Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Habitual Feet-Shooters!

Yes, they have done it again, just as I knew they would. But then, and as I have argued repeated here, Bashar & Co. have always been quite reliable when it comes down to outsmarting themselves.

What am I talking about?

I am talking about this story with the second witness that has reportedly turned himself “willingly” to the Syrian authorities and is about to publicly recant his earlier testimony to the Mehlis team.

One witness doing something along these lines was really more than enough, especially considering the fantastic tale he span to his not-so naïve and credulous audience. But two witnesses! With a third in Turkey claiming that he was approached by members of the CIA and offered a sweet deal should he implicate certain members of the Syrian regime! That is simply too much.

The Syrian regime has just moved from a seemingly passive non-cooperation strategy into an obviously active attempt at sabotaging the Mehlis investigation. Mehlis can easily make such a case now should he choose to. In fact, he is probably attempting to do just that, as he has just asked to interview the first recanting witness again in order to clarify certain points in his earlier testimony.

This rather obvious move on part of Mehlis will likely prove quite surprising to the certain members of the regime. They will probably be voicing their outrage soon. And let’s see to which extant they will cooperate this time around. It’s indeed one of those damned-if-they-do-damned-if-they-don’t situations. And they have placed themselves rather nicely in it, as is their want in such situations.

Besides, the problem with all this strategy seems based on the assumption that Mehlis has revealed all that he has in his preliminary report. I have already argued a while back against the inherent dangers of such an assumption, but obviously, and as is usually the case with every piece of advice I have voluntarily offered throughout the last three years, my warning went unheeded. Who am I to warn anyway, huh?

Moreover, approaching this crisis from a strictly legalistic angle misses the point. The UN Security Council is not a court of law. It is a political body par excellence. Circumstantial evidence often suffices for its members to adopt very stern resolutions, if the political will is there. And in the case of Syria, it is.

Russia and china will not go out of their way to support a regime that continues to paint itself in a corner and continues to show that it is nonviable. Furthermore, Syria is not Libya. It simply doesn’t have anything to offer the Russian or the Chinese as this stage. Its oil and natural gas deals are not that lucrative, and the Chinese already their foot in the door anyway.

For the Russians and the Chinese, Syria at this stage is nothing more than a negotiating chip that they can use to extract concessions from the US and the EU, a chip that has been devaluing itself continuously to the point where it increasingly seems rather worthless now.

Should the UNSC decide to go ahead with imposing sanctions against members of the Syrian regime at this stage, even if on the simple basis of growing suspicions of attempting to sabotage the Mehlis investigation, Russia and China will most likely be on board.

So, Bashar & Co. can go ahead and continue to be their usual inept selves, they can continue to engage in tactics like wagging the Hezbollah and co-opting witnesses and they can keep on trying to rally the people in their support (albeit popular support for dictators is always fickle, as we have seen in the case of Saddam), but nothing is going to stop them from going over the edge. They have already passed the point of no-return.

What would happen to the rest of us, I wonder?

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Much Ado About Nothing!

Oh the ups and downs. Oh the drama of it all. This is shaping up into a really cool show. Unfortunately though, the ending is too predictable. Mehlis seems to have enough evidence to finger Syrian officials for Hariri’s assassination. Still, on December 15, a lot of people are going to be genuinely surprised to learn that.

People just want to believe, I guess.

There are still people around who believe that the earth is flat, and there will always be people who think that Saddam Huseein was a genuine hero of Arab nationalism, and there will always be people who will believe that Bashar al-Assad is a good and honest man, who just happen to be surrounded, even overwhelmed, by murdering thieves.

OK. What can I do? I cannot change human nature. I often find myself caught in the middle of the rollercoaster ride myself, despite my better judgment. Well. So be it. For now, I have disembarked again, and I can see things a bit more clearly, and guess what? The Syrian regime is still in a very serious crisis, and things will be coming to a head on December 15.

Meantime those who want to dance rather than cry their way to hell are free to do so. Those who want to remain sheep even while being shepherded by a lion all the way to the abyss are welcome to do so. No amount of caution or advice can actually make the true believer see. The light of true faith is too blinding. Its reflection in my eyes gives me headaches. But I will not be blinded, and I will not be fooled or hoodwinked into supporting a handful of criminals in the name of anything holy, not even patriotism or national interest. Come what may. Come what may.

Monday, November 28, 2005

A Necessary Euphoric Phase!

After so many weeks of depression, it is only natural now that the news regarding the impeding cooperation with the UN probe will be greeted with much euphoria at this stage. People need it. Yes, and despite developments such as the about-face made by one of Mehlis’s chief witnesses, there is nothing to suggest yet that the crisis is over. Even if Assef and Maher are not among the people to be interviewed at this stage, what does this really signify? The fat lady cannot sing until Mehlis has submitted his final report on December 15.

But let us assume the worst, and the worst to me is for this regime to stay in power with its main pillars intact, what does this really mean? Frankly, this scenario may not be as bad as I once thought. Why? Because the regime has already been severely shaken by its brush with “death,” and I don’t think it would crave to be in that position again. So, should such a scenario unfold, the Opposition may be able to challenge the regime from the inside even more openly, and to get more organized in the process.

Indeed, if the regime ends ups staying in power for a little while longer as a result of some sort of a deal or a lucky break, then I will reopen Tharwa’s offices in Damascus and I will periodically return to visit the old country and be much more of a troublemaker than I have been before. I always enjoyed that part of my activities anyway. It is always better to take part in reengineering one’s country from the inside. It is much more fun that way.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Keeling over, with Some Dignity!

Keeling over is indeed the more accurate way for reading Bashar’s recent decision to cooperate with the UN probe into the Hariri assassination. The attempts by the regime’s henchmen, and some increasingly foolish observers, at trying to give this matter some positive spin are simply ludicrous. Far from being a success for Syrian diplomacy and brinksmanship, the decision reflects the helplessness of the Syrian regime and the increasing desperation of its leaders.

Case in point: the President’s Brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat, is actually not off the hook, and his name seems to be included among the List of Five to be interviewed in Vienna. Some reports seem to include now even the name of the President’s brother, Maher, in contrast to the names mentioned as part of the earlier List of Six.

Be that as it may, even if the Gruesome Twosome failed to show up in Vienna, the final report prepared by Mehlis might still implicate them, one way or another, as the crisis nears entry into its second and more critical phase on December 15. All this has been nothing more than a necessary prelude for the real dilemma ahead.

On the other hand, the very condescending attitude of the Saudi King in his recent declarations on this matter makes it very clear that the regime will not even be allowed to save face beyond certain necessary limits. For those who have had previous direct dealings with Bashar & Co. know how easily this lot can fall into that nasty habit of believing their own lies. The “time for Bravado is over,” as the Saudi King said, one way or another the Syrian regime will be made to understand that.

