Friday, September 08, 2006

"Hizbullah in the Eyes of Syrians during the War," by Hassan Hassan and Abdullah Taa`i

Hizbullah in the Eyes of Syrians during the War
Hassan Hassan and Abdullah Taa’i
Written for Syria Comment
Sept. 6, 2006

No sooner had the flags in support of the Brazilian World Cup team begun to be taken down than did Hizbullah flags start going up in streets of Damascus. The colour did not change, I hasten to add. Every car had the yellow flag and the picture of Hassan Nasrullah. Smokers carried lighters with the photo of the ‘Leader of the Resistance’. Everybody was talking cheerfully about Sheikh Nasrullah. People in front of the TV often reiterated “Verily, the party of God is the victorious’’ (A Quranic verse). The Syrian people were acting and talking as if Hizbullah were the military wing of Syria.

Astonishingly enough, there was complete harmony between the Syrian government and the people when it came to their attitude towards the war. This harmony was not enforced by the Syrian media this time. The war seemed to unite the two which is something other means could not do for a long time. Even some liberal youth and critics of the government started to say: “Let the government do whatever it likes as long as it supports our national cause. We are willing to die of hunger rather than die with humiliation.” Cutting off electricity for a long period of time and using private establishments were most welcome on the Syrian people’s part.

You could find the influence of the war on every detail of the Syrian life: take the bus, go to hospitals, visit any public centre, talk to anybody in the street and you would be flabbergasted at how Hizbullah is idolized. The way the Syrian people were enthusiastic about the war was even more extreme than that of the government. I admit that I was taken aback by this. The vast majority of people believed that Israel would have invaded Lebanon even had Hizbullah not taken Israelis hostage or carried it its provocative cross border raid. All believed that Israel would lose is an article of faith and just a matter of time.

More astonishingly, people were fired up with the idea that Syria should get involved in the war and that they should follow the example of the Lebanese resistance in Syria, particularly in the Golan Heights. The Syrian people, however, had a gut feeling that nothing of that sort would happen, perhaps thanks to the long silence on the Syrian front.

Let us elaborate and talk about the Shi`i-Sunni relationship during the war, and maybe after. Perhaps because Hizbullah tends to address the whole Muslim community, the vast majority of Sunni Muslims wholeheartedly supported them. I hardly met a Sunni who didn’t support the party. Those Sunnis who were not supporting it were those who are strongly adherent, and usually fanatic, in their Sunni Islam. Shiites, on the other hand, seemed to be ecstatic with their new-found fame. The war feed their egos. They started to swagger with the idea of ‘I belong to this doctrine’.

As a whole, the Syrian people started to see Israel as a weaker version of its former self. Previously Israel seemed to have had an all-encompassing power that could challenge all external influence; it seems that Hizbullah has revealed a tender under belly. "In this mishmash of appeasement and retreat, Syrian people rapidly lost their fears and came to see Israel as a paper tiger”, as Dr. Daniel Pipes put it, and “weaker than a spider's web.", as Hassan Nasrallah put it.

During the war, it was the first time that a great number of people in Syria spoke in bad terms about Saudi Arabia and in good terms about Iran and the government. The position that Saudi Arabia adopted during the war surprised many Syrians. Many people now believe that the war was very revealing about Saudi Arabia’s and Egypt’s real position. The leading Sunni countries were against Hizbullah and practically pro-Israel, while Iran and Syria (Shi`i states) were with Hizbullah, the only surviving power that stands against ‘the USA-supported enemy’. This war, seemingly, has discredited Saudi Arabia quite a lot.

In reality, the only thing that has deprived Sunni Muslims of sleep is Iran. They want to be with Hizbullah but they are afraid that that would only make Iran stronger and stronger until it has the strength to devour them. They all believe that Iran has a certain agenda for Sunnis. They cite examples of Shi`itization of certain areas of Syria. Al-Jazira - the East and North East of Syria - has witnessed Iranian activities to convert Sunnis to Shiism. Those sorts of activities infuriate Sunnis.

