Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Student views from Damascus

Here is commentary from a Matt Longo, ayoung researcher in Syria, who is talking to students and not the usual commentators. It seems quite accurate to me - of course he is talking to the pro-Western students, not Islamists or country boys.

Hating the regime, fearing Uncle Sam
Although Syrians are disgusted with their disgraced government, they don't want to be another Iraq.

By Matthew Longo, MATTHEW LONGO, a researcher for the department of political science at Yale University, currently lives in Damascus.

A GIANT PODIUM was constructed in central Damascus. The streets were decorated with pictures of President Bashar Assad and the twin flags of the Syrian Republic and the ruling Baath Party. Schools were given the day off. Thousands of children were bused into the city from surrounding regions. SyriaTel, the government-sponsored mobile-phone provider, messaged users, urging them to the streets.

Monday's rally — against the United States, the United Nations and German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis' report on the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri — was designed to make the government look strong, popular and credible. Television screens around the world would show the happy, colorful face of the Syrian nation.


But things are not always as they seem. Syrian broadcast news announced that there were up to 1 million people in attendance. More credible accounts put the number of actual protesters at about 10,000. Of these, most were schoolchildren, whose participation was obligatory. The main speeches were slated for 2 p.m., but by 10:30 a.m. most of the crowds had left, preferring to take lunch or idle through the city. By noon, the square was almost empty save for a few enthusiasts waving signs and chanting anti-American slogans and epithets. The streets were littered with flags that had been issued by the government and promptly dropped.

The paltry turnout is a reflection of frustration with the ruling Baath regime, which is viewed as weak, corrupt and isolated. Many Syrians were incensed by the Hariri assassination and the subsequent shameful withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon in April. The economy here is in dire straits, pinched at the borders by the loss of Lebanon — a notorious cash cow — and the loss of revenue from oil smuggled out of Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

Assad, hailed when he took office as a democratic reformer, has largely reneged on promised changes. In private, people across the country whisper hopes about regime change and the dawning of a new era for Syria.

But let's be clear: Dissatisfaction with the current regime does not translate into support for the West. In fact, there is general outrage in Syria regarding the Mehlis report, which is viewed as politically motivated. As expected, high-ranking Syrian officials were implicated in the Hariri assassination, including Asef Shawkat, the brother-in-law of Assad. Mehlis portrayed the Syrian government as small, insular and criminal.

Rightly or wrongly, many Syrians consider the report to be a mere U.S.-sponsored justification for war. At Monday's rally, one placard I saw depicted a caricatured President Bush as a ventriloquist, with Mehlis as his dummy.

Most Syrians feel stuck between two unappealing options. "Everybody is frustrated," said one student at the University of Damascus, "because we hate George Bush, but we also know that the regime is guilty."

Lately, tensions have been rising between the two. U.S. officials say terrorists have been allowed to slip across the Syrian border into Iraq. And Tuesday, Bush said he had not ruled out military action if Syria failed to cooperate with the ongoing investigation into Hariri's assassination.

More than anything else, Syrians do not want to become the next Iraq, which they see as a case of outright aggression and murder, not as the liberation of an oppressed people or the march of democracy. Among the most common signs at the rally were: "We are not Iraq" and "Stay away America." Syrians want change, but this does not mean that they want invasion.

Many analysts predict that the Mehlis report could lead, ultimately, to sanctions, isolation and conceivably even U.S.-led military intervention.

Now, after Monday's rally, Syria looks more vulnerable than ever — unable to even manufacture support from within. The country waits anxiously to see what tomorrow will bring.


At 11/02/2005 08:24:00 AM, Blogger Syrian Republican Party said...

Wahda, Hurriah, Ishtirakia. Ahdafuna, Ahdafuna, Ahdafuna
Ummat Arabiya wahida, thatou resalat khalida.

Bathiyye, Bathiyye, Bathiyye

Iktaiyye, Rajeyye, Intihazeyye,

You asked for it, you cheered for it, you got it. Now, after 43 years of getting screwd. Nothing has changed in Syrian masses atittudes, except the grunble and gruntle.