Moreover, this about-face by the Syrian President is a great testimony to the fact that the ruling clique’s position is far from being strong. Should the final report to be issued by Mehlis implicates anyone in the ruling regime, including Maher and Assef, Bashar will be hard pressed to deliver them to the hands of international justice. The country will not be allowed to rot under sanctions for their sake. This regime has no friends, no resources and no unifying center to allow it to survive for long under isolation.

The Saudi monarch’s stance also indicates a readiness to act more forcefully to prevent the development of another vortex of violence and mayhem in the region. But, his declarations make it clear as well that this is Bashar’s final chance to clean up his act and get with the program, the will of the international community cannot be ignored any longer, at least not by regimes as pitiful as the Syrian regime happens to be. As such, Bashar needs to know exactly where he stands in the overall scheme of things, and he needs to know what his actual size is. This lion needs to learn how to meow – not all lions are worthy of being allowed to roar.

For the latest concerning the David Duke stunt in Damascus, check out this report.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Peachy Heresies!

Is the Syrian regime finally off the hook? Does the international community, headed by France and the US, seem to be backing down at this stage allowing Bashar & Co. to continue to rule Syria for a little while longer for fear of creating another failed state in the region at such inopportune times? If this is so, does this mean that Bashar’s strategy of wagging the Islamists worked, especially with the indirect aid of the Amman terrorist attacks? Moreover, is Syria planning to crackdown against PKK outposts in the northeastern parts of the country to curry favor with Turkey?

There are those
who seem willing indeed to say “yes” to most if not all of these questions, albeit it is too early in the game for that. Naturally though, I am not one of them. I remain a stalwart naysayer in this regard.

For, experience with this regime has taught me not to get my “hopes” up with it, no matter how peachy things might look sometimes, no, especially when things look so peachy. In times like these, I always expect the worst, and I usually don’t have to wait that long for it to happen. I know I can always trust this regime to do the wrong thing sooner rather than later and to keep on hurting itself, and the country with it of course.
The regime is simply too flawed. Those who insist on working with it, no matter how begrudgingly, will pay dearly for their gamble, and sooner than they expect.

So, and regardless of how “sound” the reasoning behind wanting to back-down at this stage, as a strategy, it is bound to backfire. This regime is simply nonviable. No amount of wishful thinking is going to change that. A failed state in Syria will come more as a result of this regime's staying in power rather than its outright ouster.
The sooner we see that the better for all of us, whether we are Americans, French, Syrians, or even Israelis. This regime cannot serve its own interests anymore, not to mention anybody else’s.

The Lion's Coalition!

So the Syrian President is busy these days making all sorts of overture to the Muslim Brotherhood, a development that is currently being touted by some as a sign of openness on part of the ruling clique.

The President’s new strategy, it seems, aims at playing at the anti-American tendencies of both the Islamists and the nationalists in an attempt to build a broad coalition that can enable its regime to survive whatever sanctions and isolation that will be inevitably imposed on his regime, the recent decision to cooperate with the UN probe notwithstanding.

As shrewd as this strategy might seem at first, there is, in effect, one major problem with it, which probably more than enough to make it absolutely useless. For while anti-Americanism is alive and well in all the relevant quarters, mutual trust is sorely lacking. Yet, trust-building is one more thing that this regime has never been good at. Consider in this connection the President’s latest speech where he lambasted the opposition, threatened further crackdowns and failed to make any promise for reform.

So, unless the Islamists and the nationalists are not only anti-American but stupid as well, no such coalition will likely emerge anytime soon. As such, whatever opposition figures should choose to join the regime at this stage in its defiant stand vis-à-vis the international community, such a step will be more likely premised on fear or greed, and in some cases, the personal naivety if not downright stupidity of the particular figures involved. For, while the opposition as a whole may not be judged as being stupid, there are always qualified individual cases around.

So, my advice will be to all those who care to listen is:
don’t wait for the regime to survive much longer and start planning for the day after, it's not going to be too long now. And do plan openly and publicly, let the regime know how irrelevant it has become. This will only hasten it demise.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

All about Viable Friends & Nonviable Regimes!

Back in Syria, my friend Joshua Landis and I inadvertently managed to develop a nice double act of sorts. He would defend the continued viability of the Syrian regime and the necessity for maintaining dialogue with it, and I would go on castigating the regime and attempting to convince people of its nonviability and the futility of all efforts at dialogue with it.

Now, and having read the latest entry in Josh’s blog, I find myself itching to renew our sparring match. In fact, I found myself so infuriated by it, I was about to launch a couple of virtual jabs at my dear old friend Josh, when, lo and behold, my other dear old friend (and Josh’s) Tony Badran beat me to the punch (who else?) So, now it’s a ménage a trois, I guess.

The heart of Josh’s argument is summarized in the following passage:

“Iraq’s Kurdish President is keen on bringing the Syrians into the picture and enlisting their support. He has asked the government to stop anti-Syrian propaganda. Allawi is also campaigning for Syria’s help. These are America’s two closest Iraqi allies. Why not listen to them, rather than clip their wings? Use Syria to counterbalance Iran. Refusal to do this only forces Syria and Iran together. It makes western fears of a Shiite crescent in the region self-fulfilling. Syria is an overwhelmingly Sunni country. Although Bashar al-Asad is an Alawite and thus technically closer to Shi`i than Sunni Islam, he is above all secular and interested in preserving his regime and Syria’s position in the region. Harnessing these interests to US goals should be a priority.”

On the surface, the argument appears quite lucid and logical. Unfortunately, however, there are at least three major shortcomings that render the entire argument pretty useless. The first is the nature of the Syrian regime, the second is the omission of France’s role and interest in the situation, and the third is the ongoing UN probe into the Hariri assassination.

After close to five years in power, it should be clear by now that the upper ranks of the Syrian regime, including the presidency, and regardless of whether we are referring to the Old or New Guard, are quite swollen with what we can only describe as adventurist morons. That is, with people who, over the last five years, have consistently adopted policies that were completely ill-suited to the times at hand and to the changing geopolitical realities in the world an the region, not simply in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of Cold War, but also in the aftermath of 9/11 and the collapse of the peace process.

So many mistakes and miscalculations have been made, from bringing the Damascus Spring to an abrupt end in 2001 without showing any willingness to compromise, to changing the nature of the relationship with Hizbollah (transforming it a master-client relationship into a strategic alliance), to increasing support to radical Palestinian groups and allowing them to operate freely from bases in Damascus, to actively opposing the US invasion of Iraq and organizing the “popular resistance” to it, to insisting on blatantly dabbling in internal Lebanese affairs culminating with the Lahhoud extension affairs, to the current debacle concerning the ongoing probe into the Hariri assassination.

Who in his right mind will put any stock in establishing any rapport with this regime, especially when there has been no attempt so far at reinventing it and at introducing some promising new figures into the decision-making process?

