Monday, May 29, 2006

opposition News (May 31, 2006)

The Khaddam people sent out the following circular yesterday advertising their London meeting on June 4 and 5 with the Muslim Brothers and other groups of the National Salvation Front. They will get some press coverage this way. I have written to see if they will give advance notice of who is coming and whether Junblatt or possibly Saad al-Hariri will make guest appearances at the close of the conference to endorse their efforts.

It would certainly be a coup for Bayanouni if Khaddam can pull in the big guns from Lebanon to perform a laying on of hands. Such Lebanese patronage would help them get the blessing of Washington. Washington is flirting with the Salvation Front in order to raise the pressure on Damascus. All the same, Bashar al-Assad is counting on the fact that each time Washington has moved from flirtation to full body embrace of fundamentalist parties, it wakes up the next morning regretting its promiscuous actions. Such has been the case in Iraq and Palestine. According to Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal, it looks like Bush has been spooked by Egypt's Muslim Brothers as well. Stephens' article yesterday was entitled: "Bush Betrays Egypt's Democrats. For What?"

Here is the Salvation Front Circular:

For the attention of the Chief Editor,

This is to inform you that the National Salvation Front (NSF) will be holding its convention to evaluate current events in Syria. The NSF will discuss and put in place an executive plan for the liberation & democratization of Syria.

The NSF convention will be attended by more than 50 persons of various political backgrounds and movements. It will be held on the 4th & 5th of June in London, United Kingdom.

In case you are interested in covering this event or to do personal interviews you are invited to write us to:
You can as well call +33631992006.

Simon Tisdall writing for the Guardian has a good analysis of the ongoing crackdown in Syria in his article, "Syria's silent purge." Rime Allaf is quoted. She is upbeat about the National Salvation Front and believes it could be the beginning of the end for Assad. She says: "This is the first time in four decades that we've seen significant organised opposition to the regime. They've gone out on a limb to draw in other exiles and groups from around the world." If the NSF proved a serious proposition, she said, all Mr Assad's machinations could count for nought.

Meanwhile Farid Ghadry's Reform Party has been melting down. He has accused one of his main party members of being a regime spy. It would seem that Ghadry believes that Rifaat al-Assad, Bashar's renegade uncle, has penetrated his party on orders from the Syrian regime.

Tyler Golson, a Georgetown student, translated a recent Ghadry circular about it that was only sent out in Arabic. Here is Tyler's backgrounder with the translation:

A note of context: as of early May 2006, I was receiving two emails a week from Ali al-Hajj Hussein, the Arabic language spokesperson of the Reform Party of Syria, having signed up for their newsletter. They were typical party rhetoric and announcements stuff, sometimes translated in the accompanying English language newsletter, although usually not (it's unclear why the Arabic and English language newsletters normally address totally different subjects...Based on my own interview with al-Ghadry and discourse analysis of party literature conducted last semester for a Grad class at Georgetown, I understand this to be indicative of the US-based Syrian reform movement's crippling schizophrenia: it wants to be all things to all people, unashamedly altering its message in order to suit different audiences, but ultimately it is unpalatable to both Syrian and foreign audiences because neither can trust it...)

Anyway, Ali al-Hajj Hussein normally sends out short memos on behalf of the Reform Party. But on May 4th I received a surprising announcement condemning Mr. Hussein as a regime spy and agent provocateur. Here's my (Tyler's) translation:

Declaration of the expulsion of a party member

Following the unanimous vote of the majority of the members of the executive committee of the Reform Party of Syria in Syria and America and Europe, the party decided to terminate Mr. Ali al-Hajj Hussein's membership permanently.

The party expressed its shock at Mr. Ali al-Hajj Hussein's latest actions in which he appeared without the authorization of the party on one of the satellite channels that opposes democratic change in Syria. He tried to split the party on the orders of a well known personality. He also denigrated the reputation of the party and cast doubt on its leadership, in addition to recording the voices of everyone who called the party without their knowledge and repeatedly threatened to use the recordings for his own interests.

The Reform Party apologizes to all party members whose voices were recorded by Mr. Ali al-Hajj Hussein without their knowledge. We in the leadership of the party condemn all of these secretive security practices carried out by any member regardless of his rank. And we also apologize to the members and friends of the Reform Party for Mr. Ali al-Hajj Hussein’s attempt to suggest that the Reform Party and its President Mr. Farid al-Ghadry are connected to the owner of the satellite channel on which Mr. Hussein appeared.