Agha Metaz
Gimme my land back and compensate me for 43 years of lost income.

At 11/02/2005 08:49:00 AM, Blogger Ghassan said...

The Assad government not the Syrian people should be punished for their criminal act of assassinating Hariri. I am not going to bring up the 30 years of occupation now! Unfortunately, the Syrian people will suffer until they remove their criminal government.

The Syrian regime is almost similar to Saddam's regime! See the comparison below:

Al-Sharaa' = Tareq Aziz + arrogance + stupidity + an eye on the throne! (At least Aziz was using logic although wrong to defend the Saddam regime).

Bashar Assad = Saddam - experience (At least Saddam had advisors representing diverse groups, although all were "Yes men" people! Experience is more important than 1.5 years in Europe. Asad has his brother, his sister and his brother-in-law as advisers!)

Maher Assad = Udai (But Udai was hoping to get the throne AFTER the death of his dad not before!)

Asef Chewkat = Al-Majed's (They defected to Jordan but later returned back and were killed within hours. But Asef has nowhere to go and eventually will get the same punishment!)

Rest of the mafia Asad Inc. regime = Rest of the dictator Saddam regime!

I forgot, Majed Assad = Qusai but with a brain!

At 11/02/2005 09:52:00 AM, Blogger Nafdik said...

You forgot other more important paralells:

Minority tribe rules majority:
Syria majority sunni --> Allawi rule
Iraq majority Shia --> Sunni rule

Stupid useless positions lead to disaster:
Saddam (pretend to have nukes)
Assad (extend Lahoud terms)

America gifeth, America taketh away:
Iraq supported by US in Iran war
Syria supported in Lebanon

When in trouble put yourself in more shit:
Saddam plays around with inspectors
Syria kills Hariri

Arab hero on the outside, groveler on the inside:
Saddam tries to contact US at the last few months
Assad changes banking rules and arrests insurgents for the US

Tough leader ready to die for his fantasy:

At 11/02/2005 10:22:00 AM, Blogger Innocent_Criminal said...

Wow, really insightful stuff guys... please do keep it up.

At 11/02/2005 10:34:00 AM, Blogger ForFreedomOfExpression said...

Al-Jazeera's Hiwar Maftuh on Syria. Ghassan bin Jiddu is one of the best interviewers and presenters of political programs. I never met him, but spoke on the phone with him couple of time when I appeared on his program a few months ago. According to surveys, Hiwar Maftuh is one of the most widely watched programs in the Arab world (along with Bi-`Arabi with, I can't even get to mention her name. She annoys me that much. I have recently found myself yelling obscenities (in Arabic) at the TV when I see her. In her personality, she is able to encapsulates everything that I have detested about Lebanonese "culture"). This program of Hiwar Maftuh last Saturday featured Syria's ambassador in UAE, Riyad Na`san Agha, Syrian dissident Michel Kilu, and a US professor, Joshua Landis. Ghassan was not fair to Landis, I have to say. Landis insisted on speaking in Arabic, and I was able to understand him although he has difficulty with the letter `ayn and kept saying Iraq instead of `Iraq, but Bin Jiddu would constantly interrupt him, and he did not have a chance to finish one thought. Riyad Agha wants to have it both ways: to speak for the regime, and yet to praise the "patriotic opposition" in Syria. I never understood why Agha has more leeway and more freedom than most Syrian diplomats or even officials. Michel Kilu bothers me: he says the regime is guilty of crimes and human rights violations, but yet does not call for the overthrow of the regime. Why? Explain that to me, Mr. Kilogram? And this vapid liberal talk about "democracy" has lost any meaning for me especially in the age of Bush doctrine. I also have my criteria about Syrian dissidents: I of course can not support the Muslim Brothers or any religious-oriented ideology. Secondly, the movement has to be consistent, unlike Kilo above. Thirdly, those Syrian dissidents who write in An-Nahar (which has a long record of hostility and racism to Syrians in general, and Syrian workers in particular) should be ashamed of themselves. They are, wittingly or unwittingly, mere tools in the service of right-wing anti-Arab militia leftovers in Lebanon. Of course, there are many decent and courageous Syrian dissidents are are consistent and oppose the rigime on firm grouds (and do not write in AnNahar).