If Bush is willing to risk it, simply because he can use all the help he can get in Iraq, I doubt Chirac will. For, let’s not forget here that France’s role in pushing for the isolation of the Syrian regime is no less central than that of the US, if not more so. Would the US turn its back on her newly (re)gained French allies for the sake of striking some sort of a deal with the Syrian regime?

Regardless of how one answers this question, it is clear that the French are no less interested in affecting a regime change in Syria than the US, and they too want to have it “on the cheap.” Josh’s contention tot the effect that it “is now clear that the US is not going to achieve regime-change in Syria – even the kind of cheap regime-change of the Qaddafi-deal variety,” represents a completely premature judgment. The policy is only few-months old and time is still very much on its side, especially considering the fact the regime leaders are bound to make even more mistakes and miscalculations along the way, this being second nature to them.

For its part, the Mehlis Investigation has a life of its own and could throw a major wrench into any attempt at deal-making at this stage. On December 15, Mehlis has to present his final report to the UN Security Council, and all he has to do at this stage is say that the Syrian regime has not cooperated with his investigation to make all the scenarios proposed by Josh completely meaningless.

The Syrian regime is dead. Time to stop beating on this dead horse and move on. Our efforts are better spent talking about how Syria’s opposition can be improved, and how the US, France and the international community at large could help in this. You cannot resurrect the Baath anymore, and you cannot safeguard Alawite interest by keeping the Alawite in control. The real challenge ahead is how to disentangle Alawite interests from those of the ruling clique, and how one can peacefully and effectively redraw Sunni-Alawi relations. Bashar & co. have clearly demonstrated that they do not have what it takes to accomplish this and, as such, they do not have what it take to prevent the country’s implosion and, as such, their stay in power, in fact, represents the worst case scenario for the future country and all its neighbors.


I have received a few comments regarding the entry concerning David Duke. Indeed, I should have put quotation marks around the title of “Former Senator.” For, false as this designation of Duke may be, this is how he was, in fact, introduced in Syrian and Arab press. There are still a lot of people who don’t know how to use Google, it seems.

Expose My Lovely!

In order to open a much-needed channel of communication with the American people and get the point of view of the Syrian regime across to them, some brilliant assholes in the regime’s pay-roll thought that brining in "former" US Senator and ex-Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke to Syria to lambaste the Bush Administration and its Zionist agenda and declare his sympathy with the Syrian people and their ruling regime would make an excellent coup!

Meanwhile, other regime assholes were busy forcing children with cerebral palsy, yes, cerebral palsy, to demonstrate in favor of the regime and in protest against growing international pressures on it to amend its ways.

Still others thought that a “voluntary” hunger strike by state prisoners would make the point.

So, is it any wonder that the regime finds itself in the terrible position it is in today?

Frankly, had it not been for the all-too “voluntary” gullibility of the Syrian people, and the sheer brutality of the regime, Syria’s leaders would have had the lifespan of head lice at best. Brutality does indeed work when brains don’t. But, brutal or not, it is time to end this charade. It has lasted for far too long.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Mock Interview!

A friend of mine has put together this "mock interview" based on a number of public and private talks that I have been recently giving in a number of think tanks and institutions. It does a pretty good job in summarizing where I stand these days on the issue of regime change in Syria.

How would you assess the viability of the current Syrian regime?

We have a very nonviable regime in Syria. It is a regime that continues to foster terror and is trying to destabilize the region with its adventurous policies. It supports radical Palestinian groups, is not showing any kind of vision for a more feasible foreign policy, and does not tackle any of the country’s outstanding problems – whether internal or external.

The whole thing started when President Bashar Assad sat next to the Pope and made this unfortunate comment about the Jews being the torturers of Christ instead of benefiting from this historic visit by the Pope to Syria. Rather than making the best of that, he nullified the entire event and its positive implications for Syria’s image. From that moment on, he really depicted himself as an unfit for the job.

What role can the Syrian opposition play in helping to reform the government’s internal and external policies?

It took four years for the Syrian opposition to realize that Assad will not enact any real reforms, and I think that the turning point was his most recent speech where he turned against any opposition. Prior to that speech, most of the opposition delivered the message that they stand by Assad at this important time as long as he carries out some basic reforms, political and economic. In his latest speech he mentioned nothing of reforms and instead lambasted the opposition and threatened a crackdown.

The moronic policies that this regime has adopted will ensure that it will not continue forever. Syria is losing control of its borders and eventually the regime will send the country into a downward spiral of violence and mayhem.

What level of responsibility do the Syrian people have for maintaining the Assad government?

I am not one who will excuse the Syrian people from responsibility. We have put up with this regime for too long and the opposition groups have really had a lot of stock in this government up until the last few months. Syrian opposition groups recently issued the Damascus Declaration, which signals many important changes. Significantly, the secularists and Islamists agreed on something; most important, it is not reform that they are asking for now but rather the creation of an alternative to the regime.

President Assad is neither an all-inspiring figure nor an intimidating leader like his father, the late President Hafez Assad. Just recently there were some protests against a trial of some Kurdish activists and 10 people were arrested. If this sort of thing had happened when his father was alive the crackdown would have been bloody and swift; but times have changed. No one can do this bloody crackdown any more. Syria is not Uzbekistan: You cannot simply send the troops against demonstrators.

Soon the mediocrity of the current leadership will cause people to rub off their shock and once again want to challenge this regime. I hope that the next challenge will be a velvet revolution that will see the main figures in this regime kicked out. Knowing what the alternative is, this is the only option that we can really push for at this stage.

Why should the United States and other Western countries encourage a regime change in Syria when it may create turmoil and disorder?

I think President Bush realizes that Assad is not capable of delivering. In order for him to be in charge he would have to step out of character. Syria is too weak to serve anyone’s interests.

The world needs a strong Syria – a Syria that is capable of honoring commitments and holding the country together. A Syria that can control the radical Palestinian factions, contain the radical Islamic currents and sever its ties with Hizballah – this current regime cannot do this. In the absence of a strong regime, we have a regime that will only create more problems than it can prevent.

For those who are hoping that a weaker Syria will be friendlier to American, Israeli and the Syrian people’s interests – that’s not going to happen. For the first time the Syrian people, the Americans and the Israelis have the same interest – a strong regime that is capable of honoring commitments, a regime that is capable of signing peace agreements.

I can see that day coming only because we don’t have a choice. I think if the current regime is incapable of seeing that, we should not hesitate to recognize this matter ourselves and plan for it and hopefully hasten the arrival of that day. We need to work together to contain the damage and the mayhem that can be caused by a catastrophic explosion that would occur if the regime stays in power much longer.

Managing Evil!

The dilemmas we often have to face in life are less about making a choice between good and evil or right and wrong, than they are about attempting to identify which is the lesser evil. Indeed, managing various sorts of evil in the hope of slowly inching our way towards what is good – this is really what life is all about, most of the time.

Coming to terms with this, however, even when you are about to turn forty, is still very hard to do. Being a heretic does not make it any easier.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Time for the Big Names!

