Friday, June 24, 2005

Reform in Syria — Who wants it? By Jansen

The Jordan Times has an opinion piece by Michael Jansen, which argues the Baath Party Conference in Syria created the opening for "major economic reforms." It also argues that the United States is "stirring up trouble in Lebanon with the aim of blaming it on Syria and calling for regime change in Damascus." Thanks to "dsp," a "Syria Comment" reader, for sending it along.

Reform in Syria — who wants it?
By Michael Jansen
Jordan Times

The Syrian government is engaged in an existential struggle on two fronts. On the domestic front, it is trying to transform its command economy into a social market economy and its Baath Party-dominated political system into a pluralistic democracy where the party will remain a leading player. On the external front, the government is under serious threat from the neoconservatives in the Bush administration who want to effect regime change in Damascus. Their aim, of course, is to bring in a new government which would be prepared to deal with Israel without demanding the return of Syrian land occupied by the Jewish state in 1967.

The neocons are preparing the way for regime change in Syria in much the same way they did in Iraq. They are using the world media to demonise the Syrian Baath Party regime and are trying to embroil the UN in Syrian affairs. Ultimately, the US can be expected to create a crisis between Syria and Lebanon or between Syria and Iraq, with the aim of providing a pretext to sanction or intervene militarily in Syria.

Damascus is attempting to counter the US campaign in several ways: focusing on its own affairs rather than the Arab scene, instituting major domestic reforms, reaching out to Arab and other external investors, and playing a positive role in the region. To save itself and defend Arab nationalism, or “Arabism”, the Syrian government, the last remaining proponent of “Arabism”, must create clearly observable momentum for political and economic change within its own society. Syria is now running a race with the neocons who are determined to use the political and economic failings of the Baath to topple the regime.

Although President Bashar Assad has been gradually moving towards major economic and political changes since he assumed power in 2000, upon the death of his father, the real push for reform is just beginning. His reform agenda was endorsed during the Baath Party regional congress held from June 6 to 9. Syrians I interviewed this week during a visit to Damascus agreed that the president is seriously pursuing reform and that he has launched the process which will take place gradually, over some months and years. Analysts argue that this process is clearly observable for anyone prepared to see what is happening. The problem is that Western officials and media remain blind to change in Syria.

Dr Nabil Sukkar, an independent economic analyst, said that the president had elicited from the party congress endorsement for a social market economy and major changes in the political system. This amounts to a dramatic shift from the party's command economy ideology, Sukkar observed. The goal is a “market economy with social justice”, rather than rampant capitalism. The congress agreed to allow other parties to function and has accepted multiparty or multicandidate elections in 2007. The president has also replaced veteran party figures with younger men, close to him, and begun reform of the security services with the aim of consolidating the multiple agencies created by his father. In Sukkar's view, an important “threshold” has been crossed. “The next step is implementation.” He expects this to be done on a step-by-step basis. Sukkar, one of Syria's most consulted analysts, said: “I am optimistic.”

Dr Buthaina Shaaban, minister of expatriates, agreed. The congress produced a “major change, not merely in persons but in strategies, policies, approach, goals. There is a determination to fight corruption, put the right person in the right place, bring technical expertise to establish the rule of law, pass a new law for political parties, amend the emergency law, and provide for private media. These decisions will take a year or two to implement.... There is determination to build the country.”

Shaaban, who served as spokeswoman for the congress, revealed that “everything was discussed frankly, nothing was taboo. It was a four-day workshop. The president gave a short speech at the opening because he did not want to dictate, he wanted dialogue. The Baath Party has to gain people's confidence”, which has waned over its 35 years in power.

Other independent commentators said the president himself is taking decisions. They argued that he is strongly committed to reform. One remarked that the “exodus” of Syrian troops and intelligence operatives from Lebanon did not “tarnish” the president's image. “He is very popular. He is accessible to the people. He goes to restaurants, concerts, other functions, talks to people. He took his children to the bumper cars.... Hafez Assad wanted to be feared, Bashar wants to be loved.”