At 11/02/2005 10:37:00 AM, Blogger norman said...

Western madia said the same about iraq that the US thought it will be a cake walk now the US is stuck in Iraq with more than 2000 dead and 15000 injured i hope the us will not make the same mistake.and at that time do not expect syrians not to fight .some people seem to be convinced that Harreri,s killing was goverment approved as it was the torture in Iraq where they placed it on poor low ranking soldures.

At 11/02/2005 03:21:00 PM, Blogger adonis syria said...

Rumours from Syria:Men close to Maher Asad has started preparing several car bombs,plot's aim is to creat terror atmosphere in the Syrian cities.
God bless the syrian people from these evil attempts.

At 11/02/2005 03:24:00 PM, Blogger Irene Pereyra said...

I just got back from a summer in Syria and was amazed at people's candid comments about their dictatorship. As people here in the US barely know what's going on in their own country (and we supposedly have freedom of press), Syrians were widely knowledgeble about their situation in the world. Yes they hate Bush, but they also hate Al-Assad's regime. This imposed kingdom is bound to fall, but people are still afraid to speak their minds. If the US is stupid enough to invade Syria, there are going to be greater problems than there are right now in Iraq.

At 11/02/2005 03:25:00 PM, Blogger Irene Pereyra said...

I just got back from a summer in Syria and was amazed at people's candid comments about their dictatorship. As people here in the US barely know what's going on in their own country (and we supposedly have freedom of press), Syrians were widely knowledgeble about their situation in the world. Yes they hate Bush, but they also hate Al-Assad's regime. This imposed kingdom is bound to fall, but people are still afraid to speak their minds. If the US is stupid enough to invade Syria, there are going to be greater problems than there are right now in Iraq.

At 11/02/2005 04:14:00 PM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...

"Dissatisfaction with the current regime does not translate into support for the west".

"Everybody is frustrated because we HATE George Bush, but we know that the regime is guilty".

"Syrians do ntot want to become the next Iraq which they see as outright aggression ans murder."

"We are not Iraq. Stay away America"

Syria wants change, but they don't want invasion. Syria thinks their Government is guilty but don't want America's help . Syria wants change but they are incable of doing it on their own. Syria wants change but don't want Bush and the U.S. to do it for them.

Mr. Landis,

Syrian and The Arab world in general would rather be ruled and humiliated by the worst dictators of their race and religion than have the Christian blue eyed west/Bush exercise any influence on their lives. Never mind that they have the worst thugs leading them down into the abyss. To an Arab, they would rather have Saddam and Bashar destroy their countries than have Aamerica and Bush take an interest in their region. The Baath party has drilled into the brain of every Syrian that the west is bad and no matter how bad their regimes are the west and America are A LOT WORSE. Regrettably, every Syrian has bought this nonesense. They all know that their standards of living will improve dramatically if they turn to America and the west but then a loud voice from inside their souls tells them otherwise. What about our honor ? How can I trust a blue eyed American over my own own ?

Sir, is there ever a point that the west CAN/WOULD be better than our leaders or is it just a thick blanket that will hang over the heads of this country till eternity?

At 11/02/2005 04:45:00 PM, Blogger adonis syria said...

Regime change doesnt need an american invasion but only international insurance which cover the syrian people from the mass killing.

At 11/02/2005 04:53:00 PM, Blogger adonis syria said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 11/02/2005 04:54:00 PM, Blogger adonis syria said...

ehsani,even after decades of intellectual terror,syrian people are more pragmatic and politicized than u such totalitarian regimes,the appearances are misleading.

At 11/02/2005 05:36:00 PM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...

If it were not for Bush's America, Saddam and his lovely two sons would be ruling and terrorizing Iraq for the next 100 years.

If it were not for Bush's America, Assad would have grown and old man by the time he gives us his seat. By then, his young Hafez would be be ready to take the helm.