In this particular time when the Syrian regime looks like it is having a field day of activities and demonstrations coming out in its support, one of the worst things that could happen to it and which could come as a slap in the face that could help so many people snap out of their fear-induced coma, is for a group of well-known Syrian artists, including actors, singers and painters to come out and say: enough is enough. We won't stand idle while our country is being led to an abyss. We won't let our leaders put their particularistic interests above the national interests.

Indeed, some members in the opposition should attempt to spend more time doing some necessary and long overdue public relations exercise with the country’s better known artistic talents, especially the older generation, which still commands much respect on account of their previous “patriotic” stands, and because they have always been more inclined to stand by the regime in times of crisis. For any number of them to come out against the regime at this stage will, therefore, have a wider impact.

Getting the support of this group will not be easy, of course, considering their history with the regime and the usual fear barrier which seems to loom more heavily in their minds than those of authors and academics, for instance. Still, no one has actually tried to lobby these figures. No one has actually tried lobbying anyone period. The opposition groups continue to wait for people to come to them rather than attempt to go to the people. This failure is increasingly inexcusable at this stage. The country’s crisis is growing deeper by the day, and the need for an internal push against the regime at this stage is stronger than ever.

The time to act is now.

Friday, November 18, 2005

A Fund for Syria!

The issue of foreign funding of civil society groups and opposition movements in Syria has always been problematic. Everybody is afraid of the stigma that this might bring. For this reason, the operations of independent civil organizations remain in the hands of volunteers and part-timers.

But, and while the role of such individuals in the management of civil institutions is always welcome and critical, civil institutions cannot be establish and managed solely on this basis. Fulltime commitment is needed, and the attention of the civil activists should remain focused on the tasks at hand.

Also, since many of these people often get themselves in trouble with the authorities some mechanism for supporting their families is also needed.

For this reason, and considering the important role that these organizations will be required to play in the weeks and months ahead, funding of civil society organizations in Syria, including opposition groups and movements, should be a major concern for all those interested in this country’s future.

One way for dealing with this issue is to remove the stigma of foreign funding from the scene through the creation of a special Fund for Syria, a fund that should be established and maintained by successful Syrian entrepreneurs and professionals from around the world. The Fund should, however, accept donations from individuals and international organizations as well. For so long as the founders are Syrians, and so long as the various donor organizations are vetted by them, the issue of the stigma can be overcome.

More importantly though, the Founders of the Fund will, in due course of time, acquire much credibility and legitimacy in the eyes of the Syrian people, and could position themselves to play an important role in future political and economic developments therein.

Furthermore, the Fund should not only be concerned with the transitional phase that Syria has to go through, but should also focus on the future. That is, funds should also be collected and committed to support future developmental projects in the country focusing on such critical issues as education, rural development and poverty alleviation.

Syrian entrepreneurs abroad have always been willing to approach the regime and offer to create major investments in the country should the country’s old laws be modernized enough to allow them to operate more freely, and should the President agree to shield these entrepreneurs from the corrupt elements in his regime who will continue to attempt to blackmail them and shake them down. To no avail. Not a single has been able to establish a successful foothold in the country. The regime is unwilling to change its ways.

But are the entrepreneurs unwilling to change theirs as well? That is, if they are really interested in their country’s future, are they not willing to see now that the regime is the main obstacle for progress in the country, and that the development of strong civil society institutions and democratic governance are the only way out of the quagmire we find ourselves in?

It is indeed about time for successful Syrian entrepreneurs and professionals to put some of their money at least where their mouths, and their hearts, seem to be: in the future of the homeland.

A Wild yet Likely Interpretation!

If the events of the last few days, including the refusal to allow six wanted officers to travel to Lebanon, the fiery speech given by the Syrian President and the ongoing freak show of “popular” demonstrations and jingoism, prove anything is that a coup has already taken place in Syria. Bashar al-Assad is obviously no longer in control. This is the Assef Chawkat Show now. Yes, General Dashing has finally stage his long-calculated and long-expected move. True, it did not materialize at the best possible time for him, but it did finally happen. He is calling the shots now. He is Number One. He is currently living the fulfillment, the epitome, of all his Machiavellian designs and calculations. The downside is that this couldn’t have come at a worse time, and his reign is bound to be quite short-lived.

But let’s be clear here. This is not a regular military coup. No. The actual coup in this case took place within the ranks of the ruling Trinity itself, where Bashar used to be the final arbiter, that is, the person who had to make the tough decisions after the other two members presented their views. But now, it is the Trinity’s go-to guy that has taken over the position of ultimate arbitration a well.

Assef used to be the go-to guy on account of both his experiences and his natural disposition. This put him in the unique position to know all he field operatives and to establish a personal rapport with most of them, especially those he deemed talented and trustworthy enough as far as his plans were concerned.

The show force that took place next to his headquarters a couple of weeks ago, and which many interpreted as signifying an attempt at arresting him, was actually a show of force by him. By staging this little demonstration, Assef showed his brothers-in-law that he had support within the ranks of the Republican Guard and that he can make trouble for them. The brigades controlled by Maher are simply not enough to face the Republic Guard.

Moreover, the intelligence services, in all their varieties, seem now to be completely under Assef’s control. Indeed, even when Ghazi Kanaan was still alive, the political security apparatus, seems to have deferred more to Assef (in my case, it was the political security apparatus that imposed the travel ban, but it was Assef that ordered the ban lifted in his attempt at co-opting me at the time).

If there was ever a plan to let Assef go to Lebanon where he can be arrested by the Lebanese authorities acting under directives from Mehlis, Assef could have easily found out about them through the security channels.

Indeed, it seems that Deputy Foreign Minister Dawoodi’s reported meeting with Mehlis was not meant to dissuade the latter from arresting Chawkat, but was actually meant to simply gage the existence of such a possibility. Assef apparently foresaw a possibility for such a development and he decided that he should not take any risk in this regard. So, he put on his little show, and muscled Bashar and Maher into accepting the adoption of the tough stand he advocated. Everything that happened since had his fingerprints on it, including Bashar’s speech, in fact, especially Bashar’s speech. The bellicose nature of the speech and complete disregard for Lebanese officials, international opinion, and the intelligence of the Syrian people is vintage Assef. Many observers have already noted that, but they have missed the wider significance of it.

For Assef to be completely running the show is indeed a coup, albeit a well-hidden, well-disguised one. Bashar and Maher will have to go with this new arrangement now, the one that allows Assef to dictate things, simply because there is nothing they could do to oust him. He has simply outmaneuvered them and boxed them in. this is a psychological rather than a military coup.

The implications of this move, however, do raise serious concerns regarding legitimacy, not only in theory, but also, as far as many army officers are concerned. Army officers might feel obliged to follow the dictates of the President, just for being the President, but Assef’s? Now that’s a tough pill to swallow for most. True, Assef is feared, but he was never popular. He might have his men, but he does not control everybody.

