others are arrested?

The regime will allow more political freedoms if it knows the person or party in question does not have an active interest in taking over power.

So, it is not optimal by any stretch of the imagination, but a lot could still be achieved within the reform movement if most opposition decides to be more realistic about its expectations for the near future.

There is no clear line, the "regime" gradually blends into a considerable part of Syria. You can not hate it, you can not punish it, you can not call for its overthrow ... you can only reform it at serious but moderate pace until one day (5 to 10 years) it looks totally different from what it is now.

VOX Populi and Salim:

It does not matter if Iran has the bomb. The new development is that Iran seems to have decided to flex its muscles in the area. But no one is suicidal. Jihad Khazen seems to know from first hand accounts that the Iranians will not go beyond certain limits. There is a lot of theatrics.

Syria always has Turkey to balance the Iranians if it needs to. Turkey is Sunni/Secular, and it has an active interest to what is happening to its south. The Middle East WILL change ... Syria is the downtown of the Middle East and it is only natural that we will have again "the struggle for Syria"

George: the SSNP is indeed a more serious party with considerable support in Syria (and in some surrounding countries) but this option carries with it a lot of complications on the regional level. for the SSNP to succeed, there has to be a new Middle East map ... too complicated for now. But I agree, on the municipal elections level they could be a way for Syrians to elect some serious non-Baathists and give them a try.

At 4/23/2006 08:14:00 PM, Blogger norman said...

Few points ,Syria did not run to the Mullas willingly they did after being abused and pushed by the stupid policy of the US gov ,the so called opposition has no program for Syria except abusing the minoities of Syria and claiming moral superirity for being sunni muslems ,the Us gov has tried force to implement democracy in Iraq and it failed tried appeasment in Egypt and Sauidi Arabia only to find out that the christian of egypt do not have equal rights we still remember that Butros Ghaly was able to become secretery general for the UN but could not become forign minster of Egypt during Sadat rule,Syria will move to democracy but the US will help itself if it helps Syria with a legal System and a free market economy System that will move Syria toward free elections ,i see in the US my children at school learning democracy by example and on a drip by drip bases ,each kid is chosen every week to eat with priciple there is a student of the week in each class ,most likely to sucseed best dressed and many other titles ,these are trainings to accept defeat and to learn how to run for office , in Syria we do not have any of this so people are very hostile when they are defeated and try to take when they are not given what they think it is theirs ,now how important is the politecal system ,in the US half the people do not vote and of the people who vote about one half do not vote for the one in office and do not think that their vote count but all people in the US benifit from the legal system and the free market that is what Syria needs and the US can help Syria if it wants to help itself.

At 4/23/2006 09:23:00 PM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...

A number of posters here have repeatedly claimed that Bashar enjoys very high approval rating from his people. One would have thought that armed with such support, he would have continued to push forward his economic reform agenda. However, the opposite seems to be happening. The recent talk is that the government has “postponed” its decision to lift the economic subsidies on key consumer items like diesel oil, natural gas, electricity, benzene, sugar, rice and bread. This will mean that the government will lose close to 25% of its receipts due to these expensive subsidies. Please remember that this socialist government still needs to create 200,000 jobs per year in order to stop the country’s already high unemployment rate from rising further.

At 4/23/2006 10:08:00 PM, Blogger qunfuz said...

One of the benefits of the SSNP plan would be that it would balance out Sunni and Shia. In theory there could be a Middle Eastern nation comfortable with its diversity (its strength) rather than nations with majorities oppressing minorities, or minorities fearful of being oppressed oppressing the majority. Josh says that attempts at unity have always led to trouble, which is true, but the status quo has also led to trouble. Iraq-Kuwait, Syria-Lebanon, Syria-Jordan, and so on. Those borders are silly ones. No, I'm not justifying powerful dictatorships occupying or bullying their weaker smaller neighbours, but I am saying that having lots of ministates makes the entire region weak and fills the pockets of lots of useless bureaucratic or military ruling classes. The SSNP idea is more realistic than the Arab nation from the Ocean to the Gulf idea. I'd love to see it happen. But we need a lot more democracy and better educated people first. If Iraq can't govern itself because the political class is squabbling for crumbs, how can we have greater unity. And if the people ever sort themselves out, then we'll have the big powers to deal with. The coming shift of power in the world would be a good time for the people to exercise their power, but regrettably I think this will come too early, and the people will notbe ready.

At 4/23/2006 10:54:00 PM, Blogger majedkhaldoon said...

the most important news , as far as Syria, is brammertz report, when it comes and Syria is officially accused of the murder of Hariri,this is going to be followed by security council recommendations, and the establishment of a court ,somewhere, to conduct the trial then the regime in Syria will be in major trouble.Iran news will cause trouble to Bush, the oil will hit $100 in july and bush popularity will sink below 30%

At 4/23/2006 11:33:00 PM, Blogger Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 4/23/2006 11:37:00 PM, Blogger shlemazl said...

Interesting post.

'The war on terror has alienated the Muslim countries who now believe that America is the big bad ogre and specter of imperialism.'

What's new here? Why was there "war on terror" in the first place?

At 4/23/2006 11:38:00 PM, Blogger syrianjuice said...

I've never posted here before, but i'm gonna throw in my 2 cents. I am more in line with Ehsani's view, i cannot remain a Bashar apologist like many in this forum till today. When some suggest that the blame game doesn't offer solutions, it is like a coverup to not hold those in power accountable to the tragedies Syria faces today. I am to some degree appalled that Syrians are still willing to put up with that crap that Bashar is a reformist. And for those who think Dardari is this great technocrat and that FDI is a great achievement for Syria, i would like to ask you, who is benefitting? It is only this group of corrupt elites who made their gains with the regime's hold on power. So when whenever you hear some kuwaiti guy is going to invest 10 million dollars, remember to check who his partners inside the country are. Also remember the tax havens that all these investors are recieving, and for what? To build 50 million dollar compounds that the rich can only afford and the majority of the population will never see? I am for regime change but i am hopeless. I think the economy is the imperative task ahead, but i dont want to hear Bashar say "economy" ever again. He has no idea what he's talking about when he says such catch phrase words like "economy, technology". If you want to decieve yourself that the country is progressing, i suggest you stick to SANA as your news sources and read about the "continuation of the modernization process". Peace be upon you all.

At 4/23/2006 11:42:00 PM, Blogger Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

All these talks concerning the SSNP are sterile. The SSNP is as dead as it can be, including in Lebanon where it was historically strong. They didn't even run for the parliamentary elections in Lebanon to escape an humiliating score. And in the rest of greater Syria, nobody ever heard of the SSNP.

I don't know if it's popular in Syria but SSNP leans to the left, as its name indicates. Haven't you had enough socialism? This is the last thing that Syria needs. Besides, it has the same fascistic tendencies than the Baath (do you know the SSNP flag and what symbol inspired it? Check google image, it's not very hard to guess).

At 4/24/2006 12:18:00 AM, Blogger Alex said...

VP, the SSNP's flag is supposed to be a mixture between an Islamic and a Christian symbol ... between the cross and the crescent .. so it is supposed to be a 4-sided crescent.

Now, don't ask me for proof, but that's what they say... it was a secular movement.

Syrian Juice, and Ehsani ... on this one, i do not disagree with you at all ... the government's efforts in fighting corruption are pathetic. I, again, understand some of the difficulties they are facing, but too bad ... they have to take risk somewhere ... fighting corruption is THE place to start, along with education reform. If they don't do anything there, then they won't go anywhere.

As for removing subsidies ... I was a child in Egypt when President Sadat declared that he is removing subsidies on some food items ... the second morning, there were huge angry demonstrations in the streets that almost brought down the Egyptian regime. The subsidies were kept as they are. They are still there today.

I think Bahsar understands your numbers Ehsani ... he meets with UN and European advisors, he reads their reports ... again, can't take the necessary risk at this point.

At 4/24/2006 03:30:00 AM, Blogger George Ajjan said...


The party is called حزب السوري القومي الاجتماعي which is commonly known as "Qomi Souri", right? Syrian SOCIAL Nationalist Party. I used to think it was a socialist party as well until I was sharply rebuked by a few card-carrying members.

