Thursday, March 23, 2006

Full Frontal!

The comments on my previous post might be few, but they do, nonetheless, encapsulate the main sentiment that were expressed to me in dozens of emails and phone calls: the Syrian people will simply not endorse a front formed by Khaddam and Bayanouni, as the twain come with too much Ancien Régime baggage on their backs.

Unfortunately though, in the realm of politics issues are not that simple. This is especially true in a country ruled by a corrupt dictatorial regime that plays a smart yet deadly game of communal politics, following the old rule of divide and conquer, and where the rate of illiteracy runs higher than 40% for men and 70% for women and where more than 40% of the people live under the line of poverty.

In this kind of environment, all our political choices tend to be between different shades of really dark grey. No white knights are available or will likely be available anytime in the near future. As a result, quite a few “desirable” figures, that is, those with a lighter shade of grey, have tended to distance themselves from politics or have opted to leave the country all together. Or, at numerous occasions, they might have been simply forced out. But this only serves to leave the scene of the decision-making to the darkest of all shades.

What I am trying to say is this: in this region, and in Syria at this particular time, as well as for the foreseeable future, involvement in politics means that one has to deal with all too many people with old (and new) baggage on their backs and too many questions marks on their heads. But that’s the least of our problems, as the situation in the country has the potential of imploding anytime now, so we could soon be forced to deal with actual verifiable and quite active warlords. But, let’s hope this will not happen.

Indeed, what the Front represents for me is an attempt at brokering some kind of a Taif Accord to prevent civil war in Syria, the specter of which looms quite heavily in my mind, as in the minds of many Syrians (though I see this war coming more as a result of either having this regime stay in power and continue to mismanage the resources of this country for a few more years, or of ousting it through some hastily managed military action. The only way to preclude this possibility, as far as I can see, is to carefully manage the transition period starting now, in the hope of preculding recourse to violence by any side.


I was told by some, since I seem to be such a nice fellow and all that (at least for now), to form my own front. Well, let’s say that I did. Let’s say that some of you did indeed join me. Then what?

The leftists and the Islamists wouldn’t touch our group with a 32 and a half inch pole. Then, some of my personality traits are bound to prove objectionable to some of my fellow liberal opposition figures, and before you know it, three or four splinter groups will spring out of nowhere.

And we will all learn to bemoan the fate of the opposition and we will all complain against the narcissistic tendencies of "some of us," or their corruption, or their secret dealings with the Administration, the Zionist lobby and/or the regime itself. And of course we will all reiterate the same old call upon the opposition groups to unite and learn to work more effectively together.


Khaddam’s break with the regime and his reaching out to Bayanouni and other opposition figures has, in reality, introduced a different kind of dynamism onto the scene, and opposition figures can feel it in their bones. Despite the fact that few nay-sayers have already appeared (though I wouldn’t read too much in their nay-saying at this stage), most, I repeat, most active opposition figures inside and outside the country are talking to Khaddam and Bayanouni, directly or indirectly, while most of the rest are complaining about being excluded.

Talking, however, is not yet joining, and we now have a 45-day period before the second meeting takes place and the composition of the Front is finalized. Yes, we do have to concede the possibility that the talks could break up or end up producing nothing, and that whatever Front that will emerge at the end of the said period will not be as credible as it promises to be at this stage.

But, what should our position be, if the talks were, for the most part t least, successful? How should we react to a Front made up of known opposition figures representing all major currents in the country?

Before we answer that, let me make the following note: even under the best circumstances, the best that can be achieved now is to break the existing political stalemate in the country without breaking the country itself. This cannot be done without ensuring some sort of continuity between the old and the new regimes, and without accommodating the demands of national, confessional and political groups that were wronged under the old regime or that have reasons to fear being wronged under the new one. We cannot dismantle the Baath Party, we cannot dismantle the army, we cannot dismantle all of the security apparatuses, and we cannot sideline each and every figure we happen not to like. Some of them are bound to find a way to impose themselves on the scene, no matter what we have to say about that.