And the President of the Reform Party stresses that the Party protects its members and emphasizes that the party will not enter into disputes that divert us from our primary objective that is to work for the Syrian people in choosing the democratic life which they deserve. He asserts the right of the Party's members, friends and allies, domestic and foreign, to know that when Mr. Ali al-Hajj Hussein failed to split the party, he turned to personal threats and insults with the objective of weakening the Reform Party's continuing mission to topple the Syrian regime.

We hope that everyone will communicate with the leadership of the party in the future at this interim address until we return to our beloved homeland.
1700 Pennsylvania Avenue NW - Suite 400
Washington DC 20004 - USA

Ghadry's English language circular had this to say:

RPS Elects New Leadership
Washington DC, May 12, 2006/RPS/ -- In the last few days, RPS has conducted new secret balloted elections, that saw new and younger leadership become more visible chosen from the ranks of our loyal members. The elections were held in response to new threats by the Syrian intelligence to penetrate RPS ranks.

Ten new members were chosen to the Executive Committee with an average age of 33. Four either resigned their posts or were forced out. Farid Ghadry's mandate as president of RPS was extended for another 2 years in accordance with RPS by-laws. The votes were delivered to an anonymous email set-up for that purpose and tallied by an RPS leadership in Paris.

RPS new blood is generating a buzz in Syria amongst the youth. These extraordinary people represent the future of Syria with all its mosaic of multi-ethnicity and multi-cultural backgrounds. Their names shall remain anonymous to protect their well being but their voices will be heard in and throughout.
Getting news out of Damascus about the opposition is getting difficult these days. Ferry Biedermann has long been a pro at getting the Damascus story.

Jailed dissident defiant after attack on Damascus conduct in Lebanon
By Ferry Biedermannin Damascus
Financial Times May 29 2006
Akram Bunni is a stocky, bespectacled 51-year old with grey hair and an easy laugh that he maintains even when he discusses his brother Anwar, a prominent human rights lawyer who now languishes in jail and who is on a hunger strike.

"Don't worry, eat, eat," he urges while gesticulating toward the well-decked table in a fashionable Damascus café. "Anwar would like us to enjoy ourselves."

His brother is among the most prominent of the 10 people who were arrested two weeks ago after having signed a declaration criticising Syria's conduct in Lebanon.

This "Beirut-Damascus" joint statement with Lebanese intellectuals and activists has either infuriated the government, possibly because it was co-signed by the banned Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, or has provided it with a pretext to expand a crackdown on some of its most outspoken critics.

Anwar Bunni was among a group of dissidents particularly scathing about what they saw as their government's mishandling of its relations with Lebanon when the world's attention was focused on the issue in the months after the assassination of Rafiq Hariri, Lebanon's former prime minister, in February 2005.

When it comes to prison, the Bunni family has had more than its share. Akram, two other brothers but not Anwar, his sister and brother-in-law have all served lengthy jail terms starting in the 1990s, for membership of a banned communist organisation.

"At one point only my mother and Anwar were free," says Akram Bunni. "They kept up a busy schedule of visiting us in different jails because we were split up."

He has just returned from seeing Anwar in prison and says that the lawyer is in good spirits but Akram has not been able to convince Anwar to give up the hunger strike that he started on the day he was arrested. "You would not recognise him now. He is pale and even skinnier than usual."

As he recounts his own tales of mistreatment in the notorious Palmyra prison, he becomes angry at his brother's fate. "When I was arrested, at least I knew why; I had been a member of a forbidden group. But Anwar has done nothing wrong, except speak his mind."

Akram Bunni says he is convinced that the Beirut-Damascus statement was just a pretext for the government to arrest his brother. The week before, Anwar had been stripped of his licence to practise law and in March the authorities closed down his recently opened human rights centre that was largely funded by the EU.

One of the few others in Syria who are as outspoken as Mr Bunni, is human rights lawyer Haitham Maleh. He has also recently felt increased pressure from the government. Lately he has not been allowed to leave the country and last Thursday was sentenced to 10 days in jail by a military court "for having insulted the president"....

Jihad's Architect Of New War On West
Writings Lay Out Post-9/11 Strategy of Isolated Cells Joined in Jihad

By Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, May 23, 2006; Page A01
From secret hideouts in South Asia, the Spanish-Syrian al-Qaeda strategist published thousands of pages of Internet tracts on how small teams of Islamic extremists could wage a decentralized global war against the United States and its allies.
With the Afghanistan base lost, he argued, radicals would need to shift their approach and work primarily on their own, though sometimes with guidance from roving operatives acting on behalf of the broader movement.