I strongly disagree with you on its sterility because even though it isn't currently strong, it is a vehicle that has historical legitimacy and an appealing ideology to Syrians. Given the state of shambles of democracy in Syria, and the fact that this Party seems not be viewed as a major threat to the Baath and will be allowed to particpate in elections, it is the most logical manner of introducing democratic concepts in a non-dramatic manner.

The Baath Party sets the rules, and Syrian reformers who want to succeed (and not just listen to themselves talk) need to play by the rules, like them or not. The rules say, "SSNP is okay", so a coalition of prominent families in all the mufahazat need to ride the SSNP vehicle down the road to democratic reforms. Yalla, guys, this is political common sense.

Anyway, Vox, didn't the FPM beat Gemayel in the Metn because Aoun's coalition included SSNP candidates?

At 4/24/2006 05:29:00 AM, Blogger Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

Aoun won by a very large margin in the Metn, and I am the first to regret it. The SSNP supported Aoun because he was anti-Hariri, but it didn't make any difference.

You can find a significant SSNP popularity in orthodox Kura, but that's it. Even the Sunnis have deserted it.

I don't know how the SSNP tries to justify its logo today, but it was largely inspired from the swatiska, a Hindu symbol representing peace and prosperity as we all know.

At 4/24/2006 05:33:00 AM, Blogger Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

Always be wary of parties that were founded in the 30's and that have socialist and national in their names.

At 4/24/2006 08:16:00 AM, Blogger Atassi said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 4/24/2006 08:21:00 AM, Blogger Atassi said...

Syria-news publishing your comment!!
Let's Hope that Dr. Bashar read your comments too" it's %200 more useful then his advisors reports".
Will the government action of postponing the removal of the subsides reflect negatively on the Syrian currency? Did the Syrian government get the IMF support to this new strategy before the implementation? Or do they even care?

At 4/24/2006 08:23:00 AM, Blogger norman said...

Two points ,Syria should go ahead with lifting subsidies but should give food stamps and heating oil voucers to the proven poor Syria should not subsidise the rich who pay full price outside Syria the money will be better spent on small lawns to buisnesses and other job creating projects.union between Syria and Egypt did not work because it was run like a Kalefa ,the Governer of Syria was appointed by Nasser not Syrian or elected by Syrians ,A united states is more feasable and more realistic were people in each states elect their own gov then there is a second leyer of federal gov elected by all like the US, first they need for people to register to vote where they live not where they come from.

At 4/24/2006 10:28:00 AM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...


In the interest of full disclosure on the subject of subsidies, I had read the news on Syria-news first and not the other way around. It is worth noting that in the case of the “Mazot” subsidies, in particular, the numbers are staggering. The liter sells in Syria for SYP 7 versus close to 30 in Lebanon and 70 in Turkey. In effect, it is being given for free domestically. With a potential profit margin of 300% to 700%, smugglers will be stupid not to try, and stupid they are surely not. These subsidies are insane and their enormous drain is the price that this government seems willing to tolerate to win the silence of its financially deprived population

According to the New York Times, former Secretary of State James Baker will advise President Bush on Iraq heading up a congressionally mandated effort to generate new ideas on war there. Baker plans to travel to Baghdad and the region to meet with heads of state on a fact-finding mission that was encouraged by both father and son and secretary Condoleezza Rice.

On a last note, Iran’s Ahmadinejad said Israeli Jews should be allowed back to the European countries from which they came. “You made Europe unsafe for Jews. Allow them to go back to their own fatherlands. You have created a problem which you should solve yourself”. He said the creation of Israel had resulted in the persecution of the Palestinian people.

At 4/24/2006 03:18:00 PM, Blogger Hanny Hindi said...

Posters responding to Ehsani have employed a wide variety of "arguments." However, it takes considerably longer to consider "democracy," "US policy in the Middle East," "Israel" and "oil" than it does to thoughtlessly brandish cliches, so I apologize in advance my lengthy post.

Discussion about "reform" in the Middle East is usually muddied by the focus on "democracy," particularly as a perceived failure of the Bush administration. I don't want to fall into the same confusion, so I'll be as clear as I can: I don't care about democracy. I care about liberalism. By the latter, I mean a set of ideas that includes secularism, confessional pluralism, equality under the law, emancipation of women, and (yes) democratic, representative government. (These ideas were best articulated by John Stuart Mill and nobly realized by, among others, the state of Denmark, today the target of a repulsive and primitive pogrom throughout the "Muslim world.")

Even a cursory understanding of something like the Civil Rights Movement in the United States makes it clear that the advancement of liberalism often involves the subversion of democracy. A majority of Virginians opposed desegregation, and they were forced to live with it nonetheless. Today, a majority in the Palestinian territories expressed their preference for the continued enslavement of women. That majority's wishes are irrelevant; women (and all individuals) are entitled to certain basic rights despite the stupidity of their oppressors. I can't imagine a coherent rebuttal to this, but invite all challengers.

The "failure of democracy" notwithstanding, it is hard to argue with anti-Americanism on the part of Arabs as the US's policy in the Middle East has been, almost without exception, despicable. Beginning with the Church and Pike commission reports and continuing through the Iran-Contra hearings and beyond, we have a very complete documentary record of these policies, so nobody can be excused for ignorance on this point. However, critiques of US policy today often fall into two categories: there are those who take former policies as "proof" that the US can do no good, and there is talk of "double-standards." Neither makes sense.

The United States has certainly done craven and cynical things abroad. But, in the Philippines, in the Balkans, in Eastern Europe, administrations have been forced to turn away from petty tyrants like Ferdinand Marcos and support liberal opposition groups. There is no reason to expect that this can't happen in the Middle East. (If "funding and arming" Sadaam Hussein was wrong - and it undoubtedly was - isn't deposing him a reversal of policy that deserves praise? )

Most bizarre, though, are those who decry double standards. "[Syria] receive[s] the lion's share of criticism for their human rights record. More objective analysis would reveal that they are indeed worthy of blame, but probably less than other regimes in the area ... Israel had the worst human rights records..." Setting aside the fact that Israel's record is nowhere near as atrocious as Iraq's had been, what's the suggestion here? That Syria shouldn't receive constant criticism? That all despots should be treated with the indulgence that Kissinger would bestow upon them? What nobody wants to acknowledge is that the "double-standards" of US dealings with the likes of Musharraf and the House of Saud are not an argument for laying off the Asad Crime Family; they're arguments for exerting pressure on Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

This focus on being "against" the US has a still more pernicious effect. Everything stated by partisans and apologists of the current regimes is in the negative. They are "against" Israel and Zionism; "against" American influence; "against" rule by the oil companies, etc., etc. When one can only think in terms of "common enemies," there’s no problem allying with the "bearded men" who've been rearing their (particularly) ugly heads lately. Why should we think like this? Is everyone blind to what the alliance “against” the Shah of Iran produced?

What is needed instead is a clear, *positive* program of reform. To start: I am *for* the emancipation of women; I am *for* confessional pluralism; I am *for* freedom of speech and the press; I am *for* multi-party democracies. The list could easily go on, and it makes something immediately clear: the notion that we have "no alternatives" to Ba'ath and The Brotherhood is rubbish. Take the single example of the Palestinian territories. I certainly endorse a vote "against" Fatah. But how can one vote *for* Hamas?!? "We had no alternative!" Of course you did: his name is Mustafa Barghouthi. An opponent of Fatah’s corruption, he is also a proponent of rationality, freedom and liberalism. A vote for Hamas is simply inexcusible. Extend this thinking to the rest of the region and the number of leaders and allies, intellectual and political, blossoms: Sari Nuseibeh, Riad al-Turk, Meron Benvinisti. Given today's news, I'll add two other names: Jalal Talabani, President of Iraq, and Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament. Everyone who bores on about the "failure" of Iraqi democracy should be reminded that any nation in the Middle East would be proud of leaders like these. Riffraff like Uncle Rif'at don't even merit passing mention.

Finally, we come to the "bearded men." I simply don't understand what all this fuss about the Syrian Ba'ath "getting religion" is about. What of the alliance with Hizbollah? What of the Qur'an "written in Sadaam's blood"? The connection between the political tyranny of kings and the intellectual tyranny of religion is always a close one, and both should be resisted.

