Wednesday, July 13, 2005

"Syria: Reform or Repair?" by Moubayed

Once again, Sami Moubayed nails the Syrian scene. Here is his latest article for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. It is a real honor to be asked to write for them. Marina Ottaway, a senior associate at the Institute is the driving force behind its Middle East activities. Read this article by her. It is about the smartest out there: Can Its Middle East Policy Serve Democracy? By Marina Ottaway.

Here is Sami's article:
Syria: Reform or Repair?
Sami Moubayed

When the Baath Party held its conference in Damascus on June 6-9, it had no intention to reform Syria. It wanted to repair Syria. This distinction is critical to interpreting what is going on. The Arabic word for either reform or repair is “islah,” which means literally “to restore to sound condition after damage or injury.” Reform, on the other hand, means to form again, which in Syria 's case would mean to begin a non-Baathist political era.

Before the conference, speculation was rife about a “jasmine revolution,” in which President Bashar Al Asad would launch a peaceful coup against everyone and everything Baathist, akin to what President Anwar Al Sadat of Egypt did after coming to power in 1970. Among other things, Syrians were hoping for a general amnesty, pardon for political exiles, creation of a multi-party system, retirement of the so-called old guard of the Baath, and abolishing article 8 of the Syrian Constitution, which enshrines the Baath as the ruling party. Instead, the message that emerged from the conference was that the Baath would do what it took to survive, and was here to stay.

Among the major announcements of the conference was that a law authorizing independent political parties would be issued soon, thereby apparently ending the 40-year Baath monopoly. While in itself a positive step, there were two catches. First, there was never any intention of amending the constitutional article on Baath supremacy. Second, the law would prevent the emergence of any Islamic party. The two conditions for licensing are that new parties must be neither Islamic nor based on sub-Syrian nationalism (Kurdish for example). The Baath regime was threatened by the Muslim Brotherhood twice, in 1964 and 1982. Since then, Islamists have been rooted out of public political life in Syria, moving underground. The continued refusal to allow Islamists legitimate political participation will only lead to increased militancy.

The other significant result of the conference was the retirement of nearly all the old-timers in the regime, a move warmly received by the Syrian people. Among those to lose their jobs were former chief of staff Ali Aslan, former chief of military intelligence Hassan Khalil, former director of political security Adnan Bader Hasan, former vice president Abd Al Halim Khaddam, former prime minister Muhammad Mustapha Miro, former defense minister Mustapha Tlas, former assistant secretary generals of the Baath Party Abdullah Al Ahmar and Sulayman Qaddah, former speaker of parliament Abd Al Qadir Qaddura, and generals Shafiq Al Fayyad and Ibrahim Al Safi. The average age gap between the young president and these retired officials is 30 years. The other major change came one week after the conference when Al Asad replaced Bahjat Sulayman, the powerful director of interior security, with Fouad Nassif, an officer from military intelligence. With the exception of Foreign Minister Farouk Al Shara, the only ones to stay behind in the Baath Party are relatively new faces who emerged under Bashar such as Prime Minister Muhammad Naji Al Otari, Speaker of Parliament Mahmud Al Abrash, Defense Minister Hasan Turkmani, Finance Minister Muhammad Husayn, and Minister of Expatriate Affairs Buthaina Shaaban.

This shake-up puts a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of the Syrian president. It also suggests that perhaps he has been in control all along. Many Syrians have believed that their president truly wanted reform but was prevented from carrying it out by aged politicians who did not want to upset the status quo or share power. Whether that was true or not, President Al Asad now clearly is free to surround himself with reform-minded officials and create the sort of Syria he wishes. The majority of the Syrians are still waiting and willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

The Syrian regime has decided to reform, marginally, and used the party conference —intended to increase Al Asad's popularity and restore disgruntled Syrians' confidence in the party and the state—to create a united front and ward off U.S. pressure. In any case, democratic reform in Syria has not generally been a priority for the United States. With the exception of Secretary of State Rice's June 20 remarks in Cairo, not one senior U.S. official has come out to harangue Syria for its one-party regime. On the contrary, the United States generally criticizes Syria about foreign affairs issues (the resistance in Palestine, Hezbollah operations in south Lebanon, and Iraq) on which there happens to be a consensus between President Al Asad and the Syrian people. Al Asad has now dealt handily with U.S. pressure and shown Syrians and the world that the Baath may indeed repair itself, but it will not step down, and sees no need to “re-form” Syria.

