Sunday, May 22, 2005

Would it be Better for Syria to have Regime-Change Now or in 5 Years?

The other evening I argued with a Syrian friend - a smart and established journalist - over whether Syria should have regime-change now, or sometime in the future, let's say in five years.

I argued that regime-change now would be a mistake and would hold many unforeseen and unpredictable dangers. My friend argued the opposite. He said the sooner there is regime-change the better. "You are out of touch with real Syria," he said. "Who do you see? The wealthy and well off. Look at the growing number of poor in the suburbs of Damascus" he suggested. "Look at the poverty in the countryside, the growing number of unemployed, etc."

I argued that Syria has no organized opposition that has any experience. The ethnic and sectarian divisions among Syrians are real and wide. There is very little "liberal" consciousness among the broad masses. "If there is revolution or regime-change now," I argued, the chance of Syria heading toward chaos or even civil war is high - too high to risk."

I came home and looked up the numbers. In Syria there is a growing absolute number of poor, but a declining number of poor as a percentage of the population. Anyway, the elites are more important than the poor in governing the country successfully. They must be prepared to take power.

In a report written six years ago, the poverty in all MENA (Middle East and Near East) countries was summed up like this:

We calculated the number of poor people in MENA in 1985 and 1994 according to different poverty lines ranging from spending per-capita of $21 to $60 per month. One conclusion that emerges is that, irrespective of the choice of the poverty line, the actual number of poor in MENA has increased between 1985 and 1994. If instead of measuring the number of poor, we measure the proportion of poor in the population, we observe that the percentage of poor people has decreased between 1985 and 1994, again irrespective of the choice of the poverty line.
In conclusion, my friend is right: there are more poor people. But he is wrong to argue that the problem is getting worse. It isn't. The percentage is declining, although too slowly.

In terms of the rate of annual growth, Syria has been in the middle of the MENA pack since the Baath revolution of 1963, but much of that growth has been wiped out by the high population increase. (Syrian growth rate in the 1950s was much higher.) Here is what FAO has to say:
During the last four decades economic growth in Syria has advanced at a rate of 4.6 percent per year on average (between endpoints of the 1963-1999 period). This is a good rate of growth in the long term for many countries. Unfortunately, the growth in population in Syria is also quite high (3.3 percent average over the same period). Growth has accompanied the rapid growth in population, which is a real achievement, but per capita income has remained stagnant in the long-term, alternating ups and downs. The economy has progressed on a cyclical pattern of periods of rapid growth followed by periods of stagnation or decline. The 1990s have been a period of growth, but a decreasing rate,
More up to date figures (1990-2001) also give a fairly high rate of growth. Here is what the UN says according to the Globalis World Indicator Information on Syria
Indicator: GDP per capita annual growth rate - 1990-2001
Description: GDP per capita annual growth rate: Annual GDP growth per person. Least squares annual growth rate, calculated from constant price GDP per capita in local currency units.
Source: Human Development Report (UNDP)
Syria is squarely in the middle of GDP per capita annual growth rates for 1990-2001 at 1.9%
Syria is below the following countries (the figure is the rate of growth)
Lebanon 3.6
Sudan 3.2
Tunisia 3.1
Egypt 2.5
United Kingdom 2.5
Yemen 2.4
Canada 2.1
United States 2.1
Iran 2
Syria 1.9
Turkey 1.7
France 1.5
Germany 1.2
Jordan .9
Morocco .7
Oman .6
Algeria .1
Chad -.5
Kuwait -1.0
Saudi -1.1
UAR -1.6

It should be added that Syria's population growth rate has been falling sharply in the last decade. Today it is 2.7% and not 3.3%, as it used to be.

Growth in the last few years has also been down. In 2002 it was around 4%. It fell dramatically to 2.5% in 2003 because of the US invasion of Iraq, but picked up again to 3.9 estimated in 2004 and is supposed to grow even faster in 2005 (projected 4.3).

The basic picture for Syria is improving because the country is getting population growth under control. Non-oil growth should be good in the coming years because of Asad's financial, tourist, diplomatic (think Turkey) and investment reforms. It should be added that the withdrawal from Lebanon may also end up having a positive effect on the Syrian economy in the long term. Remittances are sharply down because of the return of Syrian workers, but overall foreign investment is growing.

The UAE investment firm, Majid al-Futtaim, is beginning the single largest investment project in Syria - a series of hotels, Mall, restaurants, playgrounds for kids, movie theaters, etc. on the road to Beirut. Initial investment is 300 million dollars, but the plan is to eventually invest 1 billion in the coming years. The firm's outlook is good because tourism was up this spring by 30%. Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon should not hurt the project, which will rely heavily on Gulf and Lebanese consumer tourism. As one person, knowledgeable about the project, suggested to me, "these sorts of mega-projects will transform the face of the Syrian economy in five years. Syrians will develop a new consumer culture."

Of course, Syrian oil production is due to decline in the coming decade, so that is bad news, but it isn't perhaps as dire as some suggest it will be.

