Thursday, August 04, 2005

Syria's Reforms: Too Much or Not Enough?

Susanne Koelbl of Spiegel online has written a fun story on the loss of Syrian intellectuals.

Syria's Reforms: Too Much or Not Enough?
August 4, 2005, 03:09 PM

President Bashar Assad's job of holding Syria together is an almost impossible balancing act. Although his reforms are too limited for the younger generation, who are calling for both political and economic freedom, as far as the old established families are concerned, he has already gone too far.

Damascus, the capital of Syria. Although the country is moving forward, for many young Syrians progress is not fast enough.
How long can a person who is beautiful, talented and 30-years old wait for the future to come? TV presenter Intisar Junis is not the waiting sort. Today, she is in a hurry and does three things at once. She is sitting in her tiny, windowless office on the third floor of the state television station in Damascus. In a few minutes, her live show will be going on air. Today's guests? The minister for health and the minister for higher education, two old men in grey suits. The pale blue and red backdrop of the studio décor -- which looks a bit like a beach towel from the 1950s -- far from fits them.

Junis adjusts her red, rather tight-fitting blouse and scribbles a down few questions on a notepad. Then, next to the questions, she begins jotting down a column of figures: her estimates of how much a Hyundai SUV could cost her.

Junis is a good patriot. She is loyal both to the state and to the president. If she weren't, she wouldn't be sitting here today, working at the state-run TV station. But, she also has dreams. Dreams that she desperately wants to come true. In particular, she'd like that SUV. And, she'd like more money. Right now, she earns $200 per month, not more than an average worker, despite the fact that she is almost as well known in Syria as Sandra Maischberger is in Germany or Oprah Winfrey in America.

She wants something else, too. She wants Syria's young president, Bashar Assad, who has never given a TV interview in Syria, to appear on her Thursday night political show "25." "I'm young," she says in that deep, unmistakable voice, which has already helped her come a pretty long way. "I have questions, lots of questions."

Recently Junis also started working as a correspondent for Dubai TV. The state-of-the-art TV studio is a two-hour flight from Damascus, but the pay is better and there are no "red lines" -- that is issues that are not to be reported or discussed, such as corruption scandals involving powerful politicians, nepotism and a host of other topics. How long will Junis hold out in Damascus?

Don't Leave Me this Way

Assad's government wants to prevent popular, inoffensive personalities, like Junis, from leaving the country to work elsewhere. More emigrants could be fatal for the already troubled nation, which is politically isolated and lagging behind economically. In the past decade -- largely during the reign of Assad's father -- hundreds of thousands of Syrians fled both the regime and the Baath Party socialist market rules, which strangle Syrian entrepreneurs and bleed the nation dry economically. They left a nation that not only uses its secret service to carefully monitor foreign powers, but also to spy on its own people and keep them in line. Today, Syria's intelligentsia is strewn across the world. Germany alone is home to 8,000 academics, 6,000 of them medical doctors.


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Some have returned for a trial run, to see how things are now that the younger Assad is in power, rather than his father. Marwan al-Kabalan, is among them. A professor for politics and media studies who receieved his degree in Manchester, he had his pick of numerous places to work as a Middle East expert. But a year ago, he chose to return to Damascus, where he could have what he so missed elsewhere: the silence that at night suddenly blankets the city, and the powerful shadow of Mount Kassioun -- the much loved backdrop to the city -- which he can see from the terrace of his apartment.

The smell of fresh kebabs and Muhallebi -- a sort of milk pudding with rosewater and pistachios -- drifts through the streets of the old town. The smell of home.

At first glance there is nothing conspicuous about 35-year-old Kabalan; a man in dark pleated trousers and a white shirt, carrying a briefcase, determinedly making his way from the university, through the chaos of the traffic, to the other side of the street. However, the professor differs from other Syrians, who speak about politics and reform only very cautiously. He is angry, and he says as much.

The Painful Path to Progress

For Kabalan, changes here have come about "painfully slowly." He is annoyed by the everyday petty corruption -- if he has to pay backhanders for a telephone connection or for the electricity or for the water supply. Even five years after Assad's assumption of office there is no credible legal system, not even the first signs of one, and still no transparency, with regards to who is doing business with whom. Who would want to invest in a country like that?



REUTERS/Syrian TV
Assad may talk the talk, but can he walk the walk?
President Assad had promised that the state would largely keep itself out of the private lives of the people -- and it is true that opponents of the regime are no longer dragged off in the middle of the night and never seen again. But when Kabalab gives an interview to an international newspaper, one of the five secret service organisations questions him as to whether he had really said what he said, and if it wasn't at all 'unpatriotic': "I love my country, but the people here make you feel like you are a traitor."

So how long should it take to achieve progress? At least from an economic point of view, that is an easy question to answer: the country has until the oil runs out. Thanks to current high prices, the 500,000 barrels of Syrian crude oil pumped out every day account for 50 percent of the state budget. From 2008 the amount produced will drop dramatically. The country will then be reduced to importing oil, which is expensive. The Assad regime has until then to come up with a way of ensuring that people can survive.

"Just give me time," was Bashar Assad's plea when he inherited the presidency from his father five years ago. The young ruler, who trained in London as an eye doctor, is also someone who has returned to Syria. Great hopes have been pinned on this reserved and lanky man. But he is also the subject of big questions: Is he a modernizer? Is he different from the others? Does he want political renewal - or after all just the Chinese model of economic openness without political freedom?

Out with the Old ...

Assad's father steered the country's fate for almost 30 years. He was authoritarian, but also pragmatic. In 1991, during the Gulf War, he stood on the side of the Americans against Saddam Hussein, his arch enemy.

Hafis Assad was a man of power. His son is being forced to be one, rather against his will. The father was feared, the son is loved. The older man judged his subjects severely and ordered them around. The younger one listens to advice and weighs the pros and cons.

...And In with the New

Bashar Assad, 39, even has a different style compared to his father. From time to time he will suddenly turn up, with his elegant wife, at the national museum or the opera. His wife, Asma al-Achras, is ten years younger than him, is a banker and was born in England. The power couple act as if there are no differences in their social station. She never wears a headscarf and gives intimate interviews, in which she talks about her husband. They share an office together in their villa in the west of Damascus. The charming Asma al-Achras, who the Syrians call their Princess Diana, is no doubt an influential advisor.

The talk in recent years has constantly been that Assad isn't the real ruler of Syria - only a puppet of the secret services and military. But since the Baath Party Congress in June it has become clear that this tall, somewhat wooden, head of state really does control power in the country.

He has freed himself from the Baath party's old guard and already got rid of much of the military. Insiders speak of a purge of 450 officers. Assad has loaded the secret services with those he trusted, leaving the most important posts for his brother-in-law Assaf Schaukat.
But the honeymoon period is over for Bashar Assad. He'd have to make good on the things he promised when he assumed office: reform and change. And the quicker, the better.




AFP
Assad with his wife, who is known as the Princess Diana of Syria.
"It is a long way to democracy, but we are going in the right direction," says the president, then dampening expectations by adding: "You want us to jump. But the danger is that by jumping you just end up on your head."

So what are the limits to this new freedom? Those who push the boundaries, quickly feel the strong hand of the regime. When the charismatic entrepreneur and parliamentary representative, Riad Seif, 58, openly criticized the corruption of the ruling clans, a state security court sentenced him to five-years imprisonment. Despite sickness, and contrary to the country's usual rules, he is still serving the sentence. A few weeks ago, Assad shut down one of the last independent discussion groups, the Atassi Forum. Before doing so, he had the leaders temporarily arrested.

The TV presenter Intisar Junis still has not met the president personally, even though she comes from the coastal area near Latakia, nearby his family's village. All of the people who live there are part of the Alawite sect, a minority which has become more powerful -- above all in military circles -- along with the rising fortunes of the Assad family. In Damascus, rumor has it that the Alawites pull the strings. And, of course, Junis herself also has influential relatives in the security services.

Not far from the television station, the TV presenter is sitting with girlfriends in her favorite café, "L'Odeon." She is talking to someone from Dubai TV on the telephone, while she sips her tea and takes a drag on a cigarette. She says that she doesn't want to rely on family and religious contacts to get ahead in her career, as if to say that nepotism is a relic from the past. "I'd rather depend on myself," she says, before quickly changing the subject. Power structures of religious groups -- such as Alawites, Sunnis, Christians, and Druze -- is one of the subjects of conversation which is taboo, one of the "red lines".

