Wednesday, July 05, 2006

"Democracy in the Arab World" in The Economist

The Economist in this week's issue surveys the pervasive shoring up of authoritarian regimes in the Middle East. A year ago, Washington was able to claim some success in its campaign to intimidate local potentates into allowing elections. This year it is the potentates who are intimidating their opponents. Opposition parties throughout the region have taken a beating as Washington's ardor for elections has cooled. Elections proved to Washington that the undemocratic rulers of the Middle East are more responsive to US interests than their people.

Democracy in the Arab world: Not yet, thanks

Jun 29th 2006 | CAIRO
The Economist

Recent hopes for the steady advance of democracy are being widely stifled
TWO years ago, Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen's president, told fellow Arab leaders to reform, or risk being swept away in a global tide of democratisation. "Trim your hair now," he warned them, "or someone will shave it for you." Turning words into deeds, Mr Saleh, who has ruled since 1978, promised to retire at the end of his current term. Last week he changed his mind. Bowing to what he called "the people's pressure", orchestrated in nationwide mass rallies, he declared his candidacy for elections in September that are likely to prolong his tenure until the end of 2013.
Mr Saleh has a better flair for theatrics than most of the region's other rulers-for-life, but their survival instincts are just as keen. A few years back, and especially in the wake of America's invasion of Iraq, many of them also found it politic to sound responsive to mounting pressure for reform. It was partly internal, inspired by factors such as demography, the fading potency of long-ruling ideologies and the impact of harder-to-control new media such as satellite television. External forces helped, too, most notably the Bush administration's loud championing, echoed by other Western governments, of political freedom as the ultimate foil for extremism.

Responses across the region varied. The leaders of Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt all went to the bother of getting themselves re-elected in contested votes, and Saudi Arabia ran its first ever municipal polls. The legal status of women improved nearly everywhere: Qatar and Kuwait joined most Arab countries by inviting them to vote and run for office. Press freedoms widened notably in some countries, while others, such as Bahrain and Morocco, empowered judicial bodies to look into past human-rights abuses. With Iraqis and Palestinians voting enthusiastically before the world's cameras, even laggards such as Oman and Syria felt obliged to embrace the rhetoric, if not the practice, of political reform.

But now the tide appears to have turned. Syria's leader, Bashar Assad, no longer bothers with any talk of reform; his police have lately arrested dozens of dissidents. Since last year's parliamentary and presidential elections, Egypt's government has backtracked too. Among other measures, it has cancelled some municipal polls, imprisoned the runner-up to President Hosni Mubarak in last year's vote, arrested 600-odd members of the main opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, sent police goons to beat up peaceful protesters, passed laws enshrining executive authority over the judiciary and banned two Washington-based institutes that promote democracy from working in the country. The kingdom of Bahrain, once touted as a model reformer, also recently expelled the representative of one of these, the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs.

That's not your funeral
Police in Jordan, another relatively open country, last month summarily jailed four MPs. They had given condolences to the family of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the slain leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, a provocative but hardly criminal act. Morocco, also a star reformer, has lately slapped heavy fines on critical journals. Stiffened rules in Algeria, too, are restricting press freedom. Its president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, fired his prime minister in May in what was seen as a move to bolster support for changes to the constitution that would let him run for a third five-year term. Though polls were held in Saudi Arabia last year to elect town councils, these have yet to meet. Hints by senior princes at further reform have yet to be translated into action.

Kuwait, where an exuberant general election is under way, seems an exception. Yet the polls were called only after the country's emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, dissolved his legislature in a fit of pique after it threatened to alter districting rules that have long favoured government-backed candidates. With its similar tradition of democracy and openness, Lebanon is another apparent exception. Yet while last year's so-called "cedar revolution" shook up politics, and shook off much of neighbouring Syria's influence, it has not reduced the crippling dominance of sectarian and clan leaders.

Several factors explain the waning of reform momentum. One is the high price of oil. Exporters, from Algeria and Libya to the monarchies of the Persian Gulf, find themselves so flush with cash that they can again buy off dissent. But a bigger factor is the advance of Islamist opposition groups. In the past year, religious parties have crushed secular rivals in Iraq, Hamas has captured the shaky government of Palestine, Islamists have performed strongly in Saudi Arabia's polls, and Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood has won an unprecedented fifth of parliament's seats. More stunning yet, though without any recourse so far to the ballot box, the nascent Islamist movement in Somalia (a non-Arab member of the Arab League) appears close to uniting much of that chaotic country.

The Islamist surge has frightened not only the region's governments, but also foreign promoters of democracy. In particular, the quandary posed by Hamas has chilled American enthusiasm for change. Amr Hamzawy, who assesses Arab political reform at the Carnegie Endowment in Washington, DC, describes with dismay how Western officials and academics at a recent conference appeared to "wash their hands of supporting democracy in the Arab world". During debates in America's Congress over proposals to slash aid to Egypt as a penalty for failing to reform, numerous speakers cited the danger of empowering Islamists and undermining a government which, though distasteful, has served American interests.

Similar signs of a return to realpolitik have been noted with relief by Arab governments. Concerns over Iran's nuclear plans have restrained Western criticism of democracy-shy but pro-Western neighbours like Azerbaijan and the countries of Central Asia. America restored ties with Libya, rewarding its government for scrapping weapons programmes while for the most part overlooking its appalling treatment of its own people. Even Syria, forced out of Lebanon and diplomatically isolated, has escaped severe punishment for defying a long list of Western demands.


At 7/06/2006 12:33:00 AM, Blogger Philip I said...

From Philip I []

It is a highly depressing picture, but only to those who are old enough and have experienced living in a Western-style democracy.

Politics is about the interplay of culture, philosophy and economics. Arab societies are very young and generally impoverished (despite the oil wealth). Compared with Western and some Far Eastern nations, they are philosophically immature and culturally poor. The educational system and the way religion is taught and practised do not encourage free thinking and open debate and, for centuries, the only political model is oppression and the personality cult.

Nevertheless, there are grounds for optimism. Arab youth are angry. Some may vent their anger through political Islam but the majority is quietly looking for a way out. Thanks to satellite TV, the Internet, mobile phones and cheaper travel, they can at least see alternatives or possible compromises. They are communicating more energetically with the rest of world and sharpening their language and their minds in the process. Some are already protesting more loudly, both at home and in the cyber world. Soon they will want to organise themselves politically and begin to force change, hopefully for the better.

Political Islam is as opportunistic as fundamental Christianity. Both are blinkered and prey on the disaffected youth. Saudi Arabia and Iran are the main proponents and financiers of political Islam while the Vatican, US pressure groups and Israel fund uncompromising Christian and Jewish disciples to varying degrees and to different political ends.

Syria is almost unique in the Arab world for its history of cultural and religeous openness and tolerance. But these fine attributes, which make for a better and more progressive society, are fast evaporating. They are being offered as fresh meat to Iran in exchange for political protection, while Al Qaeda and Muslim Brotherhood stand ready to pick the bones. But the vast majority of Syria's youth is far too intelligent and moderate to allow itself to be indoctrinated by Imams, Bishops or, for that matter, hypocritical Baathists.

At 7/06/2006 07:18:00 AM, Blogger sisco-side said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 7/06/2006 07:19:00 AM, Blogger sisco-side said...

Mr. Landis never ceases to amaze me at the way he uses general argments to subtly send an argument of support defending the Syrian Regime.

So, the Economist publishes the above article, a thing we all know and are aware of as it did not bring any thing that has not been in the news or that the Syrian public does not know.. Yet, the subtle argument basically says: All the Arabs have authoritarian regimes, and the US Policy is incoherent and did not succeed in bringing democracy to any Arab state, and by so saying, Landis is just "innocently" concluding that the Srian Regime is just a regime that is not unlike the other Arab regimes.. Leave it alone..

Mr. Landis:

As a Syrian who knows Syria a million times better than you pretend to know, and as a sympathiser of Justice, and freedom for all Syrians, I say to you that it does not matter to me how the neighbours are governed, and my primary interest is the well being and freedom of my brothers and sisters in Syria. The crushing of the human being in Syria should not go on indefintely for the sole benefit of a family of thugs, that of the Assad Family and their relatives.

Freedom for the thousands upon thousands of innocent Syrians who have rottened in the Assad jails.

If you are a truly free human being, that should be your first responsiblity toward the Syrians you pretend to be an Expert of, beside the love you pretend to have for Syria and Syrians.

At 7/06/2006 07:23:00 AM, Blogger Ghassan said...

Phillip I,
Yes the state of democracy, human rights liberty in the Arab world paint an extremly depressing picture indeed. This much you got right. But then what is that gobbledygook? How is the Arab youth expressing its anger? Is it by street demonstrations against the local tyrannts or is it through acts of civil disobedience that demonstrates its dissatisfaction? When I look around me in the Arab world I see large majority that is willing to participate in its own exploitation by enhancing the power of those that are leading the patterns of abuse and self promotion. As if the above nonsense is not enough you through in another gem into your defence of why is it that things are not as ba as outsiders are making them to be. Who would have guessed that it is the power of fundamental christanity that is keeping the Arabs from adopting democratic values and forms of governments? You really desreve an award for this one. "Fundamental Christians are the reason for oppression in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, North Africa, Iraq, Jordan Syria and Lebanon". You must be kidding , right. Is it ever possible to admit personal failings or must we always accuse the West for our shortcomings even when such accusations are ludicrous?