Stop all the nonsense about "international insurance" and the "pragmatic Syrian People ". Without Bush's America there is no conceivable way for any change to take place. Let us all stop being in denial and accept this as a fact. For once, America's self interests coincided with that of the average man in the street. It is a shame to let this opportunity pass by. it is high time for Arabs in general and Syrians in particular to turn to America for help. let us stop convincing ourselves that this is tanamount to selling out. Let us admit that our leaders failed us. Our socities and economies urgently need help. No matter what happens, WE CANNOT BE IN A WORSE PREDICEMENT THAN WE ARE NOW. It is time to think with our heads and not our "Aatifa" which has been corrupted by our media, schools & universities. The bankrupt Ottaman Empire decided to turn to the west, become secular and embark on an 80-year journey that has raised their standards of living to the point that they could join the EU in 10 years.

It is time for us to follow suit, drop the nonesense of "wahda, Hurriya, Ishtiraciya", think with our heads and look to improve the standards of living of our people rather than hide behind empty slogans.

At 11/02/2005 06:08:00 PM, Blogger Nafdik said...

Ehsani said "We can not be in a worse predicement than we are now".

As I agree with the sentiment expressed, I think it is fair to consider the view that 2 scenarios could be worse than the current:

1- Iran Scenario: Syria becomes a theocracy, women, minorities, intellectual, party animals, drunks will all become persecuted.

2- Iraq Scenario: Loss of security, can not walk the streets, or go to school, etc

Until the opposition parties create a vision that will assure the poeple that 1 or 2 are unlikely to occur, many Syrians will be lukewarm about regime change.

At 11/02/2005 06:26:00 PM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...

You Are Right. This is why I am advocating strictly legalized secular constitution which is backed up and protected by a powerful army professional. My example of a modern day Ataturk would precisely ensure that niether of your two scenarios ever come to fruition

At 11/02/2005 08:08:00 PM, Blogger norman said...

What Bashar did today is an important step next he should take the lead release the long awaited party law and call for local elections next june give all syrians living in syria cittezenship and prepare the country for the assult that the US is planing for Syria no matter what the truth is,and for Adonis remember Lebanon thought that they can count on the international insurence for safty to have more than 100000 people killed and stopped only by Syria because no country wanted to endanger it,s army to save Lebanon.Syria,s goverment wants to improve Syria,they should move fast though.

At 11/02/2005 08:20:00 PM, Blogger EngineeringChange said...

And if the people reject a strictly secular constitution? (which is very likely--Syrians are getting more conservative) Do you force them? What do you think would happen?

We are all quite possibly left in chaos with people fighting over power.

All the Baathist-haters out there: The Baath party is no good and corrupt and inefficient ok we all agree on that. But lets not imagine that once the Baath party is gone--magic--things automatically get better. That is a astutely stated above--things can get much much worse. What is some economic troubles in front of potential civil war???

Every single one you expats--think about your country embroiled in civil war:
"Are you visiting Syria this summer"
"No can't do it this year cause there is too high of a chance I may die in a car bomb--my cousin was killed last week, hopefully in 5 years or so it will be safe enough to go"

And lets not imagine that the Syrian hatred of the USA is a Baathist creation as well. I have never been indoctrinated by the Baathist, yet I freely realize that the neocons are not out to help Syria. They have Israel in their interest and a long-term battle against Islam. Syrian rightly realize this as well. Have you forgotten Palestine? Have you forgotten the billions of dollars American pours into Israeli weapons--Israel--a country which still OCCUPIES our mountains and are absolutley loving every minute in their war booty.

Assad may be guilty of many things but I am PROUD of him for not selling out to the west like Abdullah in Jordan. And I am PROUD of him for keeping stability in our country throughout the years--there isn't a safer place in the middle east and lets not forget that.

Until I see there is some concrete hope of better leadership--some kind of a better option, I am counting on the change from within card. I am counting on American pressure to bring about change. And like it or not--I am counting on Assad.

At 11/02/2005 09:17:00 PM, Blogger Joseph ALi Mohammed said...


Among the 190 Political Prisonners that have been released today is Dr. Abdel Aziz Al Kheir from Kurdaha.