All the same, Syria's per capita income is not good. The country is poor compared to other MENA countries. This is due to bad management. Here are the UN figures provided by Gobalis. Indicator: GDP per capita - 2002

Syria is ranked country 96 out of 152 countries listed. Its adjusted GDP per capita is $3,620

Egypt is #94 and Morocco is #95 on the list. They are immediately above Syria at $3,800. Jordan is country #91, Lebanon is #89 at $4,360 GDP per capita.

The only Arab countries that are poorer per person are Sudan and Yemen, which are well below Syria. This is why Congressman Tom Lantos (D-California) told Yale University students recently
that Syria is now the third poorest country in the region, behind only the Sudan and Yemen, and that its economy is "desperately" in need of foreign investment. "What Syria has is disinvestment," Lantos said. "Any Syrian with money gets it out of the country."
Another reason to expect Syrian growth rates to be below potential is its on-going battle with the US.
About US-Syrian relations, Lantos was not as optimistic as he was about US-Libyan relations. He recounted a visit he made to the country in the spring of 2003, in which he met with President Bashar Assad and proposed a "road map" for stabilizing relations with the United States. Lantos urged Assad to close down terrorist offices in the country, withdraw its 17,000 troops from Lebanon, quell "vicious" anti-American propaganda in Syria and
close down its border with Iraq.

"He was shown evidence of Syrians supplying everything anti-American forces need," Lantos said.

Unfortunately, said Lantos, "Assad has chosen not to follow the path of Libya." Hence, he told his audience, he is recommending that U.S. policy toward the country be "the exact opposite course" of what he proposed for Libya.
The point I am arguing here is that the state of the Syrian economy is not a reason to wish immediate regime-change. It is growing, contrary to the belief of many.

The reason for sticking with President Asad is because of Syria's institutional and ideological weaknesses. If change comes before Syria has real institutions, capable of guiding the country, the government may collapse as did Iraq's. There would be chaos and possibly civil war as we saw in Lebanon.

The counter-example is Egypt. Egypt's state institutions are growing in strength and independence. They are exploiting the political opening being offered the country by President Mubarak to assert their corporate identity and independence. A week ago, 2000 Egyptian judges said they would not oversee the elections unless they were given independence and legal autonomy. Read this article in today's NYTimes by Hassan Fattah:
Egyptian Judges Are Entering Growing Reform Movement
CAIRO, May 19 - When thousands of Egyptian judges gathered in Cairo last week to demand greater independence from the government, they highlighted the entry of a powerful new force in the country's growing reform movement: official institutions.

Long taken for granted as appendages of the government, some institutions are less willing to tolerate business as usual this election year. The judges' extraordinarily public step is perhaps the most obvious display of resistance, and builds on a similar call by judges in Alexandria weeks earlier.

In small ways, institutions like Parliament and the state-controlled news media have begun to show a degree of independence too. While small groups of protesters demanding greater democracy and an end to President Hosni Mubarak's government are now taking to the streets, the greatest potential for change may lie in those official institutions.

"The return of real politics has put many institutions back in the limelight, and these institutions are beginning to work for change," said Abdel Monem Said, director of the Ahram Center for Strategic Studies, a government-backed research and policy organization.

The institutions are presenting Mr. Mubarak with an unexpected challenge from within, one that will be difficult to dismiss. "The fact is, major changes in this country are going to come out of those institutions, not from the streets," Mr. Said said.
Syria is at least 5 years behind Egypt in developing independent institutions, maybe ten years. Some will argue that as long as the Baath is in power in Syria, the country will never be allowed to develop independent institutions or free thinkers.

I disagree. This last month we witnessed a minor uprising in the ranks of the Baath Party itself over the irregularities of the Party elections. A petition was circulated by Party members such as Ayman Abdul Nour and signed by many highly placed Baathists complaining about the corruption of the elections and demanding that 100 qualified reformers be added to the Party Congress, which has roughly 1,200 members, and from which the Command Council of 21 members will be selected.

Many argue, and I think convincingly, that Bashar is trying to build more professional ministries - that he is, in effect, an institution builder, who is trying to replace patronage and clientele networks with well qualified personnel in legally based institutions.

Bashar's distaste for the security institutions of the country and his veering away from reliance on the military is evident. I will recount one story which underlines his alienation from the Military and traditional pillars of the regime.

A good friend recently retuned to Syria for a three week visit to see if he wants to bring his family here and start a business. He has lived abroad for nine years and is a successful engineer working for a multinational corporation. He is Alawite and a son of a retired minister.

He said he visited 14 school friends when he traveled up the coast to Tartus and Banyas, and added:
You know how most everyone on the coast (Alawites) depends on the Army, either directly or indirectly? Well, they all said that the present regime no longer respects the army, and people follow suit. In the old days everyone knew that Hafiz was "ta’ifi," sectarian. They supported him because they knew he was pulling for them and was helping them. They no longer feel that way. They said the moral in the army was zero. They said that this president might as well be a Kurd or Sunni because he no longer favors the military and doesn't reach out to his people (Alawites).
I have heard similar stories from many others. When I asked my mother-in-law (wife of a retired general) if this was true, she raised her eyebrows, as if to suggest I was an idiot son-in-law for asking such a stupid question. "Yes, of course. They used to respect the army but now people look at us with dislike and sometimes even loathing."