Dr Sami Moubayed is a Syrian political analyst. He is the author of Damascus Between Democracy and Dictatorship 1948-1958 (University Press of America 2000) and Steel & Silk: Men and Women Who Shaped Syria 1900-2000 (Cune Press 2005).


At 7/13/2005 06:02:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

“Many Syrians have believed that their president truly wanted reform but was prevented from carrying it out by aged politicians who did not want to upset the status quo or share power.” I happen to be one of them. I happen to be anti-Baath (as a practice) but pro-Bashar; I really find it hard to believe that Bashar in his heart believes any of this baathism dogma! I know this may look contradictory, but I truly believe that this president (with all his defaults) is a chance for this country to get back on the right track after the dark age of Arabism and Baathism. But this said, let’s hope that this president does not forgot that the “benefit of the doubt” can only last for so long, especially after that the excuses are not there anymore to cover!! Let’s hope he turns out to be a real reformer and not only an illusion we have been running after.

“President Al Asad now clearly is free to surround himself with reform-minded officials and create the sort of Syria he wishes.” When does he plan to share his vision with the Syrians (rather than the western media). Personally I hope this vision is one of a secular market economy presidential democracy. The prime minister position is useless. And per our mentality, when it’s the president that makes orders that are more respected than when made by the PM, and it also cuts a lot of needless bureaucracy; but this is only my point of view.

But, why doesn’t he plan a national conference presided by him and assisted by all political formations (Jabha and opposition – excl MB and separatist parties) to discuss the future pathway and reconciliation process of the country. This would pull the carpet from under the legs of all international pressure and the American supported opposition. (I had suggested this elsewhere in this forum.).
Why doesn’t he also make a policy declaration, a sort of the “state of the union” address, where he lays down his plans for Syria to the Syrians; it is their life after all. How about even doing this on a regular basis, once a year for example. In France for example, the president addresses the nations questions during July 14th celebrations, direct on TV. Maybe this is too much to ask for in a non-democracy like Syria, but something that could resemble this would make wonders.

Isn’t there anyone who would make such recommendation to the president? Can’t someone reading this forum, sum up the suggestions and present them to him?

At 7/13/2005 08:32:00 AM, Anonymous Mohammed said...

This is a much more reasonable, and descritive article of the Syrian situation, and the American position toward internal changes in Syria toward democracy than the other article that Josh listed from LeMondeDiplomatique.

I salute the author for his true objectivity, and Josh for being the American professor from my dear Oklahoma who is devoting a part of his career and interests for Syria.

At 7/13/2005 08:33:00 AM, Anonymous Mohammed said...

more descriptive article

At 7/13/2005 09:31:00 AM, Anonymous Tarek said...

To Anon@ 6.03

Loved your post, very very well put. I also think a yearly address to the public describing the general vision for the year ahead on Economy, regional issues, etc can go a long way for us. Especially since its not common practice in our region. But I feel instead of diluting the PM position even further the president needs to delegate more powers to him especially on the economy (but good luck finding someone competent enough)

At 7/13/2005 09:44:00 AM, Anonymous Mohammed said...

Bashar Assad is the Jailer of Aref Dalilah, Ryad Al Seif, and their colleagues, the peaceful democracy and unity callers in what was called the Damascus Spring. He is now keeping them in the most savage conditions, and he has not even one excuse any more since he got rid of those he blamed before; "the Old Guard". Every day these people are being kept in jail is one more crime this so called president is one more reason to hate him deeply for he has no more excuses, and he can empty the Syrian jails with one single phrase he can pronounce.

This Syrian so called president has recently jailed people at the Attasi club, and in Latakia, and Tartous and other places who were for long calling for exactly what this anonymous poster is asking for, and thinks that no one has called for a national salvation conference before him, or before Mrl. Tarek applauds that posts.

For 5 years now, every single political opposition group has been calling this so called President to move toward saving Syria, and a reconciliation conference that assembles all groups including of course, the Assad clan, but the result has always been more jails, more prisons, more killings, more assassinations of dissidents, more theft from the Syrian economy, and more corruption withh every declaration the president pronounces against corruption, and his so called concentration on "Economic Reform".

This regime has to go. There is no substitute for a truly democratic regime that gives every Syrian one single vote that is equal to any other vote, and to end the rules of the corrupt few families that have inheritted Syria as a land and as people.

