Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Is the Syrian Economy Looking Up?

It is sometimes fun to look back at old reports on Syria to see if they get it right. This Sept. 2005 report by INEGMA (the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis) "Syria's Dilemma: Has Countdown for Regime Change Started?" was written only six months ago. It demonstrates the excitement in Washington about imminent changes in Syria in the wake of its withdrawal from Lebanon. Washington analysts were off the mark. The author of this report writes: "Developments in Lebanon this year have had a tremendous effect on the Syrian regime... The Syrian regime [is] under unbearable pressure that would force it to radically change from within or, alternatively, be forcefully changed by either outside or domestic forces.... One thing is for sure, Bashar will have to make a move soon."

This heavy breathing about the unbearable pressure placed on Syria by the US has proven just that, heavy breathing. So far, Bashar is in no perceptible trouble, nor has he changed his system of government. He has made no important concessions to the US, and his regime is certainly not about to collapse, as President Chirac enthused last year.

The one US-friendly move Syria has taken is to largely shut down the Iraqi border. This has been aided by the rapid buildup of US and Iraqi troops on the Iraqi side, who are finally developing effective surveillance capacities. But on Lebanon, Asad has been less than helpful. On booting out the Palestinian groups, he has also been stubborn. In fact, his unwillingness to dispose of Hamas under US and Israeli pressure, in the belief that loyalty to the group would pay dividends, turned out to be more far sighted than US calculations about Hamas.

The major Western trump card has always been the economy. Western analysts invariably devote a healthy section of their Syria reports to the impending economic crisis which looms some 5-7 years off in the future when oil runs out.

For Secretary Rice, taking Asad down, or, at least, forcing meaningful concessions from him, will be done through economic sanctions and isolation. She hardly talks about the Hariri investigation and threat of an international court any more. Perhaps that will resurface in her talks on Syria, but for the time being, it is moribund as the new investigation committee tries to find its feet. As of yet, nothing has been done to define or establish the international court that everyone speaks of. Its threat remains completely hypothetical. More immediate are economic sanctions. This week, the EU finally acceded to Washington's demands that it step up to the plate and impose sanctions. It agreed to impose personal sanctions on any official named by the Hariri investigators to be directly responsible for his murder. Not exactly a biggie, but if it is the beginning of a trend toward European sanctions, as Rice insists it should be, it could become a biggie.

On the economic front, Syria seems to be doing well. This is where President Bashar is reacting to US pressure. His moves to protect Syria from further US interference by switching to the Euro have been dwarfed by new measures to liberalize trade and stimulate investment, particularly in property and real-estate. Syria's land prices are seriously undervalued because of silly socialist laws and restrictions. Recent simplifications of land transfers, the announcement of several new mega-hotel and tourist projects, and the ratification of the ICSID Convention which will reassure investors, may cause a real-estate boom that could seriously increase the net worth of Syria's property owners and its overall national wealth. If Bashar continues along these lines, he will buy his regime considerable time and wiggle-room on the economic front.

Economy minister Amer Lotfi says "laws are being finalised to overhaul the commercial code, ease the establishment of new business and outlaw monopolies." He insists that Syria is in a "transition stage" to a freer economy and "will be able to avoid economic shocks." Trade with Iraq is expected to almost double this year from its 2005 figure of $800 million. Syria already functions as the main gateway for merchandise going to Iraq. Trade with Turkey is also expected to take a big jump. So is trade with China and other Eastern countries which are eager to replace the Europeans if and when they withdraw. If Syria expects to raise its growth rate from 4.5% to the 7% that Deputy Prime Minister Dardari promises in his new 5-year plan for the economy, Bashar will have to keep economic reforms coming at a rapid pace. This growth figure, which seemed laughably high last year, no longer looks beyond the realm of possibility.
By Joshua Landis, "Syria Comment" February 23, 2006

News Stories translated from the Arab Press
Accounts from the arrest of Syrians after the Tabaris protest

In the February 21 edition of An Nahar, an independent Lebanese newspaper, Mohamed Abi Samra told the story of Jamil Abdo Youssef. Abi Samra wrote: “This account conveys scenes from the lives of Syrian workers in Beirut who were apprehended after the Tabaris protest, or ‘crusade,’ that occurred on the February 5. It is not enough to simply lay blame on ‘planted people’ so as to prove other Lebanese sides innocent -- though they took part in planning the act and influencing people. This account reveals that the Lebanese security apparatuses are corrupt and unqualified and shows how primitive its investigations are. It also shows the illegal and inhumane methods used during apprehensions, and while interrogating witnesses and possible culprits. It also proves how unknowledgeable and uneducated the security apparatuses are, which influences primitive racism in the way investigations are carried out and security information is collected. (Continued...)
Damascus: After the poultry demonstration, the judges’ demonstration (