During the World Cup, everyone in Syria was obsessed with his or her team and acted as if he or she were a footballer, but when the final match ended, people came back to their normal lives. Likewise, with the Lebanon War, every Syrian became obsessed with it, but when it ended, they returned to their normal lives. There are parts of Syria, however, that are still bearing the burden of the war. A distant and God-forsaken place, such as Abu Kamal, more vulnerable to the cynical abuse of power than other districts of Syria, cannot restrain the authorities from taxing its poor inhabitants. Every bus in Abu Kamal must pay 3 USD, every employee 2 USD, every family or extended family must pay 140 USD, in order to support ‘the resistance’ – that is not to mention those who must process government paperwork in a governmental centre; they must pay 2 USD to boot.

Why are other areas not asked to carry the burden of the resistance? Do high authorities know this? Being but a humble Syria, I am not the best to answer this question. While all the rest of Syria is coming back home, the poor people of Abu Kamal must foot the bill. Syrian Shi`is are taking pride in their Sheikh – and why not? But the people of Abu Kamal, who are Sunnis to the man, are the ones who pay the price. The question now, though, is: Is this money - which is estimated to be hundreds of thousands of dollars - going to go to the hands of Hizbullah …?

Written by Hassan Hassan and Abdullah Taa’i

Addendum by Joshua Landis

I just got off the phone with Druze friends, who have recently returned to Canada after having spent the summer in Suwayda' in the Jabal Druze. I asked them about the war and how it was perceived in Suwayda'.

Ghada told me that it was quite extraordinary to be home during the war. “Every one was rooting for Hizbullah and the Lebanese,” she said. “We were so happy to see that there were some Arabs who were smart enough and technologically and strategically advanced enough to give the Israelis what they deserve and what they have been dishing out to us for so long.” But then she explained that every household in Suwayda’, including hers, had filled up with cousins and relatives from Lebanon, who had fled the Shouf. They were not happy. They supported Junblat and complained that they would lose their jobs and livings and that they would have to eat ka`ak and tea.

I asked her if the Druze were taxed as people were in Abu Kamal. She responded in some consternation, “Tax? I thought it was a donation. My family donated and everyone from our neighbourhood did as well. I don’t know if it was a tax. Maybe it was. I will have to ask my husband.”

She said that the one perplexing event was the mass demonstration organized by the state. Schools and work were stopped for a day and everyone was called out onto the streets for a large demonstration. The speakers were sounding with silly slogans and other things that no one believes in. “That was humiliating and disturbing,” she said. “The young people seemed to enjoy it and entered into the spirit of the occasion, but for the older people, who know better, it was just humiliating. Up to that point everyone had handled themselves with such dignity." But she added, “that is the Syria I belong to.”

She ended by explaining how scary and sad it was too. She explained, "In the beginning many men in the reserves were called up for duty, when the government feared that the war might expand, but in the end they were sent home. The saddest part was during Kana, when we saw all the pictures and TV coverage of the children who were needlessly killed.” Ghada explained how she had been at neighbours with eight or nine other people watching and there was not a dry eye in the house. Everyone was weeping. It was so horrible. Those are the poor people who paid the price. I kept on trying to turn off the TV, but all the men wanted it on all day."


At 9/08/2006 10:54:00 PM, Blogger Alex said...

As noted in Hassan's comments, it is one thing for Syrian young men to say that they feel motivated and ready to go fight Israel in the Golan, but it is another when they realize that they actually might have to do some serious fighting if Syria gets drawn to military action.

It is not in Syria's interest to act overconfident these days. The Israelis are split between talking peace with Syria, or teaching Syria a painful lesson.

If Syria and other Arabs and Muslims continue to celebrate the resistance, they might be making it difficult for ISraelis to digest the outcome of the Lebanon war... in effect, Syrians would be contributing to tipping the scale in Israel in favor of the regional war option.

At 9/09/2006 06:31:00 AM, Blogger Idaf said...