At 7/06/2006 09:44:00 AM, Blogger Nafdik said...

The Economist article is spot on in painting a picture of where things are.

Recent events in Iraq have shown the Amercian administration that:

1) Democratic regime does not mean a pro-american policy

2) Possibilities for chaos or civil war are very high

3) Democracy will increase the role of religion in political life

The showdown with Iran has also shown that a even semi-democracy is much more capable of having anti-us stance than a dictatorship.

In other words the idealistic agenda of a democratic middle east has been shelved, Bashar has gotten a new life as well as all the other leaders in the region.

The only country that managed to capitalize on this window of opportunity was Lebanon.

At 7/06/2006 10:33:00 AM, Blogger SimoHurtta said...

Even Syria, forced out of Lebanon and diplomatically isolated, has escaped severe punishment for defying a long list of Western demands.

What might that long “western” list be? And what is the western camp? If the list is democracy and ending support of “terrorism” (= support for Palestinian independence movements), there are several other friendly regimes who have escaped the punishment of the west. Can anybody seriously claim that Saudi Arabia is a more democratic society than Syria and it is not supporting terrorism? Can anybody seriously claim that Israel is not conducting a more destructive occupation in Palestine than Syria did in Lebanon?

The “west” has obvious difficulties with its “democracy to Middle East”, because even most westerns do not believe in the sincerity of that message given beyond the stars to George Bush and Tony Blair. The people living in Middle East must be even more suspicious following the events in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Before the “west” had in the eyes of the majority some moral authority, not anymore. Not after Guantanamo Bay, Abu Grahib and the new terrorist laws which gave the regimes the powers of Middle Eastern dictators. Who will take seriously if an American diplomat nowadays says: “Do not have political prisoners; everybody has a right for a fair trial.” The obvious answer will be we treat “terrorists” as you did “teach” us.

The “west” wants to Middle East a secular western style democracy, with no religious parties or no parties with pan-Arabic ideology. Well, how many countries in the region have a sufficient support for a social democrat, communist or a “US style“ republican party? Even in the last elections in Kuwait (with a large middle class and good education level) the Islamists were winners. Now the people seem to have the opinion that religion based movements are the right solution from them.

Can the west shape the outcome Middle East’s democracy? Hardly, well actually it does. It has shifted to political map in a more religious direction. The "west has two options, the present leaders or a lot of new Irans.

President Bush mentioned in his speech a couple of days ago that only a complete victory in Iraq is enough. What is the complete victory? That there is a working democracy, oil drilling rights are in American hands or the last “terrorist” is caught? The same time we can read in the news: CIA's bin Laden unit closed. Is bin Laden found and Al Qaida destroyed?

At 7/06/2006 11:21:00 AM, Blogger Nafdik said...


Regarding your comment "Can anybody seriously claim that Saudi Arabia is a more democratic society than Syria"

I did a quick search on Google on "freedom index syria" and "democratic index syria"

I got 4 indecies:

- Economic Freedom Index (Heritage Foundation): Syria ranked 145/161 Saudi ranked 62/161

- Press Freedom index (Reporters sans Frontiere): Syria 155/162 Saudi 159/162

- Political Freedom Index (The Economist Intelligence Unit): Syria and Saudi rank equally before last in 20 ME countries

- Status of Democracy Index (Middle East Forum): Syria 9/17 Me countries, Saudi 17/17!!

These indeces support what you are saying and suggest that Syria is ahead of Saudi in press freedom, democracy, and civil liberty.

I am personally uncomfortable with this conclusion (especially the last index has major errors IMO) , but if you live by the index you die by the index.

At 7/06/2006 12:09:00 PM, Blogger Philip I said...

From Philip I []


I appreciate your comments on my post above, but perhaps not so much the accompanying metaphoric punches!

First, your point about youth anger. You only have to talk to university students and recent graduates, surf the political chat rooms, blogs and forums and read the letters to newspapers to gauge the level of anger and frustration of Arab youth. Their anger is directed at unemployment and inequality of opportunities and the social and political cul-de-sacs they live in. This anger need not be something negative, revolutionary or destabilising. Arab youth are generally better informed and more realistic in their thinking, than their parents, and they are critical of the quality of their education and systems of government.

This underlying anger and frustration is positive energy. It is making them less conformist, more cynical, more outward-looking, more creative and agnostic in their search for answers to their problems. So, they no longer easily swallow government propaganda and autocratic rule (but there are always exceptions!).

Second, with regard to fundamental Christianity, perhaps I have not made the point clear enough. By definition, fundamentalism is an uncompromising attitude towards other people's beliefs. That is fine as long as such attitudes do not translate into subversive policies and actions. The number of Christians in the Arab world is small and those who can be described as fundamentalist is insignificant. However, the alliance between fundamentalist Christians in the US and Europe, on the one hand, and political Zionism on the other, is real and has a poweful influence on US foreign policy. I would point you towards the numerous Israel-Christian fundamentalist friendship sociaties that have sprung up all over America in the last decade or so. These pressure groups believe strongly in Israel's inalienable right to annex the occupied territories and the entire Biblical belt.

The point is that fundamental Christianity is no better than fundamental Islam in inflaming negative political and social attitudes within and towards the Middle East. The so-called secular regimes in the region can therefore point to the danger of rising fundamentalism in order to sidestep demands for democratic change. In the case of Syria, the regime has recently been successful in defusing external Western pressure by (temporarily) inflaming domestic religeous passions. In doing so, it has also pleased Iran and Saudi Arabia, even though both realise that it is politically expedient. The Syrian regime is of course playing with fire. As with Hizbullah, Islamic fundamentalism has become more politically astute. It appeals to the impoverished and disaffected youth by providing much needed basic social services, emotional and financial support and educational grants. It raises their self esteem then indoctrinates them. We can see the effect this indocrination in the parallel Shiaa state within Lebanon.

The answer is honest democracy. Initially the fundamentalists will be a significant political force, but as the democratic experiment in Jordan has shown, ordinary people soon realise that fundamentalism represents the politics of rejection and protest rather than the philosophy of progress, diversity and enlightenment.

At 7/06/2006 12:54:00 PM, Blogger Zenobia of the East and West said...


"if you live by the index you die by the index"......indeed, laugh..

and as for the "economic freedom", i wouldn't trust a damn thing coming out of the Heritage Foundation as a source of credible information......
but how can you not agree with the last index? Saudi is a blatant seems to me this usually ranks last in terms of 'democratic' forms of gov't....

At 7/06/2006 01:18:00 PM, Blogger Atassi said...

I am going to blame ALL ARAB rulers
For this.
For a very long time, form many YEARS, they ruled a sovereign people and failed them, they never quit, acknowledged failed policies and own mistakes,
The Arab nation were able to librates themselves form the external colonial forces, to be ruled and colonized by there own breed. Shame on you

I am sure ONE thing will come out of these crises. EXPOSE them; Expose the weakness, the greed is gone, now it's time for the fear..
Please don’t try to defend the regime. It has been EXPOSED...

13 killed as Israel invades northern Gaza
959 words
6 July 2006
Agence France Presse
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2006 All reproduction and presentation rights reserved.
GAZA CITY, July 6, 2006 (AFP) -

Thirteen Palestinian civilians and militants were killed Thursday as Israel thrust deeper into the Gaza Strip in its largest and deadliest operation in months, reoccupying areas evacuated 10 months ago.

Israeli forces set up a buffer zone in northern Gaza as it widened its offensive, cranking up the pressure on the Hamas-led Palestinian government in a bid to free a captured soldier.

Palestinian militants claimed to have shot dead an Israeli soldier in fighting in Gaza, although there was no confirmation.

Israeli troops also entered the Palestinian territory from the south, in a two-pronged attack that marked a further escalation in the spiralling crisis that erupted after the June 25 abduction of a teenage Israeli soldier.

In the worst incident Thursday, nine Palestinians were killed, including two militants loyal to the Islamist movement Hamas, and at least 24 wounded in an Israeli bombardment on the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya, medics said.

Palestinian prime minister Ismail Haniya, whose Hamas-led government has been directly targeted in the offensive, slammed the assault as "collective punishment" on his people and demanded international intervention.

The massive pre-dawn land and air assault on Gaza sent terrified residents scurrying from their homes with babies and belongings.

"We woke up and the tanks were right there. There were fighters in our garden. We had to flee to protect the children," said one father, rushing away from a Beit Lahiya neighbourhood with his wife and four children.

In northern Gaza, ground forces, armoured vehicles and sappers advanced up to five kilometres (three miles) in a bid to expand a unilaterally declared security zone aimed at preventing rocket attacks on Israel.

Further troops massed around the towns of Beit Hanun and Beit Lahiya in the deepest Israeli ground operation since 19-year-old Corporal Gilad Shalit was siezed 11 days ago, sparking the worst Middle East crisis in months.