This analyst also made the point that the opposition largely consists of old men who have no constituencies — early Baathists and Nasserites. “Exiled parties do not count for much.” The commentator said the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist parties should be legalised because they are more of a threat if they go underground. Finally, he argued that there is no real challenge to the party because it is well entrenched and the people have no experience of any other rulers.

One sign of the dramatic change that has taken place was the appointment of Dr Abdullah Dardari, a non-party member who is a Sunni from Damascus, to the post of deputy premier for economic affairs. He is the first figure who does not belong to the party command to take up this post. Furthermore, the choice of Damascene Dardari means that the capital, which has been excluded from power for decades, is now involved in building Syria. Western-educated Dardari also heads the Planning Bureau which has been drawing up the country's economic strategy.

Dardari met this correspondent in his new office in the building housing the Council of Ministers. “The party congress was better than I expected. It took courageous decisions at a time when Syria is under strong pressure [from both domestic and external forces] to change its economic and social system and declare multiparty political elections, freedom and democracy,” he asserted.

My interview with Dardari took place shortly after he chaired for the first time a meeting of the Economic Committee. “I felt that an ideological barrier has been lifted,” he stated. The committee's job is to lay down detailed steps for economic reform till the end of the year.

He revealed that chicken-and-egg discussions over whether economic or political reform should come first are “no longer an issue. They are interrelated, walk hand-in-hand. We are going to recreate the middle class which provides the foundation for a healthy political life.

“By instituting a more participatory system [of government], we will encourage people to invest. Arab and Syrian money is already coming here. We have billions of dollars in projects. There is a boom due to high oil prices and Arabs know the risks of investing in the West.”

He made the point that the Arabs are “concerned for Syria” and know that its “stability is in their own interest... Syria is the only country which is secular enough or modern enough [to assert leadership]. If Syria is prosperous and stable, it will quell fundamentalism and extremism. If Syria is prosperous, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq will be prosperous. Syria is a trendsetter in the region. If Syria adopts reforms, others will do the same.... We want the Arabs to be nationalists, liberal, socially conscious and to respect freedom and democracy”.

Reform in Syria is precisely what the neocons and their Israeli ally do not want. Someone is stirring up trouble in Lebanon with the aim of blaming it on Syria and calling for regime change in Damascus.

Thursday, June 23, 2005


At 6/24/2005 09:22:00 AM, Anonymous Metaz K.M. Aldendeshe said...

You buy this crap....Will give Bashar and Shabaan one month to see if change is coming.

At 6/24/2005 05:19:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

" ... Syria is the only country which is secular enough or modern enough [to assert leadership]. If Syria is prosperous and stable, it will quell fundamentalism and extremism. If Syria is prosperous, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq will be prosperous. Syria is a trendsetter in the region. If Syria adopts reforms, others will do the same.... "


This IS the most hilarious paragraph I've ever read in my entire life.


At 6/25/2005 12:49:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ottawa — The daughter and daughter-in-law of a hard-line Syrian general have received visitor's visas from the Canadian embassy in Damascus to allow them to give birth in Canada and confer citizenship on the general's grandchildren, sources say.

Zeina Khair and her mother, Soha Tabaa, recently returned to Syria after a spring visit during which Ms. Khair delivered a baby girl, a Syrian source familiar with the situation said.

Montreal interior designer Maya Samaan sponsored the visit. "They're friends of mine, they happened to come here for a while, and they left," she said.

Ms. Khair is married to Majed Suleiman, the son of General Bahjat Suleiman. Until last week, Gen. Suleiman was chief of Syrian interior intelligence and one of the most powerful members of the country's dictatorial regime.

Gen. Suleiman's daughter, Randala Suleiman, also received a Canadian tourist visa from the embassy in Damascus, but has not yet used it, a source familiar with the situation said. The visa is valid for six months and expires in November.