Centuries ago, Voltaire called for "the last king to be hanged by the entrails of the last priest." It's a delightful image, but the effort would be wasted on the moribund fools in the House of Windsor and the Congress of Cardinals. Instead, everyone who cares about reform in Syria and the Middle East should imagine Bashar suspended aloft in the gallows by Sheik Nasrallah's intestines. As much as I'd love to see this little scene enacted, I'll acknowledge that nothing would be gained and much lost by this kind of blood-letting. Time would be much better spent ignoring the charade of regime "reforms" and moving ahead to forge a new Syria without paying our young ophthalmologist any heed.

In sorrow,

At 4/24/2006 03:41:00 PM, Blogger Atassi said...

Since, you and other commentators have been advocating the idea that Dr. Basher and his regime enthusiastically willing to implement a reforms and democracy policy in Syria.

I can promise you, and possibly many of us join his quest, If Dr .Basher willing to:

- Publicly forces: an Anti corruption policy endorsed and monitored by and external NGO's. An independent and fair a justice system to fight corruptions and enforce transparency in the state public entities
-Publicly forces: The reduction of the dominance role of the Baath party , and allow the REAL oppositions groups to participate in a program of transition to a democratic and free society, to facilitate a free and fair election "even to the for presidency itself".
- Publicly forces: Removal of any elements opposing the needs for institutional reform.
- Publicly forces : Abolishing Decree No. 51 "state of emergency", in which Dr. Assad himself admitted that mistake and abuse were made with Decree No.51. You must reinforce the independence of the judiciary system..

At 4/24/2006 05:55:00 PM, Blogger SimoHurtta said...

HH your post is very “idealistic”. What you more or less indirectly suggest to Middle East’s countries as a clear “positive program” is not reality even in the conservative and religious U.S.A. Bush is certainly not a “liberal reformer” and a “human rights activist” - well in the aspects of other countries affairs in speeches but not in deeds.

Saying Israel has done “bad things” but Saddam did more but it doesn’t remove the right to criticize Syria. Well that is HH an interesting view. Every country has problems with human rights and with their democracy, even the best. But even in this politically rather targeted criticisms that USA and others conduct should be a certain level of intellectual honesty. How can a country (USA) demand a country (Syria) not to interfere to others affairs, not to torture prisoners and give fair trials etc. if it self openly and with no shame does the same? 911 is no excuse. Criticising demands a moral superiority to be effective. Otherwise it makes people only shake their heads and laugh to those Bush’s missions given beyond the stars.

HH you praise the liberal state of Denmark. Yes Denmark is a very liberal and tolerant society. But in the Cartoon affair it was wrong. The Danish constitution clearly denies spreading religious hate and discrimination. The Danish society is very strict with anti-Semitic “opinions” and it should have the same policy with unnecessary provocations against Muslims. A cartoon with Bin Laden is OK, but a holy figure as Mohammed is simply improper. Even I as a secular Christian would be pissed off if Bush (who uses religious rhetoric almost as much as the guys on the “other side”) would be in a cartoon “generalized” to Jesus and so to the whole Christian faith.

I am very surprised for the eagerness many Americans now show to the democratization of other countries and for the level of their “advice”. USA is certainly not an ideal example of democracy, with its two party system, where the options are a conservative and a ultra conservative party (on European political scale). The people in Middle East are not stupid and not unaware of their needs of reform, but what is the level we outsiders can demand them to change? Can we demand them in a couple of years perform a change that took generations in the western countries? Can they jump directly to a democratic society that tolerates guy marriages, free abortion etc. signs of a liberal modern society? I sincerely doubt it - even USA has severe problems with those liberal aspects.

At 4/24/2006 08:05:00 PM, Blogger Hanny Hindi said...


You ask "how can a country (USA) demand a country (Syria) not to interfere to others affairs, not to torture prisoners and give fair trials etc. if it self openly and with no shame does the same."

I have two responses to this. First, I am not a spokesman for the Bush administration, and have no desire to succeed Karen Hughes as "Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy." I speak for myself, and my arguments must stand or fall on their own merits. As Edward Said put it: "The intellectual's role is to speak the truth, as plainly, directly and as honestly as possible. No intellectual is supposed to worry about whether what is said embarasses, pleases or displeases people in power." I do not claim anything like Professor Said's intellectual authority, but his is the standard we should all aspire to.

Much more importantly, I realize that my goals for the Middle East are "not reality even in the conservative and religious U.S.A." You list a number of specific issues, which I will grant and even amplify:

1) "Interference in the affairs of others." The United States has supported the destruction of democracy in Chile and Nicaragua (to take only two instances in South and Central America), a horrific monarchy in Iran at the expense of a liberal reformer, unspeakably brutal dictators throughout Africa, and a morally bankrupt policy of occupation and settlement in Israel.

2) "Torturing prisoners" - the official sanction of torture in prison camps throughout the world is worse than is often reported. A report in a recent issue of Harper's exposes the horrible atmosphere these policies created in Abu Ghraib, and the most recent cache of photos distributed on may be the worst yet.

3) "Freedom of speech" - the United States maintains a series of totalitarian "hate crimes" laws that have no effect other than criminalizing thought, and many European states have variations on the French "loi Gayssot" that criminalizes the denial of "one or several crimes against humanity." Months ago, such a law was used in Austria to imprison English historian David Irving for Holocaust denial.

4) "Free elections" - It is well said that the United States does not have a two-party system, but a single party with two right wings. That our electoral system has the effective result of instituting a plutocracy is nearly undeniable.

So, on these points, I don't think we disagree on much. But what of the conclusion? You seem to conclude that, because the West engages in torture, the policing of speech and sham elections, Third World despots should be left alone to engage in torture, the policing of speech and sham elections. What nonsense. The proper conclusion is that the US and all governments should be criticized and resisted when they engage in these policies. The official sanction of torture, and its actual practice, must end, and those who committed it should be punished. All laws restricting speech, including criticism of religion, should be repealed. (And, let me be the first to "piss" you off by unapologetically stating that I think Muhammad bin Abdullah was a petty tyrant and "Saint" Paul a fanatic and a fool. Claiming divine authority does not excuse one from criticism.) Finally, elections and representative democracy should be strengthened in the West as well as the Middle East.

What would you prefer, SimoHurtta? Should the US continue to pursue the "realism" of Kissinger for the sake of "consistency"? Should the US encourage (or ignore) press censorship because Austria has foolishly imprisoned a Holocaust denier? Should the US encourage (or ignore) the imprisonment and torture of Syrian dissidents because it allowed torture in Abu Ghraib? Should the US encourage (or ignore) the murder of dissidents the world over because the death penalty is applied so arbitrarily in Texas? You may wish to divest yourself of all responsibility in this way, but I hope you'll instead choose to criticize *both* the regimes of the West and those of the Third World when they deserve it. You are right to say that "even USA has severe problems with those liberal aspects." Now point out those problems and work to remedy them.

Finally, a word on the issue of "moral equivalence." All of this talk about the US being "just as bad" as Syria, or Iraq, or whomever, is tiresome and stupid. Yes, the Bush administration sanctioned torture. But there was a widespread public debate about this, and an outcry against it (best represented by the 90 to 9 vote in support of McCain's amendment abolishing the practice). Does this sort of thing happen in Syria? Yes, there is an extreme disparity of wealth in the US. But are you really going to be so glib as to compare it to Arafat's corruption? Are Americans starving as a result of corporate corruption, the way Africans and Haitians and Palestinians starve while their "leaders" become billionaires many time over? Give me a break.

I'll ask those who disagree to do me a favor: if you really think the US is "just as bad" as Syria, kindly share your real name. I don't imagine that so many on this forum are hiding for fear of landing in an American prison.

At 4/24/2006 09:31:00 PM, Blogger majedkhaldoon said...

accusation is equal to murder, to say that the prophet is tyrant is wrong, there is nothing to support this accusation,in Quran it clear ,saying we did not send you to be a tyrant(hafizan),to say he is a tyrant, prove intelligent people can say wrong things,fitnah.
two things you sould never question, ones religion,and how beautiful the wife is, otherwise you stir trouble.
at the end you say , if you disagree kindly share your name, I will be glad to share my name if you come and visit me in damscus syria.