Cross-faction units of Palestinian fighters put up stiff resistance in the northern and southern Gaza Strip, several of them being killed under Israel's intense aerial firepower.

A 20-year-old civilian was killed by machine-gun fire from an Israeli tank in Beit Lahiya. A member of the armed wing of Hamas -- which is one of three groups claiming to hold Shalit -- was killed in an overnight raid.

In the south, another two Palestinians were killed and five wounded in an Israeli air strike after ground forces came under fire from at least eight rockets. The army said the raid targeted an "anti-tank cell".

Another Palestinian group which was among the three that claimed Shalit's abduction said it had killed an Israeli soldier in Beit Lahiya, but there was no immediate confirmation from the army.

Trucks and infantry took over the remains of Dugit, Elei Sinai and Nissanit settlements, razed last year as part of Israel's historic pullout from the territory that had meant to draw the curtain on a 38-year occupation.

The return of Israeli troops to Gaza has evoked memories of the army's disastrous invasion of Lebanon where its soldiers became bogged down from 1982 until 2000 before pulling out of a self-declared buffer zone.

Dozens of Palestinian families in the Gaza Strip, fearing for their lives faced with the ominous sight of approaching Israeli armour, fled their homes at dawn.

Women clutching babies and a few belongings scurried away on foot toward a line of waiting taxis amid the boom of gunfire.

The offensive has sparked concerns of a humanitarian fall-out with the 1.4 million residents of the largely impoverished Gaza already grappling with food shortages, fuel and power cuts.

Palestinian officials and residents believe Israel is using the soldier's capture as an excuse to try to topple the Hamas government which took office in March.

"If you return Gilad Shalit home safe and sound and if you stop your rocket attacks, we will withdraw our forces," Defence Minister Amir Peretz said in comments addressed to the Palestinians on army radio.

But Tzahi Hanegbi, chairman of the parliament's defence and foreign affairs committee, did not rule out the possibility of a long-term presence, saying "it could also be years" if rocket attacks continued.

An unprecedented Hamas rocket attack Tuesday on the Israeli Mediterranean city of Ashkelon smashed into a school, causing extensive damage and leading Israel's security cabinet to order the military to step up its offensive and section off parts of Gaza.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert himself warned that the Ashkelon attack would have "far-reaching consequences" to be felt first by Hamas.

Israel has already bombed the Gaza offices of both the Hamas premier and interior minister, in the occupied West Bank arrested a third of the cabinet and raided multiple militant targets.

In Washington, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called on Israelis and Palestinians to exercise restraint but said it was "high time" for Hamas to return the abducted soldier.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, terming the situation "dangerous" and potentially "explosive", also urged both sides "to step back from the brink".

But repeated international calls for restraint have largely fallen on deaf ears in what has become the worst Middle East crisis since Hamas came to power in March and Olmert formally took the helm in May.

Israel has vowed to unleash its full military might on Gaza, while Hamas's armed wing has warned of a "new era of violence" against the Jewish state.

Israel says Shalit is still alive but has ruled out any negotiations with militants and promised to strike anyone linked to them, in a thinly-veiled reference to Syria.

At 7/06/2006 02:22:00 PM, Blogger Nafdik said...


I was not complaining about the final outcome of having Syria lower than Saudi Arabia but more about the details of the index that are full of blatant problems.

For example Syria scored 8.5/20 in 1999 and 7/20 in 2005!!!!

In 1999 Syria was scored full grade 2/2 for freedom of choosing the parliment and 1/2 for freedom of choosing the president while Iraq was given 0.5/2 and 0/2 for the same issues. Iraq's total score was 2.5/20 while it had virtually the same political system as Syria.

On a more genral level while I agree that Saudi is probably lower than Syria in democracy I would attribute that to less religious freedom and freedom for women. In general a royal regime could be preferabale than a military dictatorship, as long as there a societal consensus on accepting the royal family. The reason is that the royal family has a clear, predictable path to power. A military dictatorship is inherently unstable and usually uses duplicity, corruption, oppression and hypocricy to justify itself. This creates a legal system where nobody knows where they stand and where double talk is at the heart of every givernment pronouncment.

At 7/06/2006 02:30:00 PM, Blogger Alex said...


I will defend you this time:

I agree. ALL Arab regimes are to blame. Syria is obviously comparable to the rest of them (ignoring the exact "Index")

Remember my old question? ...What do you suggest we do next? ... what's the easiest way Syria can move closer to democracy within years in your opinion?

Zenobia? Nafdik? Ghassan? Philip?

At 7/06/2006 03:13:00 PM, Blogger Nafdik said...

The easiest way is to recruit Chalabi (offer him 5% of Syria oil & cotton revenue) who will use his network to plant evidence that Bashar is hiding nuclear war heads in the Muhajirine mountain.

Condoleca Rice will do a presntation at the UN with satellite pictures of street foule vendors positioned in formation for a simoultanious strike on South Korea, Tel Aviv and Southern California; and presto, Rafaat is your uncle.

Thx Alex for this great question I will think about it and if I have something to say I will.

At 7/06/2006 03:53:00 PM, Blogger Ghassan said...

I am not sure that many would be interested in my answer to the question of what is needed in order to attain democracy in Syria or even any of the Arab countries.
My short answer is that democracy is a dream that does not stand a chance of being implimented in any part of the Arab world in the forseeable future. The reason for my pessimism; I prefer to call my view realistic; is not due only to the shortcomings of our politicians. You see I subscribe to the view that democracy from above is not democracy at all i.e. for a democracy to thrive and flourish requires a responsible citizen who is well informed, responsible and hardworking. We have the kind of traditional politicians only because we are not blessed with demanding discriminating citizenry that insists on holding politicians responsible for their actions. Once we the public demand representatives that are qualified and that have meaningful ideas and not only empty rhetoric then we will be on our way towards the promised land of freedom and liberty. Regrettably that citizen does not exist in the Arab world and thus there is no need for a representative that is willing to earn the peoples trust through transparent campaigns and modern ideas. Yes I am suggesting that we are the missing link and not the politician. Once we become educated, well informed, responsible and demanding then the democratic project will start to take hold. Democracy is very demanding and I know of no Arab society that is willing or capable of doing its share in order to nurture the fragile democratic seedling.
What to do? Educate, educate and then educate some more.

At 7/06/2006 03:54:00 PM, Blogger Atassi said...

Its will known issue that Assad & company have strong appetites for rulings the country, they led to believe that they posses good survival skills, they have billions “with the B” to spend for protecting what they achieved over the years
They strongly and deeply believe it's theirs to keep. They think it’s belonging to this particular clan
I am not in a position to throw solution now... This is a real national problem; it MUST be resolved by the Syrian people

At 7/06/2006 03:56:00 PM, Blogger Philip I said...


As always, you ask BIG, direct and pertinent questions.

If you want to work out a way of getting from A to B, you have to know where B is. B is a new constitution.

Not only does the current constitution stifle the country's development but even the good parts have been ignored, twisted, or blatently breached. So if you can put in place a better constitution in the future, you'd better make sure that it is well protected from such abuse.

I can think of some wholesale changes to the constitution but the two most important ones are, to my mind:

(1) the Baath party should not assume a "leading role" in society by force of law, as if the rest of society are ignorant sheep, and

(2) the president should not have executive powers and be allowed to develop a personality cult.

I have explained my reasoning on these two points in an answer to one of your previous questions (see the final comment on

The road to a new constitution can be paved with roses or blood. The choice depends on whether the exisiting regime is capable of cleaning up its act, adapting quickly to the new realities, and gracefully acknowledging the right of others to contribute equally to policy making and decison making.

Look for revolutionaries to give you a better answer at gun point.

At 7/06/2006 04:21:00 PM, Blogger Atassi said...

I agree with your two points.
I can add my school of thoughts :
A. reducing The dominant role of the Baath party.
B. the graceful removal of the current president and regime by peaceful means and fair election process.

At 7/06/2006 04:29:00 PM, Blogger majedkhaldoon said...

some has no fight in them, they look for peaceful way, THIS will never work. for the red freedom there is a door, you knock on it with bloody hand, bloody violent revolution is the only answer.

At 7/06/2006 05:04:00 PM, Blogger Zenobia of the East and West said...

no....bloody violent NOT the only answer...

in Answer to Alex's BIG pertinent question ..'what will bring democracy' to syria?
I will agree with Ghassan education education .... NEW THOUGHTS....from an educated public with a more open mind.
So what i suggest....... is that ALL you ever so enlightened expat Syrians.... return to your country finally. Go home! and build YOUR families, build your businesses, YOUR institutions, and educate those around you ..... spread YOUR values.
This is the only true build that foundation. You have to export it back...into syria....

Bring your enlightened minds home to syria... raise your children to have these minds too... educate them in the West if necessary, and ask them to return with their knowledge and visions also..
This is a struggle for mentality and and vision.... and perception..
Then the people will choose what is right.... or if they are suppressed and oppressed by their leaders .....they they will wage that "bloody violent revolution" for themselves...

but... perhaps there will be no the people become stronger than the demand their rights and needs be met...