I asked why.

"Because we lost 4 wars," she quickly answered. "We haven't received any new arms in ten years. The training is nothing. No one cares about the army anymore. People don't believe in Baathism or in the government. The officers are not like they used to be. There are no longer any great men among them whom people respect; they are corrupt. It is not like the old days when everyone looked up to the military and the officers sacrificed to build their country and believed in Syria."

I have no clue whether this "Golden Age" of military heroism ever existed, but I suspect there is something to Umm Firas' comments. She is smart and a keen judge of men. A picture of Abu Firas shaking President Nasser's hand on the day of his graduation from the UAE Naval Academy in 1960 hangs proudly in their living room. They look at the 1960s as a time when military men were giants. Of course, they were young then and idealistic. But I doubt many young men going into the army today are as idealistic.

Anyway, the moral of this story is that Bashar has abandoned the military. My friend and mother-in-law believe this is dangerous. It probably is, although, I don't believe the dispirited military is likely to cause Bashar real problems. It does suggest, however, that the president is not doing business as usual. He was not brought up in the military like his father and brother, Basil. He is counting on the work of his reformist ministers - Planning, Economy, Tourism, Finance, etc. - and not on the security forces to build a new Syria and create support for his presidency and regime.

Many believe Bashar's strategy is foolish and will lead to eventual collapse. It may be, but it should be supported. The longer he gives reformers a chance and keeps the intellectual environment open for people to criticize, question and debate, the better off Syria will be.

If the West squeezes Syria too hard and too quickly, causing premature collapse, Syria may end up in chaos. The new institutions are not ready to take on the responsibility of running the country or guiding it through real turbulence. They are not as mature as Egypt’s institutions. All the same, they are headed in that direction. Very few people in government believe in Baathism. Given time, they will chose independence and honesty over corruption and slavish obeisance to the regime. There are many good people in the government. Syria needs them working on its side. They will in time.


The bankruptcy of present ideological thinking in Syria is the second reason why regime-change today is a bad idea. Syria has no developed national consciousness or clearly articulated national idea. Having a developed and well defined sense of the nation is crucial to the success of democracy. There can be no setting the "rules of the game" of democracy or establishing a national social contract if citizens cannot agree what game they are playing. They must know where their borders are and embrace fellow citizens as legal equals. Syrians must want to be Syrians.

Since its inception in 1918 following WWI, Syrians have denied the legitimacy of their national borders and a Syrian national identity. Instead they chose Arab nationalism - the unity of the Arab countries. This has failed. In the meantime, all reference to a Syrian national identity has been practically outlawed. Schoolbooks from grades 1 to 12 do not include the word Syria. I wrote an article about Islamic education in Syria for which I read the required books students must read in every grade. There is not one mention of Syria. The word does not appear in the curriculum.

The Syrian National Party was outlawed until last week. It has been since 1955. President Quwatli in 1946, when the French left the country, stated that he "would never raise the Syrian flag above the flag of Arab nationalism." Every Syrian president has made good on that promise since. The Syrian constitution says that Syria is a "region" of the "Arab nation." Syria exists as a geographical entity, but not as a national identity. Syrians love their country, but they deny that there is such a thing as a Syrian nation or particularity that is Syria.

As Karfan (an Alawite) recently wrote on his blog:
No one believes in the Arab identity joke anymore and our Kings have made all efforts to erase and destroy any attempt of creating a Syrian Identity that gathers all of us. Eventually people find that those stupid sectarian and religious identities are the only way to belong... What is left for them to believe or belong to? Nothing.
Karfan is right. Without Arabism, Syrians have only their sectarian communities to fall back on, because Syrianism has been denied to them. The strength of sectarian identities in Syria is potentially very dangerous should there be sudden regime-change. Syrians would do well to work out a national identity that is at peace with their borders before facing into political uncertainty.

Syrians are beginning to back into a Syrian national identity. The withdrawal from Lebanon has forced the issue. So has Bush's campaign against Arabism; so has the "me first" campaigns of Jordan and all the other countries of the Arab world. The Jordan first, Egypt first, etc. campaigns are killing political Arabism. Syria is not far behind, but it is behind.

If the present Damascus Spring is accomplishing anything, it is changing the way Syrians see themselves, the way they relate to other Arab countries, and the way they see their own destiny.

The political opposition in Syria has failed to articulate a Syrian national identity and is still caught in the web of Arabism, although there are some nascent parties that have adopted a purely Syrian-democratic platform. (Riad al-Turk's old Communist wing just renamed itself the "Syrian Democratic Popular Party" three days ago to great fanfare. It is happening.