Care to Dance?

Meanwhile, on the other side of town, tonight's party is kicking off late. Syria's nouveau riche gather at the Platinum night club while large limousines wait outside. Cooled Lebanese white wine is being served and seven types of whiskey are on offer at the bar.

The presidential family's official portrait painter is there, along with the female director of Syrian television, a couple of corporate bosses and a top-level secret service agent. A close friend of the president, a general, is also expected to turn up later.

The women dance in rustling silk dresses to the sound of oriental pop songs. The men have their sleeves rolled up and try to keep up. The night is going just as it should be.

During the last decade, one group has become extremely rich in Damascus -- the sons and daughters of Syria's sultan. They've travelled the world, speak an array of languages and because they belong to the ruling class, they don't have any reason to leave the country. Nowadays they control the country's mobile telephone monopoly, its restaurant chains and its media organizations. Their influential fathers helped set them up.

It's like dancing on a volcano. Since Syria popped up on the US radar, charged with aiding resistance fighters in Iraq, the security of the Syrian regime has begun to falter. And as a result of the murder of former Libyan Prime Minister Rafik al Hariri, alliances, which were once the lifeblood of Damascus' ruling elite, have fractured.

The fellow Arabic states Saudi Arabia and Egypt have labelled Syria at least partly responsible for the murder, which occurred under the watchful eyes of Syrian security services. Even France, the country's former colonial masters, have pulled back. Syria is isolated, a situation which the elder Assad knew he had to avoid.

But who wants to talk about the whole thing on a night out. A top business man chats about his latest charity project while eating dessert. The country has been good to him. Now he wants to give something back, namely the 150 kilometer beach between Lebanon and Turkey. It is dirty and run down and he wants to have it cleaned up, he says. Then he is dragged onto the dance floor.

Everyone here is hoping the party somehow never ends. Or that, if it does ever draw to close, the hangover isn't too painful.



AP
An internet cafe in Damascus. Today there is more to Syria than ancient ruins.
On some of the streets of Damascus it actually sometimes looks like the future has already arrived: Internet cafes are open late into the night while private banks and chic branches of Benneton and Armani line the boulevards. Even ATMs arrived in the capital not long ago, creating a small sensation.

The government is hoping people's hunger for a consumerist society outweighs their desire for democracy and freedom. In fact, this desire is something which the regime, since it has started focusing on the free market, would like to see disappear altogether.

Ten thousand visitors crowd every day into the "Motor Show," an exhibition of cars for sale near the airport. Some of the women wear the veil, some are completely covered from head to toe, while others are decked out in cropped tops. They gaze at the latest models of exotic brands, such as the Malaysian Perodua or the Chinese Chery - owning your own car is the dream of every Syrian. The state has even sunk import duties for cars from over 200 percent to one third.

Major investors in the Gulf States are showing interest in building streets, pipelines, luxury apartments and exclusive tourist resorts along the coast, naturally under the precondition that the government is serious about the new capitalism friendly laws. Even a new Syrian stock market is planned to open soon.

Your Country Needs You!

The man behind the ambitious economic plan has also returned to Syria. Abdullah al-Dardari, 42, studied in Frankfurt and Britain and worked for the United Nations. He is a slick professional, non-ideological and focused. Al-Dardari is Assad's go-to man for economic miracles, a one-man show because he still lacks competent staff. For a long time now those surrounding the president have been telling ex-patriate Syrians around the world: "Your country needs you!"

Those benefiting from the present system -- the old families that have so far supported the young president's regime -- have been unsettled by the new ideas. These influential clans fear the loss of their monopolies, and see nothing to take their place. The ignominious withdrawal from Lebanon is considered to be their greatest loss, one they hold Assad personally responsible for.



AP
Syrian troops withdraw from Lebanon. Much to the disappointment of those parts of Syrian society which had benefited from the occupation.
The small but economically fruitful neighbor was virtually a lung for Syria, through which the poor and politically narrow country was able to breathe: sinful amusement park and free-trade zone rolled into one.

Syrian businesses plundered the "Casino of Lebanon" and used it for money-laundering; tolls collected at Beirut ports found their way into the pockets of Syrian secret service agents; Syrian straw-men embezzled the money of international investors. A system of mutual corruption flourished.

But above all by losing Lebanon, Syria lost its last pawn in the war of negotiations over the Golan Heights. Syria sees peace with Israel as a precondition for a true new beginning, a bid for international investment and prosperity. Syria is no longer a little superpower in the Middle East, and the legacy of the old Assad is dying out. According to the clans, young Assad's regime may soon be over as well. This is also how the Bush administration in Washington sees the situation -- and not without a certain degree of satisfaction.

But what comes after Assad? The world's leaders warn of chaos and Islamic extremism -- and they're probably not far wrong. In Syria, as in Iraq, there are too few political parties and civil institutions in place for an orderly transfer of power. Instead the coercive regime of one minority forces the country into unity.

Meanwhile, Professor Kabalan walks up and down his three-room apartment and steps out onto the terrace. The evening sun falls on the slopes of Mount Kassioun, and soon it will grow quiet in the city, which is how he loves it. He's just received a letter from Columbia University in New York. He wants to leave again, for a year. By then things will be better in Syria, he believes -- or the situation will at least be in some way different.

Round the corner, in Masa Villas, the TV presenter Intisar Junis is packing her suitcase. She's going to Dubai, though only for a week. The station there pays her $4,000, 20 times as much as Syrian state television. Her plane leaves in the morning.

27 Comments:

At 8/05/2005 11:35:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Josh & Susanne- no time to comment now but ill be back!

 
At 8/05/2005 12:10:00 PM, Blogger One Disobedient Mofo said...

Reforms so far are definately not enough. They will be though after my Disobedience Ultimatum Plan.

O.D.M

 
At 8/05/2005 01:18:00 PM, Anonymous Joseph said...

Are you serious Josh, to pose this question?

What Reforms?

The late dictator came to power in 1970 with some via a coup d'etat that he called "The correctional movement". After years of destroying Syria, during which he introduced legislations after legislations to circle the good people of Syria, and create corruptions in the wildest form, he first pomped his first son the crazy Basel to be prepared to take over with the rumour his Mukhabarat circulated about him and presented to the people as the "Fighter of corruptions", died suddenly when chassing a UFO at the road to the Damscus Airport, and was considered a Martyr. His brother who had just gone to Braitian to bring the good eye medical skills from Britain, and after passing 1 year and 7 months was caolled back to Syria, and ...
and they started to push him to the front to become the "new corruption fighter, to lead the "Second" correctional movment as they put it at the time". Doesn't Correction mean Reform in a small way? Even Correction they governed Syria under that goal for 35 years, and the result is a dramatic change in Syria's fortunes. Those that are obviously thieves, big thieves are receiving from such writers such wonderful praise.

Are we here witnessing the Assads as the Louis's of France? WHat are the Assads, and their associates but big thieves and criminals? Are they anything else?

Now, this "young" president has been in power for 5 years. Josh: Do you know of any company any where on Earth that gives an employee 5 years to learn on the job without producing anything? Did George W Bush come from a background that allowed him to know his job and to answer questions daily about his performance and visions from his first day on the job? Or did you wait for him to "learn", and then show some thing?

Isn't George Bush responsible every dau to questions posed to him by the press, and the people? Is he shying away from answering? Or does he always take any opportunity to answer and explain to the people what is happening from his view point?

We know it is not Assad's regime, and it is not the Alawi regime, and it is not the Baath regime. It is the regime of who are behind the writer who continue to show Assad and his regime in the best possible description. Why? Why do you do that? Is it because the real governor of Syria are those who the reporter reports to? The West in the final analysis?

Why giving this man such a status? I can not comprehend what you do except that you (The West) are the only beneficiary of his existence. Once you want him out, all his crime3s will be shown in your own Media, and he no longer will be the King you are trying to pass him to us.

God curse him

Joseph.

 
At 8/05/2005 01:18:00 PM, Anonymous Joseph said...

Are you serious Josh, to pose this question?

What Reforms?