At 4/24/2006 09:40:00 PM, Blogger qunfuz said...


If you don't like people 'thoughtlessly brandishing cliches' why do you do so yourself? For example, saying that the Palestinians expressed a preference for 'the continued enslavement of women.' That's just silly, Hanny. The Palestinians voted against corruption, for public services and for resistance. Also, describing the admittedly annoying and disproportionate Muslim response to the Danish cartoons as a 'pogrom' is absurd.
Nobody is arguing that the petty thugocracies in charge of Middle Eastern states provide their people with more rights than exist in the US. Rights anyway are won by strong peoples, not granted by governments. But neither have the ME thugocracies stationed their troops in more than 100 countries, or killed millions in South East Asia, or destroyed popular governments through terrorist proxies in South America, or covered Iraq with depleted uranium, or funded successively the 'mujahideen', the Taliban, and (Unocal CIA) Karzai in Afghanistan for gas pipeline reasons. It's not the American republic that's the problem (despite the huge fundamentalist lobby and the worse than third world standards of the mainstream media, that's still a shining example to much of the world) but the American Empire, controlled as it is by corporations and other lobby groups.
True that Israel's human rights record was not as bad as (the Western backed for most of its history) Saddam's regime, but it is worse than Syria's (appalling) record. Not for Jews perhaps (unless they are Mordechai Vannunnu)but for the captive Arab population. Anyway, the issue here is not 'human rights', but the straightforward issues of unlawful conquest, ethnic cleansing and occupation.
Iran for all its imperfections is, by the way, a better functioning democracy than the US. In the presidential election, although many candidates were not allowed to stand, there were still a reformist, a status quo figure and a conservative populist in the running. That's a real choice. In the US there were two millionaire big business figures, both of whom had supported the Iraq invasion.
I'm sure we agree on most ME stuff, Hanny, but you need to sharpen up your critical apparatus when you look at the US.

At 4/24/2006 10:46:00 PM, Blogger Hanny Hindi said...


Thank you for your response. Much to agree with, and a few quibbles.

My point in saying that the Palestinians voted for "the continued enslavement of women" is simply to emphasize that every vote *against* one thing is a vote *for* something else. You can't simply say that voting for Hamas was nothing but a vote against corruption and thuggery. There were a number of ways to vote against Fatah. In an earlier post, I mentioned Mustafa Barghouthi. Why not cast a vote "against corruption, for public services and for resistance" that is simultaneously a vote for the "third way" Barghouthi represents? Whether Palestinians like it or not, a vote for Hamas will mean more than a protest against Fatah.

As to the Danish cartoons. The word "pogrom" would be excessive in most cases, but in the case of Syria it is exactly precise. A "pogrom" is an "organized and official act of violence or rioting against a minority." As there are no "spontaneous" demonstrations in Syria, one can only conclude that the organized, violent mob that burnt down the Danish embassy in Damascus did so with official encouragement or (at the least) permission. This is a highly criminal act, and Syria's Ba'ath hasn't been criticized enough for it.

These are all minor points, however. Your major point regards the US. I certainly grant that the US has done horrible things; I listed quite a few earlier. But, rather than arguing these points, I should have focused on the main issue. When intellectuals in the Middle East and abroad oppose reform efforts because they distrust the US, it is not the Americans who suffer. It is the opposition within the Arab world that suffers. Why fixate on American "hypocrisy" in putting pressure on Syria? Encourage the pressure on Bashar, whatever its motives, and use it as leverage against the regime and in support of opposition leaders like Riad al-Turk.

However vast the influence of "corporations and lobby groups" may be, what remains of US democracy allows it to be subverted now and again. If we learn nothing else from Mandela, we should learn this. The entire apparatus of the US "empire," from Congress to the corporations, was opposed to the ANC and supported its designation as a "terrorist group." Nonetheless, an organized campaign on the part of South African dissidents eventually caused an upsurge of popular support, and Reagan and Thatcher caved to it. This should be our model. Criticize the US empire by all means, but remember that US institutions can still be put to our advantage.

Thank you again, qunfuz, for keeping me honest.


At 4/25/2006 12:09:00 AM, Blogger Alex said...


Sunday I had nothing to do so I enjoyed boring everyone on this forum with my endless super-long comments. still, it seems I am still misunderstood.

So I decided to post yet another long comment:

My point about "fairness" to the Syrian regime's human rights abuses was meant to lead to one conclusion: By being easy on Israel and extra-tough on the Syrian regime, The US lost the ability to convince ordinary Syrians that it is really doing all of this to help Syria get into Democracy ... they could have if they were more fair and balanced in criticizing both sides (or all sides, including the Saudis and Egyptians), but they blew it with the bizarre way president Bush went on TV criticizing Syria every day... Syrians are sensitive to these things. As a result, most of them rejected American efforts, help, or leadership. So, my disappointment is directed at the failure of the mighty USA to play an honest moral leadership role in favor of political reforms in Syria and the rest of the Middle East. When you send your troops to the heart of the Arab world ... try not to say "Sharon is a man of peace".

I hope that clarifies my previous comments.

My friend Atassi,

Unfortunately, I will not succeed in convincing you to totally like Bashar. What you would like him to do today is simply not within the compass of his attainment. I am not saying he is a Saint, I am not an apologist for the regime, I am simply saying that even if the best man for the job (whoever he is) was in Bashar's shoes, I am sure he will not be able to succeed in attaining all the reform goals at once, this year.

I will have to leave it to the future to convince you, or me, about the wisdom of seeking and expecting nothing less than simultaneous and comprehensive solutions to all the problems that Syria faces today.

I do support all your list of demands. But I would put it this way: if everyone in "opposition" would decide to be patient for few years about their hope to replace the current regime in power, and if the wonderful Americans and French decide to work with, and not against, Bashar, then I would expect nothing less from him than to seriously accelerate the processes of fighting corruption and economic/educational reforms, followed by easing of restrictions on freedom of speech and press laws.

That's a good start. Nothing more for the next year. Then, municipal elections ...

Necessary Reminders:

1) "the regime" will not be removed by force

2) it will not commit suicide.

3) Bashar is relatively popular in Syria

4) As long as there is a failed war going on next door in Iraq, and there is a risk of chaos next door in Lebanon, it is reasonable to expect slower pace of reforms and risk taking in Syria.

At 4/25/2006 02:11:00 AM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 4/25/2006 02:41:00 AM, Blogger George Ajjan said...

Yes, Ehsani, there has indeed been profound change in the region. It's hard to even remember what the Middle East was like before the "freedom and democracy" that now exists the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the Kingdom of Bahrain, the Emirate of Qatar, etc.

At 4/25/2006 02:45:00 AM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...

Though many of us on this forum have our many disagreements when it comes to discuss politics, there seems to be one uniting theme that few here ever disagree on. I am referring of course to America bashing in general and the hate for President Bush in particular. I am going to disappoint many of you and state at the outset that I am a Syrian supporter of the man. I must admit that I find it fascinating to read the kind of hate and disrespect that this man and his country receives by most of you. It also never ceases to amaze him how we seem to blame him and his country for most of our ills. Please remember that as a President of the U.S., this man took his oath to protect “his” people and to raise “their” standards of living. Those very same people elected to give him a second and last term. When he first came to power, Syrians rejoiced. They loved his father and they thought his son would be much the same. These hopes soon evaporated when they saw his unwavering public support for the State of Israel. But this was not the only reason. September 11th has been a watershed event in the history of the U.S. that few in Syria have fully understood. The decades old foreign policy of “realism” was now under review. Helped with the intellectual backing of an inner circle of advisors that have become known as Neocons (I think that is the fancy word for Jews), this President decided to take his nation into the most arduous and dangerous journey into the rough waters of the Middle East. Three years later, his domestic approval rating is sinking and he has become one of the most hated people in the world. In my opinion, history will judge him differently. This man has unleashed the much-needed earthquake in our fast sinking region. All of a sudden, no dictator, King or Mullah was safe any longer. Millions of people feel freer to talk, discuss, demand and act. Saddam could not pass the throne to his sons. The Presidency of Hafez Assad Junior is no longer guaranteed. Mubarak has found it harder to simply install his son as his successor. The Lebanese went in the streets in the millions demanding answers to the assassination of their Prime minister. The changes in the Middle East have been breathtaking. In three years, the region has experienced a profound change that none of us could have fathomed a short time ago. Of course there has been problems too. The post war execution has been very poor. The support for Israel has been unwavering and clearly biased. But it is always worth remembering that the U.S. is a country that looks after its own interests first. Why is this hard to swallow? We seem to somehow feel that Bush is Syria’s president and that some if not all of what he does not take Syria’s best interest in mind. We never blame ourselves. We never hold our own inept presidents accountable but are quick to point the fingers at America and Bush. Bashing the U.S. has become our favourite pastime when looking in the mirror is the answer. America is not perfect we are told every time we dare criticize ourselves. Who said that it was or that it should be? Rather than appreciating its awesome power and success, we do nothing but criticize it and blame it for all our ills. Rather than learning from the western civilization, we keep our heads in the sand and reject outright everything that they stand for. Every person that calls for closer ties to the U.S. and the west is branded as a traitor and a seller of the “qaddiye”. I will conclude by again admitting that I am a Bush supporter. I will leave you with an opinion piece that appeared today in the Wall Street Journal. Yes, I know that Natan Sharansky is an Israeli Jew. But please do read the piece. Is it going to change your mind about President Bush? To my regret, I think unlikely.