At least Khaddam is imposing himself through his public break with the regime. He is taking part of the risk now. But, in the future, there will be people who will stand by the regime to the last possible minute, and, then, they will come and demand, with all the impunity in the world, their “fair” share of power. Guess what? In some cases, in more cases than we like to admit really, we will have to deal with them and give them some of what they want.

So, why this whole change then? What’s the point of it?

Breaking the stalemate, that’s the point. For by breaking the stalemate we might, MIGHT, just have a chance at working for ideals such democracy, the rule of law, respect for basic human rights, and prosperity. We are fighting for a chance here, just a simple chance to work for these ends. Under this regime we simply don’t have it. They boxed themselves in, and the whole country with them.

I could see this coming even before Bashar came to power, the mentality of insisting on passing the power from father to son in a republican system was a sufficient indicator for me. Yet, like many others in the country, I hoped that we could still work from within to produce some positive change, no matter how long it would take. After all, building a democratic culture is bound to take decades as it can only be built from the bottom up, like it or not. But the unbridled corruption of the new guard, that dwarfed even that of their fathers, and the mistakes and the miscalculations that Bashar & Co. continued to make through the years rendered all our efforts useless. The Hariri assassination was the last nail in the coffin of our aspirations really.

The ruling lot cannot govern and cannot reform, and they will not allow anyone else to reform as this will undermine their hold on power, and they will not just go away. Hell, they will even kill to stay. So, what choices do we really have?

We simply have to work with what we actually have, no matter how little or undesirable it might seem, in order to get what we don’t have: a chance.

As to what could prevent Khaddam and Bayanouni from forming a new dictatorship, I think three elements could help here:

* In order to garner international recognition for the new regime, the twain will have to abide by the principles and declarations they are currently making.

* The twain will have to deliver on some of their promises at least in order to gain internal approval and legitimacy.

* A greater participation in the process on our part, as flawed as it might seem at this stage, will not leave them as the sole actors on the scene, and will allow for our input to take part in shaping the decision-making process, and the decision themselves.


Isn’t it ironic though? I mean Bashar seemed quite blameless a few years ago, yet he has diligently worked to make himself a full-fledged partner in the crime, while a person who was by all accounts a full-fledged partner in it might just play a part in helping us put an end to it. It always takes an insider, doesn’t it? Irony of ironies.


Don’t rush to judge though, despite this lengthy post, we really still have 45 days before we make up our minds, don’t we? As such, the debate is far from over. I look forward to your comments, emails and pone calls.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

The Front!

So, Khaddam and Bayanouni have finally done it: the National Salvation Front has just been formed, with the participation of three members of the Syrian National Council, Hussam al-Deiri, Najib Ghadban and Fahmi Kharallah, each representing his own movement or current.

But, what does this exactly mean? What is its significance?

My friend Joshua Landis has examined this from perspective of Bayanouni, saying that this was “smart politics” on his part. On the other hand, it was hard for Josh to take Khaddam “seriously,” on account of who the man had been of course, up until recently.

Yet, it is rather obvious that both men’s presence is going to be problematic, perhaps even equally so, for different segments of the Syrian people. Religious minorities and many Baath members will always be suspicious of Bayanouni's presence, no matter what says or does, while Khaddam's previous involvement with the regime is bound to haunt him, for the time being at least, if not for the rest of his life.

As such, Bayanouni’s position as a kingmaker or future President is far from being sealed. There is still room for quite a few surprises ahead. In fact, the very nature of this development all but ensures that. All in all though, this is definitely quite an important move, still, whether it is destined to find “purchase” among the Syrian people or not will depend heavily on the nature of the media campaign that should be launched as part of this effort.

But if Khaddam and Bayanouni continue to insist on playing the starring role in the upcoming media blitz, they might just be doing their cause a major disservice. For the Syrian people need to see some new faces on the scene, faces that are less troubling somehow and that do not invoke so much difficult remembrances, faces that might even inspire hope and confidence. Indeed, the upcoming media game should be left to the more liberal elements in the Front, whose final composition, as we can clearly see, is still being debated.