The late dictator came to power in 1970 with some via a coup d'etat that he called "The correctional movement". After years of destroying Syria, during which he introduced legislations after legislations to circle the good people of Syria, and create corruptions in the wildest form, he first pomped his first son the crazy Basel to be prepared to take over with the rumour his Mukhabarat circulated about him and presented to the people as the "Fighter of corruptions", died suddenly when chassing a UFO at the road to the Damscus Airport, and was considered a Martyr. His brother who had just gone to Braitian to bring the good eye medical skills from Britain, and after passing 1 year and 7 months was caolled back to Syria, and ...
and they started to push him to the front to become the "new corruption fighter, to lead the "Second" correctional movment as they put it at the time". Doesn't Correction mean Reform in a small way? Even Correction they governed Syria under that goal for 35 years, and the result is a dramatic change in Syria's fortunes. Those that are obviously thieves, big thieves are receiving from such writers such wonderful praise.

Are we here witnessing the Assads as the Louis's of France? WHat are the Assads, and their associates but big thieves and criminals? Are they anything else?

Now, this "young" president has been in power for 5 years. Josh: Do you know of any company any where on Earth that gives an employee 5 years to learn on the job without producing anything? Did George W Bush come from a background that allowed him to know his job and to answer questions daily about his performance and visions from his first day on the job? Or did you wait for him to "learn", and then show some thing?

Isn't George Bush responsible every dau to questions posed to him by the press, and the people? Is he shying away from answering? Or does he always take any opportunity to answer and explain to the people what is happening from his view point?

We know it is not Assad's regime, and it is not the Alawi regime, and it is not the Baath regime. It is the regime of who are behind the writer who continue to show Assad and his regime in the best possible description. Why? Why do you do that? Is it because the real governor of Syria are those who the reporter reports to? The West in the final analysis?

Why giving this man such a status? I can not comprehend what you do except that you (The West) are the only beneficiary of his existence. Once you want him out, all his crime3s will be shown in your own Media, and he no longer will be the King you are trying to pass him to us.

God curse him

Joseph.

 
At 8/05/2005 01:22:00 PM, Anonymous Joseph said...

Sorry, some how it was posted twice. I didn't do it.

Excuse the mistakes, I had to push the button and post it without any revision because my computer was going down due to auto update.

 
At 8/05/2005 02:49:00 PM, Anonymous Ibrahim said...

If anybody has an idea, I would like to ask about the level of animosity that the Syrians are currently feeling towards the Lebanese (citizens vs citizens) and how serious do you feel it is.

Thanks

 
At 8/05/2005 02:57:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"الخط الأعوج من الثور الكبير" في سوريا الأسد



أكرم شلغين

2 أغسطس 2005



ترددت أكثر من مرة في الكتابة عما يقوله من يحكم في دمشق لأن وقتي أثمن من أن يضيع في التعليق على أقوال هؤلاء، إلا أن ما نقلته صحيفة الرأي العام الكويتية (بتاريخ 8 أغسطس 2005) استوقفني لما جاء به على لسان بشار الأسد أثناء حوار اجراه معه فهد الريماوي رئيس تحرير صحيفة «المجد» الأردنية ورأيت أنه لا بد من قول قليل من كلمات على كلمات وريث حافظ الأسد.

من الصحيفة المذكورة نقتبس ما قاله بشار الأسد عن أنه:

يبحث عن «افضل الكفاءات السورية لتسليمها الحقائب الوزارية في الحكومة المقبلة»، مشيراً الى انه «لم يعد في حلقات الحكم العليا السورية وحتى مرتبة الوزير ادنى فساد»، الا انه اكد في المقابل «وجود الفساد في الجهاز» الإداري، قائلاً: «استقدمنا منذ عامين بعثة فرنسية لغايات تطوير وتطهير هذا الجهاز لكنها لم تنجح في مهمتها، والآن نحن بصدد استقدام بعثة ماليزية لهذه الغاية». انتهى الاقتباس.



الكفاءات:

قبل أن نأتي إلى "الكفاءات الوزارية" في نظام الأسد، لا بد وأن نتذكر معاً مصير الكفاءات الحقيقية والمعروفة بوطنيتها وبنظافة يدها، والتي لم ترغب في التوزير أو المناصب، ولم يكن همها يوماً إلا خدمة سوريا! سنرى أن الأسد الابن كافأ هذه "الكفاءات" بالاستبعاد والسجن، بل وفي بعض الحالات ذهب شوطاً أبعد مما كان عليه الأمر أيام أبيه في التعامل مع هذه الكفاءات. وعدم ذكرنا للأمثلة هنا ليس لأننا نفتقر إليها، بل لأن تعدادها والكلام عنها يحتاج لكتابة مجلدات مختصة بها.



دع الأسد يقول ما يشاء عن بحثه عن "أفضل الكفاءات لتسليمها الحقائب الوزارية في الحكومة المقبلة"، ودع التاريخ والواقع يتكلمان عن "كفاءات" الوزراء الذين يبحث نظام الأسد عنهم! دع الأسد يمنح "كفاءات" لوزراء نظامه ودع سوريا تتساءل بأسى عن مصير "كفاءات" أبنائها! هذه هي أبسط التداعيات التي لا بد وأن تخطر للسوري عندما يقرأ كلمات الأسد. لا نأتي بالجديد عندما نتذكر أن مدرسة نظام الأسد، وعلى مدى العقود، خصصت معايير معينة لإسناد الوزارات والحقائب (بل والوظائف مهما كبرت أو صغرت ومهما كانت طبيعتها). فأول الشروط التي يجب أن تتوفر للوزير في نظام الأسد هي أن يفهم أنه لم يصل إلى موقعه بسبب كفاءته، إنما لأنه ارتضى أن يلعب دوراً مطلوباً منه أن يلعبه. كذلك عليه ان يدرك بأنه ليس وزيرا صاحب قرار إنما وزيراً مصغياً بكل طاعة وخنوع لأجهزة الأمن.



وصول شخص ما إلى منصب وزير لا يعني استحقاقه للمنصب، إنما مجرد لفتة كريمة من سيد النظام لغاية "تنفيعه"، وهكذا فإن عليه بالتالي أن يدرك أنه ليس في موقعه ليخدم بلداًً، بل ليخدم نظاماً. إنه ليس وزيراً في سوريا، بل في نظام الأسد ورموزه ومحسوبياته، وهذا يعني أنه ربما يتطلب من الوزراء ومعاونيهم إضافة عبارة توضيحية - بألوان مختلفة - إلى جانب تواقيعهم على اية وثيقة او أمرٍ إداري، تقول: "علماً أن ذلك يخالف الأنظمة والقوانين"!.. لعلّ هذه العبارة تخفف عنهم المسؤولية عندما يأتي وقت الحساب في المستقبل.



من ناحية اخرى، غالباً ما تلبس هذه الشروط التوزيرية في نظام الأسد لمن يبدون من حيث الشكل وكأنهم يمثلون فئة ما أو طائفة أو أقلية أثنية أو عشيرة ما، وذلك ليحلو لحثالة المخابرات أن تروج لدى أصحاب الذهنيات المسطحة عن "المراعاة" في توزيع المناصب في سوريا.



بالطبع عندما نتكلم عن المواصفات العامة للوزير السوري فإننا نقصد ذلك الصنف الذي تنطبق عليه تسمية "وزير عرضي" أو كما يُطلق عليهم في النكات التي تصدر عن المخابرات "وزير خُلّبي." ومعروف أن بين هذا الصنف من الوزراء من يفرح بدوره ويلعبه تماماً كما تريد أجهزة الأمن، وبنفس الوقت يستغل منصبه ويتعامل بالرشوة والفساد ليس فقط أمام أنظار الأجهزة التي أتت به بل أيضاً وبتسهيلاتها. وحكمة الأجهزة في التغاضي عن الوزير السارق والمرتشي (والذي لا ينتمي إلى العائلة المالكة) هي تدوين ذلك في سجله لاستخدامها ضده عند "الضرورة،" أي عندما تقرر الأجهزة إزاحة الوزير لسبب أو لآخر آنذاك تشهر سجله في وجهه أو تلمح به كي يتقبل إزاحته بصمت، وإلا فسيتهم أو يسجن أو "يُنحر." ولا يخلو الأمر أن يكون بين الوزراء من يشذ عن القاعدة ويريد التصرف معتقداً أنه "وزير" بالفعل وليس فقط بالقول، أو من يريد أن يتصرف وفقاً لما تمليه عليه وطنيته، وهذا لا يخلو أيضاً من التجريم، والمثال الواضح لهذه الفئة النادرة هو الزعيم.