I am thrilled for this news, and awaiting the release of the heroes of Damascus Spring among them are Seif, Homsi, and Dalila.

Thank you my God for this great news! I hope Dr. Assad will realese all prisonners soon, and work for a real change in Syria where freedom and justice will reign!

Again, I am very happy for Dr. Kheir. God bless good men like him!


At 11/02/2005 09:18:00 PM, Blogger adonis syria said...

The pro-west Jordan ,is in far better situation than Syria...there are 300 000 syrian workers in the poor Jordan.
U have to weight up,the positive points and the negative...u will see then the jordanians in poor and desertic jordan have more opportunities than syrians in the rich syria.And dont forget that syrian regime can only survive with anti-west slogans,it's used as excuse to impose the law of the security apparatus on the syrian people.

At 11/02/2005 09:25:00 PM, Blogger adonis syria said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 11/02/2005 09:31:00 PM, Blogger adonis syria said...

JAM,syrians from all communities are proud of people like Abdulaziz al Khayer.But it's not enough,we refuse half decisions...we want all the political prisoners to be freed and quickly...dignity,freedom and human rights are the natural right of the syrian people stolen by this regime.

At 11/02/2005 10:33:00 PM, Blogger Nur-al-Cubicle said...

Doesn't it arouse suspicion over US motives when you consider that Emile Lahoud, Bashar al-Assad and José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero are all personae non gratae in the United States.

Dubya wants to go to war with Spain, next.

Syria is getting sucker-punched by Washington, because it's an easy target. Young Bashar is a novice, titular head of state, and is having trouble herding cats.

The best move, if possible, is to unite around Bashar so he can exile certain family members, wait for the threat to pass, then get busy with insisting on reforms.

Washington does not have the same situation on the ground in Syria as it did in Iraq--i.e. the Shi'ite and Kurdish militias. What they do have is not big enough to topple a cheeseburger.

And the US cannot attack (despite what that puffed up piece of falafel Talabani says) without the permission of France--which, although vociferously asking for reform and for Syria's owning up to the rackets formerly run in Lebanon, does not desire.

That's my view.

At 11/02/2005 10:56:00 PM, Blogger Abhinav Aima said...

I don't think anyone is going to return to read this post - but I'll put it here anyway... Someone brought up the case of Jordan and how it is more prosperous -

Jordan has had a close relationship with the Israelis, the British and the Americans since the early days when the Hashemi family was confronted with the formation of Israel... Jordan's economy has benefitted, but let's not forget that its politics has long been a bedfellow of colonial and neo-colonial powers.

At 11/03/2005 04:48:00 AM, Blogger ForFreedomOfExpression said...


Syrian army forces have surrounded the offices of A’sif Shawkat, the brother-in-law of Syrian President Bashar Al-Asad and head of Syria’s Military Intelligence service.

According to a report from the ANN network, run by a Syrian exile, Syrian forces demanded Shawkat surrender but he refused. The report has not been confirmed by other sources.

Shawkat, as well as Bashar Al-Asad’s brother, Mahir Al-Asad, are both suspects in the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Al-Hariri.

Shawkat is said to be a close aide of the president, but analysts say the president fears him because of his strong influence.

Also, Bashar Al-Asad pardoned 190 political prisoners on Wednesday, under a presidential amnesty as part of a “comprehensive reform,” according to the official Syrian news agency SANA.

The pardon was announced ahead of the Muslim holiday ‘Id Al-Fitr, which marks the end of the Ramadan month.

The agency said the decision was made to help establish national unity.

The United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution on Monday which demands Syria’s full cooperation with the investigation on Al-Hariri’s assassination.

It warned of “further action” if Syria is uncooperative.

At 11/03/2005 04:50:00 AM, Blogger ForFreedomOfExpression said...

Syria sets up crisis team to prepare for sanctions
Thursday, 3 November, 2005 @ 8:42 AM

Beirut and Damascus- Syria has set up a crisis team to prepare for the possibility of international sanctions, in spite of having escaped the immediate threat of such measures in U.N. Resolution 1636 that was adopted unanimously by the Security

Council on Monday.