But there is still no real opposition. There are only talking heads and mini groups. They are not organized, nor are they ready to lead a country.

Syria needs time. The West should squeeze but not break.


At 5/22/2005 02:55:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Honestly, if you think Bashar has "abandoned" the army, or the intelligence services, then you really know nothing about Syria. Nothing at all.

At 5/22/2005 03:12:00 PM, Blogger ThinkingMan said...

Wow! What a comprehensive sweep on that topic! I first thought we were going to vote on it.
Comments on some points:
- the GDP per capita is the real bummer; on a purchasing parity basis, it's not bad comparatively because Syria is still relatively cheap, but in absolute dollars, it's pathetic as it inched only $260/capita in 28 years (from $980 to $1240).
- Syria's population growth has been a disaster. They went from 7.6 million people in 1976 to about 18 million today. To see the growth rate as slowing down to 2.7% from 3.3% is an optimistic sign indeed, but the dammage is done.
- You mentioned that non-oil revenues will grow; but isn't true that oil represents 71% of exports and that since reserves are due to decrease dramatically within 5 years, a rather steep uptick in non-oil revenues will be required to compensate.
- if i were to vote today on that question, i would give them the half-way point (2.5 years) to see "visible" changes.
- your previous post answers the very good question: change to what? that conference will be watched for possible signs of change, not just talk.
- Question: does Bashar have the ability to be like Ernesto Zedillo in reference to Zedillo's brave stance in breaking the one-party rule in Mexico?
- Indirectly, what happens in Lebanon will be a factor too. Lebanon seems to be going now at 100km/h in terms of change, openness, reforms, etc...and as the Syrian's presence there seems so distant already, the next 5 years will be ones where Syria gets influenced by Lebanon, and not vice-versa.
- In sum, I'm all for squeezing (what a nice choice of words for "change"- i might borrow it for my corporate circles)- But if the outside is squeezing, the inside must do the changing, really. Change is painful and typically starts to happen when those leading it can show that the pain of not changing is greater than that of change. Will Syria's leadership give the message of "Change" realistically, and will they act on it first by taking the early pain on themselves?

At 5/22/2005 03:15:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 5/22/2005 03:17:00 PM, Blogger Nur-al-Cubicle said...

Isn't Tom Lantos a _notorious_ figure in the Israeli Congressional lobby?

In any case, I believe rival hegemon France, and indirectly the EU, will propose the slower route. France sold Syria 12 Airbus passenger carriers this week. The Quai d'Orsay also told off Condi Rice. France will advise and call the shots, as it is doing in Lebanon.

At 5/22/2005 03:33:00 PM, Anonymous said...

Excellent points, all around. I was just in Lattakia this weekend with a bunch of Damascene friends and learned an interesting tidbit that fits nicely with your thesis--

I had a really hard time understanding some of the Lattakians, especially the ones in the countryside, as their accent and amiyyeh is really quite different from that of Damascus. I asked one of my friends if they can always spot a Lattakian by his accent, and he said "of course." Then I asked if President Assad talked like a Lattakian, and he said "no, not at all. He's lived his whole life in Damascus and isn't really a 'Lattakian' or an Alawite in the way he acts." Not sure about the whole "way he acts" part (evidently many Lattakians who come to Damascus have a reputation for being conceited, swaggering around and playing up their 'elite' status by over-pronouncing their qofs and whatnot...), but his speech patterns would certainly do nothing to endear him to the "ta'ifi" masses in the north.

At 5/22/2005 03:58:00 PM, Blogger Catherine said...

Interesting article you have here. But I think you are, too, being swept too far away with unreasonable expectations. The president said there will be changes and reformes on the Baath congress. And he is relativly popular in the country. But that does'nt mean that the congress will dissolve Baath, bring back all the stolen money to Syria ( from all corrupt men),stop corruption, bring democracy, and fair elections!
The opposition said over and over again: It should be a national congress, with all the parties, not just Baath. And they were turned down. Today it's still not as "free" as it was during Damascus spring. The spring's prisoners are still in prison,(and by the way many think it was actually a trap, people were encouraged to critisize, and then who ever dared got in prison) their money still gone, and magazines like Al doumari still forbidden. To add to that, the softening signs where the regime promised opposition figures to finally get passports and enter Syria turned out to be false, a trap! They were priosned again.
And the regime is still strong and feared.No one inside Syria is threatening it, neither the street or opposition or instutions, all are very weak. There won't be any regime change. Not now and neither in 5 or 10 years. The best that can happen are som reformes.
And the reason that opposition is so weak is mainly the great fear in the country. You could get real big troubles!!
The people´s expectations are high now though, they dare to hope more. And we will see if that will have an effect on the results of the congress.
People in Egypt have been less scared and with more freedom (regarding media for example) for a long time. While Syria is quite a lot behind. For real change to start happening, the atmosphere in Syria should get much more open, and the regim more tolerant. And after years of that Syrians might dare to follow the example of Egyptians..
Yes there is a problem of sectarianism here,no doubt..But this problem has increased a lot during the 50 years of sectarian rule where a sertain sect had a monopole on power in a state ruled by fear.
This can change for the better- although history can't be erased and a lot of damage is allready done- if there would be real changes soon, and if the power no longer belonged to only members of close families and same sect. Specially important positions in the army.
Also open discussion of the problem sectarianism, is very needed. A project like tharwa for example (run by Ammar abd al hamid) should stop being seen as a danger, and be encouraged instead and permitted to use real media (magazines , radio, tv).
Also, it would be very important to really attac corruption,and by that real powerfull men, who are just taking huge amounts of money outside Syria all the time. And never envesting in it.