الصنف الآخر من الوزراء هو "الوزير المزمن" مثل وزير الدفاع مصطفى طلاس، الذي يستحق أن يطالب موسوعة غينيس بإدراج اسمه بها كونه ضرب كل الأرقام القياسية في العالم من حيث طول المدة التي شغل (ويشغل) بها وزارة الدفاع؛ ومثله في "الإزمان" وزير الخارجية الشرع. أما الوزير طلاس فقد أزمن في منصبه لأنه – إذا استثنينا حافظ الأسد- يكون البطل الوطني القومي الجريء الجسور المقدام الفذ الأبي الشامخ العروبوي باني الجيش السوري وصانع بطولاته إلخ... وكيف لا وهو وزير الدفاع الشهير الذي انتشى بانتصارات الجيش الذي بناه (برفقة حافظ الأسد) فراح ينظّر عن الحروب وهو يستحم ويتشمس، وراح يشدو شعراً و"تراتيلاً" عندما حوصرت بيروت، وتكلم عن "محاصرة" جمال جورجينا رزق له وعن "استعداد[ه] لرفع الأعلام التي تشتهي، وتسليم القلاع التي تريد، وبالطبع بلا شروط.." وإن يقول قائل من حسن الحظ أن تلك الجميلة كانت جورجينا رزق أم علي سلامة ليس غيرها، فسيسأل سوري آخر وهل الحال الذي وصل إليه الجيش السوري الذي رعاه، ويرعاه، طلاس هو على ما هو عليه لأن وزير الدفاع المذكور قابل "جميلات" أخريات من دول أخرى لم يكتب عنهن!؟ هل هي إلا "الكفاءة" تلك التي جعلت طلاس يزمن في وزارة الدفاع!؟ ومع اختلاف مسلك وسمعة الوزير طلاس عن نظيرتها لدى الوزير الآخر الشرع، فإن ما يجمعهما يتلخص في "المهارة" و"الحذاقة" و"الذكاء" فحين يصرح الشرع أن القرار 1559 لايتعلق بسوريا ألا يثبت أنه يستحق وبامتياز لقب "شيخ الدبلوماسية السورية"!؟



وعن الفساد الإداري في سوريا، نلخص بكلمات مقتضبة أنه انطلاقاً من أن نظام الأسد لم يتمتع يوماً بشعبية أو بتأييد، فقد اجتهد، وبكافة السبل، للعب على كل شيء من أجل استمراريته. فعندما كان النظام يشجع على السرقة والرشوة والفساد فإنما كان يبغي إيصال هؤلاء إلى الحد الذي يشعرون به أن الفائدة التي يجنونها ستنقطع بزوال هذا النظام ولهذا عليهم حمايته، فالقاضي الذي يرتشي (بقطعة أرض مساحتها 12 دونم) مقابل بيع ضميره والخيانة لأمانة وظيفته، لن يدعو للسلطان بطول العمر فحسب، بل وسيحارب بسيفه. وكذلك، وعلى سبيل المثال لا الحصر، الأستاذ الجامعي الذي يقبض من طلابه جهاراً نهاراً الآلاف لقاء النجاح بمادته، سيغني "ياحافظ تحفظ حافظ". ومن يطلب عشرات الآلاف لقاء توقيع على معاملة سيغني "شعبي عارف مين اختار شعبي اختارك يابشار." من مهازل التاريخ أن المرتشي يعطى المناصب ويرقى وظيفياً مادام ينحني وبإذلال كما تريد المخابرات، وأما من لا يمشي في اللعبة فيُحارب ويستبعد، والأمثلة كثيرة.



هل نستطيع أن نتكلم عن الفساد الإداري دون أن نتكلم عن فساد "العائلة المالكة" وحواشيها وزبانيتها في سوريا؟ كيف لنا أن ننسى أو نتناسى مافعله هؤلاء وما اغتصبوا من سوريا وباسم سوريا!؟ فهؤلاء يعتبرون أن كل سوريا وعائداتها ملك خاص لهم ويتصرفون على هذا الأساس. كم يحز في أنفسنا نحن عندما نقارن كيف يعيش بقية البشر وكيف نعيش نحن! من مهازل التاريخ أننا نعيش في زمن يتعامل النظام السوري مع السوريين بهذا الشكل في الوقت الذي نرى فيه "كيف تسير الدنيا" في البلدان الراقية والمتحضرة؛ هل نستطيع أن نقارن ما يفعله ابن خال بشار الأسد في سوريا بما يجري في العالم؟ بالطبع لا! ما رأي هؤلاء بما حصل عندما طالبت رئيسة وزراء بريطانيا السابقة مارغريت ثاتشر خلفها جون ميجر، بأن ينزع العقد من عنق زوجته، ويعيده إلى خزينة الدولة لأن الهدية (العقد) من الشيخ العربي جاءت عندما كان جون ميجر رئيساً للوزراء، وبالتالي فالهدية ملك للدولة؟ هل يعرف هؤلاء أن للمستشار الألماني غيرهارد شرودر أخاً "عاطلاً عن العمل" ويُعامل بالضبط كأي مواطن آخر يحصل على المساعدة الاجتماعية ليعيش، دون أن يحاول المستشار التدخل من أجل أخيه ولا الأخ يستغل منصب أخيه المستشار ليحصل على عمل؟ بماذا يعلق هؤلاء على خبر مفاده أن البوليس الأمريكي أوقف ابنة جورج دبليو بوش لأنها ابتاعت الكحول قبل أن تبلغ السن القانونية وأن أقوى رجل في العالم لا يستطيع - ولا يريد أصلاً- تجنيب ابنته للقانون؟ هل يتعلم هؤلاء؟



قبل أن أصل إلى خاتمة تعليقي أود سرد الحادثة التالية التي حصلت لزميلة لي في الدراسة عندما كنا نُعد لرسالة الماجستير في المسرح في جامعة إسكس في بريطانيا حيث رسبت امتحانها وفُصلت من الجامعة. فقد اختارت تلك الزميلة ممثلاً ليؤدي دوراً في مسرحية كانت تقوم بإخراجها كجزء من الامتحان النهائي، وأثناء تقديم المسرحية على خشبة المسرح وبحضور الجمهور نسي الممثل دوره في النص الحواري ولم ينفع معه التلقين، الأمر الذي دفع بالممتحن الداخلي والخارجي لإيقاف العرض وإعلام تلك الزميلة بنيجتها (الراسبة) لأنها أخطأت في اختيار الممثلcasting mistake) )، ولم تفلح مساعيها في الحصول على فرصة أخرى بل كان الجواب بأن: هناك من خسر وقتاً والوقت له قيمة، وهناك من خسر نقوداً واشترى تذكرة... ربما يمكن تعويض ثمن التذاكر ولكن ما لا يعوض هو الوقت.



تخطرني هذه الحادثة بما فيها من دروس عن الخطأ في إسناد الدور (casting mistake) وقيمة الوقت وأنا أفكر بكلمات الأسد القديمة الجديدة عن تبديل الطاقم الوزاري. فقد انتهج نظام الأسد على مدى العقود سياسة إرجاع أسباب الفشل فيما يحصل إلى الطاقم التنفيذي، وليس إلى من عيَّن الطاقم في مكانه. اعتاد نظام الأسد أن يعدنا ويعدنا إلى ما لا نهاية ودون احترام لوقتنا ولعقولنا! اعتاد نظام الأسد أن يقول أن ما يجري في سوريا هو بفعل الطاقم المقصّر دون أن يقول لماذا اختار أساساً هذا الطاقم! ودون أن يوضح أن التعيين في المكان يتم على أساس أن المنفذ يعمل من أجل عائلة وليس من أجل وطن. اعتاد النظام أن يبحث عن أكباش فداء ليلصق بهم فشله. هل يتعلم هؤلاء من رئيس الوزراء الياباني الأسبق الذي وقف يبكي من على شاشة التلفاز ويطلب الصفح من شعبه بسبب التراجع الاقتصادي (والذي لم يكن حينها مقتصراً على اليابان وحدها بل كان يشمل النمور الآسيوية السبعة)، بل وبعد فترة قصيرة جداً مات بجلطة دماغية (ليتكم تقلدونه في كل شيء).