So, where am I in all this, some inquiring minds have already begun inquiring? Am I “in,” seeing that many of my friends indeed are, or have I been left out in the cold (or warmth for that matter, depending on one’s particular point of view)? Or, and seeing that I may not be in a position to decide whether to be in or out, do I approve or disapprove of this development?

Well, despite the cynicism that I have repeatedly expressed before with regard to Khaddam, his history and his talks with Bayanouni, I do, nonetheless, think that the formation of the Front, viewed using that faith-shattering prism of politics, does indeed constitute a positive development, one that not only promises to break the potential political stalemate we see in the country, but one that provides for a mechanism for managing the critical transitional phase ahead as well, helping us avoid the mayhem that falling regime will surely try to instigate.

For all the pragmatic reasons in the world, then, I, heretically enough, approve. But does this mean that I am “in”?

Well, you tell me: do you think that I am? Or do you think that I, given the chance, should be? It does matter to me to hear your views on this, be it in the comment section or by personal contact. Let me sample some more opinions here. At this critical juncture, the more I listen the better, which is why I have shied away from blogging for a while. I was too busy listening (while managing a minor bout of depression, as you might have noticed from my recent scattered posts.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Heretical Temptations!

Tempting fate, just as he tempts me I guess, this is the essence of what I am doing really. This is what I have been doing all my life. This is what I will surely keep on doing.

Tempting fate. Tempting fate.

But what else, who else, is there for me to tempt?

And the price? – To go through life not knowing whether my luck will hold, or for how long.

Oh well...

Thursday, March 09, 2006

A Hectic Day!

This was quite a hectic day for the Syrian opposition.

In Paris, Khaddam continued his effort to establish a government in exile by meeting with Kurdish opposition leaders from Irbeel as well as with representatives of the opposition from North American and Europe.

Meanwhile, and not too far from Khaddam’s headquarters, another meeting was taking place organized by the Aspin Institute and attended by other, if not downright rival, opposition figures, including Farid Ghadri, Sumer al-Assad (son of the infamous Rifa’at al-Assad – the perennial contender to the presidential throne and uncle of the current President) and a number of internal opposition figures, who seemed to have been dismayed by the presence of Sumer al-Assad and forced his withdrawal from the meeting. The internal opposition figures seem to have been angered by the lack of transparency by the organizers of the meeting who refused to divulge beforehand the names of the external opposition figures who will be attending.

In London, on the other hand, meetings gave way to a sit-in organized by various local opposition groups in front of the Syrian Embassy in commemoration of the Baath coup of March 8, 1063. A similar affair on the grounds of the univeristy of Damacus was violently crushed by a gang of students affiliated with the country's various security apparatuses. In the process, author Samar Yazbek was bludgeoned into unconsciousness.

Moreover, and in Washington, DC, preparations are underway for a new meeting of the opposition, this time organized by a group of Kurdish activists and parties, and scheduled to take place On March 13. Indeed, I will give a brief presentation at this particular meeting.

The news coming out of Syria are no less interesting as well, with reports of an impending meeting between Brammertz and Bashar, crackdown on and the brief arrest and then release of the MP and entrepreneur Muhammad Hamsho, a longtime front for the shady business deals of Maher al-Assad, the President’s Brother. This will probably be hailed by some as a sign of a serious anti-corruption stance on part of the President. But such developments have traditionally tended to be nothing more than an “ear-rub,” as they say, a reminder that Big Brother (or his younger brother) is watching, and that one should not try to take too much advantage of the trusting nature of one’s patron.

Indeed, and in his recent declarations, the President, true to his moronic form, has made it quite clear that as the country’s isolation increases, it is the people who will suffer not the country’s corrupt officialdom.

Oh well, honesty is always refreshing. It is the air around us that is too stale and rancid.


Visitors might also find this post of mine in Tharwalizations to be of some interest, it deals with the recurring and quite moronic attempt at applying the Chinese Model to Syria.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Ordinary Life!