Mohammed, The Allawi

At 7/13/2005 10:03:00 AM, Anonymous Tarek said...

To Mohammed,

I really feel for you man, and I don’t mean pity. You have the best intentions for your country.

But I think your wishing for a Utopian dream and you should be more realistic. I am not asking you to become a pacifist, just not delusional. Please suggest solutions not just problem, and if you want to criticize let its be constructive.

At 7/13/2005 10:22:00 AM, Anonymous Mohammed said...

Mr. Tarek:

With due respect, you have just contradicted yourself. Two posts above, you praised that Anonymous poster for a suggestion he made. However, you came back and posted something else in response to my post which stated that whatever that suggestion was , was given before, and has been called for for 5 consecutives years , every day by all opposition political entities in Syria. Now, you want something constructive?

Well, I gave you one great step: Empty the Syrian Jails from those who are jailed for their opinions. Release Riyad Seif, and his compatriots, those innocents that did no wrong, and are living under the most savage conditions. I know what Syrian jails are, and I know those who made fortunes from guarding these Syrian Jailes exploiting the poor, the needy, the innocents of women and children, and sucking off all they can of the blood of the members of the families of the jailed people. Does Asmaa Assad have the right to speak in cold blood about these innocent prisonners who have committed no crimes what so ever except to speak about the corruption those in power are committing against mankind , against Syria, and against the innocent of Syria? It is opinions they raised that rendered them in jailes, and you know fully well that people like Seif and Dalilah and many many others are the cream of our society, and there is absolutely no comparison between them and their honour, and those of the families who are in power and who have been enjoying power since 1970. Does Asmaa Assad have the right to compare those innocent in cold blood with the prisonners that are in Guantemalo? and to say that prisonners are every where, in all countries? Who the hell is this scum that accepted to marry the son of a mass mudererer and a thief to advance her family's fortune and interests?

Mohammed, The Allawi

At 7/13/2005 12:29:00 PM, Anonymous Mohammed said...

Or is it, Guantanamo?

She takes it for granted that she married "the president", and that this president is some how, has the devine right to be where he is, and for the others to be in jails.

Did she live in Syria before he married her? Not that this does matter a lot, but for her to accept what he tells her, and what her family, the real beneficiaries of her marriage to this thug tell her is quite amazing. One would think that as a woman who was raised in the land of freedom, Britain, that she would have a better mind, and a better heart. Unfortunately she has neither. How can she be of that expexcted caliber when she accepted to marry her thug?

Mohammed, The Allawi.

At 7/13/2005 12:34:00 PM, Anonymous Mohammed said...

Divine # devine

I am not editting my notes before I post, and I write fast. Sorry for misleading some in my mistakes and/or typos.

At 7/13/2005 03:25:00 PM, Anonymous kingcrane said...


Sami Moubayyed is his usual stellar self.

PS: Mohammed, you are a 'ALAWI, not a 'ALLAWI.

At 7/14/2005 07:26:00 AM, Anonymous Mohammed said...


Thanks for this serious correction of the mistake. I am probably neither Allawi or Alawi. This whole matter I have stressed, was to counter those dummies who can not, because it seems it is impossible for their minds to understand that this is not and never was a sectarian struggle. In fact, Most educated Alawis are against the Assad regime from its inception. That is that they had wanted Religion to be out of official Syria, and to become fully equal as citizens with every body else. What Assad did to survive from the days he planned his coming to power was to exploit religions, and to exploit sectarian existence in Syria, both ways to serve his interests. He returned Syria to days that were long gone before him, and at the same time, he brought back the Sunni so called Religious leaders to a glory never witnessed by them before, and they in turn served him and enriched themselves. Syria, instead of being the example of integration that it was to the whole world, went back to become at the bottom of nations with regard to this matter. The smartest thing for minorities when they achieve prominence by similar circumstances as those that gave Assad power is to establish a system wheere they become equal, not hated by the rest of the population. Assad served his own interests and encouraged divisions, and exploited them to the maximum to become the rich family the Assad family is.

Note: most prisonners (except for MBs), prisonners of conscience were Alawais during the Assad regime (father and son and holly spirit) In fact he first started killing Alawis before he turned to others.

Mohammed, (The Alawi).
I don't give a damn about the shitty religions (their clergies all exploit God).


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