Randala Suleiman is seven months pregnant and intends to travel to Montreal this summer to give birth, the source said.

It is common for the children of senior Syrian regime figures to travel to Canada to deliver their children, the source added. "The political interest is to have a safe haven for their children and also to guarantee study for them at low cost."

According to the Department of Citizenship and Immigration, there is no rule or law preventing the practice.

Ms. Khair and Ms. Suleiman have delivered babies in Canada, in 2002 and 2003, respectively, the source said. In those cases, the visas were issued after Gen. Suleiman made a request to the embassy.

At that time, the ambassador in Damascus was Franco Pillarella, who sparked an uproar last week at the Arar inquiry when he refused to acknowledge Syria's poor record on human rights.

There is no evidence that Mr. Pillarella, now ambassador to Romania, or the current Canadian ambassador to Damascus, Brian J. Davis, personally intervened in the Suleiman cases.

Sources say Mr. Davis and the younger Mr. Suleiman know each other socially. Mr. Davis and his wife, Beverley, received positive treatment in the most recent two issues of the English-language version of Layalina, a Damascus-based restaurant and society magazine owned by Majed Suleiman.

An article in the May edition describes Canadians as "tolerant, easygoing people who can live and interact with everyone and adjust to all circumstances," and concludes that "all these characteristics are combined and very well reflected in one man, who happens to be the perfect representative of his country and of the Canadian people, Mr. Brian J. Davis."

Sources at the Department of Foreign Affairs would neither confirm nor deny that the general's daughter and daughter-in-law were given visas, citing the Privacy Act.

Department spokesman Sébastien Théberge said only that "our ambassadors apply the highest degree of diligence in their daily work and Ambassador Davis is a man of integrity. He is not involved in managing visa applications."

Immigration Minister Joe Volpe could not be reached for comment yesterday. His spokesman, Stephen Heckbert, denied that either the minister or anyone in his office had been alerted to the request.

"The minister's office did not receive a heads-up on the issuance of this particular visitor's visa, no."

Requests for personal comment from Mr. Pillarella and Mr. Davis were declined.

Immigration lawyer Lorne Waldman, who has dealt with Syrian cases, including the matter of Maher Arar, said visa requests from members of a prominent regime family would not have been granted without discussions at a senior level.

"You can be sure that there were consultations at very high levels and there was a political decision made, in the interests of 'good relations,' " Mr. Waldman said.

Richard Kurland, also an immigration lawyer, noted the irony of the case, considering Canada's recent experiences with Syria.

"Our Middle East foreign policy bureaucrats couldn't manage to get Arar out of a Syrian prison, but they sure could facilitate citizenship for the family of Syria's notorious intelligence director," he said.

"I would sure like to know who was at the switch."

Martin Collacott, who was ambassador to Syria in the early 1990s, confirmed that so-called "birth citizenship" is widespread in countries such as Syria, and criticized the practice.

"What gives you the right to get Canadian citizenship for your child just by coming here to have the baby?"

At 6/25/2005 06:23:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please spare us these boring long articles on bullshit...they gave her a visa??!! so what? Hikmat Shihabi's son owns one of America's hugest medical centers! Please people something useful for a change!

At 6/25/2005 07:51:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

* رسالة من مواطن سوري لمن يهمه الامر

مواطن سوري

السيد رئيس الجمهورية العربية السورية المحترم

لقد تم الاستيلاء على أراضينا الواقعة في قرية الدرعية التابعة لمحافظة الرقة لعام 1965 ولم يكن لنا مصدر رزق سواها والتي تبلغ مساحتها /1500/ دونم من الأراضي المروية من نهر الفرات ووزعت الأراضي على المنتفعين والذين لا يحق لهم التصرف بها من بيع وشراء سوى الانتفاع من المواسم التي تنتجها الأراضي.