I can confirm most of this post (I’ve covered some of this in my earlier letter to Josh which was quoted by Claude Salhani). One comment on the "TAX" remark though: I recently came from Syria and there was no "taxes" required "to support the resistance". I had to renew my ID card and I was not asked to pay any "tax" of any sort. This said, I would not be surprised if some opportunist government officials as well as private sector ones (for example bus companies as mentioned in the article) are exploiting the high emotions of Syrians at this moment to make some money on the side.
The corruption level is high in government departments that I am sure that lots of government officials in different Syrian areas (most likely in remote and rural areas such as the Abu Kamal) are asking citizens for a "tax" to “support the resistance” (while the authorities might know nothing about it). I have personally witnessed this trend earlier during the 1993 and 1996 Israeli wars on Hizbullah as well as the 2001 intifada in Palestine.
You would have some opportunist lowlifes working in the university student unions and local baath branch managers as well as public servants in government departments asking people to pay for the "stamp" that supports the Lebanese resistance or the Palestinian Intifada to process their application. In the 5 cases that I witnessed during those three wars I had confrontations with the persons (usually midlevel public servant or baath official) who request this “tax”. I ended up not paying the "tax" or "stamp" fee and I did get my application done. Many citizens end up just paying either because they believe what they are being told or because they don't want to waste time or because they fear confronting a baath or government official.

The trick is to scare these opportunist lowlifes into their wholes by confidently requesting to talk to the senior manager of the specific government department regarding this issue. This said, I can confirm that people are donating money in the millions of Syrian Liras (real humanitarian donations) around the country for the Lebanese people to charities as well as to the Awqaf-associated initiatives (such as the "donate by dialing this number from your mobile phone" initiative).

At 9/09/2006 08:28:00 AM, Blogger majedkhaldoon said...

Syrian has certain qualities, one is called MANFAKHA,it is a defence mechanism to make them feel important,their mouth overstate their real potential,and they love to pretend they have more power,in reality they can not do what they say.
their other quality they get people in trouble then they pull back to watch the people get in trouble,they enjoy it if you take position based on what they say, you better watch your feet.
a lot of them like to deceive and lie.and rumors,they also like news and sudden changes, and talk about each others.

At 9/09/2006 09:22:00 AM, Blogger Rev. Mike Nahas said...

I read this post, and just for clarification, I am a Syrian descent, Brazilian born, working in the US Protestant pastor, who cares a lot about Syria and Syrian affairs.
What I heard though about corruption of public officials seems to me to be something else in common with those who also rooted for Brazil in the world cup in my homeland. This is by no way a "Syrian" thing. The Germans call it "Suedlandische verhaeltnisse", in other words, typical corruption of "Southern countries". The absurd came to a point that some "taxes" in Brazil were lawfully named "contributions or support for the homeland security". Imagine that, we in Brazil never had a war since 1850!
So, my beloved Syrians, at least in this aspect you are not alone. Countries where corruption reigns, are the majority, not vice-versa.
So, have faith...
Rev. Mike Nahas

At 9/09/2006 12:06:00 PM, Blogger Ahed Azzouz said...

القوات البريطانية تطالب الحكومة العراقية بـ4 مليارات دولار تعويضات
«الشرق الأوسط» 9/9/2006 :
طالبت القوات البريطانية العاملة في جنوب العراق الحكومة العراقية بتسديد مبلغ أربعة مليارات ونصف المليار دولار تعويضا عن مجهوداتها في معسكر ابو ناجي الذي تقيم فيه بالعمارة الذي تعرض الى النهب والسلب من مقبل مجهولين. وانتقلت القوات البريطانية في الرابع والعشرين من أغسطس (اب) الى المعسكر المذكور. وقال عبد الكريم ماهود عضو مجلس أعيان محافظة العمارة، عضو مجلس الحكم السابق، بعد لقائه بالقنصلين البريطاني والأميركي وقائد الجيش البريطاني في البصرة للصحافيين، ان الموجودات التي تعرضت للنهب شملت كامل مستلزمات افتتاح أكاديمية كان مقررا افتتاحها لشرطة المحافظة وعائدات لمنظمات دولية تعمل لاعمار المحافظة ومولدات وأجهزة كهربائية ومحطات تصفية مياه وأثاث وأجهزة حاسوب ومعدات إلكترونية وغيرها، مشيرا الى مطالبة القوات البريطانية الحكومة العراقية بتعويض كامل عن مفقودات المعسكر، والتي قدرت بمبلغ أربعة مليارات ونصف المليار دولار.
يذكر إن القوات البريطانية كانت قد اتخذت من مقر الفيلق الرابع للجيش العراقي السابق 5 كم جنوب المدينة مقرا لها، وأطلق علية الأهالي اسم معسكر أبو ناجي، وهو الاسم الشعبي الموروث للمحتل الإنجليزي في العشرينات من القرن الماضي