الأسد الأب والابن ليسا إلا أخطاء بحق سوريا وكوارث وفواجع لسوريا وشعبها ومع ذلك لا يوجد من يقول لهم لماذا أنتم في هذه المواقع؟ أو لماذا تريدون منا أن نحيد بصرنا عن حقيقة أنكم فاشلون ولا يحق لكم البقاء في أماكنكم والتي "سلبطتم" عليها أساساً وبغير حق؟ لماذا لا يوجد من يستطيع محاسبة هذا النظام على ما دفعناه من أموالنا ومن وقتنا ومن أعمارنا؟

ألا يكفينا ما لحق بنا من خسائر بسبب وجودهم في مواقع الحكم؟



أما ما يقوله بشار الأسد من أنه استقدم "منذ عامين بعثة فرنسية لغايات تطوير وتطهير هذا الجهاز[الإداري] لكنها لم تنجح في مهمتها، والآن [هو] بصدد استقدام بعثة ماليزية لهذه الغاية» فنقول له ما معناه أنه لو استقدم بعثات من عند "الست ريما في بلد الشيما" وعلى "بساط الريح" ومع تلك البعثات "خاتم شبيك لبيك" فستكون النتيجة دائماً نفسها لأن الخط الأعوج من التور الكبير.


-----------------------

Can some one translate the article above? this is exactly what you need as a reply, you Susane Koelb.

 
At 8/05/2005 05:18:00 PM, Blogger Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

Syria's Reforms: Too Much or Not Enough?

I won't even answer to this :)

 
At 8/05/2005 05:34:00 PM, Blogger Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

Great articles anyways. I really liked the part that said 'now Bashar is in control and people acknowledge that' and 'the honeymoon' is over.

What if Hariri's killing had nothing to do with Lebanese politcis? Maybe it was part of some internal struggle in the syrian regime?

 
At 8/05/2005 05:58:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is this the new age or what?

In a country of 17 million people, they could not find any one that is capable of leading, but the son of the late dictator, that they had to change the age limit condition and bringing it down to 34 to suit that unique individual because he passed two years in England, and so he is considered to be outgoing, progressive, Internet pioneer, and Western Educated? Where on Earth some one is given an important position and 5 years to learn, and that job is so great that the cost of not doing it is so huge?

Has humanity not produced except the son of a previous dictator? So, how much longer are you , you the West willing to give this dummy a chance to learn his job? Now he is in total control, and he can not blame the so called the Old Guard, and yet, he started by imprisonning more people than before, and he does not feel the slightest guilt that people like Abde Aziz Al Keihr are in jail for their thoughts, and no crime what so ever> He can right away empty the Syrian prisons to give the world the chance to think of him as the West desires to portray him.


Are the Syrian people in love with this young thug? IU assure you they hate him as much as they hated his father. However, no Syrian can ever say what is in his mind and heart. People want to say something bad, and they are scared, so they advance it with their expression of good impression of this thug and his shallow wife, you call Dianna. Has Syria become the British Empire in its greatness and successes that the people can afford to be happy just at looking at that Princess Dianna like?

Shame on the world for praising this thug and his wife.

 
At 8/05/2005 07:39:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks to Akram Shaheen and to anonymous 5:58 pm for their comments. With complete agreement with anon, I think to explain this submission of the public I would analyze it as follows. The rumors the regime trying to exploit that people like or love their president and his wife, it is a kind of game the public is playing along with the regime. The public knows that they can't stand in the face of the power so the best solution is to play the game with them. In 1961 in one of the military coup, I believe the big lion was in the game at that time, the stores’ owners of Damascus City closed their shops in a show of dissatisfaction ( a peaceful action), I was a young kid in school, many school also demonstrated against the coup. People at that time were fed up with military coups and their hunger to power. The government broke down the stores and open fire on school children. They killed and they will kill and do anything just to stay in power back then and anytime. People have good memory and they will not forget what happen them and after that. If you are a religious zealous or atheist, belong to party or not we have seen it all and we still witnessing the skewed history of our beloved country. Many people killed at the hand of the regime without mercy. The other thing is that the fortune they gather it is not any robbery. It is the national income (6% or oil sale is stolen to the big guys), this is a national thefts which should be collected from them.

 
At 8/05/2005 09:19:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Susanne Koelbl of Spiegel online :

What an idiot coming up with such a misleading title! For stating the title alone you deserve all disrespect from the Syrian people. This title is nothing but a propaganda assisting the scums that govern Syria and their forefront, Bashar The Pig.


Yeah, the audience is given to vote :
A- Is this an excellent show?
B- Or is it just very good?

when the show is garbage.

How can we vote when the question is misleading and wrong? You think you are super intelligent? Any little kid in Syria knows that your question is a scam. You have my utmost disrespect.

Continue to inflate this criminal Bashkar. You will all be remembered, and may the creator ifit exists (God) curse you and the regime you are selling to the world.

Bye bye
Nasr.

 
At 8/06/2005 12:17:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Syria is a dreamland. Why all commentators cannot accept that?

We got a young smart President, 99,9% voted for him. We got a beautiful first lady we never had better in the past, standing beside her powerful husband for support and loyality. Both western educated, liberal and modern styled. From different sects and may be their kids later will convert to christians.

The subjects enjoy their life in Damascus, have funny nights, sipping tea and whisky, drive big cars, people own sat-tv, phones and so on. Just the coast is a little bit dirty, as they wrote, but soon they will clean up this area.

The wealth will grow with investors from gulf states and all the millions of emigrants will come back home soon, investing all their money in beloved Syria.

Is there any real problem in Syria? Who tells that is a liar. I never understood, why all people on earth hates and isolates us.

God bless Syria and its representatives.

 
At 8/06/2005 12:49:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Portrait Muhammad Habash

A Turkish Model for Syria



The parliamentarian Muhammad Habash is considered the most popular representative of moderate political Islam in Syria. Kristin Helberg met him at his private Islam institute

photo: www.parliament.gov.sy Muhammad Habash is a man of many trades. He is a member of the Syrian Parliament, he is the Imam of a Damascus mosque, he is director of the Islamic Study Center, and he serves as chairman of the Islamic Scholars in Syria. He is small man in his mid-forties with a short beard who likes to wander back and forth between different worlds.

Dressed in suit and tie, he hurries off to a Parliament session, hours later he is standing before a group in prayer wearing a floor-length galabia.

Meanwhile, in between these two events he has received European diplomats in his office and organized a seminar program for people interested in Islam. He seems to be driven by a combination of deep religious belief, personal ambition, and a will to political power. Habash says he has a message he would like to spread.

The unity of mankind

"For me, all people belong to a single family, the family of God," he explains. This belief has led him to appeal for brotherhood and understanding between Islam and other religions. If it sounds like he's trying to save the world, once you see him in action you begin to understand that behind these seemingly illusory ideals stands a man with sincere convictions.

At the Islamic Study Center, a small institute in a converted Damascus home, Habash and his staff receive visitors from the West on a daily basis in order to discuss Islam – American scientists, German Parliamentarians, Austrian travel agents, but also interested tourists are among his guests. A group from North-Rhine Westphalia, Germany, is sitting in the center's conference room, listening closely to their host's Koran recitation.

As Habash reads a sura in the original Arabic, his listeners can read along from a German translation projected on a screen. Then he offers an interpretation of the text and answers questions: about Syria's relationship with Christians, the position of women, or the treatment of "defectors," that is, Muslims who have converted to another religion or have become atheists.

The visitors are familiar with the controversial issues in Islam, they are educated travelers in their mid-fifties, interested, critical, well prepared. Habash, for his part, has a lot of experience with prejudiced Europeans, he knows how best to approach their skepticism: calmly, with honesty and self-critique.

The Koran in English – Lost in Translation

Yes, there are some passages in the Koran that allow for violence, but only in the case of self-defense. If Muslims are persecuted and oppressed, they may defend themselves, the Iman explains patiently.

Habash only loses his composure when we are one-on-one and the question arises as to the origin of an image of Islam as violent and missionary. "The first time I read an English version of the Koran, I was horrified," Habash says. The holy book of the Muslims is not only translated conservatively, it is downright radical.

"If I were American and I was given this to read, I too would resist Islam." His anger led him to address a letter of protest to Prince Abdallah of Saudi Arabia. "The Saudis distribute brochures in which they describe Jihad as ‘a call to wage a holy war against unbelievers in order to forcefully convert them to Islam' – this is simply wrong! How can they write such a thing?" Habash's voice is shaking.