At 7/06/2006 05:29:00 PM, Blogger Alex said...

wow, my favorite discussion so far!

ok, so

1) Ghassan agrees with my "Education first" necessity.

2) Predictably, my friend Atassi made sure he said something negative about the regime, but then he proposed something very reasonable... "graceful removal" by peaceful means.

3) Philip, I read your last comments on your blog. So a new constitution is your anchor for "point B".

4) Majedkhaldoun: a revolution is the only hting that works with a powerful regime that still wants to lead the country.

Here are some further questions to each one then:

1) Ghassan: Hoe do you convince the restless opposition and intellectuals and Atassi to take their time, before they see dramatic change take place in Syria? ... you see, last couple of years, after the Iraq invasion and Syria's weakening due mostly to the initial stage of the Hariri investigation, Syrian opposition had much higher expectations regarding their chances of gettting regime change within the current "window of opportunity". Not meeting their expectations (timewise) will not satisfy.

My proposal (since I agree with this long term, education first mentality): is it "patriotic enough" to take a position telling the opposition : "slow down for now... assuming the regime will play along, cooperate with the regime on education and economics reform for now"?... I have not been able to be comfortable taking that position.

2) Attasi ... whose definition of "gradual change" do you accept? what kind of timeframe is acceptable to you? I proposed in the past a five year transition period (with constant auditing and monitoring) but you commented negatively on that possibility. I understand the regime (or parts of it) will resist any change, but let's just assume in this simulation that on their side it could be managed, do you think you can tolerate the regime in power for the next five years and would you, or those who share your points of view, be willing to cooperate in making such a transition period a success?

3) Philip: the new constitution requires a way for all Syrians (or only enlightened select Syrians?) to take a part in drafting it. Since Syria is not your generic country (with all the rich and complex history, religions, ethnic backgrounds, and being part of the troubled middle east) a generioc universal constitution template will probably not be sufficient. Do you feel the MB, the Alawites, the Kurds, the Assyrians, the rich and the poor will all participate in a harmonious atmosphere of productive dialog in order to come up with a syria-specifc constitution? ... if we do not start with a well planned educational reforms phaze, do you feel such a dialog has a slightest chance of being civilized? ... or do you expect some "powers" to force its own version of what the new constitution should be? .. I expect the latter (if we ever get to that stage soon). I expect that most Syrians assume that their own people will make sure the constitution will be to their liking.

4) Majed: simple: are you personally willing to give up your life for this revolution? Did you notice that not enough Syrians are interested in such a thing? they complain about corruption, and about the lack of progress ... while sitting in a café playing tarneeb and smoking nargeeleh they might suggest new ways their president shoudl have tackled mideast challenges, or a different way they would have couched Brazil to be able to beat france ... but they do not seem like they are ready for a bloody revolution yet.

So do you prefer a revolution or nothing at all?

At 7/06/2006 05:34:00 PM, Blogger Alex said...

And Zenobia,

I afully agree. But there are many legitimate reasons why many Syrians would not wish to go back to day. "The regime" needs to erase all ancient laws that could potentially put you in jail if you criticized socialism for example. They will need to set up a fund that will enable them to pay a Syrian Engineer or Laywer whatever they would have paid him in Dubai.

If that takes place, would many of you consider going back to Syria for few years at least? ... if you do not, then please never mention that revolution thing again.

At 7/06/2006 06:21:00 PM, Blogger Zenobia of the East and West said...

right...i don't think anyone SHOULD go on and on about their demands...if they are not willing to go live with their country.
You say that the expats wont' return until they get paid more!... well...frankly, i have to say...HOW BAD do they want to change things...???
i have heard that there has been improvement in salaries...and probably there will continue to be improvement, but I doubt it will be commesurate with Dubai..or USA or Canadian....salaries....NO, i dont' think so.
SO....... how bad do you want to change things...what are we willing to put up with.
I am NOT saying that expats should return and go protest the govt and get arrested....or violate the ridiculous laws.
No, what i am saying is they should raise educated children there, and proliferate more critical thinking in more subtle all one's own domesticate and business arenas. Maybe people need to go home and even just not condone the usual narrow minded thinking and conspriracy mentality, racist mentalities, intolerance, apathy, etc etc etc.
WE each as individuals...have our own backyards, our own garden patches to cultivate and sow the seeds for new kinds of plants (to use a corny metaphor)...and this is the slow path, but the one...that eventualy has the ability to influence collectively...society's forms.

I actually think america's social and political problems are more hopeless than syria's ... believe it or not.

At 7/06/2006 06:27:00 PM, Blogger majedkhaldoon said...

First I am willing to fight.second it is well known,that peaceful prophets never succeded,military prophets won.I am a surgeon,not internist like you.

At 7/06/2006 06:40:00 PM, Blogger George Ajjan said...

The best hope for Syria is for the regime to make positive changes out of the goodness of its heart. Since that is unlikely, the next best thing is for those desiring change to create a situation wherein the regime's political price of stagnation is higher than that of reform.

To increase the likelihood of bringing such circumstances to fruition, the opposition will need a concise, focused, relevant message and communicate it clearly. Superfluous negativity does not usually work. The opposition has not yet grasped that concept.

In my opinion, the best move would be to indirectly pressure the regime to reinstate plans for local elections in 2007. Focus on that message, and deliver it in a positive way, for example: the Syrian people deserve a healthy debate on the nation's political, territorial and economic objectives so that they can they can choose the best representatives capable of helping the President achieve his reform agenda.

In this way, you support the aspirations of the people without suggesting a blunt, violent, hostile change of leadership.

At 7/06/2006 08:00:00 PM, Blogger Ghassan said...

It is not clear that we mean the same thing when we use the term education. Let me explain . I suspect that in your use of the term you imply better and more formal education. I have no problem with that. Actually , as I have indicated in numerous other posts, we need desperately to increase the average year of schooling in Syria from 4.3 years to at least nine and preferably twelve. The same measures are true of the rest of the Arab world with very minor differences. But when I decry the lack of education in the citizen and I speak of the need for education then I am NOT confining myself to formal education. To me an educated citizen is one who is well informed and well read about the major issues of the day. This citizen is also open minded, does not pay allegiance to traditional inherited leadership, an empty suit, but offers support to ideasthat are well thought out. Obviously such a citizen will not support abuses to human rights , will demnd transparency, equity, justice and will refuse to participate in any scheme that is unethicaland or illegal although it is personally rewarding. The education of this citizen , as you might have already guessed, goes beyond formal education. It demands a certain mind set, one of honesty, responsibility and fairness, a mind set that values the common good above everything else.

Definitely formal education plays a seminal role in creating these citizens but formal education is not enough. We must let the politicians know that we are going to hold them to a different standard. We can help create this productive citizen through lectures, rallys,demonstrations and we should never shy away from civil disobedience. Mass "education" to enlighten the public and empower them will demand a new kind of a politician , one that is responsive ,that is democratic and that looks at the ability to be a public servant as a privilege instead of it being an entitlement to oppress ,exploit and exercise power.
As you cab see Alex my formulae will ask for patience but will push the current corrupt leaders at every opportunity. In the final analysis we must reform ourselves because once we do then no politician will be allowed to take advantage of us.. It is true that our societies are in dire need of change and reform in the political , econimc and social fields but this change will not come about unless we ask for it and we will not ask for it unless we adopt a new paradigm, a new way of thinking, a new vision of reality. We need to be educated in order to ask the right questions and support the right policies.

At 7/06/2006 08:50:00 PM, Blogger Philip I said...


The clear answer to Syria's mosaic of religions and cultures is ABSOLUTE SECULARISM.

The good thing about the present constitution is that it says nothing about representation along ethnic or religeous lines.

The bad thing is that it guarantees majority representation for a special breed of politicians (the Baathists) and it gives wide dictatorial powers to one individual (because that individual happens to have seized power at gunpoint). Hafez Assad did not even want to specify the religion of the president (that would have been absurd since he represented a religeous minority) but needed to do so in order to appease Sunni Muslims in the short-term, so that he could ensure the loyalty of senior army officers.

He then cleverly turned the tables on them by systematically ensuring that his clan controlled all channels of state power. He did this by liquidating most of his opponents and building a pervasive security and intelligence superstructure answerable only to him. The results of this incredible concentration of power are widespread corruption, a rapid degeneration of state institutions, including the regular army, and the crumbling of the legal foundation of the state.

In Turkey, the all-powerful army has, for decades, jealously guarded the secular constitution and the integrity of state institutions. So much so that Turkey has developed into a major industrial and military power in the Middle East and Central Asia, and in 10-years time, it will bring the European Union to our northern borders.

No country or political system is perfect but We have a great deal to learn from Turkey and its brand of secularism. If we have to have strategic alliances, we would be well advised to focus on Turkey rather than Iran (please everyone do not digress into a fruitless debate about Iskandaron because mutual trust means a free movement of people, capital and goods and services across borders. Also please do not talk about Ottoman imperialism because we will be dealing with EU imperialism, if there is such a thing).