Last October, the writing career of Mustafa Setmariam Nasar came to an abrupt end when Pakistani agents seized him in a friend's house in the border city of Quetta and turned him over to U.S. intelligence operatives, according to two senior Pakistani intelligence officials.

With Spanish, British and Syrian interrogators lining up with requests to question him, he has turned out to be a prize catch, a man who is not a bombmaker or operational planner but one of the jihad movement's prime theorists for the post-Sept. 11, 2001, world.

Counterterrorism officials and analysts see Nasar's theories in action in major terrorist attacks in Casablanca in 2003, Madrid in 2004 and London in 2005. In each case, the perpetrators organized themselves into local, self-sustaining cells that acted on their own but also likely accepted guidance from visiting emissaries of the global movement.

Nasar's masterwork, a 1,600-page volume titled "The Call for a Global Islamic Resistance," has been circulating on Websites for 18 months. The treatise, written under the pen name Abu Musab al-Suri, draws heavily on lessons from past conflicts.

Nasar, 47, outlines a strategy for a truly global conflict on as many fronts as possible and in the form of resistance by small cells or individuals, rather than traditional guerrilla warfare. To avoid penetration and defeat by security services, he says, organizational links should be kept to an absolute minimum.

"The enemy is strong and powerful, we are weak and poor, the war duration is going to be long and the best way to fight it is in a revolutionary jihad way for the sake of Allah," he said in one paper. "The preparations better be deliberate, comprehensive and properly planned, taking into account past experiences and lessons."

Intelligence officials said Nasar's doctrine has made waves in radical Islamic chat rooms and on Websites about jihad - holy war or struggle - over the past two years. His capture, they added, has only added to his mystique.

"He is probably the first to spell out a doctrine for a decentralized global jihad," said Brynjar Lia, a senior counterterrorism researcher at the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment, who is writing a book on Nasar. "In my humble opinion, he is the best theoretician among the jihadi ideologues and strategists out there. Nobody is as systematic and comprehensive in their analysis as he is. His brutal honesty and self-criticism is unique in jihadi circles."


At 5/31/2006 07:48:00 AM, Blogger Rime said...

Josh, if you "analyzed" that I was "upbeat" about the NSF and that I believe it could be the beginning of the end of the regime (and all that from the sentence you quote from The Guardian), that actually explains a number of your other analyses! Simon Tisdall certainly did not come away with that impression after our long chat; furthermore, as he knows my views quite well, he would not presume to purposely put words into my mouth that contradict them. As a veteran journalist, he knows the difference between fact and opinion.

He also quotes me saying that "the strong message is that no criticism will be tolerated from whatever quarter." Why didn't you analyze that as my being "upbeat" about the regime?

Depressingly, it seems that the regime has never felt stronger - and there's nothing to be upbeat about these days. Apparently, many Syrians feel that way too.

As for Biedermann's piece, he actually got part of it wrong: Haitham Maleh was sentenced to 3-months (commuted to 10 days) for insulting the army, a civil servant, and an "official employee." Whatever that means. As you know full well, "insulting" the president would have gotten a much, much higher sentence.

At 5/31/2006 08:24:00 AM, Blogger Anton Efendi said...

It's funny, as I was about to write the same thing Rime wrote, that you drew an unwarranted conclusion and that you put words in her mouth, but I found that she beat me to the punch.

Here I tell Rime that she shouldn't feel bad or surprised. This is vintage Josh. And he's done much much worse. He has a long history of this. It's his M.O.

Some might call it sloppiness, but I think it's actualy inherent dishonesty. As Rime said, it explains a number of his other analyses.

At 5/31/2006 09:29:00 AM, Blogger Adolph Hitler said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 5/31/2006 09:33:00 AM, Blogger Innocent_Criminal said...

I have to agree with Rime on this one. Upbeat was not the appropriate word to use BUT Rime you have to admit that it certainly sounds like you have some of your HOPES behind the NSF. And in Josh’s defense you’re last quote in the article does justify his “… and believes it could be the beginning of the end for Assad” nevertheless it’s a big COULD.

Tony – Keep it up, you’re on a roll buddy. Never ceasing to amaze me on what a pathetic dork you can be (especially in your last +/- 10 posts). Are you such a bitter fart that you can’t write anything if it has no bashing of someone else’s work? Or is that the only way you can get thumbs up from Campus Watch? What a sad loser

Now back to the subject. I think Damascus is shooting itself in the foot here (again). The more they arrest peaceful/secular opposition members the more spite they will enrage in the pacifist masses. They can’t stop opposition demands yet they obviously can delay it. But the more they do so the more likely it is that violence will be the remaining option.