Jihad means working hard, working on oneself, to defend oneself and your family, this precludes every form of aggression, he emphasizes. And in addition, for both Muslims and non-Muslims the rule is that there can be "no coercion as regards beliefs."

For an Islamic democracy

The most important question is who interprets the Koran and how, says Habash. He calls for interpreting the Koran from within a given context, in a flexible way, yet without being ungrounded. For example, take his views on democracy: "I am a democrat by conviction," says Habash, "so I consider Islam subordinate to democracy, and not the other way around." For him, this means that if individual formulations in the Koran seem at first to contradict the principles of modern democracy, they must be reinterpreted.

It is only in this way that Islam has a political role to play. Habash has carefully thought through his statements. He knows that as an Islamic scholar in Syria he must first subscribe to democracy and then to Islam. Since the Muslim Brotherhood tried to oust the regime of ex-President Hafiz Al Assad and were brutally put down again, Syrian leaders fear nothing greater than another wave of Islamism.

Is this a legitimate fear? Habash thinks there is little danger of extremism, in particular given that religion plays such an important role in everyday life. Both the Muslim and Christian cultures are so firmly rooted and still very much alive, says Habash, and for this reason Christians and Muslims live peacefully together.

Not converted, but enlightened

Sixty percent of Syrians are Sunnis, and he reckons that about one percent of them can be categorized as having radical positions. The rest are about eighty percent conservatives and twenty percent reform, he estimates. "The conservatives represent Islamic morals and traditions, but they have no political ambitions," says Habash. The reformers, to which he himself belongs, promote Islamic democracy.

"We are against a religious state," he emphasizes. "We want a secular state that we as Muslims can influence—similar to the situation in Turkey."

In the coming years he intends to devote his work as a Parliamentarian to reaching this goal. In Syria, which has socialist and secular characteristics, Habash is already considered a leading representative of moderate Islam. This means that his political career has become a tricky balancing act: Even if a new law concerning parties is passed, religious parties will remain outlawed, so he must be careful not to wind up being branded an Islamist. That would endanger not only his position as a politician, but also his work at the Islamic Study Center.

And it is here that he sees his future. "After five to ten years in politics, I will return to concentrating on the relationship between Islam and the West," he announces.

 
At 8/06/2005 01:36:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Assads syria is whorehouse



In the Syrian Red-Light Milieu:

Offering More Than Was Asked For

Koumay Melhem

Thara-sy.org The story began when we were joking with the taxi driver who was standing just a few meters from the pillar of the Marjeh Square in downtown Damascus. Out of the well-dressed driver's mouth came once-secret words that are no longer secret to Syrians, and the open car door awaited our naïve adventure.

"A break, guys?"

Our strange friend had neither valium in his pocket nor was the Golf VW 77 spacious enough for us to take a nap in the backseat.

A break?

It was the intention of the pimp (and this is what we will call him from now on) to take us to a furnished apartment in Harasta, one of the larger suburbs of Damascus, and we accepted his offer without arguing since, as the pimp said, "the prices of the market are well known." And for the record, we were two young men.

"… It is a thousand five hundred an hour and you will be alone with her. No one will disturb you."

The run-down Marjeh

To break the awkward silence, we made small-talk on our way to the brothel. We asked our guide (his original name was Saleh) about the benefits of his career and the economic advantages.

"Not bad, thank God."

And about the quality of the girls:

"God willing, I am sure you will like it."

And about their ages:

"I swear by God, they are in the bloom of their youth."

God, Halal (legal, in Islam) and Haram (illegal) were such an integral part of his vocabulary, it seemed as though he were a professor of Islamic jurisprudence at the Department of Religious Law. But as soon as we asked him about the Marjeh hotels, he forgot about God and Religion and remembered his golden days:

"Marjeh has become impoverished, oh my brother… they don't leave us alone, not like the old days… may God cut their income!"

We asked him to tell us about conditions a few years ago, about how the Marjeh was the heart and held the monopoly within the sex industry in Damascus, and about how the customers sought carnal pleasures. Men used to come to Damascus from the farthest rural areas knowing nothing about the city except for the Marjeh hotels, where he would search for an available body to satisfy his urgent need. These hotels were supported by minor pimps who skillfully picked out passers-by lost in the crowds of the city.



Today, the Marjeh is no longer significant in the national sex market, according to our "tourist" guide, and the customers there have dried up. It is no longer possible to climb the stairs of cheap hotels and choose mediocre ladies for a cheap price, a price fitting the requirements of a young man looking for quick service. After repeated complaints from shop owners, the moral police closed the hotels and rendered the girls homeless. There were, however, a few hotels that came up with a brilliant solution and housed the girls in adjacent offices whose owners charged a fee for their accommodations, to the benefit of all involved and for the sake of the women's safety.

Often these women would sit behind a computer screen in the office and make coffee and tea for the owner, and pretend to clean the place from time to time, until her pimp arrived with a customer. Then she would go up to the third floor of the hotel with her client to have sex.



Behind Drawn Curtains

Three girls were waiting in a dimly lit apartment when we arrived. One of them was Iraqi, the second a Syrian Kurd and the third was Lebanese. More than twenty other customers were each awaiting their turn in a hallway off of which three doorways led to three rooms. In place of doors, flimsy curtains marked the divide. Ironically, this drama would start with the closing of the curtains, not with their opening.

Abeer insisted she is a Lebanese from Baalbak, though one couldn't have guessed from her accent. She told me that she had been raped by her elder brother four years ago. "I knew then, no one would take me as a wife. I was afraid to stay alone at home with him because he was constantly trying to rape me. I endured it for sometime, but in the end I couldn't take it any longer and left the house, looking for a job. I started working for a fashion boutique, then I switched to an adjacent beauty shop selling make-up. Then, the new shop-owner, a woman, introduced me to one of her clients, a man, who supported me and 'taught' me."

I soon realized that Abeer knew the tenets of her trade: she would not let her customers kiss her on the mouth and she would tell violent or demanding customers to leave.

"On one day I sleep with fifteen customers. Some of them as much as sixty years old and some of them aren't even adults yet… and most of them are ugly. The man who came before you was reeking of disgusting body odor and he hit me here (she pointed to her ass) so I called Jihad to remove him."



Resistance

Abeer went on to say that she feels as if she were two women in one body, one of them a prostitute and the other one a lady. She confided in me that she dreams of having children and that she hasn't lost her faith in "Sayyedna Hussein, Sayyedna Ali and Fatima the Pure."

"As soon as I can afford to buy a house I will quit this trade, wear the scarf (hijab) and seek refuge in my Lord… and search for a decent man willing to marry me… I am still young and my future is still ahead of me!"

With every word Abeer pronounced more followed – the naïve one! When I told her, just to provoke her, that no one would be willing to marry her, she answered:

"Hizballah will accept me. I will join the resistance and blow myself up..."!

Before our time ran out, our "virtuous lady" came to her concerning a telephone call from the "Hajji," who told her to not receive any further customers for the day, because he had guests who wished to see her. We later found out that many of the area's call girls had been asked to service the guests of the Hajji, who remained unknown.



History

Some time later we interviewed quite a few pimps and more prostitutes (but sadly, the interviews were rather plain):

Ferdous, Amal, Sanaa, Shams, Hayat, Zafiyeta and Hesna and … the fog cleared before our eyes: We knew that the last (official) brothel in the mid-seventies was closed when the municipal council of Aleppo decided to shut down the red light district in downtown Aleppo. At that time, Bahsita, the neighborhood housing the red light district, employed around a hundred prostitutes, their ages ranging from eighteen to seventy. A teen would come, bribe the policeman guarding the entrance and spend his savings on her. Alternately, a farmer, having just sold his produce, empty bags still in hand, would leave his profit with the girls. This place, which always offered solutions to those seeking answers, was now shut down. As the red lights in Aleppo were turned off one by one, in Damascus the only evidence of the brothels once supervised by the government was a bare, bleak building put to shame by the Department of Architecture just to its east. It had been shut down at the end of the Syrian-Egyptian unity and the situation was similar in Deir Al-Zour and other areas. It was at a time of political upheaval, when the red light districts were shut down and the women became jobless, while the government waged its "war on the sex industry."