If the army officers should come to realize the true nature of this subtle change on the top, this might give them the impetus and the justification to rebel. In the process, even the President’s wishes may not matter anymore, after all he has already lost control.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Heretical Haggling!

I seem to operate on a multiple levels of contradictions. But what can I do? My heart is one place, my mind is in another, and my mouth has to play an intricate game of brinkmanship all the time just to keep me balanced. I am after all an activist more by necessity than by choice, and always against my better judgment and my natural inclinations.

Against this backdrop, let me copy here a response to various inquiries I had regarding my recent post dealing in part with the US intervention in Iraq:

… Indeed, I have to say that my view of the US invasion in Iraq is more nuanced than I sometimes suggest. Despite my initial reservations about the invasion, I believe that a positive outcome can indeed be worked out through positive engagement with the Americans and between the various communities in Iraq. It is this kind of engagement that I am advocating for Syria as well but as a preemptive move, orchestrated by the opposition, rather than the regime.

Still, the US invasion seems to have come as an integral part of a shock therapy of sorts. Now, shock therapy is always the hardest kind of therapy, we would have been better off without it, I know, had we not made it so damn inevitable at every turn. We take too much time to assimilate new facts (but in truth there is simply so much of them at any given moment these days), and the world has traditionally been a very hostile place for people who cannot make up their minds, or who take too long a time to do it.

For in truth, we still don’t belong to this Modern World, after all, we have not really taken an active part in making it. As such, we seem more like an alien presence in it, and vice versa. It feels more like an alien in us, and all around us. Indeed, Modernity came to us like a Martian invasion, making this the real War of the Worlds: we bring the disease of atavism and recalcitrance to the Modern World, while it defiles our sacred spaces and things, nullifies our sacred values and notions and rapes our sacred souls (and often bodies as well) to shreds.

Be that as it may, the US invasion comes merely as a new session in our ongoing shock therapy that is our introduction to the Modern World. It is happening in spite of us and not necessarily for our benefit. Still, a more proactive approach to this reality, rather than mere denial thereof (and its implications), a more pragmatic response to it, rather than nihilistic resistance of it, could help us work out the necessary compromises and arrangements that can enable us to bring something positive out of the ongoing mayhem. At their hearts of hearts, many Iraqis seem to understand this truth, as the turnout for the various elections and the millions of purple fingers can attest.

Will Syria have to go through similar baptismal rites to those in Iraq? Well, I hope not. I hope we can prove better hagglers and more savvy consumers than our Iraqi “brethren” have been, so we can get a larger share of freedom as well as better quality leaders at a more affordable price.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Ends & Beginnings, Fears & Hopes!

Indeed, the Tharwa Project’s offices in Damascus have recently been closed due to increasing security harassments and threats received by some of the team members. The heightened security awareness and follow up of our activities in this regard seem directly linked to the authorities’ growing perception of me as an opposition “prince” as the infamous report has it.

However, no one has been detained or questioned so far, messages were sent to the team members via through friends and relatives and that sufficed. I don’t anticipate any further developments in this regard.

In her coverage of this matter on her well-known weblog, Helena Cobban makes a valid point regarding my “prima donna” (or as like to spell it: “pre-Madonna,” that is, just a step away from being a full fledged Madonna) tendencies and my contradictory stands vis-à-vis the Syrian opposition. As Helen puts it:

In his blog, Abdel-Hamid [i.e. Abdulhamid] has called for the opposition to build "networks, networks, networks"… But even regarding "networks" he doesn't actually seem to be very respectful of the other people who might be in such a network. In this recent post he summarily dismissed "the Syrian opposition" as being "weak and idiotic."

Indeed, Helena is right, I have always been a prima donna. But my position vis-à-vis the Syrian internal opposition is not the best example for this tendency of mine. The fact that the internal opposition suffers from many glaring shortcomings is a well-established fact. But I have always said, nonetheless, that for all these serious shortcomings, the internal opposition represents the only hope left for the country to provide an alternative form of leadership that can guide the country out on this Baathist quagmire.

For the regime is obviously no longer a viable alternative, simply because it cannot govern, it can crackdown, but it cannot govern. The twain, cracking-down and governing, might be intimately linked at occasions, but they are not the same. This regime is capable of the first thing, which might be sufficient to shore it up for a while, perhaps a bit longer than I’d like or have been predicting (albeit the jury is still out on this). Still, a country such as Syria cannot remain ungoverned for long, especially under international isolation and sanctions.

Indeed a colleague of mine has just written an article in which he vehemently questioned the constant assertions by government officials that the country can survive without reforms and under these circumstances for long. The facts and figures he presents, all of which are official by the way, paint a very dismal picture nonetheless.

Neither this regime nor the country will survive a long-period of international isolation. But the real question ahead of us is: which is going to collapse first: the regime or the country? If the opposition did not indeed move, the latter seems to be the best bet. This is indeed the essence of my fear, anger, consternation, ambivalence, angst, pain and downright heartbreak.

Another issue that also goes to the core of my fear and angst these days is that of a reversal (as opposed to simply modifying and fine-tuning) of the current ME policy on part of the current US administration or under some new administration. Because, and as I have argued back in 2003, by invading Iraq on a democratization platform, the cause has been hijacked in a sense and the fate of American interventionism in the region and that of democratization has been intimately linked. Should the US efforts fail, or should a perception of failure even prevail, the outcome will be catastrophic for all of us, as dozens of petty dictators claim victory and begin to crackdown, more impudently than ever - with popular sympathy and approval to boot.

So, we can be as anti-American as our ideologies inform us to be, but, the moment when that first American solider stepped onto Iraqi soil, we, that is, all of us, liberals leftists and Islamists, who have been speaking in defense of democracy and human rights, we all became “tainted.” The regime can easily stigmatize us now as agents of the enemy, no matter how loud we should protest this or denounce the enemy.

The best strategy to deal with this situation, therefore, was that of running forward and transforming the stigma into a sign of strength and legitimacy. Our argument should have sounded something like this: The international community is denouncing our regimes, but it is working with us. Our regimes can only pave the path towards confrontation and mayhem, while we can negotiate a way out of the quagmire in which they put us, and into the folds of the modernizing and democratizing states.

Obviously, the Syrian opposition is too ideological to think along such lines, because, in essence, this is a very pragmatic line. It was easy for me to take such a stand, because my experiences in the US have fully transformed me, helping me, among many other things, kick the devil of blind anti-Americanism from my system. Others have different experiences, of course, especially those whose very cherished ideologies make them dubious of the US as the hotbed of capitalist consumerist values.

Making such transition for them is not an easy matter, then, and it is more like a leap of faith really than a simple change in perspectives. But I had hoped, and I continue to hope, seeing the kind of alternatives that are now staring in the face, and out of sincere desire to really save the country and not only write declarations and songs about it, that people will become more encouraged to make this kind of change, to take this kind of leap.