George Ajjan - I agree with your positive thinking but there is no real incentive for good people to put their necks on the line. The state and its regions have been carved up as economic and political fiefdoms among the ruling elite and their families. Local democracy will be allowed to flourish only as a talking shop (basically to allow people to let off some steam). If, in your honest debate, you cross "red lines" drawn in the sand by your regional lanlord you soon find yourself behind bars.

I pray for two scenarios: either the ruling elite will come to their senses or decent, patriotic and secular elements in the regular army will come together and eventually eliminate them. I do not have faith in either possibility and instead, I predict an implosion of the regime under its own weight, leading bloody chaos and a military coup with unpredictable outcomes. If history teaches us anything, it is that there will be a long period of upheaval after a despotic regime has come to a violent end (just like Iraq today). Thereafter, it would take years for society to settle its differences and grievances before they set about repairing the damage to the country. So, another lost generation on top of the previous two!

At 7/07/2006 09:28:00 AM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...

This is how the Oxford English Dictionary defines the word “democracy”:

“Government by the people; that form of government in which the sovereign power resides in the people as a whole, and is exercised by officers elected by them. In modern, use, a social state in which all has equal rights, without hereditary or arbitrary differences of rank or privilege”.

If the above definition is going to be the metric by which we judge the prospects of democracy in Syria or any other country in the Arab world, then we are in for a massive disappointment.

My advice to all is to stop dreaming.

Why would a leader with absolute control over power unilaterally decide to give it to the people?

Unless he is forced to, why would he do that when he knows that the most probable outcome of this endeavor would be to kick him out of power?

Some commentators seem to recommend to those who are complaining about their governments to simply go back to their country and help it instead.

This is nonsense.

The main reason why scores and scores of the country’s youth have opted to immigrate and stay away is precisely because they fully realize that they have no say in their country’s political future.

I have these questions to those asking others to return and so-called help:

Who is going to listen to you? Where are the institutions that would allow you to express your opinions and be heard? Who is going to guarantee your safety?

Just saying return to your country and help is childish nonsense.

Democracy, at least per the above definition, will not be handed unilaterally to the people. It will only come at a heavy price. People here keep arguing that they want it without violence. They also don’t want any foreign help in obtaining it. While this is noble and may make you sleep better at night, the end result is clear. This regime, or any other for that matter, will never hand over power if left to its own devices. Without people willing to spare their lives for the cause or for foreign intervention, regimes see no need to change the favorable status quo. They will be insane if they did. In the meantime, people keep dreaming of this so-called democracy reaching this region. All I can say is keep dreaming.

At 7/07/2006 10:01:00 AM, Blogger t_desco said...

Lebanon says arrested suspect in New York plot

BEIRUT, July 7 (Reuters) - Lebanese intelligence authorities have arrested a suspect involved in a plot to bomb a tunnel in New York, government and political sources said on Friday.

"Lebanese security authorities have arrested Amir al-Andalousi who is a suspect in a plot to bomb a tunnel in New York," a government source told Reuters.

Another political source said the suspect was part of a group believed to be linked with al Qaeda and was arrested by the intelligence department of the Lebanese Internal Security Forces.

US foils 'New York tunnel plot'

The FBI says that information gleaned from the internet suggests the former al-Qaeda leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, had agreed to give his financial support.

But there is no evidence that any money was sent or explosives bought, our correspondent adds.

Reports quoting Lebanese security sources said a suspect in the plot - named as Amir Andalousi - had been arrested a month ago.

Senator Charles Schumer of New York said this was one instance "where intelligence was on top of its game and discovered the plot when it was just in the talking phase".

At 7/07/2006 10:12:00 AM, Blogger Atassi said...

The big issue for me personally, is the mistrust for the regime intentions and hidden agendas, We need to see some goodwill gesture by the regime NOW. Not in six months not in two years. We need to see the LAW and civil justice take control and civil society flourish. I NEED TO SEE FUNDS FORM MAKHLOUF & company funding educations " NOT OPEN PRIVATE SCHOOLS FOR THE RICH ".
instead of stashing the stolen $$$$ in DUBAI BANKS accounts' OPEN A TRUST FUNDS FOR EDUCATION DEVELOPMENTS..
.. ALEX.. If the REGIME IS serious about reform, let's see some action NOW.
Let's try to Expiated the stolen funds back to Syria. And NO I am not going back, but I will not stop from bashing the regime, I have been doing so for 30 years, I can keep on doing it for another 30 yeas !! GOT IT.

At 7/07/2006 10:19:00 AM, Blogger Zenobia of the East and West said...

Ok, thanx, I will keep dreaming, Ehsani2, and also predicting.

As for the recommendations "by some commentators" that Syrians go against the tide of a brain drain out of their country, that would be ME.
But you calling my opinion, "childish nonsense" doesn't make you correct....frankly.
Obviously you take my words at their most CONCRETE LEVEL, at which they are easier to dismiss out of hand. As well, you like to look to a dictionary...for your conception of a word like democracy........which frankly, I think is "childish".

I will maintain again, my thoughts, that syria needs to retain it's citizenry who can infuse more liberal thoughts and more creative energy, and more knowledge back into the country.
I was simply stating that individuals do have influence always on their personal world, their families, their children, their peers, their small communities. It may be that individuals are too isolated at first to be able to speak out publically, to challenge institutions or gov't wholesale, but that doesn't dimish their ability to challenge their personal surroundings. And one day those individuals will be multiplied ten fold and twenty fold and so on, enough that they are more powerful than their govt.

Yes, my thoughts are relevant to a fourty year plan. but I would rather have an organic fourty year plan than PhilipI's "bloody chaos"....or your own assent to violent upheaval and foreign intervention. You are also dreaming then,,, that that would lead to a stable and prosperous state.

At 7/07/2006 10:21:00 AM, Blogger George Ajjan said...

I still maintain that an effective opposition movement that appealed to Syrian patriotic sensiblities in a positive manner, without becoming overrun by egos and personal vendettas, would represent the best hope of forcing the regime to gradually recede the "red lines" that Philip the Arab mentioned above. Ultimately, the goal would be to recede the "red lines" so far that a power-sharing arrangement would be created. Ehsani is right, just as I mentioned in my post, very few cede power just for the heck of it (George Washington maybe is one example) so they have to be forced to make concessions.

Already this is beginning to happen. Today we read complaints about travel bans and 1 year jail terms commuted to 6 months for those who cross the "red lines". Of course the human rights record is still atrocious, but has it occured to anyone that because of the publicity (half-assed as it was) of the Kilo case and others, the regime will eventually realize that locking someone away for life and throwing away the key is more of a political headache than it's worth?

At 7/07/2006 10:58:00 AM, Blogger Alex said...

Ghassan, I am in almost total agreement with your definition of "educational reforms". I understood your focus from your earlier posts. And I am convinced this is our starting point, but .. again, it takes time, and many of them are too eager to see democracy in Syria NOW (in capital letters) ... so how can you convince them that we need a paradigm change first .. that takes years.

Zenobia, same point ... what you are saying makes perfect sense, but it is even more long term .. you are talking about raising the next generation Syrians to have the right mentality.

George, I also agree, starting with multi-party (all secular, according to the new multi-party laws) Municipal elections in a couple of years can be a good simulation for what a democracy exercise can look like in Syria ... everyone will learn from it. Hopefully learn that we are not too far from being compatible with the bigger test (multi-party parliamentary elections) but more probably, learn that opposition parties need more time to be ready to govern, and that the regime needs to give them more space to grow, and that Syrians need to learn how to better respect opposite points of view instead of calling them either traitors or regime supporters ...

And I hope the opposition would come to the conclusion that their utter negativity is not the best way to help their country move faster along the reform process.

Philip, secularism was initially forced on Turkey ... we are here today because of some controversial (violent?) techniques that Ataturk applied some time ago ... do you think these Syrians will adopt secularism willingly?

Ihsani, I'm happy to see you back here. We missed those Oxford dictionary definitions

George Ajjan partially answered your question about why would a regime in power start a process that would eventually lead to its removal.

But I will add .. the regime might accept to trade part of its power for more peace of mind. You could perhaps interest them in some measures that could lead to power sharing in few years (5?). In exchange, they get to enjoy national unity, and more foreign help anc cooperation ... makes you enjoy "power" much more, no?

Atassi First of all, I hope Arab intellectuals can start a campaign to suggest to our billionaires that they could maybe try and see how rewarding it is to give back some of their earned billions.

As for your other "conditions" ... are they negotiable? ... time wise, and extent of reforms. If you ask the regime for all of the above today, then you are asking for regime change basically ... maybe gradually? that could make things more digestible to them?

At 7/07/2006 11:19:00 AM, Blogger majedkhaldoon said...

I think that comments by Philip,Ehsani and Ajjan are excelent, Ienjoyed reading them.

At 7/07/2006 11:30:00 AM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...

1- I cite the dictionary’s definition because people tend to throw around the word “democracy” rather loosely. The literal definition helps one be more specific when it comes to its meaning. If that makes me childish, then count me as one.

2- when did I say that violent upheaval or foreign intervention will lead to a “stable and prosperous state”?

3- Of course individuals can influence their immediate surroundings. But to ask citizens to pack up and go back to their country and be part of an organic experiment that would take 40 years to influence their government is..................


Sharing power for more peace of mind?