In its February 19 edition, Elaph, a web based pan-Arab newspaper, reported that: “In a second initiative this week, a new remarkable popular demonstration went out to the streets of the Syrian capital, to stand up against the regime in protest for all the mistakes that were allegedly committed against certain factions of the people, namely the judges. After the unprecedented demonstration of those who work in the poultry sector in Syria, in front of the Ministers’ Council, a significant number of judges who were discharged, came from all the Syrian constituencies and gathered today in front of the Syrian President’s office, Bashar Al Assad, to protest against what they referred to as an unconstitutional decision that put them all out in the street.

“Over 40 judges demanded to meet Al Assad to explain the dimensions of the discharge decision and let him know about all the suffering they endured following what they considered to be a liquidation by people in power. President Al Assad had issued a decree dated 4-10-2005, that stated the discharge of 81 judges... the decree gave the Cabinet the necessary prerogatives for 24 hours and ‘for reasons left to its own discretion’ […]. During the last few years, the Syrian judicial system had witnessed many cases of corruption, bribery, and many legal and human violations.

“Observers in Damascus told Elaph that they were following with much interest, the considerable shift in the Syrian street, that had, for over a quarter of a century, kept from raising its voice and demanding its rights, since security ghosts were always on the lookout and were present within each and every Syrian family. Nonetheless, the new openness that was brought on by the international and Arab changes, in addition to the emergence of civil society and human rights organizations in Syria, have all led to breaking the silence.

“Many judges spoke with reporters and voiced the suffering they endured since they were discharged. They considered that the presidential decree had given the executive authority a lethal power, which reveals the beginning of the downfall of the Syrian regime. Some judges even accused the Syrian Prime Minister Naji Atri of being behind the President’s decision. They said that he had personal reasons and purposes, and that he wanted to help certain people who work in Aleppo, ‘Al Atri’s hometown’, in coordination with drug dealers […].

“An official at the presidency promised the judges that President Al Assad would meet the demonstrators on Monday to hear their complaints and learn about their suffering, since many of these judges are now working for wealthy people to support their families, which is [humiliating] for persons in their position.” - Elaph, United Kingdom
International confirmation of weapons crossing between Syria, Lebanon (

Raghida Dragham reported in Al Hayat, a pan-Arab newspaper, on February 22 that: “Stephen Dujarik, spokesman of UN secretary of State, confirmed that there are weapons transfers from Syria to Lebanon, in the interests of the Lebanese militias. He said ‘this is a violation of resolution 1559 that calls for the disarmament of the militia’s weapons.’

“Dujarik revealed to Al Hayat that following negotiations that were held with Terje Roed-Larsen, special Envoy for the implementation of Security Council resolution 1559, and other Lebanese officials, it was clear that ‘the transfer of weapons happened across the Lebanese borders for the interest of the armed militias, and that is a violation of the 1559 resolution that calls for disarmament ... .’ He added ‘Lebanese officials confirmed to the United Nations that they will take the necessary measures to stop the flow’ of weapons to the militias' … .” - Al Hayat, United Kingdom
London seeking to open dialogue with Egyptian MB
In its February 22 edition, Asharq Al Awsat, an independent pan-Arab newspaper reported that: It received a copy of the leaked document in which the ‘Arab, North Africa and Israel group’ at the British Ministry of Exterior urges the government to ‘increase its contacts on a practical level, with parliamentarians from the Muslim Brotherhood (those against violence), namely the members in parliamentary commissions’. The document, dated last January 17, stressed on the necessity of ‘changing the content of the dialogue to focus more on information regarding our policy and on our willingness to listen’ to MB members of parliament.

“Even though the British Ministry of Exterior refused to comment on the leaked information, the Ministry’s spokesperson told Asharq Al Awsat that the cooperation with independent MPs is part of the British policy and added that: 'Britain has always enjoyed ongoing relations with members of the Egyptian parliament. They have been elected by the Egyptian people and there is no reason why we should not deal with them.’” - Asharq Al Awsat, United Kingdom


At 2/23/2006 09:20:00 AM, Blogger t_desco said...

Close collaborator of Mehlis involved in CIA "extraordinary rendition" scandal?

BERLIN, Feb 21 (Reuters) - A German abducted by the CIA in late 2003, Khaled el-Masri, believes he has identified a man in a police line-up as a native German speaker who was present at his interrogation in an Afghan jail, his lawyer said on Tuesday.
Manfred Gnjidic told Reuters Masri had identified the man on Monday in a police line-up.
Masri was "90 percent certain" that the man who took part in the line-up, a German police official, was the same man who was present during Masri's interrogation, called himself "Sam" and spoke with a north German accent.

