An Opposition Member Gives His Analysis
These two notes were sent to me by an important freethinking intellectual in Damascus. He asked that I not use his name at this time.
Like Father like Son: The myth of the Old Guard
I am not upset anymore of the Syrian opposition failure; it is something that I have become accustomed to. For example, I did not sign the "Damascus – Beirut" declaration - not because I do not agree with it, but because its timing was wrong, according to my point of view. In the matter of fact, I think that this declaration should have been announced directly after the assassination of Mr. Rafiq Hariri and not almost a year later. Due to the huge external pressures then, the Syrian regime was not able to react the way it has done so far. In brief, I think that the Syrian opposition missed the right moment to hit.
However, I am really annoyed about the way that President Bashar is assuming more and more power: it reflects the same old manners of his father, President Hafez. It is the same gradual, relentless, and determined approach. After all, President Hafez did not change into a dictator, just like that, in a moment of time.
Regardless of the great differences in conditions surrounding their assumption of power (i.e. the Father and the Son) on the international and regional levels, there are also a number of pointes of resemblance, to the astonishment of all of us:
• Both of them started their rule with a promise of change. It was the "Tashih – correction" for the father, and the "Islah - reform" for the son;
• Both of them inspired first (by accident??) the widespread idea that they were good persons in their hearts, but they were helpless toward the corrupt team surrounding them (the "Old Guard", during the early days of President Bashar's rule). In my opinion, this idea is crucial for the appearance of a new dictator, or even it is a real call for this appearance. For when people start to believe in it, they start also to accept the assuming of more and more power by this "good-heated" man;
• Both of them capitalized on their "victories" in their confrontations with the "outside" to achieve a complete win in their struggle for power. It was the "War of October" for the father, and the confrontation with the US and especially with the Mehlis investigation for the son;
• Both of them resorted to assassinate their external enemies: politicians and journalists in Lebanon (Kamal Junblat / Rafiq Hariri; Saleem Al-Louzy / Jubran Twaini, to mention only a few);
• During his first years of rule, and before the confrontation with Muslim Brotherhood, President Hafez never resorted to wide arrests among the Syrian opposition. Arrests were always limited; however they were used to spread fear on a wide-scale, and they were intensified in the mid 1970's by resorting to firing state-employees through what is known as "abusive end of service measures". It seems that President Bashar is using the same old "toolkit". Limited arrests can be easily forgotten, they think, but serve the same purpose as wide-scale arrests: they instill pervasive fear.
Is Syria on its way toward a more generalized oppression of freedoms, the way it used to be in the 1980's? Unfortunately, the answer seems to be: yes.
He also sent me this response to my Lebanon article:
Your article, Why Lebanon is Not Likely to Win Full Sovereignty Soon, is simply fantastic, congratulations…
However, I would like to make the following comments:
"In an ideal moral universe, the answer to the question of which country – Lebanon or Syria – is responsible for improving relations between the two is simple. It is Syria’s duty. Syria must satisfy a long checklist before having restored full sovereignty to Lebanon. 1) It must clarify ownership of Shabaa farms, 2) stop arms transfers to Palestinian militias and Hizbullah, 3) stop threatening Lebanese politicians, 4) account for missing and imprisoned Lebanese, and 5) establish an embassy in Beirut", you wrote.
I think the word "responsible" in the original question is tricky. I think the question should be rephrased to become: “Improving Syrian Lebanese relations ... whose interest is it?”
I think that the massage expressed by Syrian intellectuals who signed the "Damascus – Beirut Declaration" was clear: improving Syrian Lebanese relations is one of Syria's highest national interests. While this is clear for most Syrian's, the Syrian regime was very aware of the implication, i.e. that it is responsible for endangering Syria's highest national interests, and hence its violent reaction toward these intellectuals.
The other massage, of which the regime was aware, also, is that Syria's foreign policy is a failure. Here we have real sphinxes in the ministry of foreign affaires, who refuse to react under pressure (since this hurts "Syrians national pride"!!) and do not move when those pressures calm down. To my best knowledge, the last sphinx, Mr. Waleed Mua'llem is still "looking east", or may be just staring. It will be fun to explain this "looking east" strategy as either looking to Americans in Iraq, or looking to Washington via the Pacific Ocean. I think that the 5 points you mentioned above can really provide basis for a Syrian initiative to be marketed, and negotiated, by the Syrian Minister of Foreign Affairs, in the light of Syria's highest national interests. However, it seems that language of the successive sphinxes lacks the word "initiative". Moreover, the regime has always thought of its foreign policy as a red line, and this explains another side of its reaction against the intellectuals.
Back to your article and to options you suggested on "How will Lebanon win full sovereignty. I think that option 3, "The United States makes a deal with Syria on Lebanon’s behalf to buy Lebanese sovereignty from Syria…" is the most important option, given:
• The lack of a Syrian initiative;
• The willingness of the Syrian regime to make a deal with the US. In the matter of fact, President Bachar referred to this in one of his speeches, when he said that he asked the American: "what is the deal "Safqa" you are offering?" In this context, one might observe a tendency. The regimes of Syria, Iran, and North Korea, all ask to deal directly with the US. I know only a little about Iran and North Korea, but in the Syrian case I think that the reason is clear. It relates not only to the "US acceptance of the Asad regime’s legitimacy", as you have rightly noticed, but also to fears of Syria's policy makers to negotiate things with other parties, such as the EU, and reach an agreement that might fail to win US appreciation. Since they know that their negotiation capacity is very limited, they prefer to negotiate directly with the US to know exactly what the American interests are.
• Since points 1 and 2 above (i.e. clarify ownership of Shabaa farms, stop arms transfers to Palestinian militias and Hizbullah) relate also the Syrian-Israeli conflict, Syrian policy makers will be reluctant to find solutions these issues without US. direct involvement.