What does this mean? If the regime’s survival is guaranteed, they will be willing to cede some of their power? Who is going to be the guarantor of this deal? Who is going to sign on the dotted line?

One smart observer has long ago suggested that Bashar will one day decide to hand most of his administrative power to a Sunni Prime Minister who will essentially be entrusted to run the government. In other words, have a real Prime Minister in place.

Here is my solution:

Bashar becomes the head of the army, which is entrusted to protect secularism just as it does in Turkey. No fundamentalists are allowed to reach power under his watch.

An immediate search must start to find Syria’s version of Turgot Ozal who will assume the office of Prime Minister.

The Baath party and its exclusive hold on power must be dissolved immediately.

I now officially joined the list of dreamers.

At 7/07/2006 11:43:00 AM, Blogger t_desco said...

Suspect was targeting NYC metro tunnels -Lebanon

BEIRUT, July 7 (Reuters) - A suspect arrested by Lebanese authorities for involvement in a plot to carry out attacks in New York said the plan was targeting metro tunnels under the Hudson river, the Interior Ministry said on Friday.

"After questioning he confessed ... that he was planning to travel to Pakistan for four months training and that the date for the attack was decided to be late in 2006," the ministry said in a statement.

The plot was "a big terrorist operation against metro tunnels in New York city under the Hudson river," the statement said.

Qaida Operative Arrested in Lebanon in Alleged New York Terror Plot

Lebanese authorities, in coordination with U.S. law enforcement agencies, have arrested a Lebanese al-Qaida operative who admitted to plotting a terror attack in New York City, a senior security official in Lebanon said Friday.
The senior official said the militant's arrest was made a month ago. The suspect was identified as Amir Andalousli, but his real name is Assem Hammoud, a Beirut native, the official said. The suspect is still in Lebanese custody, he added.

FBI agents monitoring internet chat rooms used by Islamic extremists learned in recent months of the plot to strike a blow at the city's economy by destroying vital transportation networks, the law enforcement officials said.

The planning was not far along, one U.S. official said, but authorities "take aspirations of that sort seriously."

The senior Lebanese security official said the information exchanged between Beirut and Washington pointed to Andalousli as being part of an international network that aimed to blow up tunnels around Manhattan.

"Hammoud is a member of Al-Qaida and he confessed to this (plot) information frankly and without coercion," the Lebanese security official said.

At 7/07/2006 11:55:00 AM, Blogger Nafdik said...

Ghassan, Alex and fellow educationalists,

I would like to debunk once and for all the "education first" proposition as the path to democracy. Since we can keep rehashing our opinion using generalities for a very long time, I am using data to debunk this myth. I ask you to take the trouble to find data to prove your point of view, otherwise we will be running in circles for a long time.

The proposition is that our political system is appropriate to the education level of our population.

We should then conclude that countries with lower education than us have less democracy.

Let us look at the data:

- According to the education index developed by the UN we rank 106/177

- Accourding to Freedom House our freedom rating is 0/6

- The average Freedom Index of countries below Syria in education is 2

- Examples of countries with high freedom index (4+) that are lower educationally from Syria: Mali, Senegal, Benin, Guinea, Bangladesh, Mozambique, Ghana, Papua New Guinea, India, Madagascar, Guatemala, Malawi, Hondura, Nicaragua, Bostwana, El Salvador


Education is not our problem, many countries with much less educated population has achieved democracy decades ago.

At 7/07/2006 12:01:00 PM, Blogger Zenobia of the East and West said...


Bash all you want. maybe that is your role.
You will be howling for a long time.........

I also get annoyed with the throwing around of the word "democracy", however I think we can do better than the literal definition. I wish people would start to define this more broadly on occassion and discuss what we really mean by it, for there are a lot of implications and details ..... that could use illuminating.

Perhaps i misunderstood your stance in regards to upheaval, but now i recall that you are the one who was looking for the Syrian Turgot Ozal. Still, isn't this all for the purpose of stability and economic prosperity in your i recollect.
You are a dreamer too, just of a different sort.

At 7/07/2006 12:09:00 PM, Blogger Zenobia of the East and West said...


the indexes again!!!
don't you think the issue might be what type of education we are referring to. Perhaps Syria has a decent educational system in terms of many sectors of knowledge, but perhaps it is completely devoid of the type of training in intellectual thought that supports civic responsibility or participation in "democratic" institution building, for example...
I dont' think this issue or its reality is adequately captured by your "data".

At 7/07/2006 12:12:00 PM, Blogger Philip I said...

From philip I []


No partriotic Syrian would wish to see blood on the streets.

You make a valid argument. 40 years is nothing in the life of a nation, but at the individual level, it spans a human being's entire adult working life. Such a long view demands that lots of people make lots of personal sacrifices (precisely what the likes of Bunni, Kilo and other honourable compatriots are doing and all the more reason to admire, respect and defend them).

Realistically, people who are capable of driving social and institutional change gradually and peacefully belong broadly to the age group of 30 to 55 and are endowed with sufficient energy, life experience and professional skills. In other words, it is mostly the middle class and the intelligencia.

Syria has practically been hollowed out of this social stratum and you are calling for it to go back and contribute. There is nothing wrong in calling for something positive and peaceful. Unfortunately people have already made 40 years-worth of sacrifices under the "Wahda, Hurriah, Ishtirakiah" grand illusion. Those who were lucky enough to escape, still suffered hardship abroad while having to support their oppressed folk back home. Most people now are completely disillusioned and want a radical and permanent shift of position on the part of the regime, or if necessary its complete elimination, before they can begin to contemplate making more sacrifices. A significant number of starry-eyed Syrians returned after Bashar inherited the throne. Many of them have been fleeced financially and the ignorant regime aparachiks have wiped the floor with their professional qualifications and dignity.

See this article [] but do take it with a big pinch of salt. If there is any element of thruth in the story, a violent end may be nearer than anyone of us could possibly imagine.

At 7/07/2006 12:17:00 PM, Blogger Zenobia of the East and West said...

also.....looking at that list of countries with low education and higher freedom indexes.....
it cries out to be asked how and by what definition they are measuring "freedom".... El Salvador and Nicaragua?
Maybe poverty.....leads to freedom!

where you are soooo poor,,,,that you don't even act like scavengers...fighting for the last remnants of wealth...
since 95% of the population is in the same boat...

At 7/07/2006 12:25:00 PM, Blogger Zenobia of the East and West said...

Philip I, are right. this is the sad state of it.
and i do bow down to those brave dissidents who have made such incredible sacrifices.....

At 7/07/2006 12:28:00 PM, Blogger sisco-side said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 7/07/2006 12:32:00 PM, Blogger sisco-side said...

LOL...I can't but laugh at your education, guys!

You seem to think you are educated, and can give an advice to the Syrian Opposition as how to shut up, and start working in the real world, by asking the syrian regime to advance "education" among the Syrian populace!

After 36 year in a stable political system, this regime can not claim that it has brought Syrians into an advanced state of education? What do you really expect from such a regime to do to raise the level of education? and how long do you think you can wait for it to start raising the Syrian education?

Do you really think the wolf should stay as the guardian of the sheep? Do you think the wolf has an interest in raising the ducation of its sheep?

But, excuse me, I am one of the Syrian ignorant uneducated people, unlike you, the educated ones who claim to be opposition debating the regime's men.

And then, I laugh every time I hear the word "democracy" exchanged freely and without any limit on this site, as if our problem is only the lack of democracy, and as if democracy is what is the most urgent thing that we need. The word "democracy' that is thrown at the world seems to have the same symptoms as a bone thrown to dogs these days. You keep discussing "democracy' while most of what we need now in Syria is to recognize our humanity, to be humans, and dealt with like humans by these thugs that govern Syria. We need first to defend Human Rights of the society and of the citizens. Let's talk about having same rights for the human beings in Syria as the basic rights "dogs" have in the West, at least!! We are not even being treated with any recognized rights not as human beings, but also not as animals who enjoy life in the West.

This Regime has to go at all costs. That is the basic demand that we should have and should work for, not begging it to change with us, and how long do you think you can beg these torturers?

At 7/07/2006 01:42:00 PM, Blogger Nafdik said...


Of course I expected this kind of objection.

To make the discussion much more fruiteful, I need to understand exactly what you mean by 'education'.

In what way is an average Bengladeshi more educated than a Syrian?

At 7/07/2006 02:26:00 PM, Blogger Alex said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 7/07/2006 02:26:00 PM, Blogger Nafdik said...


As to the poverty of some of the countries listed or the fact that you do not agree that they are more democratic I think this is besides the point.

Use any index you want to do the analysis and I am sure you will come with similar conclusions.

Now your only escape is to redefine "democracy" and "education" in such a way that they can not be measured :)

At 7/07/2006 02:34:00 PM, Blogger Alex said...


An "education index" is a very rough digital approximation to what Ghassan and I really meant to focus on: The mentality in the Middle East does not provide a good support for "democracy"

To "redefine education" on behalf of Zenobia, I'll tell you a true story from my friend Jihad Elkhazen (ex editor Asharq alawsat and alhayat): When he was studying journalism in Beirut's American University he noticed a couple of his friends arguing politics for a while ... then the first one slapped the second on the face and pushed him! .. jihad went to speak to him and find out what led to that aggressive move. He was told:

I tried first to explain to him my point of view in a civilized way, but he would not understand, so I had to slap him

Do they measure these things in education indexes?