In the beginning of the nineties, prostitution experienced a renaissance, not because of economic decline, nor a hole in the commercial budget, but because of a crisis in the structure of the Syrian family.

With the end of the cold war, Syrian prostitutes increasingly had to compete with Eastern European call girls, and waves of Moroccan, Egyptian and, most recently, Iraqi women came to live and work in furnished rental apartments in Barza, Jaramana, Duwayla and Tijara… Besides enlivening the slow sex industry, these girls became the main reason for the rise of rental prices for furnished apartments in Damascus and its outskirts.



Children and Prostitution

The sex industry in Damascus, as elsewhere in the world, is divided in many sectors, ranging from no-star hotels to international five-star hotels, dimly-lit houses, bars, and strip-clubs specializing in women from specific regions. Larger strip-clubs offer Russian, Moldavian and Ukrainian women, preferred by the Syrian locals and visitors from the Gulf. Some of these women charge up to two hundred US dollars per hour. Smaller clubs employ Moroccan, Syrian and Iraqi strippers, and the dingiest institutions will offer gypsies.

Fardous (Iraqi, 15 years old) works in a club called the White Corner in a neighborhood known as Rabwa. She told me that she charges a thousand pounds an hour, but can't leave the club with me, because they wouldn't allow her. She has to stay until five a.m. However, she would be able to meet me tomorrow at her place in Masakin Barza. "When you come, my family and my uncles will leave the house. Don't be afraid, we will be alone." In this club we saw dozens of young girls, mostly Iraqis who are forced to dance in front of the customers. Their ages don't exceed sixteen. Should one of them take a break, the man in charge would scream at her and order her to continue dancing, unless a customer asks her to sit at his table and opens a bottle of champagne for her.



About Russians

Russian women are a special case in Damascus, and it must be noted that Syrian call-girls will be hostile to Russian prostitutes for generations because the latter have taken away a majority of their customers, despite the huge price difference. As a result, Syrian call-girls now travel to work in the Gulf and especially Dubai since they are held in high esteem and are even preferred to other foreign women there. In Syria, an increasing demand for Eastern Europeans has resulted in a flooding of the market, which has made working conditions difficult for even the Russians, and driven down all the prices… Three nightclubs, Al-Jawhara Club, The Crazy Horse Club and Al-Waseem Club, all specialize in Eastern European girls.

What it happening in nightclubs?

These clubs sell "visas" to showgirls that come to Syria from different countries for two or three hundred US dollars or fifteen thousand Syrian pounds. Actually, the girls already pay twenty to sixty US dollars (depending on their nationality) for their Syrian entrance visa at the airport.

Club owners, to increase their own income, do the following:

First, they invite Russian go-go girls (dancers, not necessarily prostitutes), charge them for their plane-tickets, fake visas and hotel fees until the girls' contracts at the artists' union are processed and their working permits are issued. Then the girls have to pass a security approval. Some clubs charge the girls only the contract's fee, but this can be a large sum depending on the duration of their proposed stay. Other institutions do not charge for the contracts at all. The girls, depending on the clubs they work in, end up paying, inclusive of their residence and governmental taxes, anywhere from one to fifteen thousand US dollars for the first fifteen days. This amount is usually deducted from the girls' daily wages.

Finally, the dancing girls earn between fifteen to twenty US dollars a day on the condition that at least four to seven bottles of champagne, depending on the club, are opened for them daily. In addition to these daily earnings, a woman receives a commission of one US dollar for each bottle. Sometimes a middleman is employed to introduce the women to men, and his fees--four to eight US dollars--are further deducted from the women's daily income. On average, fourteen dollars remain for her, if she is successful. Otherwise, she receives only half of that amount. However, new-comers rarely speak English well and are not accustomed to working conditions in Damascus and therefore do not attract clients, and end up working for free after deducting the commission of the "middle man" – her pimp.

In the final sum, a woman's "middle man" charges her half her income and from the other half her other expenses (airfare, fake visa, etc.) are deducted, leaving her with only a fraction of her earnings or even forcing her to work for free for the first fifteen days. Then, as soon as she pays her "debts" (which are for the most part fake, such as the visa and the commissions of the middle-man, etc.) the club fires her if she cannot attract clients. In that case she remains in the hotel at her own expense and her circumstances force her to work in another club and accept all of that club's conditions, since she doesn't have the money to return to her own country.

The club owner charges customers a thousand to a thousand two hundred Syrian pounds for each bottle of wine and the dancer receives a single US dollar (around fifty pounds). Further, the club owner charges four thousand Syrian pounds for a bottle of champagne and the woman receives four US dollars (around two hundred pounds) for the same. If the girls don't attract customers or don't reach the minimum number of four customers, then she cannot leave the hotel, by order of the employer/pimp. In agreement with the hotel manager, the women are restricted in their free time and may leave the hotel only between 4 to 7pm. In the case that these women do not attract enough business, they cannot not leave the hotel at all except for a half-an-hour lunch break. To enforce this, the club employs guards who watch the girls at all times and report the names of those girls who break the rules. Also, the women may not leave the club with anyone who is not a client of the club.

"They lick me to death"

One of the girls, Amal (23 years old) is illiterate. She lives with her husband in Ma'araba. Her husband arranges for customers to meet her. She confesses that she doesn't love her husband and instead loves one of her clients, a man who comes to her every day. He pays the fee to her husband and when his time is about to finish, she gives him money so that he will come back the next day. She told me that her husband is jealous and possessive and that he beats her every time she talks about another man whom she likes. In contrast, her lover is kind to her, he doesn't hurt her and comes often to see her and talk to her. When I asked her about her other customers she told me with deep pain in her voice, "they lick me to death!"

The last time she went to see the doctor, it was in order to ask for a new IUD. The new IUD gives her horrible pains that penetrate her waist with each new customer, but fortunately, her gynecologist is one of her customers, and if she were sick, she thinks he would have told her.



What is left?

There are other kinds of prostitution: prostitution in offices that are rented out as furnished apartments that keep servants. Here the servant is the pimp and it is not the prostitute who is the servant such as in Al-Mazra'a. Then, there are prostitutes who work in what is advertised as a "Cinema and Artistic Production" office – offices that have never produced a single piece of art since their establishment - and instead make their living out of importing female artists from abroad and exporting Syrian artists to clubs in Dubai, Jordan and Malaysia. Next, there are women who hunt for rich men in five-star hotels, offering their time and bodies not for money but for gifts, jewelry and clothes, honestly admitting to their sugar-daddies that they are not there to stay. Finally there are streetwalkers, the ones one can notice in the more populous streets of Damascus. They are women who do not have to wait long before someone comes along and negotiates over a price for having sex in the highest bed of Damascus – on Jebel Qasioun.

Of course, there are other subdivisions within the sex industry and the phenomenon is such that some people have started selling their houses, moving to other areas where prostitution is less common. Officials deny the trend, insisting that prostitution is a crime punished by the Syrian law. The law, according to them, is enough to keep everything under control. Discussing legislation about prostitution is taboo in the official Syrian media. Yet a simple look at Damascus at night (and in the morning as well) is proof enough for the existence of the crime of prostitution.

The statistics that we have from a report on general security in Syria for the year 2002 prove that the police technique of trapping prostitutes is no longer sufficient to limit the trade. The report issued by the General Security Department in the Foreign Ministry claims the number of "secret prostitution crimes" in Syrian cities in 2002 reached 438 while in 2001 there were 468, a decrease of 6%. Of Syrian cities, Damascus, the largest city, is where most crimes took place, about 47%. However, the numbers mentioned in the report look like a fraction of the actual figures. One can find up to fifty prostitutes in any of Damascus' larger night clubs. The courts are filled with cases related to this issue and each of these cases takes up to a year or two, even without the issuing of a final judgment. One lawyer told us that the lawyer handling prostitution cases in the Supreme Court even has a "holy" corner, just for himself. When prostitutes are prosecuted and found guilty they are sent to prison where, rather than reforming, they teach other women the trade, so that they too may join the red light scene when they are released. Finally, the law which is supposed to fight secret prostitution places the burdens on the shoulders of the women involved because in practice it neither puts an end to prostitution nor does it place prostitution under the supervision of the government so that the government may improve the women's health, work and legal conditions.