Can’t the government be proactive for a change and bring some of these opposition members to their side by catering to the very realistic needs they have? This way they will eliminate one type of opposition, improve the internal/external social situation and weaken the Islamic and/or clown types such as the MB , Khaddam, Ghadry, etc.

At 5/31/2006 10:10:00 AM, Blogger Joshua Landis said...

Dear Rime, I am sorry if you feel I misconstrued your remarks to Tisdall when I wrote that you are "upbeat about the National Salvation Front." I certainly don't believe that you are upbeat about the regime.

The article ended with the line: "If the NSF proved a serious proposition, she said, all Mr Assad's machinations could count for naught."

I still think this justifies the "upbeat" label. I suspect most readers will interpret it the same way. If the opposition works hard and is serious, it can change the regime. On the face of it, that is what you say.

On looking back, I see that you could mean readers to put the stress on the word "If." By using the conditional, you are suggesting that you don't believe the NSF will be a serious proposition and hence do not believe Assad's Machinations will count for nothing.

As you also point out, you were quoted at the top of the article to say: "the strong message [from the regime] is that no criticism will be tolerated from whatever quarter."

We can interpret this to mean that the regime is in control. It won't tolerate criticism from the National Salvation Front; therefore, the NSF will not be effective in changing the regime.

With the appearance of the National Salvation Front, people are trying to assess whether it will be a real challenge to the Assad regime. You might have just said that the NSF has a long uphill battle on its hands?

As for Anton's suggestion that I am "inherently dishonesty" and was putting words in Rime's mouth, well, I don't know what to say. I no longer understand where Anton is coming from.

Anyway, I am glad we have cleared this up. Thanks Rime for explaining your views of the NSF's prospects for us.
Best, Joshua

At 5/31/2006 10:23:00 AM, Blogger norman said...

I thought you might like to see this.

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Jun 1, 2006

Feeling comfortable in Damascus
By Sami Moubayed

One year ago, things looked bad for Damascus. The Syrian regime had been accused of ordering the assassination of its onetime ally, former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. Two United Nations resolutions had been passed against Syria, forcing it to withdraw its troops from Lebanon. In October the UN prosecutor Detlev Mehlis issued two disturbing reports accusing Syrian officials of Hariri's murder.

Syria's former intelligence chief in Lebanon and then minister of interior, General Ghazi Kenaan, committed suicide shortly after being interrogated by Mehlis, taking many secrets and untold stories with him to the grave. Ending the year with a blast, former vice president Abdul Halim Khaddam defected from the Syrian regime on December 31, accusing it on Arab satellite television of

direct involvement in the Hariri affair. Many doubted that the regime would safely pull through 2006.

Anyone who lives in Syria, or observes Syrian politics, realizes that the regime feels much more comfortable today than it did one year ago. There are several reasons for this new Syrian comfort zone.

To begin with, the situation in Iraq is more chaotic than at any time since the invasion and the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003. The more trouble the Americans face in Iraq, the less likely they are to apply more pressure on Syria. After all, nobody would accept a new Middle East adventure, neither the Arabs, nor the American public, nor the international community. This is especially true since the Islamists in Iraq are, to say the least, not exactly losing the war with the United States.

The Americans are facing rising sectarian violence in Iraq, topped off with a complete breakdown in security that is leading to the death of 35 Iraqis per day. Recent allegations of atrocities committed by marines at Haditha further blacken the US image. President George W Bush's approval ratings, which were at an astronomically high 87% right after September 11, 2001, have dropped to 30% today according to various polls because everybody can see that Iraq is a mess and that Bush is responsible.

The Americans have realized that the source of their troubles in Iraq are the Iranians and the Iraqi people themselves, not Syria. The Americans no longer blame Syria for allowing insurgents to cross the border into Iraq, as they were saying in 2003-05, nor do they accuse the Syrian regime of harboring Saddam's former henchmen in Damascus or his weapons of mass destruction.

These accusations were loudly made by Washington in 2003-05, and the fact that they are no longer heard means that either Syria is cooperating on maintaining security on its 605-kilometer border with Iraq or that the Americans have realized that Syria was in fact innocent, as President Bashar al-Assad has been saying since 2003, and that the insurgents were not coming from or being supported by Damascus.

The Syrians and the Americans both want the same thing - a stable Iraq. In the past, it was believed that Syrians were fanning the conflict in Iraq, out of a conviction that the more Iraq was ablaze, the more difficult it would be to pressure Syria or justify any action against Damascus. Today, the Syrians no longer need to fan the conflict in Iraq. It exists with or without the Syrians. Syria also feels comfortable because the United States is too busy with Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and his nuclear program to worry about the Syrians.