Talking about corruption in Syria. How about corruption in the Western world. Read the above. You see Iraq oil export totaled last year 22 Billions, if your read the news couple of month ago, the revenue were spent entirely not on development or the people of Iraq, but on security and paying the Occupation forces for compensation. Like here in this article. What is missing is that no one know for sure if the claim is valid, if the loss is real, if the equipments purported stolen in the “by strangers” is ever stored at the base. So here is the scam, see if you call it corruption. A strangers attack a British base in Iraq, while Brits were molesting Iraqis I guess or at some drunker fest, the STRANGERS steal 4 BILLION DOLLARS worth of equipments (supposedly) and now the British is asking the Iraqi Government to be compensated for the loss and damage. If you believe this, then you also believe in Santa Clause too. One can wonder how many bases robbed by “STRANGERS”. Attacking the base while no one watching a military base in “IRAQ” with more than 4 Billions of assets stored in it. How many 4 Billion Dollar FATOURA the Iraqis received for the same scam.

This bring to memory a little Syrian Official in Homs named Abl Raouf Kassem, when this INTIHAZI started out his political profiteering career as a Baathist Mayor of Homs, he did the same as the Westerners doing today in Iraq. His companies bids and win city projects, he send the cement trucks in from the front and rather than loading, it leaves from the back opening. The driver makes a turn and come back again from the front entrance and mark another load of cement delivery. The drivers used to do this sometimes several time. One time I was present to visit the engineer and one driver did this so many times, each time handing the gate keepers cash and both crack up laughing, they did this so many times until someone came in screaming at the “ISTEHI YA AKHI”

Looks like the Westerns learned from Baath University some lessons to bilk the poor Iraqis from every single Dollar earned from oil export.

At 9/09/2006 03:11:00 PM, Blogger Idaf said...

Ahed Azzouz,

I agree. All the money that the baathists have been stealing since 40 years (even if you include the big thieves such as Rifaat and Khaddam) are peanuts compared to what is happening in Iraq by western powers or even if you compare it to what has been happening in Lebanon since the end of the civil war till today (the 40$ Billion). Just today NTV reported that "a very rare fire" took place in a warehouse in Beirut port. The warehouse supposedly had humanitarian aid worth millions of dollars donated by the countries around the world. The TV channel reported witnesses stating that scores of lorries where active in that warehouse the days before. I'm sure that the content of the warehouse will now turn in the Lebanese market and will be sold to the Lebanese citizens. A new warlord is being created (or perhaps it is one of the old ones).

The moral of the story is that corrupt officials would continue to exploit war zones everywhere in the world.. east, west, "first" or "third" world countries. There would always be opportunists itching to jump to any war zone to make a quick fortune on the expense of war victims. I have no doubt that a big percentage of the humanitarian aid donated to Lebanon from around the world will end in bank accounts of warlords and Lebanese government officials.

This said though, this is still corruption, however small or big it is. It is the main cause for most problems in the Arab countries and most developing countries (Syria and Lebanon included).

At 9/09/2006 04:23:00 PM, Blogger why-discuss said...

One of the reasons why Hezbollah members are respected is that they do not condone or make use of corruption... a rarity in the rotten lebanese society..

At 9/09/2006 08:36:00 PM, Blogger norman said...

Alex,I agree with you ,Do you think that a meeting in Syria between Bashar Asad ,Hkaled Mashal and Hasan Nasralla and a joint statment calling for peace and mutual recognition with Israel and immediet talk for a comprehensive peace for all Israelies and Arabs ,palestinians , Lebanese and Syrians.

At 9/10/2006 01:14:00 AM, Blogger EngineeringChange said...

Why aren't these comments being removed? You would think with such a large team of admins that these comments wouldn't last more than an hour before somebody notices them!

At 9/10/2006 01:27:00 AM, Blogger Alex said...