At 7/07/2006 02:36:00 PM, Blogger Ausamaa said...

I truly feel sorry for those who are "dissapointed" that we, the dear and beloved Arab people of the Middle East-and our rulers- have failed to achive "Democracy" despite all the "help" that has been extended to us for centuries.

And of course, the US Administration, the West, Israel, and the powers that might be -true to thier long history of encouraging people and supporting them to achieve freedom and democracy- will only sit on the side and cheer us up while we achieve DEMOCRACY. Even when a school child knows that "our" Democracy will not run parallel to thier interests, never has, and never will, as long as this "Democracy" is a Code Name for something else.

Will they really allow us to get a snif of Democracy. The outsiders, I mean.If they do, then they must be kind-hearted charitable societies, not global powers and empires whose interests and the intersts of thier controlling eliets come first and foremost of anything else including the intersts of thier own people.

And of course, we are not talking about Bechtel, IPC, the East India Company, the Seven-sisters, the Panama Canal, Elf-Octan, the United Fruits Company, Bremmer in Baghdad and "Jeff" in Beirut more recently. Are we???? And never mind Israel also, that is a hallucination of some of us; is it not.

Not to negate the deep need for Democracy, and not to do our best to find the best way to get us to it, but only to keep matters in prespective at least. So that the "others" we count on and wish to impress with our eagerness for such a Democracy would not take us for complete idiots.

At 7/07/2006 02:38:00 PM, Blogger Nafdik said...


OK as predicted the education you seek is an intagible anecdotal based magical entity.

And you are asking a depotic regime to teach our new generations to acquire this "magical thing" so that they can get rid of it?

In other words you are saying: I tried first to explain to him my point of view in a civilized way, but he would not understand, so I had to slap him with a bunch of murderers who will teach him democracy "bellati hiya ahsan"

At 7/07/2006 03:23:00 PM, Blogger Alex said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 7/07/2006 03:26:00 PM, Blogger Alex said...

Dear Nafdik,

Ausamaa's comments might help explain why simplifying things to "democracy" and "education index" might be not very productive.

I am not trying to be confrontational with you. For example, I liked a lot your post at Ammar today. And I enjoy reading everything you write.

But if we steeer away from those big words and concentrate instead on smaller reciprocal measures that all sides will need to take, we might find that over the next few years we will get closer to to that better place we wanted to go to .. call it "democracy" if you want.

Otherwise, we will be stuck in a hopeless loop.

At 7/07/2006 03:40:00 PM, Blogger syrian said...


Do you guys do anything besides reading blogs and comment. I can barely keep up with reading all this stuff.

At 7/07/2006 03:42:00 PM, Blogger Nafdik said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 7/07/2006 03:44:00 PM, Blogger Nafdik said...

I do not think you are being confrontational, neither am I, unless bringing real numbers to a debate is considered in bad taste due to our "lack of education" :) (only joking of course)

I enjoy your comments too as you articulate very well the thoughts of many good poeple who want to give the regime some leeway.

You seem to care a lot about Syria and its future and this why I think it is worthwile to ask you to clarify the concrete ways in which education can lead to political freedom (to avoid the word democracy), the concreate ways in which the regime can improve education (as defined by you and Zenobia) and the concreate ways in which we can get the regime to move in this direction.

Of course I am insisting on these issues as education seems to be the crux of your proposal for a better Syria.

At 7/07/2006 03:57:00 PM, Blogger t_desco said...

Lebanese arrest suspect in New York bomb plot

"The statement added that after his arrest in April, Hammoud confessed to belonging to an "extremist organization," but he did not identify any known terrorist group.

However, security sources told The Daily Star that Hammoud was since 1994 part of a group believed to be linked to Al-Qaeda."
The Daily Star

Which group? Why is it so difficult to name it?

Perhaps one of the groups based in Ain al-Hilweh ? –

"The sources said that in 2003, Hammoud met with a Syrian man, who took him to Ain al-Hilweh, Lebanon's largest Palestinian refugee camp, to practice the use of weapons. They added that in 2005, Hammoud met with a "foreign man" who asked him to provide apartments and weapons to the mujahideen."

At 7/07/2006 04:57:00 PM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...

I did not detect any confrontational side in Nafdik’s post. I actually thought that his argument was rather clever.

I also want to congratulate Nafdik on an excellent commentary on Ammar’s. I am referring to his list of what aspiring liberal opposition candidates ought to craft as a message before they start to put into an action plan. At present, the message is non-existent.

“Do you children want to have jobs?
.”Do you want to voice....................

At 7/07/2006 06:13:00 PM, Blogger Nafdik said...

thx Ehsani for the kind words.

And I do apologize to Alex and Zenobia for the childish tone of some of the comments (now that I read them again).

I do stand by the content though ;)

At 7/07/2006 06:22:00 PM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...

Alex has a big heart and is used to more than this from some of the absurd commentators here

At 7/07/2006 06:29:00 PM, Blogger Alex said...


Zenobia once asked me if my age was 12 ... so don't worry about any childish comments. I did not get upset at all. I just took a break from here to concentrate abit on work for a change.

At 7/07/2006 06:44:00 PM, Blogger Zenobia of the East and West said...


thats fine. I wasn't actually questioning that those very poor countries might have more "freedom" than syria; I have no idea. And Syria does have more general education I would guess. I just wish I knew how they measure what kind of freedom it is?....
If it IS political freedom...then i wonder why that is....
I realize you are questioning the notion that I and maybe others put forward that education brings more political freedom of expression and participation - that there is a correlation there. I am not CERTAIN there is epiracally, but then again the indexes dont' prove there isn't either. What they prove (assuming that we could agree that the measure of education and freedom are valid) is that education isn't necessary to have adequate freedoms.

I was sort of joking, but i really do wonder,,, how can one account for freedom in Bangladesh or Nicaragua. I might take some total guess that the capacities for civilized debate (so lacking in Alex's anecdote) and participation in social negotiations.. in a democratic form - or perhaps just the respect for the public sphere in which individuals feel deeply responsible for the collective well being of all members of the society....(sorry to be so vague but it seems inevitable)... could be more organically present in certain cultures and societies. I have no idea.....but "freedom" me...does not mean carelessness and self-interested behavior...."freedom" means participation in and contribution to the the collective sphere - the forum of the political bodies...whether they are gov't or local civic leadership...or even charity.

One thing i noticed about Damas anyway,,,, is that they seemed to not care a wit...for anything...that was even one meter out their front doors. As soon as it was occuring in the public was somebody else's responsibility.

Ok...and "education".... well perhaps this is the wrong word. I believe that there is a correlation between education and democratic life. that is an assumption. I dont' think this is the only means to "freedom"...,but....perhaps it would help???? Studying physics and engineering and medicine, and business...does not promote democracy.
I think it is actually the nature of the high emphasis on Liberal Arts education in America and the humanities in general that promote.... thoughtful participation in the realm of collective governing and public life.
I dont' think I ever said I had faith that the Syrian government will willingly promote education to ensure new forms of collective thoughts. No way.
It is people like yourselves who have to spread it... people learn it by example.
So maybe i am not talking about in the contenbt of courses in college. No, I think I am talking about how when people go to school -theorectically - in the best schools what they learn is that there are a million different viewpoints and opinions. They learn that the world is complex, and that problems can be debated and worked on, and solved, and compromises can be made. They learn this through the intellectual exercise of being with others in a learning environment. Of sharing information and keeping an open mind. To me.... this is "free" democratic activity at its best. We have free MINDS being developed.

From everything that Fares and Ammar and others have described.....this is not the type of learning environment that the educational system in syria promotes. This is why REFORM is seriously needed, and to be introduced by creative individuals who understand the processes of intellectual growth.

At 7/07/2006 09:33:00 PM, Blogger Atassi said...

I am sure you don’t know my role, but, Again, I see you misunderstood many other comments too..

At 7/07/2006 09:39:00 PM, Blogger Atassi said...

Do you like your new name?Zoni Bia
LoL :-)

At 7/08/2006 01:17:00 AM, Blogger Zenobia of the East and West said...

wow, atassi, that is soooo clever of you. how did you become so damn clever ????

i see that your role is to act like a baby..... who got his feelings hurt...cry cry......

i think i can speak for myself if if there is anything i misunderstood.

At 7/08/2006 01:26:00 AM, Blogger sryani said...

صحيح اللي اختشوا ماتوا!
- بشار الأسد في فتح "علمي" جديد!