Although it left Lebanon in April, 2006, Syria still exerts a powerful influence over Lebanese politics through such ardent Lebanese allies as Hasan Nasrallah, the secretary general of Hezbollah, and the powerful parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri, who heads the all-Shi'ite Amal Movement. All issues currently being debated in Lebanon at the National Dialogue Conference are directly related to Syria and cannot be achieved unless Damascus cooperates with the government in Beirut, currently headed by anti-Syrian statesmen from Hariri's parliamentary majority. Because Syria is still related to all the pending issues in Lebanon, it can continue to mess things up for the anti-Syrian team in Lebanon.

The issues related to Syria include the arming of Hezbollah, the future of President Emile Lahhoud (whose mandate was extended by the Syrians in 2004), demarcation of the Syrian-Lebanese border, and the identity of the Sheba Farms that are occupied by Israel. Although Syria lost some of its strongest former allies in Lebanon, such as Druze leader Walid Jumblatt and the Sunni Future Bloc of Hariri, it still commands loyalty among the country's Shi'ites (through Hezbollah and Amal) and is currently supported by the Free Patriotic Movement of its former arch-enemy General Michel Aoun.

The Lebanese general, who spent more than 10 years in exile for refusing to work with the Syrians in Lebanon, is currently allied to Hezbollah, Syria's strongest ally in Lebanon. Aoun refuses to be anti-Syrian, saying that the Syrians are out and the sources of Lebanon's problems are some politicians inside Lebanon, a reference to Saad al-Hariri and Walid Jumblatt.

This, of course, is not out of love for the Syrians - and the Syrians know it - but from a desire to oppose everything related to the Hariri bloc. So although it is no longer physically and militarily present in Lebanon, Syria still commands strong influence in Lebanese politics. This means that its regional role and Lebanon influence was not completely destroyed, as many so wished, after the assassination of Hariri.

The victory of Hamas in Palestine temporarily serves Syria's interests. For many years, the Damascus-based Hamas had been a burden for Syria, and after September 11, the United States repeatedly asked Syria to expel Hamas, accusing it of being a terrorist organization. Syria stood firm by its Palestinian ally, and suddenly Hamas was transformed, in the January 2006 election, from a political burden to a political asset.

Damascus' influence in Palestine, which had been reduced when Mahmud Abbas assumed the Palestinian presidency in January 2005, has been restored because of its excellent relations with Hamas. Syria can now play the mediator and go-between once again in internal Palestinian politics and regain some of its shattered influence in Arab affairs. Hamas listens to the Syrians. Although it sometimes leans on Egypt for support, it still trusts the Syrians as the only true Arab nationalists committed to the Palestinian cause. With such a reputation, Syria can go far in playing Palestinian politics.

Moreover, the victory of Hamas, although a political ally, gave the Syrians ammunition to use against public opinion - and the Americans who are calling for regime change - on free elections in Syria. The unspoken Syrian argument is: look what will happen if the people get their say. Parties that preach political Islam will be voted into office. You have al-Da'wa Party and the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) in Iraq. You have the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and Hamas in Palestine. Beware. It's either us or the Islamists in Syria.

The Hariri investigations
The Syrians believe that the new Belgian prosecutor in the Hariri affair, Serge Brammertz, authored a technical report that steered clear of politics back in March, unlike the case of his predecessor Detlev Mehlis. The German prosecutor had presented two highly dramatic reports, in October and December last year, sending shock waves throughout Syria and Lebanon and accounting for most of Syria's discomfort in 2005.

Among other things, Mehlis had explicitly said that the decision to kill Hariri had been made in Damascus, at the Presidential Palace and the Meridian Hotel. The Mitsubishi van that carried the explosives, Mehlis said, was seen in the summer resort of Zabadani near Damascus being loaded with explosives in the presence of Ahmad Abu Addas, a man who appeared on a pre-recorded tape hours after the murder claiming responsibility for Hariri's assassination. Abu Addas, Mehlis had said, was forced to record his testimony at gunpoint, threatened by Syrian intelligence chief Assef Shawkat.

He had also devoted a part of his report to documenting an allegedly stormy meeting between President Assad and Rafik Hariri, held in Damascus in August 2004. Those who supported the story that Assad had threatened Hariri were depicted by Mehlis as having said the truth, and those who questioned it (including Farouk al-Shara and Walid al-Moualim) were portrayed as liars.

All of these details, which added high drama to the Hariri affair, do not show up in the Brammertz Report. In a shock to all those who contributed to the findings of Mehlis, Brammertz says that "a decision has been taken to discontinue some of the previous lines of inquiry".