Abdullah Dardari, Syria's deputy prime minister for economic affairs, told the Financial Times of London that Syria expected further international pressure as the inquiry continued into Rafik Hariri's assassination.

But sanctions would not pose an insurmountable obstacle for Syria, Dardari indicated. There was no shortage of "sanctions busters" willing to evade current U.S. measures against the country, he said.

Speaking at the prime minister's office in Damascus, Dardari said Syria was preparing for all possibilities, even though he was confident that his country would cooperate fully with the U.N. Hariri probe, as demanded in the U.N. resolution.

He is heading an economic crisis team, set up on Monday that is charged with planning for "every scenario."

"Our experience is very bitter," said Dardari, claiming that Syria had already extended full cooperation to the U.N. investigation headed by the German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, "so now when the resolution says we want full cooperation or else, how can we prove to you we are giving full cooperation?"

Damascus sees the U.S. government as the driving force behind the pressure on the country and the deputy prime minister did not think a U.S. change of heart by the next Security Council deadline, on December 15, was "going to happen."

But Syria would cooperate with the inquiry to strengthen its supporters on the council, "like Russia, China and Algeria who are saying Syria must be given a chance to prove its innocence."

While the threat of international sanctions has been postponed for at least another six weeks, the country has been the target of U.S. sanctions under the Syria Accountability Act since the beginning of last year. And Syria is on the U.S. State Department's list of states said to be supporting terrorism.

Dardari said that this had targeted the purchase of technology, as in aircraft and control panels for power plants.

"But to be honest, sanction busters are everywhere," he said. "There are American companies setting up in Canada to sell to Syria."

Syria's economy was generally holding up well under the strain, Dardari said.

"There is no panic in the country. The Syrian pound is under pressure but we managed to contain it and control it very nicely. It is a sign of confidence."

His assertion contrasted a report by Al Hayat newspaper, quoting US officials as reported a panicky flight of capital from Syria to banks in Gulf Arab nations.

Dardari said Syria would forge ahead with economic reforms. "You don't meet international pressure with isolation. You meet it with more interdependence and integration in the global economy and we will be doing that," said Dardari.

He said it was "ironic" that countries that had pushed Syria in the past to open up its centrally led economy were threatening it with sanctions.

The majority of the Lebanese people want a prosperous and stable Syria and oppose sanctions. That is why Lebanon has been urging Syrian leadership to cooperate with the UN commission headed up by Mehlis to avoid any sanctions. Contrary to what the government controlled press in Syria wants you to believe, Lebanon does not want the Syrian people to suffer.

If the Syrian regime is counting on "Sanction busters" to save them from economic blockade, then they are on the wrong track. Obviously the regime is being misled. "Sanction busters will have a very hard time shipping anything to Syria, if there will be an economic blockade", one reliable shipping forwarder told Ya Libnan.

If president Basher Assad is 100% innocent as he claimed on CNN , then what is he afraid of ? It is on record that he did not cooperate in substance with the UN. This judgment was made by a well known German judge whose name is Mehlis and not by the US or France. The Syrian regime should stop blaming other nations for their lack of cooperation and start cooperating fully with the UN.

Patrick Seale, author of a book on Assad's father, the late President Hafez Assad, said the political storm caused by the Mehlis report has given the Syrian president a golden opportunity.

"For the first time since he came to power in 2000, he has a unique chance to impose his authority on rival power centers and emerge as the real ruler of Syria," Seale wrote in The Daily Star.

"In their different ways, both the international community and his own public are ... encouraging him to carry out a 'corrective movement' against undisciplined barons of his regime, including men close to him," Seale said.
Sanctions usually hurt the people and not the regime.

As in all similar situations, 'time is of the essence'. December 15th is behind the corner. The time for Assad to act is now!

Sources: Ya Libnan, Naharnet, LBC TV

At 11/04/2005 08:14:00 PM, Blogger Yabroud said... stated that Abdel Aziz Kheir was released, but I wasn;t able to confirm the news from any where else. It seems this is not true after all.

How can the men of the regime sleep when they are doing so much injustice, and hurting other human beings to such a degree?


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