>Dissident President
>April 24, 2006; Page A15
>There are two distinct marks of a dissident. First, dissidents are fired by
>ideas and stay true to them no matter the consequences. Second, they generally
>believe that betraying those ideas would constitute the greatest of moral
>failures. Give up, they say to themselves, and evil will triumph. Stand firm,
>and they can give hope to others and help change the world.
>Political leaders make the rarest of dissidents. In a democracy, a leader's
>lifeline is the electorate's pulse. Failure to be in tune with public sentiment
>can cripple any administration and undermine any political agenda. Moreover,
>democratic leaders, for whom compromise is critical to effective governance,
>hardly ever see any issue in Manichaean terms. In their world, nearly everything
> is colored in shades of gray.
>That is why President George W. Bush is such an exception. He is a man fired by
>a deep belief in the universal appeal of freedom, its transformative power, and
>its critical connection to international peace and stability. Even the fiercest
>critics of these ideas would surely admit that Mr. Bush has championed them both
> before and after his re-election, both when he was riding high in the polls and
> now that his popularity has plummeted, when criticism has come from
>longstanding opponents and from erstwhile supporters.
>With a dogged determination that any dissident can appreciate, Mr. Bush, faced
>with overwhelming opposition, stands his ideological ground, motivated in large
>measure by what appears to be a refusal to countenance moral failure.
>I myself have not been uncritical of Mr. Bush. Like my teacher, Andrei Sakharov,
> I agree with the president that promoting democracy is critical for
>international security. But I believe that too much focus has been placed on
>holding quick elections, while too little attention has been paid to help build
>free societies by protecting those freedoms -- of conscience, speech, press,
>religion, etc. -- that lie at democracy's core.
>I believe that such a mistaken approach is one of the reasons why a terrorist
>organization such as Hamas could come to power through ostensibly democratic
>means in a Palestinian society long ruled by fear and intimidation.
>I also believe that not enough effort has been made to turn the policy of
>promoting democracy into a bipartisan effort. The enemies of freedom must know
>that the commitment of the world's lone superpower to help expand freedom beyond
> its borders will not depend on the results of the next election.
>Just as success in winning past global conflicts depended on forging a broad
>coalition that stretched across party and ideological lines, success in using
>the advance of democracy to win the war on terror will depend on building and
>maintaining a wide consensus of support.
>Yet despite these criticisms, I recognize that I have the luxury of criticizing
>Mr. Bush's democracy agenda only because there is a democracy agenda in the
>first place. A policy that for years had been nothing more than the esoteric
>subject of occasional academic debate is now the focal point of American
>For decades, a "realism" based on a myopic perception of international stability
> prevailed in the policy-making debate. For a brief period during the Cold War,
>the realist policy of accommodating Soviet tyranny was replaced with a policy
>that confronted that tyranny and made democracy and human rights inside the
>Soviet Union a litmus test for superpower relations.
>The enormous success of such a policy in bringing the Cold War to a peaceful end
> did not stop most policy makers from continuing to advocate an approach to
>international stability that was based on coddling "friendly" dictators and
>refusing to support the aspirations of oppressed peoples to be free.
>Then came Sept. 11, 2001. It seemed as though that horrific day had made it
>clear that the price for supporting "friendly" dictators throughout the Middle
>East was the creation of the world's largest breeding ground of terrorism. A new
> political course had to be charted.
>Today, we are in the midst of a great struggle between the forces of terror and
>the forces of freedom. The greatest weapon that the free world possesses in this
> struggle is the awesome power of its ideas.
>The Bush Doctrine, based on a recognition of the dangers posed by non-democratic
> regimes and on committing the United States to support the advance of
>democracy, offers hope to many dissident voices struggling to bring democracy to
> their own countries. The democratic earthquake it has helped unleash, even with
> all the dangers its tremors entail, offers the promise of a more peaceful
>Yet with each passing day, new voices are added to the chorus of that doctrine's
> opponents, and the circle of its supporters grows ever smaller.
>Critics rail against every step on the new and difficult road on which the
>United States has embarked. Yet in pointing out the many pitfalls which have not
> been avoided and those which still can be, those critics would be wise to
>remember that the alternative road leads to the continued oppression of hundreds
> of millions of people and the continued festering of the pathologies that led
>to 9/11.
>Now that President Bush is increasingly alone in pushing for freedom, I can only
> hope that his dissident spirit will continue to persevere. For should that
>spirit break, evil will indeed triumph, and the consequences for our world would
> be disastrous.
>Mr. Sharansky spent nine years as a political prisoner in the Soviet Gulag. A
>former deputy prime minister of Israel and currently a member of the Knesset, he
> is co-author, with Ron Dermer, of "The Case For Democracy: The Power of Freedom
> to Overcome Tyranny and Terror" (PublicAffairs, 2004).

At 4/25/2006 03:13:00 AM, Blogger Innocent_Criminal said...


Please spare me your crap. This condescending tone on how most of us don't understand what September 11 meant to the Americans or how president Bush is looking out for his countries best interest is a load of SHIT. The man(Bush) is a fucking monkey, but lucky for him he stands among some of the smartest (yet sinister) people in America. The world liked Clinton for a reason Ehsani; he served the best interest of his country by screwing others too, but he did it the right way.

Bush on the other hand is screwing his own people and their interest by ruining his countries image, spreading terrorism on wider scale instead of containing it.

Don’t get me wrong I know we blame too much on the US and Israel but Bush and co. do not stand for what we should learn from western culture.

“Who said that it was or that it should be? Rather than appreciating its awesome power and success, we do nothing but criticize it and blame it for all our ills. “ really dude!!! its like totally awesome. One must be a complete and utter moron to think this has ANYTHING to do with spreading freedom and democracy. You were right about one thing, he is looking out for HIS interests. And that means changing the political scenario of the middle east to fit his friends view. That does not mean democracy it means more puppet regimes like King of Jordan, and the Gulf Apes. And that’s where Assad’s support stems from. People would rather have an authotarian regimes that would kick them around than one that is somebody else’s bitch.


Vox cant see beyond his Lebanese environment so don’t mind him. For him if the SSNP is weak in Lebanon then it’s weak in Syria!!!

But he is right about one thing it is left leaning (and thank god for that) but it’s not a Socialist party. What boggles my mind is why do people like Vox keep asking for a nationalistic party in Syria instead of a Pan-Arab one but still the SSNP is not a good solution.

But I am not to crazy about your “Prominent Family” coalition. This to me is a step back and not forward on the way to democracy. Once you restrict the influence to certain families then we will be on the road to Za3im type of rule which mind end us looking like Lebanon.

At 4/25/2006 03:34:00 AM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...


1- Don't take my comment about Syrians not understanding the implications of Sep 11th so badly. I was not including a smart and superior intellect like you in this group.

2- As for myself, I must be a "complete and utter moron" because I thought that this is all about spreading freedom and democracy. Thankfully, I can still read people like you to enlighten myself and learn that it is also about Israel and protecting those energy supplies and other shemes that you always seem to understand better than us. I am very impressed. I always thought it was just about "democracy".