And to take it with their eyes open, of course. No one is asking the Syrian opposition to be stupid. On the contrary, the Syrian opposition needs to be more vigilant and savvy. They need to relearn the Art of Dialogue and Compromise, which will always be the cornerstone of the kind of real politick that small states need to practice in order to survive in such a fervent world.


On a related note, Human Rights Watch has just issued its report on Online Censorship in the Middle East and North Africa. The Report dedicates a section for the situation in Syria in which I make a brief appearance revealing the identity of General Dashing to the World.

A Heretical Utopia!

My utopia is a place where there is no angst. My utopia is death. So, until I die, I guess, I have no choice but to coexist somehow with that feeling with which we all have to coexist, on one level or another, namely that something is missing, that something is always missing.

Monday, November 14, 2005

An Unfortunate Trait!

The way leftist intellectual continue to think in Syria baffles me. External support for them is acceptable if it came from Europe, but not if it came from the US. Why? Is Europe any less supportive of Israel? Or are European countries any less willing to push us around when their interests demand that they do so? If so, how can we interpret France’s attitude vis-à-vis the Syrian regime at this stage? How do we interpret their intervention in the Ivory Coast, for that matter, which was, by the way, quite unilateral?

Frankly, there is simply a lot of ideological naivety here. Sometimes, the leftist intellectuals remind of their Islamist counterparts: they envy the Americans, they cover what America has and could offer, but they still reserve the right to hate America, so they can remain true to their particular ideologies.

No, I am not trying here to imply that America is a saint. For in truth, we are all sinners – it’s just that the Americans are better sinners than we are, and we don’t seem to have a way of outdoing them at this stage. I say let’s work with them then, we might learn a few things.

But hating the successful and fearing the ambitious are deep-seated psycho-cultural traits for those who suffer from massive inferiority complexes. Hence the old Syrian saying that goes something like this: “If he’s more handsome than I, this is how God created him, but if he is just better than I, then I’d want his blood.”

I’d want his blood, not I’ll work even harder and learn a few more skills and tricks to be able to compete. No, I’d want his blood. It’s all about leveling, about making everybody equal regardless of consideration of talents, know-how and skills.

Now that’s very Syrian.


On a different note, I have just launched an Arabic Blog called Zandaqa, an old Perso-Arab word meaning Heresy. I think it’s about bloody time, don’t you?

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Velvet Scenario!

You can try and try and try to wish the nasty incompetent Lion into some sort of a saintly efficient reformist figure, to no avail. Alchemy does not work. It never did. It never will. Transmogrification is a myth, and should it take place, somehow, it is more likely to work in reverse, transforming the saintly efficient reformist figure into a nasty incompetent lion.

But let’s face it. Our lion has been incompetent from the very beginning. He has always been part of the problem. He is the problem. The regime is the problem. But accepting this rather manifest truth has always been rather difficult for Syria’s opposition groups, because that would have put them face to face with their real dilemma: fight to change the regime, or accept it as is for better or worse.

Since they are too weak to fight, and since surrender is so damn undignified, the Opposition tried to envision a “third alternative,” denouncing those who espoused the first alternative as “fanatics,” and those who opted for the second as “cowards.” But in truth, the “fanatics” and the “cowards” in this case are the only realists around.

Meanwhile, the third alternative never materialized because it was based on the faulty premise that the President was a true reformer at heart and that all he needed was a little shove every now and then to convince him to turn against the very system that brought him to power, legitimized his position and defended him (and his interests, of course).

Five years have elapsed since the President arrived to power. He has so far turned his back to the idea of reform each and every time it was brought to the fore by internal and/or regional development. He did it at the beginning of his term back in 2001, when he ended the Damascus Spring and accused the dissidents involved of commiserating with foreign diplomats, paving the way for the ensuing crackdown. He did it during the recent Baath Congress, which produced only vague and inconsequential promises of limited reforms, none of which was ever carried forth. And he did it again in this latest speech of his, in which he, once again, and quite unequivocally, threatened to crackdown against the “unpatriotic” opposition.

After all this, isn’t it about time that the Opposition came to terms with the fact that the only real and patriotic option in our case is that of fighting for regime change? Yes, this is, of course, difficult. Yes the Opposition is indeed quite weak and has no grassroots support at this stage. But, once the decision is made, ways to deal with these shortcomings, as serious as they are, can always be found. After all, Syria is not the only country to have faced such a quandary. Other countries, such as Georgia, Serbia, the Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, to name but a few, faced the same problem not too long ago and still managed to find ways to overcome it.

Velvet revolutions are products of strategic decisions, brave leadership, strong organizational skills, training, and networking, networking, networking – internal, regional and international. As a people, the Syrians are no more or less ready for such a development than the Kyrgyz or the Georgians were. The problem, rather, seems to lie with the country’s Intelligentsia and Opposition. If they should prove to have the same limitless capacity for self-deception that their ruling regime has, then the country is simply fucked. There will be nothing to prevent the country’s implosion in this case, regardless of how it will happen, be it in an Iraqi-style scenario, or a Sudan-style scenario, or even a Somali-style scenario. The end result is the same.

As for those who still believe that this regime can still hold the country together even if it is isolated, or even especially if it isolated, they seem to be factoring in only the internal balance of powers in their calculations, ignoring the fact that Syria does not exist in outer space, but is right there, smack in the middle of everything, and that there are a lot of powers who will be, for better or worse, poking their fingers into its “private” “internal” affairs, in the hope of piling more pressures on the regime and inducing change.

Let’s not forget as well that this regime does not have a unique strongman, but a host of them with differing attitudes, aptitudes and agendas.

And let’s not forget as well that throughout the last few years all of these people proved themselves to be complete morons, albeit ruthless. In fact, it is this moronic ruthlessness that is the problem. It is exactly this predisposition that lead to the assassination of Rafic al-Hariri and Mashouq al-Khaznawi, and to the imprisonment of Aref Dalila, Riad Seif and Kamal Labwani, among others. It is precisely this syndrome that has paved our way to the current predicament where the only way out is through undertaking what seems well-nigh impossible: a peaceful regime change from inside, or a velvet revolution.

Be that as it may, achieving a velvet revolution should be the Opposition’s real goal right now. That’s what they should plan to do. There is no other way out for the country.

A Heretical Balancing Act!

Balancing the human cost of doing nothing vs. the human cost of doing the wrong thing vs. the human cost of muddling through vs. the human cost of trial and error and large-scale social engineering vs. the human cost of historical imperatives vs. the human cost of all things made inevitable on account of someone’s ideological predilections, avarice, mismanagement and/or downright stupidity vs. the human cost of philosophizing at times of trouble when some action, almost any action, is terribly needed…

Well, what can I say? It all boils down to following the dictates of your heart really, for no amount of rational analysis is going to get us anywhere when we are in the midst of all this mayhem. We cannot forgo rational analysis all together, of course. Still, in the final analysis, you have to stop analyzing and go with what feels right. Just feels right. We should never underestimate the value of human intuition. No, it’s not enough. But when everything else fails…

Meanwhile, Syrian dissident Kamal Labwani is putting on his usual brave face in front of his accusers, and the US official rhetoric has for the first time included emphasis on democratization and human rights in Syria.