The fact that Brammertz makes no reference to all of these incidents means that they have been discontinued, because of lack of evidence, by the commission. Brammertz concentrated on Syria, however, and its cooperation with the commission. He failed to mention the political context of the Hariri murder, and does not name a single Syrian official as either witness or suspect. A counter-argument surfacing from those who wanted the report to incriminate Syria is that while it is true that Brammertz did not implicate Syrian officials, Brammertz also did not deny their involvement, leaving room for further speculation and investigations.

Brammertz will issue his first full report on June 15. Speculation is running high in some international papers and the Lebanese press that the report will directly incriminate Syria. Brammertz, after all, relies in this report on the testimony of former vice president Khaddam, who repeats accusations against the Damascus regime regarding the Hariri murder.

Those advocating a tough report argue that Brammertz issued a balanced report in March to win Syrian confidence and get the Syrians to cooperate with the UN commission. This cooperation was needed, they argue, to foil any post-report Syrian accusations that Brammertz was a politicized judge who was being manipulated by the Lebanese and the Americans. These accusations, however, remain wishful thinking by those in Beirut, Washington and the Syrian opposition who want to see a guilty Syria. There is no evidence of or even leaks on what the Brammertz Report will say on June 15.

Amid all this comfort came a loud declaration, signed by Syrian and Lebanese intellectuals, calling for a mending of Syrian-Lebanese relations, blaming Syria for misconduct in Lebanon and calling for a normalization of relations between Damascus and Beirut, with proper and full diplomatic exchanges.

The declaration touched a raw nerve in the Syrian capital, especially since it coincided with a new UN resolution calling on Syria to open an embassy in Lebanon. Authorities in Syria blamed the declaration and its creators for influencing the UN resolution against Syria. They arrested several of the declaration's authors and supporters, including the human-rights activist and lawyer Anwar al-Bunni and the moderate writer and activist Michel Kilo.

Many are saying that these arrests reflect official Syria's confusion and weakness. Setting aside emotions, however, one should not overestimate the impact of Kilo's and Bunni's arrests. The authorities' move was wrong and should not have been done. But it has been done in the past, and the regime knows that apart from public outcry, and strong-worded condemnations by the Americans and Europeans (which is in fact what happened), nobody is able or willing to punish Damascus for the arrests.

Syria still has the option of sending them to jail or releasing them after a brief detention by special presidential pardon, perhaps on November 16, the day commemorating 36 years of the "correction movement" that brought president Hafez al-Assad to power in 1970. Would they be silenced? Of course not, but they would tone down their criticism, realizing that they have to play politics by the rules of the Syrian regime.

Authorities also arrested two parliamentarians, Riyad Sayf and Maamoun al-Homsi, while they still had parliamentary immunity in 2001, along with the veteran communist Riyad al-Turk. What happened? Nothing. Turk was released by the government shortly afterward, and Sayf and Homsi spent five years behind bars. They were only released, despite repeated requests by Syrian activists and the European Union, shortly before their prison terms ended in 2005.

Economics professor Aref Dalilah was also arrested in 2001 and sentenced to 10 years in jail. He remains in custody. What happened? Nothing. Over the past year, several activists, most recently Aleppo-based Samir al-Nashshar, were also arrested and then released. What happened? Nothing. Bush personally called for the release of Kamal Labwani, an activist who visited the United States to meet with US officials and was arrested on his return to Syria. He is still in jail.

The Syrian regime is stronger and more entrenched than most people realize. It knows that democratic freedoms were never on the US agenda for Syria, so long as Damascus cooperates on regional issues related to Lebanon, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and Iraq. The regime was expected to fall during the clash with the Muslim Brotherhood in 1982. It survived. It was expected to fall in 1984 during a planned coup by Rifaat al-Asad. It survived. It was expected to collapse when Hafez al-Assad died in 2000. It survived. It was expected to fall after the war on Iraq in 2003 and after the withdrawal from Lebanon in 2005. Again, it has survived.

True, matters have changed dramatically since the 1980s, but the Ba'athists have outlived 16 Israeli prime ministers and eight US presidents going back to John F Kennedy. There is no reason to believe that they will not survive George W Bush.

Sami Moubayed is a Syrian political analyst.

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Syria in US's too-hard basket (Mar 1, '06)

The Syrians who cried wolf (Sep 30, '05)

From Baghdad to Beirut (Feb 17, '05)

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At 5/31/2006 10:31:00 AM, Blogger Ammar said...