At 4/25/2006 03:37:00 AM, Blogger George Ajjan said...


I did not meant to suggest that only "Prominent Families" should participate, but their money and influence, as well as education and credentials, are essential to facilitating any democratic competition in Syria. They would need to be leaders of the effort, but also recruit sensible slates of candidates reflecting the population in each area.

I would love to see this happen, however I am not optimistic at all.

At 4/25/2006 03:53:00 AM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...


One piece of advice. Try to be a bit more original next time. "
"please spare me your crap"
"The man (Bush) is a fucking monkey"
"Really dude!!!its like totally awesome"
"One must be a complete and utter moron to think this is anything to do with spreading democracy"
"puppet regimes like king of Jordan and the guld Apes"

How profound!

At 4/25/2006 04:41:00 AM, Blogger SimoHurtta said...


To your question what is my point of what is the level USA should interfere. My opinion is saying “you behave badly” is enough on personal and governmental level. But saying “you behave badly” demands on the governmental level that the criticizer doesn’t do what it does criticize.

USA has no right what so ever to change regimes with military force and by financing military coups (like it has done ten of times, in Indonesia, Philippines, Greece etc). If USA in reality wants a more democratic way of solving world’s problems, it should put all its power to develop United Nations. Only a functioning UN will have the moral authority to solve some of the world acute problems. Iraq showed clearly that USA is culturally and militarily not capable to perform “controlled regime changes”.

. But are you really going to be so glib as to compare it to Arafat's corruption? Are Americans starving as a result of corporate corruption, the way Africans and Haitians and Palestinians starve while their "leaders" become billionaires many time over? Give me a break.

Not many Americans are starving because of American corporate corruption (many lost their live savings though in Enron etc), but many non-Americans are starving because of American corporations’ behaviour in their countries. Most of those African, Asia and Haitian leaders became billionaires because they let US companies to use their countries natural resources and labour with laughable compensations. That is the real “break” to you HH.

My opinion is that if Americans (president and bloggers) have the right to criticize, give advice and demand other countries to change and adapt their values, the right of free speech goes both ways. It is also perfectly proper to compare USA’s and Israel’s behaviour and acts with those countries “on the other side”. Is a mass murderer who killed 10 people better as a mass murderer who killed 20 people? I do not think so. My original point was to bring relativity to the discussion of the “bad” Middle East countries contra the “god” countries which are seen as US allies. Is Syria in reality worse than Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel etc.?

I'll ask those who disagree to do me a favor: if you really think the US is "just as bad" as Syria, kindly share your real name. I don't imagine that so many on this forum are hiding for fear of landing in an American prison.

Well, can you really guaranty that we do not land in that famous US re-education centre in Guantanamo Bay? Is Hanny Hindi a real name? It would be proper that you would demand all to reveal their real names, not only those who disagree with your “visions”.

At 4/25/2006 06:52:00 AM, Blogger t_desco said...

Yes, the Siddiq saga continues:

Meanwhile Mohamad Zuheir Siddiq, the witness in the assassination case of former Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri said in a recorded phone call to the Lebanese Addiyar newspaper, that he did not accuse in his testimony the four arrested Lebanese officers. Siddiq added that he possesses a copy of his testimony and expressed readiness to unveil the full truth before the investigators and give the public the real story. Siddiq also said that "they" fabricated his words for political ends and to put the officers behind bars, adding that he is living in a hard condition in Paris as the Lebanese embassy there are barring his family access to their passports to return to Lebanon.

Siddiq stands by testimony against former security chiefs

A former Syrian intelligence officer, considered to be a "key witness" in former Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri's killing, has denied allegations he retracted his testimony against four Lebanese generals accused of involvement in the murder. In an interview published Monday with Kuwait's Al-Rai al-Aam, Mohammad Zuheir Siddiq denied a report in Lebanese daily Ad-Diyar quoting the witness as saying he had never accused the former security chiefs in his testimony to the UN commission.
The Daily Star, Naharnet

Siddiq : Damas et des généraux libanais sont bien impliqués dans l’assassinat de Rafic Hariri

Siddiq a démenti l’information publiée dimanche par le quotidien ad-Diyar, qui lui attribue une déclaration dans laquelle il affirme avoir été forcé de témoigner contre les généraux arrêtés.

Confirmant qu’il s’était entretenu avec le rédacteur en chef d’ad-Diyar, Charles Ayoub, sur appel de ce dernier, Siddiq a affirmé qu’il s’était contenté de lui dire que tout ce qu’il a publié à son sujet est entaché d’erreurs.

Siddiq a également demandé à l’ancien député Wi’am Wahhab de s’expliquer sur les informations détaillées qu’il avait fournies aux services de renseignements syriens sur les faits et gestes du député Marwan Hamadé, peu avant l’attentat auquel ce dernier a échappé par miracle.
L’officier a affirmé qu’il possédait des documents probants à ce sujet, mais qu’il ne les avait pas présentés aux enquêteurs parce que ces derniers ne les avaient pas demandés.Siddiq a également demandé à l’ancien député Wi’am Wahhab de s’expliquer sur les informations détaillées qu’il avait fournies aux services de renseignements syriens sur les faits et gestes du député Marwan Hamadé, peu avant l’attentat auquel ce dernier a échappé par miracle.
L’officier a affirmé qu’il possédait des documents probants à ce sujet, mais qu’il ne les avait pas présentés aux enquêteurs parce que ces derniers ne les avaient pas demandés. (!)

Siddiq raconte en particulier qu’il avait décidé de fuir la Syrie après avoir été menacé de mort en avril 2005 par le général Hassan Khalil, le chef des services de renseignements syriens, à qui il avait révélé qu’il possédait des informations au sujet de l’implication d’officiers supérieurs libanais et syriens dans l’assassinat de Rafic Hariri.
Par la suite, Siddiq avait pris contact, le 26 juillet 2005 au téléphone, avec le Premier ministre syrien, Nagi Otri, à partir de Grenade en Espagne. Il lui avait demandé d’informer des faits le président syrien Bachar el-Assad. Il s’était vu répondre de ne plus en parler parce que « ceux qui sont morts sont morts » et parce que les officiers syriens étaient « intouchables ». Selon Siddiq, Otri aurait osé affirmer : « Le traître à eu son compte. »
Selon le témoin, la commission d’enquête dispose d’un enregistrement de cette conversation. (!)
L'Orient-Le Jour

So, according to Siddiq, the Syrian prime minister made those remarks implicating Syria in the murder of Hariri in an international phone call (insecure line) to him, supposedly a defected spy. (!)

Just how likely is that?

At 4/25/2006 07:16:00 AM, Blogger Innocent_Criminal said...


Neither am I, that’s why I am not crazy about the idea. I am not naive as to say that it should not happen at all. Even in the most democratic countries certain families continue to have influence through many generations. But "prominent families" in Syria lost a lot of power (especially political) when the Ba'ath took over. A power many of them believed they deserved. So I fail to see a situation where they would get the chance to use that money and influence to share and lead by example instead of keeping a their hereditary monopoly going.

At 4/25/2006 08:23:00 AM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...


You claim that many Americans “lost their live savings though in Enron etc”.
You also claim “many non-Americans are starving because of American corporation’s behavior in their countries”.

Here is a challenge for you:

Why don’t you list for us the top 10 countries where American companies actively do business and compare it against a list of 10 countries where American companies are not allowed to do any business. Please show us, which of the two lists enjoys higher standards of living for its people. I do not only mean their leaders who you claim steal Billions because “they let US companies use their countries’ natural resources”. I would also urge you to include in your example the so-called working class population who are supposedly making “laughable compensation”.

As to your point about Americans losing their live savings in Enron, please remember that there are close to fifteen thousand publicly listed companies in the U.S. Corporate equities have acted as an amazing wealth creation machine for American households. Indeed, as of today, the value of both the direct corporate equities that they hold plus that held by their mutual funds exceeds $10 Trillion. Add to this $21 Trillion, which is the value of their real estate holdings, and the remaining $7 Trillion they hold in various bank deposits and other investments and you will arrive at a total net worth number of $38 Trillion which is the value of total financial assets held by American households. To pick one company that went bankrupt and imply that Americans lost their life savings is simply preposterous. You can hate America and what it stands for all you want, but to suggest that it is not the most successful wealth creating country on earth is just not credible.