The ropewalk towards disaster continues.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

The Lame Lion’s Last Tango!

So far, the internal opposition in Syria is eerily quiet with regard to the arrest of Kamal Labwani and the President’s recent speech. The arrest remains un-condemned. The speech remains unchallenged.

No. I cannot blame them. I cannot accuse them of cowardice. The real coward is the Lame Lion who accused his critics of being unpatriotic and threatened to use force against one and all. The real coward is the one who pushed the 20 million people he is supposed to protect to stand between him and the barrel of a canon.

Even the operations of our Tharwa Project in Damascus needed to be shut down for fear for the safety of our team members. The Lion might be lame, but he still has claws and teeth. More importantly, he seems to be more than willing to use them. Do we now know who killed Al-Hariri?

So, what’s next?

Well, the Lame Lion Show might indeed last for a few more days, but eventually, eventually, it will have to come to that usual mediocre end to which we have become quite accustomed by now. The Lion is simply too lame, you see, just too damn lame to inspire that kind of crippling awe that could last for years that his father used to inspire. More importantly, and no matter how dangerous they happen to be, lame lions pose even a greater danger to themselves.

Indeed, methinks this might just be our Lame Lion’s last stand in Damascus. I can somehow feel it in my bones.

Friday, November 11, 2005

A Star is Dead!

The Syrian American Director, Mustafa Akkad, died on Friday alongside his daughter, of wounds sustained during the recent terrorist bombings in Amman. He was 70 years old.

I have only met Mr. Akkad once in my life, but he was a close friend of my mother's who had collaborated with him in one of his most ambitious project: a movie called The Message which deals with the life of Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam. In the US, however, Mr. Akkad was better known for being the producer of all eight episodes of the well-known Halloween movie series.

And so, and as per his request, Mr. Akkad seems headed for burial in Syria and, to be more specific, in his hometown of Aleppo, a city for which he has never lost his passion. He will be well-received. Syria is fast becoming a good burial place for talents, hopes and dreams.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Lion’s Ass & the Heretic’s Call!

Indeed, the stand that the Syrian President has just assumed during his national address is that of turning his back to the world and to the Syrian people. It was not his smiling face that people saw earlier today, but his farting ass.

Meanwhile, a just released report in the Syrian electronic press, has just devoted a whole section to my heretical self, branding me as “another adventurer seeking fame and dollars,” not to mention Bashar’s position.

While praising my charming mannerisms, my looks and my intelligence, the report nonetheless trashed everything else about me, especially my sense of timing and my intentions.

The report failed to mention, however, that during my recent talk at Brookings I criticized Bashar severely for failing to provide any vision for reform or change in the country as well as for adopting adventurist politicies. But that omission is, of course, quite predictable.

Nonetheless, my fate has just been sealed. Like it or not, I am an opposition figure now. Like it or not, I am going to have to act like one.

May the Goddess of the Heretics (and yes, she must be a goddess) have mercy upon my soul, and may She look kindly upon my friends and loved-ones that are still living back home and shield them from all harm.

Still, no matter what I do after this moment, I may never have a clear conscience again.

Alea jacta est!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Rallying around a Corpse!

The Syrian journalist Shaaban Abboud is not at all a friend of the ruling Syrian regime, but like many journalists and opposition members these days, he finds himself defending the regime presenting it as the only viable alternative around.

The main motivation for this bewildering attitude seems to be is fear of uncontrolled change. The fear is indeed well justified. It would have indeed much easier for all of us had Bashar turned up to be the right caliber reformist leader that the country sorely needs, had Bashar been able to reinvent the regime, creating a larger space for public participation in the decision-making process and allowing for greater transparency in the management of the country’s affairs. Instead Bashar turned up to be at best a weak and hapless leader, and at worst just another part of the problem, just another thug with his own particular business interests to pursue at the expense of the country and its people.

Rallying around this regime, under whatever pretext and regardless of the motives, is like rallying around a corpse. The only thing that this regime can deliver is decay.

So indeed the opposition is weak, indeed the opposition continues to hurt itself by turning against its main figures, people like Riad al-Turk and Kamal Labwani, and indeed, the opposition might be unable to prevent the implosion of the country. Still, and for all these shortcomings, the opposition is the only thing that is still showing some signs of life, so it is really the only hope.

Besides, the idea that the Baath Party has two million members is ridiculous. Had it really had this many members it could have easily filled the protest tents outside the US Embassy and the UN headquarters, instead of fielding just another freak show.

The reality is that the Baath is no more or less weak than any other party in Syria. It too cannot boast of more than several thousands active and dedicated members in its ranks. The other members are just there for membership benefits, benefits that have become all but meaningless of late due to the endemic corruption of the Party’s top cadres.

As for the country’s military and its security apparatuses, they were never under the control of the Baath Party and were never mean tot serve the Baath agenda, but that of the ruling clique.

On a related note, it does not matter in the least that Syria’s opposition does not have a popular mandate at this stage. Guiding the transitional process is an elitist matter anyway. The main task of the opposition now should be to prepare itself for this task and to hasten its arrival.

The current crisis affords a unique opportunity for challenging the regime from the inside. But this window of opportunity is not going to be there for long, should the internal opposition in Syria, and the secular elements in particular, fail to take advantage of it. Else, the regime, which is bound to collapse under the deadweight of its own internal contradictions, is going to collapse on our heads, and there will no one to manage the aftermath.

The only opposition group that seems to understand the nature of the current crisis is the Muslim Brotherhood. Over the last few years, the Brotherhood has been playing all its cards right. Rather than shying away from talking to the Americans, they have been trying hard to open up channels for dialogue. Rather than attempting to bargain with a decrepit regime, they have been modernizing, grooming and offering themselves as a viable alternative.

I had thought that the Damascus Declaration Group has finally begun to understand the necessity of catching up and of attempting to balance things out, so that a secular alternative can also be laid forth, and so that the Islamists are forced to play their own game of catching up. I
nstead, the secular opposition continues to be as fractious and amateurish as ever. As such, the only hope may not be a real hope at all. The opposition may not be alive after all, and the Syrian people might be caught between two dead weights, that of the regime and that of the opposition.

Still, and in order not to end on such a pessimistic note, let me say that I still prefer to bet on the opposition, which has never been tried, than on a regime and a president that have had ample opporunity to show us their real metal. We have the scars to prove it.


And on a completely unrelated note, Rami Khouri has an excellent article in the Daily Star dealing with the implications of the Paris Riots.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

On Labwani and Mehlis!