At 5/22/2005 06:27:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm curious Josh, why do you think the Syrian oil situation might not be as bad as some posit? ConocoPhillips is bailing leaving only little minnow companies, reserve depletion is high (right about the point where most countries go into steep decline) and production could soon be low enough to turn the country into a net importer. What gives you greater optimism than what seems warranted?

At 5/23/2005 03:24:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting Joshua, I couldn't agree more but the question is: What is the United States agenda for Syria? do they have a vision, a strategy? What do they really want away from all the democratic slogans?

At 5/23/2005 04:53:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Josh, Just found this in Alhayat Newspaper
Translation & comment on Tom Spender's article in the Christian Science Monitor

At 5/23/2005 08:37:00 AM, Blogger Joshua Landis said...

From Tony (Sent by email)
I think there are two problems with your argument:

1- Josh's scheme is still a top-down scheme. I have serious doubts as to receptivity by the various groups for a top-down definition by a sectarian Allawi regime, hell, by an Allawite family, which as Karfan noted (a part that you neglected), an Allawite family that has destroyed ALLAWITE self-identity.

2- The notion that time stands still while people sort out their
identity before they go on building a decent political system is absurd. The Lebanese had to muscle through it and in the end they STILL don't have that type of organic identity that you seem to think the Syrians must obtain as an a priori condition (too much kamal Salibi in my opinion). It's too much of a European nation-state kind of thing and too integrationist for a society like Syria.

I think the way Lebanon has evolved on this issue is important. I think that all organic
identities failed in Lebanon, and will always fail, because it's a
pluralist society. Nevertheless, this has not diminished the sense of "Lebanonness." But what this "Lebanonness" is is more of a loose overarching theme that has two important underpinnings:

1- a social contract between the various communities, and an understanding that this is a contract (as opposed to organic nationhood). and

2- the understanding that any definition of Lebanon has to be one where Lebanon (however defined) is a place where all communities come together and live together through compromise. That I think has been the lesson that was drawn over the last 20 years. So the more organic debates (Arabism vs Phoenicianism) have died down considerably. No one cares. It's approached with a much more pragmatic outlook. There's a
Lebanon, and there are various Lebanese groups that need to live here together. Period. So it's much more contractual.

Go and read the debate a couple of smart readers have been having on my blog (under the good bad and ugly post). Despite their references they actually do meet at a middle point (i'm going to explain it to them soon). That middle point is the American system. True both these guys live here, but that's not the only reason in my view. There is a reason why these guys aren't using European models for analogies. Both
understand ethnopolitics in Lebanon (from the opposite ends of the spectrum). And both understand the need to both work with them and beyond them. The solution is not a zero-sum game like in most majoritarian westminster model European states. The solution is in a mixed consensus-majoritarian system like the US. I think this will be, or should be, the direction Lebanon goes in. In fact, that should be the end goal. The end goal in my view should not the be abandonment of consociationalism. It should be the introduction of adequate and useful elements from majoritarianism, but into the consociational framework, not the undoing of the latter. The end result is something similar to the US system. I think the first step in that regard ought to be bicameralism. Then we move on in various other directions (like the
judiciary etc.). In addition to the introduction of useful and ADEQUATE (i.e. applicable) majoritarian elements should be the phasing out or elimination of the more unworkable elements of consociationalism, or even more entrenched but not central elements through compromise. Also
I think Khodr and Saghieh (see my comment in that post with the readers for the links) hit (not fully) certain key points in the new Lebanon.

The fact is that the players and the populace aren't really as militant as they once were in their attachments to primordial identities. I think the key element in that regard is the death of arab nationalism and the death of palestinian threat in their midst. Also, the Syrian presence built that in them as well (not actively of course. they learned it themselves!).

Globalization also plays a role (though I like Saghieh's balanced view). Also the cross sectarian alliances and the readiness of the players to work together, and the willingness of most voters to vote across sectarian lines (Khodr's point) is an important point.

So all these things will continue to evolve, and hopefully there'll be money coming in to support it (and no Syrians to steal most of it).