Norman, the syrians will probably not do anything unless they are encouraged, in private, by the Americans or Israelis to do so.

For now, the most flexibility we will see from Syria will not exceed the latest conciliatory promises made to the visiting International VIPs like Annan and Prodi.

No one is listening in Israel these days ... we are back to the same cycle: Israel hints it might be ready to explore the possibility of resuming peace talks with Syira, Syria explains to international visitors its firm position on the different issues, Israel does not like it and decides instead to ignore Syria by focusing again on the Palestinian track ... Rabin did that, Barak did that ...

We'll see.

At 9/10/2006 05:21:00 AM, Blogger t_desco said...

Mohammed Zuhair Siddiq being trotted out on Al-Arabiya. Enjoy the fun:

Syrian Witness Says: Assad, Lahoud Ordered Hariri's Killing

BTW, why do journalists never deem it necessary to mention §28 of the second Mehlis report?

At 9/10/2006 06:01:00 AM, Blogger t_desco said...

US to arm, train Lebanese army

The United States will arm and train the Lebanese army so that it can deal with Hizbullah and elements supported by Syria. Israel has agreed in principle to the plan, it was reported.

The Lebanse army is expected to undergo a significant change in the coming months. Moreover, the American government has decided to offer the Lebanese government headed by Fouad Siniora an overall military aid program.

As part of the plan, instructors from the US army will arrive in Lebanon in order to train Lebanese army units.

The American plan includes a number of stages: At the first stage, military equipment worth USD 30 million will be sent to Lebanon , including military vehicles and communication devices.

The plan was presented last week by the White House's National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert 's envoys, Yoram Turbowicz and Shalom Turjeman, who visited Washington.

The Americans explained to the Israelis that efforts must be exerted to strengthen Siniora's government opposite Hizbullah and other elements in Lebanon supported by Syria.

The Israelis expressed their agreement in principle to the US plan to equip and train the Lebanese army, but requested that the Americans guarantee that the weapons do not reach Hizbullah.

'Assad taken hostage by Iranians'

Another issue which was discussed by the prime minister's representatives in the American capital was related to the attitude toward Syrian President Bashar Assad .

The Americans rejected out of hand the possibility that Israel would hold talks of any kind with Assad, who according to senior US officials "has been completely taken hostage by the Iranians."

US government officials claimed that Syria was serving as a front base for Iran to carry out terror attacks against American targets in Iran (sic) and against moderate elements in Lebanon.

In addition, according to the Americans, Syria is encouraging and assisting Palestinian terror organizations operating from Damascus.

The Israelis calmed their interlocutors down and told them that Olmert had no plans to signal Syria that he would like to enter negotiations.

(my emphasis)

At 9/10/2006 08:20:00 AM, Blogger Philip I said...

"We are willing to die of hunger rather than die with humiliation.”

Syrians, first and foremost, are humiliated in their own country by their own government, as well as foreign powers.

Nasrallah's "achievements" where like a shot in the arm of the average man and woman in the street. A temporary reprieve from humiliation. The regime is clever; it quickly associated itself with those "achievements" by denouncing other regimes that did not celebrate them.

Both Alex and majedkhaldoon are right. Over confidence is a social disease which threatens the long- term national interests and security of the country. The people have enjoyed their street dance. Soon the average man and woman will return to the daily grind and worry about where the next meal will come from. That is an economic reality check. What they need is a political reality check. Deep down I wish this would never come, because when it does, it will shatter not just illusions but lives and property.

At 9/10/2006 09:20:00 AM, Blogger t_desco said...

INTERVIEW-Christian leader flays Lebanon's "mafia" cabinet

By Alistair Lyon, Special Correspondent

RABIYEH, Lebanon, Sept 10 (Reuters) - Lebanon's government is clinging to power so it can steal foreign aid meant for reconstruction after Israel's war with Hizbollah guerrillas, Christian opposition leader Michel Aoun said on Sunday.

Aoun said he was not demanding at the moment that the incumbent, Syrian-backed President Emile Lahoud, resign.

Parliament, which elects the president, has been dominated by an anti-Syrian coalition led by Saad Hariri, the son of slain former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, since the election. Aoun says the results were skewed by an unfair electoral law.