أجرت صحيفة الحياة مؤخراً مقابلة، ننشرها كاملة لمن لديه قدرة التحمل ننشر نص المقابلة كاملاً "للعلم والاستفادة"، مع رئيس نظام "البعث العربي الاشتراكي" الحاكم في دمشق، دارت حول تطور الاحداث في لبنان والتحقيق الدولي في قضية اغتيال السيد رفيق الحريري والعلاقات مع بعض "الزعامات" اللبنانية والدور الإيراني. وبالطبع لم يأت السيد بشار الأسد بشيء جديد خارجاً عن الخطاب البعثي الرسمي المألوف في "الجمهورية العربية السورية". ولكن السيد الأسد أذهل الجميع "بفتح" علمي ولغوي خارق جديد. فعندما سُـئِل "سيادته" عن ظهور "مؤشرات في الخطاب الرسمي السوري حول توافق ما بين العروبة والاسلام"، أجاب "سيادته": ".. ولا ننسى أن العربية لغة السيد المسيح. بمعنى انها هي التي تربط بين كل الشرائح المختلفة..."

في الحقيقة لا ندري هل نضحك أم نبكي! نضحك لأننا نسمع كلاما على هذا المستوى من الجهل يصدر عن شخص على هذا المستوى من السلطة. ونبكي لأننا نرثي مشرقنا الآرامي الحبيب.. وسوريا بالذات، لوقوعها قديما وحديثا في أيدي الجهال والأغرار يتناوبون على نهبها وقمعها وإرهابها وتزوير تاريخها.. ولكن هذا يثبت مقولتنا في أن "البعث" مستمرّ في مسيرة "نضاله" بتزوير التاريخ والتنكيل بالمنطق والتهرّب من كل ما يتصل بالعلم والحقيقة والواقع في سبيل التعريب والأسلمة، فهذا هو كنه البعث وجوهره، شأنه شأن سائر الاحزاب والحركات العربية والقومية والاسلامية الصحراوية الشوفينية العنصرية التي أتت على الأخضر قبل اليابس وسلطت فكرها الشمولي القمعي فأفسدت النفوس وحجّرت العقول وافقرت الشعوب وهجّرت الناس وسلطت سيف إرهابها على مشارق الدنيا ومغاربها في الماضي كما في الحاضر..

ولكن بما ان الكلام صادر عمن يعتبره الناس رئيس دولة، فلا يسعنا إلا أن نلفت النظر الى ما وصل اليه الشرق من القحط المعنوي والافلاس الفكري والانحطاط الاخلاقي حتى يلصق "زعيم" عصابة "البعث" وقائده صفة العروبة بلغة السيد المسيح الآرامية، فهذا أمر نضعه بتصرف "مسيحيي الهوية" ومسيحيي العالم وسريان سوريا، خاصة أولئك الذين نزحوا والتجأوا إلى دول العالم الحر من ظلم البعث وزبانيته وإرهابه، والذين باتوا بعد حصولهم على حق الاقامة وجنسيات تلك الدول، أبواق نفير رخيصة للنظام تمجد، بمناسبة ودون مناسبة، "الأب والرئيس الخالد" حافظ الأسد، وخلفته "الزعيم الملهم" و"الشاب المثقف المنفتح" السيد بشار الأسد!" ونود تذكيرهم بعمليات السطو هذه عندما يستذكرون حقوقهم في وطنهم.. يحضرنا هنا أن نأخذ كلام الرئيس السوري، ولو أنه هباء، على محمل الجد، ونسأل: هل يقصد السيد بشار الأسد أن اللغة التي كان يتكلمها المسيح هي لغة عربية؟ وإذا كانت لغة عربية فلماذا إذن لا تـُعلـّم وتـُعلن لغة رسمية في سوريا بدلا عن القحطانية الآتية من السعودية والمفروضة على سوريا اليوم؟ كنا دوما مدركين أن التزوير سيأتي يوم ويفتضح. فإذا أرادوا تعريب سوريا فلا بد من التزوير، والفضائح على استمرار.

الثقافة، قبل كل شيء، هي احترام الحقيقة العلمية و الفكر الآخر.. لا يسعنا أمام تصريح السيد بشار الأسد و باقي أجوبته في المقابلة إلا الرثاء والشفقة واستذكار أن "اللي اختشوا ماتوا" وأن "الفاجر يأكل مال التاجر".. مع شديد الاسف!

At 7/08/2006 03:10:00 AM, Blogger Philip I said...

SEE NEW POST: "Syrian Constitution - the Good, the Bad and the Ugly" ON

At 7/08/2006 06:43:00 AM, Blogger Innocent_Criminal said...

It’s been a pleasure following this intriguing discussion. So much so that I have avoided commenting so I won’t desecrate it with my idiotic observations but alas I couldn’t resist.

I really enjoyed Aussama‘s last comment regarding democracy and Alex’s regarding focusing on the smaller issues instead of the grand plan. I agree with that notion…that more change can occur through smaller steps. I think some of the opposition’s strategy to change the whole shebang is not only unproductive but possibly harmful to them and Syrian society. This is not to say that major change is not mandatory and needed. But major change can be a shock to a society in which bureaucracy and corruption has been THE system for the last 4 decades.

This is valid for the “education” system in the country as well. I would love to see a free thinking educational system that Zenobia speaks of, where different views are accepted and even promoted. And I also agree with her that a good education system (as in good quality teachers/universities) can exist in non-democratic societies (i.e. Saudi Arabia). But Syria at the moment lacks both qualities. So if we were given the option of improving the quality of education even though democratic values might still be trailing behind, we should take it. I am not saying that people should halt there demands for more freedom but it can’t be all or nothing.

At 7/08/2006 12:51:00 PM, Blogger Nafdik said...

A final word on Aussama, Alex, Zenobia, Innocent_Criminal defense of education.

I fully agree that improving education is extremely important. Where I disagree is using this issue as a fool's errand to slow down the demand for reform.

At 7/08/2006 01:17:00 PM, Blogger Alex said...


At 7/09/2006 12:29:00 AM, Blogger Zenobia of the East and West said...

yeah...ok...I'll drink to that.......

At 7/09/2006 04:25:00 AM, Blogger t_desco said...

Assem Hammoud's links to Khaled Taha's cell confirmed!

"The security officials told Newsday that Hammoud had contact with at least two of 13 men who were arrested by Lebanese authorities in December for belonging to al-Qaida and planning attacks from Lebanon. The officials said Hammoud was in touch with Hassan Nabaat, a Lebanese, and Hany Shanti, who has both Lebanese and Jordanian nationalities."

However, there is still no official confirmation (or denial) that Khaled Taha was indeed the head of the terrorist cell.

At 7/09/2006 08:18:00 AM, Blogger Philip I said...

Can an Illiterate or an Islamic Fundamentalist cast a vote?

Read the post on

At 7/09/2006 10:07:00 AM, Blogger Syrian Nationalist Party said...

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At 7/09/2006 10:23:00 AM, Blogger Syrian Nationalist Party said...

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At 7/09/2006 03:37:00 PM, Blogger Syrian Nationalist Party said...

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At 7/09/2006 04:15:00 PM, Blogger Metaz K. M. Aldendeshe said...

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At 7/09/2006 10:18:00 PM, Blogger Atassi said...

It will not be helpful for this board reader to start a BASHING match. So CUT IT OFF please..

At 7/09/2006 10:23:00 PM, Blogger norman said...

Most of us came to the west for economic reasons not politecal ones Syria tried for fifty years to learn from it,s own experiences but that was not good enough Syria is better off adopting the American legal economic and politecal Systems encluding the constitution they work well for this country with all it,s ethnic and religous groups and can work in Syria, most Arabs are happy in the US .actualy if each state in the Arab wourld will adopt the laws of a state than the whole Arab wourld will adopt the federal laws and have two levels of taxes state sales tax and federal sales tax or a 15% federal tax withrespect to all borders ,we might even have a united states of Arabia and our dreams of one nation might materlise.these might be dreams but all gig acheivment started with dreams.

At 7/10/2006 04:22:00 AM, Blogger t_desco said...

Dans l’affaire du réseau israélien de renseignements démantelé au Sud
Beyrouth fortement conseillé, pour éviter le veto US, de ne pas adresser de plainte officielle à l’ONU
L'Orient-Le Jour

The article is as hilarious ("ces pays amis...", etc) as is any talk of "respect for Lebanese sovereignty" by John Bolton.

At 7/10/2006 09:51:00 AM, Blogger Syrian Nationalist Party said...

You gotta read this article, incredible story about how Lebanon got evidence on Hariri case that France and US/Israel objected to making it public. it is on World news tab

Enjoy this awsome site

At 7/18/2006 01:39:00 AM, Blogger Philip I said...

From Philip I []

Joe M

I am prepared to bet that if Arab governments were truly representative of their peoples, they would either give you the 100% support and solidarity that you want or perhaps not at all.

I say not at all because in 1948 the Palestinian population rightly felt a similar sense of injustice but self-appointed demagogues at the time led them into the abyss. Representative governments, in the long term, know better.

We are now in a very different era, but face the same fundamental problem of knowing what we can realistically achieve and how to build collective strength to safeguard our rights and our future. No self-appointed ruler can possibly have the right answers because he is ultimately more interested in self preservation than his nation's long term survival and development.

At 7/18/2006 05:30:00 AM, Blogger allwebin said...

Democracy exists in many Arabian countries. But the Arabian democracy differs from American. Democracy can not is under construction on one pattern. How many the countries are so much and democracies.


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