But all this is built on active participation by the Lebanese WITH sectarianism and within the sectarian structure. So the "protective" scheme you draw out (which is a smokescreen as far as Asad is involved), actually ends up making the Syrians even more passive and uninvolved. So Lee hit it on the head. They have lived their lives with decisions being made for them, and your view continues that (that's why Asad doesn't allow them to question him or sectarianism, the two most important questions for them and the ones that assume active participation and thought on the part of the Syrians themselves!)!
Also, the scheme you lay out is too "european." But look at the way
they're dealing with multiculturalism and integration! They're falling apart! The fact that Bashar is following that means that he's still operating within the "Arab nationalist" (i.e. romantic nationalist) mode. Lebanon, I think, has moved beyond that, and that's where the region may be moving (cf. Hoagland's piece). Syria, in that sense, is an anachronism.

That's my view at least.

At 5/23/2005 09:09:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem with Tony's views (either than his neo-con beleives) is that he is reffering to Lebanon as a successful example to follow??

At 5/23/2005 09:57:00 AM, Anonymous sottovoce said...

to anonymous 9:09
Why not? Considering all the odds Lebanon has had to face and still does, the country is not only surviving but putting up quite a good fight, and, all other things being equal, its performance is not bad at all.

At 5/23/2005 10:15:00 AM, Blogger Catherine said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 5/23/2005 11:03:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found this rare article, but I don't know how trust worthy it is * صحيفة السياسة (الكويتية) - يومية


مسح مخابراتي لتوجهات "البعثيين" أذهل القيادة السورية: الرفاق إسلاميون محافظون!

"حقوق الإنسان" تدعو السوريين المنفيين إلى عدم العودة قبل صدور قرار بالعفو

»السياسة« ¯ خاص:

دمشق الوكالات: كشفت مصادر في المعارضة السورية في المنفى ان مسحا تقيميا أجرته إدارة المخابرات العامة (أمن الدولة) حول التوجه الديني والسياسي لأعضاء حزب البعث العربي الاشتراكي الحاكم جاء بمثابة صاعقة اذهلت القيادة السورية حين ابدى غالبية »الرفاق« ميلا لدعم التيار الإسلامي القومي المحافظ.

وبينما نفت وزارة الداخلية السورية ان تكون اجهزتها الأمنية ضالعة في اختفاء رجل الدين الإسلامي الكردي معشوق الخزنوي شنت اجهزة الاستخبارات حملة اعتقالات في محافظة دير الزور شرق البلاد دون اسباب واضحة.

وقال »المجلس الوطني للحقيقة والعدالة والمصالحة في سورية« الذي يتخذ من باريس مقرا له ان فرع الكمبيوتر في جهاز امن الدولة انهى قبل نحو اسبوعين عمليات تقييم نتائج مسح لتوجهات البعثيين ستقدم الى الرئيس السوري بشار الاسد الذي اوعز للمخابرات القيام بهذه المهمة منذ عام كامل.

ونقل المجلس عن مصدر مقرب من احد مهندسي المعلومات في المخابرات السورية ان نتائج البحث شكلت صدمة حقيقية للسلطات السورية رغم توقعاتهم السابقة لها.

واوضح المصدر الذي رفض الكشف عن هويته ان عملية المسح تمت على اساس نموذج استبياني ضم اربعين سؤالا حول الاحوال القومية والمذهبية والالتزام الديني والموقف من دمج الفكر القومي بتوجهات إسلامية ومبدأ فصل الدين عن الدولة والعلاقة مع اسرائيل.

كما طرحت اسئلة حول مواقف البعثيين من مشروع الغاء قرارات التأميم الاشتراكية والزواج المدني المختلط والحالة الاقتصادية والمعيشية وطبقا للمصدر فان عملية المسح شملت مليون ومئة الف عضو في الحزب غالبيتهم من المسلمين السنة.

وقال 53.4 في المئة من البعثيين انهم سيصوتون لقوائم تضم مرشحين ذوي اتجاه قومي ¯ اسلامي بينما ذهب 24.3 في المئة الى دعم قائمة »الإخوان المسلمين« في اي انتخابات ديمقراطية.

وقال 77 في المئة انهم يؤدون فرضا دينيا واحدا على الاقل, فيما يصلي 53 في المئة يوميا في المساجد.

وابدى 71.5 في المئة موافقتهم على معاهدة سلام مع إسرائيل وفق قرارات الأمم المتحدة بينما رفض 28.5 في المئة اي شكل من السلام مع الدولة العبرية ودعم 57 في المئة من البعثيين إعادة البلاد الى الاقتصاد الرأسمالي وإلغاء قرارات التأميم الصادرة في ستينات القرن الماضي.