At 4/25/2006 08:35:00 AM, Blogger Atassi said...

"believed they deserved"!! I am sure They didn't believe, They earn it by being a true and honest leaders, by promoting democracy and free civil societies, by holding a high moral and by being elected to a leadership positions with popular national support.. " I don't think they had 99.9 % for sure" .
My friend Alex,
I knew your answers in advance, It takes a real believer, colorblind leader, interest free personality to commit to this short list. I agree, the regime will not be removed by force, and I am not advocating or seeking this goal

But the regime already in the path to committing suicide!! Until then, I am counting on a national unity to hold strong, Syria is NOT IRAQ, Syria will not be embarked into sectarian civil war.

At 4/25/2006 08:48:00 AM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...

“Prominent families in Syria lost a lot of power, especially political, when the Baath took over”.

Yup.....and the end results are all out there for us to see...

“I fail to see a situation where they would get the chance to use that money and influence to share and lead by example instead of keeping their hereditary monopoly going”

Yup...thank God Syria no longer has anyone who keeps their “hereditary power going”....

At 4/25/2006 11:07:00 AM, Blogger Innocent_Criminal said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 4/25/2006 11:09:00 AM, Blogger Innocent_Criminal said...

I did not say the current situation is better, i am just doubting that particular alternative would be so. we would be passing one monopoly from one entity to another.

At 4/25/2006 04:59:00 PM, Blogger Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

I never said that SSNP is weak in Syria even if I doubt that the SSNP can match the MB. I said that SSNP is not what Syria needs.

If Syrians wants to switch from uniting the Arabs to uniting the so-called greater Syria, good for them, but they shouldn't expect the SSNP to manage the country significantly better than the Baath, and last but not least, they shouldn't expect the 'greater Syrians' to care more about union than they care about it now.

It's time to grow up and forget about volkish dreams. Didn't you get enough political adventurism? Why not go for a plain liberal democracy? Might be boring but it doesn't harm your health.

At 4/25/2006 05:41:00 PM, Blogger SimoHurtta said...

Eshani2, actually I do not hate America as a country, I hate what its government is now doing and the huge contradiction between words and deeds. Anybody with a modest knowledge of history and the ability to use Google finds easily out that USA has with its tens of interventions not been a real “friend of democracy”. The famous Norwegian researcher Johan Galtung has estimated that sinse WW2 12 to 16 million people have been killed because of the chaos USA has created..

The actual point is Eshani what US and also other countries multinational companies are doing in underdeveloped countries. Ever thought from where came the saying “banana republic”.

As a term of critique, a banana republic describes a country whose government is primarily concerned with economics benefiting a colonial or corporate power, rather than values of democracy and social welfare. Specifically, "bananaland," or "banana republic" was coined to refer to Central and South American dictatorships set up for the purpose of foreign exploitation of natural resources such as agricultural crops.

The pejorative "banana republic" can be traced back to the original experience of the United States' involvement in banana importing in the 1870s. A corporate honcho named Minor Keith anticipated the wild popularity of the exotic fruit and wanted to encourage cheap export of bananas from Costa Rica. He established political advantage by marrying into the Presidential family, and was soon running miles of railroad tracks, flanked by banana plantations, using exploited labor. Next, he advanced his grand plan by founding or buying other American fruit companies, eventually controlling the monopolistic United Fruit Company. This gave him power over numerous agricultural centers in Cuba, Jamaica, Columbia, Santa Domingo, Guatemala, Panama, and Nicaragua.

Latin America’s countries', Indonesia’s, Philippines’s etc people have not got rich with the US companies digging metals, drilling oil, growing fruits etc even they could have become that in a fairer division of income. The ones who got rich were the share holders in USA and Europe.

As an economist I know perfectly well the financial resources of USA, no need to lecture. But I know also how fragile the USD “bubble” is at present. Argentina was some years ago living like USA now. Remember what happened? When China, Russia, Japan and others loose their trust with dollar the future can be rather grim for US house owner “millionaires”. Once in Germany during the hyper inflation one could buy several houses with 100 dollars if he used dollars not Reichs marks.

At 4/26/2006 12:19:00 AM, Blogger George Ajjan said...


The SSNP strategy has less to do with ideology and more to do with political feasibility. It matters less what Saadeh wrote decades ago and more that his legacy has credibility today.

IF Syrian reformers put egos aside and stopped forming new "plain liberal democracy" parties every 5 minutes, maybe they'd discover the common sense to realize that the SSNP is the only legitimate, peaceful, secular way to compete with the Baath and introduce multi-party democratic concepts to Syria.

Bashar has seemed to admit, "fine, I will allow other vehicles to drive on the road, but only if they have SSNP license plates".

I have not been in Syria recently so I don't know if anyone has been working this angle, but I doubt it. That is unfortunate, because to me, it is clear as day that this is the way to go.

Anyway, "political adventurism" and "volkish dreams" of Syrian Nationalists in 2006 terms could include working towards free trade and a common currency in Greater Syria, without dismantling the national borders of the individual Republics, like the one in which tu ne seras jamais un citoyen de seconde catégorie.

At 4/26/2006 05:15:00 AM, Blogger Innocent_Criminal said...


We forgot to mention the great work the Americans did in Afghanistan. What a beacon of democracy that turned out to be. The Americans seem to care a lot about these poor haps’ oppression. Cause they installed the great and the democratic leader Hamid Karzai for president.

So, can you explain to me why they have dumped Afghanistan? Why they have all types of support in a country where tyranny, economic and social state was (and still is) much much worse than Iraq’s even during Saddam’s rule? If you are correct (and you are NOT) about this being all about democracy and freedom shouldn’t they have proved to the world that intent, and made an example out of Afghanistan even though it lacks natural and political assets? Oh wait let me guess, its still work in progress!!!

I have to hand it out to the man who said ignorance is bliss

At 4/26/2006 06:16:00 AM, Blogger t_desco said...

Brammertz is the anti-Mehlis, writes Georges Malbrunot:

«Brammertz, c'est l'anti-Mehlis», constatent des observateurs à Beyrouth. Finies les sorties en ville et les fuites distillées aux politiciens libanais qui en faisaient des gorges chaudes. Brammertz a non seulement changé de style mais aussi de méthode. «Je n'ai pas à citer des noms, mais à démonter un mécanisme», a-t-il confié à l'un de ses rares interlocuteurs. Une critique à peine voilée de son prédécesseur, qui avait nommé plusieurs responsables syriens dès son premier rapport, fin octobre.

Brammertz a tiré les leçons des erreurs de Mehlis, qui avait bâti son investigation sur des témoignages. Sans aide des enquêteurs libanais, il dépendait trop du clan Hariri, qui l'aurait «abusé». Brammertz et ses limiers se fondent d'abord sur la technique pour analyser des explosifs, des écoutes téléphoniques ou expertiser des restes d'ADN. Les experts de l'ONU travailleraient plus particulièrement autour de trois axes : l'itinéraire de la Mitsubishi blanche qui s'est jetée contre le convoi de Hariri le 14 février 2005, la piste Abou Adas, ce réfugié palestinien qui s'est accusé de l'attentat et qui a disparu après le crime, et la manipulation d'Houssam Houssam, le «témoin masqué» qui accuse le clan Hariri de l'avoir incité à mentir devant le juge pour accuser les dirigeants syriens.

Dossier d'instruction «inattaquable»

Malgré les difficultés, l'équipe d'enquêteurs a relu les milliers de pages du dossier, ouvert de nouvelles pistes, éliminé d'autres. «Nous avons approfondi notre compréhension du crime, de ses circonstances et de son mode opératoire», écrivait Brammertz dans son premier rapport intermédiaire, mi-mars. «Cela ressemble à une vraie enquête antiterroriste, analyse un expert étranger. Mais il est arrivé un an après les faits, c'est un peu tard.» Sur la centaine de collaborateurs de Mehlis, une vingtaine seulement est restée après son départ. «Pas facile de recruter des experts pour une mission qui doit durer six mois», reconnaît un policier libanais, qui se félicite de constater que Brammertz est entouré de spécialistes du monde arabe. «Ce sera plus difficile de le piéger», poursuit Karim Pakradouni, responsable des Kataeb, les Phalanges chrétiennes.
Le Figaro

Interestingly, Malbrunot doesn't mention the reports about "new witnesses" and/or "phone call transcripts" that have appeared in the Lebanese and Saudi press.