Let us consider the view that the government will ignore those involved in the sex trade mainly because of domestic tourism, which makes the situation even worse. While prostitutes contribute to a large chunk of the domestic gross income, their only reward for their efforts is ill-treatment, exploitation, and "gifts" that separate them from their own humanity: "gifts" from their surroundings, from their employers, customers, passers-by, the night and the AIDS Center (although except for Eastern Europeans, the Center doesn't actually test women, thus leaving them exposed to the dangers of HIV). Despite these horrible facts, our friend the pimp's favorite phrase is still, "Thank God

 
At 8/06/2005 02:07:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

After reading the comments on this article, I would say that it is too much! unfortunately, we Syrians lack the minimum sense of accepting anything different and are incapable of discussing anything...we call it in Arabic " the dialogue of the Deaf People" and I will quote Shikyri Al- Quwatly President of Syria 1958

"Half of the Syrian People claim the vocation of leader, a quarter believe they are Prophets, and at least ten percent take themselves for Gods"

 
At 8/06/2005 02:16:00 AM, Blogger Innocent_Criminal said...

Or to quote Duraid Laham in the Ghurba play. "Everyone is a leader, where do you want me to get you a public from?"

PLZ stop posting a whole article, do it on your own blog, just paste the link here and interested people can read it if they want. This is a comment section.

 
At 8/06/2005 06:45:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have some comments regarding the post by Josh.

I just wanted to say that we as syrians will never step out of the dark ages due to the simple fact that the people who rule syria are still stuck there mentally....there's a new world order and history teaches us that it's either you get with the programme or you get stepped on...'


As for the lebanese who post anti-syrian comments around here...i just want to say one thing....

Have a few night clubs and some plastic women running around in skimpy dresses doesn't make you a civilized country. Your economy sux and you're people are more tribal in their dealings and mentalities than the damn bedouins in yemen.

A concerned Syrian

 
At 8/06/2005 07:56:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To that blind supporter of his interests with the regime Tarek, whether he is posting under Tarek or any other name; Speaking about Human Rights abused by the Assads does not take only Leaders to recognize. Every family in Syria for the most part has been a victim of this family. So, stop legalizing what the regime does in stating stupid quote like the stupid title that in essense wants to say: "You can't please every body", and so, his F... Majesty will look good (that he is trying). F... you and F... him.


The dictator and his father have always pointed out that they can not do anything because no matter whom they put in charge becomes corrupt. That the people have the problem, not them. This is ridiculous. Even this dummy author recognizes how there is a calss among the people that is extremely rich and this class is the one you Tarek is defending.

I am disgusted by how the author portrayed the couple Bakar and Athmaa. So, they were born with a golden spoon in their mouth, do they feel at least what they are doing to the human rights abuses they commit against ordinary Syrians when they themselves ignore their humble origin from which they rose not by hard work and doing some good for the humanity, but by the brute force his father used against every body else, and so he was able to gather the wealth they are enjoying now, stealing from the people and the country.

Does it take a leader to remember the thousands he jailed and abused or killed? The Syrian people know their enemy, and it is you.

 
At 8/06/2005 07:56:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To that blind supporter of his interests with the regime Tarek, whether he is posting under Tarek or any other name; Speaking about Human Rights abused by the Assads does not take only Leaders to recognize. Every family in Syria for the most part has been a victim of this family. So, stop legalizing what the regime does in stating stupid quote like the stupid title that in essense wants to say: "You can't please every body", and so, his F... Majesty will look good (that he is trying). F... you and F... him.


The dictator and his father have always pointed out that they can not do anything because no matter whom they put in charge becomes corrupt. That the people have the problem, not them. This is ridiculous. Even this dummy author recognizes how there is a calss among the people that is extremely rich and this class is the one you Tarek is defending.

I am disgusted by how the author portrayed the couple Bakar and Athmaa. So, they were born with a golden spoon in their mouth, do they feel at least what they are doing to the human rights abuses they commit against ordinary Syrians when they themselves ignore their humble origin from which they rose not by hard work and doing some good for the humanity, but by the brute force his father used against every body else, and so he was able to gather the wealth they are enjoying now, stealing from the people and the country.

Does it take a leader to remember the thousands he jailed and abused or killed? The Syrian people know their enemy, and it is you.

 
At 8/06/2005 08:19:00 AM, Blogger Innocent_Criminal said...

Which post of mine are you talking about I am confused. But to set the record straight I ALWAYS sign my posts either by Innocent Criminal or Tarek so please let me know which post are u talking about?

As for the concerned Syrian, you can say what you want but please don't diss Lebanese clubs or women, cause these are two things we should definitely learn from them. The society in Syria needs to open up a bit, and nothing does that better than booze and cheap sex. :)

 
At 8/06/2005 09:44:00 AM, Blogger Innocent_Criminal said...

One other credit we need to give the Lebanese is which we lack in other Arab countries is freedom of press, and relatively higher degree of freedom of speech.

 
At 8/06/2005 10:55:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Syria will have a great future ,Syria has no great forign debt has highly educated people most of them are succesfull in the west and are eager to help syria anyway they can, to do that they need a legal system that protects personal ownership ,free market economy which encourages buisnes ,political reform might be important to many people but remember that what makes america great is the economic and the legal systems as most american do not vote but they are still happy , for democracy to succeds syria should have midle class and to acheive that economic prosperity is a priority while fair taxation will decrease unequalities ,that will decrease the class strugle between the rich and the poor and will make it easier for all syrian to work together improve syria free market economy will make it easier for people to get what they are worth in pay so they do not have to leave,to all syrias ,help assad improve syria in an evolution not a revolution as we should learn from the revolution that is happinning in Iraq, and we do not need that.

 
At 8/07/2005 12:21:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

quoting anonymous above:)

Pyong-Yang will have a great future ,Pyong-Yang has no great forign debt has highly educated people most of them are succesfull in the west and are eager to help Pyong-Yang anyway they can, to do that they need a legal system that protects personal ownership ,free market economy which encourages buisnes ,political reform might be important to many people but remember that what makes america great is the economic and the legal systems as most american do not vote but they are still happy , for democracy to succeds Pyong-Yang should have midle class and to acheive that economic prosperity is a priority while fair taxation will decrease unequalities ,that will decrease the class strugle between the rich and the poor and will make it easier for all Pyong-Yangn to work together improve Pyong-Yang free market economy will make it easier for people to get what they are worth in pay so they do not have to leave,to all Pyong-Yangs ,help Kim Jong Il improve Pyong-Yang in an evolution not a revolution as we should learn from the revolution that is happinning in Iraq, and we do not need that.

 
At 8/07/2005 03:38:00 AM, Anonymous Tarek said...

That's exactly why I keep defending Syria. Not because I like the current situation. But because of delusional pessimists like that last post whom paint bleak pictures of the country making it look like its one of the worst in the world. Syria is in bad shape and needs a lot of work but it is not one of the worst countries to live in, and the government is not the worst in the world.

 
At 8/07/2005 03:45:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One Dummy said: "That's exactly why I keep defending Syria".

It is like the other Syrians are attacking Syria!!!

You should have said: "That's exactly why I keep defending the dictarship that has destroyed Syria for 35 years).

What an idiot thinking he can pass his lies!

 
At 8/07/2005 04:02:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bashar Assad was given the scratch course on "how to lose all the human conscience" like his father had been trained in 1965 at the Tavistock Institute in England. No wonder the West has branded him the adjective of "Western Educated". It is there where such traitors receive instructions on how to serve the world conspirators, and it doesn't take years of training. The course is short enough for those who are psyhcologically ready to execute orders, especially for some one whose father proved to be so loyal.

One would wonder how the Westerners keep brightening the image of some one who has imprisoned the cream of the Syrian Society since he inherited power. For 5 years they tried to hide his crimes and say that he is trying, but it is the OLD GUARGD. Now that he is evidently the master of the game (with the old guard out), the Westerners are making use of his so called Youth, and Stupid Elegant wife to portray them as the Royal Couple, and to pump new life into his dying regime.

"Too much Reform, or not Enough?" Yeah, you can't please every body! Hahaha.. It is a pittiful slogan for some one who knows what freedom means! It is pittiful to try to laugh at the dignity of other people while the writer knows that new people were just dragged into prisons for trying to defend their fathers or their sons who were imprisoned for saying a word. And the Writer says that this Bashar is loved while his father was feared. What an insult to us all!

 

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