In the arrest of Syrian dissident, Mr. Kamal Labwani, of Damascus Spring credentials, and in the events leading up to it, including denunciation by opposition groups of Mr. Labwani’s meeting with the US Deputy National Security Advisor, Mr. J. D. Crouch, the Syrian regime and opposition are revealing their true face, again. In this, the former is reaffirming the fact that it is brutal but idiotic, the latter that they are weak and idiotic.

Even if Mr. Labwani was not actually officially empowered to speak on behalf of the Damascus Declaration Group, this is not an excuse for hanging him up to dry. If he is doing what he is doing for his own personal ambitions, so what? This culture of ours that criminalizes ambition needs a thorough overhaul. Ambition in itself is not immoral and Mr. Labwani was acting in full light of day, so there are no hidden deals being done here.

But even if there is, this is not how one handles the situation. By turning against Mr. Labwani the opposition showed that it is still as fractious and amateurish as ever. It simply hurt its own battered image and offset all the advantages it had accumulated over the last few weeks in the wake of the Declaration.

Moreover, balking at American support for ideological reasons, or what might seem at first like “strategic considerations,” is simply foolish. America is the main mover and shaker in the region these days and any group seeking to present itself as a viable alternative to the regime needs to show that it is capable of dealing with it constructively.

The fear of being denounced as agents of the West or as relying on the support of external powers might seem justified at first, but this is only because the opposition seems incapable of making right use of the media, or because they are still ideologically inimical to US involvement in the region.

If the opposition can just let go of its ideological predilections for a while, they can see that there is absolutely no way they can present themselves to the Syrian people as a credible alternative to the regime without showing themselves capable of gaining international recognition first. Even Bashar needed French approval to be internally accepted. Gaining international legitimacy and credibility will be translated into internal legitimacy and credibility as well.

Meanwhile, the opposition in Syria should begin to realize that if they are indeed serious about “saving” the country as they said in the Declaration, then the first step that they need to learn is the Art of Compromise. In our situation, this means that they need to bite their leftist tongues and talk to the Americans.

On a different note, there is a lot of talk these days on the possibility of having Bashar turn against Assef in order to save himself and his brother. As evidence of this many note that Mehlis does not seem to be pushing hard for a meeting with the President and that he seems to have dropped Maher’s name from his list of people to interview.

But, there could very well be a different interpretation here, one that might make much more sense considering how committed the international community seems to isolating the Syrian President. Indeed, Mehlis could be actually trying to gather more evidence at this stage against the two brothers. In the final analysis, the great majority of people who believe that the Syrian regime is indeed behind the Hariri assassination does not seem to believe that the buck stopped with Assef in this case, so why should Mehlis, the UN Chief Investigator, be any different?

If I were an investigator and if I had strong evidence to implicate the Syrian regime, then I’d naturally want to know how high up the ladder this thing goes. And if I had only one shot at a meeting the President, then I’d want to make sure that I have enough evidence to make it into a rather decisive one.


My interview with Fareed Zakaria on Foreign Exchange has recently been broadcast on PBS. Inquiring minds can finally know what I look like.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Mar del Plata!

What happened in Mar del Plata was nothing more than a clash of interests between the two main segments of the Global Ruling Class: the Nouveau Riche, represented by Hugo Chavez, and Old Money, represented by George W. Bush. We are but fodder for this war.

Our Lion’s problems, on the other hand, are nothing so grandiose. He is simply too mediocre for that, and will remain so until the very end, bitter as it is bound to be for us all.

Brennt Paris?

Indeed, Paris is burning again, but this time the fires are of its own making. Listening to French officials lambasting the Arab-African communities for their days of riots, I am reminded of the rhetoric of American segregation proponents of the 1950s. France is way behind the times when it comes to integration.

But riots are not enough to help France’s Muslims to deal with their problems. A Muslim equivalent of Martin Luther King Jr. is needed here. Hell, even a Moroccan Malcolm X will do. But there are no leaders to be found. Arabs can only produce terrorists and dictators these days, but no leaders. Leaderless people cannot but inspire disdain.

This is not meant to whitewash French racism of course. But, if MLK has taught me anything it is that racism cannot be truly opposed until its victims learn how to stop thinking and behaving like victims.

We need leaders, and if don’t have them, we need to learn how to give birth to them, how to raise them, how to make them. In order to do this, we have a lot of introspection to do, and a lot of heresies to conjure, learn and practice, all sorts of heresies.

Heresy is freedom. But heresy means more fire as well, albeit a different kind of fire.

Salvation for a Heretic!

I go through life motivated mostly by guilt, guilt over crimes too unfathomable to mention. I struggle with the bits of memories I have within, to no avail. The nature of my crimes continues to elude me. But I know I am guilty. I know I have to atone for myself, even at the risk of committing more crimes, even at the risk of committing public suicide (by proxy, of course).

Riddled with such deep-seated sense of guilt, I know, I sound more Christian, more Catholic to be specific, than a Muslim. But then, this is what happens, I guess, when you put a 3-year old Muslim boy in a Maronite nunnery for two years. I can no longer bargain with God for my salvation. I just have to beg for it now, even prove worthy of it. Damn!

To complicate things even further, I am, as you know, not really a believer. Can you comprehend now the nature of my despair? To whom should I prove myself worthy? And who will deliver this salvation?


On a related note, the Brookings just published a transcript of my recent talk on Syria after Mehlis. Also, my recent article in the Daily Star promises to put me in more trouble with the Syrian authorities.
If I cannot earn my salvation, I might as well earn my damnation.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The Trinity!

As our Ruling Trinity, whose holiness, even in certain sectarian minds, seems to be continuingly eroding (and some will throw a not-so virginal mother figure to the mix as well) tries desperately to come to terms with the materialization of its worst fears, they are more likely to do even more harm than good to the people, the country.

Why? Because by nature they are dumb. There is no other explanation for their behavior during the last few years than this.

Inheriting dumb leaders is not exactly an unusual occurrence within the context of hereditary regimes: our history books are rife with precedents. Indeed, there are quite a few Umayyad and Abbasid caliphs whose name can be cited here as examples. And albeit dumb leaders have not always courted palace coups or grassroots uprisings, the chances of this particular set of dumb leaders are further muddled by the fact they have to deal with an increasingly hostile world. But they don’t know how. The best they can do is indeed nothing, in other words, play it dumb and pretend that nothing is wrong and, worse, that everything is right, everything is going according to plan.

A direct internal threat may not be very visible and easy to identify at this stage, but these people have spent a lifetime fussing and worrying about such a prospect that they are bound to see it in their mind’s eye behind every corner and behind every development.

A septuagenarian’s challenge of their legitimacy is bound to have greater repercussions in their minds than what it objectively represents. Meanwhile, our septuagenarian’s call does not seem to have been issued in the wilderness, a certain Damascene huri has just joined the fray and upped the ante.

Who is that idiot who thought that the Sunnis can believe in a trinity?

Still, I don’t look forward to the return of “monotheistic rule.” To me, to each his idol, but the state should have none. None at all.