It would have been quite interesting indeed to witness an actual transmogrification taking place in real time had it not been so personally relevant. As such, watching our simple lion cub as he metamorphoses into a full-fledged ass is no fun at all.

Nor is it any fun to watch, helplessly, and from afar, one’s own 60-something mother as she suffers from the pains of a broken shoulder blade, and one’s own 30-something friend as he goes through the anguish of chemo-therapy.

If only I could eat your cancer, my friend…

If only I can be your shoulder Mother. But look how important my ideals have made me! I should have been just another willingly naïve reformer working for the benefit of the regime-cum-country, I guess. Or just another hapless citizen groveling in some dark corner somewhere constantly licking his wounded pride, constantly trying to reassemble his all too shattered sense of humanity and dignity.

But no, I just had to be that loudmouth idealist-cum-narcissist-cum-messianic-buffoon, didn’t I Mother?, and end up being quite useless to the people that mean everything to me, in the hope of becoming of some use to people who wouldn’t give me the time of day, and most do indeed hate everything I stand for!!! That’s a pretty smart deal, don’t you think Mother? You must really be so proud of me lying motionless in your bed waiting for what you know cannot happen at this stage.

The funny thing, the really painful thing, is that I know you ARE proud of me, of all things, of all silly things.

Now I know that life is not supposed to be all fun and games, but lately it has become a little too much of a pain in the everywhere to be worth any Goddamn thing.

I truly desperately long these days for that place out there, that place that I can only hope that it does indeed exist and that it is not a hapless figment of my longing, where I can, I sincerely want to believe, live, in every sense of the word, Beyond Good and Evil and beyond Time and Being, to make it a place worth living in, worth spending one’s last few years in.

In the interim though, there is simply no escaping the necessities, absurdities and sheer pain, as ennobling as we wish it to be, of ordinary life.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Much Ado about Bullshit!

BA: … Sanctions [against Iraq] did not have any effect on state officials… Some even grew richer during the sanctions… [Sanctions] affected only the masses…

Translation: if sanctions are imposed on Syria, only you, the masses, will suffer. My colleagues and I, naturally, will not.

Well, what can I say? At least he’s honest.

BA: [The regime’s opponent’s in Lebanon] are ineffective tools, he who stood behind them was not very smart. In fact, he was stupid in everything he did. They are moving from failure to failure.

Is this supposed to be an accusation or a confession?

BA: [We should stay away from the idea that it is] the West that builds regimes and destroys regimes, that it is the one that safeguards our stability and guides us, that is the one that bestows legitimacy. This is an objectionable notion. If we are not guided by our people, for all our faults and shortcomings, no one will be able to guide us…

Translation: forget about history, forget about everything you were taught in school, this region was not the product of Sykes-Picot, no regime in it has ever been supported or destroyed by western powers.

Hmmm. What an interesting bit of revisionism! We appear to be the true masters of our destiny all of the sudden. I had no idea.

Oh yes, I had no idea. But then, what’s so surprising really? Like the good socialists that they were, our leaders have lied, bribed, thieved, intimidated, murdered and hijacked their way into our lives, and now, like the good Mafiosos they have become, they continue to do the same. But who are they kidding?

True, the great majority of Syria’s youths are an ill-educated, low-skilled and often jobless lot, but even they have been made too wise by harsh experience to buy into this kind of bullshit spewed by our Great Leader Wannabe.

Still, the President might indeed end up having the support of some of the brainwashed children of the last vestiges of our middle classes, but this will not stop the Great Unwashed from drowning us all with their rage when the time finally comes. Indeed, had it not been for the trauma that will most surely be involved, it would somewhat be poetic to see a socialist regime being rent asunder by the very classes it has betrayed. But, the sweetness of any looming revenge will be undoubtedly tampered by its certain bloodiness.

So, and while we dispute amongst ourselves – regime, opposition and all – as to who among us is the lesser patriot and the greater fuck, and vice versa of course, a long suppressed rage is about to tear down our walls.