The New York Times reported that the police official "does undercover intelligence work" for the German foreign intelligence service:

The New York Times is withholding the official's name at the request of Germany's intelligence services because he often does undercover intelligence work. He frequently gets "sensitive" assignments and helps clean up "dirty work" for the German foreign intelligence service, said one of his longtime colleagues, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

On Dec. 12, 2005, Mr. Gnjidic, the lawyer for Mr. Masri, received an e-mail message from a German journalist named Frank Kruger, who suggested that "Sam" might be a German police official. Earlier this month, Mr. Gnjidic said he had obtained a videotape of the police official that convinced Mr. Masri that he was Sam. Today, after meeting the man at police headquarters, Mr. Masri said he was 90 percent certain that the police official was Sam.
New York Times

The video that helped al-Masri to identify "Sam" was the presentation of the UN commission report to the Lebanese government in Beirut by Mehlis' "chief investigator", Gerd/Gerhard Lehmann (photo).

Lehmann works for the German Federal Police (BKA), but reports say that he is also close to the German foreign intelligence service (BND), which earned him the nickname "German James Bond". He is also a long-time collaborator of Detlev Mehlis who once saved him from arrest because he had used blackmail to coerce a Syrian diplomat to come to Berlin and testify in a trial in which Mehlis was the public prosecutor.

German reports:

Vertuschung mit System
Nick Brauns/Ruediger Goebel, Junge Welt

Mann fürs Grobe
Nick Brauns, Junge Welt

"Herr Lehmann vom BKA"
Harald Neuber, Telepolis

Earlier reports on Lehmann and Mehlis:

Ein Fall für Zwei
Nick Brauns, 05.12.2005

Deutsche Rechtskultur geht den Bach runter
Frank Krueger 31.12.2005

Google Language Tools.

Note: I posted this as a comment because al-Masri was only "90 percent certain" that "Sam" and Lehmann are the same person.
In any case, a person so close to German and American intelligence agencies should never have become the chief investigator for the UN commission. Information provided by intelligence services can be very useful, but it is also obvious that the risk of manipulation should be minimized. Putting the fox in charge of the henhouse doesn't seem like a good idea.

At 2/23/2006 12:02:00 PM, Blogger t_desco said...

Analysis: Germany's intel affair continues

But there are allegations that go much deeper: Masri has identified a high-ranking agent of Germany's Federal Criminal Police Office, or BKA, who interrogated him three times in Afghanistan, Masri claims. The agent identified himself as "Sam," and spoke fluent German, he said. Prosecutors in Munich have started investigating the official.

According to information published in Thursday's Die Zeit weekly, the man in question is a senior German terror investigator who has most recently aided U.N. Special Interrogator Detlev Mehlis with his probe into the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. He also investigated the 1986 bombing of a Berlin disco that killed a Turkish woman and two U.S. soldiers, injuring some 230 people.

Abgrund hinterm Spanischen Spiegel
Die Zeit

At 2/24/2006 09:36:00 AM, Blogger majedkhaldoon said...

Ryad Seif made good arguments, but one problem he wants Assad to initiate the reform,so less bloodshed, this is just dreaming, Assad will never go for reform, he is very slow, he knows if reform is done the power of Assad mafia is gone, he knows what his father did, killing many honest patriotic people,he knows that a lot of money were stolen by his family,and friends, and if reform is applied he has to return all of them.
reform must be done, and unfortunately, will be bloody.

At 2/24/2006 11:25:00 AM, Blogger Anton Efendi said...

I like the diversity of your sources, Josh! Champress. Champress Light. Champress Menthol. Champress Red Label. etc. It's cute having Moubayed and the Tlasses as your sources on everything in Syria. tsk tsk tsk...

At 2/24/2006 12:30:00 PM, Blogger Innocent_Criminal said...

It might be beneath Josh to reply, but I don’t care. Tony you are the LAST one to talk. Al Seyassieh, MEIB, Daniel Pipes, Ya Libanan among others. Man!!! give me a break with your bullshit.

And do yourself a favor, you need a new gimmick ‘cause tsk tsk tsk is growing reaaallly old and to be honest very dorky.

At 2/24/2006 01:05:00 PM, Blogger zobahhan said...

Innocent you are forgetting his "lebanese bloggers" society. The one indiscriminate unbiased source of information. Phd my ass. Efendi my ass too.

At 2/24/2006 05:06:00 PM, Blogger Anton Efendi said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 2/24/2006 06:16:00 PM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.


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