IC, indeed, proactivity is something that has always been lacking when it comes to the Assads, don't expect them to change ever.

Rime, Josh, here I am having joined the NSF and I am still far from being upbeat. I just know that there is work that needs to be done, regardless of how one feels sometimes.

Be that as it may, it seems that the NSF is emerging as something a little more "credible" and serious as an alternative. Perhaps this is what Rime was simply trying to say, while avoiding any kind of endorsement or condemnation. Still, the "if" means that much does indeed depend on the kind of message that the upcoming meeting of the NSF will send, and whatever follow-up that will take place.

But, let's hope I haven't muddied things further with this intervention.

At 5/31/2006 10:49:00 AM, Blogger Anton Efendi said...

Here's something to refresh your memory, Josh. There are countless others. Once or twice, it may be sloppiness. This many times, it's "inherent dishonesty."

At 5/31/2006 11:00:00 AM, Blogger Alex said...


Despite the apparent negativity, they are also telling you something very positive here:

Your blog is very popular and everybody wants to make sure what goes in it is as scrutinized as what goes in a large newspaper.

You have a responsibility to double check with each one before you post sensitive conclusions about their opinions, and you have to think twice about what impression your words will generate, regardless of what you actually intended to say.

So, a question to all readers of this blog:

Do you prefer Josh to post less, and to stick to "facts" rather than "opinions", or do you prefer to keep this place "a blog" ... where Joshua is free to enjoy writing his opinions without having to edit and worry about how each reader will perceive his position, and his motivations for taking that position...

If you ask me, I would suggest a middle solution (as usual!) ... keep this as fun as only a blog can be, but add some extra introduction to "opinion" type of posts to explain this is your personal opinion, not facts.

At 5/31/2006 11:00:00 AM, Blogger Joshua Landis said...

Habibi Amaar, You are a tonic and an excellent peacemaker. If all interventions were as positive as yours, I would be a much bigger fan of interventions around the globe.

Yes, I agree that the NSF is doing most everything right and is showing some real strategic intelligence. But it will be a long hard struggle, as you suggest and Rime also implies. To get the NSF message to Syrians and to win their confidence in the face of rigid regime control and chaos in the region will take years of work.

So many people are looking for a quick fix in Syria. Such expectations are counter-productive, I believe. Better to be realistic and allow people to understand that they must commit for the long term, rather than expect a quick fix.

At 5/31/2006 11:06:00 AM, Blogger Alex said...

If the NSF will take years to become a real alternative ... how old would khaddam be by then? ... what is the NSF without him?

At 5/31/2006 12:59:00 PM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...

These are emotional times for us all. It is clear that there are a lot of smart people who are dissecting every word that gets printed. I think this is healthy. It keeps everyone on his/her toes. It also ensures that people think or do enough research before writing. Josh, in particular, seems to have every word of his scrutinized more than most, and for good reason. When people pay such close attention to every letter that you print, you must be an important person who is taken rather seriously. Clearly, Rime or Tony would not have reacted this way had someone else said the above. With this close scrutiny, Dr. Landis owes it to himself and his many readers to be extra vigilant and deliberate with his writings. Thankfully, the EHSANI2’s of this world can still say as many stupid things as they like on this forum in the meantime. Set below is a sample:

Syria’s modern history is surrounded with volatility when it comes to regime changes. To think that it will be any different this time is naïve at best. Let us get real. What can the NSF or others do if they cannot convince a group of army officers to stage an internal military coup? How can a military coup take place without access to the critical tanks division stationed “outside” the capital? Whatever anyone of us thinks about this regime, it is the undeniable truth that it has done an incredible job holding to its core power. While the consensus opinion has been that the recent arrests has been a mistake and unnecessary, it is worth noting that these opposition voices would not have dared utter a word had Hafez Assad been alive. Instead of constant arrests and releases, it would have been early executions to teach everyone a lesson. Case closed. Nothing like today’s events was ever tolerated under Hafez’s tight fisted rule. It is easy for us to criticize Bashar, and I for one, have done so only too regularly. But let us put ourselves in his shoes for a moment. He has inherited a draconian security system that has worked extremely well for 30 years. Now, people want him to change it. Change to this regime is nothing but a code word for weakening the grip of the regime and having it toppled at some stage. Bashar is not in a beauty or a humanitarian contest. He is not running for the Nobel Peace Prize. A group of three people have been entrusted to keep this government, party, clan and family in power. Bashar and company will not yield power easily and walk away without a massive fight. If Syria’s modern history is any indication, the road ahead will be a very treacherous one indeed.