"We can dissolve parliament and we can do elections," he said. "If not, okay, it will favour conflict and confrontation."

Some of Aoun's sympathisers found this baffling, while his critics accused him of political opportunism, but he dismisses as a "media plot" the suggestion that there is anything incongruous about his relationship with Hizbollah.

He says his discussions with the group prompted it to tone down rhetoric about liberating Palestine and limit its demands to the release of Lebanese prisoners in Israel and an end to Israeli occupation of the disputed Shebaa Farms area.

His accord with Hizbollah, which has resisted U.N. demands for its disarmament, calls for the issue to be solved in the context of a national defence strategy for Lebanon.

"Since we don't have force to solve the problem, we have to develop trust and then to have an honest broker to build confidence between Hizbollah and (Saad) Hariri," Aoun said.

With the war over, Aoun says the need for political change is urgent, though his critics say it would be disruptive.

"We need to have a government really representative of the people, sharing power and decision-making," he declared.

Top military leaders insist new U.S. strategy is desperately needed in Iraq

● Revive American diplomacy in the Middle East.

"Everything we are doing brings Iran and Syria closer together when we ought to be doing everything we can to split them apart," said the senior general. "We need a U.S. ambassador in Syria. (The Bush administration recalled the U.S. ambassador, who hasn't returned.) It would help in Iraq and have spin-off benefits in Lebanon. You can't exert influence if you are not there. We need to be talking to the Syrians. Hell, we need to be talking to the Iranians. This whole axis of evil thing is bull! All it did was drive our enemies closer together."

Wilkerson said the administration should "bring in the surrounding states, not just Iran, though it is the most important one, and get them to share the load moneywise and diplomatically. The Bedouins have got to stop putting their money on all sides, hoping that one will win. They must put their money exclusively on the government in Baghdad. They have to understand that the U.S. is not leaving until the situation is stable."

Wilkerson said the United States also has to start a "rational dialogue" with Iran that encompasses everything from the MEK guerrillas to al-Qaeda to nuclear weapons to Hezbollah, Iraq and the Persian Gulf.

He said the administration also should start negotiations to settle, once and for all, the Israel-Palestinian situation, including talks with Syria on the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, with Lebanon and with the Palestinians themselves.

"The U.S. must be an honest broker in all of these talks — not Israel's lawyer," Wilkerson said. "The U.S. must be willing to bang heads, all of them if necessary."

Finally, Wilkerson argued that the United States must ask international institutions such as the United Nations to help. "You have to cajole and wheedle and coerce your allies to do likewise. If this means eating a little crow, you just ask for the pepper and the cayenne," he said.
Joseph L. Galloway

Syria wants peace on basis of relevant UN resolutions -- official

DAMASCUS, Sept 10 (KUNA) -- Syria expressed hope that the US administration and other western nations would acknowledge the keenness of Arab countries, including itself, to achieve comprehensive and just peace in the Middle East.

Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad said in statements published Sunday in Al-Thawra newspaper that his country hopes that America's efforts would head in the right direction and would reach practical solutions for the conflicts that face the people of the Middle East.

Mekdad said "the recent victory in Lebanon encourages us to be optimistic...we cannot remain silent about losing rights...and the occupation of our lands." Syria wants comprehensive peace in the region based on the UN Security Council's resolutions 242, 338 and 497 which was issued 1981 regarding the occupation of the Golan heights and which declares Israel annexation of the heights as illegal.

Syria wants peace according to the land-for-peace accord reached during the Arab-Israeli peace conference, held in Madrid in the early 90s, as well as the Arab peace initiative that genuinely calls for establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

On the investigative committee of the assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafic Al-Hariri, he said those who planned the plot aimed at destroying the special relationship between Syria and Lebanon and at creating instability in the region, he added.

He expressed Syria's keenness on cooperating with the investigative committee in order to show that Israel was the one to benefit from assassinating Al-Hariri.

On terrorism, he said, Syria condemns and combats international terrorism and it differentiates between terrorism and people who fight for their rights and freedom.

At 9/10/2006 11:36:00 AM, Blogger Innocent_Criminal said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home