واستنتج المجلس المعارض من الارقام السابقة ان بنية حزب البعث محافظة وانه سيتشظى في حال فصله عن السلطة الى اربعة احزاب او تيارات رئيسية هي التيار القومي ¯ الإسلامي, والتيار الإسلامي الصرف, والتيار الليبرالي, والتيار اليساري, فيما يمكن ان يظهر تيار خامس قومي بشكل محض لكنه سيكون الأضعف

At 5/23/2005 11:33:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The sons of assad clan rob the country with a bigger impunity than their fathers did.(US $ billionaires ).Not the pawns of the Baath are the problem,but the head of the snake.
Very competent ministers as Ghassan Rifai had participated in the gouvernment but blocked by the cousin or bro of the president and other "sons of al baath".Member of parliament Riad Seif,reputed to be close to bashar was sent to assad jails after that he declared that Syria was one of the few countries in the world where the state had failed to profit from the sale of mobile phone licences and these companies are not even subject to taxes.
Thoses are blinded by their privileges and their sectarian hatred.
They are awareness of the extent of their political and human crimes against the syrian citizens and expect to pay for their crimes.
National pride revival will not happend under this regime.

At 5/23/2005 11:39:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Syrian Kurds demonstrate over missing cleric
21/05/2005 AFP
DAMASCUS, May 21 (AFP) - 16h00 - Some 10,000 Kurds demonstrated in northern Syria Saturday to demand news on the whereabouts of a Kurdish Muslim cleric widely believed to have been detained by Syrian police, a Kurdish leader said.

Sheikh Mohammed Maashuq al-Khaznawi has not been heard from since he left Damascus’s Islamic studies centre, of which he is vice president, on May 10.

Hassan Saleh, secretary general of the Yakiti party, said he had issued an open call during the demonstration in the northern town of Qamishli for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to "shed all possible light" on the disappearance.

On Wednesday, an interior ministry official denied claims that Khaznawi had been arrested.

Even so, human rights lawyer Anwar Bunni, who represents numerous opposition figures, said the authorities are "responsible for the life and liberty of Sheikh Khaznawi."

The sheikh, who teaches that Islam and democracy are compatible, is widely popular in Syria.

Syria is home to some 1.5 million Kurds, around nine percent of the population. They are fighting to have their language, culture and political rights recognised.

In March 2004, clashes pitted Kurdish protestors against Syrian security forces and Arab tribesmen in Qamishli and Aleppo. The Kurds said 40 people died, while the Syrian authorities gave a death toll of 25.

Hundreds of Kurds were arrested following the disturbances. On March 30 of this year, Assad ordered all of them released.

But Saleh said earlier this month that the pardon had not been fully carried out, and that "more than 100 Kurds still remain in prison."

He also claimed that the government was carrying out fresh arrests of Kurdish political activists.

At 5/23/2005 11:52:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Public Statement

AI Index: MDE 24/029/2005 (Public)
News Service No: 134
23 May 2005

Syria: Release and drop all charges against Muhammad Ra'dun and end pattern of harassment and arrests of human rights defenders
Amnesty International calls for the immediate release and the dropping of charges against Syrian human rights defender Muhammad Ra'dun, head of the Arab Organisation for Human Rights – Syria (AOHR-S).

Lawyer Muhammad Ra'dun, aged 56, was arrested at his office in Latakiya, on Syria's west coast, on 22 May by Political Security officers. He is charged with "disseminating false information" in apparent connection with statements made by the organisation. He was initially held at the Political Security branch in Latakiya then transferred to a Political Security branch in Damascus. He has not been allowed visits from a lawyer or from his family. It is not known which court he will be tried in.

Muhammad Ra'dun is one of a number of human rights defenders currently arrested or on trial in Syria. Nizar Ristnawi, a founding member of the AOHR-S remains held in incommunicado detention at an unknown location, without charge and without access to visits from his family or a lawyer, since his arrest on 18 April. 'Ali al-'Abdullah was arrested on the night of 15/16 May and is reportedly being held in incommunicado detention at the al-Jebeh Political Security Branch in Damascus, charged with "promoting an illegal organisation". The decision of the Supreme State Security Court is expected on 26 June regarding the case of Aktham Nu'ayse, President of the Committee for the Defence of Democratic Liberties and Human Rights, who was arrested on 13 April 2004 and is also charged with "disseminating false information", as well as "opposing the objectives of the revolution".

Muhammad Ra'dun is one of several human rights defenders in Syria – including Haytham al-Maleh, Anwar al-Bunni and Razan Zaytouneh - who are prevented from leaving the country. On 23 November 2004 Muhammad Ra'dun and his colleague Dr Mahmoud al-'Aryan were prevented from travelling to a human rights conference of the AOHR in Egypt.

Amnesty International repeats its call to the Syrian authorities to lift travel restrictions imposed on human rights defenders and to end the pattern of harassment and arrests against them. The organisation urges the Syrian authorities to ensure that the legislation, under which prisoners of conscience have been imprisoned, be brought in line with Articles 18 - 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Syria has been a party since 1969, guaranteeing the right to freedom of conscience, expression, assembly and association and the right to exercise these freedoms without undue interference. In addition, Amnesty International urges the Syrian authorities to respect the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1998 which states that "everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels".

See previous statements including, End persecution of human rights defenders and human rights activists (7 December 2004, MDE 24/076/2004), and Release 'Ali al-'Abdullah and end arrests and harassment of human rights defenders in Syria (20 May 2005, MDE 24/028/2005).