At 4/26/2006 09:58:00 AM, Blogger majedkhaldoon said...

for those who say that Bashar is popular in Syria, if this is true then Bashar has nothing to fear from democracy,his popularity must help him,infact his popularity is less than 20 %,mainly from people who benfit from his corrupt regime,that is why they are loyal, democracy stir emotions, and his popularity will evaporate quickly.

At 4/26/2006 02:03:00 PM, Blogger ugarit said...


Please read about US economics beyond the corporate press. How you write about the US economy makes you sound like how a "Baathist" might talk about "Baathism". Neither Capitalism nor Socialism are rosy. We must mix and match to the benefit of the masses. The system must always evolve. Let's not start following the authoritarianism of the so called "free-market" place.

BTW, Syria never was Socialist.

At 4/26/2006 03:29:00 PM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...


U.S. style capitalism and capitalism in general is NOT a perfect system. But it sure is perfect when compared to all others.

Economics is about matching limited resources to unlimited wants and needs. The best system is one that maximizes output/income using the most efficient allocation of resources. The free market system through its use of market prices offers the best hope.

If my devotion and belief in the virtues of capitalism may make me sound like a Baathist, then a “Capitalist Baathist” I must be.


I did enjoy reading your Banana Republic links. Since you are an economist (Development Economist?), you seem to believe that the U.S. economy faces tremendous challenges going forward. There is no doubt that its budget and trade deficits seem daunting when you consider the low savings ratio of the average U.S. household. Indeed, America runs a trade deficit (imports more than it exports) of close to $2 Billion a day. You among many others seem to believe that a run on its currency is inevitable. While that may indeed happen one day, it is important to note that it continues to be the world’s largest magnet for capital. Indeed, in spite of the points you made, global investors accept to hold 30-year U.S. Government bonds and only 5.18% yearly interest on their capital. This is because investors regard the U.S. as the safest place for their capital. Low regulatory requirement, flexible labor markets, strong property right, innovation, little government intervention, strong commitment to anti-trust laws and free markets are some of the examples that come to mind. Is it a perfect system? There will never be one. Is it the best when compared to all others? Absolutely.

At 4/26/2006 03:55:00 PM, Blogger zamzami said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 4/26/2006 04:37:00 PM, Blogger zamzami said...

ssnp in Syria was a well organized party during the 50's and 60's , the former president Shishakli was one of the syrian ssnp is deeply linked to the syrian regime security apparatus and famous corrupt groups(makhlouf-asad) it has lost credibilty from the pro secular syrian public.
In a democratic system there will be 2 blocks of major importance, the conservative or moderate islamists and the liberals.

At 4/26/2006 06:30:00 PM, Blogger t_desco said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 4/26/2006 06:34:00 PM, Blogger t_desco said...

Landis: Syria Eagerly Seeking to Improve Relations with Iraqi Leaders

At 4/26/2006 07:33:00 PM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...

Is there any doubt in your mind that Bashar was instrumental in the Hariri assasination?

Dr. Landis's reply:

"I have no reason to doubt the Lebanese and international investigations, which have all pointed their fingers at him. I don't see anyone else whom I could blame for it."

To all those who think that Dr. Landis is nothing but a mouthpiece for the Syrian regime, perhaps you owe the man an apology.

The significance of the quote is that is not referring to Syrian "officials" but Bashar himself.

At 4/26/2006 09:20:00 PM, Blogger norman said...

Ehsani ,I was surprised to see joshua blaming Asad without confirmation and evidence ,I hope he is wrong.

At 4/26/2006 10:38:00 PM, Blogger Alex said...


"U.S. style capitalism and capitalism in general is NOT a perfect system. But it sure is perfect when compared to all others."

If it is not perfect, then it is not perfect, even if you compare it to others.

If you are interested in maximizing GNP and GDP, then great. But if you want to maximize people's "utility" out of these raw numbers, then a more balanced economic system (a gentler capitalism?) is closer to perfection.

Oops! ... it sounds like I am advocating the socially responsible Capitalism favored by the baath party.

At 4/27/2006 03:55:00 AM, Blogger t_desco said...

It shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone as he has also given the most convincing analysis so far - in my opinion - of why Bashar himself could have been involved in the killing of Hariri, far more convincing than anything Mehlis ever wrote.

I am not yet convinced as Brammertz in his latest report did not really show his hand and the questions regarding the role of Khaled Taha remain unanswered. We'll have to wait until the final report, I guess.

At 4/27/2006 04:56:00 AM, Blogger George Ajjan said...

zamzami - please provide details on the links between the SSNP and the security apparatus of the Baath regime. Yes, Anisa Makhlouf was an SSNP member, that may be important, or it may be a mere coincidence.

According to Sami Moubayed, the SSNP is the only party, other than the communists, that the Baath will allow to compete according to the new "party law".

Why was the SSNP banned for so many years and only re-allowed in 2005? What has changed? Was that a merely cosmetic move?

At 4/27/2006 05:32:00 AM, Blogger t_desco said...

Sometimes conflicting reports in the Lebanese press can be quite funny:

Influencé par Zarqaoui, il tente de traverser la frontière libano-israélienne
L'Orient-Le Jour

Lebanese Merchant Looses His Way at Border with Israeli-Occupied Territory

"It was Zarqawi who inspired me to sell those dates...!"

On a more serious note, all those who suggested that the Bush administration would "abandon Lebanon" or "seek a deal" with Syria should now concede that they were wrong. There is even some evidence that the US increasingly views Iran, Syria and Lebanon/Hizbullah as part of the same problem, notably the question of what will happen in the case of an attack on Iran.

Bush sets stage to freeze assets of Hariri assassins

Speaking to reporters in New York, Bolton said: "It's been sometime since the council considered a resolution and I think highlighting the areas of deficiency in Syria's performance under 1559, and possibly under 1595 as well, would be important to show the council's continuing determination on the question," Bolton said.

Bolton said the proposed resolution would also tackle Iran's involvement in Lebanon, which was mentioned in UN envoy Terje Roed-Larsen's report for the first time in the form of support for Hizbullah.
The Daily Star

Iran role in Lebanon worries U.S.

Bush prend l’ONU de vitesse : nouvelle salve de sanctions contre la Syrie
L'Orient-Le Jour

International Community Prepares More Sanctions Against Syria Over its Actions in Lebanon

Also interesting in this context:

Senior US and British military officials visit Lebanon as reports speak of US attempts to purge security institutions from "pro-Syria" officers

Perhaps this can explain the rather surprising assertion by an unnamed US government consultant quoted by Seymour Hersh in his article "The Iran Plans":

When I asked the government consultant about that possibility, he said that, if Hezbollah fired rockets into northern Israel, “Israel and the new Lebanese government will finish them off.”
The New Yorker

(my emphasis)

At 4/27/2006 08:53:00 AM, Blogger ugarit said...


Much of what you say is only from the prespective of the elite businesses and not the majority of people. I thought we want to free syrians and not shackle them to another system?

The US has "flexible labor markets" is a code word for expliotable labor force, because they have fewer rights than their counterparts in Europe. Is life all about how much money a business can make?

The US has "strong commitment to anti-trust laws". That may have been true years ago but not any more. The opposite is the trend.

I just hope economists who have similar thought processes as expressed by you don't take over Syria. It would be a disaster to the majority.

At 4/27/2006 01:33:00 PM, Blogger majedkhaldoon said...

souk al Karamani will be destroyd tommorrow, three hundred family Deplore Assad not to do it, is it a right move or wrong move?

At 4/27/2006 03:44:00 PM, Blogger Atassi said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 4/27/2006 03:48:00 PM, Blogger Atassi said...


At 4/27/2006 06:17:00 PM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...


Your kind words are much appreciated.

Ugarit is sadly misinformed.

My thought process would be a disaster for the majority? Even I tried, this poor majority cannot possibly be in a worse shape than their plight today


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