At 5/31/2006 01:50:00 PM, Blogger VIVA LIBAN said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 5/31/2006 02:58:00 PM, Blogger ugarit said...


Well said. However, there have been occaisions were Assad senior did permit some criticism. He was nothing like Saddam.

The cornering of Bashar has forced him to rollback some of the political reforms he started. No country or leader can reform a nation under these conditions. The conditions being Jordan in the South is a puppet state controlled by the US, Iraq is in the hands of an aggressor empire, the US. In the south west there is a hostile colony empowered by the above mentioned empire and this colony often causes the empire to act in an irrational fashion. Then we've got Lebanon where the Syrian forces we forced out and a segment of the population has alligned itself with the empire.

There is very little that Bashar can do without having syria disintegrate if he capitulates to the US empire.

At 5/31/2006 03:08:00 PM, Blogger majedkhaldoon said...

I have been in syria for over a month,I found out the people are waiting to hear Brammertz report, they dont think much of the opposition inside and outside, the goverment control is strong,neither popular uprising ,nor military change is possible, people are busy making money, enjoying life.
the only danger to the regime is outside(external),and USA is not going to do anything, except some sanction, which may not do much harm. the dollar is low,the Iraqis are here with a lot of money,houses in some area are very high, almost 50% up

At 5/31/2006 03:15:00 PM, Blogger Innocent_Criminal said...

Majed makes a very good point. People on the outside often fail to remember that people inside syria 1) never hear of anything from opposition members except on Al Jazeera etc. only the few who live outside and/or use the internet have ever heard of Bunni and co. 2) and many of you might disagree with this; people just dont give a rat's ass. they are just too busy with every day life.

At 5/31/2006 04:49:00 PM, Blogger Nafdik said...

I think Rim is being totally unfair to Josh.

Despite his 'spinning' the intro to redecule the NSF :) , his charactrization of her comment is very fair.
"first time in four decades that we've seen significant organised opposition":
You can't get more upbeat than that.

This is a blog whose main function is to give a digest of what is happening in the media. It is not expected to check facts simply to attribute sources, as the readers know they are reading a blog a not a newspaper.

Alex I agree with your comment on that.

At 5/31/2006 08:46:00 PM, Blogger Fares said...

Interesting post and interesting discussions going on here, we all share the love of Syria and are more or less realisitic about what to expect.

Unfortunately as some of you and I have said before, there no real united public opposition which can create a change in the situation. The regime survives regardless of its actions by playing regional fears and banking on the diversity of Syria and the peaceful nature of Syrians who are too wise to uprise and suffer huge not needed losses.

The regime fully controls the army and flexes its muscles whenever needed. Unfortunately people inside and outside can't speak up and can't protest anything. Even myself I have to use a war name to save my friends and family from any reprisals.

Ghadri never really had any power. When Khaddam came out, I thought he had planned things and was giving the green light, but either he was bluffing or the regime reacted swiftly and aborted mutiny, or he lost some regional support he was counting on (Saudi Arabia!!!). Regardless his turning back on the regime was useful to weaken the regime and expose it further. He could still be useful and reveal more information about how things were managed.

Meanwhile Syria keeps declining and its real prosperity keeps eroding and everyone is affraid of the unknown.

What hurts is that there is no respect for any human dignity, they put people in jail as a game and some writers just try to analyse why it was done, give it its logical explanation and rationals. a Jail in the west is nothing compared to Syrian jails which are disgusting, to put someone like Kilo who is over 60 years old and has done nothing but to write for his country's progress is really disturbing just to show that Syria is in reality a big jail.

Yes hopes for change are very weak (as my friend Sami Aoun explains
in Syrie: la répression après le”printemps” avorté! Syrian Spring Aborted

But we are still hopefull, my advise to the opposition, start using street language and keep it short so regular people can understand it and less empty words. Also start offering real and realistic solutions instead of asking for machanism to be in power. As for the muslim brotherhood, time to sacrifice and support liberal muslims to rule, it does not have to be you or the Assads.

and Yes Josh your blog is well seeked so try to help Syria advance.

Fro a better Syria

At 5/31/2006 10:03:00 PM, Blogger norman said...

Keep the good work Josh,your site brings hope and promise of change peacfully.

At 6/01/2006 03:39:00 AM, Blogger souria el hora said...

I liked what fares said and specially the suggestions he made to the opposition.
And of course we should all be thanksfull to Dr. Landis for creating this site and giving the people a voice.
Personly I have more faith in the opposition than most syrians.
I just can't imagine what will topple this regime, if the opposition failed. Will we be under him forever.
I don't know but the future seems weird with assad in power for another 50 years.


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