At 5/23/2005 02:55:00 PM, Anonymous kingcrane said...

I am a Lebanese Christian, but my mother is Syrian. Having lived in both countries, I feel qualified to comment on the current situation in Syria even if I have been living in the US since the seventies. I have one word for people in Syria: please emulate the freedom seen in Lebanon by having your own free press, but do not give in to a concentration of the media in a couple of hands. Resist the "winds of change" because they come from a source that detests the true multi-sectarian nature of Syria (and of Lebanon) and also because the Syrian political scene is at a stage where the first small steps will determine a whole lot in the future. Here in the US, where people are starting to realize that the neo-cons are ruining the US economy but that some companies are benefiting outrageously of the neo-con war in Iraq, changes in the political scene occur every two to four years; this is based on the election cycles, despite the fact that the powerful pro-Israeli and the pro-Saudi lobbies have long term agendas, and that House and Senate incumbants are usually easily re-elected.
So, who cares about 2.5 or 5 or 10 years; the Syrian people, not the people in the Oval Office, will decide. And, in Syria, where the most hungry citizens are also the most vibrantly wattaniyyin, slow pace reform will accomplish a lot. The aging of the population in Syria (from teen age to working age) is a big challenge, but so is the housing crisis. This is the right time for reform in Syria, and Josh is right to suggest the top-to-down direction. It is encouraging that a de facto slow de-baathification is happening with Bashar, but there is also a need to fight corruption at the top, down to the bottom.
The men plundering Syria's riches can be dealt with one by one, but I remember that Hafez Assad did a vast sweep of 40 "corrupt" top men at one time. Who am I, as a Lebanese, to tell the Syrians what to do about the economy and the distribution of riches when our own downtown is owned by one "company"? As to our electoral system in Lebanon, I wish the Syrians will never copy it as it has now become more feudal sectarian and as it is destroying the multi-sectarian identity of Lebanon.
PS: Josh, a Lattakia accent is a matter of debate. There are at least three accents in Lattakia: the Christian natives, the Sunni Moslim natives (with only subtle differences between the two), and the Jableh accent (urbanization has now linked the two cities) which is the accent of the Alaouites.

At 5/23/2005 03:20:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


While you may know a thing or two about accents in the Levant, your post is entirely incoherent. Use periods and skip a line between paragraphs, man.

Anyway, it’s the “neocon” comment which annoys me. Ideas in the 1970s that were once “neoconservative” have now been so accepted by the mainstream Republican party that the term “neoconservative” has virtually no meaning. In the 1990s Irving Kristol had admitted that the “neo” was no longer necessary to describe his school of thought. Since Reagan came into office, neoconservatives have been “conservatives,” plain and simple.

You obviously opposed the Iraq War, but if you want to blame it on some entity, blame the Republicans. Republicans supported it 90% plus. Blame Bush, he's the one who is implementing the policies.

You’re on even weaker ground when you blame “neocons” for the economy. If you want to blame some faction of the GOP for the deficit look at the “supply-siders” and corporate lobbyists.


At 5/23/2005 04:07:00 PM, Blogger Ameen Always said...

Sorry for having posted this reply in the wrong place at first/

By the Soul Of Syria

I should note that I really had a hard time wanting to read this article. As I was reading, I was angry at how the Assads, starting with the biggest criminal of all, Hafez Assad have made a mockery of the human brain... Even a well respected Aamerican Professor is falling into the Assadist traps, and even he agrees with the stories the Mukhabarat circulate and have circulated for many years, prior and after the throning of the little doctor who was described and still is being described as "Western Educated" for having passed two years in England (all expenses paid, and a hot line tying him to his mother from London to Damascus). How did this man become miraculously Western Educated, I have yet to see a Westerner admit that this is all of their Fabrications, and their will to keep him imposed on the Syrian people.
Now, the mess that Assad, the father had created and passed to his son has become the "intellectual" reason for Dr. Joshua Landis and may be others, to argue against change...

How beautiful!

At 5/24/2005 01:08:00 PM, Anonymous kingcrane said...

To: Anonymous at 3:20PM

You are correct about a couple of things, but:

1-Anybody knows about the neo-cons, starting with Kristol the father; my comment is meant to be derogatory; I currently include among neo-cons all the idiots who voted to allow the war against Iraq. This includes Democrats like Kerry, Edwards. and Rodham Clinton.

2-The upper brass of the GOP and of the Democratic Party rely on alliances with weapons industries. It is possible that Carlisle/Carlucci accept only billionaires as investors, but the back door traffic of influence has been unmasked countless times. So, for me, the two parties are "bonnet blanc et blanc bonnet" and it is needless to say that people like me did not bother to vote for Busht or Kherry (yet I live in a "swing" State).

3-Neo-cons is French political argot (argot is a form of slang that originated with gangsters and evolved in the fifties and sixties in the streets of the large cities of Paris while becoming main-stream; the other spelling for neo-cons is neo-connards

But, you are correct. I was not informing anybody or pretending to do so, I was just expressing my biases.


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