وتم بيع قسم كبير منها وأبخس الاثمان، والبعض الاخر تم التسلط عليها من قبل المسؤلين في المحافظة لتشييد قصورهم عليها وبيع بعضه لصالح ريعهم الخاص، ومنذ ذلك الحين نتقدم بشكاوى عديدة الى وزارعة الزراعة ومديرية الزراعة بالرقة (الجهات المختصة) وطرقنا كل الأبواب فلم نجد بابا واحدا مفتوحا يسمع لنا ويحل جزءا من معاناة دفعنا ثمنها ماديا ومعنويا والتهمة التي ينعتوننا بها دائماً اننا من الإقطاع الذي ولّى وقضي عليه واستبدل برأسمالية المسؤول والمتسلطً البعثي الذي اصبح اقطاعيا ورأسماليا ومن واصحاب الثروات بامتياز.

حيث كانت تعقد لجان الاعتماد اجتماعاتها ليلا في الملاهي.. والمقاصف تحت تأثير الخمر والويسكي الفاخر والنية الخبيثة المبيتة للضرر وإلصاق تهمة الإقطاع.

وفي الصباح تخرج اللجان ميدانيا من بعض البعثين الحاقدين المتآمرين على الوطن والمواطن بحجة تنفيذ أهداف الثورة ومقرراتها، ودون النظر الى الوثائق الرسمية التي بحوزتنا والتي تثبت شرعية ما ندعي لاامتلاك تلك الأراضي التي يعرفها القاصي والداني ومنها المحاكم السورية، و أنها مصدر رزقنا الوحيد الذي تم سلبه منا بالقوة ودون وجه حق تحت اسم الثورة (ولسوء حظنا لم يكن لنا معارف أو ممن هم بوزن وحجم القيادات القطرية وامانة الفروع المتتالية، حتى يعيدوا لنا تلك الأرض مضاعفة كما فعل الآخرون لأقاربهم ولمن يدفع لهم).

وفي السنوات الأخيرة تم توزيع أراضي حوض الفرات ووزعت على البعثين المنتفين وتم بيعها بأثمان بخسة ولم نحصل على اراض بديلة أو تعويض مادي، كون قانون توزيع أراضي أملاك الدولة يشملنا كمتضررين من عملية الاستيلاء ولم نعد نملك مترا واحدا من ارصنا، سوى البيت الذي نسكنه وهوية مواطن سوري.

لذلك نتوجه لسيادتكم بالنظر لحل تلك المأساة التي دفع بها أصحاب السلطة والنفوذ الذين باتوا يملكون الأراضي والبشر والقصور ويعيشون بترف وبذخ بينا نحن لانجد قوتنا اليومي لنأكل، وليس لنا سوى جهدنا العضلي بعدما سلبت منا الأرض بالقوة (قوة السلطة، وليس بقوة القانون "الإصلاح الزراعي آنذاك").

نتوجه لسيادتكم بهذه الرسالة ونحن جزء من معاناة الكثيرين الذين وقعوا ضحية اولئك المرتزقة الذين سرقوا الوطن والمواطن تحت مسمى الثورة..

وعاش الحق ومن يدافع عن المظلوم

الورثة الشرعيين لعائلة اسعد البشير الهويدي

At 6/25/2005 11:38:00 PM, Anonymous Agha Aldendeshe said...

I understand how you feel about the seasure of your land. You will get every inch of it back and you will be compensated for all those years of lost income plus lost profuts and penalties.You will be rich in couple of years.

At 8/13/2005 11:08:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What do you mean that he will get every inch of his land back. You are probably sponsored by the Syrian intellegence agency and they pay you a salary to post those replies.
You know that the goverment never compensate those poor people for seizing their land.

At 8/27/2005 11:36:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've noticed several sites on the Internet that promote a penis enlargement through "ancient" techniques of strengthening (and yes, lengthening) the penis through exercises. These sites claim that since the penis is a muscle, it can be conditioned and exercised for greater and permanent length and girth. Is this possible?


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